Monday, 23 January 2017

The Books We Need Right Now

We live in a time of chaos.

Brexit happened. Trump was elected President of the United States. Politics became a shambles. 

The world we inhabited at the start of 2016 is history, literally and metaphorically. We have become such divided nations, where left and right are extremes and most apparently want to rebel against the establishment. The next president of  the most powerful country on Earth is sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist. He is a force of danger. He is a very big mistake. 

We live in a time of chaos, where there is little chance of stopping the dangerous future that is tornado-ing our way, enveloping us in a blackness which contradicts all the progress we have made in modern civil society. That is terrifying. We cannot prevent the next steps with ease, but we can arm ourselves mentally with the knowledge that is needed to be above those who apparently are the 'right' people to be in power. Here in the book community, we can do this through the greatest way we know. Reading.

The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla (editor)
Given how immigration was such a huge issue in both Brexit and the US Presidential Election, The Good Immigrant could not have come at a better time. Here we are, at the ends of two bitter campaigns which used anti-immigration and harsh ways of controlling immigration as parts of their "marketing schemes." Immigrants, regardless of their reasoning for immigration have been portrayed in a wrongfully cruel light in 2016. As the year draws to a close, now feels like the time to grow more welcoming of people who deserved to be warmly accommodated into their new homes as opposed to being villanised. If you need the push to read this that I or the current mess of the world cannot give you, then here's a not-so-subtle reminder that J.K. Rowling regards it as "an important, timely read." READ IT. 

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
Again this is one book that I'm yet to read, but the past few months (especially debates that arose in October) have made me want to read this now more than ever. Ensler takes the opportunity here to discuss with a variety of other women how they feel about their body, and sexuality, touching on numerous subjects like sexual harrassment and rape. We've all heard what a particular powerful man has been recorded saying, and I think this would be worth a read regardless of your gender, as what was said effects us all.

Girl Up by Laura Bates
The best way to summarise Girl Up is simply to quote the blurb: "They told you you need to be thin and beautiful. They told you to wear longer skirts, avoid going out late at night and move in groups - never accept drinks from a stranger, and wear shoes you can run in more easily than heels. I'm here to tell you different." In a world where the new President of the United States thinks power equates to it being acceptable to "grab 'em by the pussy," not only do we need to be as thoroughly educated on rape culture as possible, but it's essential to be aware of our rights as feminists and as women, to be able to wear what we want, say what we want, and do what we want in the face of male oppression.

The Establishment by Owen Jones
Currently many are deciding that what we need is to rise up against the establishment. It's true that an establishment exists - it exists on both sides of the Atlantic, but before challenging it it's important to know how it actually works and why it works that way. This is definitely something you need to read if you really want to understand the ins and outs of political power.

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
A printed version of J.K. Rowling's Harvard commencement speech, Very Good Lives recounts Rowling's struggles in poverty to having the strength and determination to get where she is now - an immensly successful author and a political, intellectual, and authorial icon. This isn't necessarily a book that is needed in this exact moment, but is moreso a book that you made need to give you the courage to believe in yourself.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Breaking away from the general format of the rest of these books, a graphic novel twist. Persepolis recounts Satrapi's own childhood within the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Satrapi's Iran in many ways has the potential to mirror the coming 4 years of intense and radical political upheaval. Furthermore, in a world where people are having to flee their countries due to war and extremism, perhaps Persepolis can help those who need to develop empathy and understand the struggles that these people face as they uphaul their lives out of fear for their safety. 

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Of course, any Harry Potter book will do; but specifically at this time Order of the Phoenix will probably be the most reassuring. On the day that Donald Trump won the race to the White House, I was already 100 pages into my reread of this book. When I spoke to friends I was making in my internship at MuggleNet, I found many others selecting this installment in the series over any other, and it makes perfect sense. This book is about rebelling against a newly formed and politically immoral establishment to fight for what is right. It subtly enforces ideas about what the power of speaking up can do in times when government is wrong and when the wrong side is winning. If you, like me are an avid Harry Potter fan, then you will find like I have, intense comfort within Order of the Phoenix. 800 pages has never felt so right.   

We live in a time of chaos, and whether you do it by reading these books, standing in protest or tweeting your concerns, now is the time to act.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

2017 Reading Goals

We're 14 days into 2017, and so far, reading is going rather well. 3 books into my 50 book challenge and whilst the books I've read have been mediocre, there's good reads on the horizon. For me, 2017 is about consistently challenging myself and pushing myself out of my comfort zone in all aspects of life, including in my reading. Bearing that in mind, I've decided to create some broader reading goals for how I'd like to shape my year in literature...

1. Don't stress about reading - I think sometimes I push myself to read more than I actually want to. I love reading with every fibre of my being, but there are occasions where you can push yourself into reading when you don't want to be reading. As a result, in the past couple of years, I've read some books that I've seen as mediocre that at any other time, could have perhaps become favourites.

2. Continue reading with variety - This worked surprisingly well in 2016. Unlike the year before in which I regretfully enveloped myself in YA, with a prominence in YA contemporary, 2016 was a year ranging from poetry to play scripts, from Sci-Fi to numerous classics. In doing this, I'm becoming increasingly aware of what I like and dislike, and what styles work for me. Reading with variety means that you don't become sick of genres at the same rapid pace you would if you were to inhale a one-genre diet, and through trying different genres, I no longer feel like my tastes are confined to only one area of fiction, but instead I'm content to try everything and anything.

3. Read 50 books - Given that by September, I'll be commencing an English Literature degree, books are going to be an even bigger part of my life in the latter part of the year. Completing this challenge, with the help of reading countless books for my degree can be guaranteed to be easier than it has been in past years. Like in 2016, 50 feels like a reasonable enough number that I can take a break from in the run up to exams, but also catch up with and potentially surpass over the summer and autumn months...

4. ReRead Favourites - (Without adding them to Goodreads) Life on Goodreads would be an awful lot simpler if, like with half-stars, they just let you up the amount of reads you'd had of a book and add it to your yearly challenge without having to add a new edition each time. Binge-rereading the Harry Potter series for the first time in 5 years in 2016 taught me that I should/need to reread them, particularly HBP and DH, each year from now on. Furthermore, I have full intentions to reread Cursed Child before seeing the play in August. I want to do this without worrying about whether they constitute towards the Goodreads goal and instead just because I want to read them.

5. Read More Non-Fiction  - Last year I read 5 non-fiction books. Over the course of the year, my the amount of read non-fiction books appeared quaint in comparison to the ever accumulating TBR pile. Goodreads and also my growing urges to read more about politics and feminism has meant that my to-read list on the site is more fact than it is fiction. I'm not saying that I'm going to read solely non-fiction in 2017, but as it seems to be a growing interest of mine, I should probably do something about it. 

6. Read More Shakespeare - Studying Antony and Cleopatra and Othello for my A Levels has taken me from loathing to loving Shakespeare. Even though both of these plays have been fascinating, there are others that I couldn't hide my disappointment at not studying. At all the universities I've applied to, Shakespeare doesn't appear to be studied until third year... so unless I take the leap, it's going to be a while until I read some more. If and when I can, this summer would be the perfect time to read a few more of Shakespeare's works, with King Lear, Hamlet, The Winter's Tale, and Much Ado About Nothing topping my list. 

What are your reading goals for 2017?

Friday, 6 January 2017

Favourite Books of 2016

1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
I mean, you all probably knew that this was coming. In the period between December 2015 and last June, my emotions were a blur of anger and concern surrounding Cursed Child. I hated the casting, and hated that the medium means it's so inaccessible to many, and then one weird day I watched a video and just got over it. My anxiety for an outcome I'd hate blended with my elation at finally being able to participate in a Potter midnight release, and the fact that we had more Harry Potter after nine years and suddenly I had a new story in my hands and it was everything I could have hoped. There's things I'm bitter about *coughs* Hugo *coughs,* and the plot is a little questionable, but it gave me answers where I'd needed them for so long, made me feel strange things for characters I'd once hated. I got the Potter experience because Cursed Child happened, and no matter how divisive this script is, I adore it. A new all-time favourite! Read in July. REVIEW

2. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Just like Cursed Child, TLWTASAP quickly became one of my favourite books ever. It made me feel everything in such purity; I didn't expect this to seem so real and yet every time I emerged from the pages, unlike with so many other books, I just wanted to jump back in again.Very few books ever make me feel so invested and compassionate for all its characters, yet The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet did. For a somewhat standalone, the character development is astonishingly good. This book is written which such warmth and love and care; it's the kind of book that I'll probably just pick up again tomorrow because I already miss its contents. [October]

3. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Over the course of three days, I completely fell in love with this tale, and became engrossed in the lives of Ponyboy and the greasers. When reading this, a part of you doesn't want to open the book, because as long as the book is closed, you can tell yourself that they're all okay. The symbolism and meaning is so thought provoking - The Outsiders wasn't screaming to be studied, but everything was laid out in front of you, providing you looked close enough.[January]

4. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Let's set the scene for a second: It's a cold December Saturday evening. You've a load homework to do but can't because there's no internet in your area and won't be for another 3 weeks. Not only are you unable to get anything you need to do, but the lack of connection to the outside world is pulling you into your lowest mentality since the summer. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was a book I'd tried picking up twice before and just hadn't clicked with. But this day it did. A glorious balance between romance, action, and mystery, this book was a warm hug that couldn't have come at a better time. It's one of those rare books that I literally couldn't put down. A joy to read and beautifully crafted, this is a story that combines the mundanity of the every day with a man who lives and breathes books, to the point where his life is a blend of all the books he's ever encountered. [December]

5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
This is the first screenplay I've ever read, and I'm glad I started of with Rowling's. It's not perfect, and it doesn't have nearly as much extra content as I think we'd been led to believe, but the detail in her stage directions is excellent. So many additions in here have made certain moments in the film make a lot more sense. I can see why people would consider this a money grab, and I did as well at first, but having the extra revisions and explanations [not to forget the gorgeous MinaLima illustrations] makes this film that little bit more special. [November REVIEW]

6. Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
I should preface this with one clear point: I know absolutely nothing about Star Wars. Until reading this book, I'd never taken any interest in watching the series, regardless of how many friends told me "You haven't lived until you've watched Star Wars." This is a wonderful portrayal of what it's like to be absorbed in a fandom to the point where it is your life. Kindred Spirits was so much deeper than a typical Rainbow Rowell love story - instead it was about bonding over something your passionate about. Elena reminds me of my experience with Harry Potter, as for Elena, Star Wars has been a constant throughout her life. For me, having this story based around the lengths people in a fandom will go to was brilliant. [April]

7. All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Regretfully, I never made any notes on my thoughts on this after reading and so whilst I don't remember a lot of why this book was so brilliant, it has stuck with me since I read it nearly a year ago. Part debate on rape culture, part murder mystery this book was gruesome, bitter and often hard to read, but Summers' cold, distant prose had me hooked from the beginning. It was always going to be an unpleasant read, but it educated me in an area that beforehand I knew very little about. (I'd also recommend you read this instead of/prior to Asking for It, just because All the Rage is lesser known and in my opinion deserves more attention.) [February]

8. The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint Exupery
Nothing really to say on The Little Prince other than the fact that this is a truly beautiful tale about childhood innocence and the naivety of adults not having faith in those younger than them. The running idea of how children have it best because whilst they're not exposed to parts of the world, their imaginations are the most vivid and untameable in existence exists to remind the reader of what we lose and what we should choose to keep as we age. [September]

9. Asking for It by Louise O'Neill
If you've been here for a while, then you may know that O'Neill's debut Only Ever Yours was my favourite book of 2015. O'Neill uses her pen as her weapon, and Asking for It continued my astonishment at her work. It's gritty and brutal and just hard to read because of the nature of the topic. I came away from this infuriated by the outcome and gave this an angry 4 stars, but then I remembered that that's the point of the ending. You're meant to feel the anger, because that is the reality we live in. Asking for It is a novel that will haunt my thoughts for many years to come. [September]

10. Where Am I Now by Mara Wilson
Mara Wilson is a fantastic writer, as evident through Where Am I Now, but this is a book that holds much more sentiment to me than being excellently written. To me, it's special because it makes sense. This is the first time I've come across someone write about Anxiety and having Anxiety in EXACTLY the way I process it. Where Am I Now has given me faith; in my dream to become a writer and make it a reality; and in trying to understand where I am in my own mental health. It's not perfect, but it's comforting. [October]

Special Mention - milk and honey by Rupi Kaur - which was a beautiful collection of poetry that I'll definitely be buying in the future, but currently don't possess a copy of my own. 

What were your favourite books of 2016?