Wednesday, 29 March 2017

My Favourite Things 4 (& BIG NEWS!)

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March has come to an end which means it is time for another look at my favourite things

In March, I was coveting a newly released pop banger, quality time with one of my best friends and a couple of huge life changes! If you want to leave a selection of your own monthly favourites in the comments, you should definitely do so. 


These have been a few of my favourite things over the past few weeks...

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GREEN LIGHT BY LORDE
Here's the thing, right, I wasn't really big on Lorde...until now. Lorde, the 20 year old New Zealander that Bowie hailed the 'future of music', is back after a few years with a fresh new sound. Green Light is the perfect bounce-around-your-bedroom-in-your-new-lipstick kind of tune with shouty backing vocals and a cracking out-of-the-blue key change to boot. As I said, I wasn't much of a fan before this, because I hadn't really taken the time to check her stuff out beyond the singles, but I'm really invested in hearing more from the upcoming album.  

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THE NIGHT MANAGER
Luke bought the blu-ray as a gift for a family member so we thought we'd give it a watch once they were done with it. The Night Manager, based on the novel by John Le Carré, received rave reviews when it was released a few months back and I think I can see what all the fuss was about. The night manager of a Cairo hotel (played by Tom Hiddleston who I'm not a fan of but he was bearable in this) is recruited to infiltrate an arm's dealer's (Hugh Laurie) inner circle. It was only six episodes long but it was gripping, featured excellent performances from Colman and Hollander, and was incredibly tense until the end. Quite compelling drama. If you're looking for something to watch, give this a go. They're bringing it back for a second series and I'm intrigued to see where they will take the story beyond the source material.

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CHILLING WITH LYZI
One of my best friends, Lyzi, came down to the cottage to meet the dogs for the first time and we had such a good afternoon. We made a classic but satisfying lunch, had a manic walk to the beach, got trolled by Jessie, gave the dogs lots of fuss and watched old episodes of Always Sunny. It was wonderful. 10/10. Would hang out with her again. 

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KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
We finally watched Kubo and the Two Strings after what felt like a lifetime of meaning to and it was SO GOOD. The film follows a young boy named Kubo who is on a quest to locate a suit of armour worn by his father in order to defeat a spirit. As much as I liked it though, I did have a real issue with the voice acting. I couldn't help but think about how much more special and appropriate it would've been if the main characters were voiced by Asian actors. Yes, the majority of the human characters are voiced by Asian actors but, in my opinion, the whole thing should've been. Nevertheless, this film is visually stunning and unlike the majority of animated films out there. 

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THE LONELY CITY BY OLIVIA LAING
I started reading The Lonely City this month, as per my TBR, and whilst I have yet to finish it, due to reasons that'll become clear later on, I have absolutely loved it so far.  The Lonely City looks at loneliness through the lens of the city and the art inspired by it. A lot of people were waiting for me to give this the thumbs up before they finally purchased it and, pals, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Full review once I've finished it but...wow!

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START TOGETHER - SLEATER-KINNEY
Isn't it funny how sometimes a song can pop up on your Spotify and you suddenly remember how great it is and then it ends up on repeat for about a week?! That's what happened with this Sleater-Kinney track from their 1999 album,'The Hot Rock'. I love the little guitar hook and, as with most of Sleater-Kinney's stuff, it has got a really excellent shoutable chorus. Heavenly.

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PAINTING AFTERNOON
I dusted off my paints a couple of weeks back and got my hands dirty with some abstract painting! I find that abstract painting and poetry go hand in hand so I combined the two to celebrate World Poetry Day here on my blog. I had so much fun with it and I really want to do more! I didn't get a lot of feedback from you guys as to whether you liked the concept or whatever but I really enjoyed unleashing my creativity through a different medium regardless. I would highly recommend abstract painting if you're interested in doing a little bit of art therapy because it's so soothing. If you'd like to see more, you can read all about it here: How To Create Poetry Inspired Art

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LOVE s1
I started watching Love on Netflix on a complete whim and found myself completely caught up in it. Love follows Mickey and Gus as they try to navigate life and relationships. There are so many things that should make me feel meh about this series but I find it really absorbing. I sailed through season one in two sittings. I'm not really sure what I enjoy about it and I've read reviews that said the exact same thing. All we all seem to know is that we find ourselves watching 'just one more episode'. I've yet to sink my teeth into the second season but I'm sure I will do soon when I want something light-hearted. Any further Netflix recommendations for me? 

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GETTING ENGAGED
Surprise! If you don't follow my inane tweets, you may not know that Luke and I got engaged on Saturday 18th. I went for a meal with my Mum, Dad, Grandma and Sister in our old market town and when we came out I saw Luke across the square calling for me. From then onwards, I don't really remember anything clearly because I went into a state of complete and utter shock. We climbed the church steps and once we were at the top he got down on one knee and proposed outside the church that my parents got married in and in the town that my Grandad was once mayor of. I screamed 'what?' in his face about 10-15 times and accidentally smacked the ring out of his hands. Amazing. I'm not even 100% sure I said yes because I was so stunned. I didn't think he ever wanted to get married so for him to propose after 7 years of dating was a big shocker! I, of course, said yes in front of mine and Luke's family.

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POPPY
After proposing, Luke scurried away leaving me at the top of the church steps. The next thing I know, he's in front of me with a box with the most beautiful 8 week old black labrador puppy peeking out the top of it. I was completely overcome. He had been planning this elaborate proposal for months and months and I was none the wiser! This little one was born in a flower bed so we decided to give her the floral name of Poppy. She, of course, already has lots of nicknames: Poppet, Popsicle, Poopy and, my favourite, Poopert. I am absolutely exhausted from watching her every move and enduring her 6am snogs but I am so in love. What a blessing!


+ THINGS OF NOTE
• 18 Airbnb's For Anyone Who Fucking Loves Books - including one in my old hometown of Axbridge (where L proposed)!
• The Blogosphere Awards are now live! Go and vote. Winners don't need big numbers! Very refreshing.
• 34 Poets of Colour Summarize 2017 In Verse - really enjoyed this article
• Vanessa's tweet about her Rainbows. I want to start formal adoption proceedings for the goth kid.
• Bim's article on The Oscars: How The Oscar Flub Demonstrates The Limits of Black Graciousness
• Shon's mini essay on 'Real Women' and why we shouldn't strive to define what it means to be 'real'
• Vanessa's chapbook on the Kardashians, surgery & one night stands is available to buy. Be quick!
The wonderful Zach Anner's 10 Things I Wish People Knew About Cerebral Palsy is really great
 Bloody Good Period are in need of donations for period supplies for asylum seekers & those that can't afford them
 You can now pre-order the 'Do What You Want' zine - featuring articles on mental health, eating disorders and more. Proceeds go to a wonderful set of charities. Loads of interesting writers involved.
 article on 'Millennial Pink' - my fave colour!
 Ella Risbridger on the 'hopeful approach' - an article that felt like it had been written for me
 What famous writer's most favourite words say about them


+ MARCH BLOG POSTS
•  a book haul ft. lots of new releases 
•  my monthly things that make me happy list
•  to the seas: a poem
•  some more book reviews & a tbr
•  advice on how to annotate books: marginalia and slow reading
•  how to make poetry inspired art for world poetry day
•  roulin: a poem


And those a few of my favourite things at the moment. What a whirlwind of a month! I don't even know if I'll have the space or energy to favourite things over these next coming months thanks to little Poppy but I'm going to try. What have you been coveting? If you'd like to keep up, you can scroll through all of my favourite things.


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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

roulin: a poem

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- after viewing 'The Postman' by Van Gogh (1888)


the only family on the street
that had a museum
of modern art

and yet the paints 
were the only thing 
that could 
                      see the sky
                                                         
                                        falling

                                                       from my chin


'roulin' is a poem that I wrote as part of a writing exercise to create a piece of ekphrastic poetry. An ekphrastic poem is a poem that describes a piece of art, usually reflecting upon a scene or the subject matter so as to illuminate it further. I wrote mine on The Postman by Vincent Van Gogh, exploring the act of portraiture and the intimacy behind it. Joseph Roulin, the bearded chap in the painting, was a Postman at a railroad station in Arles that Van Gogh befriended and painted, along with Roulin's family members, over the course of two years. Gogh wanted to paint more portraits but he rarely had the opportunity to do so, due to money and logistics, so he was pleased to find the Roulin family. In exchange for sitting for portraits, the family were allowed to keep a painting each - hence the 'museum of modern art'. The family wouldn't have been able to afford portraits of themselves otherwise and I wanted my poem to reflect the novelty of seeing oneself in a medium that wasn't accessible otherwise. After noting that the tones in Joseph's beard matched that of the blues and greys in Van Gogh's 'The Starry Night', I decided to make that the focus of the piece. 'roulin' is about friendship. The family had all these paintings, as a result of said friendship, which was truly something but it was perhaps the things that the paintings revealed within them about what Van Gogh saw in Roulin that is, to me, the most wonderful thing.

It's quite different from what I tend to write but I like it when little writing exercises encourage you to step away from a set style and do something a little different. I like the sentiment of this poem, even if it's a lot more stripped back than usual. If you liked this, why not read some more of my creative writing


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Saturday, 18 March 2017

How To Make Poetry Inspired Art: World Poetry Day

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World Poetry Day (March 21st) will soon be upon us and so, being a world-class poet, I thought I'd do something to mark the occasion. 'Oh cool, Bee! Are you gonna write a poem for it?', I hear you ask. No...that would've made...a lot more sense...I have, instead, decided to celebrate by creating a couple of abstract paintings inspired by poetry. What's the point in life if you don't throw yourself in the deep end and flail about a bit every once in a while?! 

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Granted, it's usually poets drawing upon art for inspiration, more on that next week, but it can be just as interesting to try and recreate poetry in art. Poetry is already an incredibly visual medium so it makes a lot of sense to merge the two together. Thanks to a box of arty goodies that Viking sent me, including the canvases and the metallic pens, I was able to paint a couple of abstract paintings. One of them is based on a poem by e. e. cummings and the other is based on my poem 'tin can daydreams'. 

art inspired by poetry blog

she dreams in darkness
so I make her a universe. 

moulding moons from glazed eyes 
freckles blooming constellations 
planets aligning from her 
                                     tongue. 

because to me she sings 
gravity she sings hushed
                                    lullabies, of tomorrows,

todays, 

close encounters of the third kind.

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'tin can daydreams' is a poem that I wrote for one of my best friends about the ways in which we support and care for one another even when we feel unable to show ourselves that same level of love. It's a permanent reminder of the eternal adoration I will hold for her and our incredible friendship. 

As such, I wanted the canvas to sing with colour, shapes and textures. It needed to be muddled, loud and all-consuming. It also needed to have space-y celestial vibes because the poem relies heavily on that kind of imagery. With all of that in mind, I started with a black base and built up the colour as I went along. I used metallic pens here and there, rained down flecks of black and white with a fine paintbrush, and danced just about every colour of acrylic paint that I owned across the canvas. As you can see, I wasn't too precious with it. It's wild and that's why it works.  


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now winging selves sing sweetly
e. e. cummings

now winging selves sing sweetly,while ghosts(there
and here)of snow cringe;dazed an earth shakes sleep
out of her brightening mind:now everywhere
space tastes of the amazement which is hope

gone are those hugest hours of dark and cold
when blood and flesh to inexistence bow
(all that was doubtful’s certain,timid’s bold;
old’s youthful and reluctant’s eager now)

anywhere upward somethings yearn and stir
piercing a tangled wrack of wishless known;
nothing is like this keen(who breathes us)air
immortal with the fragrance of begin


winter is over - now(for me and you,
darling!)life’s star prances the blinding blue

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I then decided to recreate a poem by e. e. cummings, 'now winging selves sing sweetly', because I've been high on life now that Spring is rearing its daffodil-covered head and I wanted to paint something that was representative of that joy. This poem shares that sentiment. 

I worked with a selection of colours that mimicked the higgedly-piggledy nature of wildflowers and to further push the idea of disordered joy I played around with movement and texture by bouncing my fingertips around the canvas. The blue tones, of course, play upon the 'blinding blue' of the last line. It looks like a Monet that has been sat on and I am all about that life. 

And these are my finished-for-now abstract paintings based on the aforementioned poems...

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(Half of the above was still wet but I didn't have time to let it dry before I took photos so yolo!)


how to make poetry inspired art: 

• pick a poem you feel strongly about. it'll make the process of recreating it easier. 
• read through the poem and note down how it makes you feel. 
• underline images or ideas that are particularly strong that you can then draw from. try not to be too broad because you want your artwork to have a clear message.
• think about the medium it best lends itself to. are we talking paints, inks, good old fashioned pencil etc?
all of that said, allow yourself to be spontaneous. don't take yourself seriously. i find that you can sometimes reap the best results where art is concerned when you just see where it takes you. 


Have I inspired you to go forth and make your own poetry-inspired art? What poems would you like to recreate? Try it! Your creations can't look any weirder than my little abstract babies!

Before you leave, I'd love it if you shared the name of your favourite poem(s), and what you like about it/them, below so everyone can go away with a handful of new poems to read in celebration of World Poetry Day. If you enjoyed this post, let me know. If you'd like to read more, scroll through all of mcreative blog posts or my poems.

*Viking sent me a box of arty goods to help me make this post but the creative madness is all mine.


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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

How To Annotate Books: Marginalia and Slow Reading

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My name is Bee and, sometimes, I annotate books. 

Let's just pause for a minute whilst half of you drop to the floor screaming 'how could you?!' into your shaking hands. Yes, pals...I am one of those readers that has been known to take a pencil to the page. Marking up books, or marginalia, has been around for centuries, with some biblical manuscripts displaying marks and notes in the margins, and yet I feel like the art of annotating books splits readers down the middle. Is it an excellent way to engage with the text or is it something of a bookish crime?  I will aim to get to the bottom of this question but will more than likely conclude by sitting on the fence and saying 'both opinions are totally fine really, ain't they?!'.  

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why I ANNOTATE BOOKS
Personally, I annotate books because I love leaving a little pencil footprint of my thoughts across the page. I love that I can leave little marks and annotations and come back to those same notes years later with new experiences and opinions under my belt. In a way, it can become a little museum of you and that's really special. I also love that the art of annotating is somewhat intimate. It encourages me to really engage with the words and maybe get a little sentimental about them and, in most cases, it's for my eyes only. 

DO YOU ANNOTATE BOOKS?

Being a super professional social scientist, I took to Instagram and Twitter to see what you lot thought about annotating your books. I ran a poll for around a day or so which saw 75 of you get involved. Of those 75 participants, 60% of you said that you do not mark your books in any way. I encouraged you guys to discuss the topic and this is what I gathered from those conversations...

Some of you, like me, love to annotate your books because as I said it can act as an exercise in self-reflection. Jennie said: 'revisiting the shared existence between me, the book and those words that meant something at a particular time. What a feeling!'.  And then, of course, Sarah loves to do just about anything to a book to make sure it looks well loved 'I write in them, draw in them,  crack spines (in fact I won't read a book UNTIL I've cracked the spine), I fold pages over, and I have been known to stick stickers and post-it notes to covers/insides. A book is not MY book until it's creased and shabby and torn and held together by love and sellotape'. I wouldn't expect anything less from her. 

A few of you also noted that it's an excellent way to reflect on someone else's lived, and read, experience as well as your own. Laura, like Sarah, is an all-in type of reader for both her benefit and for others: 'I mark up books...Folds, writing in the margins, underlining...it helps me to find passages which speak to me...I love picking up secondhand books which people have marked up - it gives me an insight into someone else's mind, how similar or different the pieces they loved are to mine'Thrifty also noted its benefits where collaborative and collective reading is concerned: 'I have a mini lending library situation with friends and our notes raise decent discussions'. Megan highlighted another interesting point about annotating books, acknowledging that it also gives the books an outward appearance of being 'thoroughly loved and enjoyed'. 

Some of you wouldn't dare write in them under any circumstances, preferring to keep your reads pristine. Fair beans. Lucy, on the other hand, could appreciate both sides: 'I really dislike writing in books except dedications [...] I like finding old books with notes and dedications in' and Dawn had her own stipulations too: 'Pencil only. Those who highlight and write in pen make me stabby'. Similarly, L said they don't mind 'highlighting...in places' but 'it's those who bend pages and crack spines that do (their) nut in'. Charlotte said she sometimes downloads the e-book to 'highlight/annotate or photocopy sections' going on to say that books have always been 'really precious' to her so she doesn't like to 'damage them at all'.

A few of you noted that academia changed your opinions on marking books with Steph saying that it turned her into a 'spine cracker and page defacer' and Bethany said she found it 'so much easier' to write in the book and keep her thoughts together whilst studying. Ellie, however, said that she used post-it notes in place of marking her books with pen whilst at school to avoid writing on the actual pages. 

I love how different everyone's experience is. All of these opinions are, of course, valid and I find each of them fascinating. I love that whilst reading is a past time enjoyed by so many, it can look so different to each individual. It brings a tear to my eye, kids.

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what tools i use 
I tend to use pencil because I like the softness of it. Sometimes, I'll leave little annotations expanding on an idea that I like or I'll summarise paragraphs with big graphic titles. If words aren't really needed, I leave little stars and hearts by passages that I really admire or want to take something from. I have also been known to use little pastel page markers too, particularly when studying.

what I ANNOTATE 
I tend to mark up poetry more than I do anything else, because it's a form that, in my opinion, demands to be both read aloud and picked apart. Interestingly, I find that I tend to annotate texts that are more poetic in their writing style - regardless of their genre. I imagine that, as a poet, it's because that is the kind of language I gravitate towards and, therefore, want to explore further. 

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how to mark up a book
underline or circle points • play around in the margin • draw little faces to denote your mood or reaction to things • draw lines or brackets around longer passages • question marks for things you don't understand or want to come back to • post-it note or colourful tab signposts • leave relevant articles or reviews between the pages • if you're on hols, leave a holiday photo or a postcard • fold over pages • build a little code for yourself with different colours for different things • draw colourful or bold numbers to document the stages of a point or argument or when passages call back to previous themes or ideas • highlight text with bright colours  • make blackout poetry • make an index on one of the blank pages at the back

...There are almost infinite ways to mark up a book. Do what feels right to you! 



Marks to make 
signpost interesting passages •  summarise the points made in the text using big graphic headings - particularly great for academic reading  • deconstruct how its written - what devices are being used, etc, and why are they effective  •  simply write your name in the front and an explanation as to why you purchased the book and when  •  index themes or ideas you'd like to read further  note personal associations or anecdotes  leave a little diary log of where you are when reading, the date, how you were feeling, time, place  •  pick out words - what do you like about them? how do they sound? what do they mean? •  write info on when it was published including context about the period  directly respond to argument in text  •  keep up with certain characters or plot points or changes of tone  

...Again, there are also infinite reasons for you to mark up books. 

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...but what if i don't want to physically mark A BOOK? 
If you don't want to physically make marks on your books, that's totally okay and totally understandable. It isn't for everyone! However, instead, you could write your thoughts down on post-it notes or scraps of paper and split them across the relevant pages for you to find the next time you read the book. Make sure to date your notes if you're interested in documenting your thoughts across several reads of the same book. You could also keep a separate log book for reviews and notes on the things that you read. Alternatively,  if you're more digitally inclined, take photos of quotes that you like and keep an album dedicated to them. If you're a Kindle reader, you could add little on-screen notes to passages.

If you're interested in marginalia but are a little scared, you could always try marking up a specific book as a little experiment. Purchase a book from a secondhand bookshop or fair, etc, and have a little go at making little annotations along the way. You never know, you may like it!

Of course, you don't need to mark your books in any way shape or form, be it on the actual page or in a separate notebook. You can still have an exciting and fruitful reading experience without documenting your ~journey~. All reading is valid. Read what you want and how you want.

and then what?
Once you've finished reading and marking up the book, if that's what you've decided to do, you could pop it back on the bookshelves for the next time that you want to read it. Alternatively, you could send it on to someone else for them to mark up too. Get them to mark the passages that resonated with them, complete with little explanations as to what or why, and then when you get the book back you'll have two different reading experiences mapped out on the pages. If you want to go even further down that route, you could send it to multiple people and start a travelling book project. At the end of its travels, you could have a book full of notes from multiple readers around the world! 

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above: a secondhand book I bought for uni full of annotations

FURTHER READING, listening & viewing
Here are a few things that I read, watched and listened to before compiling this post that you may also be interested in:



Aaaand that's all of my thoughts on the subject of marginalia for now. I personally enjoy annotating books. Whilst I don't do it every time I read, it's something I want to do more frequently. I'm really looking forward to re-reading some of my favourite books over the course of the next few years in order to mark them up a bit. However, I totally respect readers that prefer their books to be in pristine condition. Both opinions are totally fine really, ain't they?! 

Tell me, do you mark your books? Why or why not? I'd love to start a discussion / World War Three in the comments. If you'd like to scroll through all of my book blog posts then you can. 

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Sunday, 12 March 2017

Book Reviews feat. Colson Whitehead & TBR

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February was a much better reading month, compared to my dry spell in January, so I have five books to share little reviews of for you today! I was transported across America via the underground railroad, sat in therapy sessions, felt heavy with grief, and got caught in an underwater town surrounded by fish. Quite the reading month, really.

If you've read any of the following titles, get in touch and let me know what you thought too. Or, alternatively, drop me a message and let me know what you've been reading recently. Let's talk books! 

READ.


the underground railroad colson whitehead book blog

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD BY COLSON WHITEHEAD (2016)

FINISHED: 08/02/17 | PAGES: 306  | ISBN:9780708898376
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia [...] an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood - where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned [...] they are being hunted [...] the relentless slave catcher is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

The Underground Railroad took the world by storm when it ended up on Obama's reading list and was lauded by Oprah Winfrey when selected for her book club and, in my opinion, it deserves the recognition despite the fact that I left it wanting more. Whitehead manages to construct a novel that is laden with the relentless horror and harrowing reality found in slave narratives, against a slightly re-imagined America where the 'underground railroad' is a literal locomotive that moves fugitives northward. This idea is fascinating and something I would've loved further detail on. How did the activists come together to create it? When did it originate and what voices inspired it? It is clear that this novel has been well cared for and thoroughly researched but, at times, this verged on a negative because it felt a little heavy handed in places. This is not to say that I didn't, for the most part, find this to be a well-balanced novel because I did. 

However, I wanted more from the characters - from both Cora and Caesar but also from the secondary characters too. I wanted more of their histories and more of their present day, more of their anxieties and more of their motivations. I am greedy, though, so most readers may find that they're sated by the brief portraits that we are offered. I'm not sure. There were also times where I wished that it was a first person narrative, as opposed to third, because I think it would've served to amplify Cora's voice which, at times, felt a little lost to the reader. She was leaving the plantation for the first time in her life.  There were new sights, new smells, new people, new opportunities all around her. How incredible would it have been to have her document her experience in her own words, to feel even more pained when she hurt, to feel the full weight of the new world that she was running out into? I appreciate that Whitehead probably went for a third person narrative in order to cover more scope but I can't help but wonder what sort of reading experience we missed out on because of it. 

He does, however, make some wonderful craft choices along the way. Whitehead is clearly skilled when it comes to structural craft, as we bounce around between anecdotes and time periods with ease - moving from the story of Cora's Grandmother, Ajarry, who was kidnapped in Africa, to Cora's escape beyond the plantation pretty seamlessly. There is one point, in particular, where the bouncing around of timelines is used to huge emotional effect and it really paid off. I cried, quite a lot. This novel deserves the praise it has got, despite my qualms, and my desire to read more, experience more, and listen more is a testament to the story that is told within the pages.

RATING: 

some rain must fall michel faber book review blog

SOME RAIN MUST FALL (AND OTHER STORIES) BY MICHEL FABER (1998)
FINISHED: 20/02/17 PAGES: 242  | ISBN: 1782117164
Michel Faber's short stories reveal an extraordinarily vivid imagination, a deep love of language and an adventurous versatility. Playful, yet profoundly moving, wickedly satirical yet sincerely humane, these tales never fail to strike unexpected chords. 'Some Rain Must Fall' juxtaposes the tragic circumstances of traumatised schoolchildren with the interior monologue of a teacher/psychologist enlisted to aid their recovery. In the pseudo-sci-fi 'Fish' a mother tries to protect her child in a terrifying world where fish swim through the streets and lurk in alleyways.

Faber's debut, Some Rain Must Fall, is a mixed short story collection that displays a glimmer of what his writing was to become but falls flat where memorability is concerned. 

I began reading this for the Try A Story tag, reading 'Fish' which was a spectacularly surreal story of a mother and child living in a world surrounded by fish. It was weird, yes, but it also signposted Faber's love of the ordinary turned on its head. Whilst less polished than his later works, there were stories here that hinted at the excellence to come with impressive character dynamics, which I consider to be Faber's strongest skill, shining through in stories such as In Case of Vertigo, Some Rain Must Fall and The Red Cement Trail. There were, however, more stories in this collection that I will forget than there are that I will remember. It was, by no means, a bad collection. You can see him take risks here and play with a few different styles and it was really interesting to see him hone his craft across the stories. I have just read other collections similar to this that I liked a lot more, such as St Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell or Upright Beasts by Lincoln Michel. 

Start elsewhere with Faber, maybe with my favourite, Under The Skin, and then come back to these short stories if you're interested in reading more of his work.  

RATING: 


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STRANGER, BABY BY EMILY BERRY* (2017)
FINISHED: 22/02/17 | PAGES: 72  | ISBN: 0571331327
The powerful new collection from award-winning poet Emily Berry. Emily Berry's Dear Boy was described as a 'blazing debut' [...] Stranger, Baby, its follow-up, is marked by the same sense of fantasy and play, estrangement and edgy humour for which she has become known. But these poems delve deeper again, in their off-kilter and often painful encounter with childhood loss. This is a book of mourning, recrimination, exhilaration and 'oceanic feeling'.

When I requested this collection, I was pretty sure that I hadn't read anything by Emily. However, whilst browsing through one of my Salt anthologies, I found a fully annotated poem of hers entitled Picnic. Which, funnily enough, I found to be my favourite poem of the entire collection. Stranger, Baby houses poems about grief, guilt and the childhood loss of Berry's mother. The poems chronicle the performances of grief, from the blank despondency to the puncturing guilt. Grief, women's grief in particular, can often be romanticized and what is so striking about this collection is how unromantic and how omnipresent the emptiness of loss is. Picnic, my aforementioned favourite, like many of the poems in this collection draws upon oceanic imagery to express the duality of emptiness and the static, with the constant moving of time: 

'The mood of the sea is catching
Your eyes wear out from all the glitches
I sat there watching it and I can assure you it is so
Its colour became the colour of my eyes and the salt made me cry oceans'

A deeply affecting collection that sees Berry conduct interviews and plays alongside poems. This is a three star read for me, meaning I liked it but didn't love it, as I prefer my poetry to be a little more flowery (?!) but this was great. If you're interested in contemporary poetry or the topic of loss, in general, then you should think about acquiring this. 

RATING: 


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GRIEF IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS BY MAX PORTER  (2015)
FINISHED: 23/02/17 | PAGES: 114  | ISBN: 0571327230
In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother's sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness. In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow - antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This self-described sentimental bird is attracted to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and physical pain of loss gives way to memories, this little unit of three begin to heal.

Another meditation on the messiness of grief and loss yet Grief is the Thing with Feathers was so unique in its muddle of form, voice and tone, that it sets itself apart from anything else I have ever read. 

This novella hybrid deals with the ugly nature of grief and the almost violence of loss - the anger, the guilt and the day-in-day-out misery. It was short, meaning that I read it of an evening before bed, but absolutely captivating! Porter's playful use of language is nothing short of wonderful and elevates the piece to a five star read, for me. The crow, the antagonist that comes to stay with the family, is a fascinating character - making up words and situations as he goes along. He completely stole the show for me!  

Whilst it sounds a little weird, perhaps, it was also incredibly warm and inviting in its stark realism, which sounds weird to say about a piece that has a crow as one of its narrators but bare with me! The grief felt by the characters was also felt by me as I read it and by the end I had scribbled all over the pages in delight. This was a pleasure to read. A real charm. Read it if you're at all intrigued.  

RATING: 


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HAUSFRAU BY JILL ALEXANDER ESSBAUM  (2015) 
FINISHED: 25/02/17 | PAGES: 324  | ISBN: 9780812999181
Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her. But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.


Haunting and resonant. Hausfrau explores (some of) the messes of womanhood in a way that I, again, have not read before. 

Essbaum, essentially, performs a post-mortem, dissecting what it means for Anna to not only be Anna but also what it means for her to be a lover, a wife, a mother, a woman living in a country she wasn't born in, a woman living in a country that communicates in a different tongue, a woman who has wants that she acts upon and doesn't suppress. Hausfrau is about desire, isolation, and the chaos that comes with trying to be something to everyone whilst also allowing yourself autonomy. 

Essbaum is incredibly talented, that's obvious in the way the novel structurally bounces between anecdotes, and time zones, from Anna's therapy sessions to past acquaintances, to family time and back again. The ennui of daily life balanced with Anna's frantic internal mania and the ways in which the two can collide to devastating effect was horrifically real and awakened areas of my brain and lived experience that I had tucked away. The language is as masterful as the structure and is carefully considered meaning every sentence deserves to be there. The lilting poetry of the writing style, too, makes the climax of the novel even more emotive and I came away knowing full well that it is going to take me a long time to shake Anna's story from my mind. 

Devastating in its fragility, I would recommend Hausfrau to those of you that like really intense character studies, kind of like Eileen, and those of you with an interest in psychology. A portrait of one kind of womanhood that I will think about for years to come. Do this justice and read it in as few sittings as possible. 

RATING: 


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TO BE READ. 
This month I've decided to read some non-fiction, two short story collections and a bit of queer lit. 

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THE LONELY CITY BY OLIVIA LAING
A few nights ago, after 11 months on my 'owned and unread' list, I suddenly got the urge to pull this book down from my shelves. I ended up reading the first chapter there and then by lamplight. This is Laing's meditation on loneliness, partly inspired by her experiences in New York City (a place so populated you'd think it was almost impossible to feel alone) and partly inspired by the world of art. I'm really looking forward to giving this my full attention on quiet evenings. I think I'm going to adore it.

CATHEDRAL BY RAYMOND CARVER 
I've read the first few stories in this collection, the first for my Try A Story tag, so I really want to finish the rest up. Cathedral has been sat on my shelf since December 2015 so it's about time that I got round to it! I have read two other collections of Carver's short stories and thoroughly enjoyed them in their obliqueness. I'm sure that'll be the case with this one too. 


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THE LUCKY ONES BY JULIANNE PACHICO*  
The Lucky Ones, featured just last week in a book haul, is a new-to-me and newly-released short story collection but I kinda want to read it whilst there's a buzz surrounding it. I'm about 100 pages or so in and, whilst it's not like much that I've read before, I'm drawn to the way in which Pachico collectively pulls the characters and their stories together. 

CAROL BY PATRICIA HIGHSMITH
I mentioned just the other day that I want to read one or two of the books in my little Highsmith collection before the year is through and I've decided to start with Carol. I haven't read a lot of queer lit in my time, or at least not as much as I want to, and that is something I want to change going forward. If you've got any favourites, share them with me! 


So that's what I read in February and what I want to read during March. What did you read last month? What do you hope to read this month? If you'd like to scroll through all of my book blog posts then you can. Or, alternatively, you could just flick through my book reviews instead.

I have decided to start using Book Depository affiliate links again. If you buy books using the links I've provided, I'll receive a 5% commission which will then be put back into future blog posts. If you want to buy some books using my link but you don't want the aforementioned titles, you can use my general Book Depository affiliate link. Thanks, pals!

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