Monday, 23 December 2019

My Year in Books

Hi daisies,

Hope you are all doing well. I want to take this time to say that I very much appreciate you if you are reading this right now, as although this is a very small blog, the readers I have mean very much to me.

This year has been both challenging and brilliant. I've experienced some very low lows but also some ecstatic highs. I've learned that it's really important to discover exactly what "self-care" actually means (hint: it isn't always bubble baths and treating yourself) and that it's okay to cut yourself some slack when things don't go the way you intended. This year I have worked on some things that needed resolving, grown in my confidence, gained a little more control over my migraines, and I stuck to my quest to read more books this year!

I stopped reading in my teens because I was in a situation which meant that concentrating on a book was nearly impossible. I got out of the habit of reading before bed time. I stopped buying new books. It is with huge pleasure that I can say I'm back to my bookish ways, and my shelves are overflowing with exciting new words for me to discover. I'm hoping to share where I've been with you.

My Year in Books

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
I re-read this novel this year as I felt I didn't truly appreciate it when I read it in high school. I felt so much more despair this time around reading it as a young woman rather than as a child. 

The Secret Lives of Colours - Kassia St Clair
I always took colours for granted, and now I appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that went into producing so many beautiful colours. The hardback cover was also lovely and textured. 

Howl's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones
I have always adored Howl's Moving Castle by Studio Ghibli, and I would be tempted to name it as my favourite film of all time, so I was both excited and nervous to read the book. As usual, I discovered that the story had been heavily changed for the film, but I also realised that it didn't matter. The book is special and wonderful, and the film is gorgeous and magical and I highly recommend both. 

Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? - Holly Bourne
Holly Bourne is a fantastic author who I discovered through reading It Only Happens in the Movies. This was no exception to her consistently brilliant stories. I wince to use the word "relatable" but there's no other word for it. Her senstive and humanly funny characters who navigate issues with their mental health are so very needed. 

Vox - Christina Dalcher
A recommendation from a student which was a truly interesting read. Recommended for fans of The Handmaid's Tale

Matched | Reached | Crossed Trilogy - Ally Condie
Another student recommendation. Even though in parts I felt the story was fairly long and drawn out, it was actually eerily immersive and consuming, and I did feel as though I were sucked in. A very talented author and a pleasurable read, despite feeling utterly on edge about the trials the characters face.

The Book Thief - Markus Zusack
I have read this book countless time as it is probably one of my most favourite stories. I love the way the story is told, and I am completely enchanted by the characters. It is also one of the rare times that I love the film almost as much as the book. If you haven't had the pleasure, please seek it out!

Invisible Women - Caroline Criado-Perez
Wow, I got mad reading this book. The research compiled in this book suggests very much that all data should be disaggregated by sex. Although I do have some issues with the way this is approached entirely by looking at cisgendered humans, it's important to note how designs incorporate binary ideas of sex and thus must be analysed through that lens to learn how the designs occured. It is without doubt that most things are designed with the idea of the "binary" in mind. 

The Gods Lie - Kaori Ozaki
Utterly heartbreaking

Inkheart - Cornelia Funke
One of my favourite books from childhood, though I must admit that having watched the films many times, I found it quite tedious to finish and I have yet to read the other two books in the trilogy. It was lovely to revisit this part of my childhood, though.

Lord of the Flies - William Golding
The only thing I have to say about this story is that it made me feel cold, uncomfortable, small and out of control. I don't regret reading it, but I don't think I can ever pick it up again, it was far too traumatic. 

Alice in Wonderland | Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carrol
I have always loved Alice in Wonderland and it was wonderful to revisit. As always, not a little bit surprised by the notion that Carrol took a lot of drugs. 

The Curios Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
I didn't expect to like this book. However, I loved it. Although the atmosphere was uncomfortable and awkward and painful at times, it is so important.

You Know You Want This - Kristen Roupenian
I still don't know how to feel about this collection of stories. It is a horrifying, sickening, stomach-turning feeling to turn each page. You feel physically and emotionally damaged by the experience. I absolutely could not put it down. 

His Dark Materials Trilogy - Phillip Pullman
A masterpiece of fiction. I did not expect to fall so in love with this story and to be so upset when it was over. It cannot be overstated enough that the characters are so rich and beautiful and nuanced and wonderful. 

How Do You Like Me Now? - Holly Bourne
Funny and comforting. A must read. Holly Bourne always very unexpectedly displays all of your feelings which you thought were unqiue and secret on the page in front of you. She makes you feel united. That you are never alone. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
Re-read this coming-of-age classic. It is as heart-wrenching as I remember. Although I do have some problems with the characterisation sometimes, I think it truly illustrates how fucked up being a teenager is. The film is also a must-watch. Warning: ensure you read a little about the story before you dive right in if you have experiened depression or abuse. Watching/reading it can put me in a bad place emotionally if I'm already feeling down. 

How to have Feminist Sex: A Fairly Graphic Guide - Flo Perry
I picked it up as I loved the cartoony illustrations and I am very much a sex-positive feminist. Although I did take issue with some of the things in there, I think it just shows that feminism is very much an individual thing. Overall, it was pretty wonderful, and I have so much respect for Flo Perry and also her mother, Phillipa Perry and the work they produce. 

Beastars vol 1. - Paru Itagaki
Highly anticipated after seeing the trailer for the anime online. I'm a huge fan of Zootropolis, and I think this is going to be a far darker telling of a similar story of prey vs. predator. 

The Prince and the Dressmaker - Jen Wang
Absolutely beautiful. Excellent artwork. Wonderful story. I cannot recommend this enough. I especially hope that young people who feel different can find this story and feel they are seen.

Testaments - Margaret Atwood
Highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid's Tale after such a long break. I was concerned about how the story was going to unfold, but I was not disappointed. I adored this addition to the universe, and it was so beautifully articulated in Atwood's usual way, it was impossible not to devour it.

The Places I've Cried in Public - Holly Bourne
See: here

I Go Quiet - David Ouimet
Charming and beautiful. 

The Power - Naomi Alderman
Brilliant concept and incredibly thought-provoking. It made me realise how terrifying it is that violence and fear can be so normalised in our world if the context is deemed reasonable. 
Although I struggled with the outcome of the novel, and felt a bit confused the closer I got to the end, I do believe the concept is worth exploring. 

Over the Garden Wall - Distillatoria
A comic based on one of my all-time favourite shows Over the Garden Wall. There are no words for how much I love this show, and receiving a copy of this book from my partner on my birthday was a memorable moment for this year. The show is just everything I could ask for and the comic completely surpassed my expectations and made me feel like I was experiencing new episodes of the show I love so much. 

So that's my year in books! I struggled quite a lot towards the end of 2019, as my teaching load got quite heavy. However, I am very happily just starting Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea, which I hope will appear on next year's reading list (as I definitely won't have time to finish it before January, I will be busy eating).

Take care saplings x

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

The Places I've Cried in Public

Yesterday I finished reading Holly Bourne's The Places I've Cried in Public. 

I have read a few others by Holly Bourne, It Only Happens in the Movies, Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes?, and How Do You Like Me Now? are all wonderful, and each brought tears and smiles to my face in their own ways. The Places I've Cried in Public is different for me, so much so I feel compelled to tell somebody about it. If you take nothing else away from this post and want to stop reading this now, please just go and read it. It's a book that I never knew I needed until it was here. 

As you might remember from a comic I drew a couple of years ago, crying is not an alien concept to me. 
Quietly. Loudly. Neatly. Messily. Just-a-bit. Floods. Three minutes. Three days.
Just to clarify, I'm still talking about crying.  

The point is, I know how to do this thing, and it's a thing I'm quite happy to talk about and share with other people. I think it brings people closer together if we remind each other that we are all just human after all. That crying serves a normal, human purpose. That crying is good for us. We all know this stuff now, and it's not going to be news to you. But despite my superior tear-producing powers, it's something I have always preferred never to demonstrate. 

Blinking rapidly. Trying to feel numb. Compartmentalising. Looking down. Looking up. Looking at anything to avoid making eye contact. Avoiding hugs. Gritted teeth.
Classic, "I'm not going to cry in public" moves. 

If that fails, push all the tears into your hair. Get out a tissue and blow your nose, "I've got a cold starting". "I've just got something in my eye". "Just resting my eyes". 
You've seen and heard and done it all before. 

Crying in public is always something I've skirted around. I've cried in supermarkets, cried in restaurants and cafes, cried in a park, cried on the way to work, cried on the way home from work, cried in an Uber, cried on the bus, cried in public toilets, cried in the office. I got away with them all, because we all learn how to hide it so well. 

The most recent time I cried in public was when I went for a little tea break yesterday and decided to finish The Places I've Cried in Public, which I had been dreaming about since I started reading it. I was sitting in a very quiet and empty cafe, my back to the rest of the chairs, very quietly letting all the tears out as I hurried through the remaining pages. It felt so important that I reach the end, that I let it all out. Common Sense might ask, "why not wait until you got home?" or "why read it at all?" and the answer is that I physically had to finish it there and then or I felt I would implode. 
Can't help but smile a little bit now, because my inner voice commented, "dramatic, much?" as I wrote it down. Dramatic, indeed, reader. Dramatic, indeed. 

The night before this, I was three quarters of the way through the book, crying privately this time, and ever since then it has has felt like a crutch, but also like a weight on me at the same time. The only way to describe this book is as a guttaral sob that you absolutely need to have before you can get back up again and carry on. 
I'm sorry to every single person who reads this book and connects with it the way I do, because then I'll know that you have gone through the same experience. Reading it was physically, agonisingly painful, but I needed to know if Amelie was going to be alright in the end, because I was Amelie once, and I'm still waiting to see if I'll be alright in the end. 

I almost hope that this book is boring, unrelatable or nonsense to you, because then I will know that you have never experienced that pain. I also hope a little bit that you do think it's all a bit over-dramatic, because then I can pretend it's not all that serious either. I started writing this post with the intention of getting things off my chest, talking about the things I've started to address with a counsellor, admit the real truths of events that I have been through. But I don't think I need to do that just yet. 

Knowing others might find this book and feel the hope and relief that comes from escaping a "Reese" is enough. 
Knowing that I am not at fault for ending up where I did is enough. 
Knowing for real that I am not alone, because Holly Bourne came along and wrote my story for me so that I wouldn't have to do it, is enough. 

Stay safe, saplings x

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Dear Younger Me 2.0

   A couple of years ago, I wrote a collaborative post with a friend. A friend I met at university who I most definitely have not done a good job of keeping in touch with, just like all of my other friends. I am terrible at keeping in touch. Actually, I feel a deep inner wince every time I hear the phrase "keep in touch" because I fail at it so successfully. Anyone who knows me will know that they will inevitably see me at some point, though. It will be at a random event (at the pub, someone's house, a Christmas Light Switch-On), at which I repeatedly state to the group, "it's so weird that I'm out the house" (for a social reason, obviously). Usually I will have a completely different hair cut and/or colour that people will be shocked to see because the last time they saw me I was definitely settled on keeping the last one for a long time. That's because it will have been a long time.  At this event, I will continue to vow to leave the house (for social reasons) more often and arrange to meet up with everyone more frequently. Everyone around me will listen and laugh knowingly, because they are all aware that they aren't going to see me again for another six months. I truly appreciate and admire my friends and their ability to make me feel as though not a single second has passed since we last spoke. Thank you all for understanding this part of me.

   The best part of time passing is the experiences you have, the lessons you learn and the feeling of growth you have when you look back on who you were. I used to hate that horrible sinking feeling of remembering a past self and cringing at the things I thought, the things I said and did, and even the things I felt. However, I have learned a very important lesson relatively early on in life - that if you look back on your younger self and cringe, it means you've done a lot of growing, which can only be a good thing. I look forward to one day looking back on this post at my 23-year-old self and thinking about how much growing I had in front of me, and maybe even cringing a little bit too. It's also worth mentioning that everyone who has seen the meme with a fluffy dog sitting under a white board which says "if you look back on your younger self and cringe, it means you've grown", or words to that effect, have also learned this lesson as well. Just so we're clear about my methods of growth.

   At this point, I got halfway through writing quite a detailed letter to myself at various ages until I realised that this is all I need to write.

Dear Younger Me,

No matter what happens, you will make it through the other side. I am evidence of that. I trust that you will do your best, and make the choices you feel are right at the time. None of it is your fault. None of it. Don't give up on yourself, it gets better.

Future Me.

   No matter what painful experiences have taught you, and how much you've grown through them, you can't go back and give yourself a list of "things I wish I'd known". Take comfort that you know them now. Don't be frustrated when you can't save others from the same thing, they have a right to learn things for themselves.

See you soon, saplings

Monday, 22 July 2019



There is something comfortable about anchoring yourself in one spot and allowing the space around you to hold you. Sinking your roots into a warm, safe place and sighing deeply as the warmth and the damp seeps in and consumes you. You become one with your surroundings. You can look around you and decide that now is most definitely better than before. You can look back on all the glorious growing you have done. You can be proud about how far you have come. You can become comfortable with the person you are because the person you were was so far from where you wanted to be.

   The thing that I am now trying to remember is that I would not have the satisfying experience of looking back on my growth if I had not had the drive to change, to progress, to mature, to develop. When I'm worried about how badly I'm coping with something, it helps immensely when I can say, "but look at how far you have come".

   I'm trying to remember today that I am not done growing. I am still sprouting in every way imaginable. I am still learning about who I am. I am still recovering from hurt that I once thought unimaginable. I am still spreading my roots into every corner of myself and discovering new things. I am still closing doors on parts of myself that I am done with. I am trying to uproot my comfort and to stop standing still. To know that I can't settle for just being better than before. I don't want to settle for anything less than my best self.

   Soon I will stop thinking about growing and just start growing instead. I will say goodbye to parts of myself which are hurting me and I will lovingly wrap them up, thank them for serving me when I needed them, and lock them away. Sometimes you need to let go of things weighing you down so you can continue to grow towards the warmth and happiness that comes with change. Sometimes you need to stop trusting the feelings that used to keep you safe, and begin to trust other, new feelings that keep you safe now.

   I used to firmly believe that people never change. I believed that they will always be who they were. But who am I to deny the change in others that I have seen in myself? Who am I to deny my future self this change?

Keep growing, daisies. I'll see you there.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Of Pain

Hello daisies,

Several months ago I began writing a post which I never finished. Today, I feel inspired to re-write it. 

In December 2018, I decided that motivation, as a force, never shows up when I need it. It is, of course, remarkably present when it's time for me to go to sleep or when I log into Netflix. This being so I can binge a series that I would have no interest in watching if I did not have work to do. 
It is an oddly specific problem which I think nearly everyone has. 

So after my realisation that motivation was not on my side, I decided that I would force myself to start reading again. For reasons which are too complicated to address today, I stopped reading for quite a long time. As someone whose identity was summed up consistently as "bookworm", this was a weirdly disorientating thing for me to do. Upon arriving at my undergraduate induction, I did not feel particularly well-read. By this, I mean that the last things I had read were children's and teenage literature, and some Danielle Steel novels. Thirteen-year-old-me sobbed uncontrollably over rich middle-aged people getting divorced. 

Turning up to studying for my degree in English Language and Literature was daunting because evidently I had never read any 'classic' literature. I hadn't even heard of some of the authors. I have no doubt that this is true for most new undergraduates, but I felt especially alone and behind. I felt I was amongst true academics who would eventually find me out. The abstract, giant shadows of these novels convinced me that, un-read, they were the reason I was feeling so unaccomplished. 

Perhaps it will comfort those of you who are just embarking on your degree that I still feel like that now. I've read Dracula and Frankenstein and other "classics". I've carried out independent, academic research. I'm teaching undergraduates myself as a graduate teacher. Despite all of this progress that past-me would be in awe of, I still feel very much like an academic imposter. Someone is going to find out I don't know what I'm doing! But it turns out that I did not need to have read every classic novel by the age of eighteen to be worthy of my degree, and neither do you. Not only will there be ample opportunity to read these novels during your study, but you will hopefully come to the same realisation that I have. Some of them are brilliant, some of them not-so-much, and none of them are worth feeling paralysed over. At this point, I'm not sure we are entirely sure about what "classics" really means. There are the culturally ingrained ones (see above), but there is certainly always the argument of subjectivity. I know incredibly successful academics who dislike the work of Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens, and others who are bewildered by Austenmania. 

The point I am trying to make is don't feel pressured to be a stereotypical academic. You can be an academic and exclusively study an area of your interest. You need only read what you want to read (and what's on your required reading list if you're a student, I'M SORRY). Although we must also remember the huge importance of reading texts you hate, texts that you might feel are objectively terrible, and texts you would never normally pick up. There is a lot of interesting insight to be gained by reading your literary hell. I think my real point is that not having read particular books does not contradict your identity as a reader, as a student, as an academic, as a teacher or as a person with valuable contributions. There is something terrifying about a mountain of books we feel its absolutely necessary for us to have read, and if you really feel that you need to check some off the list, don't wait for motivation! Motivation will not come and save you from book-mountain-related paralysis!

Since my decision in December 2018, thirteen books have been read. This might not seem like a lot, but it's a large step for me in finding time and concentration for reading. One of the books I decided to pick up was inspired by my own book-mountain-paralysis (read: don't die before you read this!): 1984 - George Orwell. The most wonderful thing about finally reading a book with a repuation like this is that you realise it is not the huge undertaking you imagined it to be...and you finally understand a lot more pop-culture references. 

In the middle of all of this, though, I made a connection which I did not expect to make. I felt a strong reaction to the quote which reads; 

"Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes". 

As someone with chronic pain, physical pain is never far away. I am in pain every single day to some degree. Sometimes it's so faint that I can distract myself and nearly forget about it. Other days it is at the forefront of my attention and there is nothing I would not do to take it away.  

I know there are so many people out there who are experiencing their own pain, and so many who share the unusual, frustrating and so-awful-I-need-to-laugh-experience of having migraines. Needing to laugh because they are so awful might sound strange, but when you dramatically flee goalkeeper-style from anyone spraying perfume, you gotta laugh.When you find that the nausea and flashing lights only cease when you bend at an exact right-angle, so you walk around like that all day and your mom catches you emerging from the bathroom hunched over and grunting, you gotta laugh. When you're hanging out a car window, vomiting, wearing obnoxious yellow glasses and a bright purple ice-pack-hat on your head and you stop at traffic lights and you're valliantly ignoring everyone in the car beside you, you just gotta laugh. 

In the face of pain, there are no heroes. Nothing and nobody in the world exists that can instantly take it away. However, George Orwell reminded me that I am not alone, and I don't know how soon another reminder of that kind would have come along. 

It's okay if you put down the books, but take comfort in knowing that there might be something there waiting for you if you decide to pick them back up.

Take care saplings x