Books I didn’t love but will write about anyway.

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Life is too short to waste on books that aren’t floating my boat. I have a finite number of days left to live and selfishly I don’t want to spend any of them reading something that gives my synapses a sadface.

Lets say I have fifty years worth of reading ahead of me. It takes me roughly two weeks to read a book (I know, I’m slow, but I like to savour the words), maybe less than a week if it’s something extra special. That gives me twenty-six opportunities a year to colour in my grey matter with something explosive or charming. Altogether, twenty-six books a year for fifty years gives me a limit of roughly 1300 books, which may not sound like a lot but when you consider the vast multitude of books that have already been published that I haven’t sunk my teeth into, and then think about how many more books will have been published by the time I exit the building, there are just too many variables to compute. It is the job of the publisher, the marketing teams and the booksellers to make sure I find these gems that will shape my world and challenge my perceptions. 

I want each of these books to amaze me, build me up and break me back down. I want these books to enlighten me and enrich my life.

Maybe I’m just not in the right frame of mind to finish these particular books at this point in my life. I really hope that’s the case, because each of the books have been picked up for a good reason. I won’t name the books I didn’t enjoy because I wouldn’t want to influence anyone. As a bookseller it is not my place to un-recommend a book or show it in a negative light. That’s not to say they’re not good books that will excite and delight other readers – they are bestsellers because they have done exactly that, but for me, not so much. 

Thinking about it, maybe I’m guilty of book-lust. I love the feeling of the initial attraction, the hook that sinks itself into you, but I don’t have the stamina or the commitment to keep going, and perhaps that’s a massive flaw. I’d love to be able to make myself keep going, but when I’ve got finite days, months, years in which to cram the best, most intriguing, thought-provoking, spine-tingling books, then like a relationship that’s hanging on by a thread or a dead-end job, it’s just better to quit while you’re still alive.

I’m aware this is a bit of a non-bloggy-blog-post but it’s something that’s bothered me for a long time and I don’t know if I’m alone in this. Maybe I shouldn’t dwell on it so much. Maybe that in itself is a waste of life. 

“I fully support breastfeeding, but …” An Open Letter.

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I’m going to take a sidestep away from books to write about something very important to me: breastfeeding. I’ve breastfed both of my daughters – my first self-weaned at 22 months, and my second still going strong at nearly 15 months. It is something I feel pretty passionately about, so please excuse me if I get ranty.

I am writing this because I am so sick of reading articles in the Daily Fail Mail (and other trashy outlets) about breastfeeding mothers being asked to leave whatever restaurant/shop/swimming pool they are nursing in. I am equally sick of the ignorant, snide comments left on said articles by apes giving their two cents. I am sick of hearing “I fully support breastfeeding, but …”. Let me start by saying this: if you say “I fully support breastfeeding, but …” you do not fully support breastfeeding. The presence of the “but” pretty much negates your first point. “But” is often followed by (but by no means limited to) one of the following:

  • the mother should use a cover…
  • it should be done in the bathroom/private room/feeding room …
  • it shouldn’t be done in a shop/restauruant/bus
  • the mother should be discreet and not draw attention to herself.
  • the mother should pump her milk and put it in a bottle for when she’s out in public.
  • not when the baby is over x age.
  • it shouldn’t be done in front of other children (breasts not for children? Go figure …)

I am also sick of people likening breastfeeding in public to defecating/urinating/sex in public. It is none of these. Breastfeeding is not a sex act (and if you think it is then you obviously have a screw loose); breastmilk is not a waste product. It is a food product, delivered via breast (shock, horror) directly into the mouth of a small human who has no way to feed itself.

If you’ve never breastfed, or done so in public, then you have absolutely no idea how nerve-wracking it is to pull what is normally a concealed part of your anatomy out in front of people who have never seen that part of your anatomy and attempt to attach a wriggly, crying baby to it. It is no mean feat. It involves some forethought about how you are positioned, how to position your baby, and if you’re in the early days and still learning how to do it it doesn’t always go according to plan. Add into the mix a blanket or muslin cloth or specially made breastfeeding cover and you’ve officially run out of hands. Most babies hate being covered anyway (would you like to eat with a blanket on your head? Thought not ..) On some occasions when the infant is a little older and fascinated with the world around them they may detach from the boob to look around, and its usually when the milk is freely flowing and yes, it does sometimes shoot across the room. It happens, it’s not a crime, the mother/baby partnership are not trying to annoy anyone, they’re just doing what is natural and normal to them. It just so happens that the milk-delivery-vehicle is experiencing a surge in oxytocin that makes the milk shoot out.

But it’s not just milk spraying that causes offence, apparently. It’s the sight of a small triangle (or sometimes a big triangle, depending on the size of breast in question) of flesh above the baby’s head that is so insulting. Seriously people, it’s not that big a deal. It doesn’t require a cover, it just requires you minding your own business and utilising that incredible eye function that allows you to move them in a different direction. Hell! you could even turn your neck if you fancy it. Whichever you choose to do, just remember you don’t have to look at it. It’s not hurting you, it’s not going to kill you to just move on and pretend you didn’t see. In fact, it’s beneficial to the whole fluffing human race (in many, many ways) to see women breastfeeding.

  1. Breastfeeding is beneficial to the environment.

Breastfeeding requires no secondary equipment, simply a breast and a baby. Each and every breastfeeding partnership saves oil, fuel, electricity in huge volumes. Oil is not used to manufacture bottles, fuel is not required to transport huge quantities of powdered artificial milk, electricity is not needed to boil kettles and power bottle warmers. It is a totally eco-friendly operation.

2.  Increased breastfeeding rates can save the NHS a heck of a lot of money.

£40 million as a rough estimate. It is widely accepted that the risks of many preventable illnesses and diseases to a non-breastfed infant are much higher than that of breastfed ones. The hospitalisation of babies with cases of necrotizing enterocolitis, otitis media, and many other illnesses are so high because of our mediocre breastfeeding rates. And not just babies. The risks of not breastfeeding can affect babies much later in life, too. Mothers who don’t breastfeed also have an increased likelihood of suffering illnesses such as osteoporosis, breast and ovarian cancers amongst others. The fact that UK breastfeeding rates are so crap are causing a big strain on NHS resources and it is so easily remedied.  See the Unicef Report for yourself.

3.  Breasts are not for sale.

The fact that we, as a society, are happier to see women posing almost nude in shop windows than sat down in Costa happily nursing her infant with virtually nothing on show says a lot about how horrendously crass we are. That we don’t mind a boob as long as it’s for advertising purposes and not to nurture the next generation really says it all. How about we stop thinking we own all the breasts just because we get to see them airbrushed in the windows of Ann Summers and La Senza and we teach our daughters that their bodies were not created for the sole purpose of pleasing the opposite sex? And while we’re at it, we can teach our sons that the world does not revolve around boobs, and even if it does, they do not belong to them, they belong to the owner of the boobs and are occasionally leased to babies. A bit of respect for our own bodies (and the bodies of others) would go a heck of a long way.

Those are the bigger issues. What I’m really trying to put across is: breastfeeding is not offensive. In any way, shape or form. At least it shouldn’t be. Leaving a breastfeeding mother in peace to get on with fulfilling her child’s needs is not a lot to ask. Even if, heaven forbid, you were offended by a gay couple sat holding hands or kissing on a bench, you wouldn’t go over and ask them to stop or move. If you saw a girl with her bum cheeks hanging out the bottom of her micro-shorts or her boobs spilling out of her top you wouldn’t tell her to put it away. So why do people think it’s okay to berate a woman for using her breasts for their designated purpose? If you just so happened to be disgusted by an obese person walking down the street you wouldn’t see it as your duty to tell that person they disgust you, would you? I personally don’t like to see pregnant women smoking in public, but I would never walk up to her and tell her she’s being selfish. It’s none of my business.

Believe it or not, the breastfeeding mother does not have to put your comfort before her own or her baby’s. She does not owe you anything. Believe it or not, you don’t need to vocalise every opinion or criticism that pops into your head. Some things can be, and are almost certainly better, kept inside your head. The breastfeeding mother does not even have to cover her baby or her breast up, nor should she feel like she does. The more we see mothers nursing in public, the less it will shock us. People used to find the idea of eating in public highly offensive, these days you can’t walk through any city centre without seeing someone chowing down on a burger or tucking into a pasty (or any other baked good). Times change, and we need to accept that, especially when it’s something as normal, natural, wonderful as breastfeeding.

Not only is it hurtful and insulting to be asked to move or stop breastfeeding, it is illegal. http://www.maternityaction.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Breastfeeding-in-public-places-2014.pdf

So maybe next time you see a mother breastfeeding and you’re disgusted by it, just walk on.
Better still, give her a smile and say “well done”, goodness knows it would do her self-esteem some good.

And if you’re reading this as a mother who nurses in public – please keep doing it and don’t let others ignorance get you down. You never know, your nursing in public might give confidence and inspire other mothers to do the same.

 

NB: My writing about breastfeeding does not in any way mean that i hate bottle-feeding or that it is terrible. I fully respect every mother’s decision to feed their baby however they choose, I don’t need to know reasons why you did or didn’t breastfeed, I just accept it. In this blog post I am writing solely about breastfeeding.

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Links to articles:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bunmi-laditan/how-to-breastfeed-appropriately_b_5530806.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2579986/Mother-told-stop-breastfeeding-baby-daughter-museum-creche-ordered-TOILET-instead.html

http://www.nottinghampost.com/Breastfeeding-mother-told-leave-sports-shop/story-21004058-detail/story.html

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/breastfeeding-mum-ordered-out-baby-2048569

http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/10828234.Breastfeeding_Lee_mum_asked_to__cover_up_or_leave__in_Blackheath_cafe/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiS8q_fifa0&feature=kp <— please watch this video – it’s amazing :D

Some books I love … #8

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One word: Zombies.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion was a cracking introduction to the genre, and one that will stay with me for a looooong time.

So beautifully crafted, so deftly plotted and intricately imagined, it is one of those novels that sneaks inside your subconscious and claims squatters rights. Nope, there’s no forgetting this one.

R is the undead protagonist who remembers very little about his life as a living human being, except that his name starts with “R”. He spends his days roaming around an abandoned airport with his zombie buddies, groaning and decaying. He’s built a little zombie nest for himself in a disused aeroplane and hoards little trinkets there that he’s collected on his (very slow) zombie travels.

We meet Julie on one of R’s brain-foraging excursions. I can think of more romantic settings to meet your true love, but this was R’s. Julie is out on a zombie-hunt with her boyfriend, Perry, and a few other friends when Perry is killed by R, who steals his brain and keeps it in his pocket. R notices a very frightened Julie hiding from the other zombies and he makes an absurd, un-zombie-like decision to save her. He smears her face with his own rotting blood to mask her delectable human scent and smuggles her home to his aeroplane.

Of course Julie is in a swamp of emotion, mostly cortisol-fuelled, and R does his best to communicate with her in his strained zombie-human language. His vocabulary grows throughout the course of the book, and I found myself urging him to try new words. I felt such fondness towards his character that I was willing him to speak, and was almost euphoric when he managed new words (almost like the joy of hearing my own little one stretching her vocab)

R had a profound effect on me. In most books you feel something towards a character, but I have never felt such genuine empathy, affinity and compassion towards a character than I have for R. It’s not that we’re not reminded often enough that he’s a zombie – we are, and grossly so – it’s the fact that he sees the humanity in Julie, the wonder of her living and breathing and wants that so badly for himself that makes him so tragic. I would have gladly swapped places with Julie so I could help him get his humanity back.

R’s pocketing of Perry’s brain is another genius plotline. He breaks off chunks of it and eats it every now and again, each time catching a glimpse of life through Perry’s eyes like a boy peeking through the keyhole of a brothel to see what delights are waiting on the other side. Every time he takes a nibble on Perry’s grey matter, bright, colourful, human life is dangled like a dream-carrot in front of him. He gets to see Julie how Perry did, and it only ignites his affection for her more.

It’s not all love and sweetness and gaiety, though. The boneys – zombies that are so mangled and decayed they are only really recognisable as skeletons – are a dangerous drone that creep in and out of the story and scare even the regular zombies.

Then there’s the prose itself. It reads more like literary fiction than gritty zombie horror, which was definitely unexpected. It’s poetic and beautiful, words arranged so perfectly on the page it almost hurt to read them. I would say it’s one of those novels I wish I’d written myself, but actually I don’t. I had the most wonderful time reading it, short-lived though it was at a dainty 240 pages long. Despite the colour and life of R’s Perry-visions, the language is quite grey and bleak – demonstrating the monotony of life as a corpse searching for his humanity. We take our lives, our breathing, our heartbeats for granted and all R wants is to have all that again. To be able to feel something other than his limbs falling off and his insides decomposing.

And you know the irony? This book about zombies, the undead, decay and hearts that don’t beat is the most life-affirming book I’ve had the pleasure to read. It’s wonderful.

I’ll leave you with these quotes and hope they whet your appetite:

 

“My friend “M” says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can’t smile, because your lips have rotted off.”

“I crush her against me. I want to be part of her. Not just inside her but all around her. I want our rib cages to crack open and our hearts to migrate and merge. I want our cells to braid together like living thread.”

 

{The film is also spectacular, well worth a watch (after you’ve read the book, of course)}

Some books I love … #7

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Excrementum Sanctum! 

This is THE weirdest, most deliciously disgusting and at the same time awesomest book I’ve read in a very long time. It’s beyond comparison; there isn’t really any book I’ve read (or that even exists, maybe?) that is anything like this one. Andrew Smith either has a mind-boggling imagination or he’s high as a kite. Whatever it is, I want some.

The writing is wonderful – we follow Austin Szerba as he tells the history of the beginning of the end of the world in Ealing, Iowa.

The reader is warned about the contents of the book on the first page:

“There are things in here: babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.”

It should also mention that there’s a fair bit of swearing. (“- and shit” is the ending of quite a lot of sentences.) It’s aimed at young adults, but most of them know all these words anyway. And I think if you pick up a book about a sixteen year-old boy battling six foot tall praying mantises, you’d almost judge him if he didn’t swear on the odd occasion.

It’s definitely written from a sixteen year old boy’s perspective – there are lots of um‘s and uh‘s and quite a lot of the book is dedicated to Austin’s horniness or his balls, but I found it kind of endearing. It can’t be easy for a guy to have to constantly hide an erection (as Austin had to do on more than one occasion).

An equal share of the book focuses on Austin’s confusion over his sexuality. He has a girlfriend whom he loves very much, but he realises he is also in love with his best friend, Robby Brees. His confusion spans the entire book, something that never really gets resolved as it would in most other books (just another loose end to tie up) and I liked this too. Some loose ends never really get tied up in real life, and sometimes it’s one’s sexuality.

History, Austin’s family history in particular, is woven neatly into the plot. He demonstrates throughout the book how history is tied to everything, and everyone’s own personal histories mingle and intertwine. It’s an interesting thought, and one that I agreed more with throughout the novel. One aspect I really enjoyed was that everything was linked. Links between everything, on every single page. Nothing just is, everything has a reason, an explanation, and that I liked very much.

The point is also made that a lot of history is conjecture. Not everyone can know all the facts about everything. We must rely on others’ experiences and accounts of what happened, join it all together and fill in the blanks. This point was contradicted by the fact that Austin Szerba is the narrator and yet he has an omniscient knowledge of everything that is going on whilst he is otherwise occupied. We see not only what he sees directly in front of him but everything that he doesn’t see as well. This makes for a very complex and compelling account of the end of the world.

I love that the story is so multi-faceted. It is as much about the Austin-Robby-Shann love triangle as it is about teenage angst, as it is about massive unstoppable praying mantises whose only needs in life are to “fuck and eat”, as it is about history. It is not solely about any one of these things, but marries them all together in a fascinating way.

It is a truly unique, original, inspiring novel that is also repulsive and vulgar at the same time. But the vulgarity just made it even more awesome.

University?

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An epiphany came to me this week. I’ve been feeling a bit lost for quite some time, for various reasons and I’ve felt like something needs to change for a good few months. So I’ve been looking at new jobs, considering applying for teaching assistant jobs or jobs in the media sector, but then I remembered …. I’m not qualified to work with children and I’m not much good at anything other than bookselling and drawing.

Cue much blubbing and self-pity and whining at my mum on the phone about how shit everything is, and a brief conversation with my other half in which he grunted his enthusiasm, I made a snap decision to finally apply the Illustration course at Plymouth Uni. I gave up a place at Falmouth six years ago and now it finally feels like my time has come. After sleeping on it, I woke up feeling lighter, happier, and more positive than I have in months.

I’ve left it very late in the year to do so, with there only being two days left til the application deadline, but I’ve filled everything in that I need to (my mum didn’t even have any criticism about my personal statement – something that has  actually never happened before – which must mean my writing is improving) and just need to wait for my boss to write a reference for me. This new-found surge of creative energy and positivity and enthusiasm has left me buzzing. Even if I don’t make the cut this year it’s given me a direction to head in, which is a wonderful feeling as I’ve felt like I’m at a crossroads with a million directions ahead of me for far too long.

I’ll leave you with this piece I did today of a lady with a beard, inspired by Illustration Friday’s topic: Beards.

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Some books I love … #6

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If you’re anything like me, you tend to know within about ten, maybe fifteen, pages that you’re going to like the book.

With this one, I knew within the first page.

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The Humans by Matt Haig started beautifully. An alien from a planet very (to the power of a gazillion) far away has been stationed on Earth to eradicate any evidence of Professor Andrew Martin’s extraordinary discovery of the answer to the Riemann Hypothesis (a very complicated mathematical problem that has yet to be cracked, and the answer to which could advance humankind astronomically). The alien inhabits the body of Professor Andrew Martin himself and finds himself naked on the motorway just outside of Cambridge, where he will be living.

The story is set out as a kind of guide to humans, aimed at his fellow aliens from his home planet, and it reads as a hilarious and eye-opening dissection of human behaviour. It’s ingredients mix well together:

- It has aliens, mainly just the one in the form of the Professor, but with communication from “the hosts” – the aliens who gave him his objective and are directing how he should carry out his tasks, and with insights into his home world.

- It has just the right amount of maths and physics, enough that it’s believable and feasible, but not too much to confuse or alienate (pardon the pun) the reader.

- The prof has a loving, if slightly confused, wife, and an estranged, angry teenage son called Gulliver, which is possibly the best name ever.

So the alien starts out with this objective – to get rid of the evidence of this major discovery – which at first seems like an easy thing to do. He just has to delete the file on Andrew Martin’s computer. However, he is presented with a problem; Andrew has emailed a copy of the document to one of his colleagues, which means the alien has to find the colleague, delete the evidence on his computer and somehow kill him without anyone finding out. I won’t give anything away, but the rest of the story follows with alien Andrew having to figure out how much his son and wife know about the discovery, whilst receiving almost constant reminders from the hosts that he must kill them both.

You’d think it would be easy for an alien to kill a couple of humans, like squashing snails, but with his human form he now has the capacity to feel emotion and to feel pain, and more importantly, to feel love. As he finds out more about Andrew Martin’s relationship with his wife and son, and as he starts to acknowledge the stirrings of love and attachment in his gut it gets harder and harder to think about killing them.

This is a wonderful gem of a book and I’ve fallen in love with Matt Haig’s voice as a writer. I could think of a million adjectives to describe this book but I’ll stick to just a couple – it’s witty, intelligent, thought-provoking, honest – it really opened my eyes to how we really are, and how weird we are as a species.

I’ll definitely be checking out more of Matt Haig’s work – The Radleys sounds like a cracker (vegetarian vampire family living in suburbia) and Echo Boy sounds good too (Young Adult Sci-Fi).

And I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the name Andrew Martin sounds a lot like Android Martian …?

No Time!

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Time has really been slipping through my fingers lately. All these beautiful, sunny, blue-skyed days are running into each other and it makes me sad. I have a love/hate relationship with summer. I hate the heat. I love the sunshine and short shadows. I hate wasps. I love the view from my living room window.

It’s been 22 degrees C today and I’ve been melting. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to live somewhere like Norway or Iceland. I would be at a much more comfortable temperature there. I don’t like sweating. Sweating makes me feel hideous, and then I sweat even more. All this sweating and all the wasps dampen the loveliness of the bright white light and the happy blues and greens of my hometown. And all the heat zaps my energy, so all I can be arsed to do in the evening is sit and read (not such a bad thing, but the lack of energy means I just zonk out on the sofa after about twenty minutes). I’m now over a week behind on my writing course. I’m trying desperately to finish one of the tasks, but no characters are jumping out at me demanding to be developed. And I’d feel like I was cheating if I used one of my characters from my novel – I know them almost as well as I know my children. Trying to develop this one character feels like flogging a dead horse. Maybe my character should be someone who’s flogging a dead horse …

I digress. I have about a gazillion things I want to do with my evenings. My daytimes are spent doing housework (read: “summoning the energy and/or motivation to do housework”) and playing with the tiny monkey in between school runs. So I try and do something productive between 8 and 11. Writing my blog, reading my books, writing my novel, drawing pictures of delicious specimens of our species (ahem, James McAvoy), doing my course. All of them beg for my attention but I’ve usually only got so much concentration left before my brain feels like it’s going to implode.

Ah well. There are worse things in life than having too much to do. Like having not enough to do …
Nah, I wouldn’t like that one bit.