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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‘Strange Girls and Ordinary Women’ by Morgan McCarthy

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‘Alice. Vic. Kaya.

Three women, three lives that come crashing down’.

Morgan McCarthy’s new novel, Strange Girls and Ordinary Women, tells the dark, twisting tale of three women whose lives entwine in surprising and devastating ways. Told in the third person, the narrative moves consecutively from each character – Alice, Vic and Kaya – at different moments in time, enabling the characters to move in and out of each others lives seamlessly.

Alice is an ‘ordinary’ middle-aged mother and wife. Married to Jasper, the man she fell in love with at university, she has settled down to a life of middle-class luxury. Relying solely on her husband’s high income as a GP in a small suburban practice, Alice wiles away her time volunteering at the local charity shop three times a week and exercising her degree in archeology by decorating her house with the professionalism of an interior designer – a vague dream she once had of becoming. Once an undergraduate with a healthy sexual appetite or, more accurately, she just ‘didn’t see the point in saying no’, Alice has given up her days of noncommittal sex in favour of traditional gender roles under the stifling institution of marriage:

‘She agreed to his proposals, she thinks, later in bed. It is past three in the morning and she has been woken by the mournful cry of the front door, un-oiled metal on metal. She agreed to be won. Since then all the asking has been carried out by Alice (‘What would you like for dinner?’ ‘What time will you be home?’): many, many small questions, now that the big questions have been settled’.

Strange Girls and Ordinary Women, Morgan McCarthy, Pg.22

However, when Alice begins to notice her husband’s erratic behaviour and ridiculously half-hearted attempts at lying, she decides to follow him. Unsurprisingly he is having an affair with another woman but, instead of feeling betrayed, Alice’s imagination is captured by this woman who is barely older than a teenager. This woman has a natural, stark beauty that shines through her apparent working class beginnings and gives nothing away – ‘She is cowed not only by the girl’s beauty but her credibility; the purity of being tough and poor. She is the real thing’.

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‘We Are Called To Rise’ by Laura McBride

‘We never know how high we are

Till we are called to rise;

And then, if we are true to plan,

Our statures touch the skies -’

Emily Dickinson

Laura McBride’s heartwarming debut novel, We Are Called To Rise, is a tale ‘loosely’ based on true events, set in the residential, desert-like landscape of Las Vegas. A conflicting and contradictory place which thrives ‘only by convincing outsiders that it is something it is not’, We Are Called To Rise tells the tale of four characters whose lives are about to become entwined in the most devastatingly irrevocable way possible.

‘The way I see it, nothing in life is a rehearsal. It’s not preparation for anything else. There’s no getting ready for it. There’s no waiting for the real part to begin. Not ever. Not even for the smallest child. This is it. And if you wait too long to figure that out, to figure out that we are the ones making the world, we are the ones to whom all the problems – and all the possibilities for grace – now fall, then you lose everything. Your only shot at this world’

Roberta in We Are Called To Rise, Laura McBride

The first character, Avis, is a middle-aged woman who, starting from tragic beginnings, has tried to engineer a successful outcome for herself. She had a perfectly secure husband, a brave and courageous soldier for a son, a home full of memories and a group of girlfriends she never had as a teenager. However, right from the beginning the reader is aware that there are major cracks threatening to overturn everything she has worked for. The novel opens on an excruciatingly embarrassing evening where Avis is trying to spark some excitement into her and Jim’s sex life. Standing naked, ‘having just wagged [her] fifty-three-year-old ass’, Jim drops the unexpected news that he is in love with a coworker. As her marriage comes to an abrupt end, Avis has other, more pressing, issues to deal with. Her only son, Nate, a soldier having just served his third and final tour of Iraq, has returned home considerably altered from the loving, carefree boy he used to be. There are hints of his uncontrolled anger present in the bruises that appear on his wife’s body as he is inaugurated into the police force. There is also the problem of Emily, a repressed memory that Avis has yet to deal with.

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June Recap!

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Regents Park

Unlike May, June has been a very exciting month filled with many literary delights. Not only did I spend a lovely evening at the shortlist readings for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, visit the new Foyles on Charing Cross Road and visit the Globe theatre to see Titus Andronicus all in the same week but I also managed to read eight books this month!! I am completely amazed by this as I only ever manage to read four books on average (I know one of the books, Blubeard, was extremely short but it still counts!). I took part in the Angela Carter Week, hosted by Caroline at Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat and Delia at Postcards From Asia, which had a very positive impact on the amount of reading that I did and I just want to thank them again for such a wonderful event. It was great to see so many people get involved and to read so many different opinions on Carter’s work. I also received some of my first review copies this month via BookBridgr and, in an effort to keep up with the digital age, I have discovered the wonders of Twitter and Instagram! It’s all still a bit new to me but it has opened up a whole other dimension to book blogging.

 Currently reading:

  • Strange Girls and Ordinary Women by Morgan McCarthy
  • Nothing Sacred by Angela Carter

Books read in June:

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt (review coming soon)
  • Bluebeard by Angela Carter
  • Love by Angela Carter
  • Fireworks by Angela Carter
  • The Good Children by Roopa Farooki
  • The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh
  • Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates (review coming soon)
  • We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride (review coming soon)

Bookshops visited:

  • Foyles, Charing Cross Road (review coming soon)

Theatre:

Interesting bookish-related articles I’ve been reading in June:

Interesting Audio Clips I’ve been listening to in June:

June in pictures:

June

Looking forward to July:

In terms of reading I have no idea what will be in store for July yet. I have seen Emma Louise‘s #sunathon all over Twitter – a wonderful new book blogger I have just discovered (new to me anyway!). After the Angela Carter week, where I just focused on reading, I think a readathon will be a great way of getting through the stacks of books I will have to leave behind when I move to Hong Kong. I will also be going to Bruges with my mum in a couple of weeks, which should be a nice, relaxing mini-break where I can cram in a little bit more reading (particularly on the Eurostar). July will also be my last month of work, I will be finishing at the end of the month so that I have almost two weeks to sort my life out before moving! I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone so far!

‘Titus Andronicus’ @ The Globe, London

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It has been a couple of weeks now since I visited The Globe to see Shakespeare’s first (and some say his worst written) tragedy, Titus Andronicus. I was keen to see Lucy Bailey’s 2006 revival of the production, particularly as I had studied the play during my A Levels and I find Shakespeare plays are meant to be seen as a performance rather than laboriously analysed as a book. However, I had also heard many interesting accounts of the horror evoked in the play which has caused many a person to faint! I’m not usually one for watching or revelling in gory, bloody drama’s, but there was something intriguing about going to see a play – see real-life actors in a confined space – that has caused people to faint. I guess I was curious to see if it would have the same effect on me. Though I think there was a little side of me that was more curious to see if I would spot anyone in the audience fainting from the horror. I don’t think I believed that it would actually happen, though I spotted three instances of people falling to the floor and many more people leaving during the particularly harrowing scenes that litter the play far too frequently than is comfortable.

For those who don’t know, Titus Andronicus is a revenge tragedy thought to have been performed as early as 1594. The play opens up to a procession – Titus and his sons have just returned from defeating the Goths and have as their captives the Queen of Goths, Tamora, her three sons, and her lover, Aaron. After burying the sons he has lost, Titus sacrifices Tamora’s eldest son, to avenge the dead. He is then offered the emperorship of Rome but declines and nominates the late emperor’s eldest son, Saturninus. In turn, Saturninus offers to marry Titus’s only daughter, Lavinia, but she is secretly betrothed to his younger brother, Bassianus. Angry at being rejected, Saturninus marries Tamora, instead, elevating her to the position of Empress of Rome. What ensues is a bloody, gory, sickening tale of Revenge between Tamora’s and Titus’ family. Instances of rape, dismemberment and cannibalism abound, as well as a rather humorous fit of madness (as always seems to be the case in a Shakespeare tragedy) until it comes crashing down to its inevitable end.

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I don’t quite know why I have always been drawn to this story. Gore has never really appealed to me either in novels or films, but I think what Titus Andronicus is so good at highlighting is the pawns women play in times of war or in acts of revenge. Tamora plots with Aaron to avenge her son’s death and the most brutal and heart-wrenching way they can do that is through using Titus’s only daughter. Tamora encourages her sons to not only rape Lavinia but to ensure that she cannot communicate the ordeal she has been through. They cut out her tongue so she cannot speak of it and they cut off her hands so she cannot sign or write down their names, like the story of Philomel in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Watching the aftermath of this devastation was one of the key scenes that caused many in the audience to draw in a sharp breath or walk out altogether.

Being interviewed about her production of Titus Andronicus, Lucy Bailey states that the importance of the play rests on the fact that ‘it’s relevant to so many things going on in the world today, where terrifying and incomprehensible violence is happening; the savagery of the play is not so removed from our own culture’. Also, coupled with the aesthetics of the stage – Bailey’s ‘instinct was to create a black claustrophobic space, which is why [her] designer Bill Dudley created the velarium [the awning over the yard]‘ – the play takes on a strangely realistic and savage performance. As Lucy Bailey so wonderfully puts it:

‘The raw physicality of the play, the confrontation of man and man on an almost bestial level led us to understand the theatre space as an arena, a bloodbath in the literal sense’.

I think in this day and age, where violence and blood and gore is explored so graphically and repetitively in film and TV, we may think that we have become a culture desensitised to it. But on watching Lucy Bailey’s production of Titus Andronicus, it was refreshing to see that people could still be shocked and I think this has a lot to do with the claustrophobically realistic nature of the performance. The Globe is a unique theatre space that allows interaction and contact with the audience in a way no other theatre can. Not only are we spectators but we become involved, physically and emotionally, in the events that unravel before us. It is no wonder, then, that people fainted or walked out during the performance.