THOUGHTS: 2015 Book Challenge

reading chall

Last night, on the 28th November 2015, I completed my year’s challenge to read 20 new books. I’m quite proud because it sincerely WAS a challenge – I’m the SLOWEST READER despite being an English student/ primarily a literature student… but I’m very determined to do better next year. My maths is really bad but I think that’s an average of one book every three weeks, which can definitely be improved on. Also, a few of those books took only a day to read, so many more took a lot longer than that average. Still, I’m feelin’ good because I know for a fact a lot of people I know don’t even get through one. So, here’s a brief synopsis of each of those 20:

1. Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters. This was the subject of the first book blog post I made! It can be found here. The purpose of this blog was originally to write a little post about EVERY book I read; but with uni and being busy with other things, a lot of them slipped through the net. This blog post is one of my faves because it was actually well-thought out, unlike a few others which I wrote far too quickly and haphazardly and are probably no good to anyone. But I think this one is, so try it out if you might be interested in some crazy mind-bending postmodernism, like I really am.
2. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I did a blog about this one too, here. As I say in it, this book kind of disappointed me, but it was also an interesting insight into Plath that you don’t get from her poetry, and was a surprisingly easy and enjoyable read.
3. Lucy Kirkwood’s NSFW. This is a play that I wrote about for a Gender & Sexuality unit essay and earned a tidy high 2:1, which was hugely unexpected as it was written near the end of a term when I was at my wit’s end with uni. It’s a cool contemporary play about media ethics and the internet age.
4. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain. A heart-wrenching short story that I’m sure everyone is familiar with through the film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and the late great Heath Ledger. A lecturer recommended this, pointing out that it’s actually quicker to read the story than watch the three-hour film, and it’s a lot more emotional.
5. Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. Blogged here, this was another good easy read but also bears some thinking about. After this intro to Atwood I do think I’ll one day try A Handmaid’s Tale despite various warnings from A-level students to the contrary.
6. Jack Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveler. This took a lonnnng time to get through, which I gave an explanation for in my blog post here. It served as my yearly Kerouac (I just really like reading him when Spring/Summer comes), though I did also start Big Sur but got distracted by other stuff, so I guess that will have to be my 2016 effort.
7. Joseph Conrad’s To-morrow. I picked this up as one of Penguin’s Little Black Classics after attempting and failing to read Heart of Darkness last year – being Little, this one was easily gotten through.
8. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. This is one that I seriously regret not blogging about, because it may be my favourite read of the year. It’s an autobiographical, biographical, graphic novel, about her life and growth in relation to her father, his alleged homosexuality, and his alleged suicide, and it is stunning. The kind of thing that I’d love to write if I can when I grow up. Bechdel was quoted saying that she could not even remove one word from the story because it is all so tightly necessary after six years in production, and she is so right. Every single word and illustration is irreplaceably poignant and concise. I feel a kind of affinity with Bechdel, since I read somewhere once that attempting to make connections between or see patterns in everything is inherently paranoid; and she and I clearly share this affliction. This only took me a few hours to get through, partly because I was so engrossed and partly because there’s not REALLY a lot of words, being a graphic novel. I would recommend this to EVERYONE.
9. Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot. My second Barnes novel of the year; I picked this one up in a Brighton book shop because I so thoroughly enjoyed A History. This one was a kind of strange choice though, because I haven’t even read Madame Bovary, but I weirdly couldn’t put it down. It was a really tough chewy read but I’m glad I did it.
10. Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet. This one’s a double book, so can it actually count as two?! As blogged here, I explain why my enjoyment of The Tao was tainted by my disappointment in The Te.
11. Anne Fine’s The Tulip Touch. A lovely children’s/young adult story I bought for my Children’s Literature unit but never read, then inexplicably decided to read in the summer, blogged about here. It contains valuable lessons and stuff to think about for anyone who is past being a child or young as well.
12. John Green’s Looking For Alaska. I thought it about time I read a John Green, and I’m glad I did, though it was literally disgustingly awful but I do feel strangely compelled to try some more?! It’s dire. EW. Thinking about it is making me cringe. I wish I’d blogged about this one too because I mostly read stuff I like so can only be nice about it, and this would’ve given me chance to be really horrible which I sometimes like doing. Do not feed your kids this stuff, it is poison.
13. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. Blogged here, though it’s definitely not my best blog, very rushed and doesn’t really do it much justice. This novel took me a while because it’s written in Scottish dialect which was hard to push through at first, but then I ended up in hospital for a few days so had nothing much better to do and got seriously engrossed in it. It’s really dirty which nicely reflected my surroundings. #SaveOurNHS
14. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This was a double book too; though it is for children so I didn’t want to count it separately. That would be cheating. I blogged about it here, which nicely sums up what I like about it. I wanted to read it because Alice is everywhere, still, in 2015, and a little girl with such longevity deserves some understanding of her origins.
15. William S. Burroughs’ Junky. I planned a blog about this one but never got around to it, which is sad, because I think I had some good stuff to say but I’ve forgotten it now. Damn.
16. Alexa Chung’s IT. Okay so this one doesn’t really count as an actual book, but maybe The Te of Piglet can cancel it out?! I hope one day I can be famous enough that I can write a vacuous £20 book just about me and stuff I like and everyone will buy it.
17. Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. The first new book I’ve read for my new, third year university units, and I finished it in November… Oops. I think I’ve been put off because this was so long-winded and I had no idea what was going on until other students in my seminar group pointed major plot points out to me that I had somehow missed. But it is interesting if you are interested in post-colonialism, which I purport to be, though I could be a lot faster in reading about it.
18. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Blogged at length here.
19. Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. This is a play, also for my Post-Colonial Texts unit, which demands a top-notch essay is written about it in two weeks’ time. Better get started. This one will take you an hour and is a really valuable insight into colonial ignorance.
20. Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. I’m powering through Carter’s works for my dissertation, which was the best choice by me because it’s SO FUN. I know a lot of people I’ve discussed dissertations with on my course somehow really do not find crazy postmodern magical realism fun, but I heartily refute them. I’ve found a kindred spirit in magical realist writers, I think: my first essay of the year came back with the feedback that I can get “carried away with my tone” and that’s probably a good explanation for why I love ridiculous literature so much. Because I tend to write it too. There’s a good quote I found near the end that goes like this: “It could be said that, for all the peoples of this region, there existed no difference between fact and fiction; instead, a sort of magic realism.” It encompasses everything I’ve found interesting so far studying at uni, and I can’t wait to start a Fact and Fiction unit next year, which has Kerouac and Burroughs and fun stuff on the reading list. FUN. I’m excited.

Those were my 20 – and now I know I can do much better with a bit of work and less laziness, 2016’s challenge will be 25. That doesn’t include re-readings or academic texts, so both totals are a lot higher in reality. Sometimes reading does feel like a bit of a chore, but I think about the mush my brain would be if I didn’t do it and I take my medicine stoically. I have a stuffed bookshelf waiting for me so I can’t stop now anyway. Challenge yaself in the new year and track your progress on, it’s addictive.


THOUGHTS: National Vegetarian Week – Why I’m Veggie

I gave up meat on January 5th 2015, and it was the easiest thing I ever did. HERE I WILL INTERJECT AND CONFESS BEFORE MY HOUSEMATES RAT ME OUT: I did finish a bottle of Lea & Perrins after discovering about two months down the line that it contains anchovies… (what kind of idiot sauce contains fish???) and I figured since I’d already bought it, I might as well finish the job…

Besides the hidden sneaky fish juice, which taught me to always check labels (baby steps), I don’t see myself ever eat meat again. I don’t need to, and neither do I want to. If Jaime on Bear Grylls: The Island can live on a desert island for six weeks without touching meat, so can I. My survival doesn’t depend on the death of other sentient beings. And I’d argue that animals are 100x more sentient than whatever the modern human has been reduced to.

My epiphany came in a number of forms. Firstly, meat is expensive, if you want the good stuff. I would always have leaned towards the free range/organic/butcher’s produce anyway, and student budgets don’t tend to support that. So I drastically reduced my meat consumption when I went to uni. It also cuts out the amount of times I’ve drunkenly eaten raw-in-the-middle chicken kievs after nights out, and that one time I realised I was eating a raw chicken burger but it was so nice I took my chances. Vegetarianism is therefore a wise choice in curtailing my risk of contracting salmonella.

The second may be the eight or nine years I was vegetarian anyway growing up, which was a handy reassurance that I would manage it fine. My mother tells me I had to be dragged from Safeway kicking and screaming after clocking a raw chicken on the shelves as a very little kid and enquiring as to what the hell it was. She informed me it was a chicken; I distraughtly asked where its head and feathers were, and chaos ensued. I also started so much of a scene in the lunch hall when I first started school and was served a slab of meat that the dinner ladies begged Mum to put me on the veggie menu because I was putting the other kids off their overcooked cow. An anarchist protester since c.1998.

Somewhere along the line I lost my strident sense of morality, cultivating a love of BLTs, chicken nuggets, turkey twizzlers, meatball subs, scotch eggs, Texas BBQ Dominos, Wetherspoons Mexican burgers, SAUSAGES… until the day the love of my life had a literal head-on brush with death. Lulu is my fluffy squirrel-cat, my own living dolly, the CATalyst of my meat-free life and, even at 7-years-old, always my baby kitten. She was born when I was 13 after our rescue cat got pregnant and my mum decided she could not part with any of her four resultant babies. Lulu is my sassy beautiful feline soulmate; we have identical strops and are equally bitch-faced and unapproachable. Whatever souls are made of, hers and mine are the same.

So when my brother rang me while I was in the library last winter to tell me that she’d been run over (the circumstances of her horrific injuries are somewhat dodgy, and to say she was accidentally hit at night is the only eventuality we’d like to contemplate), I packed up my things and ran home crying, caring less about the people I disturbed on the street. The idea that the mini jet-black puff-ball I’d adored since the day she was born could die, or likely lose a leg if she lived, was pretty direly disgustingly bleak. What eventually happened, though, was my mum shelling out a lot of money for a top veterinary surgeon in Winchester to save her – when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. Like, her savings towards a deposit for a house are now a year behind. A l o t. (Sidenote: if you’re not willing to do the same for your pet, you shouldn’t have one). Lulubear lives to see another day, after a long, arduous recovery.

During this recovery, I witnessed something. I’d always regarded my total of six cats as family members anyway, but this incident uncannily reminded me that Lulu is mortally, vulnerably alive in the exact same way I am. Here was a cat. A cat that had always been fiercely independent, that depended on us for nothing really; she didn’t need us to survive. She came back for easy food and shelter and safety and for territorial reasons, probably, which is just a fact that you accept when you have cats. There isn’t much bringing them back to you. The fact that they choose to stay is nice enough. But, in the first weeks that I was with her during her house arrest to repair her shattered leg, held together by rods and plaster, she cried and cried in her cage at night. She relished the couple of hours a day she got to spend outside the cage, sitting quietly and contently on our laps until it was cage time again, making no attempt at escape because she was in too much pain and needed the comfort. In that short time, she’d hug so close to my mum (moreover her mum now), wrapping her healthy front leg around mum’s neck, something she’d never do when well, or reaching it out to me sat next to her. Maybe this was for some reassurance when she was scared, or begging for sympathy hugs, or to show gratitude. Because at times I know she was thanking us.

And aren’t all those actions and eventualities just what a child would do? We like to conveniently forget that animals have thoughts and feelings as well, all the more than we do, I’d argue as fact. And seeing my kitten beg for her life was never anything I was going to have on my hands to put a lamb or a pig or a cow through again. Why would you think they don’t react the same way that you would when they realise they’re going to die? The ‘humane’ death thing doesn’t work… There is no right way to kill something that doesn’t want to die. (=If you were so bothered about Halal you wouldn’t eat meat at all, shut the fuck up). Why would I watch my mother spend pretty much her life savings on rescuing my cat from certain death while spending my own money conveniently condemning others to the same fate for no other reason than “it tastes nice”…………………………No more.

ox Namaste, peace, dharma, zen & love xo