Books I read in July 2021

This is posted so last minute, mainly because this month I found out that I’ll be working from home for a year which is always something I’ve said I would absolutely hate hahaha. So, I took a while to process, but now trying to make the most of it and be thankful in a time where so many are struggling for work. In book related news, I remembered that libraries are a thing and once again opened, and I got so many good books to read! Honestly such a good resource, good for the planet and also a much-needed money saver, I love libraries! Also, looking at the list there are probably a few trigger warnings for most of the books I read, so please look them up before reading these books!

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (physical book, new read)

‘’It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.’’ (Shuggie Bain synopsis)

I always love reading new Scottish literature and I don’t shy away from harsh realities or bittersweet stories: I love Irvine Welsh’s writing for example. This story was so poignant and moving, made more impactful by the fact that I’ve been to most of the places. Whilst I’m lucky enough never to have lived in poverty, I recognise some of the elements of this Glaswegian lifestyle even in some of my older family members, as well as direct parallels to the lives of some of the children I have worked with. My favourite stories have themes of family, love, loss and grief and it felt so important to read a Glaswegian book with these themes. Whilst I’m extremely lucky never to have experienced the poverty so many Scottish people face, I related to Shuggies unconditional love of his family after losing my dad at a young age, and the impact of mental health, grief and love on family dynamics. I also enjoyed the interlinking LGBT themes and like to think that Shuggie will live a true and fulfilling life as his story continues. Such a poignant Scottish story!

Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow by Banana Yoshimoto (physical books, new read)

‘’Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan’s brightest young literary star and is now a cult film. When Kitchen was first published in Japan in 1987 it won two of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, climbed its way to the top of the bestseller lists, then remained there for over a year and sold millions of copies. Banana Yoshimoto was hailed as a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of modern literature, and has been described as ‘the voice of young Japan’ by the Independent on Sunday.’’ (Kitchen synopsis)

I love Japanese literature so much, honestly can’t even explain what it is about it but it’s so dreamy yet so focused on almost mundane details. This book focuses on themes that I’ve found to be key in the Japanese stories I’ve read- grief and relationships, but whether it’s the writing, translation or philosophies surrounding these books, such common themes just feel so different, magical and new compared to a number of British or American books I’ve read. This book is quite sensory as we follow the main character around at their daily pace, for example, hearing her slow thoughts on the weather, things she’s eating, furniture she sees, but I never felt bored because I felt immersed in her story and surroundings. I don’t think some of the terms used to describe the transgender character are now appropriate at this time, but I loved the interactions between the characters and ways in which the themes were explored.

As this book is so short, it featured another novella at the end called Moonlight Shadow, which again focuses on themes of grief. I actually think I preferred this story. I loved how dreamlike it was and the characters written- it almost felt like the episode of Black Mirror called ‘Be Right Back’ which I also loved. Sadly, I read it a while ago now and can’t remember more (need to stop being so lazy with blog posts haha) but I usually hate novellas and short stories, so the fact that I loved this so much sums up how I feel about Yoshimoto’s writing. I’d love to read more from her, if you have please recommend any of her books that you like! 😊

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (physical book, new read)

‘’It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…’’ (On Chesil Beach synopsis)

Before I start, since reading this I’m sure I’ve heard something about Ian McEwan having a transphobic past? I’m not sure what happened, but it’s definitely not something I condone or want to align myself with. As with so many others, this will sadly have to be a case of separating the art from the artist. I think I’ve read three of his books now and enjoy the themes of morality/ethical questions, and the way that these are weaved throughout the story we’re learning so that we reach the end of each book contemplating our own stances and opinions. With sex and sexuality as a key theme of this story, I’ve read reviews where it has brought up interesting discussions and reflections surrounding asexuality; some readers believe that the main character is asexual, some believe that past trauma has instead impacted her reactions, and others discuss the point that for some (not all, of course!) a person can experience trauma and be asexual. Trauma and asexuality definitely don’t have to be linked, and this link can be very damaging for what is already a very misunderstood sexuality. I’m finding it hard to really vocalise what I mean here; I think what I’m trying to say is that unfortunately lots of people who dismiss other sexualities than their own often reject asexuality (or being gay) as a real sexuality and assume that it is a ‘choice or response’ as a result of trauma. I think this results in these sexualities being dismissed or diminished, and I also think that it can make it difficult for asexual people who’ve experienced trauma to discuss their trauma without fear that ignorant people will state that this ‘explains’ their sexuality. Asexuality is real and valid, and definitely not a ‘problem’ or ‘trauma response’.

Anyway, I really hope I articulated what I meant to say properly there, I did not mean to ramble but I like books that make me think and that evoke strong discussions. Other than that, however, I found this book quite boring and didn’t really connect to/like the characters. I’m honestly starting to think I should avoid books set in this time period haha because I always seem to be complaining! I would like to see the film though, I love Saoirse Ronan as an actress and feel like she would bring the character to life 😊

The Returnees by Elizabeth Okoh (physical book, new read)

‘’After a bad break up, 25-year-old Osayuki Isahosa leaves behind everything she holds dear in London to return to Lagos, Nigeria: a country she hasn’t set foot in for many years. Drawn by the transformations happening in the fashion industry in the city, she accepts a job at House of Martha as their Head of PR. While waiting at Milan airport for her connecting flight to Lagos she meets Cynthia Okoye and Kian Bajo. After the plane lands at the Lagos airport, they all go their separate ways but their lives will intertwine again and change the course of their lives forever.’’ (The returnees synopsis)

This book was very fast paced with fairly likeable characters, so for this reason is was a quick and easy read. Unfortunately, though I got bored quite quickly and felt like the story lacked something. I can’t tell if this is YA or pitched at adults, maybe that’s why I felt this way (although, some YA books are incredibly detailed and interesting). I really enjoyed learning more about different parts of Nigeria and Nigerian culture, something I knew very little about before. I think, however, what frustrated was really interesting elements were touched upon but never given depth or detail; for example, the characters mention the stereotypes they perceived about Nigeria before living there, and the ways in which people of colour can experience negative perceptions or isolation on returning to their birth country after moving and being perceived as being ‘Westernised’. I’d love to have read a book focusing on these issues, however, a lot of the story instead focused on some elements that I never really like such an insta love, relationships that feel co-dependent and some twists that were not very surprising. I’m sure lots of people loved this book and enjoyed the main themes but sadly I am always very critical of insta-love tropes, maybe because I am a cat lady hahaha. If you have read any books focusing on the elements that I did find interesting, please let me know! 😊

Georgia Nicholson books 1 and 2 by Louise Rennison (e-books, reread)

‘’Brilliantly funny, teenage angst author Louise Rennison’s first book about the confessions of crazy but lovable Georgia Nicolson. Now repackaged in a gorgeous new paperback and looking even fabber than ever. Louise is an international bestselling author and her books can’t fail to make you laugh out loud. Follow Georgia’s hilarious antics as she tries to overcome the dilemma’s that are weighing up against her, and muddle her way through teenage life and all that it entails: how to replace accidentally shaved-off eyebrows; how to cope with Angus, her small labrador-sized Scottish wildcat; her first kiss with Peter – afterwards known as Whelk Boy; annoying teachers; unsympathetic friends and family, and how to entice Robbie the Sex God! Phew – she’s really got her work cut out!’’ (Angus, thongs synopsis)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again- sign of my impending breakdown: childhood books hahaha. These, like many others of the time have not aged well, but I love the nostalgia and the way these books bring me back to some of the funny times me and my friends had in our early teen years (although I was very shy and awkward, my diary would not have made a good book series!). I read these through the kindle app, and if you haven’t I’d honestly recommend reading some of the silliest books on public transport through the inconspicuous comfort of your phone haha (this is how I got away with reading 50 shades in public when I was about 15).

I always leave these blogs too long and think I’ll have no thoughts then I end up absolutely rambling hahaha. I think my favourites this month were Kitchen/Moonlight Shadow and Shuggie Bain. I hope you’re well, please let me know what you’ve been reading or what you’d recommend- I genuinely love reading comments and learning about more books haha. Also, if you do comment, I’d be interested to know where you live (in a non-creepy way, more of a how far across the world are those of you I’m talking to hahaha).

Books I read in June 2021

Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes (physical book, new read)

‘’In Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes redresses imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.’’ (Pandora’s Jar synopsis)

I’ve previously read some of Haynes myth retellings and was sad to feel a bit detached whilst reading. I did, however, still want to read this book and I’m so glad I did because I really loved it, I think it could be in my favourites of the year! 😊 It felt to me like reading a podcast which I loved, it was easy to read, well written and always interesting. I love learning more through books and feel excited when I start to retain more knowledge about the many (MANY) characters in mythology, and it was great to learn more in this book, particularly about the amazons- I’d previously only really known a little about Penthesilea’s death and taken the rest from Wonder Woman- and Medea, who’s story is so horrifying and interesting. I also enjoyed Haynes references to pop culture throughout as they never felt like too much or brought me out of the book- I’d really recommend listening to Lemonade whilst reading Medea’s chapter! This book has intrigued me to read more non-fiction about these myths from different perspectives, please let me know if you’ve read any good books in this category!

Witches, Warriors, Women: Mythology’s Fiercest Females, written by Kate Hodges and illustrated by Harriot Lee Merrion (physical book, new read)

‘’From feminist fairies to bloodsucking temptresses, half-human harpies and protective Vodou goddesses, these are women who go beyond long-haired, smiling stereotypes. Their stories are so powerful, so entrancing, that they have survived for millennia. Lovingly retold and updated, Kate Hodges places each heroine, rebel and provocateur fimly at the centre of their own narrative. Players include:Bewitching, banished Circe, an introvert famed and feared for her transfigurative powers. The righteous Furies, defiantly unrepentant about their dedication to justice. Fun-loving Ame-no-Uzume who makes quarrelling friends laugh and terrifies monsters by flashing at them. The fateful Morai sisters who spin a complex web of birth, life and death.’’ (Witches synopsis)

This was my second mythology-based non-fiction book of the month, and it filled with short, illustrated character accounts. I bought this online from Edinburgh’s social justice book shop ‘Lighthouse’ after reading about the racially charged and homophobic abuse staff were dealing with, resulting in the shop temporarily closing; if you can, please support their shop! I enjoyed this book and the accompanying illustrations, although they weren’t my personal art style, I prefer really bright colours and patterns. It wasn’t my favourite book of the month, however, it was an interesting read and it was good to learn more about Scottish myths! I’d like to continue to learn about Celtic and Scottish mythology. 😊

Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod (physical books, new reads)

‘’Hesiod belongs to the transitional period in Greek civilization between the oral tradition and the introduction of a written alphabet. His two major surviving works, the Theogony and the Works and Days, address the divine and the mundane, respectively. The Theogony traces the origins of the Greek gods and recounts the events surrounding the crowning of Zeus as their king. A manual of moral instruction in verse, the Works and Days was addressed to farmers and peasants.’’ (Theogony & Works and Days synopsis)

I do not know how I ended up owning this, which means I probably borrowed/stole it from my sister who has a random assortment of books from her literature degree haha. I tend not to like plays unless watching them as a play, especially those written long ago as the writing can frazzle my brain a bit. However, I was on a mythology binge and this was in my flat so here we are. These plays are so famous and studied so often that I know they are important, however, I am not their target reader and I found them very, very boring so I’m just going to leave this here.

Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller (physical books, rereads)

My last blog post is basically a love letter rambling about these books, so I won’t go into them here but I’d be thankful for anyone who’d like to read that post or comment your own thoughts about these books on it 😊

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts (physical book, new reads)

‘’It is in 1950’s Brighton that Marion first catches sight of Tom. He teaches her to swim, gently guiding her through the water in the shadow of the city’s famous pier and Marion is smitten–determined her love alone will be enough for them both. A few years later near the Brighton Museum, Patrick meets Tom. Patrick is besotted, and opens Tom’s eyes to a glamorous, sophisticated new world of art, travel, and beauty. Tom is their policeman, and in this age it is safer for him to marry Marion and meet Patrick in secret. The two lovers must share him, until one of them breaks and three lives are destroyed.’’ (My Policeman synopsis)

I loved the idea of this book, and I was very intrigued to read it. Sadly, I didn’t find this book very interesting, and it was quite a challenge to get through. This led me to think about this is more detail as I eventually dnf’d ‘The Paying Guests’ earlier this year as well as reading but feeling bored and disappointed by ‘Carol’. All three of these books are set in the early/middle 1900’s, and all three are centred around gay/bi characters. I’ve loved books set in this type period before, for example, ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ which is one of my favourites. When reflecting on why I loved this as opposed to the others, I concluded that Crimson Petal is so vivid, passionately written and features dimensional characters. It also features themes that were particularly taboo for this time period, for example, prostitution, but Faber did not shy away from these themes and instead brought them to life, vividly highlighting the hardships and impact on the characters wellbeing. The other books I’ve mentioned, including My Policeman felt flat in comparison. I think the nature of this conservative time period can often mean that the characters can be written in a way which feels stilted. This works well in reflecting the constraints of the time, however, can- for me- make the reading experience feel flat and a bit glum. I think this explains why I am often disappointed by historical fiction set in this time period. Interestingly (to me, probably not to anyone else because I’m just rambling hahaha), I don’t feel this way whilst watching historical fiction of this time period. I love Downton Abbey and Titanic, for example, so it maybe that my imagination is lacking when reading.

In reflecting back, I also feel like I struggled with these books due to the exploration of life as an LGBT person in the early-middle 1900’s. I am always looking for LGBT representation and I appreciate that these stories reflect the risk, stress, homophobia and taboo surrounding being gay. I am thankful that these authors choose to write inclusively. I think, however, I’ve read enough depressing LGBT stories now that I just want to read happy or at least more positive depictions of gay relationships. I think in coming to accept my own sexuality, I already deal with internalised homophobia and feel the weight of current LGBT issues. Reading about them is therefore quite draining and weighs on me, although I acknowledge that it’s so important. I’m therefore going to avoid LGBT accounts in historical fiction for a while, and I’d love if you could comment any positive, happy LGBT books which you have read. 😊 (Sorry, I did not plan for such a tangent here haha!) Ps. I do think Harry Styles is a great choice, and think he has the charisma to play the character well in the film adaptation!

Everyday Activism: How to Change the World in Five Minutes, One Hour or a day by Rachel England (physical book, new read)

‘’This inspiring, easy-to-use guide will help kickstart any activist’s journey. From supporting independent businesses and amplifying marginalised voices, to community gardening and giving to a food bank, there’s something you can do to make a positive change – whether you have a day, an hour, or just five minutes to spare.’’ (Everyday Activism synopsis)

I found this by chance is a bookshop this month and read it in one sitting; this is an easy read with some interesting, positive reflections and ideas for activism. Some are common sense, but all were interesting and very achievable small ways to make a difference. I’m sure there are more advanced or nuanced books of this genre, as well as some books on activism which are far more diverse. I’d love to read these in the future and try to actively work to make positive change, but this book was an interesting starting point! 😊

Thank you for reading, especially as I accidentally rambled lots haha! I’d love any recommendations based on the books I’ve been reading, and I’d love to know what you have been reading recently. I hope you’re well! 😊

My love of Madeline Miller- Circe and The Song of Achilles

After rereading Circe and Song of Achilles this month I felt like I wanted a rambling little post to remember the way I feel about these books. Apart from a few books I vaguely remember years ago, Madeline Miller’s were the first Greek myth retellings I read. I first read Circe in summer 2019, choosing it without knowing anything about it firstly for the beautiful cover and then because it mentioned Greece where I was lucky enough to be going on holiday. So, on a beach in Crete feeling truly enveloped in the setting, I started the book which has spiralled me into an intense mythological fascination. I’m lucky enough to now own over 20 mythological books and I think I’ve read over 30, with each bringing more intrigue rather than any sort of feeling that I’ve ‘overdone’ it.

I absolutely love rereading books, arguably more than reading new books. As a nostalgic, semi-routine enjoying person, my favourite books bring feelings of comfort and warmth (almost said joy but I will leave the Christmas ramblings for another couple of months). Within two years, I’m usually ready to reread an old book and bring myself back into the memories and emotions that came with it. A year plus of a pandemic and two years in Scottish weather have undoubtedly contributed to my desire to reread Circe, a book which I now associate with the warmth and sea breeze of its origin country.

Madeline Miller has received lots and lots of praise and hype, which in her case I think is truly deserved. To explain why, I’ll now try to get on to the actual books and stop the rambling. Paralleling the order in which I originally read them, I’ll start with Circe:

Circe

‘’In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Circe is a strange child – not powerful and terrible, like her father, nor gorgeous and mercenary like her mother. Scorned and rejected, Circe grows up in the shadows, at home in neither the world of gods or mortals. But Circe has a dark power of her own: witchcraft. When her gift threatens the gods, she is banished to the island of Aiaia where she hones her occult craft, casting spells, gathering strange herbs and taming wild beasts. Yet a woman who stands alone will never be left in peace for long – and among her island’s guests is an unexpected visitor: the mortal Odysseus, for whom Circe will risk everything. So Circe sets forth her tale, a vivid, mesmerizing epic of family rivalry, love and loss – the defiant, inextinguishable song of woman burning hot and bright through the darkness of a man’s world.’’ (Circe synopsis)

The writing in Circe flows so well. It’s beautiful and intricate, feeling very detailed and powerful whilst also being very easy to read: my favourite mix. Whilst focusing on Circe, her story weaves in other myths and we meet different famous or infamous characters. This felt interesting and natural to me, where it sometimes felt forced in other retellings. I’ve mentioned before that whilst I enjoyed some retellings including Ariadne, they felt almost stretched- as though they tried to do too much with too little source material. Miller manages to create full and meaningful depictions that interested and engaged me whilst feeling almost real in a way (this is a good time to mention that these are all my own random lil opinions and not necessarily correct). I love that in Circe, Greek terms and words are used (I was going to say that the reader learns Greek words, but I have a shocking memory for languages) and that so many of my favourite books are taken from Greek mythologies. For example, in my blog post called A Song of Ice and Fire Norse and Greek mythology parallels, I noted the parallels between GRRM’s Cersei and the Circe in this story. These were only basic thoughts and parallels from the endless ones to be found. I think parallels are one of the reasons I love mythology so much; rather than feeling frustrated that I’ll never realise them all, I love knowing that I’ll learn new things and feel excited every day I read a retelling.

Song of Achilles

‘’Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.’’ (Song of Achilles synopsis)

Being the second myth retelling that I read (and remember), this book was my first experience of the Trojan War. I will say, this led to me feeling quite disillusioned about Achilles when I then went on to read any other account of his personality hahaha. I am glad to note that Patroclus remains one of the few genuinely good characters in any depictions he features in, I love him. Throughout this story I really felt the urgency, passion and struggle that these characters experience and whilst I didn’t cry, I felt very moved by Patroclus and Achilles story; I also love a book that really makes me feel the tension that the characters are feeling, and the cave parts of this book did it so well. Maybe I’m biased, but while I appreciate all retellings, I far prefer the stories that depict Patroclus and Achilles as a couple, and I do feel that the source material heavily hints this. Accounts that deny these characters as lovers give me strong ‘historians will say they were good friends’ vibe hahaha.

I love Miller’s narrative choices- whilst featuring some of the most famous characters, namely Odysseus and Achilles, she chooses to read about the lesser known or rather lesser heard characters of Circe and Patroclus and gives them such a full, interesting voice. Miller may almost romanticise characters, but in a mythological world of absolute horrors, I appreciate these depictions; particularly as these myths are just that- stories passed down for us to imagine and reimagine.

Themes and comparison

 On both first read and reread I’ve binged Miller’s books one after the other, which naturally leads me to compare and wonder which is my favourite. The answer is that I truly cannot decide. Both times, I’ve tentatively said that Song of Achilles just has the edge, but I genuinely feel that this is just because it was fresher in my mind. I love both for such different reasons and feel that they compliment each other almost as a duology. I will say that at times both felt slightly slow on my first read- Circe because it spans such a long time and Achilles because of such a heavy war plot. On rereading, I didn’t experience this feeling at all and read both books over 4 days. I think this is because I now have a better knowledge of the myths and endless characters featuring throughout. Despite saying this, I would 100% recommend these books as a starting place into the world of Greek mythology.

The pacing and writing style is something that I found very interesting whilst reading; Miller’s writing has objectively improved by Circe- whilst still being very accessible, it’s much more intricate than Song of Achilles. I do, however, think this is almost done purposefully; Circe is a complex Goddess with eons of time to pace out her life and develop her craft. She is also frequently lonely and lost. The pacing of this story heavily reflects Circe’s mindset and the timespan it follows- at times peaceful, at others almost stilted. The latter part, for example, felt more frantic to me and fast paced as Circe raised her restless, energetic mortal son. Song of Achilles, felt in comparison urgent and fast paced- for lack of another phrase, it felt very human. The characters are passionate and young and energetic, whilst facing the philosophies of a good life, and the loss and grief that comes with the prophesised early death. In saying that, the writing style also parallels Patroclus- human and simplistic as opposed to Circe’s intricate wisdom. I cannot decide which I liked more, I just hope I am projecting how much I truly love these books and would recommend them.

I was also very interested in the themes of humanity throughout both books. Whilst feeling so different and focusing on very different life experiences, both books centre around humanity and what it feels to be human, or at least what it feels to find a purpose in life. I loved Circe’s inner monologues depicting the Gods and her own distance towards her immortality, ultimately choosing her own life and embracing the paradoxical simplistic yet vivid and vital human life span.

I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”

This contrasts Achilles, and therefore Patroclus choice to forgo a peaceful life to engage in ‘heroic’ acts and the form of immortality that surrounds them. These books have philosophical undertones due to Miller’s choice to write from the perspective of very thoughtful, very human characters. It is this that has led to these stories becoming some of my favourites; themes of humanity, purpose, life and loss are always my favourites.

“True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another.” “We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory.’’

“I think: this is what I will miss. I think: I will kill myself rather than miss it. I think: how long do we have?”

I genuinely put off writing this because I wasn’t sure what I would say and now I have absolutely rambled on, hahaha. Thank you so much if you’ve read all of this, please let me know your own thoughts on these books. I’ll end by saying, Miller has become one of my favourite writers because she introduced me to mythology and I’ve yet to find a retelling that I’ve enjoyed or felt more from than hers. I loved experiencing these stories the first time and learning; I now love them in a different way. Rereading was so exciting because I know understand the references, know more about the characters and I can see what I’ve learned. These books reignited my love of learning in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. Things like Uni didn’t really work for me. I’m not an academic, whilst I got the degree, I genuinely cannot think of much I learned from Uni due to the nature of cramming for exams and writing essays on areas I didn’t find interesting. Reading is a greater form of learning for me personally, and in mythology I’ve found books that match my personality and interests exactly- comfort and familiarity of a world and characters I’m starting to know, whilst always allowing for new material and things to learn.

Sexuality (Part two I guess haha)

So last July (I think), I wrote a rambling stream of consciousness thing about sexuality and starting to come out as a lesbian (pls see that if you’re interested in the rambling). As of today, I’ve come out to my mum and sister and most of my friends. Everyone has been so incredibly nice (again see last post where I talk about my mum and sister) and I’m so thankful for the reaction.

I guess the main reason for writing this is almost like my own wee diary to look back on and reflect on the progress. It might not naturally seem like it to some, but I think coming out is a moment to be proud of, it’s an incredibly hard scary thing to do, and as an anxious person, it’s something I’ve at times believed I’d never manage. As well as reflecting on my own sense of achievement I guess, I’m maybe writing this update to readers of the last post and any LGBT+ people out there; I feel an overwhelming sense of relief and almost weightlessness, freedom, and I really think it’s important to hear of other’s positive stories and reactions.

I think with having anxiety I tend to catastrophise (although I’m simultaneously an incredibly chilled out person, so it’s a very unusual mix haha), and this is one of the main reasons I struggled to come out. I mentioned my perceived worries in telling friends in the last blog- friends potentially feeling uncomfortable or assuming that I like them etc, but my friends were ridiculously kind. Yesterday we went for covid walk 1817364783 and I mentally prepared myself to finally tell them, revealing the big build up that has led to the brink of many a panic attack. I should also mention that I was also contemplating jumping in the loch and swimming away from my problems hahaha. However, after giving myself time to reflect more on my identity, and some of my family knowing, I knew that yesterday was the time. It felt almost like a gut reaction that now was the time to come out, and regardless of any potential negative reactions that I may have received, I knew that I’m at a place where not talking about and being myself is worse. I mention this because I know how hard it is, and I do not feel that you should have to come out if you are not ready (or ever come out). I believe you need time to yourself and you will know when it’s right. Once you know, and once you come out, you will feel a sense of freedom, a sense of relief. But you will also feel a sense of, not being underwhelmed that’s the wrong word, but normality, continuation. I spent so long catastrophising that the reactions of my friends were so incredibly minor, so incredibly ‘normal’ that I almost couldn’t process it for a wee while hahaha. I don’t mean to say that coming out cannot be scary and I understand that people unfortunately experience reactions far less positive than mine, and I appreciate how lucky I am. However, what I’m really trying to say here is that if you are similar to me, please know that the stress and panic you are putting on yourself is likely causing far more anxiety than coming out as yourself.

This leads me on to internalised homophobia, something I’ve been reflecting on over these months. I’ve naturally gravitated to books and videos that discuss this and reflect on the self-inflicted struggle that LGBT+ people can experience due to the homophobia in the world. One definition I found is: ‘internalised homophobia is both a conscious and an unconscious reaction to external negative attitudes toward people within a sexual orientation minority.’ This may appear to make little sense to people out with LGBT+ communities, however, the homophobia that is in the world can filter into your brain, especially when you are contemplating coming out, and can be difficult to overcome . This can lead to a lack of self-acceptance. I have always been incredibly accepting of others and I’m proud to say that I try to be as non-judgemental as possible, however, I am often very hard on myself and factors like homophobia that I have witnessed (towards others or through media) has affected my self-esteem and self-image. This has in turn led to the catastrophising of coming out and being open about my sexuality. I’m also a very shy person in general and do not really like to talk about myself- although that’s all I’m doing here hahaha- so knowing that being LGBT+ still draws lots of attention and opinions from some is a little bit stressful to me. However, I have reflected that I managed to convince myself that I would not be accepted, something that is my own doing and which does not reflect the caring nature of my family and friends. Ps. When I say my own doing, I really mean the doing of those in society who are unfortunately homophobic and who create this sense of discomfort and a lack of safety.

The relief and happiness I feel today are not to say that I will never struggle with my sexuality again; I know that I will still find it hard, for example, to tell colleagues over the years and there are definitely some members of my own family that I am still very unsure about telling. These family members *cough* grans *cough* are good people and love me very much, however, have made openly homophobic comments about people on tv etc without being aware of my sexuality (which has actually been quite funny and had a strong sense of dramatic irony). I am not necessarily upset on my own behalf, but upset that homophobia continues to exist, and sad that people believe that their comments on social justice issues that don’t affect them are more important than the extreme sense of anxiety and guilt they can cause for the people taking in these comments (I also refer here to sexism and racism, although this is not an area which I have the right to discuss, being white and very privileged). I hope that the more people that come out, who look after each other and who treat each other with kindness (everyone, not just LGBT people), the easier and kinder the world will be. Who knows what will happen next, what will happen with the people I’ve yet to tell, will I look into counselling for anxiety/internalised homophobia (maybe I’ll write a part 3 hahaha), but I feel free and I feel happy just now.

I haven’t planned any of this (evidently hahah) or read over what I’ve written, but the points I want to get across are really that I know how incredibly difficult it can be to be LGBT+ whether you have experienced homophobia  directly or have experienced anxiety due to indirect or unconscious experiences of homophobia. I know how hard people can be on themselves, how much some people are struggling just now. I really wanted to acknowledge these things in this post, and recognise the strength that LGBT+ people have and the hope that things will continue to get better. I want to express that you do not have to come out, but if/when you’re ready you will feel free and you will lose such a sense of the burden that you have been carrying. I wanted to share this positive story because I know there is lots of negativity out there, and I wanted to create a tiny lil space where people can talk to each other (if you want), or just read anonymously and hopefully feel a small sense of comfort. Sorry for the rambles if this makes no sense hahaha.

I truly mean it when I say I am here to speak to anyone who feels like they need someone, if you would like to, please comment here or feel free to message me on Instagram (carlybooksandmusic).

Also, please write your own positive LGBT+ experiences in the comments! They are so helpful! Thank you so much for reading, I hope you’re happy and doing well 😊

January books 2021

I hope you’ve all had an excellent year so far (as much as can be expected in 2021 hahaha) and had a great reading month. It has taken me a long time to write anything because just now I’m working from home 90% of the time which involves a LOT of staring at a computer and typing. However, whenever I do reflect on the books I’ve read, I remember how much I enjoy writing 😊 Please let me know if you’ve read any good books recently, I love recommendations (although I’m only allowing myself to buy a book once a month at most this year hahah).

Luster- Raven Leilani (physical book, new read)

‘Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.’ (Luster synopsis)

I didn’t know very much about this book before starting but I usually find that this makes for a better reading experience. I loved this book, this is the exact writing style I enjoy, it’s so beautiful and intricate. The genre of this story has been described in lots of reviews as millennial fiction, I enjoy reading about the daily experiences within a characters life and this story intersected lots of themes such as racism, poverty, family and attachment. I would look at trigger warnings before going in as there are heavy themes (I hated the male character), but this is such an interesting and beautifully written book. I’m sure I’ll remember it for a long time and I’m glad to have read what is potentially a favourite so early into the year.

Children of blood and bone- Tomi Adeyemi (physical book, new read)

‘Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled – Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoning forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden.

Zélie is one such person. Now she has a chance to bring back magic to her people and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.’
(Children of Blood and Bone synopsis)

Being honest, I don’t love YA unless I read a book series as a child/teen and YA fantasy is not my favourite genre. I had, however, been in the mood to try it again recently and I’d heard lots of good things about this story. The characters were interesting (I enjoyed the family dynamic) and I really enjoyed the weaving of mythology throughout. I could have done without the angsty romances; however, I understand that these tropes really make YA fantasy for lots of people. Overall, I think this is an excellent book to read and love if this is your genre, but as YA is not for me I don’t think I’ll continue with the series.

Till we have faces by C. S. Lewis (physical book, new read)

‘C. S. Lewis brilliantly reimagines the story of Cupid and Psyche. Told from the viewpoint of Psyche’s sister, Orual, Till We Have Faces is a brilliant examination of envy, betrayal, loss, blame, grief, guilt, and conversion. In this, his final–and most mature and masterful–novel, Lewis reminds us of our own fallibility and the role of a higher power in our lives.’ (Till We Have Faces synopsis)

I only heard about this book last year and I was interested to read a Greek myth retelling written by such a famous author. I didn’t really like the books that I’ve read from the Chronicles of Narnia, I enjoyed the film format more (blasphemous), but I was very intrigued by Lewis’ themes of religion, philosophy and myth in his books and wanted to see how he would include these in an adult novel. I found this book very interesting and unusual in its format, however, I did feel like it dragged a little bit after the first part. I feel like this is one of those books you have to spend a while thinking about and I could definitely do with rereading the ending a couple of times to take more from it. Overall, please give this ago if you’d like to read a more philosophical take on a mythology retelling.  

Summerwater by Sarah Moss (audiobook, new read)

‘From the acclaimed author of Ghost Wall, Summerwater is a devastating story told over twenty-four hours in the Scottish highlands, and a searing exploration of our capacity for both kinship and cruelty in these divided times.’ (Summerwater synopsis)

I can’t lie, I have absolutely no thoughts about this book and very little memory, haha. I started listening to the audiobook in around October and finally remembered to finish it. I enjoyed the way that the author discussed social justice issues and politics from different perspectives through the various characters inner monologues, however, the book didn’t really hold my interest. I think this book is meant to be read in one or two sittings, and there is definitely a lot more to be gained in reading it this way to really make the most of the atmosphere. You might enjoy this book is atmospheric, gloomy stories with building tension interest you.

In at the deep end by Kate Davies (audiobook, new read)

‘Until recently, Julia hadn’t had sex in three years. But now: a one-night stand is accusing her of breaking his penis; a sexually confident lesbian is making eyes at her over confrontational modern art; and she’s wondering whether trimming her pubes makes her a bad feminist. Julia’s about to learn that she’s been looking for love – and satisfaction – in all the wrong places…’ (In at the Deep End synopsis)

I didn’t really know anything about this book or know what to expect but I’d heard it was funny. This is definitely NSFW hahaha. This begins with the experiences of a lesbian who has newly come out but turns into a slightly darker account of a relationship involving lots of gaslighting and instances of abuse (trigger warnings for this). This book and the characters will drive you insane, but I think it’s important to have representation of abusive relationships and issues that can occur within LGBT relationships.

A series of unfortunate events (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window) by Lemony Snicket (physical books, reread)

‘Dear reader, There is nothing to be found in Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ but misery and despair. You still have time to choose another international best-selling series to read. But if you insist on discovering the unpleasant adventures of the Baudelaire orphans, then proceed with caution… Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent children. They are charming, and resourceful, and have pleasant facial features. Unfortunately, they are exceptionally unlucky. In The Bad Beginning, the siblings encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune and cold porridge for breakfast.’ (The Bad Beginning synopsis)

Sometimes when I’ve been reading lots of new books I just can’t resist a reread. I loved this series when I was wee, although I had never been more confused whilst reading as I genuinely thought Lemony Snicket was a real person running from the law hahaha. These books are mental, I don’t think you’d appreciate them if you’re reading them for the first time as an adult. The series and characters are definitely a little pretentious, but this has been done in a way to explore literacy and help to educate young readers, for example, frequent definitions and discussions of vocabulary. I remember being occasionally annoyed with it when I was wee, but overall, I enjoyed the insanity or these books (honestly, please google a few examples of the writing style if you haven’t experienced them before).

I read some good books this month, my favourite of which was Luster 😊 I hope you’re doing well, please let me know what you’ve been reading!

My five favourite books of 2020 (and honourable mentions)

Happy new year! When I started writing this blog I wasn’t sure what kind of stuff I’d write, if I’d keep going or lose motivation. I’ve found this to be such a fun place to really reflect on books I’ve read, read others posts and get to interact with those of you who comment- thank you so much for reading, following and commenting. Writing has particularly given a bit of structure and a sense of a community throughout the lonlier lockdown stages of 2020. As we head into another UK lockdown- a more positive one I feel, with a vaccine available- I’d like to say I hope you’re all doing as well as you can, and I hope to keep writing here 😊 I managed to read 100 books last year (thanks lockdown) and I wanted to round off the year/start the year with my favourite books of 2020. I will, however, be using my written thoughts for previous posts as I read some a long time ago and my memory is not the best haha. Hopefully you’ll find something that you might enjoy in this post 😊. Ps. I only include new reads here because I know that I’m going to love rereads.

Mr loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

Barrington Jedidiah Walker is seventy-four and leads a double life. Born and bred in Antigua, he’s lived in Hackney since the sixties. A flamboyant, wise-cracking local character with a dapper taste in retro suits and a fondness for quoting Shakespeare, Barrington is a husband, father and grandfather – but he is also secretly homosexual, lovers with his great childhood friend, Morris. His deeply religious and disappointed wife, Carmel, thinks he sleeps with other women. When their marriage goes into meltdown, Barrington wants to divorce Carmel and live with Morris, but after a lifetime of fear and deception, will he manage to break away? Mr Loverman is a ground-breaking exploration of Britain’s older Caribbean community, which explodes cultural myths and fallacies and shows the extent of what can happen when people fear the consequences of being true to themselves.’ (Mr Loverman synopsis)

I love finding an author and liking every one of their books, I’m excited to read all of her books eventually. This book is emotional but equally funny, lighthearted and charming. There is a very British humour and sarcasm to it, which as I’ve mentioned before, I love. Barrington and Morris are very warm, likeable characters whilst feeling 3-dimensional. I enjoy the layers in Evaristo’s writing and I really liked the way that this book explored the fact that you be gay with internalised homophobia, and that being gay and LGBT friendly does not automatically make you a ‘PC’ person- Barrington is flawed and has some sexist characteristics that are explored throughout. I feel that this is more realistic than some stories, where characters in a minority group are automatically thought to support every minority group, even ones that they are not part of, and I find it interesting to read about characters who experience marginalisation and yet can marginalises others with their views. Barrington is a very layered, interesting character and I felt really warm whilst reading Mr Loverman. I think this is the exact balance required for a book with such heavy themes and I’d really recommend it, I loved it 🙂

Favourite/meaningful quote:

‘In that moment, I wanted to tell this stranger, this Merle, this girl from the tiny island of Montserrat, that I had commensurate preferences too, but I couldn’t be a brave warrior like her.

I wanted to tell her about Morris.

I wanted to sing his name out into the night.

His name is Morris. He is my Morris and he always been my Morris. He’s a good-hearted man, a special man, a sexy man, a history-loving man, a loyal man, a man who appreciates a good joke, a man of many moods, a drinking man, and a man with whom I can be myself completely.

Yes, I was in the throes of a Malibu-and-Coke-soaked madness, a madness that could lead to the demise of my life as I’d hitherto known it. But I was on the verge.’

The Crimson Petal and the White- Michel Faber

Welcome to Victorian London as you’ve never seen it before. Amongst an unforgettable cast of low-lifes, physicians, businessmen and prostitutes, meet our heroine Sugar, a young woman trying to drag herself up from the gutter any way she can. Be prepared for a mesmerising tale of passion, intrigue, ambition and revenge.’ (The Crimson Petal and the White synopsis)

I read this last January and writing about it brings me back to a Wintery Christmassy feel with blustery, rainy nights- the perfect setting to read a about a Victorian time period (I’m so excited for Winter, I love it!). This is a long, long book with such intricate detail. Whilst they take a lot longer to read, I can’t resist long, character driven stories that really take the time to set the scene and envelop you in the world. Due to the subject matter, this is also quite a dark gothic novel that can be difficult to read at times. I heard about this book when both Jen Campbell and The Personal Philosophy Project talked about it on youtube- I love getting book recommendations on booktube, please recommend some of your favourite channels that discuss books! I often enjoy books that they recommend, and I was very interested in hearing that this book is loosely based on Jane Eyre. They also mentioned an abrupt ending that leaves you wanting more and I’m always very intrigued by endings like this. Jane Eyre references/parallels are apparent throughout, however, this does not ruin the story or make it easy to guess what’s going to happen, and the story and characters were very original- I loved the balance. There are characters that are definitely not likeable, and characters that I loved, particularly Sugar and Agnes. I love reading from the perspectives of the morally ambiguous characters and I found them all very interesting (although at times during the Rackham chapters I was excited to get back to other’s stories, which I think was intentional in the writing). I’d really recommend this book, although I wouldn’t recommend going into it if you are in a negative mental state, and I’d beware of themes of abuse. The narration within this story is also incredibly interesting as Faber breaks the fourth wall to talk to the reader- almost as though we are watching a Victorian play (the narration and themes remind me a little of Moulin Rouge, one of my favourite films). Whilst writing this I’ve been swept back into such a Wintery mood and it’s really made me remember how much I loved this book! I’ll definitely look into reading more of Faber’s books if they are written as intricately and beautifully as this one!

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.’ (Girl, woman, other synopsis)

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book because whilst I love contemporaries, I tend not to like short stories, however, I very quickly got into the unusual writing style and I loved this book! I think the ways in which the characters were interconnected kept a flow and helped to make the book feel like a whole story rather than short stories. I loved the way that Evaristo raised discussions around feminism, gender and race through the perspectives of the characters- I began to think deeply about these issues and the discussions that the characters were having. The way in which these issues were interspersed felt very natural and I feel that the different opinions voiced through the characters multiple perspectives allow the reader to form their own opinions. Through this writing style the reader can be part of the discussions without the authors distinguishing a ‘right or wrong’ perspective- that said it is important to note that there are a number of issues raised within this story that are clearly wrong such as examples of racism and domestic abuse. I found the conversations about race between Amma, Dominique and Nzinga and Morgan’s feelings surrounding gender as a construct to be particularly interesting:

Amma thought she was accusing them of being too white or at best, in-authentically black, she’d come across it before, foreigners equating an English accent with whiteness, she always felt the need to speak up when it was implied that black Brits were inferior to African-Americans or Africans or West Indians’ (Amma)

women are designed to have babies, not to play with dolls, and why shouldn’t women sit with their legs wide open (if they’re wearing trousers obv) and what does mannish or manly mean anyway? walking with long strides? being assertive? taking charge? wearing ‘male’ clothes? not wearing makeup? unshaved legs? shaved head (lol), drinking pints instead of wine? preferring football to online makeup tutorials (yawn), and traditionally men wear makeup and skirts in parts of the world so why not in ours without being accused of being ‘effeminate’? what does effeminate actually mean when you break it down? (Morgan)

This book was engaging and fast paced; I would say by the last quarter I read it a little more slowly as there were so many new characters, but overall I felt that every character was interesting (although Amma and Yazz are maybe my favourites as the ones I got to know first). I would recommend this book- although I’m sure you’ve heard of it already haha- I loved it 😊

Favourite/meaningful quote (there were many):

… ageing is nothing to be ashamed of especially when the entire human race is in it together

white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race

Song of Sacrifice by Janell Rhiannon

The heart of the Trojan War belongs to the women. Mothers and daughters; wives and war prizes all whisper to us across time… praying they be remembered alongside the mighty men of myth.

As the Age of Heroes wanes, the gods gamble more fiercely with mortals’ lives than ever before. Women must rely on their inner strength and cunning if they’re going to survive the wars men wage for gold and glory. They struggle for control of their own lives. Rise from the ashes of brutal assaults. Fight to survive… by any means necessary. In a world where love leads to war and duty leads to destruction, it is the iron hearts of these heroines that will conquer all.’ (Song of Sacrifice synopsis).

I hadn’t heard of this book until I listened to Rhiannon’s podcast on spotify Greek Mythology Retold (which I found in 2020 and love). This is a retelling of the events leading up to the Trojan War based upon the Iliad, with an emphasis on the different perspectives and experiences of the main characters throughout. This is a long book, but I really enjoyed it and the detail allowed the author time to think about how each character would have felt and dealt with their different fates throughout- in her podcast, Rhiannon emphasises her interest in the perspective of the women in the war and the relationship between humans, fate and the Gods. This book is easy to read with interesting characters and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read the Iliad but would like to learn more about the Trojan War- I’ve read the Iliad but I built my way up by reading about 20 myth retellings first and without doing this I would have no clue what was happening hahaha. I think mythology is one of those things where it will always take a long time to get to grips with what’s going on, but I do think this could be an interesting starting point (with the help of Google or a map of the million characters haha). 😊 I think the author is planning for this to be a series known as the Homeric Chronicles with around four books, there are currently two out just now.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Meet Queenie. She just can’t cut a break. Well, apart from one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That’s just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Stuck between a boss who doesn’t seem to see her, a family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested), and trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her, it’s no wonder she’s struggling.’ (Queenie synopsis)

I knew nothing about this book going into it, but I instantly loved Queenie as a character and found this very quick and easy to read. This book emphasises the more ‘every-day’ elements of systemic racism and Candy-Williams highlighted the ignorance of white people in denying racism through the dismissive nature of the white characters; Queenie experiences lots of gaslighting from her relationship and there are several examples of her ex-boyfriend supporting the racist statements and assumptions made by his family. As a result of this gaslighting, Queenie often doubts herself and the racism or sexism that she faces throughout this book- I loved the nuanced way that this is addressed as the writer effectively emphasised the doubt that people can feel whilst standing up for what’s right, and the way that dominant assumptions and meritocratic discourse create an environment where racism and sexism can go unchallenged. Queenie will be a very relatable character for readers in her actions and inner monologues. I will note here that there is lots on consent, power and abuse which is extremely well written but may act as a trigger for some readers.

I also enjoyed the realistic and positive depictions of mental health and illness, and Queenies relationships with her family and friends. Themes of reliance on others and the need to work on yourself and learn to love yourself can be seen throughout. It was very interesting to read about the cultural elements of mental health discussions in this book; Queenie and her family reflect upon the often-dismissive reaction to mental illness within Jamaican culture, and reluctance or shame surrounding accepting help.

Important/meaningful quote:

It’s not putting black lives on a pedestal, I don’t even know what that means,” I said, my heart beating fast. “It’s saying that black lives, at this point, and historically, do not, and have not mattered, and that they should!”

I looked first at Gina, then around the room to see if anyone was going to back me up. Instead, I was met with what I’d been trying to pretend hadn’t always been a room full of white not-quite-liberals whose opinions, like their money, had been inherited.

Honourable mentions

  • The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (this book and Queenie are even to me, it was hard to decide)- See ‘Books I read in October’
  • Six Tudor Queens: Katheryn Howard by Alison Weir- September books 1st to 15th
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • The Hate u Give by Angie Thomas- see May books 22nd to 31st
  • The Iliad by Homer

Thank you so much for reading, please let me know your favourite books of 2020, I love these kind of lists! 😊

P.s. I don’t use Goodreads, but I do record books on List Challenges and I’ve made a list of all the books of 2020 if you want to see how many you’ve read:

https://www.listchallenges.com/books-carly-read-or-reread-in-2020

Books I read in October

Autumn/Winter time in general- and more specifically the very strange 2020 vibes- have made me want to go back to rereading and the comfort it brings, something that I’ve been making a conscious effort to do less of for a couple of years due to the never ending pile of new books I have, hahaha. I just love the welcoming atmosphere of rereading an old favourite, even better if it’s a childhood book on a cold Winter’s night. In October I read two new books and reread four childhood favourites (I also meant to read some spooky Halloween books but I just wasn’t in the right vibe)

The Black Flamingo- Dean Atta (Physical book, new read)

‘A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.’ (Black Flamingo synopsis)

I didn’t know what to expect from this book because I often don’t really like young adult unless I read it as a teen, just because I often find it cheesy, however, this book is beautiful and I ended up absolutely loving it. It was real, poignant and even made me cry a lil bit. I appreciate that it doesn’t overdo any of it’s themes, but will be very beneficial to a number of people. The prose also makes it very quick to read which I always love as I want to keep going and really engage with the characters. I’d highly recommend this book for everyone. I also love family themes where you can feel the love and connection coming through, please recommend any books that come to mind.

Favourite/meaningful quote:

To have a loving family is to feel afraid and yet believe you are going to be all right.

Don’t.
Don’t come out unless you want to. Don’t come out for anyone else’s sake. Don’t come out because you think society expects you to.
Come out for yourself.
Come out to yourself.
Shout, sing it.
Softly stutter.
Correct those who say they knew before you did.
That’s not how sexuality works, it’s yours to define
.’

Meat Market- Juno Dawson (new read, audiobook)

‘Jana Novak’s history sounds like a classic model cliché: tall and gangly, she’s uncomfortable with her androgynous looks until she’s unexpectedly scouted and catapulted to superstardom…But the fashion industry is as grimy as it is glamorous. And there are unexpected predators at every turn.‘ (Meat Market synopsis)

I enjoy/get very enraged reading books about the fashion industry because I feel very passionate yet mixed about the messages associated with the industry. Fashion can be exciting, interesting and obviously has a part to play in everyone’s lives. I have respect for models who are very hardworking and have to spend lots of time in what I can imagine would be a very isolating job at times. However, I am extremely passionate about ensuring that children and young adults do not have to grow up in a world that condemns people for what they look like, promotes weight loss, eating disorders and a negative perception of self image; again, I am not condemning models who are naturally slim, it is not wrong to be skinny and there is too much body shaming concerning tall, slim individuals, however, it is disgusting that the people who work behind the scenes in such industries, and in magazines promote only one image and imply that everybody should have a slim body type that is only natural to a few people. Not only are diets promoted and disordered eating encouraged (obviously not by all), but the fashion industry is also extremely racist, ageist and in many cases transphobic. I went on a lil rant there, I’ll get onto the book now.

This is a young adult book (this is the first month in ages that I’ve only read YA!) and it does well to tackle some of these themes, as seen from the first hand account of the narrator, who herself is growing and learning as the story progresses. It has a number of stereotypical tropes associated with fashion and YA, and at times I felt like it dragged a little bit, however, for the most part it was very interesting with an important message. Trigger warning- this book includes themes of assault and one of the main themes in the second half of the book is the me too movement. I felt like this subject matter was handled well. There are also themes that may be triggering for anyone recovering from an eating disorder or substance abuse. I’d recommend this book if you are interested in the themes, I enjoyed it.

‘Girls’ series- Jacqueline Wilson (reread, physical books)

Back at it with the Jacqueline Wilson books, this is definitely my favourite series of hers, I still find these books incredibly interesting and love the characters (most of them). I find them so readable and they have Wilson’s typical ability to touch on heavy themes in an engaging and almost comforting way. Ellie is such a lovable (if angsty) character and I feel so at home and comforted every time I revisit these books. P.s. I swear I read these when I was about 9, my mum just saw Jaqueline Wilson and assumed they were fine, but they really are more for teens hahaha, please beware of this.

Girls in Love– focuses on the pressure to be in a relationship as a young teen, with darker themes of grooming.

Girls under Pressure– discusses eating disorders and image, background themes of grief and loss in family

Girls out Late– first relationships and pressure with changing friendships. (I hate Russell, good lord what a character).

Girls in Tears– again pressure to have sex, relationships, grooming, friendships and jealousy.

This has been a month where I’ve felt like I’ve read nothing, but I’ve actually read some pretty lovely (and in many cases comforting) books 🙂 I hope you’re well!

September books (15th to 30th)

Here the world entire by Anwen Kya Hayward (eBook, new read)

After being accused of desecrating Athena’s temple and subsequently cursed with monstrousness, Medusa lives alone on the outskirts of the world, secluding herself from everyone so as to keep both herself and the rest of the world safe. When Perseus comes to ask for her help, Medusa tries desperately to make him leave, but no matter what she does, Perseus stays. As the days wear on and she reveals more about the events that led her to the cave, it becomes obvious that there is a choice to make: stay safe and alone, or re-enter the world with Perseus. One question still remains, however: what does Perseus want?’ (Here the World Entire synopsis)

This was a really interesting and beautifully written myth retelling, focusing on the story of Medusa from her own perspective. I emphasised with the character, and I’d recommend this is mythology interests you, however, I don’t have too much to say because I typically like long books that give you lots of time to connect with the characters and this is a novella. That said, I did feel connected and emphasised with Medusa given the length of the book. Trigger warning for themes of abuse.

Favourite/Meaningful quote:

To behold is to be held, and my hands are empty. For fear of being seen, I have never looked’.

Sleepovers by Jacqueline Wilson (physical book, reread)

Amy, Bella, Chloe, Daisy and Emily are friends at school and have their own Alphabet Club (just look at their initials!). Daisy is the newest member and is desperate to fit in, even though Chloe is very unfriendly to her at times. When the girls begin planning sleepover parties for their birthdays, Daisy is dreading her own – she doesn’t know what her friends will make of her rather special older sister.’ (Sleepovers synopsis)

After realising that my class had never heard of Jacqueline Wilson (although, sadly they don’t seem to like reading in general), I bought a few of her books for them as I love them and think they are still very relevant, even if elements of pop culture may be slightly outdated. She is an excellent children’s writer, exploring heavy themes whilst maintaining humour and a quick pace. Sleepovers, for example covers bullying and the stigma surrounding disability. It’s aimed at very young readers and wasn’t as fun to revisit as others, however,  it was so nice to feel a bit nostalgic and remember the enjoyment these books brought me the first (and second and third) time I read them.

 Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson (physical book, reread)

Violet has always been in the shadow of her mesmerising, controlling brother Will, and when a shocking secret about Will’s past is revealed, things get even worse. Violet retreats further into her own fantasy world, built around the fairy characters created by her favourite author, Casper Dream. The arrival of a new girl at school, Jasmine, seems like it might change Violet’s life for the better. But is Jasmine a true friend? And will Violet ever manage to break free of Will’s spell?’ (Midnight synopsis)

I remember being really young when I first read this hahaha, my mum didn’t know that some of her books were aimed at teens and I just read them all happily. This is one of Wilson’s darker and more gothic stories and I remember always getting a very intrigued but strange almost unsettling vibe when I read it that I couldn’t explain- I now know (and unconsciously did then) that this is due to the lesbian subtext that can be found in this story. I don’t think it’s ever been explicitly stated that Violet is gay, but I definitely feel the vibes and related to it a lil bit. I think given the (judgemental) time that this book came out and the fact that Wilson herself kept her sexuality private can explain why no interviews hint at the lgbt themes. Anyway, I love the gothic witchy vibes, this book is very different from her others. This covers themes of family/identity/adoption and (I think) sexuality.

Carol/The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (audiobook, new read)

Therese is just an ordinary sales assistant working in a New York department store when a beautiful, alluring woman in her thirties walks up to her counter. Standing there, Therese is wholly unprepared for the first shock of love. Therese is an awkward nineteen-year-old with a job she hates and a boyfriend she doesn’t love; Carol is a sophisticated, bored suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce and a custody battle for her only daughter. As Therese becomes irresistibly drawn into Carol’s world, she soon realizes how much they both stand to lose.’ (Carol synopsis)

This book covers interesting themes and I’m always glad to see LGBT representation, but I honestly found it really boring. I understand that the pace is slow to build tension and atmosphere, but I couldn’t maintain interest. Again, I feel that the strange tone of the book is due to Therese’s introverted nature and lack of self-confidence, but whilst I usually love similar characters, I felt very disconnected and felt that a very strange atmosphere surrounding this book (if that makes any sense haha). I understand what the book was trying to do and convey, but for me personally it didn’t work. I also tried watching the film to see if that format worked better for me, but again I felt bored and distant, so I only watched around 10 minutes. Please let me know if you did like it though! 😊

September reading felt a bit up and down, but I did read some amazing books, my favourite being Mr Loverman. I also loved my Jacqueline Wilson nostalgia and I’m undoubtedly going to end up rereading some more of her books. Thank you for reading, please let me know what you have been reading recently. 😊

Sexuality

As a warning, this is probably more a stream of consciousness than anything else haha. I’d also like to make a little disclaimer here- I sometimes feel a bit selfish or self-involved whilst writing because there’s no conversation between people (apart from when you comment, thank you because I love reading comments!) so I have to use the word ‘I’ a lot which feels self-indulgent. I know this is kind of the point of a blog post haha but just know that I’m aware of it! This is also just a place to ramble, I am incredibly lucky to been safe and happy with a home, friends and family and there are so many larger issues going on. Lastly, I don’t represent everyone in the LGBTQIA community. That said, I would like to use this post to ramble about my sexuality.

Whilst I have always known that I have no interest in guys, I have also always been very aware of the prejudice, stigma and discrimination that can come with being labelled as gay or a lesbian. Whilst actively doing what I can to support LGBT causes, I have been very hesitant to come out as a lesbian. I have, however, now told my Mum and sister. I have social (and maybe general) anxiety which is maybe not always evident by looking at me- I often get told that I look incredibly laid back or relaxed which I always find amusing as I’m running through a million thoughts in my mind. In general, I am a laidback and chilled out person which makes for a very strange contrast to my simultaneously anxious ways. This anxiety is a combination of lots of things, from my introverted personality to losing my Dad as a child, and I feel like sexuality or relationships in general have contributed a lot to it. It can be very stressful discovering who you are when being gay still creates such an emotive response in society; I have accepted who I am and I would have been able to do this and meet people a lot earlier if it hadn’t been for the prejudice that exists (not by everyone, many people are amazing). In general, society assumes that being straight is the norm. This in itself is not necessarily a problem, however, society (generalising) also condemn people who do not ‘come out’ as lying or concealing their sexuality. In order to live a truthful, fulfilling life that may include having a relationship, LGBT people therefore have to come out, resulting in sexuality (I’m focusing more on sexuality than gender in this ramble) becoming a big revelation. This would maybe be okay if people were accepting; many are, however, there are still significant numbers of people who are homophobic. Therefore, if you are gay or bi, you are either ‘lying’ and hiding something, or you are vocal about your sexuality and therefore face prejudice (from some). This is a very, very difficult situation and has definitely contributed to my anxiety. I have spent most of my life single- in part, I have been very happy with this, I enjoy solitude and the freedom that comes with this. However, there are times- particularly when I think about the future (society also make you feel old by 24 hahaha)- that I feel lonely. I have been able to rid (supress) some of my anxiety in the past by ignoring my sexuality, however, if I do this for long enough I have become depressed. We therefore must do something about the world we live in where people experience anxiety for being themselves, or depression that comes from repressing your sexuality. Thank you so much everyone who is already taking steps to do this and support LGBT rights. My Mum and sister have been incredibly kind and supportive and have been upset only by the fact that they have seen how ill I have made myself in worrying about what to say and what people will think. However, I am still incredibly nervous to tell others and potentially experience prejudice or negative assumptions. There are also a number of men who genuinely believe that some more feminine girls lie about their sexuality to attract male attention, or who sexualise lesbian or bi girls (again, I am not referring to all men, I have so much respect for most people).

I don’t know where I’m going with this post but in a way it’s allowing me the chance to think about and vocalise some things that I have maybe suppressed. I think one of the things people are usually curious to know is when somebody ‘decided’ to be gay or realised- if I really took the time to think about my sexuality, I probably could have come out at any age. I have a specific memory of being around 6 and my friend talking about marrying a man and having children. Even then, I replied that I want children but don’t want to be married. The first time a guy kissed me I was in panic attack mode for around two days- this was the type of guy who, if I was straight I would have been attracted to. The fact that I felt nothing/anxiety when he kissed me signalled that I would not be able to lie to myself and I found this extremely stressful. I have never wanted a relationship with a man and have thought about it only in the past as a resolution to being forever alone- there were times when I considered pretending to be straight almost to make life easier. However, ultimately, I knew that I would become ill with anxiety and more importantly I could not lie to another person. I would be negatively affecting someone else’s life if I did this and I could not allow myself to do this. This would be incredibly unfair.

 Now that I feel free to admit that I’m not attracted to guys, I have space to think about my feelings. I have liked guys on a surface level before (because I put lots of effort into making myself hahaha, what a disaster) and I still blush or get nervous if an extremely attractive guy talks to me, however, this is the furthest my attraction goes, I have never wanted to be in a relationship with a guy. Interestingly, guys that I have dated in the past are bi or now have boyfriends- I feel like we both instantly felt safer and more relaxed with each other because we knew we were not straight hahaha (this post is probably quite something for a Fredian psychologist). Ironically, I feel like after I come out to everyone, I will be able to have stronger relationships with males. I’ve never really felt very close to guys, and having no brothers, I wish I had close male friends. However, I have always been concerned that if I am very friendly towards guys I meet that they will take it as flirting or assume I like them (not that they’d necessarily like me back, I don’t want to come across as being very vain because that’s not what I mean at all haha). It has been very stressful thinking of 1000000 reasons to reject guys that have asked me out (again, not saying there have been many) without hurting their feelings or being questioned by my friends (I’m honestly so curious as to what my friends think my sexuality is hahaha, my sister said she kind of thought I liked girls but also kind of thought I’d secretly dated more guys and just hadn’t told her, or just haven’t dated many people because I’m so shy/anxious).

 Because I am so stereotypically feminine, people assume that I am straight- despite a few subtle stereotypes such as being a crazy cat lady, loving Hozier, Lana del ray songs, Orange is the New Black, Killing Eve, doc martens and being vegan- also the subtle hint in that I show absolutely no interest in guys (I’d be intrigued to learn if anyone on here thought/assumed anything of my sexuality, I find it interesting to know). This is in some ways a blessing as I do not encounter negativity ort abuse from strangers who assume that I am gay, however, it also means that I will have to consistently come out throughout my life and experience the reactions that may not necessarily be positive.

Anyway, the point was I’m looking forward to hopefully building closer relationships to guys in the future because we will both know that it is entirely based upon platonic friendship. I think I’ll eventually be more confident and more able to be myself in general- hiding your sexuality wears (wheres?) you down over time. I’ve felt tired whilst socialising and spent a lot of time holding back, feeling secretive, or lying about which guys I find attractive. I am now worried that some girls may jump to the wrong conclusion that I must secretly like them, and this is something I find extremely stressful in the prospect of telling my friends that I like girls. I always try to go for the approach of saying nothing about guys where I can rather than directly lying, but as I mentioned earlier, having to ‘lie’ is not something to be ashamed of- it is unfair of society to condemn people for hiding their sexuality when the world can be homophobic.

I’m also excited to now feel able to think about what I want in the future, where before it was an anxious disaster cycle of deciding whether to be alone forever (which I still might be, who knows hahaha, and ps. It’s completely fine if you want to be), being with guys which I know I would not be able to sustain long term or coming out. I think this time to think is necessary, as contrary to what some people believe, coming out does not mean you have all the answers and you are going to be in a relationship straight away. I now have more questions that before, for example, thinking about how I will have children and the issues/questions that will arise from this. However, the point is I am starting to feel free to think about these things, I am beginning to feel excited about the future and it is starting to have form. I believe that in coming out you are gifting yourself the freedom that most straight people take for granted (again, I am not reflecting on a number of important social justice issues here, I understand that there are significant problems and abuse that can take place in heterosexual relationships, I am simply reflecting upon the absence of issues specifically relating to sexuality). I have a long way to go and a lot more stress and anxiety to work through before reaching the ‘other side’ (this is very cheesy) but I feel freer already.

If you are currently in the place that I have been in, please feel free to talk to me (my Instagram is carlybooksandmusic), I will never reveal anything you say to anybody else. Also, please know that you do not have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Thank you if you’ve read this whole ramble haha, as soon as I post this I will probably be incredibly stressed (good old anxiety hahaha). I hope you’re well 😊