My Top 5 Books of 2016.

If you asked me at the beginning of the year what my 10 favourite books are, I could only rank 3 in definite order (for the record they are: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Brighton Rock, and Submarine). Any book after third place was just randomly placed on the list with little thought put into why it was in said place. This year I have read several books that have really struck a chord with me and now hold firm positions in my top 10 list. In this post I have selected five highlights of 2016.

1. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov.

 

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This is my book of the year and has knocked Brighton Rock from second place (sorry, Graham Greene). It would probably make more sense to put this at the bottom of the list and build up anticipation but I didn’t do that because I did not plan this at all.

The Master and Margarita is set in Soviet Moscow, where God is not present but the Devil very much walks the streets. Without saying too much, Ivan Ponyryov (Bezdomny) is an aspiring poet and witnesses a horrific event which leads him to meet the Master. Bezdomny hears the Master’s story of his interactions with the devil and his relationship with Margarita.

The novel is full of magic and is completely surreal. At times I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was actually happening to the characters or an illusion. As there are a couple of different story lines happening at once, it does take a couple of chapters to get used to the changing scenes and characters but it makes perfect sense when you can see the connections between plots. It is a piece of magic realism, to an extent, and that made it memorable. The witches, the religious imagery, the intertwining of narratives – I was immersed in this world. I think this is a book everyone should read.

2. Perfume – Patrick Süskind.20161223_135641

After finishing this novel I had to put it down and contemplate what on earth I had just read. This book is so ridiculously twisted and messed up and weird. The last chapter is so strange but amazing.

Set in eighteenth-century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with the exceptional sense of smell. He becomes a perfumer and is on the search for the perfect scent. On his quest for the ultimate perfume, Grenouille goes on a murder spree. The narrative is poetic and absolutely beautiful.

I would recommend not eating when reading this, because it did make me feel slightly sick, but it is brilliant.

3. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy.

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Okay, so when I was 17 I remember saying I would never read War & Peace. After watching the most recent BBC series of War & Peace I was disappointed that I had not read it sooner. I’ve always known a very basic outline of the plot, but I didn’t realise how interesting it was. After watching the series I instantly bought the book.
I think I have read it at the right time with the series still fresh in my memory because it has made it easier for me to visualise characters. I love Pierre with all my heart and the characters are so complex and gripping. They take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions as you follow their stories through the years. Watching Natasha grow from a 13 year old girl to a young woman makes you feel like a proud mother.
What put me off this book before (besides the size of it) was the great sections of war narrative but I actually quite enjoyed those parts.
The ending was a little bit off. I have heard how people have said ignore the epilogue. I liked part one of the epilogue because it rounded everything off but part two took a philosophical turn as Tolstoy writes critically about history and historical events. Although I understand why he wrote it, I think it would’ve been better as a sort of afterword or appendix separate to the epilogue.
Anyway, I’m glad I read it. Everyone should read it. If you enjoyed an adaptation, read it! You will love the book!

4. A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James.

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I did not want this book to end. In my head this was like a multi-million dollar, decade long, award winning HBO show which would bring every one together to discuss. It is amazing.

Taking place over several decades, James takes us from the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976 to New York in the 1980s to Jamaica in the 1990s. Before the novel begins, like War and Peace, there is a character list and throughout the novel different narrative voices interweave with each other to create a bigger picture. The narrative was haunting and I came away from this novel learning something new. I did not know much about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley or the politics of Jamaica but I couldn’t help but research alongside reading the book and wanting to know more.

Marlon James definitely deserved the Man Booker Prize for this because this novel is a masterpiece. I know this is quite a big statement to make, but I do think this is one of the greatest novels of the twenty-first century so far.

5. Moby Dick – Herman Melville.

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Who knew whales could be so interesting? Like War and Peace, I thought I would never read Moby Dick. My friend Rachel read this book and absolutely loved it so I thought I would give it a try and it was a roller coaster ride. Ishmael’s narrative voice is really engaging and I now want to live a life at sea.

Melville’s writing is an absolute work of art. The plot is incredible and I loved the chapters on whales in art and literature. I was originally cautious of reading Moby Dick because I thought it would be boring but nope I’m invested. It’s a book I want to read again and again.

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Other books I loved this year were: Just Kids by Patti Smith, The Outsider by Albert Camus, Stoner by John Williams, and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, to name a few more. I hope I find even more amazing books to read in 2017!

In 2017 I want to read all my unread books on my bookshelf. Excluding the books for my university modules, I have 23 books to read which I think I can do. I’ve owned I, Claudius and Howards End for too long and not read them it’s embarrassing.

The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics.

When is the body no longer human, but a machine? The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds exhibited artist works of prosthetics from the nineteenth-century to present-day.henry-moore

My favourite piece in the exhibition is Yael Bartana’s ‘Degenerate Art Lives’ (2010). Bartana’s short film is incredibly unnerving and thought-provoking. The grotesque, disturbing illustrations of soldiers slowly creeping along the screen elongates the feeling of time spent watching the animation. Upon inspection the soldiers look as though they are pieced together like a mosaic. As their limbs move, a mechanical sound can be heard with each movement. Complemented by the sound of the film reel behind the audience, the machine imagery intensifies. The same four characters are replicated hundreds of times and, therefore, lose any form of identity they could possess. This was the last piece I saw in the gallery and I think the build-up of the other pieces made ‘Degenerate Art Lives’ even more powerful. Viewing Horace Nicholls’ photography and Stuart Brisley’s ‘Louise Bourgeois’ Leg’ first built up my understanding of prosthetic work as an art work and Bartana’s work applied what I gained from the previous art pieces I viewed.

The collision between art and science creates an unsettling viewing and has left me deep in thought long after my visit to the institute. Prosthetic work serves as a reminder of World War One and experimentation in a post-Frankenstein world. It is not just art or science, it is history. Prosthetics not only allow us to be more than human, but to feel human again.

The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics was on until 23rd October 2016 at Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

It’s only rock ‘n’ roll (and feminism).

Rock ‘n’ roll and feminism make a beautiful combination. During the 2010’s there has been a rise of the female rock memoir. A lot of the voices being heard are from the latter half of the twentieth-century. As we have praised male musicians for opening up about their careers, it is time to listen to the women of rock and the powerful stories they have to tell the world. I have selected three of my favourite female rock memoirs to inspire you to pick one up.

1. Just Kids – Patti Smith.

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Smith’s memoir is a coming-of-age story showing how difficult it is to make a living as an artist. Just Kids is Smith’s recollection of her time with Robert Mapplethorpe in 1970s New York. Photographs chosen by Patti Smith decorate the entire book, which transports the reader to the Chelsea Hotel and the bohemian lifestyle which came with it.

The thing I love about Just Kids is it’s a social commentary of the era, to an extent. Comparing it to what Andy Warhol writes in Popism and America, Smith’s account of Greenwich Village is life is much grittier and certainly a product of a Warhol world. A passage I find particularly interesting is when she cuts her hair and is asked if she is androgynous. The mid-twentieth -century was a time to explore sexuality and to break down gender binaries. Smith captures this shift in opinions perfectly through this book.

2. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl – Carrie Brownstein.

If you are in your teens or in your twenties, read this now. I read this when it was released last year and it perfectly summed up how I have felt for the last eight years of my life.

In Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein discusses: anxiety, depression, not feeling like you belong and the rollercoaster ride of doing something you love. Even if you are not familiar with Brownstein’s band, Sleater-Kinney, or the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90’s, it is still a story of feminism in a male-dominated environment which is empowering to read. Although there are some issues with punk/post-punk music and diversity, which I would love to talk about in a separate post in the future, it is still an educational read on a major movement in America.

I love Carrie Brownstein, okay?

3. Girl in a Band – Kim Gordon.

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The name of this memoir perfectly sums up what it is like to be a female rock musician. It is so easy for critics to dismiss a woman’s work to just being ‘the girl’ in a band made up predominantly of males. Why should female musicians receive different questions to male musicians? Why ask what it’s like to be a mother in rock? Why is that the only thing that matters?

I did not know that much about Kim Gordon before reading Girl in a Band. I was a casual listener of Sonic Youth but I didn’t know much about them.

Towards the end of the memoir there is a chapter commenting on music performance and the relationship between audience and band in a pre-internet world. This was definitely the highlight of the book and raised some interesting ideas about the musician as an artist in more aspects than just performing songs.

However I found some aspects of this memoir slightly problematic. There was a lot of name-dropping of other musicians which I found uncomfortable to read. That is the only problem I had with this memoir. If Kim didn’t drag some people in her book, I would appreciate it more.

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There are more female music memoirs out there, but the three listed above are personal favourites of mine. Only last year I started reading female rock memoirs and I am confident many more will appear on my book shelves in the future.

The Washington Post published an article in 2015 title’Rise of the female rock memoir and stated,”[t]here is […] generally a different way that women rockers tell stories — with more humility and vulnerability than their male counterparts”. That vulnerability is what makes these books so moving.

To read The Washington Post article in full, follow this link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/rise-of-the-female-rock-memoir/2015/09/04/64db029e-5097-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html

 

 

 

Your existential summer mixtape.

What is a summer holiday without an existential crisis? All this time off certainly gives you time to reflect on what you are doing with your life.

Here’s your existential summer soundtrack you didn’t need:

  1. Spring / Sun / Winter / Dread – Everything Everything.

This song is super catchy and has most of the characteristics you want from a summer song: repetitive, sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs lyrics, poppy drum beat, and a surreal music video. You will catch yourself screaming “I don’t want to get older” along with the band whilst at a party at 2am and freaking out because you are, inevitably, getting older.

2. The Bourne Identity – The Last Shadow Puppets.

This is the bonus track on Everything You’ve Come to Expect and is basically an existential crisis bottled into 3 minutes and 5 seconds. Again, the upbeat aura released from the song, the tambourine in the background,you cannot help but think you are watching the end credits of a rom-com where everything has figured itself out. However if you listen closely to the lyrics, such as,  “I feel like the sequel you want to see but you were kinda hoping they would never make”, you cannot help but relate. Turner’s moments of self-doubt are very human and remind you of your own struggle with identity.

3. Sleep Forever – Black Honey.

Summer is for sleeping. You spend your waking hours wanting to sleep. This song isn’t an ode to sleep, but it does remind me how I want to sleep forever. Sleep is great.

4. Silent Movie Susie – The Big Moon.

Summer is in the song so it qualifies for a summer mixtape. The Big Moon are my favourite new band. Their songs are very tongue-in-cheek and their music videos are fun. Silent Movie Susie about a girl named Susie hopefully coming back for the summer. I cannot recommend this band enough.

5. Celestine – Spector.

Celestine is another reflective track. The guitar throughout, but particularly in the intro to the song, has an 80’s pop vibe which screams Summer.

6. Because the Night – Patti Smith.

This one is a personal one. I’m doing my dissertation on Patti Smith’s poetry (along with other poets) so naturally I am listening to her music. Because the Night is a song you have to scream and dance around your bedroom to because it is so catchy and I do not understand how you cannot dramatically sing to this. However, this song has a place on the playlist because it reminds me of the research I am currently not doing…

7. Glass in the Park – Alex Turner.

I know Alex Turner has already appeared on this playlist, but there’s always time for the Submarine soundtrack. In the film, Lloyd Tate puts this on side A of the mixtape, titled “Celebratory”, to capture the feeling of new, young love. Turner’s melancholic vocals contrast that feeling of innocent love and leave you feeling like there’s something missing from that strong feeling. When listening to Glass in the Park it reminds me of unrequited love, even if that love is a fictional character named Oliver Tate.

8. Feels Like We Only Go Backwards – Tame Impala.

If you haven’t watched the music video to this, go and do it now. It is absolutely mesmerising so you cannot help but self-reflect for 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

9. Mountain at My Gates – Foals.

Undeniably my favourite song from 2015. Foals are amazing. The song is amazing. The music video is incredible. Use the mountains as a terrifying metaphor for the things in life you are avoiding and this song will be your background music when tackling those tasks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. No Hope – The Vaccines.

The entire of Come of Age is a reflection on the transition between teenage life and adult life. No Hope is the anthem for twenty-somethings who have just finished their degree, or about to finish their degree, and now are left with the scary question – now what?

And there you go. I hope you enjoy this playlist!

The fear of falling out of love with reading.

Before I started my degree in English Literature I thought it was not a thing to fall out of love with reading. All of my life I have loved reading. I have always had the motivation to read.

I am lacking the motivation to read.

I’ve read 28 books since handing in my last assignment in May. One of those books was War and Peace. I think I have exhausted myself with the amount of reading I have done. I have my reading list for first semester of third year (scary, I know) and I am excited to read all of the books but I’m struggling to find the motivation to read and analyse them.

Maybe I am struggling to read because I am intimidated by the amount I want to read before September. Maybe I read too much before my reading list was released so now I am tired. Maybe it was a dumb idea to read a 1200 pages book before the 12+ books I need to read for my degree. Maybe I am not giving myself any free time from working so reading now also seems like work.

I wouldn’t say I am falling out of love with reading; I am just tired. There’s books on my bookshelf I am desperate to read but I am not letting myself because I have to prioritise what I read. Seeing my pleasure reads as a reward for finishing my uni books is possibly putting too much pressure on trying to get through them.

How do you recover from a reading slump?

How can you prevent reading feeling like work?

How do you improve motivation levels?

A beginner’s guide to work experience.

This post is aimed at people who are just about to go into the world of work and are looking for work experience to put on UCAs forms. I’ve volunteered and worked, alongside my studies, since leaving secondary school when I was 16 years old. During those 4 years I have learnt a lot about how to get work experience and how to improve my job prospects. Now I’m writing it down here to hopefully help and inspire some young people on where to start with job hunting.

1. Create a CV.

A great place to start is with a CV. Creating the physical document will help you see where the gaps in your knowledge of work are.

There are plenty of CV templates online to download which can help structure your CV and make it stand out.

Start with your contact details. Underneath that section should be your education history, then your work experience, achievements,skills, hobbies, and references. Presumably you have been in education most of your life so as that is you main achievement, that goes before you employment history. Your referee will be your tutor at school, or another teacher who knows you quite well. Alternatively, just write ‘references available upon request’.

It is important to write anything that is true and makes you look good. You like badminton? Write that down in your hobbies section! If you are struggling to add things to your hobbies sections, join an after school club or start a blog or scrapbook.

2. Not all job vacancies are advertised.

Walking around your local town centre and handing out CVs to shops is a good way to get potential employers to notice you. However, it is important to know not all jobs are advertised. Let me elaborate…

3. If you are trying to get work experience for a future career, search for the job you want.

I wanted some experience working in museums so I tried to find vacancies. When I was searching I couldn’t find any jobs going so I emailed museums instead.

Emailing companies with your CV and politely asking if they have any space for you to volunteer or do a work placement is a good way to search for work experience.

I got the placement because I sent an email. The worst that can happen is that they are not accepting job applications at the minute, or they could not reply altogether. It’s not the end of the world.

4. Volunteer.

When I was 16 I found it hard to get a paying job. In fact, I was 19 when I finally got a paying job. Up until that moment, and still now, I would volunteer.

Charity shops and libraries rely on volunteers so asking them if they have any vacancies is a good way to fill up your CV and to learn vital skills needed for working.

If you are writing a personal statement for university, it looks great when you say you spend your free time volunteering.

5. One week of work experience is still work experience.

So you emailed your CV to a company and they let you volunteer there. However they only offered you a week.

A week is still work experience. Put that placement on your CV. You do not have to write on your CV that is was only a week. Emphasise the skills you learnt during your time there and your CV will look amazing.

 

 

 

From the archive: My experience volunteering at a festival.

First published: 30/07/2013

I am slightly off the literature topic, but I feel as though this is important. This year has been the first year I have volunteered at a music festival and I want to document my experience and share it with you all.

For years I have been a music lover and attended local festivals and gigs dreaming of what it would be like to be caught up in the action. Two years ago, I decided I will volunteer at a festival when I was old enough with a friend and enjoy the privilege of a free festival ticket. As part of my current job, I received the opportunity to help out at a festival my work run and it was a great experience.

The days never had a dull moment as I did a variety of jobs ranging from the box office to glass collecting, photocopying to entertaining people and so much more. It was amazing viewing a festival from a different perspective and gaining lots of experience.

On the final night, I was sat on a hill watching the headline act and reviewed my experience. I’ve accomplished something I dreamed of doing and I had so much fun doing it. My advice to anyone who enjoys listening to music or the atmosphere of a festival is volunteer. It is an experience I will never regret and will always remember and I think it is a great opportunity for anyone who can get it.