Thursday, July 6, 2017

Top 10 books of 2017, so far

Total cliché to say that I can't believe it's halfway through the year already, but it's totally true. I've read 67 books this year so far, which is pretty respectable! Looking over my list I've read some really good books so far, so actually making this post was pretty tough. These are my top 10 so far, in the order I read them because I suck at ranking things. And, of course, this isn't necessarily books published in 2017, just books that were new to me this year.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of…1. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon
I'm a big fan of both Marys, and having studied a little about their lives I wanted to know more. This is such a good, interesting take on the lives of the extremely talented and extraordinary mother and daughter duo, who of course never got to know each other, Wollstonecraft having died eleven days after giving birth to her daughter. This book alternates chapters of biography of each of the women which actually works out as a really good structure, as we can compare their lives and their writing. There's a wonderful background cast of enlightenment and romantic folk and all sorts of wonderful historical detail, as well as the inevitable scandal (Byron is a major character, after all...) But the book also avoids the stereotypes the women tend to fall into. Also, reading a literary biography of this period that deals with women is great, as it deals with questions like "how did Mary Shelley write when she always had young children around?" All in all, one of the best biographies I've ever read and wholeheartedly recommended.

2. The Sellout by Paul Beatty
I did a module this year called "Literature in Crisis", and although it was a bit of identity crisis itself- part African-American writing, part international crime, part dystopias- I did read some pretty good books I probably wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. This was actually the first book I read for it and it blew me away. It's difficult to describe this book in a way that won't make it sound completely bananas- spoiler: it is completely bananas- but it follows our protagonist in the small black town of Dickens after the death of his father and his attempts to reinstate slavery and segregate the local high school, among other things. Yep. There's so much going on in this book where one second you're laughing and then you're thinking that actually, it's not that nonsensical after all considering the world we currently live in. Such an interesting and entertaining read.

3. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Okay, so total mood whiplash here. This is definitely not a barrel of laughs. Mirielle is visiting her parents in their home country of Haiti with her husband and young son when she is kidnapped and held at ransom. Which is apparently a serious thing that happens in Haiti pretty often. This is a dark, dark book about her captivity and what comes after, as well as the struggle between her family- her father refuses to pay the ransom, to the horror of Mirielle's husband. It would be weird to say I enjoyed this book, as I read it pretty much with a permanent look of horror on my face, but I did whip through it super quickly. It is gripping stuff. Really looking forward to reading some more Roxane Gay later this year, especially her memoir Hunger which just came out.

4. Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
I was super excited to read this book, as it's probably the only book I've ever read with a non-binary main character. Hooray for representation! Even though Riley is genderfluid and definitely experiences nonbinary gender in a different way to myself, I still found so much to relate in them. Riley is the child of a congressman, still closeted, who starts a new school and starts writing a blog about their experiences which suddenly goes viral, thrusting them into the spotlight and forcing them to come to terms with their identity and their relationships with others. I pretty much loved this except for one spoilery/triggery thing which I find to be a bit of an unwelcome trope in queer literature and made the book possibly darker than it needed to be, but that's really just my own preference. In general, I'm just so happy that this book even exists and I hope it gets the attention it deserves- I haven't seen much hype about it so far.

5. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock
Second trans book in a row, woohoo! So I hadn't actually heard of Janet Mock until this book came out and started getting so much attention, and I finally picked it up (yes, I'm very late to the party). This is a memoir of Mock's life until about the age of twenty or so, growing up poor, mixed race, and trans. This is wonderfully frank and open, as much of a cliche as that is to say about memoirs. The trans stuff is definitely written in a way accessible to people outside the community, but it doesn't pander to them- and I feel like this is one of the things I liked the most about it. For example, she's honest about the privilege she has by being a conventionally attractive, cis-passing trans woman. I just really loved this and I'm excited to read her follow-up, Surpassing Certainty, about her twenties which just came out.

6. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Anna and the French Kiss (Anna & the French…I have to be honest, I was not expecting to like this book nearly as much as I did, much less put it on this list. You know those books that don't really personally appeal to you, but you read them sort of semi-begrudgingly because they keep being recommended to you? Yeah, I have to admit this was one of those. So Anna is an American girl who is sent to boarding school in Paris for her senior year, makes friends with a boy but wants something more from him. It's a fairly straightforward romance, the type of thing I usually avoid. I mean, even look at the cover! But I don't know, something about this book really charmed me. I think it was partly Anna herself but mostly the lovely descriptions of Paris, a city I used to live pretty near and spend a lot of time in... and it was weirdly nostalgic on that front. This book will definitely make you want to go to Paris. And I went and bought the sequel, which to my understanding is not even set in Paris, on the strength of this, so that's a good sign.

7. Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding Schools 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Grahame
Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls'… By contrast, this was a book I knew I wanted to read as soon as I first laid eyes on it. I'm weirdly fascinated by boarding schools, having read far too many Enid Blyton boarding school books as a kid and have spent the last few years working on a novel set in one (So this totally counted as research, right?). This is a really fascinating, entertaining look at girls' boarding schools in the 20th century and the weird things that went on in them. Graham interviews former students who have wonderfully vivid memories. If you're looking for somewhat funny, somewhat tragic, very British anecdotes about boarding school life, this book is full of them. The schools vary from stringently academic places such as Cheltenham to places where practically no formal education went on at all. It's an interesting look at girls' education in general and how much it has changed in such a short time.

8. The Walking Dead Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman
The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye…I'm super late to the party, having never read nor watched any The Walking Dead. And I'm trying to combat that now, thanks to my girlfriend's substantial collection of the graphic novels. If, like me, you've been living under a rock, basically our protagonist is police officer Rick Grimes, who wakes up in hospital to find zombies have taken over. Separated from his wife and son, he heads out in search of other survivors. I realise this is the very start of what has become a substantial franchise, so there's not really much I can say! Except that this was awesome- character driven and creepy and shocking and I can't wait to keep reading the series.

9. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky…Simon Spier is a closeted gay teen who strikes up an email conversation with 'Blue'- another gay teen at his school, neither knowing who the other is, but gradually falling for each other. Except Simon's emails are discovered by another kid at school, Martin, who then basically blackmails Simon in exchange for setting him up with Simon's hot friend. This is another case of a reasonably straightforward romance which ended up totally charming me. The email exchanges are lovely and really well done if that's your thing (which it totally is, for me). I also really enjoyed this book for presenting the situation where you're gay, you're comfortable with it, you're fairly sure no-one's going to have a bad reaction if you come out... but you keep avoiding coming out anyway, because you just don't like awkward conversations. It's an experience I've had and I think a lot of others have had, but not one I've seen in fiction before. Also, I guessed the identity of 'Blue' pretty early on, but it didn't really impede my enjoyment of this. Albertalli just released another book so I definitely want to check that out too.

10. Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard
Girl Mans Up by M-E GirardYep, another LGBTQ+ YA book! They're becoming my jam, what can I say. But that said, I'm still choosy and won't just read something because it has a gay main character- I like original experiences to be portrayed. And I was super excited to find this book, which has a masculine of centre lesbian main character! This is still so rare, as most lesbian YA seems to feature feminine characters and lack of masculine girls/tomboys/butches/whatever in fiction in general is one of my bug bears. Anyway. Pen is a boyish girl whose best friend Colby is, well, kind of a douche, but she doesn't have many friends so she kind of sticks with him. Until she falls for the gorgeous Blake, and ends up befriending Olivia, Colby's ex. She also has to deal with her traditional immigrant family's disapproval of her, as well as the struggles of everyone wanting to put a label on her and find out what her deal is- when Pen just wants to be herself. This is basically about her growing up and standing up for herself and doing the things that she wants to do, not the things her family and friends want her to do. It's so good. I didn't rank this list, but if I did this would definitely be near the top. There's so much to chew on with gendery things and female friendship and toxic masculinity, and, seriously, I hope this book gets the recognition it deserves. I loved it so much.

Friday, June 23, 2017

This week in books 12/6/17-18/6/17

It's been a long time since I did one of these, and yes I realise it is now near the end of this week and these books are ancient history, but I somehow managed to finish five books last week?! (Okay, so one was 32 pages long, but still). So I figured why not.

The Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniThe first book I read this week was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This has been on my radar basically forever, because who hasn't heard of it? I read his A Thousand Splendid Suns waaaay back in 2011 and always intended to get to this one next... but I never did. This is about two friends growing up in Afghanistan from the 1970s onwards- Amir and the son of his father's servant, Hassan. Things happen, their friendship turns a bit sour, and later Amir moves to the US when shit goes down in Afghanistan. Later as an adult, he returns to Afghanistan to make amends. I liked this in a lot of ways- I'm always fascinated by books set in times and countries that I know very little about, and the depiction of the horrible things that happen in this book is brave and unflinching... but there were other things I was less keen on. The trouble with books that deal with such horrible things as war, rape, child abuse and so on is that it's difficult to avoid becoming overly sentimental and, well, a bit hackneyed. And it's not helped by the frequently implausible coincidences and the like that go on in the plot. Is this balanced out by the horror? I don't really know. Still, I enjoyed this, if not quite as much as A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Girl Mans Up by M-E GirardI know already that Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard is going to be one of my favourite books of the year. I've been looking forward to reading it basically since I first heard about it- a YA book with a butch lesbian main character!- and it did not disappoint. I'm trying to formulate a full-length review of this because I have so many feelings, so I'll be relatively brief here. Pen is a boyish girl who loves video games and struggles to deal with her traditional Portuguese family who disapprove of the way she dresses and acts and want her to be more like a girl. Also, her friends are kind of dickbags. She starts dating Blake, the lead singer of a band and strikes up an unlikely friendship with her best friend's ex Olivia, cuts her hair, learns to 'man up' and deal with her family and friend problems. I loved this book on so many levels- the focus on gender identity and not feeling like quite one or the other, misogyny, masculine identity, as well as just being a really good story about a girl growing up and dealing with shit. I loved this so hard.

Next up we have Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, something I probably wouldn't have picked up myself except my girlfriend is a big fan and swore it's better than the movie. And it totally is in many ways. The book is much more scientific and much more violent and it really does make you wish for a more loyal adaptation- or maybe a nice Netflix original series. But at the same time, the film does simplify it to an extent that feels much more accessible. There are so many characters in this book that don't really serve much purpose and all sort of run into one another- I much prefer the distilled main cast in the movie. Plus Hammond, the rather cuddly, eccentric owner of the island is completely different and completely awful in the book. Which makes me weirdly uneasy, even though obviously the book Hammond came first. All in all this is a pretty fun read.

Tenth of December by George Saunders
Next up: Tenth of December by George Saunders. Hmm. Sometimes when I'm doing these round-ups, I get to a book and I don't really know what to say... because in the short space of time since I've read it, it really hasn't left any impression on me. And, sadly, this is one of those. I wanted to like it, as in general I like short stories and this came highly recommended, but... yeah. Don't get me wrong, this is definitely not a bad book and I guess I liked it, but maybe I just wanted more. This is a collection of short stories which can be best described as a bit weird, a bit off. And normally that's my jam, but... oh, I don't know.

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in…Okay, let's get this out of the way: I bought Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie literally a day before all the stuff came out about her views on trans women vs. cis women and it sort of put me off her a little. But only a little. The relationship between trans* people and privilege is a vast, complicated issue and I don't think she meant any ill will by her comments. Basically, I don't agree with her and that's soured our relationship just a little. And that's all I'm going to say about that.
But anyway! This is another little short book very much in the style of We Should All Be Feminists (I actually just listened to the TED talk for the first time this week too). It's a response to Adichie's friend who asked for advice on raising her daughter as a feminist. This treads a lot of the same ground as WSABF but sort of sets out more of a vision for how to raise the next generation to make them feminists. It's a nice companion to it, actually. And it's only 32 pages long, so definitely worth a read if you can pick up a copy.

What I'm reading next:

  • Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, a YA take on the "Victorian girl is falsely imprisoned in lunatic asylum trop". With lesbians!
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, as I have read and loved only bits of Ulysses and it's definitely time to read something proper (and relatively unintimidating) by Joyce
  • The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney, in which I once again try to put myself outside of my comfort zone by reading some 16th century literature. Also, according to Emma Donoghue it has lesbian undertones, and I'm all for that.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Readathon is go!

Just a quick note to say I'll be participating in the Dewey's 24-hour readathon today. All the action will be on my Instagram @omgeegollygosh so please come say hello! Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Life update, aka I accidentally didn't blog for two months

Oh gosh. I knew it had been a long time since I'd updated last but two months?? Really?? Oh well.

As usual life got a bit away from me. But my days of juggling a 30 hour week uni work load and a 30 hour work week are soon to be over! I'm currently off for Easter, and when I head back I only have one more uni essay to do before my dissertation, which as a part-time student I get an entire year to complete. So, in theory I should have a lot more time to do bloggy things as well as human things like clean my house and sleep. In theory, anyway.

I've been studying some great books at uni. We did a section on race in contemporary American fiction and read Paul Beatty's The Sellout, Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, Claudia Rankine's Citizen and Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, all four of which were wonderful and I wholeheartedly recommend. We've also been doing posthumanist stuff and feminist stuff and seriously, I love studying literature. I'm sad this is my last semester of actual classes. I'm going to miss it so much.

I haven't been reading all that much outside of uni, to be honest. Bits and pieces, which has meant I'm currently in the middle of *counts* six books, which is... something. Shall I talk a bit about them? Why not.

1) Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman: I picked this up purely for the hype and I'm glad I did. It's about the nineties and high school girls and some seriously messed up shit is going on. I'm nearly at the end and currently asking myself why I'm not finishing it right now, omg.

2) Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin: I saw this randomly on a friend's instagram and instantly bought it on the basis that the main character is genderfluid and I don't think I've ever read a book where the main character is non-binary before. Honestly that fact was really enough for it to score major points for me, but I'm really loving it. Riley is a congressman's kid, just started a new school, trying to be invisible while their new blog about being a genderfluid teen goes viral. I'm loving the characters and finding it so relatable. I'm just over halfway through but I'm already pretty sure it's going to be one of my favourite books of the year.

3) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick: Right I'm like less than 50 pages in, so I don't have too much to say about this so far. I basically picked it up because I've been trying to read more classic SF. I'm really liking the worldbuilding and everything so far.

4) Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: I seem to always have one doorstopper on the go. Well, this is allegedly the first ever novel and supposedly one of the greatest, so I had to give it a go. It's pretty funny so far, though I'm super intimidated by the sheer length of the thing.

5. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock: I'd never heard of Janet Mock, who is a writer and TV host and trans activist and all sorts of things, until this book got lots of hype when it came out a couple years ago. It's her memoir and I'm really enjoying it so far.

6. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon: Another book that I picked up because of the hype. I'm torn two ways about this: I'm not a big fan of teens meeting and ~~inspiring each other~~ and ~~falling in love~~ as this book basically is, on a surface level at least. That said, I'm enjoying the writing style and the format with the illustrations and I'm somewhat invested in the characters. So I'm reserving judgement so far.

So, yeah, that's basically what's going down in my life right now! I'm off to Brighton next week which I'm super excited about, and hopefully I'll get lots of reading and relaxation done there.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Re-readathon: Days 5-8

Day 5
I've been re-reading: The Secret History, Gone Girl
I've been not re-reading: The Sellout, Oroonoko

Pages re-read; 49
Pages not re-read: 126

Books finished: Orooonoko

Total pages re-read: 265
Total pages not re-read: 505

 I realise my attempts to re-read more than I read is going to be foiled by the fact that my uni reading is not re-reads. Oh well.

I fell asleep again this afternoon... whoops. Really must stop doing that. Still super busy with uni work, which is cutting down on my reading time considerably. But I did manage a teeny bit of The Secret History in the morning and a bit of Gone Girl before I went to bed. I'd forgotten how downright unlikeable Nick is. Reading Amy's parts, in light of what I know now, I'm wondering how much of it is actually true.

Day 6

I've been re-reading: Gone Girl, The Secret History
I've been not re-reading: MoranifestoThe Sellout

Pages re-read; 104
Pages not re-read: 150

Books finished: Moranifesto

Total pages re-read: 369
Total pages not re-read: 665

Not a terrible day for reading, especially since I ended up falling asleep super early and sleeping for about 12 hours straight through to next morning. Oh well.

I finished Moranifesto, which I intended to finish before the re-readathon but oh well, better late than never. As always Caitlin Moran is hilarious, but maybe not quite as hilarious in her previous books? I think this might be more to do with more political themes in this one. Hmmm. I enjoyed it very much all the same.

Still liking Gone Girl, still liking The Secret History. I'm realising I have very little memory of what actually goes on in The Secret History beyond, like, the main big things, so that's nice I guess.

Day 7 and 8

I've been re-reading: Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Gone GirlThe Secret History, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
I've been not re-reading: The Sellout (I've also realised I haven't been counting another set text from uni that I've been reading all week, but oh well. Factor in 50ish pages for that!)

Pages re-read; 209 (plus a chapter of Mansfield Park - damn you kindle version and your lack of page numbers!)
Pages not re-read: 150

Total pages re-read: 576
Total pages not re-read: 815

Blogger has been super unco-operative the past few days, so I'm only getting to put this up now!

I started re-reading the first Lumberjanes book because I love them so, and who doesn't love graphic novels for bumping up your word count? Uni also finally came through with Mansfield Park which I can count as a re-read, yay. Since I read it last I have acquired a cat called Thomas which is making the references to Sir Thomas a lot more giggle-inducing. Doesn't help that the book also has a Mrs Norris... Catsfield Park anyone?

The Final Stats
Books read from:
Rereads: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson et al, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Not-rereads: Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon, Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran, The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, Oroonoko by Aphra Behn, Surpassing the Love of Men by Lillian Faderman

Books finished:
No rereads! But I did finish all of my not-rereads which is fairly impressive I hope.

Total pages re-read: 576 plus a chapter of Mansfield Park
Total pages not re-read: 815 plus 50 pages or so of Surpassing the Love of Men

Okay so not re-reads won this round, but I think I can safely blame that on uni. All in all I think I didn't do too badly, considering what a hectic week I've had!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Re-readathon: Days 1-4

Day 1 and 2
I've been re-reading: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I've been not re-reading: Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon, Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran, The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Pages re-read: 94
Pages not re-read: 261

Books finished: Romantic Outlaws, The Wonder

As I've said in my intro post, I was a wee bit late starting the re-readathon due to being in Dublin on Sunday at a gig. I got home from the gig at 3.30 am and had work at 6 am. You do the maths. As a consequence I spent most of Monday after work sleeping.

I also haven't, umm, been re-reading that much. I decided to go ahead and finish two of the books I was currently reading- not re-reads, but still brilliant, so I thought I'd just stick them in my stats for posterity.

Day 3
I've been re-reading: Gone Girl
I've been not re-reading: The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Pages re-read; 77
Pages not re-read: 9

Total pages re-read: 171
Total pages not re-read: 270

Okay so purely for gimmicky reasons and also to make it look like I'm reading more than I actually am, I'm going to continue putting my not-rereads in my stats. If at the end of the week the re-read number is higher than the not-re-read, then I'll be happy.

I'm back at uni this week and it's seriously kicking my arse already. I stayed up late tonight finishing my reading because I'm determined not to be behind already in week 1, dammit.

Gone Girl is interesting. It's very weird that I'm picturing the movie characters- having seen the movie since my first read of it- so that's a bit annoying. But I'm already picking up on all the little details that the movie missed. I'll have to rewatch it after I finish rereading it...

Also I think Gone Girl lends itself pretty well to a reread. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that something happens in the middle of it which drastically changes how the first half of it reads... so re-reading the start of it again is interesting, and I can start to unpick things I wasn't aware of the first time around.

Day 4

I've been re-reading: The Secret History
I've been not re-reading: MoranifestoThe Sellout, Oroonoko by Aphra Behn

Pages re-read; 45
Pages not re-read: 109

Total pages re-read: 216
Total pages not re-read: 379

So after staying up quite late last night I ended up falling asleep after work... whoops. So I spent most of the evening working on uni reading and not re-reading. I've also been reading Moranifesto in a an attempt to finish it and also because the format of short essays which is nice to fit in in my study breaks.

On the actual re-reading front! The Secret History is so good. It's sucking me right in just like last time and it's a great feeling :)

Re-readathon Challenge: Different Perspectives

Welcome to my blog and the second mini-challenge of the re-readathon! Today I'd like you to reflect on different perspectives that a re-read has given you, for the better or for the worse. Maybe you've re-read a book and found it wasn't quite as good as you remembered. Maybe you've re-read a book and found it was actually much better than you first thought. Maybe you've picked up on little details you missed first time around. Good or bad, I want to hear about it!

I thought a lot about what I wanted to talk about today. There's been a lot of books I've reread and picked up different things... but then I thought about 2003, and a time that many people who know me have trouble believing actually happened: a time when I stopped liking Harry Potter.

Dramatic Cat 2013 GIF. Animated gif from the video "Dramatic Cat 2013", starring Mylo the Cat... THATS a dramatic cat

Yep, today I'm going to talk about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and my initial response to it. I've been vaguely ashamed of this in recent years, and I usually write it off as me being young and stupid- but between 2003 and 2005, I was no longer a Harry Potter fan. So when I read Melissa Anneli's wonderful memoir of Harry Potter fandom, Harry: A History earlier this year, I was relieved to discover I wasn't alone.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.jpg

It's important to set the scene. It's 2003. I'm ten years old. I've been a Harry Potter fan since I was six, an impossibly long length of time when you're that age. I gobbled up the first three books when my brother got them for his birthday in 1999. Goblet of Fire's release is still one of my most exciting childhood memories, though I'll never forgive my brother for telling me who won the Quidditch World Cup before I had a chance to read it for myself. I finish the book and I'm burning with excitement: Cedric Diggory is dead, Voldemort is back, and shit is about to get real

I spend the next three years dying of curiosity. I write my own versions and build up the fifth book to impossibly high expectations in my mind. I swallow up as much publicity as I can in my pre-internet fandom glee- the title, the cover art, that someone big is going to die. Then it's released. Just like for Goblet of Fire, my brother and I split our pocket money and share the purchase of Order of the Phoenix, he gets to read it first since he's the faster reader, but when he finally hands it over to me in the early hours of the next morning I'm burning with excitement. 

And then... I'm... underwhelmed. I'd expected something huge and dramatic. Instead we have Harry and his friends stuck at school, nothing really happening beyond flouting the rules of a tyrannical teacher. I skimmed the last few chapters, impatient for what I felt was an overlong book to be over... and then JKR did the unforgivable and killed off one of my favourite characters. 

I was heartbroken. I was angry. I felt like I was living a lie. Was I 'outgrowing' Harry Potter as so many adults had warned me I would? I got really into Lord of the Rings instead.  I stopped my near-continual re-read of the series and didn't even buy Half-Blood Prince when it came out- though I was tantalised by the details. When my friend dropped a massive spoiler- the biggest spoiler of all, you know what I'm talking about- I gave in and had to read it

And I loved it. And I jumped right back onto the wagon again, re-reading Order of the Phoenix and realising that really, it had to happen, that it fit perfectly into the rest of the series. I realised I loved Luna (still do), loved the banding together of the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore's Army, finally read the last chapters properly, heart in my mouth because I knew what would happen in the end

I won't lie, it's still not one of my favourite books in the series and I still think it suffers ever-so-slightly from over-padding- but no longer is it the killer of my favourite book series. 

So, tell me your experiences! You need not write an essay like I did. Please do link up your entries or drop me a comment to tell me how your perspective of a book has been changed by a re-read!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Re-readathon: Intro

The re-readathon is finally here! I'm super excited not only because I'm a co-host this time round (!) but also because I'm a big champion of re-reading books. I spend last night pulling books off my shelves and getting excited to reread some of them so I'm raring to go! The re-readathon is basically just an excuse to re-read as much (or as little) as you like for a week. You can sign up at Bex's blog here and share your progress throughout the week with the hashtag #ReReadathon on social media.

The schedule:

I'm going to be pretty absent for today and tomorrow, as I'm going to Dublin tonight to see Conor Oberst, will probably get home late and then have very little sleep before work at 6 am on Monday, and honestly then the rest of Monday will probably just be me sleeping. Fret not, I will reappear before my challenge on Tuesday :) 

Opening Survey

1. Tell us a little about yourself!

Hello! I'm Gee, my pronouns are they/them, and I'm from Belfast. I'm doing a MA in English Literature which starts up again on Monday and I'm super excited. I love cats and am currently addicted to creme eggs.

2. Have you participated in a re-readathon before? How often do you re-read books?

I'm pretty sure I've participated in all of Bex's re-readathon's before, with varying levels of success! I love re-reading and am quite honestly a little puzzled by people who don't. That said, with what I call 'TBR pressure' it's sometimes difficult to find the time to just kick back and re-read old favourites without worrying about all the new books you should be reading instead, so that's why I love re-readathons.

3. What is your current favourite book?

Oh boy, way to put me on the spot. I'm going to go with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë as it's been on my mind a lot lately, what with the excellent BBC drama about the Brontës To Walk Invisible on over Christmas there and fine tuning the details for my Jane Eyre tattoo that I'm hoping to get soon. Erm, yeah, the fact that I'm getting a tattoo should tell you I love that book an inordinate amount. I've read it countless times, studied it at school and uni on three separate occasions and I'm still in awe of it. 

4. What do you love most about re-reading? Or what makes you wish you re-read more?

For the most part, when you're re-reading a book you already know it's going to be awesome. Unless you're re-reading a book and find it isn't quite as good as you remembered, or you're re-reading a book you never liked in the first place... which are different experiences which are also super interesting. Re-reading is a comforting activity for most people I think, and it's one of the things that makes you realise why reading is so important in the first place.

5. What's on your TBR? What are you going to re-read first?

I did post a preliminary TBR a while back but here's my revised version, aka random books I pulled off my shelves at 1 am last night:

The tan-coloured book above The Diary of a Young Girl is T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland and Other Poems but the rest of the titles are fairly easy to see I hope!

I realise this is a massive pile of books and I will certainly only get through a few but it wouldn't be a readathon without a highly over-ambitious book stack now would it? I'm going to be starting with Gone Girl, and I'm very interested to see how/if it holds up now that I know All The Things.

Let the re-reading commence!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

The Art of Being Normal by [Williamson, Lisa]Can I just preface this review by saying that I'm so happy there are so many YA books with trans* characters about at the moment? I was in Waterstones the other day looking for books to spend my Christmas vouchers on (which I still had, for some reason) and I was like oh, look, there's another one. I'm a teeny bit frustrated that they are almost entirely all about trans girls with nary a trans boy to be seen, but I'll let that go for now. I'm happy to see LGBTQ+ fiction expanding in any direction, really.

I picked this up in Tesco a while back super cheap (couldn't resist) but it sort of got swallowed up by my TBR pile until recently, when a friend (who is a trans girl) talked about how she loved it but it took ages to read because it hit just too close to home. So I was intrigued.

The story: David is a closeted trans girl, dodging bullies, longing to express himself, and intrigued by the mysterious new kid Leo. They strike up an unlikely friendship and find they have more in common than they thought.

Sort of spoiler, as apparently it's in the blurb of some editions but not all: Leo turns out to be a trans boy, which was something I liked. Some people have made a deal about how unrealistic it is to have two trans characters at the same school... which, um, no. We are everywhere, I'm afraid, and we tend to band together. Most of my friends from high school came out as gay after we left. I might accuse this book of some lack of realism, but that doesn't count for me. Instead, I think it was a good to get a different perspective and show the range of trans experience that exists- for example, unlike David, Leo's been living as a boy since he was a kid and is currently stealth. His narrative, where he ends up dating a girl who has no idea of his history was interesting.
end spoiler

Really the central focus of this book is David and Leo's friendship and David slowly gaining the courage to be open about who she is. It was something I liked a lot, and while I usually am not a fan of coming out stories (because LGBTQ+ people have other experiences, omg) this was a damn good one, which I'll happily make an exception for. Some people have criticised the ending as a bit too good to be true... and I think I agree with that to a certain extent. But I'm okay with that, because in real life things do often turn out better than you expected and I'm all for a message of optimism.

What really struck me when I was reading this was the depiction of dysphoria, which my friend and I agreed is heartbreakingly realistic. David struggles with her body changing and the part that really got me was when her sister gets her first period, and David realises this is something he can never experience. It's all so spot on I was surprised that the author Lisa Williamson is not trans herself- although she did work in a GIC and has clearly done her research. Bravo for that, because while I think we all agree that trans people writing about trans people is the best scenario (and same with any diverse lit really) I am all for sensitive, well-researched books like this.

So. Totally recommended, especially if you're not familiar with trans things and are into reading more LGBTQ+ books :)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Re-readathon info and my TBR

I've been a big fan of Bex's re-readathons since the start- what could be better than putting aside any guilt about what you should be reading and instead indulging in some old favourites for a week? Even more exciting, this time round I am co-hosting with Bex and Katie! This is a huge deal for my tiny little blog to be collaborating with two of my favourite bloggers so I'm super pumped.

The action kicks off on Sunday 5th February and continues until the following Sunday 12th. To take part, simply spend some time re-reading throughout the week! You can dedicate the whole week to rereading, or simply pick up an old favourite in addition to whatever else you're reading at the moment. There'll be challenges running throughout the week as well as a twitter chat- you can also share your progress with the #rereadathon tag on your social media of choice. I'll be posting here and on my instagram. You can sign up at Bex's blog here which also works as a handy little hub to keep track of who else is re-reading!

Now, the big question: what am I planning on re-reading? I'll probably just roll with it and see what I feel like reading, as that's worked well for me in the past- but here's some ideas I've had so far:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: I read this when it was hyped back in the day and I'm wondering how it will hold up to a reread, now that I (and let's face it, everyone else) know the Big Twist. Only one way to find out!

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I've been meaning to reread this forever, and probably since the first re-readathon. NOW IS THE TIME. Hopefully.

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket: I've been watching the brilliant Netflix series and it's rekindling my obsession with this universe. As these are short, maybe I'll even get to read more than one, but we'll see.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J K Rowling: It's becoming a wee bit of a tradition for me to reread some HP during the re-readathon, so why not.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkien: Another series I've reread about a million times, but I haven't read this in a few years now, and that definitely needs to change.

What are you planning to reread? :)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Belated 2016 wrap up

It wouldn't be me if I published this post anywhere close to the proper time, now would it?

I read so many good books this year, you guys. I also read considerably more this year than I did last year, which is also super. I tried to make an effort to read more of my own books as well as just sort of following my heart by reading what I wanted to read and not what I 'should' be reading, and it all paid off pretty well I think.

Here's some statistics!

Total number of books read: 130
This is up from an even 100 last year and I'm super happy with that, as I'm finally back to something resembling what I read in previous years. Yay!

Number of books I read that I own (as opposed to library books or books borrowed): 91
Last year I actually only read 23, so this is a huge improvement. Huge. I think I have acquired a lot more books last year than I did last year so the number is probably affected by that, but even so. I'm really happy about this.

Nonfiction: 17
Down from 25 last year. I'm not particularly bothered about this number; I've always read mostly fiction and I don't really see that changing much.

Books written by men: 59
(This number gets trickier as I read more and more books by non-binary writers and it's not so simple as dividing it into books by men and books by women... but this is books written by exclusively men, not including non-binary writers and books with male and female contributors)
This is up from last year, but it's most likely skewed from reading for my MA, which was heavy on men this year *mutter mutter*

Rereads: 28
Higher than I thought and higher than last year's 18- again I blame my MA, where I even ended up reading some of the same books from class to class, because my uni's organisation skills suck. Still, most of the rereads were pretty damn good. Although I have now had to read Heart of Darkness FOUR TIMES in my academic career. I didn't enjoy it the first time, I didn't enjoy it the fourth time. Plz assign different books, any lecturers who might be reading this.

And now, a little run down of my top ten of the year, in no particular order because otherwise this post would have taken probably even longer to finally get up:

Lumberjanes #1 (of 8) by [Stevenson, Noelle, Ellis, Grace] Am I Normal Yet?: The Spinster Club Series by [Bourne, Holly]Nimona by [Stevenson, Noelle]Asking For It (Winner of the Irish Book Awards 2015) by [O'Neill, Louise]If I Was Your Girl by [Russo, Meredith]The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (with Cats!) by [Pulley, Anna]The Argonauts by [Nelson, Maggie]Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir by [Brownstein, Carrie]

Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

I loved this, and I'm sitting here wondering why I haven't reread it since my first reading. In case you haven't encountered it, it's a graphic novel about a bunch of girls at scout camp "For Hardcore Lady Types" and their adventures. My only complaint about this was that it was so short (even by graphic novel standards) but I should make up for that by reading more Lumberjanes in the new year.

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

A wonderful look at being a mentally ill teenager and most importantly, what happens after you think you're getting your life back on track. AKA, a topic that is never discussed enough in any fiction let alone YA. There are three more in the series and I'm really hoping to get through at least some of them in the new year!

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

This was really the year for fun graphic novels. It's difficult to describe the plot of Nimona, but suffice to say it involves a shape-shifting protagonist, superheroes, villains and dragons. Just read it. Trust me.

Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton

I love it when two things I love come together, and here it's literature and piss-taking cartoons. You've probably seen her cartoons everywhere, and here they are in book form! Yay!

Asking for It by Louise O'Neill

It's hard to say that I loved this book... because reading it was a really, really unpleasant experience. I've tried to write a proper review post for this like it deserves but there are really no words. This is about rape and a small town and consent and the awful justice system. It will make you despair and make you angry, but it is so, so important, and so, so well written. I'm still in shock at how much this book affected me.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda moves in with her dad and starts her senior year in a new high school, but she has a secret- she's transgender. There were some problems with this book- Amanda's super-quick transition is unrealistic and her portrayal as super feminine can be seen as a bit problematic- but Russo addresses these issues in her epilogue perfectly reasonably- this is a story about a girl with a secret, first and foremost, and the situations you find yourself in when people don't know who you really are. It's always so good to read good LGBTQ+ fiction that addresses something other than initially coming out and by the end, I was frantically wiping away tears while sitting on my lunch break at work. I loved this.

The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (With Cats!) by Anna Pulley and Kelsey Beyer

Okay so with a title like this you might be wondering how this could ever possibly live up to its promises. And it does! This is actually a really clever, hilarious look at lesbian culture, illustrated with adorable cats. What's not to love?

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

I picked this up without much knowledge about it other than that it was queer and everyone was raving about it. Honestly, I'm still not really sure what to call it! Part philosophy, part memoir, part polemic. This is a sort of personal account of Maggie Nelson, her non-binary partner, and her pregnancy, with meditations on feminism and queer theory and parenthood. I read this mostly in one sitting and absolutely loved it.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

I'm a big fan of Carrie Brownstein, Sleater-Kinney and basically everything else she ever touches. This is a memoir focused on her life in a rock band and everything that involves: personal struggles, professional struggles, inter-band struggles... it's wonderfully honest and makes for some very sad reading at times.

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

Actually the very last book I finished this year, and what a book to go out on! I've been aware for years of this book as a lesbian/transgender classic but am only finally getting round to it now. Part of me wishes I got to it sooner, but part of me is also super glad that I'm reading it right now, as the lines between lesbian and man, male and female, start to shift a lot in my own life. I loved the history, I loved the politics, I loved the gender stuff... seriously going down as one of my favourites of all time. (Also, since Feinberg's death this is available as a free PDF on hir website, so what have you go to lose?)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Bout of Books 18: Saturday, Sunday and Wrap Up

I've been reading: Only Ever YoursPublic Library
Pages read: 109
Books finished: Public Library
Total pages read; 480
Total books finished: 2
Essay writing progress: umm

It feels like I didn't really do anything on Saturday. I had a friend stay over on Friday night and she had to get up super early for work, which then woke me up for ages so I stayed in bed until I had to go to work in the afternoon, pretty much. I still somehow managed to read quite a bit though.

I finished my second book, yay! I know I said I wasn't really feeling Public Library but I actually did like it quite a bit when I'd finished. Whether that's because I got used to the format or because the later stories were actually better, I don't know. It's my third Ali Smith book and I'm still thirsty for more.

I'm absolutely loving Only Ever Yours, and I only stopped reading it when I realised how close to the end of Public Library I was and wanted to finish that before bed. It's such a wonderfully constructed universe. Things seem to be getting interesting now so I can't wait to read more.

I've been reading: The View From the Cheap Seats
Pages read: 88
Total pages read; 566
Total books finished: 2
Essay writing progress: one down one to go, woo!

I'm actually surprised I read as much as I did as today felt super busy for me. I was in work all day and then had to come home and finish the essay that's due on Monday- which I did, just in time for Sherlock, yay! And then I just went to bed after Sherlock because that episode was emotionally exhausting, omg.

But, no. I read a good chunk of The View From the Cheap Seats. I'm still sort of in the section of the book that I'm not really into- about writers and books, most of whom I've never read. Mostly it's interesting, but I'm keen to get onto other stuff.

Wrap up

So how did I do? Well, I read 566 pages and finished 2 books, which isn't actually that far off my goal, especially considering I had such a crazy week with writing essays. I'm super happy with all my reading choices and will hopefully finish Only Ever Yours and The View From the Cheap Seats in the next few days :)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bout of Books 18: Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday

I've been reading: The Beauty Myth, Public Library
Pages read; 20
Total pages read: 175
Essay writing progress: actually pretty good... until I hit a wall

Off work again today, so I decided to dedicate most of the day to essay writing. It... sort of worked. I did get a lot done, and I am starting to see the end of the road (thank god), but I sort of hit a brick wall towards the end. You know when you're on Buzzfeed or whatever, with your essay open in another tab, telling yourself you're still working even though you're not? Yeah.

And my lazy mood sort of spread to reading as well, so I didn't manage quite as much as I'd like today. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

I've been reading: Public Library, The View From the Cheap Seats, Harry: A History
Pages read: 131
Total pages read: 306
Essay writing progress; end is in sight, thank goodness

I had work today, so I did a little bit of essay writing when I got home and then took the rest of the night to relax and read. It actually worked out pretty well! I finally achieved the page count goal I set out to do.

I'm still not quite feeling Public Library. Normally I get on with short stories pretty well, but this time I'm just feeling disjointed. I'm loving the little reminiscences about libraries in between the stories though.

I've been reading: Harry: A History, Only Ever Yours
Pages read: 65
Books finished: Harry: A History
Total pages read: 371
Essay writing progress: finally hit the minimum word count on my first one, yay :)

Pretty productive day for reading and essay-writing! Okay, so my page count isn't the best but I did finally finish a book. Harry: A History was wonderful; I learned a lot but I also remembered a lot (remember when someone found Order of the Phoenix in a field before it was released?) It's made me eager to crack on with my Harry Potter reread.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Bout of Books 18: Goals, Monday, and Tuesday

Bout of Books 18

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 2nd and runs through Sunday, January 8th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 18 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

(or, in other words, it's an excuse for me to avoid my responsibilities and binge read)

I was in two minds about whether to sign up this time round, as I have two big essays due next week and this week is crunch time for me, but in the past it's actually worked out pretty well for me to have something in my free time to distract me from potential academic doom. And what could be better than reading some awesome books?

I want to read 100 pages a day, or 700 pages total for the week, or finish 3 books. If I achieve any of these goals I'll be thrilled, but mostly I just want to read as much as I can and have fun.

The book pile:
These are all the books I'm currently reading:

(I swear this photo was not taken in a cave)

From top to bottom:

Public Library by Ali Smith: I'm about halfway through. This is a collection of short stories interspersed with thoughts about libraries. I'm enjoying it, but reading it off the back of How to be Both probably wasn't the best idea, because, well, few things live up to that.

The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman: Just gone halfway through this. A collection of essays, speeches, and introductions by Neil Gaiman. There's a lot of stuff about writers and things I have no knowledge about, but I'm finding it weirdly compelling all the same. I also have the audiobook of this, should I want to mix it up (mostly I just really love Neil Gaiman's voice, okay)

Harry: A History by Melissa Anelli: I'm about two thirds through this. A history of the Harry Potter fandom, written by the webmistress of one of the biggest HP fansites. Even though I got into HP internet fandom late, there's still a lot of joy and nostalgia and yes I remember that! Super interesting.

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill: Only just started this. I loved loved loved O'Neill's Asking For It and this is described as Mean Girls meets The Handmaid's Tale, so how could I not?

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf: Just started this. A feminist classic arguing that beauty is used to control women in the same way domesticity and motherhood has been used in the past. I have a feeling I won't be reading this one much, actually, as I'd like time to read it properly and think about it and digest it. But the notion might take me, so I included it anyway.

I've been reading: The View From the Cheap Seats, Harry: A History
Pages read: 62
Essay writing progress: zilch, oops.

I had an early shift in work today, and my intention was to come home, sleep for a couple of hours and then get stuck into uni work for the rest of the evening. Instead I sort of slept through my uni work time. Oops.

I did get some reading done though! I read a couple of essays from Cheap Seats before that ill-fated nap. I'm on the section "On Comics and Some of the People Who Write Them" and it's all things I know basically nothing about, but I'm enjoying it all the same. It reminds me a bit of Jo Walton's What Makes This Book So Great which I read around this time last year, in that it makes you care about books and authors you've never heard of.

Harry: A History is great too. I'm reading all about the ship wars, something I managed to avoid back in the day (I only really got into internet HP fandom just before Deathly Hallows, when the question of Harry/Hermione or Ron/Hermione was basically settled) but it's funny how it relates to other fandoms I've been part of since. Fans, you crazy bastards.

I've been reading: Only Ever Yours, The Beauty Myth
Pages read; 93
Total pages read: 155
Essay writing progress: much better, thankfully

Today I actually got shit done, which was nice for a change. Okay, so I stayed in bed an extra two hours accidentally this morning, but then I cleaned the mess that is my room and went to Tesco and even got a fair bit of essay writing done. Not to mention very nearly hitting my 100 page target.

It's a very weird experience reading Only Ever Yours and The Beauty Myth back to back. Last night in bed, half asleep, I read about evangelistic weight loss programmes and genuinely thought for a moment I was still reading dystopian fiction... alas, I was not.

Only Ever Yours is really great so far.