books · Personal

“I Wander’d Lonely as a Cloud”- Windermere Wanderings and Christmas Cheer

This weekend I visited Lake Windermere- home to the Beatrix Potter museum, The Hole in T’ Wall (frequented by Charles Dickens) and one of the prettiest log benches I’ve seen yet

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“I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er valleys and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils”- William Wordsworth

We came across this bench after taking a random detour when we found we couldn’t walk directly around the edge of the lake- thanks to a caravan park and a building site that likely weren’t there in Wordsworth’s time- and had almost turned back after walking over a mile down a straight road, which I of course had insisted was taking us somewhere (all it had taken us to so far was a less-than-picturesque car dealership ). In typical not all those who wander are lost fashion, it did eventually lead to a field, which could be crossed to reach a leafy path by the very edge of the lake, which gave access to these beautiful spots, so my navigational reputation remains intact!

 

It’s easy to see why so many writers would choose the Lake District as a place to work- it’s difficult to not be inspited by views like this. It is so peaceful and idyllic that it often really is just you and the views when you are walking, and more often than once you’ll wish you could afford to live there permanently.It is full of hidden spots like these to be discovered and to write in peacefully, and although your feet may hurt after an eight mile walk, some mulled wine soon makes you forget all about it.

One of the reasons for our visit to the Lakes at this time of year is that the University Christmas Break is coming up- and so as we don’t get to spend christmas together, we have our own earlier in the month. Two of the presents I recieved were (inevitably) books from our favourite bookshop – Kernaghan Books, in Liverpool- and one is by Charles Dickens, a frequent visitor at The Hole in T’ Wall, one of the many pubs we visited for mulled wine during our trip!

 

Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is one of my favourite books of all time, and so this first edition paperback (from etsy store PrettyHappyVintage) was a brilliant gift for me. This copy of Oliver Twist is beautiful, tiny, emerald green with gold embossed writing.

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I’m already looking forward to visiting again next year!

Continue reading ““I Wander’d Lonely as a Cloud”- Windermere Wanderings and Christmas Cheer”

books · graphic novels · Uncategorized

“I Guess My Soul is in a Cat”- Lost at Sea

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Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Lost at Sea is about Riley, a girl who believes a cat has stolen her soul. Surprisingly, apart from this, Riley is a very relatable character- a teenage girl who hasn’t quite figured things out yet, and doesn’t know if she ever will. She worries she is too tall, and too weird, and can’t establish friendships properly, and she doesn’t realize that everyone else is just as “fucked up” as she is. The story feels real to the degree it doesn’t even seem particularly odd when her travelling companions all agree to go out in the early morning to search for the cat that has Riley’s soul without questioning it- it seems like the kind of thing any of us would do.

It’s the first graphic novel I’ve ever read and though I have to admit I’d never even thought about reading one, I really enjoyed it. It was quicker to read and undeniably prettier than looking at blocks of text- it’s been a long time since I’ve actually seen the characters, rather than just visualising them. This is definitely worth the read whether you’re into graphic novels or not, and might just get you thinking about life a little differently.

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Novels · poverty

“Genuinely Down and Out”- The Richness of Poverty in Literature

“If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, “I’m a free man in here”- he tapped his forehead -“and you’re alright.”

Poverty in literature is the opposite of poverty in real life. It’s poverty in a parallel universe, where the poor aren’t walked past on street corners, where their poverty is what makes their characters endearing. Being poor is almost always an indication of a better class of character- it makes for richer personalities and experiences.

Literature is saturated with examples of this- in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, when Harry tells Draco he “can tell the wrong sort for himself”, in the characters of Oliver, Fagan and the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist, in Charlie Bucket and his grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Poverty does not necessitate the evilness that real life statistics suggest it generates- here is a place where ‘broken window theory’ doesn’t apply, where people root for them rather than refuse them opportunities and block them at every corner. No one says it’s their own fault- everybody sympthasizes, and everybody loves them.

It is, of course, a romanticized version of poverty- though poverty is perhaps one of the least ‘romantic’ subjects that one can think of. However it seems that the romantic idea of it is that it suggests the possibility of being poor and not being ‘lesser’ for it. That being poor is not even close to the worst thing that a person might be, because, in truth, it isn’t, though many think it is. Down and Out in Paris and London is very effective in conveying this through actual experience.

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“It is a feeling of relief, almost pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs- and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”

This so perfectly illustrates that what people believe it is impossible to cope with is, in fact, possible. That humans, as a whole, are incredibly resilient and can survive in the worst situations. It also illustrates a negative thing about humans- in that we would be relieved to know we had reached the dogs, because we would no longer be concerned about our status and our roles in the world. That being “down and out” could actually be beneficial to some peoples character- to have nothing is not necessarily to literally have nothing- there is something to be gained from the experience. Traits that the rich cannot possess because their money and privilege bars them from such experience, but that come readily to the poor because their lack of money demands the experience. The poor may not be financially rich, but this gives them something the rich can never posses, because it is an experience that quite literally cannot be bought.

education · plays

“Sheer, Calculated Silliness” – The Lessons of The History Boys

Irwin’s comment that he doesn’t “think there is time” for Hector’s kind of teaching anymore is a sad one – and applies well outside of the context of Alan Bennet’s The History Boys. Whilst the play does pit Irwin and Hector’s teaching methods against each other :

Dakin- We don’t know who we are sir. Your class or Mr Irwin’s.

Irwin- Does it matter?

Timms- Oh yes, sir. It depends if you want us to be thoughtful, or smart.

It never seeks to suggest that “smart” is superior to “thoughtful” or vice versa, nor that Irwin’s teaching methods hold any more merit than Hector’s. As such neither are defined as being either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways of teaching- neither is better or worse than the other- there is a feeling of it being “unquantifiable”, the very phrase used by the Headmaster to describe Hector’s results. That judgement highlights everything that is wrong with the education system today. There is no general consensus on ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake’, but there is one on knowledge for league table results sake.

You learn in Irwin’s method- to pass the exam and get the results. There are now very few Hectors. There is no “sheer calculated silliness” -there is no antidote. The system doesn’t want to produce kids that know all the words to When I’m Cleaning Windows –  they would prefer those “who, in later life, had a deep love of literature, or who would talk in middle age of the lure of language and their love of words. Words said in that reverential way that is somehow Welsh”.


Why do we need Hector’s way of teaching? Because without it, the whole educational proces can become disheartening. If you’ve ever felt that education is not the way it appears in literature, that is because it isn’t. Our Lupins have been replaced with Snapes- Our Hectors by Irwins. The regurgitation of facts and statistics holds more merit than the gobbets you can remember, the poems and the stories you have learned by heart, not just because you had to but because you wanted to.

Sometimes, we stumble across that one class where all this is possible. A small number of students in a room crammed with books, with old film posters plastering the walls. Where the set text is abandoned within ten minutes in favour of a discussion about a dream someone had last night- a class where you forget you’re learning. “Love apart, it is the only education worth having”. For those of us who find out Hector, the answer to “What has Gracie Fields got to do with anything?” is this- probably a lot more than we first thought.

books · Personal

“Never Judge a Book by its Cover”- The Rise of the Mystery Book

All too often in a bookshop, I find it impossible to pick a book. There’s so many to choose from that if you haven’t gone in to the shop with a particular book in mind, it’s almost impossible to make only one choice. Inevitably, you will choose based on a combination of the cover, and/or the blurb, because it is near impossible to not do so. The concept of the mystery book removes the factor of the cover from the decision making process, and in doing so makes it surprisingly easier.

A few months ago I saw a post on instagram of a bookshop filled entirely with books wrapped in brown paper packages, with only descriptions of the content on the outside. I thought it was a good idea, but it seemed like a one-off sort of thing- it was creative and it was interesting, but didn’t appear as if it would be widely applied. To my surprise, while wandering around a station market, I found a stall named Myriad Market selling just that:

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As soon as I saw one I knew I’d have to get one- and for only £2 picked up this novel, which had an even more limited synopsis on the package than those I had originally seen. I knew just based on this that I would not have read the book before, and decided it was time to try something new. Inside was Vince Flynn’s Consent to Kill, which I now plan to read over the summer holidays:

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In addition to the single novel packages (pre-loved for £2 and new for £3) you could also purchase a mystery box, which contained two books, two tea bags, and a book mark, normally priced at around £7, although in this case the box was on sale for only £6:

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I was happily surprised with both purchases, and felt the concept worked very well- it is not until you only have a small blurb to look at that you realise how much you did once rely upon the cover to help you choose a book, or how unnecessary one really is to that decision.

Nigerian Fiction · Novels

From Lagos with Love- Americanah’s Ifem and Obinze

The love between Ifemelu and Obinze in Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s novel, Americanah, is the kind of love that everyone wishes they had. It breaks through the stereotypes that the romances of your youth are not built to last, and beyond that, through the hardships adult relationships face- distance, money, education, and status. Ifem and Obinze, in their respective journeys, beat the odds and prove that true love does exist- but it is not this that makes their love story so endearing.

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What Adichie creates in her recounting of the pair’s early relationship is a pure relationship, full of love and free from responsibility and hardship. This is something many can relate to- the kind of relationship you might have before you have a career, bills to pay, or a family. Where the only thing that is important in that moment is that you love each other and nothing and nobody else seems to matter. Ifem demonstrates that through her nickname for Obinze:

“My eyes were open but I did not see the ceiling. This never happened before.” Other girls would pretend they’d never let another boy touch them, but not her, never her. There was a vivid honesty about her. She began to call what they did together ceiling, their warm entanglements on his bed when his mother was out, wearing only underwear, touching and kissing and sucking, hips moving in simulation. I’m longing for ceiling, she once wrote in the back of his geography notebook, and for a long time afterwards he could not look at that notebook without a gathering frisson, a sense of secret excitement. In university, when they finally stopped simulating, she began to call him Ceiling, in a playful way, in a suggestive way- but when they fought or she retreated into moodiness, she called him Obinze.

This passage has stuck with me ever since I first read the novel- it is obvious only two chapters into the book (where this excerpt appears) that what Ifemulu and Obinze have is true love. This is the kind of sentiment that I wish I was able to express as well as Adichie allows Ifemelu to- it is something that many will feel and yet at the same time be unable to articulate to their partners in such a way. Perhaps if we could all, or had all told our Ceiling that, then things would somehow work out in the way that their relationship did- maybe we could defy the odds, defy what our parents say and what society says, and just be happy.