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Reads Recap: August 2016

Once I’d ploughed through the last (available) instalment of GRRM’s A Song of Ice & Fire, I was craving something a little more real-worldy. Don’t get me wrong, dragons and demons have their place on my bookshelf, but this August I wanted to check in again with the human world. I found myself picking up four female-authored books (two memoirs, two fiction), devouring them all at quite the clip and doing lots of public crying and laughing during my commute reads in the process.

Ctrl Alt Delete Emma Gannon

Ctrl Alt Delete, Emma Gannon

One of my early summer reads, this hit of nostalgia takes you straight back to days of dial up, of learning to take gawkish selfies and figuring out how to love yourself as an insecure girl with a heavily filtered profile photo. Emma’s memoir has so many hints of my own experiences online that #relatable doesn’t cover it. This was a great, quick read to muffle your laughter on the bus to- and also to cringe in recognition of the situations that seemingly every 16 year old in the early 2000s went through (a belated thank you to my mother for never getting round to buying us a webcam in the MSN heyday). Her career and lifestyle, so entwined with being online, paint a positive picture for ambitious young women in a world that spends more time bemoaning ‘millennials’ than it does celebrating digital creativity. A great snapshot of the  how and what next of this generation of ours.

The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney

This less than flattering portrait of the working class criminal underside of County Cork, Ireland is as flawless as it is damning. Lucid sentences pile together to give the reader a hit of adrenaline akin to so many of the vices explored in the story- that of a cantankerous old nana offing a hapless addict and the subsequent sprawling fallout. Corking one liners, gruesome detail and lines that leave you – sometimes physically- reeling with the power of them. Even the offhand throwaways are a delight- “It was a skit of the highest fucking order“, and characters are encapsulated in just a smattering of smart words- “for her their was no authority but the Holy Trinity: the priests, the nuns and the neighbours“. This book is a mastery of language and a masterful portrayal of the heartbreak, hilarity and reality of the Irish underworld.

Becoming Laura Jane Williams

Becoming, Laura Jane Williams

Dingdingding- we have a winner. This book has rocketed into my all-time favourite reads, and will now be the first thing I reach to when lost, and also is about to land in every girl friend’s Christmas stocking. Laura’s journey of self discovery through sex, celibacy and a few drunken crying sessions define every girl’s path to become wholly herself after a heartbreak. There is no exaggeration in saying I felt stronger after reading this book- I recognised so much of Laura’s effervescent personality, her quiet vulnerability and her determination to let herself define herself, thank you very much. Becoming spoke to me like that friend who perches on the edge of the kerb with you as you sob through your shattered woes- strong, warm, smart, and so funny that you snort laughs through your snotty, tearstained mess until you feel better.

Jojo Moyes After You

After You, Jojo Moyes

Any much-hyped sequel to Hollywood hit is going to be fraught with expectations, and one of my favourite things about Jojo Moyes’s writing is that she dares to potter off down paths you didn’t expect. With the world watching- Marian Keyes readers and literary critics alike- After You has enough personality to stand alone- though not quite stand up to- it’s predecessor. With a questionable plot twist very early on, lovable Lou Clark plods through life not quite eliciting the sympathy Me Beofre You did, but just as many good natured laughs (a highlight for me was the reliable chortle in “I’ve booked myself in for a back, crack and- what is it?”). Moyes gives us a pleasing end to the phenomenon, and her talent for making me ugly-cry in a public place runs as strong as ever.

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This isn’t a poem

This isn’t a poem, it just looks like it.
It’s simply dressing up as ‘English Lit’,
It’s trying to lull you to a sense of security,
out of trust or intelligence or curiosity.

You’re sucked in, thanks to stanzas (and perhaps a rhyme),
Now it’ll pose as some greater question, or the meaning of life.
It’ll trick you into thinking that this cluster of words
Isn’t just letters on a screen,
But eloquent verse.

You’re scrabbling around for emotional meaning,
Just ignore the panic you’re no doubt feeling,
There’s got to be significance somewhere on the screen, and
Stop, you’ve sussed it, now you can breathe again.

This isn’t a poem, it’s just pretending to be. These are just tarted up words on a computer screen.

Today is World Poetry Day! Enjoy (and please don’t laugh).

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How being surrounded by books has made me die a little inside

Working in a book shop is, in many ways, an ideal job for me. I get to spend time rummaging through boxes of travel guides and novels, I get to scale ceiling-height shelves looking for signed anthologies, I get to have that gorgeous smell of books surrounding me. Basically, I can spend my entire working day nerding out without anyone judging me.

But there is one thing. Working with 20,000 books is playing havoc with how I view the world.

In one way, my faith in hardcopy reading (and therefore humanity) is deepened. I’m stirred into a fuzzy feeling when I see the sheer volume of books that are ordered everyday. Someone, somewhere, is really looking forward to getting that first edition children’s book. A book that was printed in Milan, lent in libraries in Sao Paulo, and packed up in a barn in south of France, is now winging its way to Susan in Dorset. Removing bookmarks from well-thumbed novels, reading annotations from people’s close studies. The romantic in me is having an absolute field day.

On the other hand, I’ve realised how crazy people are. Utterly, utterly batshit. People will read anything.

But before I tirade about this, a disclaimer; I hate that snobbery that inhabits people’s opinions of literature. You know, how anytime a novel gets a film adaptation, everyone’s knickers automatically twist and we all splutter about it not doing the book justice. Or whenever something that The Independent didn’t review gets popular, and everyone guards their precious Waterstones loyalty cards like Twihards are going to soil all the “real” literature in the world. Let’s just man up about books- people like to read, and are entertained by different things. Get over it. You have more important things to troll than a Fifty Shades of Grey Facebook page.

So I’m really really not being snobby about this. This is unadulterated astonishment.

Yesterday I catalogued a book by a German woman from the seventies, talking about her drawings of cats. Seriously. That’s it. Not only does the book exist- and just think what that entails; someone thought the idea of the book sounded neat, someone WROTE that book, and someone else went out and PAID MONEY for it- but the thing is selling for about £20.

It’s even stranger when you have to examine these books closer. Think no one would be interested in 700 recipes that solely rely on the use of a microwave? Think again, there’s four editions of that bad boy. Couldn’t possibly foresee a situation in which someone would want to update a guide to behavioural habits of German Shepards? Wrong. Volume four, now available in shops near you.

The one that really hurt my feelings, though, was the catchily titled “Mathematics in Fun and Earnest . I swear to God. Google it right now. If anything was going to put a dampener on my definition of fun (and earnest…), it’s this book.

Now I know that seeing as anyone is allowed to write books, about anything they want, there is a LOT of crap out there. There’s not much I can (or would) do about it. But this really was taking the biscuit. I can’t think of anything worse than having to read that book. As Emma Bennett once eloquently put it, “I’d rather sick up a chip”. I calmly put the book back onto its pile, and tried to hold back the rush of sheer disgust.

My main rule for travelling has been to always overestimate how many books you’ll need. The extra weight in my suitcase will be worth it- I don’t want to end up reading taxi leaflets again like on my last day in Turkey, with seven hours to spare at the airport. But just knowing this Mathematics in Fun and Earnest exists has cemented for me what was already core advice. In no circumstances do I want to be left with a choice of MIF&E or staring blankly at an airport wall for seven hours. I honestly don’t know which I’d choose.

“For the traveller”
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The Yorker Archives; Jubilee: a review

Shelley Harris’ first novel is about a photograph. The one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second it took to take, the events leading up to it and the lives of its subjects after it. A delicately bittersweet account of childhood and of the undercurrents of racism in 1977 British suburbia, Jubilee is a summer-reading must have.

We follow the life of Satish Patel, the introverted cardiologist who, amongst other demons he wearily faces, is horrified when the photograph resurfaces. Considered a national treasure, the picture taken on Jubilee day has a darker significance for Satish, and is a poignant reminder of the cruelty of adults and children alike.

As the reality of the pictures deeper meaning is slowly unfolded throughout the chapters, we’re given an intimate portrayal of the world as Satish saw it as a child and an immigrant in the 1970s. Often heartbreakingly funny, and at times, just plain heartbreaking, Jubilee is full of thoughtful nostalgia and an effortless charm.
Glancing between eras; we meet all characters before and after the infamous picture is taken. Aligning past and present so seamlessly allows us to see if, and how, the actions of the past do indeed affect the behaviours of our future. As Satish reassures himself “we are all better than the worst thing we’ve done”, readers can contemplate a sense of justice in how the lives of characters map out.
The narrative is subtle, and the murky topic of racism is dealt with with such a finesse that it doesn’t seem to impede on the innocence of the children we are reading about. The way Harris writes about childhood is a genuine, realistic interpretation of how childrens’ relationships work- the hierarchey of friendships, the relevance of race and age, the attacking and protecting of each other.
In exploring the story of this photo- this one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second- Harris masterfully deals with an entire society’s attitudes towards immigrants, and shows the beginning of a change in those attitudes in the coming-of-age of it’s children.
A surprisingly light read considering the sadness of some of its themes, Jubilee is a beautifully written and moving story about innocence. It’s characters, relationships and plot line are so simple yet so plausible that you can’t but help admire Harris’ style- and to certainly look forward to a second novel.