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?