Should we swallow all literature?

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Unless you read awful books, then you can alternatively die of boredom quite a few times as well…

Short answer: No.

Now that I have weeded out all the non-commited readers (or those with a stereotypically 21st century attention span), we can begin. There is talk of reading everything you come across, as it’ll make you more appreciative of the better crafted books and if you’re a writer, enhance your skills. You can envision it now; a class of nervous looking graduates, ink pens resting atop leather-bound notebooks, almost crushed by the weight of the student loan that uneasily allowed them to attend this class. “Read” rasped the teacher, her hair like tendrils twisting down her back. “Read everything, let the words encompass your soul and sift through the goodness…” she jutted out her chin, dramatically clawing of the air in front of her bookcase.

No thank you. Although it was meant to be a demonstrative metaphor, I suspect that I might have just exposed to some rather poor literature right there. Swiftly moving on, it seems strange that people should advocate for wasting their time. Thanks to the internet, we seem to be procrastinating unwittingly most of the day anyway, so adding to this intentionally is going to help nobody. I suppose the argument is that it’s going to help with technique, that once your retinas have been scarred by such a disgusting use of a semi-colon you’ll never dream of copying it in your own work.

However I don’t exactly need to read other’s work to experience poor writing. The first draft of any novel I write (publishers- I know this is a long shot- but I’ve got a manuscript for one I’ve recently composed and if you email me I can always send it over) is going to be shocking. Who has a first draft that isn’t? (That front-row student puts her hand up, 15 different highlighters lined up on her desk and already 3 supernovas to her name; she had found them causally doing astronomy before school this morning.) Alright, apart from her. Regardless of the number mistakes I’ve made, I’m still going to do a second draft. And a third. And a fourth. (Yes, all publishers out there, I am thorough.) I’m going to inevitably correct my grammatical errors if my laptop doesn’t do it for me so I don’t need to suffer anybody else’s. Think of it this way- compared to the classic cult film Mean Girls if I may. Reading someone else’s poorly written book doesn’t make mine any better, just as making Regina gain weight didn’t make the girls any skinnier.

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I’m guessing it’s Wednesday too…

It just gave Lindsay Lohan the high school epiphany that trying to sabotage other people would not make her a more welcoming person, whilst it’ll give you the epiphany- as your thoughts wander again- that actually you still have 6 different preps to do, it’s nearly 1AM and you’d probably be better off watching Narcos with your roommate in Spanish (even though you can’t speak it) instead of forcing your writing synapses to cry.

“But how will I know if I like it?” Obviously, if you haven’t started reading it, you won’t. Yet I think sometimes skirting the blurb is enough- and here’s why: I, with the extreme caution of one handling an unsanitary item (even though I was looking at images online,) read the back of Fifty Shades of Grey. Whilst I’m not going to plague my blog with an image of the book, needless to say, you can get a sufficient idea of the type of story it is simply by the type of audience they’re trying to appeal to. If you don’t see yourself as the type of half-ravaged person who is going to be lured into buying some ink on paper simply because the blurb used copious amounts of alliteration and the rule of three, then don’t be. It’s as simple as that.

Also, I find that I read some rather displeasing items enough as it is, without even trying to go out of my way. I was going to write a book review of What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murkami, true to Ink Cloud form, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Thanks to the wildly successful poll I ran a few weeks ago, I was recommended to tone down the reviews a bit and ramp up the opinion pieces, so here we are. Anyway; it was such a self-indulgent book, simply going on about how the author had building work done to house in Boston and about how he had a connection with Olympic athletes because he saw them on his daily morning run. I know that his running habits are the basic premise of this book, but I was hoping for something more generalised, like how Japanese culture has ingrained running into it, but on the contrary it simply included regurgitations of articles written for running magazines. If I wanted them, I’d look in the archives! It was simply a long, dull (I would say vomit, but that would be unfair) mass of words which have struck precisely zero sympathetic chords in me. Which is strange, because I’m a runner. And Murakami is one of the greatest writers of the 21st century (according to other people).

Unlike you, however, I had to stick it out, because unlike you (well, who knows, maybe I’m wrong), I have a blog where I write about books. That means reading the entirety of it before I can ‘write it off’. I’m not completely cruel. I will give the book a chance to redeem itself after a shoddy start before eloquently reminding the world how awful it is. So, reader, consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to finish terrible books and suffer through to the end. Why? Because I do all the hard work for you.

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Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit- Jeanette Winterson

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Winterson based this novel on her own childhood

The bones of this book are made from the Bible. Yet it is also constructed from the joyous shredding of beliefs, when Jeanette starts to question her religious upbringing by her Pentecostal parents.

Religion? You might say. Religion; today the cause of wars, shootings and fear. Religion; a burden on society that is as addictive as it is dangerous. Why would I want to read about something like this? I’ve enough of it in the skirting the tabloids next to gruesome photojournalism. Why should you read this? Because it’s hilarious. It opens with the frank lines; “Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn’t matter what.” There is an honesty behind these words, a vivid way that the characters are illustrated that it seems like the story can be nothing but genuine. It follows Jeanette’s childhood, where her predominant influences were her strict (adopted) mother, driving her to be a missionary and the local church community. Initially homeschooled, legal obligations forced her to school;

‘”Why do you want me to go?’ I asked her the night before. “Because if you don’t go I will go to prison” … “But if you go to prison you’ll get out again. St Paul was always going to prison.”      “I know that” (she cut the bread firmly, so that only the tiniest squirt of potted beef oozed out) … “but the neighbours don’t. Eat this and be quiet.”‘

Jeanette struggled with fitting in with her decidedly non-Christian classmates, as well as  with desire, when she falls in love with one of the girls at the Church. At sixteen, she is forced to decide between religion and love, family or girlfriend.  And the question that rages in Jeanette’s mind is; why can’t I have both? 

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Personally, I do think that there is a slight inequality in the amount of male and female characters, but given that this is a book about matriarchy in society and lesbian love, there isn’t much room for omnipresent male characters…. maybe not such an appalling thing, actually. (It’s worth mentioning that there are a few but they’re more secondary/ tertiary characters, hence the visibility of this ‘inequality’.) It doesn’t detract from the quality of the plot though, even if the storyline is more thought-provoking pace than action packed.

One issue, however, was the slight irrelevance of the myth theme of Percival which was introduced; it did offer variation from the wintry grey industrial scene, and it was an unusual way to represent Jeanette’s story (I presume that’s what it was), however it did appear to be part of the novel as a mystical exciting feature, rather than something which was actively contributing to the story.

The wonderful thing about this was observing the transformation of Jeanette, and the way her comically awkward tone dominated her perspective of childhood. Although it’s set in the drab Midlands, this novel is a sparkling example of fiction at its finest. Like all novels, there’s an interesting reflection of author in it, too: the fact that the protagonist has the same name is the author is not the only similarity- the novel is actually based on Winston’s own upbringing, where she explores her childhood by turning herself into a fictional character.

Anyway, generally a great 20th century novel that is worth the title of a classic. If you’re a literature fan, then you should have read this by now (!), so I recommend this specifically to teenagers, mainly because the book discusses the pressures of conformity. A pressure they are no doubt familiar with, so reading this might just be an eye-opener on the topic.

5 Signs You’re a Reader

We all know that reading is a dangerous sport and yet many of us persist, despite the very obvious perils. If you are, however, unfamiliar with the hazards, then here they are.

1. You will buy books instead of food. Or clothes, theatre tickets, houses…

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No. Not the important ones like I will become a fountain of gratitude,  meditate everyday and recycle everything. You will slowly start to cut back to afford books, (given that merely borrowing one is a terrible idea) and it not only becomes a question of skimming the grocery shelves for the lowest prices so that you bound over to the book section and splurge (splurge? This is legitimate spending going on here) but also, start asking questions like: do I really need a new jumper? It may have a massive hole in the middle, but £30 could buy me a wonderful new hardback, and a cheeky paperback too if I’m thrifty. Again, it’s won’t really be a choice you’re making, but a predestined path you’re following.

2. You hoard.

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It’s true. After all, once you’d started that Harry Potter series, there was no way that the subsequent 6 other books wouldn’t wriggle their way into your bookshelves too, right? It starts off alright, with the books stacked neatly in the cupboards, and you tell yourself that at the end off every month you will clear them out, but soon you have to face the reality. How could you ever throw something like A Bear Called Paddington away? It squints at you, the corner of the front page a bit jammy from when your 7-year-old self was munching breakfast and reading. Then you remember that happened on holiday in Cornwall, oh memories of Cornwall, and then you realise that to throw away Paddington would practically be blasphemy, because, well, it’s been with you for so long, and what if you might, maybe read it again?

3. You have no social life.

Do I want to go out to a long stuffy dinner to face a mangled crustacean or stay at home with a book and enough ice cream (in my case, granola and yoghurt) to last? It’s a quite simple answer, actually. Soon, you find that you become much better friends with fictional characters than real people. It’s sad, but true- anyway no one has a sense of humour quite like Death from the Discworld series, so why bother looking any further? And you won’t really be in your living room, will you?

(“So what did you get up to on Friday night?” *Looks around, innocently* “Me? I was trekking in the Amazon and got attacked by a crocodile” *Cue other person slowly shuffling away*)

Well, at least books can’t reject you, and to say the least, going out for dinners might become rarity because…

4.You’re TBR is normally waaaaay to long (and an existential crisis ensues).

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You read. Then you begin to read more, start searching novels online and begin chatting to friends (those you have left) not about the weather, (which may be just as well) but this year’s Man Booker shortlist. Stop, before it gets out of hand. But you can’t. Book research is addictive, (as is endlessly perusing the shelves of bookshops when you’ve already bought a book, but are wallowing in the excitement of potentially diving into the tombs around you). Yet, like everything, there becomes a limit and soon it seems perhaps you can’t quite read all 207 books on your TBR that’s you’ve collected that year in the 14 days preceding your TBR deadline. You made the deadline to gently push you in the right direction and pressure you to find enough time to read. Trust me, this tactic becomes stressful, and you start to flail and wonder how, let alone on a time limit, but ordinarily you’re going to finish them all. There’s no consolidation either, no gentle hand willing you to step back, because you have actually wanted to read all them since, forever it seems… and ditching that list would be wasted hours.

5. You show your love for books in weird and strange ways.

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A conversation of praise isn’t enough, oh no. Cue the Pinterest accounts, the Facebook group chats dedicated to books series (I’ve known it happen, that’s all I’m saying) drawing endless pictures of your favourite scenes in the books, and even tattoos.

Reading is a commitment, my friend. Look where we are now; I find myself writing about books in my free time, when I could be doing actual useful stuff, and you are reading this (which I very much appreciate, I have to say). But seriously, people become seriously attached to novels.

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For example, don’t even try to argue against Tris on a forum, unless you want to end up hunted out like a Divergent yourself. Also, you might start finding yourself dressing like the characters and even wearing the same type of clothes. I know. (Having said that, Katniss braids are AWESOME so why wouldn’t you want one? I should have stopped trying to defend myself by now to be honest.) And you know all those fancy book quotes that we see plastering library /bedroom walls / phone cases. Someone had to make them, and normally they were  done by the fanatics themselves.

So you’ve been warned. These are the perils of reading. (Happy April Fools!) Have you personally suffered from any of these traits, or seen something entirely different spring up as a result? Do let me know and have a great (hopefully prank free) day!

Review: A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington

23rd of April 2017. A massive day for some, it’s when this year’s London Marathon will be taking place, and amongst the tens of thousands, Chrissie Wellington will be competing. She may be one anonymous figure to you, but her fastest marathon time is 2:44:35, which is impressive enough. Especially as that was run immediately after a 3.8km swim and 180.2km bike. You may not have heard of her, but you should have, considering that Wellington is a 4x Ironman world champion and is regarded as one of the best female triathletes in history.

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Reading her autobiography, A Life Without Limits, was inspiring because it shows how determination can almost force results into existence. Wellington won her first world title only 9 months after leaving her day job, and a highly prestigious one at that, as a civil servant in Whitehall. She became a professional athlete at the age of 30, and this is incredible not only because it defies the idea that you have to be committed to a single discipline from a young age, but because in reality Wellington had no real background in sport either. This is one of the many reasons that I’ve come to respect Wellington; she had the security of an established, well paying job, yet she took a risk. She became an athlete and entered a brutal, competitive world in which she was chronically unfamiliar. But she prospered.

If you’re looking for any reason to read this book, it’s this: it explains the history of an athlete like no other, and not just an athlete, but a genuinely compassionate and interesting person. Wellington’s career includes Nepal working on aid, as well as triathlon, making it fascinating to read if you’re looking for an insight on their rural culture, or even as a civil servant.

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This is a book about triathlon, true. Yet it’s also about so much more; about aspects of her career that not only prevent monotony from the reader’s point of view, but also show that the physical attributes of someone can be just the beginning of someone’s personality, not their defining feature. In a book I’ve reviewed previously, Swim Bike Run by the Brownlees, featured there was basically just a skimmed version of their childhood, training sessions and races. A Life Without Limits, on the other hand, is much more varied.

If you want something that is inspirational, a book that will motivate you to achieve more (Wellington set an ironman world record time with shingles, after all) than you need to look no further.

Have you tried a triathlon before? What’s your favourite sport, besides reading marathons obviously 🙂 ? What’s the best sports (auto)biography you’ve read? Do comment below and let me know your thoughts!