Ten years of gig-going.

Two days after my 14th birthday, I went to my first gig. Well, that’s technically a lie. My first gig was on Scarborough beach when I was 9 for a band my dad loves and all I remember from it was building a sandcastle for drunk people to trip over. This was the first gig I went to out of choice.

I went to see a band called Kids in Glass Houses. The year was 2009 and they were about to release their second album. I couldn’t believe a band I liked were playing my hometown. I had no one to go with so my dad took one for the team and went with me. I remember being so excited to see this band who I would watch on YouTube and the thought of seeing musicians in real life blew my teenage mind. I remember wanting to be cool and wear clothes I really liked and I honestly don’t know how my mam let me out of the house that evening. This was before I could dress well. I wore my favourite blue checked shirt and purple skinny jeans (I know, I can hear you laughing – this isn’t my proudest moment) because if they were good enough for Pete Wentz then they were good enough for me. I also had my first pair of converse and chipped black nail varnish. I felt so cool when in reality I was far from it.

The gig was at a venue called Empire and is a place I hold close to my heart. I’ve been to terrible club nights there and I have also been to terrible gigs there – but it was my first introduction to the gigging community.

I was probably one of the youngest people there. Majority of the crowd were in their late teens/early twenties. I stayed towards to edges of the room but as soon as the music started and the band started to play, I felt this emotional connection with a group of strangers. We were all screaming the lyrics at the top of our lungs and jumping around. For months, I didn’t shut up about this gig and I wanted to go to as many gigs as possible.

From the ages of 14 to 16, I went to a gig every couple of months. It was mainly emo bands such as Paramore, Panic at the Disco, Madina Lake (a massive throwback), to name a few. I travelled to Newcastle and Manchester for the bigger shows but most of my gigs were in Middlesbrough. Empire was home to my music adventures. I got a pretend leather jacket from ASDA and danced and screamed until my body ached. For a few hours, I could escape reality and feel the bass vibrate through my body. I would show up to school the next day with a sore throat and temporary hearing loss because I stood to close to the speakers at the front.

It was my freedom and my rebellion in a way. I went to most of my gigs with friends and usually an accompanying adult. Going to cities like Newcastle made me feel grown up and made me realise a lot more exciting things were happening outside of the town I lived in. I knew my parents didn’t feel comfortable with me catching the train to different cities and going out late on school nights so a part of it felt like I was living the typical teenage life. I would come home stinking of cigarette smoke (it took a while for my parents to actually believe me when I said I wasn’t smoking) and going to school on a few hours sleep but it was all worth it for the happiness and escapism I felt in a crowded venue with my favourite bands performing in front of me.

Before cuts to the arts, my town had a couple of mini festivals. When I was younger, my “thing” was to find up-and-coming bands and be able to know who every musician was in Kerrang magazine. These festivals would always have small bands – with the exception of the headliner who would be someone like The Proclaimers – but that felt like heaven to me. These would be bands I would’ve read about on the ‘on the radar’ pages in music magazines and I would find it so exciting that they were playing my town. The more gigs I was attending, the more I would recognise people in the crowds and it made me feel this sense of belonging. I befriended metal heads, emos, and fans of classic rock. All of these sub-genres of rock music felt like extended family and I grew in confidence. Before going to gigs, I thought no one in my town liked the same music as me so it was exciting to see I was not alone.

I did love my emo music (and I still do) but I was very much a hybrid of emo and indie culture. I listened to My Chemical Romance but I also loved Arctic Monkeys. I had grown up listening to The Stone Roses and was a fan of Yeah Yeah Yeahs since I was about 7 because I thought Karen O was cool and she still is a person I greatly admire. As I switched from reading Kerrang to reading NME, my gig-going habits also changed. In 2011, I went to my first indie gig. Arctic Monkeys in Newcastle. It was Suck It and See era, Alex had just got his quiff a month prior to the gig and I was still mourning the end of his relationship with Alexa Chung. The Vaccines were playing and I was so hyper to be in the same room as two of my favourite bands. I still have the t-shirt from that gig and I’m proud that it still fits. That gig meant everything to me and it still does 8 years on.

I had just turned 16 but the summer before I had started a scrapbook of things I was into and images of what I wanted to be. I bought my first piece of vintage jewellery (a 50p brooch from a farmer’s market), bought Angles by The Strokes and listened to it on repeat, and I was trying to discovery what my fashion sense was. My scrapbook was a collage of badly cut out images of Hayley Williams, Alexa Chung and Natalie Portman – all people who I wanted to dress like. Stills from Wes Anderson films I was yet to see and photos of mods and rockers were also badly stuck into my scrapbook. I was building an identity around indie music, films and models. That scrapbook was the beginning of the person I now am. I graduated from Peter Pan collar 60s dresses to 70s flowing paisley floor-length dresses, band t-shirts to brightly patterned blouses. All of this made an appearance in that scrapbook. Going to that Arctic Monkeys gig allowed me to live a little bit of the dream I had created in that scrapbook. The people were real, the clothes were real, the music was real.

After finishing school, I went to Leeds festival for the first time. I feel like going to a festival is a rite of passage for any school leaver. 2012 was a vintage year for Leeds fest. I saw Bombay Bicycle Club, Foo Fighters, The Cure, Kasabian, The Black Keys, Florence and the Machine, The Vaccines, Foster the People and so many other artists I still listen to now because clearly I haven’t developed much since 2012. It was a weird experience and an exhausting experience but I discovered I love being in a massive field listening to live music. I still have my Vaccines t-shirt I bought at Leeds Fest and it is still a staple item in my wardrobe.

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Around the age of 18, going to gigs was a weekly occurrence for me. I worked behind a bar and worked box office at a couple of local music venues. I listened to everything from washed out punk acts, indie bands, and psychedelic groups. I listened to a lot of psychedelic to be honest. Working there and going to battle of the bands every Thursday in a rundown pub in town was my escapism for the chaos I felt was surrounding my life. Live music drowned out my negative thoughts and worries for a few hours. I grew a lot from working in music venues. I certainly grew a thicker skin from dealing with drunk people and quite a male-dominated environment where I was often the only girl there. My music horizons broadened and gigs got me out of the house and felt like a safe space.

One of my favourite venues was a tiny working men’s club in town. A gig promoter who ran shows there always got bands before they got big to play this tiny venue. Over the years I had seen the likes of Pete and the Pirates (now Teleman) and Catfish and the Bottlemen before they had even released an EP. A gig that sticks with me the most though is seeing Palma Violets in 2012. Earlier that week, they had debuted on the cover of NME, who were raving about them and talking about how crazy their gigs were. I haven’t really heard of Palma Violets since 2013 (are they still going?) but that gig was one of the sweatiest, funniest gigs I have been to. The ceiling broke and I don’t think it has been properly fixed since.

When I moved away for university, I pretty much stopped going to gigs. I went to a couple of ones back home for indie stars I had loved since being a younger teenager, such as The Last Shadow Puppets, but I did not really attend many in my university city. Not many bands I listened to gigged in my city and I didn’t fully take advantage of listening to local bands. I did get more involved in the literature scene in my city but I missed music. During my undergrad I kinda lost my music identity because I wasn’t going to gigs or listening to new bands but other aspects of my life flourished. I wrote a blog post about it at the time but I started listening to older bands like the Velvet Underground to inspire me and as a result that has influenced my academic research.

When I moved to Sheffield, everyone told me I had missed its golden age but it was exciting for me. I went to Leadmill on my first night and was so excited when I saw the names of so many bands I liked written on the walls. I went from going to no gigs to attending gigs quite regularly. I saw The Big Moon, Miles Kane, The Wombats, and Bombay Bicycle Club – all bands and musicians that shaped me as a teenager. I even started to go to gigs alone which didn’t help my anxiety but it allowed me to see new bands I love, such as Pip Blom. I went to Birmingham and Leeds for gigs. I went to venues I remember reading about when I was 14 and wondering what they were like. I finally went to Rough Trade. I feel like I have experienced so many things my younger self could only dream of in her bedroom in a north east town.

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Obviously, I am an adult now and I have a job so I have more freedom to travel to places and buy tickets to concerts but sometimes I catch myself and remember how visiting these cities and seeing these bands once didn’t feel like a reality to me. At gigs now I am more aware of my surroundings. I have no time for people invading my space too much or making me feel unsafe – these were things that didn’t really occur to me when I first started going to gigs but over time have realised when I go to see certain bands. Although I am in my early (we could maybe argue I’m almost mid-twenties now but we are not going to) twenties, I feel old at gigs. I no longer want to be at the front, I choose practical clothes over cool clothes, and everyone around me at indie gigs looks 12. I went to Leeds festival this year and realised I was the old person. Majority of the people I passed were younger than me. In the grand scheme of things I am young but ten years of my life is a large chunk of my life and I can’t help but reflect on ten years of attending gigs and how that has shaped me as a person. I love gigs and I am at my happiest when I am listening to live music. I just can’t believe I have hit the ten year mark. I can’t wait to see what gigs I go to in the next ten years.

It has been a while

So it has been a while since this blog has been active. I’m here. I still exist. I’ve just been existing elsewhere.

Since February, I have been working on various writing projects. I will share these when the time is right but those have been my priority. I haven’t done much writing in the last month but a girl needs a break.

I’ve been using my Instagram account a bit more (account name same as this one) to share photos of  books and write mini reviews. I have wanted to post full length blog posts on books I have been sent for review – and I will try in the future – but a lot of my writing takes place on my commute which I find difficult and I don’t have the energy to write lengthy reviews. I’m adjusting to new work hours and I am hoping once I have settled into a routine I can dedicate more time to actually finishing the new pieces I’ve been writing and publishing them.

Today is my first day to myself in around 3 weeks. I am spending it sleeping, reading (because funnily enough I haven’t done much reading lately even though I am a bookseller), and listening to live sets from my favourite bands. I feel so calm and peaceful and I’m thankful I am being nice to my body and I am allowing it to rest.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. In the next week I am pushing myself to send off some things I have had sitting on my desktop for a couple of months because I’m too scared to send them off.

I want to try and use this blog a little more for the exact reason why I decided not to delete it years ago – to share imperfect pieces of work. I don’t use this platform to share my greatest work. I have drafted pieces for this blog this year. I had one about my relationship with fashion and throwing out clothes I no longer need. I didn’t post it because I thought it was stupid and no one would care. Although this a public platform, it doesn’t matter if that post was stupid and self-indulgent, this blog is here to keep me in the practice of writing with the odd semi-decent book review thrown in for good measure.

Soon, I will rewrite that post about fashion. I will write a bit more about music and the nostalgia culture I have for noughties indie music, and I might even write about bookselling. Most of the writing I have been doing this year has been for publication and I think I need to return to here and post some pieces that are for no one except for myself (but of course anyone is free to read them if they like).

Anyway, let’s aim for me to post one thing on here in October!

Ironopolis by Glen James Brown: Book Review.

Before I begin, this is going to be a very emotional review and a very personal one. For those of you who know me in real life, you will know I am from Middlesbrough. I moved away for university and didn’t move back. When people ask me “Do you like Middlesbrough?” or “What do you think of Middlesbrough?” I struggle to give a clear answer. It’s not easy for me to travel home so I do have some nostalgia for the town but I listen to a lot of (and I mean playing the same several albums on repeat on my commute to work every day kind of a lot of) Maximo Park and that cures the homesickness. If my family didn’t live there, I would have no reason to visit the town. I have always felt like it is a place stuck in time, tucked away in the North East of England and forgotten about, and the town feels enclosed where the walls have ears and everyone knows everything about everybody. This is something I have struggled to explain to people who are not from Teesside and I didn’t think there was a way to let people know and understand that kind of environment.

That is, until I read Ironopolis by Glen James Brown. This book was recommended to me by my friend’s uncle (shout out to Pete) and author Kerry Hudson mentioned she had read it and reviewed it for The Guardian so instantly I ordered it into my bookshop. The novel is set on the fictional Burns Council Estate in Teesside and is composed of several interweaving story lines. The sections of the novel tell the stories of several different characters living on the estate. The Burns Council Estate threatens to be rejuvenated and the characters fear losing their homes and the community they have built up over decades.

What I cannot stress enough is how real the experiences are in this novel. I know of men like Vincent Barr. I have been to New Years’ Eve parties that are the same down to the playlist every single year. I am familiar with what it’s like to work on a council estate and the community feel of the customers who enter the shop. Brown has managed to bottle up life in Middlesbrough and pour it into his book and he has done a brilliant job. I was brought to tears by how complex and human the characters in Ironopolis are.

Each story is told in slightly different formats; for example, ‘Day of the Dark’ is told in epistolary form whereas ‘UXO’ is told in the form of an academic essay or article. As the novel progresses, characters mentioned in previous stories reappear and events overlap which creates a rich tapestry of life on the estate. This is done so tightly and pretty much to perfection. There is so much happening in this novel – whether it will be the personal stories of the characters, larger story arcs that span several stories or the political commentary on life in the North East – it is all brought together so perfectly and every detail in this book is important.

One thread that explicitly connects all the stories together is the presence of Peg Powler. When reading Ironopolis I thought “why does that name sound so familiar?” and after a quick internet search loads of childhood memories came flooding back. Peg Powler is a water spirit who in British folklore haunts the River Tees. If you misbehaved as a child, you would fear Peg Powler creeping through the pipes and snatching you while you were on the toilet. I remember when I was 10 years old there was an exhibition in the local museum about the River Tees and that was how I discovered Peg Powler. I was scared of the toilets at school because I thought she would be in there. Peg is mentioned by most of the characters in someway or another which highlights the shared identity of Teessiders. Whether the character is in Thornaby or Boro town centre, they all have a friend in Peg.

Brown does not shy away from politics – and rightly so. Drive up the A19 and the skyline greets you with steelworks and the Transporter Bridge. The steelworks are an unsettling spectre looming over Teesside as many steelworkers lost their jobs in 2015 when the majority of the steelworks closed down. Ironopolis spans over fifty years yet the threat of the closure of the steelworks is always present:

What ‘trade’ is there? Since I was a lass, the forges have been privatised, consolidated, chopped up, sold off. Why make steel here if it’s cheaper to ship from China? Everybody is being made redundant – tens of thousands of people. Whole communities. Ironopolis is falling. (pp.32-33)

Eventually, Ironopolis did fall. Knowing the fate of the steelworks makes for a difficult read as you know many of these characters will inevitably receive the same fate many people I know did in 2015.

The renovation of the estate and shops closing down is also a reality that many Teessiders have faced or witnessed. Every time I return to Middlesbrough something else has disappeared and not been replaced. Houses are demolished, families are forced to relocate and to sell their houses at a lesser price than what it is valued for. Businesses are lost. Communities are broken up. This is seen in so many areas of Middlesbrough (and across the country) and it is such an important issue to address in fiction. This is not made up to create a narrative; this is a harsh reality many people are forced to live with.

I read this with a pencil poised in my hand ready to highlight sentences. So much of this novel spoke to me and really got under my skin. I saw myself in Una when she said, ‘People think I’m the weird one for seeing this place for what it is’ (p.54) and how I was so desperate to leave. Most of all, I saw a mindset that I think really embodies Middlesbrough culture and it unsettled me. Early in the novel, Jean writes in a letter: ‘I dread he forgets there are other ways to view the world, so thinks the world around him is the only one there is’ (p.33). I have moved several times and I feel like I have grown as a person yet I return to Middlesbrough and I feel like nothing has changed. People get their haircut at the same place they have been going for twenty years, eat the same meals, watch the same TV shows. It feels very ritualistic. There may be some comfort in this but it also highlights how the town can feel like a bubble. This bubble is something that should be challenged as there is life beyond your front doorstep.

This review feels very self-centred; however, this book got such a personal response from me and moved me and that’s what I think great literature should do. This is a phenomenal piece of literature and is represents working-class communities so well. I was worried this would either be poverty porn or romanticise Middlesbrough in a way I think would not benefit the town. It did neither of those things. Ironopolis is raw, it is truthful, it perfectly captures community in Teesside and the power of it (both the good and the bad). This text should be celebrated for what it is doing for Middlesbrough in literature. Much like The Mighty Redcar, which broadcasted in 2018, Ironopolis is rewriting Middlesbrough’s legacy in the media. Forget being the worst place to live in 2008, or the worst place to be a girl in 2016, or being made fun of that one time Top Gear visited, lift up works like Ironopolis which represents the complex nature of Teesside and how it strives to rise from the ashes.

Up the Boro and all that.

Daisy Jones and the Six – Book Review.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is released on 5th March 2019 in the UK.

Party with rock stars, tour the world and dance on stage with Daisy Jones and the Six.

Daisy Jones and the Six were THE band of the 1970s. The summer of 1979 belonged to the band – that is, until they broke up. Decades after their final stadium performance, the band decide to set the record straight and explain why they broke up.

Told in interview format, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel allows different narratives to intersect and document the history of the band. This format quickly reveals there is not one single truth as each character remembers events differently. Whether under the influence, distracted by other events, or witnessing only fragments of the situation, all of these characters tell a version of the truth. It’s their truth and it is up to the reader to find the hard facts in all the accounts documented.

This novel is very well researched and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s influences are clear in the narrative. Daisy Jones’ life parallels that of Pamela Des Barres as well as a few others from the supergroup GTO’s, Billy Dunne resembles Russell from Stillwater in Almost Famous (2000), there are even hints of Frank Zappa and his groupie supergroup. To an extent, Daisy Jones feels like a really fun 70’s fan fiction; however, what moves Daisy Jones away from being just a nostalgic period novel is Reid’s engagement with the #MeToo movement and her rewriting of the rock’n’roll muse narrative.

Although Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous has Penny Lane leading its marketing campaign, the film centres on 15-year-old William coming of age and becoming a music journalist. Up until the 2018 edition of Pamela Des Barres’ infamous memoir I’m With the Band, the preface for the memoir were written by men who emphasised Barres’ sex appeal when sex takes up a small portion of the narrative. There are plenty of men in Reid’s story however they do not control the narrative – the women do. Daisy acknowledges she is made an object for the male gaze yet she takes control over that role and manipulates the male gaze to benefit her career and the lives of the women around her. Men in the narrative – and some women – discuss Daisy by her appearance only and not her talent. Yet, Daisy still dominates the narrative by vocalising the work she has put into the band and her other projects.

Out of all the characters, Karen left the biggest impression on me. Karen sits between the liberated rock star that Daisy embodies and the more traditional lifestyle Camilla contributes to by staying at home with Billy’s children. Karen feels like she has to choose career or family and whether she can have a conservative or liberal lifestyle. Daisy is an ideal whereas Karen is a reality for many women in music. I sympathise with Karen the most as she has an internal struggle between being a career driven woman and also having a family and a sense of stability. As a contemporary audience, we know Karen can have both in her life; however, working in a male-dominated industry – especially in the 1970s – Karen must sacrifice something in her life. Karen is not a product of her time; she represents contemporary women in many industries. Women in music still face the pressures of picking either career or family as music venues and the nature of the music industry makes accessibility for families difficult. The character of Karen highlights the struggles women face in music both then and now and hopefully Reid’s novel sheds light on that for many readers.

This is an incredibly enjoyable and addictive read. The characters mirror so many famous individuals in music and pop culture that it is hard to separate these fictional people from reality. Being told in an interview format makes the novel feel real as it is easy to be caught up in the myth of Daisy Jones and the Six. This novel will make a great summer read. Believe the hype and join it.

My favourite books of 2018.

It’s that time of year again where we all reflect on the books we have read in the last year and set reading goals for the year ahead.

Looking back on my reading year, I have noticed my reading taste has changed. I think this is down to the reading for my Masters degree. Most of the books I have read this year were published in the last 50 years. Since I studied English Literature, most of my course reading was fiction so I read more non-fiction as a break from my studies. In 2018 I also became a bookseller which influenced my reading as the job makes me prioritise newer releases so I can talk to customers about them. I am quite happy about this change because I feel like I was reading the same kind of things during my free time and I’m happy to see myself branch out a little bit more.

It was really difficult picking a list of books this year so I have made a very long honourable mentions list because there’s so many books I have read this year that deserve a mention. Honourable mentions: I’m With the Band by Pamela Des Barres, This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, Skeleton Holiday by Leonora Carrington, Division Street by Helen Mort, Wait ’til I’m Dead by Allen Ginsberg, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne, Walt Whitman, Beatlebone by Kevin Barry and To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine.

Now onto the short-list. This is in no particular order but here are some of the amazing books I have read this year.

1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

At the beginning of the year I finally read Invisible Man.

This book was absolutely stunning. Ellison’s writing is so poetic and moving and the plot had me completely hooked.

2. Milkman by Anna Burns.

I am cheating here because I finished this book at the beginning of 2019 but I read most of it in 2018. Maybe I am being optimistic about my 2019 reading but I do not want this book to be lost in a sea of good books at the end of the year.

I am obsessed with this book and I have handsold so many copies at work because I want everyone to read this book. It requires time and it is not a quick read but it is worth it.

Middle sister likes to read while she walks and go for runs until Milkman takes an interest in her life.

Milkman centres around small town gossip and members of the community being obsessed with the lives of others and the dangers that can cause.

What I love about this book is that if you were not aware of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, you would think this is set in a dystopian world. However, actions that happen in the book were a reality during the Troubles which is truly haunting.

3. Educated by Tara Westover.

I saw a lot of hype for this book online when it was in hardback but I’m the type of person who chooses not to read something if there’s a lot of hype around it.

In December my bookshop received a couple paperback editions of Educated to promote it’s paperback release so I decided to take one from the staff room and give it a try. I was completely hooked.

Tara grew up in a strict cult-like Mormon community where she was home-schooled and did not have a birth certificate until she was 9. As the years go by, her father becomes more extreme and more violent and eventually Tara decides to move away from her family and get an education.

The psychological and physical pain Tara has experienced in her life is heartbreaking. The emotional turmoil Tara faced as she noticed the gaps between receiving an education and “belonging” to her family. By the end of this memoir I was crying and I haven’t cried at a book in a long time.

4. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata.

This is amazing and it freaked me out so much.

Keiko has worked in a convenience store since she was at university and she is now in her thirties. She has become a part of the furniture as she has worked there for so long.

This book tackles the pressures young, single, independent women face and it is both frustrating and terrifying.

I think any one who has worked in retail can slightly relate to some of the patterns Keiko shows and that freaked me out so much. Again, this is another one I am recommending to everyone.

5. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh.

I picked up this book after I finished my Masters degree. The first book I read was The Graduate because the title is appropriate and I picked up My Year of Rest and Relaxation because the title described what I wanted to do after writing a hell of a lot of words in a short space of time.

I read this in Ibiza (lol) and when I first read this I thought it was good but was unsure how I felt about it. The reason why it has made it on this list is because I have not stopped thinking about it since I finished reading it in September.

This is set in New York in the year 2000 and I find reading books set pre-9/11 so unsettling as the characters are unaware of that life-changing event.

Fans of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar will love this.

6. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.

I have wanted to read this book for years but I was always reluctant to pick it up because I wanted the right translation and the most complete version. Lucky me, Serpent’s Tail published the most complete edition in English in 2017 so I treated myself to it.

The Book of Disquiet is fragmented modernist book so I would read it in small chunks during my Masters degree.

This is amazing and a very Amy book – if I was to trademark myself. It deals with anxiety and it was a bit too close to the bone for me at times but I needed this in my life.

This is truly a work of art.

7. Death in Spring by Merce Rodoreda.

This year Penguin released their European Writers series and it was basically my dream. Death in Spring is the first book Penguin released for this series and it is now one of my favourite books.

Set in a remote village in the Catalan mountains, we follow a boy as he comes of age.

There are elements of magical realism and some aspects are down-right creepy but this book is incredible. The description of the landscape is poetic and absolutely beautiful which contrasts grotesque and intense narrative.

8. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster.

I read this book for my Masters degree and I wrote one of my essays on City of Glass. I am going to make it short and sweet with this one but this is a great piece of postmodernist work. It hurts your brain if you think about it too much but it’s so clever and I will reread this again and again.

9. Meet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman.

This book is everything I needed in my life. New York indie music from 2001-2011 defines my personality and music taste.

Lizzy Goodman brings together years of research and interviews to build a grand narrative of the New York indie scene during the first decade of the twenty-first century.

The book covers the stories of a lot of my favourite bands and really made me reflect on how the rise of the internet changed the music scene.

This is a staple for music history and this is an instant classic.

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And that’s my list! I read some incredible books this year and I really wanted to share them to hopefully inspire some people to find their  next favourite read. Hope you all had a good reading year!

My reading goals for 2019.

I usually write off my 2018 reading before discussing my goals for 2019; however, I am still working on the blog post and I haven’t had time to take the photos of the books yet so I have decided to write this list first.

I managed to attempt my goals last year and hit some more than others. I did do really well with my ‘to be read’ pile for most of the year. I managed to read three books off my book list so I completed that and I definitely read a lot of American literature because I specialised in American postmodernism. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to read as large of a variety of American literature as I hoped – I read strictly postmodernist texts – but I am happy I expanded my knowledge.

 

Anyway, onto 2019 goals:

1. Read my tbr pile.

Surprise, surprise, this is first on my list. I originally managed to get down to 20 unread books post-MA life which I think is incredible. However, I started working at a bookshop, won a huge book award and received proofs so my tbr went up to 50 unread books (I know, it’s a lot). I feel okay because I know out of all the new books I’ve bought five and the rest have been work related but I need to get to them.

Now that I don’t have a reading list for a course, I can dedicate time to reading my books. So far, I am doing really well and I think this might be the year I finally read all of my books.

2. Restart the Whispered Revolution.

For those of you who don’t know, I run a bad-ass feminist book club with a couple of friends over on goodreads. We were all really busy with our Masters degrees last year so had no time for the book club but we want to try and make it happen this year. Please feel free to join us!

3. Read more books from Independent publishers.

I really want to make an effort to read more books from independent publishers. I follow a lot of indie publishers online and see the amazing work they have been doing and the exposure they deserve. I have a few books from And Other Stories on my radar, as well as Bluemoose books and Dead Ink.

4. Read at least one music related book a month.

I write a lot about music and write academic pieces about pop music so I want to keep up reading books to help me with my research. I was really lucky to receive a lot of music books as a part of an award prize last year so I want to get around to reading them to keep me inspired and to also aid my research.

And that concludes my reading goals for this year! This has been short and sweet but I will be back soon with my favourite books from 2018 because I had an amazing reading year.

My experience studying an English Literature Masters degree.

After my first seminar as a Masters student I knew I was going to write this blog post. There was no way I could predict how this year would turn out and I am glad I have waited until I finished my degree to write this because a lot has happened. This has been the most academically challenging and soul-destroying year of my life. Would I do a full-time Masters degree again? No. Do I regret postgraduate study? Not at all.

I went straight into my MA after finishing my BA for a few reasons: I want to be an academic and doing a Masters degree is the next step towards that career goal, I didn’t want to give up studying just yet, and I really didn’t want to move back to my hometown. I went to a different university for my MA and also moved city. My old university was amazing and in one of my favourite cities but I wanted to try something new so I moved and the MA course at the second university I have attended perfectly matched my research interests.

Before going to university, I did not know anyone who had studied for a Masters degree. Even when I started my Masters degree in September, everything was new to me because I had no one to ask about their postgraduate experiences. This is why I am writing this in the hope I can help someone who was in my position.

I moved from a fairly small university to a university holding over 27,000 and a much larger city in comparison to the one I had spent the last 3 years of my life. I was aware this would be a massive transition so planned to dedicate time during my intro week to get to know the city and the university. It was a bit of a disaster. I was told the wrong times for the city centre tours so missed those, missed out on postgraduate meet-ups and didn’t receive my student card until the Friday before I started my seminars so had no idea how to navigate the libraries because you needed your student card to access them. Although the first week wasn’t smooth sailing, I made friends with the people I was sharing a flat with and we decided to spend time together and discover the city ourselves. I also joined a couple of societies so I could meet new people and just feel a bit more at home in this new environment.

The week after intro week I started my course. Both of my seminars were scheduled for the same day so the rest of my week was free. I thought that was great because it meant I could plan my entire week around these seminars; however if I was to do this again I would definitely not want my seminars on the same day. At Masters level you do not have lectures so you have 90 minute seminars for each module each week. The seminar discussions were a step up from undergraduate level but not as bad as I thought they would be.

I knew the reading load was going to be a huge step up from undergraduate but nothing could prepare me for the amount of reading I had to do each week. Across my two modules, I was easily reading over 1000 pages a week – and that is with me not completing all of the reading provided for us. As an undergraduate, I read every single book I was assigned. At MA level, I had to pick and choose what I had time to read and prioritise my reading. A notable example was the week we read House of Leaves. It was the week of my birthday, I had an assignment due, plus other reading for uni so I did not read this book; however, I watched as many reviews of the book as I could and analysed the secondary reading thoroughly so I could still contribute to the seminar. At first I really beat myself up for not completing the reading but over time I realised my writing was more important and if I can provide relevant theory in a seminar on a book I haven’t read, that is more important than stress reading a book and not understanding it.

I will admit, I cried after I left my postmodernism seminar in semester one. I entered my Masters (and also exited it with) a massive case of impostor’s syndrome. People were using words I didn’t understand, theories I was not familiar with and talking about books I had not read. I transitioned from English literature to American literature during my MA and did not take into account how little I actually know about American history, politics and popular culture. I wished I had done more background research and I convinced myself the university accepted my application by mistake. Thankfully I entered my seminar the next week feeling a lot more confident and my confidence grew as the semester continued.

As there are few contact hours during an English Literature MA, I did not know my classmates and it made me feel uncomfortable not knowing people’s names and instantly I assumed they all thought I was stupid. By the second or third week, I talked to people outside of my seminar and was open about how difficult I was finding this module – and everyone I talked to said the same thing! It turned out all of us were suffering in silence worrying what everyone else thought of us and found the module difficult. We all created a group chat so we could socialise and also talk through our MA worries. I cannot stress the importance of talking to your coursemates because they made my Masters experience so amazing. A lot of people I met in semester one were in my classes in semester two and knowing we all found this experience difficult and we were all here to support each other made the whole experience less isolating.

Although I found semester one challenging, each week became easier as I figured out how to manage reading, researching and writing for my assignments. I found semester two a much more enjoyable experience because I felt more comfortable in my new teaching environment and I could manage the work load as long as I didn’t pressure myself to be perfect. During semester two I took a work placement module and my placement was external. This meant I had less reading each week and I could have a breather from the university environment. Personally I would recommend doing a work placement – especially if it is outside of the university – as it helped me build more connections in the city I live in. Overall, after surviving semester one I felt like I could manage my time better and felt more confident entering semester two.

Although I did find second semester easier to manage, it wasn’t that simple for me. I suffered from stress-induced insomnia during my assignment period and it continued throughout the semester. By Easter break, I was lucky if I was sleeping 2-3 hours a night and I could not function. The final straw was when I almost fainted at my work placement and my work day was cut short. I was humiliated but it was a sign I needed to look after my health before my deadline period. I went to my GP and the university’s wellbeing team and my health declined as the weeks progressed. Before long I was worried about my writing ability and being able to meet my deadlines. The perfectionist in me felt like a failure for getting this ill and I questioned if I was strong enough to complete this degree. I was granted an extension, and then another extension because I couldn’t meet the first one, to complete my assignments. I felt undeserving but the English department were so understanding and supportive. In hindsight, I definitely needed those extensions but at the time I felt like I didn’t deserve them. It was difficult as my insomnia was still alive and well but these extensions granted me sick days so I could recover from burning out.

Receiving my marks for semester two was terrifying because I was so ill but I managed to perform really well which was a huge relief. It was the first time I proved to myself I can still achieve while being ill. During that period I also presented my first conference paper at my university’s postgraduate colloquium. It was a massive achievement but I was terrified because it was more work to add onto my already humongous deadline. I wrote a 4000 word paper in two days less than a week before I presented my paper and felt like a fraud because I knew everyone around me had worked on their papers for much longer than I had. Now, I am super proud of myself for managing to pull off that paper considering the stress I was under and how physically weak I was at that point.

As I had a two week extension, I had no time to have a break before starting my dissertation so had to dive straight into it. I was very fortunate that my idea did not change too much since I first submitted my proposal in February. I was still burnt out and attending wellbeing sessions. I was also lucky enough to present a paper at another conference and conduct an interview. My paper for this conference was part of a draft for my dissertation so it made my life a little bit easier because all of my research was linked. Whilst writing my dissertation I had to also find a job and a house which was incredibly stressful. At first it was okay to juggle but then I got a job. Working full-time (sometimes 45+ hour weeks), doing a full-time degree and trying to find a place to live was horrendous. I had no time to socialise or basically do anything except go to work or write my dissertation so it was incredibly difficult and draining. Again, my mental and physical health suffered massively. I stopped my wellbeing sessions and went to see my GP who was an incredible help. I was honest with my dissertation supervisor and emailed my department and they were all incredible understanding. I received an extension on my dissertation because there was no way I could submit my thesis whilst working and sorting out life admin. I cannot thank my university enough for being so understanding and helpful. I had a week off work the week my dissertation was due so I did not sleep and spent every conscious moment writing and packed up my belongings to move house when I should’ve been sleeping. I handed my dissertation in two weeks ago. I still haven’t recovered because I’ve had loads of massive tasks to deal with but it’s done. I am proud of what I have created but I am disappointed it isn’t as polished as I would like it to be. I am trying to not be too hard on myself because this degree has taking everything out of me and it is amazing I managed to write a 15,000 word piece whilst going through hell.

So that was my Masters experience in a nutshell. I have suffered with mental health problems since I was in college but my health really did suffer during this degree. However, I want to emphasise I made it and I have finished it and I am incredibly proud of myself. I want to stress if you feel like your health is suffering let your university know. I was convinced I wouldn’t be taken seriously but my department were prepared to move mountains for me to make sure I could complete my work and receive the grades I deserved.

Although it was an incredibly challenging experience, it was also a really rewarding one. I have made new friends and I have joined a great network of academics. Attending conferences and using twitter has allowed me to meet academics and feel less like a student and more like a contributor to the world of academia.

I was convinced my writing had somehow gotten worse since undergraduate but that is a lie. I don’t know my dissertation mark (wish me luck, everybody) but my grades have improved so obviously that means my writing has improved and so have my ideas. I have developed more original ideas and I have also grown in confidence in my ability to form academic arguments. I wrote an essay on postmodern cowboys because I like Westworld. I submitted an essay on walking in the city because I read one book on walking and thought it was cool. I wrote a dissertation on music memoirs because I love Patti Smith. During my undergraduate degree, I would not have had the confidence to say these ideas to academics. Some of my ideas are pretty niche (I’m looking at you cowboy essay and my dissertation) but I had to learn to trust myself and that has been rewarding. I entered my degree feeling like I meant nothing to the wider academic community outside of my university but now I feel like I can take the academic world by storm. I still suffer with impostor syndrome and I am still convinced my writing is terrible but I know my ideas are worth listening to.

My pieces of advice for anyone starting a Masters degree: talk to your coursemates and make a group chat so you can support each other, ask questions no matter how silly you feel because I bet you other people are thinking the exact same thing, make an academic twitter account, share ideas, and let your university know how you are feeling and don’t be afraid to say you need support.

Although I spoke at two conferences during my MA, do not pressure yourself to do extra-curricular stuff. Getting through your degree is a massive achievement so do not force yourself to do anything more because you need to dedicate a lot of time and do a lot of work to finish your Masters degree. Put yourself and your health first because your degree can wait.

I hope my experience does not put anyone off studying a Masters. Although it was difficult, I am still so happy I did it and I do not regret doing my MA at all. However, I do not want to sugar-coat the experience. It is so important to remember you are apart of a community and you are not in this alone.

I want to end this post with this piece of knowledge I gained during my studies. Your coursemates are from different universities, had different life experiences and have different interests. People are experts in different things. Just because you are not an expert in the same thing as your coursemates doesn’t make you less valid as an academic. Once I realised all of us are experts in different things, I felt less intimidated and more inspired when attending seminars. If you wrote your undergraduate dissertation on Allen Ginsberg, of course you are going to be an expert but don’t expect your colleagues to be. However if someone is an expert in Marxism it doesn’t mean you are a failure for not knowing much about Marxist theory. Realising the individualism in academia and you are not in competition with the people around you makes studying a much more positive experience.

I am uploading this unedited because I have spent the last year of my life editing and I deserve a break. If you are going into postgraduate study or hoping to in the future, I wish you the best of luck. You will learn a lot about yourself and you are the future of academia.