Books

How white is your bookshelf?

The recent events in the US have had me thinking a great deal about a lot of things, but specifically, white privilege, police brutality, and the systemic oppression of Black people not just stateside, but all over the world. Not just in 2020, but historically, century upon century. And then I started thinking about what I could do as an individual and as an ally.

So I thought about this blog. Books. Reading. The thing I, like so many of you, turn to when I’m not sure what else there is to turn to. The place we go to learn, to reflect, to think, to live, and quite significantly, to listen to the stories those pages have to tell. And I’ll be damned if this isn’t a time to do all of those things with more intention and vigour than ever before.

How white is your bookshelf?

Let’s do a little experiment together, booklings. Take a look at your bookshelf, and either lay your trusty tomes out in piles or make a list according to these two groups:

  • Books written by white authors
  • Books written by Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) authors

If you want to talk about reading diversely in a wider sense, why not break things down by gender too? How many women are on your shelves? How many LGBTQ+ authors? It’s a learning experience no matter how detailed you decide to get.

If like me, you were raised in a predominantly white country and went to a predominantly white school with an overwhelmingly white reading list, then the final category will more than likely dwarf the others. And look – when you’re a kid, you basically read whatever you’re given. In my case, that was a lot of Enid Blyton, Beatrix Potter, and Harry Potter. The important thing here is that as we get older, it becomes our responsibility to read across different cultures, genders, and classes.

During my undergraduate degree, two amazing lecturers taught me about postcolonial and world literature. They helped me realise that there was, quite literally, a whole world of authors for me to discover. Authors beyond the literary canon which is essentially a series of choices made by generations of white males. And in retrospect, I feel a bit silly. Precisely because it took me so long to realise. Because I didn’t see how narrow my reading had been until then. How obvious it became to me, how clear, that you can’t broaden your mind and really grow as a person without reading, hungrily, from a diverse range of voices. Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to make sure my reading is more inclusive. It’s only enriched my life.

I will never understand, but I stand

As a white woman, I will never be able to understand the suffering, the struggle, of being Black in a world broken by systemic racism. By people who see differences as a means to control others, to divide, to hurt, rather than something beautiful that has the power to make communities richer, happier, healthier, kinder.

But it is within my power to be a better ally, and there are many ways to do that, but today we’re talking books and the book industry because, well, that’s what we do here. So I’d like to share a few different resources and recommendations to help us support Black writers, bookshops, and publishers not just right now but indefinitely as we move forward, because it’s not enough to post a hashtag and be sad or angry. We need to do the work, as Layla F. Saad so rightly put it in her recent article in the Guardian.

Books to help you be a better ally

Before moving on to the non-fiction section, I thought we could start with the historical, political, and social facts to help provide some much-needed context to the issues of racism that persist today. Enter, these titles:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler
  • The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
  • Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon
  • How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain by Trevor Phillips and Mike Phillips

Books by Black authors you need to read

Next, we’ll talk about fiction. If you’re looking for a few recommendations to get you started, here are some fantastic reads. Quick disclaimer here: this list is FAR from exhaustive, of course, but this wouldn’t be a book blog without me sharing some favourites, would it?

  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Recitatif by Toni Morrison (short story)
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • We Should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes
  • Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

For a more extensive list of literature by Black authors, check out Penguin’s list of contemporary writers and this compilation by The Oprah Magazine.

Black-owned bookshops to support

I live in England, so I thought I’d cover the UK here primarily because there are people beyond these shores who know infinitely more than me about Black-owned businesses in their country. I’ll link to some other resources below if you’re looking for places to support in the US, and if you have any great resources to share, drop me a comment and we’ll add that in! Again, this list needs to be alive, it needs to grow; if you know of any Black-owned bookshops in the UK, drop me a link in the comments and I’ll add it to the list!

Additional resources

There’s so much to read around this topic, I couldn’t possibly hope to include it all in one little blog post. Besides, there are a lot of folks out there doing this with more authority and experience than me, so be sure to check these out!

Bookworms, if you have any additional books to recommend or resources to add to this list, let me know!

-Kelly

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The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
book review, Books

Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

It feels appropriate and a little serendipitous that I should ‘celebrate’ my subtle rebranding of this blog (we’re going to be a little less ‘all over the place’ and more ‘books’ from now on, kids) with this: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. Holy shit do I have a treat for you.

Margaret Atwood The Testaments

Before we dive in, let’s do a quick recap of The Handmaid’s Tale. I first read it circa 2009 when I should have been revising for my A-levels, but naturally, I kept finding better things to do. I devoured that novel in two short days. Even now, as I type this, it’s as fresh in my mind as it was the day I read the last few words on the very last page. And that was more than 10 years ago.

The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.

Brief synopsis from The Handmaid’s Tale

To say this book had an impact on me would be a bit of an understatement, but neither one of us has all day. It helped me to understand and appreciate just how easily our rights – not just women’s rights, by the way – could be snatched away with the flourish of a pen in a room filled with privileged men. It’s our duty to guard the freedoms so hard-won by those who came and suffered before us.

Basically, I think it’s essential reading, especially if you’re interested in:

  • Speculative/dystopian fiction
  • Politics and equal rights/feminism
  • Totalitarian societies with a generous splash of religious fanaticism

Moving swiftly on.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Genre: Dystopian fiction

Length: 432 pages

Publisher: Chatto & Windus/Vintage

Other bits: Sunday Times #1 Best Seller, shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize

Synopsis

Set some 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, the narrative unfolds through the stories of three very different characters living at a pivotal time during the Gileadean regime. Things aren’t as solid as they seem in the first book; everything seems to be barely held together with chewing gum. The witness testimonies of two young women are joined by a third, older voice, belonging to one of Gilead’s key founding figures: Aunt Lydia.

Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.

Margaret Atwood

It reads ‘easy’ in the sense that the prose flows beautifully and keeps you just hungry enough to get to the next word, page, chapter, story. But there’s nothing easy about the harrowing and at time heartbreaking details of what these women had to experience, witness, or even do.

My thoughts

I love how we get a closer, unflinching look at Aunt Lydia, one of the founding members of Gilead who we’ve only seen through Offred’s eyes thus far. This time, instead of seeing here purely as a stoic symbol of woman-on-woman oppression, Aunt Lydia is armed with a pen and set to tell her own story. We find out how she got there and what has to happen to a person to make them do things they would never have even considered back in their normal lives.

We get a closer look at what it’s like for girls growing up in Gilead – what kind of education do they get? How are the children of handmaids treated or viewed by society? What are the rules and rituals surrounding marriage? Delving deeper into the mythology of Gilead is a fascinating ride, I’ll tell you that much. I’m not one to give you spoilers. But be prepared to be very pissed off.

The ending? I loved it. Satisfying, although I did predict some parts of the resolution along the way – that doesn’t bother me much, but I do know that’s a pet peeve for some readers. Anyway, the ending: tantalizing enough to leave you wanting more, but we get the answers we need.

It’s more important than ever that we read and share stories like this one. That we stay vigilant when it comes to the rights we’ve won and yet remain, it seems, at the mercy of another entitled white male’s signature. Take what’s happening under Trump’s presidency, with Planned Parenthood. Or my home country, Malta, where women were – until relatively recently – denied so much as the morning-after pill, called sluts, murderers, and worse for wanting a say in what happens to their bodies. This is not fiction. This is happening.

History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Margaret Atwood

And it’s not just about women’s rights. All our rights, no matter who you are or where you live, are about as permanent as the paper they’re printed on. Rip it up. Change a law. Add new laws. Close a clinic. Send in the military. Decide who’s allowed to read and write. Decide who can have a voice. It doesn’t happen all at once, you guys. It’s a slow burn. Before you know it, the whole house is on fire. Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum.

-Kelly

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f scott fitzgerald review
Books

#CurrentlyReading: The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’d apologise for the radio silence over the last few months but that’d mean apologising for dealing with life itself. Besides, it feels a little presumptuous to apologise as though people were waiting for me to post something here. So let’s skip the pleasantries and get right into it, shall we?

I recently moved into a bigger bedroom, and it was during the third or fourth trip upstairs with an armful of books that I realised how out of hand my reading backlog had become. I’ve been on a relatively strict (for me) book-buying ban for a while now, and the plan is not to buy any new books until I’ve worked my way through at least 20 novels. Hell, I might avoid buying any until I buy my own house just because I’m tired of hauling things around Newcastle for the time being. Anyway, on to the actual book.

The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

I loved every bit of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), so I’d been looking for another of his novels to get stuck into for a while when I came across this strong title; even if you’ve never heard of the guy, you’ve got to admit he’s got a knack for titles. So without really reading the blurb, Fitzgerald’s second novel made its way into my not-so-little collection. I found it to be a bit of a slow burn at first, but things do pick up when Anthony Patch, the protagonist, sets his sights on a sparkling socialite named Gloria Gilbert. That might sound like the introduction to a soppy romcom, but trust me, it’s not.

The Beautiful and Damned is a novel of decadence. It follows Anthony, a somewhat lackadaisical-but-jittery socialite and heir to his grandfather’s fortune, through his courtship and relationship with free-spirited Gloria. Slivers of World War I make it into the plot, but that’s far from the main focus of the story; what I can’t shake is the sense of apathy and indolence that seems to radiate from the two characters – Anthony in particular. It is a meditation on love and money, certainly, but there also seems to be this running theme of action versus inaction throughout the novel, primarily because the protagonists are crippled by an idealisation of, and obsession with, the past, to the extent that it consumes their present. As a reader, I almost want to reach into the text and shake the two twenty-somethings awake, at once frustrated by the nothing that they seem adept at doing and exasperated by selfishness so incredible it borders on narcissism.

“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

So in terms of how effective the novel is in making me feel things as a reader, I’d say it’s pretty damn good. The writing itself is beautiful, almost poetic at times, but I wouldn’t describe it as un-put-down-able.

“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know–because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.” 

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

It’s definitely worth a read, especially if you’re interested in Fitzgerald beyond his most popular work. You know, the one so many people love because of Leonardo di Caprio. No shade.

books by f scott fitzgerald

Have you read anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald? What did you think? Thoughts and recommendations welcome in the comments below!

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book review caitlin moran how to be a woman
Books, review, thoughts

#CurrentlyReading: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

book reviews

If you know me, you’ll know that I have something of an addiction to books. I own roughly 350 books spread across 4 bookshelves around my house, and I have absolutely no intention of stopping until I get my own Beauty and the Beast style library. Am I asking for too much? Possibly. Will I give up? Unlikely. Anyway, unhealthy obsession aside – I’m starting a series of blog posts called #CurrentlyReading – essentially book reviews before I’ve finished the book, just because the book in question is just too damn good to wait (or  too terrible to continue).

caitlin moran how to be a woman

To kick off this literary love-affair, I’m excited to share Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, published in 2011 by Ebury Press.  I first heard about Moran through one of my favourite BookTubers (Leena from JustKissMyFrog), and put her on my to-read list along with another 20 or so books. I completely forgot that I wanted to buy How to Be a Woman until I saw it at Blackwell’s in Newcastle (also known as my second personal nirvana after Waterstones) and quickly snapped it up before my little brain could forget again. I am now hooked. This book is part-memoir, part-humour, and 100%  pure wit. She takes us through her own life, from awkward childhood through to impossible puberty and that mysterious thing called Womanhood in a seemingly effortless thread of questions, like:

  • Why do women get Brazilians?
  • Do we have to get Brazilians?
  • Why is everyone asking me about babies?
  • Why is everyone asking me about my love life?
  • Why is everyone getting married?
  • What about porn?
  • Why do bras hurt?
  • Is there a better name for ‘the vagina’?
  • What are the worst names for ‘the vagina’?
  • What’s this ‘fashion’ thing?
  • Children?!

And so on and so forth, hilariously mingled with Moran’s very relatable personal anecdotes. I rarely laugh-out-loud when reading, but this one has had me snorting cappuccino out of my nose in the most unattractive way possible. One of the blurbs on the cover is from Grazia and describes the book as, “The book EVERY woman should read.” Quite frankly I’d like to take this further and say anyone who is or indeed knows a woman should read it, even if it’s just for the laughs. We do our best learning when we’re laughing anyway. I like to think so, at least.

Let me know if you’ve read this book or anything else by Caitlin Moran in a comment below! What are your thoughts? Is this something you’d read?

-Kelly

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top 10 books to read
Books, Lists of Love

Top 10 Books on my To-Read List

As a self-confessed book-hoarder, bookworm, and bibliophile, having an out-of-control list of books I want to read is a part of the job. Another thing we book-fiends revel in is talking, writing, and gushing about books until we hear the gentle click of the kettle as it comes to a boil. Enough chit chat – on to the books!

1 | Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I’m utterly obsessed with vikings and Norse mythology, and I think Neil Gaiman is just fantastic. When I hit Waterstones in Newcastle and saw this beautiful hardback edition of a book that merged those two things together, I just had to have it.

2 | Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

Now this is actually a collection of poems by English spoken-word poet, Kate Tempest. I only really started to appreciate poetry when I was reading for my degree in English, but since then I’ve more than made up for it by making time to read good poetry, especially by writers who are still alive and kicking today.

3 | Event by Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek is a brilliant philosopher who, yes, I discovered at university but want to learn more about. Enter Event. 

4 | The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

After falling hopelessly in love with The Great Gatsby and dealing with the inevitable book-hangover that followed, I’m ready for my next dose of Fitzgerald. Let’s say it – the man has a knack for badass titles.

5 | A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes

A colleague of mine with excellent taste in books recommended this to me, and I’m going to trust her completely on this.

6 | The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Shame on me for not having read this already, I know. I’m sorry, please forgive me. But I’m here now, and I’m ready to enter Discworld.

7 | Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is one of those writers who make you feel like you’re sitting down for a chat with your ridiculously good-humoured friend who’s also casually clever.

8 | East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This one is one of the heavier reads that I challenged myself to read a year ago. Ish. I’ve obviously failed. But I love John Steinbeck and will consider this blog post a promise that I will read it this year. Hold me to it, guys.

9 | Underworld London by Catharine Arnold

I love a bit of history – especially when it’s mixed in with some gritty crime. The full title is Underworld London: Crime and Punishment in the Capital City. Need I say more?

10 | The Elder Edda translated by Andy Orchard

Ah, we end where we began – with norse mythology! The Elder Edda is a collection of anonymous, Old Norse poems alive with the culture and history of the people who created them. It was actually one of the texts that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so it gets my vote twice.

Have you read any of these? Let me know what you thought in a comment below.

Until next time!

Kelly

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the acid house irvine welsh book
Books, Haul, Personal Style

Books and a spot of vintage shopping

Welcome to the first post of 2018, ladies and gents! We’re a little too late in the month to talk about such things as New Year’s Resolutions (I’d probably say something generic like ‘eat more fruit’ and ‘spend more time switching off from the online world’, you get the gist of things), so I thought we could dive right in with a few bits and pieces I’ve acquired over the festive season and first bit of January. Onward!

Books

Okay, you might remember that when I finally made the big move to Newcastle, I was only able to bring about ten books with me. I own around 370+ books in total. It was difficult. Painful. My shelves were a little too empty for my liking, and the bookshops here are too tempting for my own good, so I have actually acquired a few new tomes (and brought a few back with me when I visited Malta last year).

Let’s start with a bit of a Bukowski haul…

The three at the top (Post Office, Factotum, Women) were Christmas gifts from my baby brother, and Love is a Dog from Hell was something I picked up with a Waterstones gift voucher. Bukowski is one of my favourite poets of all time, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve never owned any of his books at all! I also picked up a copy of Stephen Fry’s Mythos with another gift voucher. Lucky me!

Next up, the books I bought when I went to Barter Books in Alnwick (again). I might have mentioned this before, but Barter Books is a gorgeous little second-hand bookshop just an hour and twenty minutes away from Newcastle city centre by bus. It used to be a train station, and today looks like something out of Hogsmeade:

And here’s a look at what I picked up from Barter:

book haul

the acid house irvine welsh book

Vintage Bits

A while ago, I spent some time looking into the thrift/vintage shopping scene here in Newcastle. I love dipping into charity shops and hitting vintage shops to find unique bits and pieces to make my outfits stand out. Sort of. Anyway, I picked up this pendant from The Yesterday Society in Grainger Market:

And these awesome pieces from FLIP American Vintage:

vintage shopping

Snuggly-as-hell 1980s jumper

vintage ralph lauren

Green striped Ralph Lauren shirt

 

 If you’ve got any books (or vintage shops!) to recommend, hit me up in the comments! 

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the sound and the fury william faulkner
Books, thoughts

#CurrentlyReading: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

the sound and the fury william faulkner

Another blog post and yet another book my fellow bookwormy friends. I was re-watching Mad Men for the umpteenth time and noticed that Don Draper’s lady-friend, Joy, was reading The Sound and the Fury in one of the episodes. I’ve wanted to read something by William Faulkner for a while, and the title of this particular work is – let’s face it – pretty badass. I’m half way through the novel right now, and wanted to share my thoughts with you guys.

The first thing that struck me was the way he brings together the stream of consciousness technique with a certain ‘bare’ quality that I just love. What do I mean? Here’s an excerpt:

When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o’ clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.

That. Last. Line.

It’s not the easiest read in the world, so give yourself some time to settle into the book and adjust to the character’s perception in each chapter. The Sound and the Fury is probably best described as a tragedy, so don’t read this if you’re looking for a light, happy story, and get ready for some messed up lives and fragmented family happenings.

Oh, and I find it best to read Faulkner without any distractions (e.g. TV, Netflix, YouTube – forget about it). At the very most, some instrumental music or the background buzz of a bustling cafe’ will do.

Have you read anything by Faulkner? What do you think about his work? 

-Kelly

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