Thursday 21 February 2019

30 Books Before 30: #14 Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Oh, Wild. For a book that I hold in my heart with a lot of fondness, I found upon re-reading it that I really didn't remember much about it at all. It also shocked me that I had only read it once before, but since half of the content is fairly similar to Strayed's novel (Torch), I guess I have kind of read it one and a half times at least.

I also read it when it was fairly new out, and before it became this whole big thing. In one of the episodes of the Gilmore Girls reboot (which itself was *gulp* over two years ago now!), Lorelai goes to 'do Wild' - i.e. find herself on the PCT, along with a whole load of women 'going through stuff'. This is obviously meant as a kind of joke on women who try to emulate an experience that was life changing for just one person ('Movie or Book?!' the women ask each other, trying to find their correct group), but it also helps to show the reach the novel (and, I guess, the movie) have had since I last read it.

I still haven't seen the movie, by the by, for no reason other than it's not available to stream anywhere and I don't really want to spend money on it. I'm sure it's good because Reese Witherspoon is ace, and I'm looking out for the opportunity to watch it whenever I can. But, for now, there is always the book.

And, you know what? It's still a good book. I'm not sure that it still had the same impact on me that it had back in 2013 (wow), but I think I need it less than I did then - I have a much better idea about myself than I did 6 (again, wow) years ago, and I feel somewhat that I need it less than I did then. Nonetheless, it's still charged with emotion, and very inspiring and heartbreaking, and you know, all of that good stuff.

This wasn't really a review, I realise, so much as a review of me, but if you want more of an idea of the book you can take a look at my vintage review of 2013 (again WHAT EVEN). I completely understand this book's inclusion on the 30 before 30 list, because of its inspirational and uplifting essential message - we all have the power to change our own lives, if and when it's needed.

Tuesday 19 February 2019

30 Books Before 30: #13 The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Hey, remember when I said I read a load of books that I now can't remember? This one is the main one I can't remember, something which I put down to reading it over the Christmas period when I was mostly high on sugar and cheese (ah, cheese). I have an inbuilt mistrust of books that have won awards because those things are almost always wrong, and, based on the lack of an impact this novel had on me, I have no reason to revise this feeling.

Ok, let's get through this the best way we know how. The story (wikipedia tells me) follows the story of two escaped slaves Cora and Caesar (thanks Wikipedia) as they both decide to and then do escape from the plantation on which they are enslaved. Many many events ensue, which kind of show the huge and disgusting and horrible impossibility of being an escaped slave in America in the 1800s, as obstacle after obstacle throws itself in their, and later just in Cora's, faces.

And just... Eh. I, of course, don't mean eh about slavery, or about violence faced by black people in America since, you know, they were bought and brought there until jut about the present day because of course that is bullshit and fuck that and just urgh. This book itself though, I just... Well. Apart from the fact that it apparently had no impact on me, I just didn't feel like it was, like, good enough to tackle the subject or to hold my interest or I don't know, maybe I'm just a monster?

I also felt that the violence in the novel became a little gratuitous in parts - which is not me trying to downplay the very real violence that we all know happened, so much as I almost feel as though fictionalising it almost makes the real things that happened less important. This feeling is something akin to the way I feel about Holocaust fiction, where I don't really think it should exist, except possible when written by the people directly affected by it. It's almost, to me, that some things are too horrid to be turned into fiction because it diminishes the real events in some sense.

Or maybe I just didn't really like this book.

Have you read this? Do you remember it? Can you tell me why it's supposed to be so great and make me reconsider myself? Thanks in advance!

Thursday 14 February 2019

30 Books Before 30: #12 The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Oh, The Count of Monte Cristo. Do you know how long it took me to read The Count of Monte Cristo? Or, another question, do you know how hard it is to make yourself read a giant book when you have so many smaller books laying round? (I'm sure you probably do). I started The Count of Monte Cristo... I'm not even sure when, and only when I dedicated many evenings solely to reading it did I finally get through it.

You should not take this, however, as an indication of my feelings towards the story because I looooved it. It is ridiculously dramatic, and I loved every second of its well-crafted, insane beauty. Let's get into it.

The story is essentially a fairly simple one. A good man, an innocent man, is imprisoned by a group of jealous and/or self-interested men, left to rot for a lot of (let's say 20?) years, until he finally escapes, goes to get the treasure from the island of Monte Cristo so that he is rich beyond all reason, and then seeks his revenge on the men who imprisoned him. DID I MENTION IT IS RIDICULOUSLY DRAMATIC? Because, yeah.

I'd love to tell you that the drama and the ridiculousness is a downside of the book, but I loved the drama and indeed the ridiculousness. It's not meant to be a book that you take too seriously (imho), and you really just have to let yourself go and enjoy all the crazy plot twists and unlikely coincidences and so on and so forth. I would say that the book could honestly be half the size if you cut out a lot of the foreshadowing and plotting, but why the heck would you when it's this much fun to read?!

I would super recommend reading The Count of Monte Cristo if you want to feel super accomplished for reading a classic, but don't really want to struggle through a super serious and (let's face it) difficult one. It is honestly a lot of fun, with a few deeper moments but mostly a lot of dressing up as other people and handing out diamonds and revenge, revenge, so much revenge! Read it, enjoy it, don't carry it around with you cause it's super heavy and stuff.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

30 Books Before 30: #11 I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Prepare yourselves, good people, for a raft of posts about books-I-don't-really-remember. It's going to be a wild ride for us all as we venture down the hazy fog of my damn memory. Let's get started.

Having said that, I do remember I Am Malala fairly well because of how impressive I found it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but all I knew about Malala before reading this was that she got shot in the head when she was 15 (and since this happened in Pakistan, I doubt I would have known even that had she not been flown to the UK for treatment) and, you know, I don't have high hopes of teenagers.

This, I soon realised, was foolish. Granted, this book was written 'with' (i.e. by) someone else, but Malala's story is incredibly interesting and important and not very teenager-y at all. The first half of the book, in fact, is quite literally not teenager-y - it essentially tells the story of both the history of Pakistan as well as the history of Malala's family. I thought this was an amazing editorial decision - not only because, as Malala is so young, her family's story is her story, but also because, as an ignorant Western reader, I didn't really have a clear idea of Pakistan's recent political history. I have a much better idea now, but also more importantly, Pakistan's political history is fully pertinent to what happened to Malala.

And then, we get to Malala. Malala, I have to say, is kind of incredible. It's incredible for any person to face death and then come out of it stronger, but Malala's strength had been present long before she was shot in the head - in fact, it's sort of the reason she was. Malala was, in Pakistan, a young advocate of education for women (and, to be fair, everyone, but no one's trying to stop men learning) and it was her speaking out that got her shot in the head. She is a force of nature, really, unwavering in her belief that education rather than war is what the world needs to get better.

I would, then, really very highly recommend this book as a biography and a way to make yourself feel very not-accomplished compared to this amazing teenage activist. This made me feel all activist-y and angry and wanting-to-change-the-world-y, and although I really haven't done that yet (although sometimes being a smug vegan makes me feel that way, at least a bit) you never know what's round the corner!

Sunday 10 February 2019

Sunday Sundries: Let's Talk About Veganism (Baby...)

Good Morning folks, and Happy Sunday!

I spent (half of) my Saturday taking part in the London Bookshop Crawl, which was ace as always, and then the rest of my afternoon and evening blogging and watching Gilmore Girls, which is obviously the best way to spend a day ever ever ever.

Do you want to see the books I bought? What am I even saying, of course you do!
Ah my precious little booksies, how I love them. Hilariously, I didn't intend for this to even lead into my main topic for today, but hey, two of the books I bought were vegan recipe books, isn't that interesting?

Very, I know right?

As you may have guessed, Veganuary went really well. I had consciously been trying to reduce the amount of dairy in my diet for probably 6 months - a year before Veganuary, firstly because I knew I was going to try it out for the month, but also because I had started feeling a bit icky and weird after eating too much dairy (which may have just been the amount of fat I was consuming because you guys, I really really like cheese and also milkshakes). Eggs weren't really an issue for me because I don't really like them and only ever bought them to bake with, but I had already switched to vegan mayo before the start of the month, and I had also already switched to this awesome vegan butter that melts like real butter.

For some reason, in spite of all of the above, I thought this month would be really really difficult and I would die of starvation and all of that kind of rational thinking. Instead, you know what? I pretty much ate what I had previously, just without added cheese. It didn't hurt that literally every restaurant in the UK seemed to have jumped on the Veganuary bandwagon, and were offering beautiful vegan options. My fella and I ate out most weekends and I was always well fed, and I even called our favourite Chinese restaurant to ascertain whether there was egg in their noodles (there was not! Score!) There were only a very few occasions where I struggled a little to find a good vegan option, but even then, there always was one that I could cope with.

There are, of course, a few things I miss. I can basically only have dark chocolate now (although if anyone finds a good milk chocolate like alternative, please let me know) and vegan cheese is... not good, but I have found a vegan nutella that, honestly, tastes like nutella, and have already veganised yorkshire puddings and potato dauphinoise - two things which I haven't even made the animal product versions of. My sister called me the other day and, by the by, told me she was sad that I couldn't have 'normal' chocolate bars anymore and 'what about nutella?' (please see above for what about nutella). When I think about all the things I can't have anymore, I'm reminded of Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals -

"Two Friends are ordering lunch. One says 'I'm in the mood for a burger,' and orders it. The other says 'I'm in the mood for a burger' but remembers that there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment, and orders something else." 

I really really like good chocolate, and I really really like cheese, but oh my god, I really love animals even more than that and I'm just not ok with baby cows being taken from their mothers, or their mothers being kept in a constant state of pregnancy or milking. I'm just not.

But anyway. As a welcome addition to following my own ethical compass (one that, honestly, I've been a ignoring for a while now), I felt amazing while I was eating vegan (possibly only because I was eating way less chocolate/sugar), and more alert and alive than I normally do in the winter for sure! I found that the people around me were accommodating and lovely (my mum is glorious and has gone wild buying all the vegan things she can find!) and that it was honestly so. much. easier. than I was anticipating it being.

So yeah, that's my vegan tale. It's not very dramatic, I just stopped eating a few things and started eating a few other things, but hopefully if this is something you're considering, this will help you to realise that it's perhaps not as intimidating as it might at first appear. I'm not really in the business of convincing other people to do things (bloody hate a preacher) but if this is something you're thinking about please let me know and I'd be happy to help you out and give you advice, if wanted! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and eat some pancakes because hey, those can be vegan too! Mmmmmmm, pancakes...

Friday 1 February 2019

Things I Read in January

Well hello there, pals! How are you this fine, freezing February day (ok, night)? I know, I know, I started this year with all the right words and intentions of a recommitment to blogging, but, well, life gets in the way sometimes, you know? I have been, it feels, very very busy and sociable and taking opportunities when they come and just trying to kind of like live as well as get ALL OF THE THINGS done.

And then, well, this happened:
I GOT ENGAGED (and obviously immediately bought [got fiance to buy] a book to work out how to do a wedding cause idk). People like to hear engagement stories, I have discovered, and mine is this - we were on holiday and it was fiancé's birthday, we went for a lovely meal and a (freezing) walk along the seafront, and instead of proposing in either of those places he waited til we were back in our hotel room to awkwardly do it. As we're both pretty awkward bears it felt pretty right, and I couldn't be happier right now!

And couldn't have thought less about blogging since then BUT STILL. Here I am, I am here. Let's get down to January reads - which includes the above book which I somehow forgot to add to my main photo but still read in its entirety within about a day because, you know, me.

Sooooo many books, and, I now realise, so much blog work to do... I'm on it, I swear! (maybe). Let's just talk about the books, shall we?

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This was a 30 before 30 read so I'll discuss it in more detail (ahem... maybe... I actually can barely remember it now, shiiiiiiiiit...) but I can't remember being overly impressed by this? Hence, I suppose, my poor memory of it. Trying to rack my brains for a memory of this book is getting embarrassing now so I'm just going to stop and cobble together a review (LOL) at another point!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
Still going strong on re-reading Harry Potter before 30 (as I'm sure you can see!) and yep. This book is still v good. IT'S HARRY POTTER.

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay (ed.)
In an almost direct contrast to The Underground Railroad, I kind of couldn't stop thinking about this book of essays regarding rape. This was very difficult to read at some points, and left me feeling all outraged and fired up and like I wanted to do something about this shit, which is super rare for me, a lazy person. Although the subject matter is so difficult, I think this book is vital in letting survivors know that they are not alone, that their reaction, whatever it was, is allowed, and for everyone to realise that This Shit Has To Stop.

Also, fuck all those fucking men. (Not literally).

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Oh, Wild. A re-read for 30 before 30 (so a re-review is coming, I guess!), I had only read this once before but had cherished its memory ever since then. Upon re-reading, it's not at all as I remembered it (and interestingly is now tied into memories of Torch, Strayed's novel, now) but I still pretty much loved it, and gobbled it down. More thoughts to come soon...

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
Yep. I really couldn't get enough Harry Potter this month. This book is still v good too, in case you were wondering.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Another 30 before 30 read! I really liked the way this novel was framed, and actually I just enjoyed it quite a lot - it's a fairly basic story (starts singing 'tale as old as tiiiiiiime') but its framing and also excellent characters make it just that little bit more special. Once again, I will review this eventually, but exactly when remains to be seen mwahahaha.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
What can I say? It's another Harry Potter. Also still v good, and possibly still my favourite? Who can say.

The Outsider by Stephen King
See, this is a Stephen King (obviously) so by law I have to fully review it? But.... so much to do. So very much (we'll see). This was actually an incredibly creepy story and I couldn't quite bear to read it when I was alone, which is the best kind of King. I'm relieved to know that all of that King reading hasn't immunised me against being scared of things still, although I could have done without some of the images that this book left me with *shudder*.

Something New by Lucy Knisley
Because I am me, one of the first things I obviously had to do upon becoming engaged was read Lucy Knisley's comic book on planning and executing a wedding. If I'm honest, it's something I have to do quite a lot anyway because it is just SO GOOD, but it felt important to read it at this moment of my life especially. I feel as though it's a useful manual on how not to lose your head (or all your money) over a wedding, and I still just love it ever so much.

Aside: Knisley's new book, on having a bebe, is out THIS MONTH and I couldn't be more excited. I realised yesterday that I would soon be in the month that I would have my hands on new Knisley, and excitedly looked up the release date and... it's basically at the end of the month. SIGH but also hooray!

Rock N Roll Bride by Kat Williams
My guy got amazon vouchers for Christmas and his birthday (I NEVER get amazon vouchers because I am embarrassingly easy to buy presents for) and so when I broadly hinted I would like this book he offered to get it from me out of them (what a peach!) This was pretty good - it has a lot of ideas for the bits and pieces of weddings, as well as good advice and (what might be invaluable for me) a checklist to try and keep everything on track and get everything done before ones wedding day. I also really liked that it's very much like 'you don't have to do all of the usual wedding things! Or any of them! Just do what you want!' plus I also like that there is a section on self care that acknowledges how stressful weddings can be because I feel that in my soul and I haven't really done anything yet! I was less enamoured that Williams seems to have studied at the Barbara Kingsolver school of I-did-this-so-I-don't-acknowledge-a-problem-with-it when it comes to changing one's name after marriage, but she does at least say that as long as you choose it, it's fine, so how can I argue with that?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
It. Is. Harry. Potter. Yeah? I do have a comment on this one, actually - I felt like I was more sympathetic towards Harry's angst this time around, and I don't know you guys, I feel like this book is really growing on me. GIMME ALL THE POTTER PLS.

So yea, January! It was quite the month, life wise, and I did not slack off on the reading, either! Do your worst, February...