Wednesday, 23 July 2014

"I hate Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I think they're cunts."

Quick confession: I read my chapters for this on the way to the beach on Friday, and I noticed that the copy expiry date for this said 18th July (i.e. that day) but I ignored it, happily highlighted stuff and then was somehow shocked when my ebook had expired on Saturday morning. It was totally easy to get the copy that had the longer expiry date (and I knew this was a thing, and should have sorted it out before now and boooo me) but I lost allll the hilarity I highlighted.
What I'm saying is, there might not be many quotes in this post, and also DON'T BE A FOOL LIKE ME. Also I am relying on you all to pick up my quote slack, so don't let me down.

SECOND CONFESSION: It's now Wednesday and I'm only just writing this. Again, don't be like me. Maybe it's a bit redundant to even write this now, but my thoughts on these chapters must be known by the woooorld.

So. Johanna has taken control of her life, repackaging herself as Dolly Wilde (Oscar Wilde's niece. Of course) but still retaining the core of herself so I don't have to worry about her going off the rails (although, you know, the book is young). I'm really pleased that this looks like the way it's going though- although Johanna may have changed wildly on the outside, and to the outside world, internally she's always going to be a little bit odd, and a little bit amazing.
Yeah, that too.
I relate pretty strongly to Johanna's experience with her extended family. She thinks she's going to shock them all by saying she's going to be a music journalist, but instead they take it in their stride, tell her it'll be awesome, and that actually, she's not even the first in the family to do it. I feel like there have been times where I've tried to shock my family by doing something weird (or at least thought they'd be shocked by what I'm doing) only for them to say 'that's cool! I'm glad you're doing something you like' or something of the sort, and that is the number one perk of having a truly supportive family. 

And another conversation I've definitely had:
"And there's a whole series of 'You've changed' conversations- like we're trying to collect some kind of set.
'You've changed,' she says, as I come downstairs wearing a small black lace wedding veil.
'Well, that's good isn't it, Mother. Otherwise I'd still be excreting via your umbilical cord.'"
I'm not as witty as that, but I have absolutely had conversations with my mum that go 'but you used to love that when you were little!' 'I AM NO LONGER LITTLE.'
I mean, right? Let us GROW, mothers. Please.

And then there was this: maybe the most useful piece of advice I've ever read in a book, and, you know, I've read a lot of books.
"For one awful moment I know, utterly and absolutely, that I- a fat sixteen-year-old girl from a council house in a top hat- will not be able to cope with this situation. I do not know what to say to these rangy rock 'n' roll men. 
And then I have what I still, even now, consider to be my single greatest moment of genuis: I will just pretend to be someone who does. That's all I have to do. Ever. Pretend to be the right person for this weird situation. Fake it till you make it."
And I know, I KNOW this can basically just be boiled down to 'fake it till you make it' which of course I've heard before, but having it set out like that just makes me go YES, I feel this. If anything, I feel like this is the one piece of advice all teenagers (and, you know, me) could use. Like, of course you don't know what you're doing or where you're going, you're 16. But as long as you act like you do, the rest will come along and all will be well.
I know there's so much more to say (the music. Oh god the music.) but, let's face it, I'm two days late and we've all probably moved on to other books and thoughts and feels so I'll just leave this here. I do just have to add, before I go, that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are NOT cunts, and I feel very badly towards Krissi for saying so. BAD KRISSI.

Devouring Stephen King: From A Buick 8

Oh man. This book. Before I tell you anything about it, I should tell you that it took me about a month to read. This was not a month where I didn't have much reading time, because, let's face it, the days have been sunny and I have two extra ones off work now. I found myself actively avoiding reading because I wasn't especially grabbed by this book, but I also wanted to finish it badly because I'm desperate to read the last three Dark Tower books this summer, and they're next. And so, finish it I have. Reluctantly.

I'm being a little bit harsh, I think. There's nothing actively wrong with this book (or... well... there actually is, but we'll get to that later) and it's definitely not in league with, say, The Tommyknockers for  sucking. It does a couple of things really well, mainly in making you really care about the characters (King's speciality, really) and including some truly upsetting and, you know, disgusting descriptions. A lot of the characters throw up a lot in these books, and it's always for a truly legitimate reason. There is really some grossness in this book.

A synopsis: a young boy whose dad, a Pennsylvania Police Officer, has just been killed on the job, is hanging around the police barracks, trying to feel closer to his dad and work through his grief. Along the way, he discovers an old Buick in one of the sheds, a Buick with a sinister history and some creepy, creepy shit going on around it. Through a lot of reminiscence from the police officers who worked with his dad, the full history of the car is revealed, and a lot of gross stories are told.

My main issue with the story is pretty much all about its structure. Because so much of it is told through memories (obviously it starts in the present, but not much dramatic is happening there) there isn't much immediacy to the story (or stories, I guess, it feels pretty piecemeal)- you know that, anyone in danger is probably going to be ok, since they're telling the story, or you know they won't be ok, because they're not. Not just that, the stories themselves get pretty repetitive, pretty quickly- even though each incident is its own kind of disgusting, they all go along the same lines and once you've read one part of it, you've kind of read it all.

However- and I think this is the thing that saves this book from actually being awful- there is a certain awareness from King and even one of his characters that this method of storytelling isn't necessarily the most effective. Or, more than that, it's that this telling of the most dramatic moments of a whole history doesn't really tell the full story at all. It doesn't tell you about the times where nothing much happened for a long time- where people got married and had children and got divorced and just generally lived their everyday lives without much extraordinary to break up the days. This reflection on a storytelling method itself, is actually one of the most interesting things about the book, and kept me actually interested in any of the book.

Well, that and the way in which the police officers constantly describe each other as a family. I'm a big fan of family, whether or not that's the one you're born into, one you build yourself, or one that is formed when you work together in extraordinary circumstances. The latter two of these tend to be more interesting to read about, and when it comes to the police, it was fascinating to see how even this fictional family ticked. Close to the central characters or not, the loyalty and shared secrecy of all the police officers was interesting, as was their genuine affection for each other, and friends lost along the way. It all felt very true to how I'd imagine the police would be, and the afterword tells me that King actually did a lot of research with police in Pennsylvania, so I guess it kind of is. Or at least should be.

So. It's definitely not one of King's best, and it did take me a really long time to get through it, but it did have some redeeming factors. At this point of reading Stephen King, I honestly feel like a teacher, who knows that their student can do and has done better, but can't be that mad cause it wasn't that bad. It just isn't that great, either.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sunday Sundries: Such A Good Week

Heyyy guys, it's Sunday! Which means, you know, work tomorrow, but let's not think about that yet!
Before I start telling you about the epicness of my week, there is one bleak spot on the horizon which is that my dad's back in hospital for the third time in as many months, which is LAME and I would quite like that to stop now, please. (The level of his illness: when I went to visit him on Thursday, he told me off for not telling you all in last week's Sunday Sundries that he was OUT of hospital. I can only assume I didn't tell you all because I knew it wouldn't last, but also HEY, whose blog is this anyway? I AM THE STAR HERE *stamps foot, looks like an idiot*) So yes, this was not a good thing, but, you know, clearly it happens and here we are again. So.

APART from that. I had the week off work for the first time in 10,000 years (or... since April. Whatever.) and maaaan, did I make the most of it! So. I'm not really going to talk about Monday because it was RAINBOW ROWELL DAY and that really deserves its own post. It was also Frances day, however, and after the epicness of meeting Rainbow Rowell (OMG you guys, she is the best. Seriously) I took Frances home where essentially we talked for 24 hours, stopping only for sleep and tiredness induced bouts of staring. We also went to Richmond, which is the nicest, and Frances got her first visit to Tiger, which is this shop full of random, but genuinely decent, crap.

(This is where I would include a photo of this happening, but I really wasn't on the ball enough to be dealing with that on Tuesday. Seriously, we barely stopped talking.)

Wednesday and Thursday, I pretty much just read in the garden, and then there was that hospital visit. It's been disturbingly hot here this week, and not the kind of hot where it's sunny and there's a gorgeous breeze, the kind where it's stuffy and you can't really breathe well and OMG it's so hot. This is fine if you're just reading in the garden though, which I was and at this moment (it's only Saturday right now) I've already finished two books this week, have read all my How To Build A Girl Chapters, and am making some real headway into The Women's Room. This is all great stuff because I feel like I haven't read properly for so long, and it makes me sad.
But anyway. Thursday night/Friday morning, I was woken up at about 2:15am by the HUGEST crash of thunder I've ever heard, ever, and there was lightning like nothing I've ever seen in this country (I've been to the Caribbean, so I'm familiar with this kind of storm) and it was fucking epic. After I closed my windows because WOAH the rain, I just went back to bed and laid and watched the lightning for longer than I should have because it was excellent. You'd think it would have cooled things down a bit, but it is still the most stifling weather here and I am wilting just ever so slightly. Have I just talked about the weather for a paragraph? Yes, but you have to forgive me, I'm British.

Anyway. So FRIDAY, I got up vaguely earlier than I've gotten up all week, to go and visit Bex and her boys in Broadstairs (OH, the alliteration!) If nothing else, it was amazing to get out of the stifling heat of London (have I mentioned that it's hot here) and down to the coast where the air is less disgusting*, but also, there was everything else. Because BEX IS THE GREATEST (you know that already, right?), and her babies are the sweetest, and agh, internet, nice work introducing us because ours is a friendship that needed to happen but may never have and phewwwww!

What we actually did: I arrived and we had a moment where we made sure we were each other (this involved some squinting and then some 'oh! You!' kind of stuff) and then we went and got lunch in this beachside cafe place- we each had a panini, but the ice cream was what we were really there for and it was awesoooome! We then went and sat on the beach for quite a while, where Benji and I made sandcastles and had a gay old time, and Bex fed Sam and generally watched over her children (by whom I obviously mean Benji and myself). After that we walked back to her flat which is, just by the by, in the fanciest building I've ever seeeeeen, and whilst Benjamin watched Shrek, we talked and talked and you get the idea. There was also some baby cuddles along the way, which I consider good practice for my cousin's impending baby, and also BABY CUDDLES. They're kind of the best.

OF COURSE we didn't take any pictures or anything, because it's not like we have blogs or something where we could joyously document our whole days, but suffice to say, fun was had and baby cuddles are still the best. And, you know, you should probably look into this getting a friend who lives by the coast thing, because I highly recommend it as a day out. I less highly recommend getting a high speed train back to London, because chances are you'll eat too many mini cheddars on it, then have to walk along it to find the toilet, and almost lose said mini cheddars. That's just a for instance, I definitely didn't do that.
The point is, yay yay good week! I feel very rejuvenated and whatnot from my week off, and kiiiind of ready to face work again next week? (Sort of. Maybe.) Whether or not I'm ready for work AND hospital visits is another thing entirely, but I'll make it work and if I need an extra boost along the way, I'll just look back on this week and remember that awesome things still happen, if you have time off work and also let them. Lessons for us all to learn, I believe.

*I feel like a Victorian person who's like 'we must summer down by the coast to get away from the London smog', but that's kind of what it was like!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Devouring Books: The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

These days, it's pretty rare for me to read a book by the same author I read something by mere weeks ago, so I hope that alone makes it clear how much I like Yoko Ogawa. These days, it's also pretty rare for me to get a book from the library AND ACTUALLY READ IT, so this should also give you an indication of how much I like this woman. It's quite a lot, in case that wasn't clear.
However. The Diving Pool is nothing like The Housekeeper and the Professor, and that's not a complaint so much as an expression of surprise and then delight. Whilst The Housekeeper and the Professor was all quiet sadness and love of maths and strange relationships that somehow work; The Diving Pool is a lot more sinister, and upsetting, and, as the front of my copy says, 'Profoundly unsettling'. There's really no better way to describe the stories in this book, unsettling is the one word that is really IT.
There's a lot going on in these stories: concealed jealousy and deep resentments, loneliness and deception, and a lot of other dark stuff that you can't quite put your finger on but still makes you feel very uneasy with the whole book. And you know what? I bloody loved it. Of course I did. Come on.

There are three stories in the book, which isn't so many, so I'll talk about them all juuust a little bit. Prepare to be freaked out.

  • The Diving Pool- Aya is a teenage girl who is desperately in love with her foster brother, in that obsessive way only teenage girls can be, but she also has a hidden darkness in her that comes from being her parents only biological child- she sees this as a disadvantage, because all of the children they foster, they chose. This feeling of inadequacy, along with her obsessive love, makes her do unforgivable things, and makes this an unforgettable story.
  • Pregnancy Diary- The narrator of this story is keeping a diary of her sister's pregnancy, but it's not the sweet deed that it sounds like. She goes from disgust about what's happening to her sister, to an obsession with food when her sister has the most severe morning sickness I've ever heard of, and there's a definite feeling about all her narration that makes it seem like she doesn't really know how to relate to other people properly. This is less outwardly horrible than The Diving Pool, but in a way, that makes it worse because the tension and darkness is all simmering away just under the surface. Nasty stuff.
  • Dormitory- This is perhaps the most like The Housekeeper and the Professor, in that it centres on an unconventional relationship, but there's still definitely a sinister undertone to proceedings. The friendship at its heart is very touching, the suggestion of dark obsessions is pretty chilling. It's good, is what I'm saying.
And that's pretty much it! Dark obsessions and less than stellar people, that's what you'll get from The Diving Pool, along with stories gripping enough that they'll stay with you long enough for you to review them on your blog, at least! Which is a big ask for me, these days...

Monday, 14 July 2014

"There isn't a word for what I want to be yet. There isn't a thing I can gun for. The thing I want to be hasn't been invented."

Happy How To Build A Girl Day!
Firstly: If you're an American and haven't preordered this book yet, GET WITH IT, and get it from here. Secondly: There will almost definitely be spoilers but YOU KNOW you want to read this post, it's going to be awesome, so... Make your choices in life, people.

So. I know we're only, what, 60 pages in, but I've already laughed at this book a lot (like, seriously a lot. Out loud. With noise. THIS NEVER HAPPENS) and it's made me totally sad about the perception of people on benefits in this country (but glad we actually have such a system) and more relatey than I would like to be about Johanna's anxiety and feelings of powerlessness. Already, this book is doing a lot to me.

But, instead of discussing any of those slightly more serious issues, we're going to talk about wanking.
Do you know how many books I've read that actually talk about female masturbation? Maybe one, and that was a Judy Blume book and the girl (I want to say Deenie?) kind of sheepishly did it with a flannel. And that's IT. Here's what I think the ACTUAL deal is, in real life terms, about ladies wanking:
And so reading pages and pages about it in this book is fucking (ha!) revolutionary. It's especially great in that, it's not done in a weird, mistily lit way that is meant to make it appealing to men, or even at all sexually appealing, it's just a no holds barred account of getting your rocks off whenever you want, by whatever means necessary. I just... I mean... The people need to hear this stuff! It's like a coded message to teenage girls: 'Whatever you're doing is fine! Explore yourself! It's all good!'

Just, yes.

Ah, but there is more to this first section than just masturbating, I GUESS. As I said, of course it's funny because it's Caitlin, but for every moment of hilarity, there's also almost an equal number of parts that make you sad, or even just make you think about something a little more deeply. So you get this:
"It would be fair to say I visit the biscuits as much as I visit Violet. Once she had run out of biscuits. That had been a difficult afternoon for both of us."
But then also this:
"It's really best not to tell people when you feel bad. Growing up is about keeping secrets and pretending everything is fine."
 Much as Johanna is kind of a mess right now, I still like her a lot. Maybe I don't even like her, maybe I just care about her, but I'm slightly wary of the whole building a girl thing. It's not that Johanna's perfect right now and doesn't need to mature and grow and whatnot (plus, girl soooo needs to get laid) but there's a certain core to her character that I hope doesn't leave her completely because she's a unique little lunatic and I need her to stay that way, juuuust a little bit.

I've got nothing bad to say about how she deals with COMPLETE AND UTTER HUMILIATION though:
"I dealt with this with all the coping mechanisms I knew: lying under the bed with the dog, reading Little Women and eating jam sandwiches dipped in hot chocolate."
 Little Women will just cure ALL the things that ail you.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sunday Sundries: Revisiting The Past, Not Thinking Too Much About The Future

Happy Sunday, guys and gals!
I'm in a slight state of disbelief that it's Sunday already, cause this week has flown past, probably because of this slightly disgusting migraine I had on Tuesday that resulted in a lot of laying down and a crapload of TV watching that made up most of my week. What this means, realistically, is that I've now seen season one of Orphan Black (SO GOOD, YOU GUYS, why aren't you watching this?!), season one of Black Mirror (also amazing. I watched Season Two about a year and a half ago, so talk about the wrong way round, but whatever) and haven't read the assigned chapters of How To Build A Girl because reading HURTS when you have a migraine, guys.

Plus, Orphan Black.
However. In spite of the inactivity of most of this week (not that watching TV in bed isn't a totally worthy pursuit. It's awesome) I still have so much to report to you guys! Well, sort of. Firstly is that my weekend in Bristol was a total success, in that I had muchos great catching up time with my friend Justine (we watched a lot of TV. Obviously), we jog-walked the race for life with a totally respectable time of arouuund 45 minutes (they started the clock before WE started so it's hard to tell exactly how long it took. But 45 minutes sounds good for me!), had literally the greatest lunch ever (at this place. If you're ever in Bristol... Let me know, and we'll lunch there), got a free sample of cider, because Bristol, AND managed to see most of the Wimbledon final where Federer didn't win. But you can't have everything.

Overall, it was a completely satisfying weekend, and weirdly restful, even though we did quite a lot. I enjoy this feeling very much.

THIS WEEKEND- so yesterday I went up to London with my sister because we both wanted to go to the V&A Museum of Childhood because there's a Jacqueline Wilson exhibition on. Jacqueline Wilson is essentially my favourite children's writer, I probably wouldn't have loved reading nearly as much if her books hadn't existed, and, let's be real, I would read any of her books at any time, even now (in fact, I bought a new one yesterday because of course I did). I was a little bit underwhelmed by the museum itself, in that they had stuff in the display cases from like 10 years ago (actually, they had stuff from 2013) and there wasn't any kind of like, social history of toys or anything, just a description of how they worked and it actually reminded me that I don't even like the V&A that much for similar reasons- it's basically just a load of STUFF and doesn't require you to think very much.

As for the exhibition though? It was good- it was awesome to see some of Wilson's early diary entries, some of her articles for Jackie magazine, and letters from editors suggesting changes to her work that showed quite well how the editing process happened. Obviously not all of her books had their own displays (there are so many of them!) but most of the ones that did were newer ones I hadn't read, so anything about them was kind of lost on me, but there was a display on The Illustrated Mum (my favourite forever and ever) so that pacified me a lot. The only thing I would say about it is that, since it's the museum of childhood, the exhibition is pretty much aimed directly at children. I don't know why this surprised me, but it did a bit, and it was a little bit jarring reading things like 'maybe you'll be a famous writer when you grow up!' and 'How would you like your house to look if you were a grown up?' WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I'M NOT A GROWN UP NOW?! Shut up, V&A.

But anyway. Fun was had all round, and then we went shopping and that was cool too. I had an incident where I said 'MOOMINS!" a little bit loudly in Foyles and made both members of staff look up, but whatever, I'm sure they just thought I was awesome. Obviously.

So! I did some stuff and yay summer for getting me out of the house! Nothing like it. I've got the next week off work (SO EXCITING) and I'm going to meet Rainbow Rowell tomorrow (EVEN MORE EXCITING! AND NERVE MAKING FOR ME BECAUSE I'M A LOSER) and probably see Bex on Friday and FRANCES is coming to stay (and meet Rainbow Rowell) and everything is just going to be the best. And then you'll get another long post like this next Sunday too, YOU LUCKY THINGS!
God, I love summer. Have amazing weeks you guyyyyyys!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Devouring Books: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

The Examined Life is another one of those books that cost 99p (Kindle Daily Deals, man), and, from it's description, I thought was worth a read. It's also another one of those books I thought I'd probably never read (or at least not anytime soon), but since the last book I read fitting this description was The First 20 Minutes, which was HI-larious, I thought this was worth a shot. Since I bought it and all...

The Examined Life is ostensibly a collection of case studies Grosz has collected working as a psychoanalyst, but they're also designed so that they can have a wider application to the lives of people who might be reading the book. This means that he'll describe the case specifically, and then make a general point about a state of mind, or coping mechanisms, or whatever the issues might be. I can see how for some people, this book might become a lightbulb moment for issues in their lives, but since it didn't really tell me anything I hadn't already figured out for myself, that's not really what it did for me.

This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy reading it. For me, it was like a little book of zen- filled with tiny reminders about faulty thinking mechanisms that can destroy your state of mind, and the idea that even if things are bad, they can be good again. I am in no way a well trained psychology student (I have an A Level in it, which equates to having studied it for two years) but I know enough to have my doubts about psychoanalysis, or at least about its limits and practical applications, so whenever Grosz brought it back to the parents (which happened A LOT) I rolled my eyes juuuust a little bit.

However. Maybe I'm just being picky, and this book could be genuinely useful and contain new information for most people. Maybe not everyone has read a lot of things about mental health. Here are some quotes for you* to judge the insight for yourselves:
"At one time or another, we all try to silence painful emotions. But when we succeed in feeling nothing, we lose the only means we have of knowing what hurts us, and why."
"We are vehemently faithful to our own view of the world, our story. We want to know what new story we're stepping into before we exit the old one."
"We all have a cheering voice that says 'let us start now, right away,' and an opposing, negative voice that responds 'I would prefer not to.' When we are in the grip of negativity, we lose our appetite for human connection."
"We can take on a catastrophe to stop ourselves feeling and thinking- and to avoid responsibility for our own intimate acts of destruction." 
See, to me, none of these things were particularly earth shattering. They are things I think it's good for me personally to keep in mind, but they're not things I didn't already know. Maybe there are a lot of things in this book that you might not know, but having lived for 20- odd years in this world, you probably do.

However. I did enjoy 'meeting' most of Grosz's patients, and I was really happy for them when, at the end of his essays (and, you know, months of psychoanalysis) they got better and resumed their lives as they wanted to live them. This was all good stuff, and, like I said, it really was a very soothing book to read. It kind of makes you believe that there are no problems so insurmountable that they can't be solved by talking about them, and that there is a little sentence out there that can dissect the things you are feeling, and what you can do about that.

It's not a terrible book, in other words, but it's something that I definitely wouldn't be bothered about reading again. I like my psychology a little bit meatier.

*although really they're just the most relevant ones to me, I think.