July Recap!

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The Belfry, Bruges

July has been a whirlwind of a month. I can’t quite believe it is almost over and that in exactly two weeks I will be setting up home for the next year in Hong Kong. I am definitely starting to feel nervous now. I finish work tomorrow at the wonderful charity Greenwich Mencap and I also finish volunteering at Oxfam Bookshop next week, so it is all starting to feel real now – there is no going back!

Anyway, July has been an excellent month in terms of reading. I mentioned before that I am trying to read more than usual so I can schedule some posts for the first few weeks in Hong Kong. This was helped by Emma Louise’s brilliant #sunathon, where I managed to read four books in one week. I also found it a wonderful way of interacting with fellow book-bloggers and book-lovers via Twitter. In the middle of July I had a few days break in the beautiful city of Bruges with my mum. We took the Eurostar and had an amazing time eating lots of Belgian cuisine (and by cuisine I mean chocolate and waffles) and tasting a variety of different beers. I inevitably dragged my mum along to many museums and exhibitions, which I will write a post about shortly. Also, on Monday I had the pleasure of attending a talk at the British Library called 1914: Goodbye to All That and curated by the poet, Lavinia Greenlaw. Greenlaw had invited ten world-renowned writers from countries that were involved in the First World War to respond to Robert Grave’s autobiography Goodbye to All That and reflect on artistic freedom in the face of conflict. Before the talk, which was held in the Conference Hall, I was able to squeeze in the free Folio Society exhibition in the foyer of the British Library. They are currently holding a temporary exhibition entitled Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour. I will eventually get round to writing up longer posts on both of these. Lastly, I was very lucky to be nominated by Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Karen has been one of my first followers on this blog since I started last August and she has always read and commented on my posts, so thank you! I will make sure to post about this and nominate other inspiring book-bloggers soon.

Currently reading:

  • The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media by Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

Books read in July:

  • Strange Girls and Ordinary Women by Morgan McCarthy
  • Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (review to come)
  • The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (review to come)
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (review to come)
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (review to come)
  • My Baby Shot Me Down ed. Richard Penny (review to come)
  • Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter (review to come)
  • Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (review to come)
  • The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton (review to come)

Books started but abandoned:

  • The Poppy Factory by Liz Trenow – I received this via Netgalley but just couldn’t connect with it so gave up.

Interesting bookish-related outings:

Interesting bookish-related articles read in July:

July in pictures:

July RecapLooking forward to August!

As I said earlier, I will be moving to Hong Kong in August to start a new job. Before this, however, I have tried to book in as many events and things to do in London as possible. I have tickets for The Crucible at The Old Vic Theatre, 1984 at The Playhouse Theatre and the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I am also planning on going to the Suffragettes: Deeds not Words exhibition (which is free) at the National Portrait Gallery, the new First World War galleries at the Imperial War Museum and to see as many of the other BookBenches as I can. I will also be frantically trying to write up all those book reviews before I go – wish me luck! On the reading front, I think I will take it easy!

#sunathon 21st-27th July Wrap-up!

Emma Louise‘s #sunathon has sadly come to an end, though it has been such a wonderful week full of sunshine and reading. I couldn’t have asked for a better readathon to experience for the first time. Not only did I find it an amazing way to push myself to read more than I would usually read in a week, but it also encouraged me to Tweet more. I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of book-bloggers and book-lovers out there – and how friendly and welcoming everyone was – and Emma’s #sunathon really highlighted this. She was also a brilliant host, making sure to retweet every single #sunathon tweet (there were loads!) and held daily competitions and regular Q&A sessions.

Now, onto the books! I managed to read almost all the books I set out to read in my original #sunathon post. I finished Eleanor Catton’s debut, The Rehearsal, yesterday so I am going to say that counts! Overall that is a total of 925 pages! I am usually lucky if I get through four books in a month so reading these four books in a week was a major achievement for me. Over the next couple of weeks I will start writing up my reviews. I am deliberately ahead in my reading (I usually read a book and post my thoughts straight after) because I am hoping to get some posts scheduled for my first month away in Hong Kong. I start work the day after I arrive so I think the first few weeks will be the most hectic, which means I probably won’t have much time to read let alone review (though I will make time to read and comment on other people’s blogs).

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I really enjoyed all four of the books I chose to read. I think it really worked for me having a variety of fiction, non-fiction and prose/poems. The highlight has to be My Baby Shot Me Down, an anthology of ten new female writers published this year by Blinding Books. I have found some brilliant new writers, such as Rachael Smart – who has a wonderful blog, Offcuts, and whose writing reminds me of one of my favourite writers of all time, Angela Carter, though Rachael’s writing is brilliant in its own right – and Maggy van Eijk – whose poetry is amazing – amongst many others. The themes range from childhood and identity to relationships and sex in new and original ways. It truly is a refreshing read and I cannot recommend it enough (I will post a full ‘review’/thoughts soon!).

Thanks again to Emma for hosting. I look forward to her #fallathon in October!

‘Unspeakable Things’ by Laurie Penny

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 ‘This is not a fairy tale.

     This is a story about how sex and money and power put fences around our fantasies. This is a story about how gender polices our dreams. Throughout human history, the most important political battles have been fought on the territory of the imagination, and what stories we allow ourselves to tell depend on what we can imagine’.

Unspeakable Things, Laurie Penny, Pg.1

I have never read any of Laurie Penny’s work before. However, as I was idly browsing Twitter one day on the bus I saw a link to an article on the Cosmopolitan website called ‘Why I don’t believe in The One’. I can’t remember how I came across it (because I don’t follow Cosmopolitan and gave up wasting my money on it years ago when I realised how deeply narrow-minded it’s view of female sexuality was) but I was intrigued by the title and clicked on the link to have a little read. I definitely liked what I saw and agreed wholeheartedly with Laurie Penny’s belief that ‘the notion of The One is profoundly unromantic’. I then saw at the bottom of the article that her book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, would be out that same week. As luck would have it I was on my way to the Waterstones Café in Greenwich at the time so I thought I would have a quick look for it. I know that I am supposed to be limiting my book-buying to the Kindle in preparation for the big move, but I reasoned that I would read it straight away (which I did!) so it wouldn’t matter. It seemed like I was destined to buy the book as it was right there on the new releases shelf, just waiting for me, at the front of the store:

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Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things does exactly what it sets out to do – it offers a raw and honest account of the gender constraints under a neoliberal and capitalist society that views gender as a commodity. It voices a harsh reality that is true for many, though at no point does it claim to speak for everybody – ‘I am not writing as Everygirl, because there’s no such thing’ (pg.10). It is a heart-rending tale of female oppression – particularly ‘poor women, sex workers, single parents, or anybody else who fails to fit the mould’ (my only criticism is that it could do this more), but it also highlights how (some) men are also hurt by the ‘straightjacket’ of stereotypically constructed gender roles.

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Books About Town – Greenwich Trail

I have been aware of Books About Town for a while now and was extremely excited to learn that they were unveiled on 2nd July all across London and they are here for the summer! For those not aware, Books About Town is a co-partnership between the National Literacy Trust and Wild in Art, which both seek to promote reading and increase literacy levels across the UK. For one summer only, local and professional artists have come together to design individual BookBenches that have been scattered across the capital and will eventually be auctioned off to raise funds.

One of my aims before I move to Hong Kong is to explore each of the four BookBench trails in London – from the Greenwich Trail to Bloomsbury Trail to City Trail and Riverside Trail. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there is a specific Greenwich Trail and, as this is the closest place to where I live, I thought it was only fitting to start there. It is easy, when you have lived in a place for the majority of your life, to overlook the reasons why Greenwich is such a wonderful tourist hotspot. From its beautiful royal park and historic buildings to its rich maritime history and bustling indoor market situated on the River Thames, Greenwich village is always a busy little place any time of the year.

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The Cutty Sark

Having had a look at the Book Trail Map, I thought the best route would be to start at Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Planet 42 BookBench, which is placed just outside of Greenwich Overground Station. That way, I could walk through the back streets – passing the Dr Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary BookBench – to reach Greenwich Park where several of the BookBenches are positioned. I could then head in the direction of the Royal Observatory, past the bandstand, to the enclosed flower gardens and then loop back down towards the sandpit across to The National Maritime Museum. From there I can walk to the university grounds and the Cutty Sark and then end up back in the direction of the station to see the last BookBench – Sue Townsend’s The Diary of Adrian Mole – near St Alfege’s Church.

Here are my pictures:

Greenwich Trail 1

Clockwise: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams, Dr Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, On the Origin of Species – Charles Darwin and The Time Machine – H.G. Wells

Greenwich Trail 2

Clockwise: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen, Elmer the Elephant – David McKee, The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling, Captain Scott’s Autobiography

Greenwich Trail 3

Clockwise: The Canterbury Tales – Chaucer, The Railway Children – Edith Nesbit, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Girl Engrossed) – Sue Townsend, Samuel Pepys’ Diary

 

#sunathon 21st-27th July!

IMG_3914I will be taking part in Emma Louise‘s #sunathon this coming week, which will kick off the summer with a seven day event to read as much as possible and to bring readers together in the act of reading. Aside from the one book review I intend to post at some point this week, I will be making it my aim to get through as many of the books pictured above.

From top to bottom:

  • My Baby Shot Me Down, ed. Richard Penny – poetry and prose by ten new women writers. As the blurb on Blinding Books states: ‘Expect full-bodied and full-blooded’. Just how I like my literature!
  • Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson – I love Jeanette Winterson’s writing so it is about time I revisited her work. Written on the Body is a story of ‘self-discovery made through the metaphors of desire and disease’.
  • Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter – inspired by reading Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism a few weeks ago, I have had Walter’s book sitting on my shelf for months and it follows a similar message of the damaging effects of sexism in society today, though it was published a couple of years before the inception of the everyday sexism project, in 2010. As a Guardian review states, Walter ‘paints a frightening picture of the personal’.
  • The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton – after reading her Man Booker prize-winning novel, The Luminaries, I have been eager to read her debut novel. Revolving around a high school scandal, The Rehearsal could not sound more different to her Victorian-esque sensation novel, The Luminaries.

I have no idea which order I will read these in – I will decide on my mood at the time – though I have deliberately picked a variety of books to get through this following week, from fiction, non-fiction, poetry and prose. Hopefully I will have a successful #sunathon!

I will be tracking my progress via Twitter @RoseYasmineRose.

‘Everyday Sexism’ by Laura Bates

IMG_1918‘One of the problems that makes sexism so difficult to tackle, or even to talk about, is that we all view each instance of it from a very individual perspective based on our own experiences’.

Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates, Pg.279

The everyday sexism project was set up in 2012 by its founder, Laura Bates, who had simply had enough of suffering in silence at the everyday harassment she received from men in the street. Disbelieving the thought that she could be the only one experiencing these sexist incidents, Bates decided to set up a website where women could safely document, either anonymously or not, any instances of sexism from street harassment and wolf-whistling to serious sexual assault. As Laura Bates notes:

‘Our experience of all forms of gender prejudice – from daily sexism to distressing harassment to sexual violence – are part of a continuum [...] To include stories of assault and rape within a project documenting everyday experiences of gender imbalance is simply to extend its boundaries to the most extreme manifestations of that prejudice. To see how great the damage can be when the minor, ‘unimportant’ issues are allowed to pass without comment’.

Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates, Pg.19

Only expecting a handful of people to step forward with their own stories of sexism, Bates was astounded by the sheer number of entries she received. Within two months there had been over 1,000 entries from all over the world. Today, the EverydaySexism Twitter page has over 155,000 followers and has become a global movement that has seen women share their experiences on a scale that would have been unprecedented ten years, or so, ago.

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‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

IMG_3539‘I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell’.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt, Pg.2

I started reading Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, immediately after I finished The Goldfinch as part of the Baileys Prize shortlist challenge I set myself over a month ago now (though, with Angela Carter week and a couple of review copies to read, I have only now had the chance to reflect on it). I am completely addicted to Tartt’s miniaturist style and the way her words can fully immerse me into the story, like I am there in the midst of the action, witnessing the awful (and they are always awful) events that are about to transpire. She is a master of descriptive writing, just like Charles Dickens – her literary idol, and her words can literally paint a clear and vivid picture:

‘The very colours of the place seeped into my blood: just as Hampden, in subsequent years, would always present itself immediately to my imagination in a confused whirl of white and green and red, so the country house first appeared as a glorious blur of watercolours, of ivory and lapis blue, chestnut and burnt orange and gold, separating only gradually into the boundaries of remembered objects: the house, the sky, the maple trees. But even that day, there on the porch, with Charles beside me and the smell of wood smoke in the air, it had the quality of a memory; there it was, before my eyes, and yet too beautiful to believe’.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt, Pg.113

I have also heard all about the cult following surrounding Tartt’s debut so I couldn’t wait to start reading The Secret History. I was not disappointed. Tartt, like some of my favourite contemporary authors – Margaret Atwood, Marilynne Robinson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – makes me feel safe and secure in the knowledge that I am reading brilliant literature. She knows how to write instant classics that will stand the test of time and The Secret History is a testament to this. After 22 years its legacy and its ‘cult’ following still remains stronger than ever.

The Secret History begins, much like how The Goldfinch does, with the revelation of a terrible event that has rocked the protagonists’ world. In the Prologue we are told about the death of a friend, Bunny, or, more specifically, his premeditated murder: ‘the loose rocks, the body at the bottom of the ravine with a clean break in the neck, and the muddy skidmarks of dug-in heels pointing the way down’ (pg.1). Richard Papen’s first person narrative reveals everything – the facts of the climactic event that will haunt his life – in these first few pages. Nothing is left to the imagination. Yet, as the narrative jumps back to the ‘beginning’, in an effort to explain how the actions of this eccentric group of students led to murder, Tartt manages to grip my imagination and create a story steeped in suspense. At over 600 pages long, it is no short read, but I found Tartt’s style so beautiful and effortless that I raced through the pages with the paradoxical feeling of wanting to know what happened and how, but also not wanting the story to end.

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