The Handmaid’s Tale [Book Review]

I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale! After it being a massive topic of conversation lately, especially with the TV series, as well as a lot of people studying it for A level, I knew I had to read it because it was starting to get just a little bit embarrassing. And I’m really glad I did!Image result for the handmaids tale

Dystopia is actually one of my favourite genres of book. I love the idea of throwing myself into a manipulated version of reality where things are the same but also really not. It especially surprised me that The Handmaid’s Tale was written back in 1985 because to me it seems contemporary. After reading this book, I totally understand why it is so significant in terms of patriarchy and the way women are treated and ceased of their natural abilities, especially in terms of the natural process of birth. It’s crazy to think that procreating becomes the only reason to live in this book, as if any other part of human experience means nothing. But really, what is the point in procreating if there is nothing to live for? It’s all a major contradiction and I found myself asking all these questions as I was reading it. Since happiness, for me, is the most important part and goal of life, there was no way I could remotely justify the world of this book, not even if I tried. However, I am glad I put myself into this world through the concept of reading because it’s only once you’ve transported to a world worse than this one that you realise that actually you might quite like to live in this one after all. 

I just wanted to leave a few of my favourite quotes below because I feel like a few things really resonated with me, whether it was the words themselves or the way it was written.

“I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolour picture of blue irises, and why the window only opens partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get that far. It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.”

“Modesty is invisibility…Never forget it. To be seen – to be seen – is to be – her voice trembled – penetrated.”

“We have learned to see the world is gasps.”

“But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone. You don’t tell a story only to yourself. There’s always someone else. Even when there is no one.”

“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”

“No mother is ever, completely, a child’s idea of what a mother should be, and I suppose it works the other way around as well.”

“You can’t help how you feel…but you can help how you behave.”

I’m sure a lot of you have read this book too so please let me know your thoughts on it, or your favourite quote!

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What Makes a Book Important?

A month or so ago I was discussing what makes a text important and I think it’s such an interesting topic of discussion because I thought everyone read books for the same reason I do, but turns out not everyone does. Books are significant in lots of different ways and I think it would be cool if everyone could comment below what makes a book important to them personally.

A few examples could be:

  • Tackles an important issue
  • Relevant to current society
  • Teaches you something new
  • Strong characters/story

And here’s my view:

A book is important if I can connect with it. For me, it’s all about my personal feelings rather than the quality of the actual text. If I can see elements of my experience or emotions in the book I am more likely to enjoy it because it’s relatable to me and it feels like someone understands me. I guess that’s why I read in the first place – to find people who think and feel like me; to get that feeling where the author’s words resonate so deeply that it’s almost like they’ve taken it from inside my mind.

Although this may not make the text objectively important, it makes it subjectively important and in my eyes this is so much more valuable. You can see things in it that no one else can because only you think the way that you do; interpret and feel it in the way that you do. That’s why it’s almost kind of special when you read a book and love it but someone else says they hate it. You have a way into the words that no one else does.

It is arguable that you wouldn’t want to connect to some books, for example ones surrounding murder, wars, or particularly distressing events, however I think you can still connect to the language itself in these books. It isn’t necessarily what the writer is saying but the way that they say it that can resonate with you. Also, so what if you can relate to a bad character? It doesn’t mean you’re bad too, just that your feelings overlap at times.

So what do you think?

What makes a book important to you?

Uni (Y1 S2): The Books I’ve Read This Term

Back in December, I posted a list of all the books I had read in first semester and my thoughts on them, so I thought why not continue the process? So here are the books I’ve read second semester and although interesting at times, I definitely prefer those from last term…

 

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classic book cover

1. The Garden Party & Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield – At first I wasn’t sure if I liked these stories; there are a lot of characters and it’s hard to really get into their mindsets when they’re so briefly touched upon. However, there were particular moments that really resonated with me, either because they had interesting concepts or they were surprisingly relatable. There is one part about an insect and it reminded me so much of the film ‘Shutter Island’ where they talk about an insect in the brain – a concept I really love. Another part also talked about being on a stage and acting in everyday life, reminding me of the film ‘My Dinner with Andre’. Moments like these made the collection enjoyable for me, but I have to say without them I don’t think I would have been as interested.

2. Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo – This book was a big let down for me, to be honest. I liked the premise and it started off as really interesting. There were moments where I really liked the language and the way it was written. However, it was ridiculously confusing. It switched between characters and perspectives and past and present so much that I really had no idea what was going on. And the ending didn’t even resolve the whole point of the book.

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another classic book cover

3. Moby Dick by Herman Melville – Before I started uni I really wanted to read this book, but wow did I underestimate how frustrating it would be. First of all, it’s ridiculously long. Secondly, I feel like I know way too much about whales because it won’t stop going on about them. And finally, although it’s 500 odd pages, barely anything actually happens. It could have been a lot shorter than it actually was because most of it went over my head and if I had to retell the plot right now I probably couldn’t, despite having spent the last 5 weeks reading it. However, when it comes to analysing it, it can actually be pretty interesting. So I’ll give it that. And it also inspired this post which got me thinking pretty deeply about whether pain has a body so props to Melville for that.

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Why have a serious photo of Montaigne when you can have this?

4. On Experience by Michel de Montaigne – I really enjoyed reading this one because it was very philosophical in thought and whilst you’ve got to be focused to read it, once you are you can get a lot out of it. Having studied Philosophy and Ethics at A level, it was nice to return to the familiar names of Aristotle and Plato and it reminded me of how much I actually miss studying it. It’s interesting how ‘On Experience’ is actually an essay but it reads the same as a novel. It seemed more contemplative than critical, as he’s using extracts to further his own thoughts rather than analysing extracts to create thoughts (I guess that’s the dream, right?). I also liked the lecture’s focus on the Commonplace Book which I hadn’t heard of before, but it’s where you write down extracts from books you’ve read. It sounds like a really cool way to give yourself future inspiration and perhaps something I’ll try out someday!

5. The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith – If I’m being totally honest, this is probably the most boring book I’ve read so far on this course. I just never had that moment where I felt connected to the characters or the writing style at all, not even a tiny bit. It’s also meant to be comedic and yet it seemed so serious whilst I was reading it that it didn’t really make much sense. There’s not much else I can say really other than, if you do read this, don’t expect much.

6. Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass by Fredrick Douglass – This is a book from the perspective of a slave in the 19th century and I don’t think you can actually not enjoy this book, simply because even if you don’t like the writing style, it’s still interesting because it’s completely true. Slavery is something that most of us can’t really understand and so I really liked delving into a text that gave me insight into an area which I was short of information on. I would say that I expected it to be more emotional in the way that he spoke – and it was at parts very saddening to read – but for some reason I wanted a bit more. However, I’m sure he wrote it mostly just to share his story. I thought it was overall a good read.

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just love this aesthetic

7. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner – This was honestly such a funny book even though I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. It starts off with the lovely innocent story of a woman in her forties who hasn’t married and lives with her family, before she decides to move away and start anew. Then, she enters a compact with the devil – completely out of nowhere – and turns into a witch. So yeah, it got dark pretty quickly. I’m not sure if I like it or I’m just really intrigued.

8. The Black Atlantic by Paul Gilroy – Rather than a fictional novel, this one is actually a critical book on black studies. There are some parts that are really interesting (once you’ve spent hours trying to figure out what’s it’s actually trying to say) but my god is it the hardest book I’ve ever had to read. The way Gilroy writes is so over the top and unnecessary. Why use all these complicated words and write sentences as long as an entire paragraph? How does that help me understand your point?

 

There were a few other books I read too (Madame Bovary, Pere Goriot, Henry IV) but to be honest I didn’t really have much to say about them and I left it so long to write up my response that I actually forgot what they were about (so clearly they didn’t make that much of an impact).

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig [Book Review]

If you’re going to read any book in your life, whether you love reading or not, I would recommend this one. No doubt about it.

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When I first heard about ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ I instantly knew it was something I wanted to read, however like most things, it took me a while to get round to it. When I did though, instead of reading it all in one sitting (which I could have done, easily, because it’s that good), I read parts at a time over the course of a few months. I’m so glad I did this, because it has so much information to take away that you couldn’t possibly store it all into your brain at once.

‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ is the journey of Matt Haig through his battle with depression and anxiety after his breakdown in his early twenties through to where he is now. It’s easy to think it would be a difficult read, one that depresses you in itself, however I was amazed at how well Haig took his own experiences and flipped them to turn mental health into something that should be acknowledged and accepted and most of all, understood.

I think a lot of the time those struggling with mental health problems find it hard to escape their own mind and rationalise things – I know I certainly do. This book helped me make sense of things on a wider scale, and that’s part of the reason why I read it over a longer period of time, because whenever I felt like I was withdrawing into myself or needed some reassurance I would pick up the book before bed. It made me realise that things can be worse but that I shouldn’t minimise my current feelings in relation to it. I think at one point Haig mentions that he saw many signals leading up to his breakdown but that he just ignored them. It made me think twice about not seeking help about anxiety. It made me think that I had somehow picked up this book at just the right time, at the exact time when I’d started struggling more and needed the reassurance that I can do it and that I should seek help if I need to. And I am. I’m working on it. I feel like this book became part of that process for me.

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Excerpt from the book!

What I loved most about this book is that it isn’t the typical memoir. It doesn’t focus solely on Haig’s life in a chronological order. Instead it’s in snippets – parts about his life, conversations with his past self and his new self, self-help ideas, general related thoughts. It’s endless. And I think the idea of snippets also mimics the mind when facing mental health, because your thoughts are all over the place and sometimes they don’t follow a certain pattern they just hit you at random moments in time. Maybe that’s what he’s getting at. Or maybe I just like analysing things too much.

It’s so hard for me to narrow down this book into one review because I feel like I could write an essay on every single chapter. It’s crazy how a book can just make you feel like someone thinks the same as you, and it’s comforting to know that. I really think that this book is so important, especially at this current moment in society, especially when mental health is rising and we’re trying to fight off the stigma. I definitely think there is less stigma surrounding it than there was, because of people like Haig that are sharing their stories and letting themselves be known, however I still think that it’s not entirely understood, even if it is accepted. Maybe it’s too idealistic to think that those who haven’t experienced it could ever understand, but I think Haig’s book is the closest someone could get to it. I really do.

One particular section that really got me thinking was this:

“People often use the word ‘despite’ in the context of mental illness. So-and-so did such-and-such despite having depression/anxiety/OCD/agoraphobia/whatever. But sometimes that ‘despite’ should be a ‘because’. For instance, I write because of depression. I was not a writer before. The intensity needed – to explore things with relentless curiosity and energy – simply wasn’t there. Fear makes us curious. Sadness makes us philosophise.”

As soon as I read this I thought, this is so true. Mental health doesn’t define us and we don’t do things despite having it lurking there, but rather because it pushes us forwards in ways we don’t even know. People always say that pain strengthens you and yes it’s cliche, but it’s also true. When I think back to before I had any experience of anxiety I was a writer but I wasn’t that good of one. I feel like as soon as I had experienced it my writing improved in ways that I couldn’t have expected. Haig is right in saying it gives you an intensity and a curiosity that otherwise you wouldn’t have. Perhaps otherwise, I wouldn’t have continued writing or wouldn’t have ended up creating a blog and sharing my thoughts with hundreds of people (honestly, I still can’t believe it myself). And maybe that’s just how it works – pain becomes necessary for development. We shouldn’t look down on depression, anxiety, or whatever it is, we should look at it and think: this has lead me to where I am now, even if it has been the hardest journey to get here, because without it, I wouldn’t be who I am.

And so I guess I’m passing on this message through blogging about this because I want everyone out there struggling to feel like I did when I turned these pages and realised that there are people who understand and think like you do, even if you think they don’t exist. That there are people who can help you or change the way you think so that you can seek help yourself.

So please do pick up this book if it comes your way! It’s so so important and there’s no way you’ll regret it! If you have any thoughts on it yourself or want to chat about anything, feel free to contact me 🙂

My Thoughts on ‘Notes from the Underground’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky [Book Review]

As I’ve mentioned previously in my post about the books I’ve read so far at uni, ‘Notes from the Underground’ has been my favourite book this academic year and so I thought I would write a post explaining why. I want to draw attention to all the small sections and lines that really stood out to me because I feel like there are some parts that may be overlooked, but also because these parts are what makes the novel important to me, and actually not just my favourite novel I’ve read at uni but in general too.

As a whole, Dostoevsky’s novel doesn’t really have a plot. Particularly in the first section it shows more of a rambling mind rather than talking characters and the mind’s thoughts on life and philosophy and everything in between. It’s written from the point of view of a forty year old man, and yet somehow I felt a lot of it pretty relatable. For me, it just encapsulated a mind that knows the way the world fools you and a mind that has suffered enough to understand how things work in real life. It just made me think a lot. And I love a book that makes me stop and read a sentence again and reread it again and just want to underline it because it means something. I’m sure a lot of you have had that feeling when you feel like a book has explained something you’ve felt in words you could never have strung together yourself.

I can’t remember who said it, or where I found it, but a month or so ago I heard a phrase along the lines of ‘we seem to like books that we see ourselves in’ and I just find it so completely true. If you ask someone what their favourite book is, it probably tells you a lot about them as a person. We read as a form of escapism and yet we also have this inner desire to read in order to find someone who understand us, and when you find that it’s honestly the best feeling. This book gave me this feeling multiple times and I think that’s why I loved it so much. There’s a lot I could say about it and hence why I’m here sharing it with you all!

[ I was ever aware of the great number of completely conflicting elements within me. I felt that they were literally swarming around inside me, these conflicting elements. I knew they had been swarming inside me all my life and that they were begging to be released, but I would not let them out, I wouldn’t, I deliberately wouldn’t let them out. ]

This part really stood out to me because the idea of ‘conflicting elements’ is so common when it comes to emotions; we feel one way and then another and sometimes it’s hard to know what we really want. It’s this sense of anxiousness that is perhaps rooted within some of us and it builds up and up and it swarms you and yet there is a part of you that can’t let it go – it becomes you, in a way, and you’re scared of what you’d be without it.

[ I’ve never really been able to be anything; neither spiteful nor good, neither a villain nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. ]

The idea of not feeling enough but also not feeling the worst is something that I’m sure a lot of people have felt. It’s as if there’s a stage of being neutral where you don’t really fit anywhere and you’re unsure if your own mind is capable of reaching any of these limits. But then, is it even possible to reach these limits? I guess that’s a whole other thing to debate!

[ … that you’ve no way out, that you’ll never change yourself into another person; that even if you still had enough time and the faith to change yourself into someone else, you probably wouldn’t want to change yourself; and that if you did want to you would still do nothing because in the end there’s maybe nothing to change yourself into. ]

I just love this sentence because it really sums up the act of changing as a person without glamourising it. When we think about changing, it’s ultimately a positive thing. People set goals and aim to achieve them. It’s all portrayed very simply. And yet here Dostoevsky abandons all that and just says the truth, because honestly changing yourself is so much harder than just setting goals and following them. No matter how much you try and change, you’ll ultimately be the same person, and in a way there’s no escaping the deep roots of your personality. Small changes can be made in your life but not to you, the real you. I guess he also portrays the fear of never being able to overcome the most difficult parts of yourself – the parts you hate and suffer from. There’s nothing to change into and sometimes that’s scary – that you as you are right now could be, in some way, finalised.

[ … grit your teeth silently and impotently and sink, voluptously, into inertia, dreaming about how you haven’t even got anyone to be angry against … no one knows who, no one knows what, but despite all these uncertainties and illusions you are still in pain, and the more it is unknown to you the more you ache! ]

This one is probably my favourite passage because I guess it is the most relatable to me. It tackles the notion of being hurt and angry but not knowing why, having no one or no something to blame it on because it’s not really anyone’s fault (or at least not directly). This is a feeling that I get quite often where I just seem to ache or feel angry over nothing. It sums up what mental pain really is – something that makes no sense rationally and yet it feels so real to you. And you want an answer to it so you think up all the ways that could have lead you here and it only makes it worse – ‘the more it is unknown to you the more you ache’ because you feel like maybe it’s not worthy enough of a feeling to be considered, because how would you explain its cause?

[ … he is instinctively afraid of achieving his aim and completing the building he is erecting? How do you know? – maybe he only likes the building from a distance and not in the least nearby; perhaps he only likes building it and not living in it ]

Ahh I love the last part of this quote so much – the way it is written and what it expresses. Dostoevsky portrays the idea of motivation and working towards a goal and yet how once the end is achieved, it’s no longer really desirable. I suppose this is because we’re always striving towards a purpose. We set our whole life out to do something and then when it’s completed we ask ourselves: what’s next? I find this relatable at this moment in time because I feel like this with university. I’ve worked my whole life to get into university and now that I’m here it just feels strange. After university there are no grades to strive towards; it’s somewhat just a steady working timeline. It scares me a bit because sometimes I wonder how I will motivate myself without a set goal. What if purpose dies and I don’t like living in the outcome? So many buildings look pretty on the outside but no one really lives inside.

[ In every man’s memory there are things which he does not divulge to everyone, but really only to friends. And there are those things which he doesn’t even divulge to friends, but really only to himself, and then as a secret. And , finally, there are those which a man is afraid to divulge even to himself … ]

I’m sure this one is wholly relatable – we all have thoughts we share with others and keep to ourselves. But I love the line about how there are some things that we won’t even share with ourselves out of fear; the idea that maybe there are some things we refuse to accept or allow ourselves to feel because we’re afraid of the outcome. If all of us completely opened up to the world, how different would we all be?

[ is it really possible to be absolutely open with oneself and not be frightened of the whole truth? ]

This is a quote I used in my coursework because it’s something that I find really interesting – the idea that there are parts of our brain that are unreachable – and it ties in well with theories by Freud. It’s also scary, in a way, to think that we can’t access parts of ourselves, considering we think we know ourselves the best. If we knew ourselves completely, would we even like it? Would we even be able to cope?

[ I very often looked on myself with a violent dissatisfaction … and therefore I mentally attributed my own outlook to others. ]

I think this quote is quite important. By no means can this be used as an excuse, but it’s important to remember that sometimes when people are hard on you, it’s only because they’re hard on themselves. If you’re the most positive person I’m sure you wouldn’t affect someone in this way. Sometimes people are unkind because of their suffering and whilst it’s not okay, it’s a way to remind yourself that you’re not worthy of those words and to remind them that they’re not worthy of them either.

[ no one else was like me, nor was I like anyone else, ‘I am alone, and they are everybody‘, I thought ]

This is something that at our lowest points is an easy thing to arise to. We try to make connections and sometimes it’s hard when you feel like no else understands you. Whilst not being like anyone else can be a good thing because we are all unique individuals, Dostoevsky portrays these feelings in a more realistic and raw state and I love how honest these feelings are.

So this post turned out to be a lot longer than I intended, but I really did mean it when I said I had a lot to say about this book! I’m sure most of you won’t have read the entirety of this, but I just wanted to document my thoughts on it somewhere. And if it does spark anyone’s interest to read the book then that’s a great bonus. Thanks for reading 🙂

‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi [Book Review]

I’d heard about this book a few months ago – I think through WordPress actually – and it seemed like such an interesting book. It was only until a few weeks ago that I actually thought about purchasing it, after I received an amazon voucher for my Birthday and was scrolling through things I could buy. And I’m so glad I did because I feel like this is something that everybody should read! (and I apologise for the long review but I just have so much to say about it)

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‘When Breath Becomes Air’, to put it simply, is an account of the life of a surgeon who has lung cancer, and it’s very much a true story. However, I’m sure this review will be full of understatements because it’s physically impossible to put into words how awful it must have been to be in that position. This book is the closest way you can get to understanding it I’m sure, without actually experiencing it for yourself.

On first glance, the novel is full of scientific jargon that honestly makes no sense to me and I can see how this might put people off, but it’s so much more than just the life of a surgeon and their everyday duties. The concept of reversing roles from a surgeon to a patient is in itself interesting – I think this is perhaps what makes it so hard for Kalanithi most of all. He’s always had this desire to help others and yet when he needs help himself, he has no control over his own destiny. After being the surgeon in control of life, he then realises that ultimately death is the only one playing the game.

What I loved most about this book was that it wasn’t all about science (because let’s be honest, I’m really not a massive fan of science); instead, there were a lot of philosophical ideas and a lot of talk on literature, as well as specific quotes. It was nice to see how Kalanithi worked within the field of science and yet he was still driven by all these books and knowledge outside of it too. There’s no limitation to his interests like there’s no limitation to knowledge and I felt myself admiring the way he helped people as a surgeon in the form of treating the dying but also, eventually, through the words of his novel itself. It’s two completely different ways of contributing to the world and yet I feel like they both made their mark.

Image result for when breath becomes airThe main theme of the novel seems to be a journey into finding out what makes life meaningful and this is perhaps pretty typical of a novel about cancer, however Kalanithi definitely approaches it in an original manner. I’d never really thought properly what it must be like to be a surgeon – I guess because it’s never really been my career interest – but reading this book made me understand how difficult it must be to be around struggling patients, people who you see at their most vulnerable even though they are in fact strangers to you. One paragraph that really stood out to me was this one:

‘At moments, the weight of it all became palpable. It was in the air, the stress and misery. Normally, you breathed it in, without noticing it. But some days, like a humid muggy day, it had a suffocating weight of its own. Some days, this is how it felt when I was in the hospital trapped in an endless jungle summer, wet with sweat, the rain of tears of the families of the dying pouring down.’ (p78)

The fact that this weight is the weight he felt when he was merely a surgeon, doesn’t even begin to explain the weight he must have felt when he became the patient. And I guess it’s one of those moments that’s unexplainable unless you, too, work around the pedestal of life vs death and face its conflicts every day. But it must feel great to not have to question your work in this way – you know you’re directly making a difference to the world and that’s got to be worth something.

One aspect that Kalanithi struggles with in the novel is the sense of unknown time – not knowing how long you have left and therefore what you should do with this time – and I imagine this must be one of the toughest parts of all. How are you meant to live your days if you don’t know how many you have? Is there a right or wrong way to do this? However I think Kalanithi made the right choices – if there is a right way to do anything. It’s heart-breaking to know that he’d been striving for complete medical success and that cancer prevented this, but I feel like this only made him more successful in his writing career and as a well-rounded person. As his wife says  in the epilogue, ‘this book is a new way for him to help others, a contribution only he could make’ (p224) and I completely agree with this. No one else could have helped others in the way Kalanithi has with this book because he’s an individual person in this unique situation and it would have been crazy to bypass this opportunity when he is such a great writer.

On reaching the end of the book, particularly on reading the epilogue, it suddenly hit me that I was completely aware of the ending; here it was actually happening and yet nothing could have prepared me for it, nothing at all. And I guess, in a way, that’s what it must be like to have cancer or to know someone with it; there’s no way to prepare for the inevitable and that’s what makes it so destructive. But I don’t think anyone could have made such a life-destroying disease into such a thoughtful piece of art as this novel did. It’s genuinely hard to put into words because I came out of it crying and yet I feel like I’ve learnt so much. I just love everything about it – from the way it was written to the way it just affects you and completely consumes you. Kalanithi’s daughter may not remember him when she grows up, but this book is certainly the greatest way she can come to know him.

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Uni (Y1 S1): The Books I’ve Read So Far

So considering my degree lies solely around reading and most of my followers out there probably also love reading (because why else would you have a blog?), I thought why not compile a list of all the books I’ve read so far for uni and what I think of them. Looking back at this semester, it’s actually crazy how much I’ve read. Compared to school, where I literally had no time to read, I’ve now read about 10x the amount of books I would normally have got through. Yes, they haven’t been texts of my choice, but I’m surprised how much of them I genuinely enjoyed – whoever chose them, picked well!

It would be hard to compile this list into some sort of ordered structure – I think there’s too many to be able to put them from best to worst – however I think through my comments it will be obvious which ones particularly stood out to me.

  1. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley – This was the first book I read for the course. As I was reading it, I remember thinking it was pretty boring – nothing much happened and it was pretty uneventful. However, after completing it, I actually kind of liked it. It’s one of those books that once you grasp a particular concept or idea you like and analyse it to its depth, it suddenly makes the book 10x more interesting. This made writing the essay pretty fun, but I can’t say I’d ever reread the book.
  2. The Book of the Duchess by Chaucer – Overcoming the initial language barrier in this book is pretty overwhelming at first! I’d never read Chaucer before so the fact that there was no standardised spelling and every word was pretty much written however it wanted to be written, it was difficult to make sense of. I can’t say I was a massive fan even after understanding it, but it was interesting to read something different for a change.
  3. The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd – This play pleasantly surprised me! Looking at the cover, it really did look boring not gonna lie, but as I read it it reminded me so much of Othello and I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. Of course, Kyd didn’t take it lightly when it came to killing off characters at the end, but I liked the idea of it being a play within a play.
  4. Politics and English Language by George Orwell – This is actually an essay but I genuinely found it so interesting. It made me think a lot about how we use words and how a lot of the time we use them out of habit rather than out of meaning. Orwell discusses the way, in politics particularly, how speeches are repeated and yet their purpose has just diminished and become simply lazy. It made me think a lot about my essay style and how we become accustomed to using block phrases such as ‘it is interesting to debate’ and ‘one may argue that’ when really these have become unnecessary. It was a very thoughtful read.
  5. The Description of a New World Called the Blazing World (extracts) by Margaret Cavendish – This text was really interesting because it was the only known work of utopian fiction in the 17th century and arguably an example of what we now call “proto-science fiction”. I really liked the philosophical approach, despite it being pretty confusing at parts (there was a lot of body swapping going on) and I enjoyed writing an essay in reference to its proto-feminism.
  6. Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett – This is a very short play that simply revolves around a man sitting at a desk playing back cassette tapes and yet I really enjoyed it. There was something about the way it was written and the way he spoke and was presented that made it seem so real and raw. It’s quite a strange text but I think it wholly encapsulated his depressed state of mind and I loved it for this.
  7. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas DeQuincey – This was a bit of a weird book to be honest. I’m not entirely sure whether I liked it or not. It was interesting to get into DeQuincey’s state of mind, but at the same time he was just such an unlikable and arrogant character. Due to it being a book of reflection, nothing much really happened and I just felt like it was lacking something.
  8. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky – ahhh this is 100% my favourite book I’ve read this semester! I don’t know why, because it’s such a weird and uneventful book, but I just feel like the narrator’s ramblings about life and mentality and truth are just so interesting and also relatable. There’s some particular lines in the book which really resonate with me and got me thinking a lot about the world, so much so that there’s no way I could write down all my thoughts on it right here, so within the next few weeks I’ll hopefully be putting up a separate post. For now, I’m actually really enjoying writing my final essay on this text! And I’ll definitely be reading some more Dostoevsky in the future.
  9. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West – It’s pretty weird that this one showed up on my module list because I studied WW1 for English Literature A Level and as a homework we had to find an extract and I took an extract from this very book! I hadn’t read it in its entirety before, but I’d analysed a particular section in depth so I had a basic understanding of it. Whilst the language in this novella is pretty simple, I think it really works and I love the descriptions of nature and colour. The notion of ‘returning’ physically and mentally is also really interesting to analyse.

As well as these texts, we’ve also read quite a bit of poetry (Ozymandias, Dunt, etc.); short stories (by Virginia Woolf, Ian McEwan, etc.) and a lot of criticism and historiographical material, but apart from that these were the main texts we studied and as you can see from my reviews, I really did enjoy the majority of them!

If I had to pick my favourites, it would probably be those that made me think beyond the book and those that I would say changed my thinking in some way or another. Therefore I would choose Notes from the Underground, Krapp’s Last Tape and Orwell’s Essay.

If you’ve read any of the books mentioned, let me know! I’d love to discuss them 🙂