Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Devouring Books: In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

"I began to think that American loneliness is a completely different creature from anything we experience in this country, and it makes me glad to be Japanese. The type of loneliness where you need to keep struggling to accept a situation is fundamentally different form the sort you know you'll get through if you just hang in there. I don't think I could stand the sort of loneliness Americans feel."

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time at all, you'll know all about my love for Japanese authors, the things they write, and Japan in general. This means that I'm always willing to try a new Japanese author, and when Kayleigh came back from Japan earlier this year, filled with news of this other Murakami, I made it my single minded mission to seek out and read this book. 

This was easier said than done. Go to any big bookshop and you'll find a whole row of Haruki Murakami books, but Ryu? Not so much. The only time I saw this before I actually bought it, I was in Foyles and got paralysed by the amount of choice there was (so, like, 5 of his books?) and then I couldn't decide between getting this book- because all my friends were reading it- or one of his bigger books because more pages=better value. When I saw it again, it was the only one they had, and that pretty much made up my mind for me.

But ENOUGH about the shocking lack of diversity in Japanese authors available in this country! Onto the book. In The Miso Soup is completely different to any book I've read by any Japanese author before. The front of my copy says "Reads like the script notes for American Psycho- the Holiday Abroad," and while that's way more spoilery than I think it probably should be, it's not completely inaccurate. However- I have long given up on Bret Easton Ellis because I think he has long given up on the human race, and I don't think that's Murakami's game at all. But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself.

In the Miso Soup is the story of Kenji and Frank. Kenji is a tour guide for the sex industry in Tokyo, and Frank is an American tourist, looking for some, you know, sex. Almost immediately, Kenji starts to feel uneasy about Frank and his actions, and starts to wonder if he's responsible for some recent murders in Toyko. That's very much the premise for the rest of the book that I can't really talk about, but suffice to say there's a massive amount of build up, and tension, and all sorts of other dramatic stuff that makes this book so damn good.

And then there's a scene that I can't talk about but oh my god. You'll know what I'm talking about when you read this (read this) so all I'm going to say about it now is OH MY GOD. I'm only saying this because I was very unprepared for it and so yes. Wow.

Let's see, what can I talk about? If the other books I've read by Japanese authors are sad and deep and kind of weird, then In the Miso Soup looks at a different side of Japanese culture. The women involved in the sex industry seem to think very little about what they're doing, and there's not a lot of regret or emotion displayed about what they're doing. The ubiquity of selling sex for money is something that's mentioned a lot, and there's not much comment passed either way on the morality of it all.*

There's also some good stuff here about the difference between American and Japanese cultures. Kenji switches between being alternately disgusted by the Japanese AND American cultures, but that's just the 20 year old cynic in him speaking. The above quote is a good one on the difference between American and Japanese loneliness, and I think it has a lot to do with the difference between American (and just Western) individualism and Japanese (or Eastern) collectivism, about which I have lots of thoughts that I won't bore you with here. The point specifically though: loneliness is harder to bear in America because you're supposed to be the centre of the universe and if no one wants to be around you then you're nothing. In a more collectivist culture, it's easier to bear, because you as a person are not supposed to be everything there is. Or maybe you're just too numbed to everything to care about the loneliness.

God, I've made this sound much more depressing than it actually is. But really- it's tense, it's exciting, it's a lot of other things that I can't mention because spoilers; and it also gives you the opportunity to learn a LOT of Japanese sex talk, if that's what you're into. Sukebe jijii suki desu ka?

*This isn't supposed to be anti-sex workers or anything, but just the way it's talked about doesn't really involve much in the way of right and wrong, or emotion. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

"Some people aren't just people, but a place- a whole world. Sometimes you find someone you could live in for the rest of your life."

Oh, our little Johanna is in love!
It seems to me she could have picked someone who's sliiiightly less of a cunt to be in love with, but I suppose John Kite has a kind of dirty, dirty charm that makes adult women go 'ugh' but that sixteen year old girls can't really see through. I sense this is the moment where everyone goes 'But he's such a dreamboat!' and ehhhhh, is he though? He probably isn't.

I read all of this week's reading when I couldn't sleep at about 2am on a Saturday morning, so I may not have the freshest view of it. However- I know that it continues to be awesome. I know that within literally a three page interval, I cried and then laughed out loud, and do we have to relive the crying? We definitely do:
"I wouldn't have told her about how sometimes, when your daddy has fallen off a building, he doesn't like people to come to the house. That he won't let anyone in, or out. 
I suspect I would have said I didn't feel well- that I had a stomachache, and so she shouldn't come over.
And that was true in the end- about the stomachache. Because I ate everything on the table. I ate my whole birthday."

I just... I don't really talk about this a lot* because it's too sad to think about, and I'm not even the person it's saddest for, but it came up when I was commenting on posts last week so it feels right to talk about it here. So my own papa has a lot of medical problems that are too confusing and depressing to detail in this post, he and my mum live on benefits (less tragically than in this book cause their kids are all grown, but still, they ain't rich) and I relate so deeply to days that should have been awesome but haven't been because he hasn't been well. I say this not in a blaming way, because there's no one to blame, and not in an angry way, because there's no real point in anger; but the fact is that this part of the book relates more deeply to my own experience of the world than maybe any other book and so I will never be able to be objective about it.

So, basically, you can take your unreality of becoming a music journalist, and I'll take my incredible reality of living with a daddy who isn't well.

I know that quite a lot of the point of this book is about learning how to be cool (or you know, just survive) at parties, and how to be a music journalist, and how to fit in with the general population (of the music biz. Which is not the same as the general population) but for me, the parts about where Johanna is coming from are about 10,000x more interesting than the places she's going. The fact that we've all just been reading the book is the only thing stopping me typing out John Kite's entire rant about the poor of this country, but this is about the truest thing ever:
"When the middle classes get passionate about politics, they're arguing about their treats- their tax breaks and their investments. When the poor get passionate about politics, they're fighting for their lives."
Because, just yes. Johanna's description of what losing 11% of their benefits means to her family is completely heartbreaking because with that kind of crushing poverty, how is anyone ever meant to escape from it. I think it's really easy to sit back and say 'why don't they just get jobs?' but when everyone's trained for industrial jobs and Thatcher has more or less just made it so there aren't any, what other option is there? I won't go on the biggest rant ever about the way the media treats people on benefits even now**, but the point is, I don't really think it's a life anyone desires, willingly chooses, or benefits from. So STFU, The Daily Mail.
I feel like this post is basically just a series of rants about society, and if you don't like it, take it up with the backstage team***. Whilst reading, I'm definitely not as angry with the book as I am in this post, and mostly I find it delightful, and then heartbreaking, and then delightful all over again. I feel like I've been defending dadda a lot in the comments on everyone's posts, for obvious reasons, but I DID get annoyed with him this week when he didn't even appreciate Johanna carrying a pint of Guinness back from Ireland for him. I mean, it's exactly how I expected him to react, and it was funny (you can tell Johanna would never get too big for her boots, because dadda would never let her) but it's also like DUDE! Appreciate the effort, willya?!

ONWARDS! Will Johanna ever get laid? Will John Kite be the one to lay her? Or will we get more of the hilarity of wanking followed by the AWFULNESS of a brotherly confrontation about it? (SO AWFUL. I cringed like I've never cringed before). All will be revealed next week, I suppose!

(P.S. You can totally preorder this book if you're in Americaland from here, and if you're in England you can buy it RIGHT NOW- I suggest getting it from here.)

*Although I guess I mention he's in hospital a lot, so there's that haha
**But I will just say that pensioners take up the biggest part of the benefit bill, but no one ever suggests euthanising old people to cut the deficit, do they? Of course not, because that would be AWFUL, but also, shut up.
***That would be me. Hi!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Sunday Sundries

I am feeling a bit of a creativity lull this Sunday after a week of extra work (ugh) and myriad hospital visits, so I shall be revisiting a format that you've seen before and we'll all pretend we enjoy it. The salient points of the week are:

  • MY COUSIN IS BEING INDUCED TODAY!!!!!!!- This is everything. This is all we will be thinking about. I'm pretty excited that there will be a baby in the next few days, or maybe even today!
  • My dad is still in hospital- in fact, the same hospital my cousin will be induced in! Will I sneak down to see the baby? Well... Probably not, really. But I'll try. But anyway, it looks like he's going to be in for at least a couple more weeks, so there is where I shall spend many of my leisure hours. Sigh.
  • I did have a bit of fun this week- the housemates (plus housemate's boyfriend) and I had a really good BBQ on Thursday night, where teasing the vegetarian was mostly restrained and I had time to reflect on how much I'm going to bloody miss my housemate when she leaves (it is SO MUCH. As well as being my housemate, we have been friends since we were 5. SOB.)
Annnnnd, that's kind of it. But here's another installment offffffffffff:

Right Now I Am...

Listening to: Ok, so technically the summer breeze? But musically, at the moment, I'm pretty much just going through the music on my phone and letting that shit shuffle. So I guess I'm kind of ambivalent to any particular artist at the moment, but never to music in general.

Having said that, I have just started playing Joni Mitchell on my computer, so... It's always Joni.

Reading: So yesterday (but really, like, an hour ago) my housemate was horrified that I had brought two books downstairs with me to read in the garden, because reading two books is ridiculous, apparently. Of course I'm not only reading two books, so the real answer to this is TOO MANY THINGS. But the formal list?
The Women's Room by Marilyn French (because I've been reading this too too long, so I'm trying to finish it)
The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (because, obviously)
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (because one needs a little e-something to read on the train)
How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran (because, READALONG!)
As Always Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto (because it lives by my bed and I claim to be reading it even though I'm reaaaally not)
SO MANY WOMEN, amiright?!

Eating: I keep grilling many vegetables and then having them with some hummus and usually cheese and either doritos or kettle chips and it's pretty much the best way to live. Summer forever.

Watching: I'm currently in the middle of watching *deep breath* Breaking Bad, Orphan Black, House of Cards, the final season of True Blood, Pokemon (not even kidding, I love it, shut up). But since I'm mostly at work/at the hospital/in the garden, I haven't really been watching anything much and that is fine with me. What is winter for anyway? 

Making: In theory, I'm making a baby blanket, but that child is coming so fast that I'm not even worrying about rushing it because there's no way it's going to be ready in time. I'll be happy if it's ready by about September, when a baby could possibly need a blanket again.

Planning: A way to buy all the books I need for my Masters for the smallest possible amount of money. The theory: charity shops. The reality: going to all the charity shops in Twickenham yesterday in the sweltering heat and not finding any Shakespeare. This could be interesting.

Feeling: So so so so incredibly hot. Attic living is not suited for summer (or winter, but we won't get into that right now) and oh the sweating. However- I am loath to complain because I am not a fan of winter in any way, so I'm appreciating the sweating. Sort of.

Loving: the garden, only working 3 days a week, reading as much as I possibly can (which hasn't always been my MO this year), ice cream, lazy Saturdays with abandoning housemates.

Wanting: The summer to just be forever. Guess I should probably just move to California, huh?

Thinking: About how I'm actually going to have to do this whole Masters thing now that I'm on the course, have paid my deposit, and think about it about 5,000 times a day. AGHHHH/EEEEEEE! 

Looking forward to: Meeting that damn baby, getting my papa out of hospital, a lot more garden reading, and general summer frolicking. Because SUMMER!

That, I think, pretty much covers it. Hilarious parallels with my last one of these can be drawn because IT'S ALL THE SAME STUFF. But, consistency when you're fairly happy is a good thing, I think. 

What about you, my pretties?

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.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Devouring Books: Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto

There's this Maya Angelou (RIP) quote that goes "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." I bring this up because, much as this applies to people (and it so, so does), it can equally apply to books. I think we've all read books where we can't quite remember the plot or much that's specific from them, but shit, we know they made us feel things, and also stuff.

I bring this up because, I know that I really liked Lizard while I was reading it, I just can't remember much about the specific stories (there are 6). Banana Yoshimoto writes in a style I really like- it's fairly simple and easy to read, and then a sentence might come along that takes your breath away just a little bit; and that's in translation. Obviously because she's a Japanese author, I'm predisposed to like her (I'm currently reading my third Japanese book in a row, and have my next Murakami allll planned out), and it doesn't hurt that there's a touch of Haruki in her writing- a touch of magical realism, and oh yes some sadness; but her writing and her stories are still definitely all her own.

All that I've really said so far is 'Banana Yoshimoto is good, you should read her.' This is definitely true. If you tend to steer away from short stories (or Japanese authors. Or Murakami) then this might not be for you, but otherwise I say go forth! Get stuck into these little slices of life and love and hope and loss and all sorts of other themes that I can remember, even if I can't remember much from the stories themselves. Maybe you will, and they'll stay with you for the rest of your life. I really hope so.

However. Even if I can't remember much, I can remember some stuff. There are some little moments from some of the stories that have stayed with me, and because this review is lacking just a little bit in content, let's talk about a couple of those (bear with me, there will be quotes).
"Your love is different from mine. What I mean is, when you close your eyes, for that moment, the centre of the universe comes to reside within you. And you become a small figure within that vastness, which spreads without limit behind you, and continues to expand with tremendous speed, to engulf all of my past, even before I was born, and every word I've ever written, and each view I've seen, and all the constellations and darkness of outer space that surrounds the small blue ball that is earth. Then, when you open your eyes, all that disappears.
I anticipate the next time you are troubled, and must close your eyes again."
Mostly I just wanted to share that because it's abouuut as close as prose comes to poetry to me. But also, each time I read it, I interpret it differently. The first time, I thought it meant that her love for him is all consuming and engulfing, whereas his love is about enjoying meaning that much to another person. Now I think it's more that she uses his love as her place of comfort and home, and loves being able to provide that for her and welcomes it when he can. Maybe it's a little bit of both, or maybe it's something else entirely- THIS IS THE BEAUTY OF READING.
"I shut the window, and then looked down at the river again. Unlike the river I had seen moments before, full of chaos and anxiety, the water now appeared calm and powerful, like an image frozen by a camera lens. It was peaceful, like the passage of time, flowing by, gentle and unchanging. It amazed me how utterly different things can look, just with a change of heart."
I love this because it's so simple but it's so incredibly true. One of the oldest philosophical fragments (I know, I studied Ancient Philosophy one time, leave me alone) is about how no one steps in the same river twice, and this makes me think of that, as well as just the general idea that, the world isn't really this one static thing, it's also inseparable from the way we experience it (more philosophy!). The exact same view can be repellant or pleasing, depending on where we've been, what we've done, or simply how we feel that day; books can change what they mean to us as we age and learn more, and it's just one of the more interesting aspects of life- because we change, things that seem eternal and fixed just aren't.

I'm pretty sure that's what Yoshimoto was trying to say in those four sentences, anyway. Ahem.

So, yes. Lizard is pretty great at getting me to think deep thoughts, but not so much at getting me to remember stuff. On the whole, I'd probably rather do the former anyway, so if that appeals to you too, you should probably read this. If not, then you've probably got a better memory than me, so you can read this too. Failing all that, just read Moonlight Shadow from Kitchen, because it's been more than a year since I read that, and I was moved by it AND I remember it. Bonus points there, Yoshimoto.

Monday, 7 July 2014

How To Build A Girl: How To Build A Bridge To My Heart

I didn't know who Caitlin Moran was until the lovely Frances got excited at me this one day because Caitlin's first book was coming out in a couple of weeks. I'm not immune to Frances-recommendations, nor to her shoving books in my face and telling me to read them, and so I read How To Be A Woman, and it was spectacular.

By the time Moranthology came out, I was hanging on Moran's every word on twitter, reading all her columns whenever The Times pesky paywall came down, and even got tickets for two events she was doing to promote her book. At one of these, I MET HER AND IT WAS GREAT and, let's face it, I would probably marry her if I could (a platonic marriage of amazingness, obviously).

Somewhere along the way I've also read The Chronicles of Narmo, the novel Moran wrote when she was 15 and ridiculously precocious, but this basically brings us to this readalong. I am SO EXCITED to be reading Caitlin along with some tremendous ladies, but on the flip side of this, I can't believe I've had the book in my possession for a couple of weeks now and haven't actually read it (let's face it, I've read some of it. It's amazing. But shhhh...)

But anyway! Those dark days of longing are over now, and I can't wait to read the things the glorious Caitlin has to tell, nor can I wait to squeal about it with everyone starting next week. SO EXCITED.

(ps you can definitely follow along with us over at Emily's blog, we'll be posting weekly. And I will be screeching A LOT.
pps If you're an American, you can definitely preorder this book here. And if you're an Englisher, you can probably find it in most bookshops because I'm pretty sure it's out now.)

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sunday Sundries: I've stopped holding out on y'all!

Happy Sunday, kids! I'm writing this on Saturday morning because I'll be in Bristol all weekend doing the Race for Life* (there's still time to sponsor me WINKY FACE go on, you know you want to) but I wanted to show my face around these parts since I've been absent all the weekdays for about a month. Life has become disturbingly busy and I can't see it letting up any time soon, so please just bear with me- I do have one and a half blog posts written in a notebook, so one of those might even get typed up this week! We'll see.

So, why is life so busy? I'm working less days but more hours now, which means that, while I get Wednesdays and Thursdays off work (WOOP!) I also spend almost the entirety of my waking hours on Monday, Tuesday and Friday either travelling to and from work or actually at work. Added to that this week has been going to the hospital nearly daily (I took a mental health day on Thursday) because my papa is back in there (BOO) because no one really thought to check if the infection he had last time had cleared up properly. It had not. BUT, he seems to be on the mend now, so fingers crossed he'll be out soon, not really for my sake but for his own, obviously! What all of this means, anyway, is that on Wednesday and Thursday I spend my time catching up with things I've let slide for those first couple of days of the week, then suddenly it's Friday and I have no idea what I'm doing with myself. Hence the lack of blogging, reading, or really most things that are fun.

(I have found the time to watch most of the first season of House of Cards with my housemate though. What a mind fuuuuuck!)

So that's my life right now, and it's only going to get busier from September because (and this is what I've been holding out on you guys about. Never again, I swear!) I'll be doing a Masters at Royal Holloway in Shakespeare! SURPRISE! I didn't want to tell you, firstly until I got accepted, and secondly until I got money stuff sorted out, but I paid my deposit on Thursday, and I'm really excited about it! I've felt like I've been drifting along kind of aimlessly ever since I left university, and this feels like the first really big decision I've made about what I want to be doing with my future since then. I'm so grateful that I have the opportunity to do it, and I'm determined to work really hard, be a big important academic type person and still say fuck a lot on the internet.

This must be what actual ambition feels like- I think I thought I didn't have any, but it turns out I just didn't know what it should be aimed towards, and I'm pretty confident that this is it. Or it feels like the right thing for right now, at least. I'm really excited, and really scared I'm not smart enough, and a lot of other feelings at the same time, but mostly, it's just that gratitude thing. And I GET TO STUDY SHAKESPEARE FOR A WHOLE YEAR! In case I haven't made it clear yet, I kind of love that guy. You know, a lot.

So that's my whole big deal. All of my 'I've been doing something important this week that I can't talk about's, and my 'Exciting news! But I can't tell you yet' has been this, and I'm sorry if I've made you not care with all my teasing but this is it and it's a giant thing in my life right now. Annnnd now I'm rambling and I don't know how to end this so so so have a great rest of your weekend and do epic things and then tell me about them!

*Obviously I won't be running all weekend, it's only a 5k, I'm not that slow!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Ninja Book Swap Haul

Hey, guys! Look, another post that isn't a review of any sort. I'm doing reaaaally well lately...

Anyway, hush. Look at some things that I got! The Ninja Book Swap, for those not in the know, is run by the lovely Bex and Hanna, about 3 times a year, and you agree to send someone a package, and someone else sends you a package in return. I haven't joined in the last couple of times, because I'm dirt poor (nice work moving out of your parents house, me) but this time I thought, why not?

And that's how I found myself going to the post office this week to collect a parcel that was 'too large' to post (!!!). Before I show you what I got though, I just want to say that the person I bought for was LITERALLY my twin- she likes scandinavia, baths, and at least four of the books on her list of ten were books I'd either read or wanted to. My point (other than that it's kind of creepy referring to someone you've never met as your twin) is that these guys do a really good job of matching people, AND/OR that was a really creepy coincidence, in which case, why fight what is obviously meant to be?

ANYWAY- goodies!
Apologies for the arm shadow, it was just so nice and sunny on Thursday...

So the lovely Kelly sent my parcel, and she did a REALLY GOOD job! That's a keep calm and read on bookmark which I wholly approve of, as well as a teeeeny badge that says so many books, so little time which is the truest saying of my life at the moment, and then, you know, BOOKS. So there's The Waves by Virginia Woolf, which I am only the tiniest bit scared of (I'm pretty scared. Stupid Woolf.) and also Morrisey's autobiography WHICH, fun fact, I totally bought for my swappee, wanted to keep, massively, but managed to send on for I am a good and thoughtful giver. 

So. Not a bad parcel to get in the post, I think you'll agree! I can't recommend joining in on the next one (which will be halloween, I think) enough- you get to give AND receive books, what could be better?!