Thursday, 12 October 2017

THE READING LIST: Year 1, Semester 1

It's been a while, but I've finally started university! Every day nearly a month in I am still baffled that I managed to make it to the place I wanted to be, and every day I dive deeper into my Semester One reading list. Compared to my other reading list posts, this is considerably longer, so sit tight!

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (Children's Fiction)
At the time of writing this, I've already read Robinson Crusoe as my first text, and as much as I'd hoped to love it that wasn't the case. But hopefully, this will change with further analysis of the novel as "the first children's novel". 

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Children's Fiction)
SO excited to read this and finally get into the original text. I never grew up reading Alice in Wonderland as so many children did; and whilst I've seen plenty of adaptations for the screen and read several retellings, this is my first time giving Carroll's original work a go, and I'm certain it'll be fascinating, especially given the controversy surrounding the author. 

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (Children's Fiction)
I haven't read Peter Pan since I was maybe five or six and even then it was read to me. Since then, like with Alice, I've dipped into multiple retellings, including John Logan's play Peter and Alice, and Jodi Lynn Anderson's Tiger Lily, but now feels about bloody time that I read the original text, which I've always found so interesting, for myself. 

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Children's Fiction)
I'm especially interested to see how this text pans out because not only is it a book about the abolition of slavery in America at the time of its peak, but furthermore it's a novel about abolition explicitly and openly written by a woman at the time. As far as I'm aware, Beecher Stowe never used a male pen name, which is interesting for the context of the time and how successful this book was. This is coupled with Junk in my third week of studies, so it'll certainly be perplexing to read and study these together. 

Junk by Melvin Burgess (Children's Fiction)
Honestly, I'm surprised I've never read this before, given how it's set in Manchester - my home city - but I haven't. It's going to be dark, intense and murky, but I'm looking forward to reading a book based in a location I'm so familiar with. 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Children's Fiction)
The Chronicles of Narnia have always been very hit and miss for me personally. I loved the films and remember watching them all, most often the first one, as a young child, but the books to me are far from the same. Probably my main struggle is the intense religious subtext, as whilst I can immerse myself in this wonderful fantasy side, I seriously struggle to separate the religious propaganda and cynicism from the rest of the children's novel. 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling (Children's Fiction)
I won't lie. One of the main reasons I signed up for this module over "Literature of Laughter" which I was so close to taking was because it meant I'd get to study Harry Potter. I GET TO STUDY HARRY POTTER, A SERIES I AM OBSESSED WITH. How could I pass up that opportunity? 

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (Children's Fiction)
Another one of the strongest reasons I chose "Children's Fiction" as a module was because of the fact that Pullman is an honorary professor at my university, and as part of studying Northern Lights he'll be giving one of my lectures in December! I've been dying to read His Dark Materials for years, and have been gradually accumulating the books, so maybe once I've studied this I can give them a marathon over Christmas...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (Children's Fiction)
As a child, I read or had read to me every book of Roald Dahl's... yes, even Boy and Going Solo. I love Dahl's work and always will, and whilst Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn't my favourite Dahl novel (it's Matilda) it's certainly a close one entering the top 3. To study this and look at the book from an analytical view is so exciting!

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (Reading, Writing, Thinking)
This, like Heart of Darkness, is for my "Reading, Thinking, Writing" module, which is mandatory for first years. Though we don't read these until later on in the semester I'm definitely anticipating the moment we do. About a year ago I read Carter's The Bloody Chamber, some of which I loved, some of which I hated, but all in all was a wonderful read. In one of our first lectures, we looked at an essay a former student had written during the module on The Magic Toyshop. Seeing someone else, having myself not read the novel yet, tear the book apart and analyse it with a keen eye resting on gender politics and feminism, I can't help but be intrigued for what may come out of what sounds like such a refreshing read. 

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Reading, Writing, Thinking)

I am dreading reading Heart of Darkness. My parents said that every English Literature student studies Heart of Darkness at some point, and the university has also said that they're putting it in this module to help get it out of the way for us, but honestly I'm just dreading reading this. It sounds like far from what I would typically read but at the same time that's one of the things I adore about my degree: I'm reading so many books I would have perhaps never picked up on my own, and thus broadening my horizons, ideas, and travelling into further realms of fiction.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

REVIEW: I'd Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers

I'd Rather be Reading: A Library of Art for Book LoversFor anyone who'd rather be reading than doing just about anything else, this book is the ultimate must-have. In this visual ode to all things bookish, readers will get lost in page after page of beautiful contemporary art, photography, and illustrations depicting the pleasures of books. Artwork from the likes of Jane Mount, Lisa Congdon, Julia Rothman, and Sophie Blackall is interwoven with text from essayist Maura Kelly, bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, and award-winning author and independent bookstore owner Ann Patchett. Rounded out with poems, quotations, and aphorisms celebrating the joys of reading, this lovingly curated compendium is a love letter to all things literary, and the perfect gift for bookworms everywhere.

Whilst this book is small in stature and page length, the content inside is a treasure trove of wonders that any bibliophile could happily lose themselves in. I'd Rather Be Reading is an ode to the bookish; a collage of unturned pages, and a tapestry of the binding connections that a love for literature can form. I do't know what I quite expected when this arrived in the post in August, but it was a joyous surprise to receive a little book of curious power that will remind any reader of why they adore books. 

The summary on the cover of I'd Rather Be Reading describes the book as "a library of art for book lovers" and not only does it fufill this premise, but does so in spectacular fashion. Though this book is about the printed word, the homage to literature extends beyond the realms of text and into art, typography, quotations, and simply the most stunning photos of books and libraries one could possibly want bound together and pressed into their palms. This now should probably be broken down into mini-reviews of each essay. Ahem...

Each essay brought a different kind of joy to me that I never thought would come through this book. The editor herself Guinevere de la Mare discusses her life lived throughout books and how she wants to imprint the same burning desire to read into her young son. The most beautiful element of this essay is de la Mare realising how her ancestry of bibliophiles has shaped her future as she reads Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to her afformentioned child. But above all, the profound message that lies among her masterful words is that we can live lives filled with literature, but life is too short to be wasted on poor quality books that we are reading for the sake of reading something. Rather, we should curate our personal libraries and literary tastes, instead of reading whatever  is on the market or what our peers are reading. 

Maura Kelly's essay "A Slow Books Manifesto" continued on de la Mare's gentle preaching of reading good quality books, but also having a decent quality of life through reading. Following the notion that we are spending our lives consumed by "empty-calorie entertainment" Kelly suggests, rightfully so, that we use the time that is so consistently wasted scrolling through our smartphones and instead pull out our books. On the whole, the general idea of the essay concludes with the knowledge that a life is better lived with books, but one needs to make the time to read, even just a small amount, each and every day in order to lead a more fulfilled life. And I must say, I wholeheartedly agree!

"Cheating" by Ann Pratchett was probably by far my favourite essay in I'd Rather Be Reading. As the owner of Parnasus Books, renowned in the book community and highly recommended by one of my favourite authors, V.E. Schwab, Pratchett discusses the struggle to list what our favourite books are, when we can categorise them so easily into different smaller categories. Instead, she provides lists of recommendations that she has inhaled over her years as a bookseller and bookshop owner, gorgeously compiled with such a love it exudes from the page. I, like I am sure any reader would, came away with a whole new section on my Goodreads TBR as inspired by this essay. The thought of all the books I hadn't read but longed to that were on Pratchett's lists just made me want to read everything, and to be able to create that in a reader is just a magical, magical thing.

Finally, Gretchen Rubin's "13 Tips for Getting More Reading Done" does exactly was it says in the title. It isn't anything revolutionary, but it certainly feels fitting to, after pages upon pages of creating bookish wanderlust, to help readers find more ways to get said reading done. There's some advice on this list that I'm opposed to, but I think the best thig Rubin did with this list was add the reading advice of world famous authors in the latter half, as those words, words created by genuiuses when it comes to stringing sentences then chapters then books together, is so awe-inspiring that anyone will be bursting to read by the final page. 

The perfect gift for fellow book lovers, or just to oneself, if you're looking for a way to indulge in your sheer adoration for old dusty pages, mysteries and the feeling of reaching the final chapter and just wanting more, then I'd Rather Be Reading is the book for you.

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Reading List:: A Level Year 2 Wrap Up

After months of intense revision, in which I was doing 10-14 hours a day of work, my A Level exams were completed in June. Since then life has been moving fast, but I've taken so much out of every moment of my break - reading, travelling, and spending much-valued time with family and friends. A few weeks ago, my A Level results were released, and it was a thrill to find out that all the hard work and exhaustion had paid off, and I had gained a place at my first choice university. I absolutely loved doing my A Levels, especially English Literature, and now ahead of starting my degree in the same subject, it felt like a good time to reflect on the texts I studied in the past year, after all, it is because of these texts combined with my work that I proudly came away from A Levels with an A in the subject.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The moment I found out that I'd be studying Wuthering Heights back in May 2016, I was disappointed. I'm far from what you'd consider to be a fan of the Bronte's, and I really struggled to see the positives in Wuthering Heights as a novel. The motifs and recurring themes were fantastically intriguing to analyse, but on the whole more frustration came from reading the novel beyond anything else. For as long as I live, I will never be able to understand why countless people consider this to be their favourite novel, nor why Heathcliff is such a romanticised character within the realms of fiction. The reality is that he's abusive, violent, manipulative, and the most toxic character I have ever encountered in literature. He's effectively the Snape of the Yorkshire Moors. However, whilst this is all said, going to the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, where Emily Bronte and the Bronte's created their novels, poetry, and artwork helped so much when it came to appreciating the production of a novel that I loathed. Now, on the other side, loathe has maybe melted into strong dislike, but I have to admire Emily Bronte for writing and successfully publishing the novel in such circumstances. Regardless though, this definitely taught me that I don't get on well with gothic literature. 

Othello by William Shakespeare

Othello was never the Shakespeare play that I expected to do at A2, nor the one I was hoping for (I wanted Hamlet, King Lear, or a comedy), but as soon as I found out that this was our given play, I desired to know everything. Looking back, I very clearly remember watching the Sparknotes video summary and then rushing to my mum to say "He did what???" Othello is a truly extraordinary play, bursting with themes and messages about gender politics, race, class, and jealousy. I'll never quite recover from Emilia's fierce lines and rebellion against Iago, or the claustrophobic atmosphere in which the events of the play occur, as in following the villain, as audiences we're always aware of the dramatic irony that we always know what bloody end will transpire. Both my A Level Shakespeare plays, this and Anthony and Cleopatra were excellent masterpieces, but I must admit that due to the lack of active war on the stage here Othello has most certainly become one of my favourite Shakespeares.

A Choosing by Liz Lochhead

If you've read my TBR for A2 English Literature then you'll know that I was incredibly apprehensive about this text. This is by far the worst poetry collection I have ever read, and in many ways I'm rather bitter about the fact that I studied it. The problem with A Choosing was the fact that Lochhead has the capacity to write a few stunning poems which are bursting to the brim with analysis on gender politics, feminism, and class struggles, but that's just a few amongst a collection of 80 pages. So many of the poems we were set to study by the exam board had little to no room to analyse, and this was even the case when a few of use tried doing it together, or my mum - an English Literature teacher - tried to analyse them too. Whilst I'll be keeping the book, and reading over those few gems that were truly excellent, I will forever be frustrated about this book when we could've studied other poets on the syllabus such as Rossetti and Keats. Not to mention the fact that there was a MAJOR error on the exam board's part in which they set a poem in the exam that wasn't even on the syllabus which I'm astonished didn't cost me my A grade but in the meantime put me through an exceptional amount of stress.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

I've wanted to read The Crucible for years, and said play seems to be the more common of Miller's to be studied at A Level, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to study Death of a Salesman, especially with a teacher who was as incredible as mine for my A Levels. Simply put: Death of a Salesman is one of the best plays I've ever read. DoaS  explores the corruption of the American Dream and how detrimental is to become invested in it. Ultimately it leaves a very bittersweet punch, reminding readers and audiences that it is right to have dreams - that's how we get through life - but you can have too many dreams. As Willy Loman's son, Biff, remarks on his father "He had all the wrong dreams. All, all wrong." It was a sad note to end A Level English Literature on, especially when you consider the fact that what Miller wrote here in 1949 is still tragically apparent in modern day society. After a short story that I covered at AS Level - Perkins Gillman's The Yellow Wallpaper - Death of a Salesman is my favourite text studied in A Level English Literature, and I feel so privilleged to have stuied it to the point where I walked into my exam, saw the question for this text, and blitzed it with more confidence than ever before in an exam. 

LITERATURE STUDENTS: What are you looking forward to studying in the coming academic year? 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Oh, the Places - Manchester

 It's August, and in all of a few weeks, I shall be heading off to University. I've opted to study outside of my home city, and so these are my last few weeks at home before moving away for 3 years. I'll be back for holidays and a weekend every few weeks, but it'll never be quite the same again. So I guess this is my swan song; my goodbye to the city I've lived in my whole life. 

Most of the time, I say I hate Manchester; to an extent that's true. When you've lived in a fairly small city for as long as you can remember, there comes a point when you realise you have seen everything that needs to be seen. You've done the tourist attractions and all the lines of the underground-like network, exploring what's at their endings. You can't picture yourself living there forever and you want to see more than just this city, but at the same time, you'll miss it. Whilst I still in many respects dislike Manchester because I've spent so long here, what transpired here in on 22nd May shook me to the core in a way that shifted my opinion on my home city. What happened that day made me realised how much I care for where I live and why Manchester will always be a key part of my identity and geographic heritage. I'll miss being able to walk into the biggest bookshop in the North and inhale the overwhelming smell of books. I'll miss travelling on our transport system over the city, no matter how outrageous the prices are. I'll miss the places where there's good food or a quiet spot to read or a nice place to sit and wait without being attacked by pigeons. Yet, I'm here, and I'm ready for the next step.

I'll be back soon, probably every time I have an opportunity to meet with my book club friends, and or a weekend visiting family every so often, but for now, I'm heading into the unknown. The place isn't unknown, but the lifestyle, the work, the people, the culture is in many ways going to be so different from everything I've known, which is exciting but hugely terrifying. 

Oh, the Places is a series of posts in which I recap through photographs my travels, both expected and surprising across countries, cities, and seas. Consider these field notes from a wanderlust-filled student desperate to see more of the world than her small English city. 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Stephanie Kate Strohm

Day three comes around and with it, the third and final interview in my series from Waterstones Deansgate Manchester's YA Summer Cringefest. Previously we've had Simon James Green and Beth Garrod, and now it's time for Stephanie Kate Strohm, author of It's Not Me It's You. Warning: this interview contains Gilmore Girls, plenty of Googling, and mentions of "smooching". 

Photo credits to @Teensgate at Waterstones 

Did you always intend to write?
Never intended to write. Loved humanities subjects rather than the sciences, but wasn't pursuing writing. Instead, Strohm studied theatre and became an actor. It was only when she read Twilight that Strohm became inspired to write her own novel. Whilst on tour as an actor, Strohm was alone and decided to have fun with writing a first draft of her first novel, not thinking that it would one day be published. 

Did you always intend to write for a young adult audience?
Yes, on the basis that I read the most as a teen. Strohm mentions that she was a summer camp worker, and was heavily inspired by her time doing this. 

How was the journey into publication?
Strohm notes that she finished her first book after graduation from University. Upon finishing the book, she admits that she "Googled how to get published," and in realising she needed to send it her manuscript to agents, Strohm was lucky enough to recieve offers from 10 different agents. After that, the rest of the publishing process continued on smoothly. 

What was your first inspiration for your latest novel?
It's Not Me, It's You is Stephanie Kate Strohm's fourth book, but the first published in the UK. The idea for the novel actually wasn't hers but rather her agent's after a someone had requested someone write a prom-themed book in the form of an oral history, and thus, the task was passed on to Strohm.  Strohm notes that she had always wanted to write an oral history, and loved using first and third person featuring flashbacks. As someone who proudly announces that they're obsessed with proms, having chaperoned many whilst working as a teacher, Strohm says that she had to include a prom as one of the themes of the novel. Ultimately, however, Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries were Strohm's most significant influence. 

Advice for Aspiring Writers?
Always finish what you started. If you need to skip a section due to writer's block, then do that, but always remember to return to what you left unfinished in the writing process. For Strohm, who declares herself "Queen of the Pantsers" when it comes to plotting novels, going for a walk always helps when struggling for ideas. Finally, "share your work."

How would you describe your book, It's Not Me, It's You, in five words?
"Prom, drama, "lols", boyfriends, and 'smooch.'" (Admittedly we both laughed at that last choice.)

What is your Hogwarts House?

Which fittingly leads onto the following question's answer to "What do you think is missing from YA?"
"You can never have too many smart girls."

Do you see yourself in any of your lead characters?
Initially, Strohm believed that she and Avery (the protagonist of It's Not Me, It's You) had "nothing in common, especially when it came to Avery's exuding confience. However, as the novel progressed and since publication, Strohm laughs about how she now sees her own bossiness and productivity in Avery as well. Raised in the area of Conneticut where Gilmore Girls was set, and attending a school that was incredibly similar to that of Chiltern in the television series. She observed that to her, watching the series, especially as someone who was "definitely the Paris Geller type at school," which was not only interesting to me, who's favourite tv series is Gilmore Girls but also because of the brief connections to Paris that came across in our conversation about Strohm's latest main character.

What can we expect from you next?
The sequel to It's Not Me It's You is published in September, and after that Strohm is working with Disney Hyperion to pubish Prince in Disguise this coming December. Additionally, Strohm's 2018 release will come next Autumn, and is about cooking.  

Thank you so much to Teensgate at Waterstones Deansgate for giving me the opportunity to conduct these interviews, and of course, to Stephanie, for allowing me to interview her - it was a truly wonderful talk. Click here to find out more about It's Not Me, It's You by Stephanie Kate Strohm. If you want to read the previous two interviews in this trilogy, click here for Part 1 and Part 2. 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017


To read Part 1 of this trilogy of interviews, beginning with Simon James Green. Now, onto Part 2: Beth Garrod - author of Super Awkward...

Photo Credits to @Teensgate

How would you describe your book in five words?
"Awkward, rollercoaster, boys, friends, disaster."

Did you always intend to write?

Garrod notes that she didn't always plan to write, and she initially did a science degree. As it currently stands, she describes writing as her "night-job" where Garrod works for Comic Relief by day. Coming off that, even when Garrod did start writing, she didn't plan to write for teenagers. However, that being said, she remarks that her favourite books have always been young adult fiction. She's always enjoyed reading about first times, and wanted to recreate those in her own works.

Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

Naturally, the author is attached to her characters, and apparently you can't help but be when they're manifiestations of your own head and thoughts. Sees herself significantly in Bella Fisher: the main character of Super Awkward: "She tries hard but gets things wrong."

What was your journey to publication like?

It took a long time to build the confidence to get published. For Garrod, you can't wait for the right moment to send the manuscript, because that moment may never come. Self-discipline and pressurisation was key to her submitting the book.

Are your novels inspired by any of the books you've read?

Inspired by books that make you not feel alone in something. E.g., Judy Blume's novels.

What are you working on next?

The sequel to Super Awkward, entitled Truly Madly Awkward is published in September.

What is your advice to aspiring authors?

Confidence is key. You need to blitz through the first draft, and confidence is essential to that. What you have to remember when you're writing is that every novel that you have read and loved was once a sparse Word document, or a page of paper with a few notes. Every book started off at that point, as will yours. 

Hogwarts House?

Thank you so much to Teensgate at Waterstones Deansgate for the opportunity, and of course, to Beth, for letting me interview her. Click here to find out more about Super Awkward, and the final interview will follow tomorrow with Stephanie Kate Strohm!