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On Yōko Ogawa’s dystopian novel: ‘The Memory Police’

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

A novelist lives on an unnamed island whose inhabitants have been slowly losing objects. Or rather, the objects remain for a while, fading only in memory. Birds, bean bags, perfume. Gone. Memory police patrol the island, ensuring that citizens keep no trace of the things they should be forgetting. And those who remember have the most to lose. 

As I read this, I thought of Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, a victim of surveillance culture who is reduced to smuggling and sneaking simplicities - a pat of butter to use as moisturiser, for example. Objects become banned, soon to be taken for granted. And as the characters lose associations to these objects, they too lose themselves; their voices, their realities. And all this seems eerily possible.

The protagonist looks at rose petals, at harmonicas, at her own limbs, understanding their importance while not entirely recognising why they matter. Reading this now, the tale suddenly seems far less dystopian. We too are finding everyday life an alien experience. How long until we can look upon a three-legged race and see joy instead of forbidden closeness? When will a trolley, thick with invisible grime, seem neutral in threat, rather than a deadly vehicle? How long until we stop wincing at the outstretched arms of our friends? If normality falls before us, right under our very noses, will we still see it?  

‘The hand that had written the story, my eyes overflowing with tears, the cheeks that had received them - they all disappeared in their turn, and in the end, all that was left was a voice.’  The Memory Police, Yōko Ogawa.

Reading Review: February 2020

Monday, 2 March 2020

Here are some mini reviews of the books I read last month (February)!

Be My Guest by Priya Basil (3/5)

I finished this as the UK officially left the European Union, which definitely added a painful aspect to reading. Priya writes about immigrants and refugees, about hospitality and how we welcome others through sharing food. It was touching and insightful, with glimpses into her own life and her family's attitude towards eating. I would say that this is one for dipping into, as the pacing is quite slow. 

Love, an index by Rebecca Lindenberg (5/5)

Rebecca's partner disappeared whilst hiking a volcano in Japan, and these poems span the moments before and after, following love and loss as they tangle. It's possibly my new favourite collection. Each poem is haunting, lyrical and powerfully simplistic. 

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2/5)

This one was intense. It follows a middle-aged man as he tries to unpack his past. The mystery he is faced with is a curious one, but I lost interest as the novel develops.  found it clumsy, with an unsatisfactory reveal at the end. 

Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth (4/5)

This is about social media addiction and flailing through adulthood. The protagonist is self-absorbed and dramatic, similar to the chaotic Tyler in Animals (Emma's previous novel which I really liked). This accurately portrays the mania of obsession and using performative social platforms as a crutch in life. Some painfully relatable inner monologues too. 

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp (5/5)

This is really great. Practical advice from Twyla's thirty year dancing and choreographing career, applicable to all creators - designers, writers, artists etc. Or even anyone trying to get a little more creativity into their lives. I'm writing a full piece on this, so stay tuned for that...

First Reads of The Year - January 2020

Friday, 31 January 2020

Hi, hello.

Happy (very belated) New Year!

One month down. We did it. It's been an intense month for me, unfortunately. I also didn't love a lot of the books I discuss below, but I have high hopes for the books due to be published later in the year.

Surrender the Pink by Carrie Fisher 4/5

Carrie was such a brilliant writer. She wrote funny, uncomfortable dialogue and shared the vulnerabilities of her characters in dark, painful character studies. This is wonderful. I'll be reading her other books very soon.

How to be a Poet by Jo Bell and Jane Commane 3/5

I really want to continue playing with poetry this year, as I found the writing process really cathartic in 2019. I thought this would be a good place to start revising. This has lots of useful prompts, activities and advice for drafting and building a poetry collection and approaching publishers, etc. I'd definitely recommend it if you're interested in learning more about writing poetry.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron 4/5

Witty and hilarious, these articles are on self-consciousness and the struggles of womanhood. I highlighted whole passages that struck me, and I reckon you will too. An easy, amusing read.

Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoan 1/5

This was another Leena Norms recommendation, which sadly didn't live up to expectation. I started listening to the audiobook expecting cheekiness and sarcasm, but it was just flat. This book aims to bring new perspectives to concerns about married life, but I didn't find it made me any less cynical or more hopeful. Even the  more dramatic stories and descriptions of her and her partner's affairs were uninteresting.

Reading Review: December

Sunday, 12 January 2020
Here's a (very overdue) post about the books I read in the last month of 2019!

This was an interesting portrayal of the friendship between two boys as they grow into men. It touches on grief, masculinity and sexuality. I wasn't sure what to expect from this, but it's genuinely heartbreaking and wonderful.

I wish I'd abandoned this book sooner as it was so frustrating. The story follows a woman at different stages of life. The plot was predictable, there was unnecessary repetition and fat phobia in every airplane scene (and there are loads of airplane scenes...) I felt zero connection to any of the unrealistic characters. Big nope.

This is a great debut which had me sobbing by the end. It definitely reminded me I want to read more Irish literature in 2020. In this, an elderly man raises five toasts to people in his life, sharing their stories and painting a picture of his past.

This is a collection of stories inspired by seven concepts of love. Some were great, others more forgettable. Donal Ryan and Carys Bray both worth noting here.

This is a great, diverse anthology which I've bookmarked beyond recognition. Gorgeous. A perfect gift for those who love poetry, or those who are hesitant to delve into the poetry world. Ella guides us through each poem with little notes, and reminds us not to punish ourselves for not 'getting' them at first. 

I enjoyed studying Lydia's work when I was at uni, and she sparked my initial love for micro fiction... but I couldn't get into this collection at all. 

This celebrates libraries, with short stories and discussions from well known people about what libraries mean to them. An interesting read, but not a favourite. I've not read much of Ali Smith's work so I might try more this year. 

I liked The Beautiful Indifference by Sarah, but I didn't enjoy this collection as much. The titular story is stunning, especially in audio form. It deals with the concept of time and parenthood. The rest however, weren't for me. 


A Little Bookshop Tour of Europe

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

In November I arrived home after two months of travelling and I thought I’d share some of the bookshops I found myself in along the way. Some are tiny hidden gems, others are enormous and well-known, but all are irresistible in their own way. 

Bookshops are my favourite places to hide in. To bury myself in a book or a piece of work, or to shelter from the rain, surrounded by the particular calm of stories waiting patiently. But I'm particularly drawn to them when I'm in a new place. When my surroundings are unfamiliar and potentially intimidating. These are safe, welcoming spaces to browse or settle in for a while. 

First up, my top four favourite bookshops from the trip: 

Filigraines, Brussels. This is the holy grail. A huge selection with eye-catching displays. Plus – a café filled with people actually reading! They also sell wine and stationery. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to drag myself away…

Shakespeare & Sons, Prague and Berlin. These are very memorable shops. Berlin has bagels so gets a few bonus points, but Prague has a basement space filled with antique furniture and interesting prints. I have fond memories of wandering around both with new friends.

De Slegte Bookstore, Leuven. A second hand bookshop with a huge English section. Well-priced with kind staff. I had to resist picking up any more books here as it was towards the end of my trip and my backpack was bulging dangerously…

Book Store Dominicanen, Maastricht. An independent bookshop inside a 700-year-old former Dominican church with new and second hand books in several languages, along with a huge vinyl collection and café. I visited on a spontaneous day trip and fell in love with the city. A historic and stunning space which absolutely won my heart.

Some other recommendations:
  • Passa Porta, Brussels. Very modern. Great tote bag selection and range of travel guides.
  • Donner Boekhandel, Rotterdam. Large bookshop with a variety of literature and space for talks and lectures. I sat with a girl I met to read our new poetry books in the café, and we can both confirm it’s a great place for a restorative cry!
  • Bosch&deJong boekverkopers, Rotterdam. Small, but inside a food court! I stumbled in here when my umbrella had disintegrated, and my mood was similarly crumbling. A safe haven with delicious coffee and food stalls. 
  • Globe English Bookstore & Café, Prague. A gorgeous bookshop with a bar and restaurant in the back. Great coffee, great cider (maybe not at the same time). Highly recommend. 
  • Dussman, Berlin. Filled with people with their noses in books – BLISS. Decorated beautifully with plants and trees, a gorgeous place to spend a few hours. 

I hope you check these places out if you're nearby, and enjoy them as much as I did.

My bookshop bucket list is still ever-growing... What's on yours? 

Reading Review: November 2019

Friday, 29 November 2019

November. What a month. I arrived home after travelling (mostly) alone for two months, feeling overwhelmed and excited and almost every emotion in-between. I'm now ridiculously ready to cover everything in tinsel. Anyway, where were we? Right - books. 

Here's what I thought of what I read this month:

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes 4/5

This is inspired by the real librarians who worked in Kentucky between 1935 and 1943. Women delivered books on horseback to those living in rural areas. The programme was incredibly empowering and they managed to get books to over a hundred thousand people! This follows a group of rebellious, brave women as they challenge societal norms. The characters are well-fleshed out and although the plot is a little slow at times, there are some surprising twists.  

'Maybe that's the thing we need to understand, Alice. That some things are a gift, even if you don't get to keep them.' 

Calypso by David Sedaris 4/5

I’ve not read much of Sedaris’ work, but after listening to this I’m desperate to read more. A hilarious collection of stories commenting on daily life. It's shocking, relatable and has been referred to as ‘required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke’. This had me cry-laughing in public. What more could you want?

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 2/5

I re-read to this for the first time in thirteen years as I wanted a refresher before the new film adaptation comes out next month. Sadly I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did when I was younger. I found it frustrating and repetitive and the families obsession with being good felt uncomfortable. Although, it’s possible that listening to the audiobook version had an impact on my overall experience… 

It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (and other lies) edited by Scarlett Curtis 4/5

This is a collection of essays, poems and general ramblings from famous people about their relationships with mental health. Matt Haig, Reggie Yates, Miranda Hart, Hannah Witton, and so many more. Some of the pieces are funny, most are heart breaking, and all are extremely useful. A great coffee table book, and a good Christmas gift option.

Doom Rolled in Glitter by Leena Norms 5/5

This zine includes twenty poems about Norms’ twenties. Some are about the struggle of finding yourself, of losing love and hope. All are beautiful. She offered 2 for 1 for pre-orders, so I’ve framed some pages from my spare copy! 

'We are gorged on love songs and pregnant with poetry,
Birthing busking songs before babies and opening ISAs
For the end of the world.' 

Following on from her viral New York Times essay in 2015, Catron's book looks at our relationship with love stories, and how we share ours with the world. She examines scientific studies as well as her own relationships, trying to find out whether we can truly work out what really makes love last. It’s insightful, well-researched and beautifully written. I highly recommend it to anyone else who is as obsessed with the nature of love as I am.

'But the abundance of how-we-met stories means we know a lot about falling in love - how it should feel and what we might say or do to influence its intensity and direction - but we don't have many scripts for making that love last.'

'The pleasures of recognising that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same theme’s in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again - not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisions constitute a life.' 

Lie With Me by Philippe Besson 5/5 

This award-winning French novel has been translated by the brilliant Molly Ringwald and is absolutely stunning. It's mainly set in the summer of 1984, as two teenage boys begin an affair which will impact the rest of their lives. It looks at the strong bonds we form in adolescence, at shame and denial and love.  

'This passion that can’t be talked about, that has to be concealed, gives way to the terrible question: if it isn’t talked about, how can one know that it really exists? One day, when it’s over, when it finally comes to an end, no one will be able to attest to what took place.'

'This feeling of love, it transports me, it makes me happy. But it also consumes me and makes me miserable, the way all impossible loves are miserable.'

12 Anticipated Reads: 2020

Monday, 4 November 2019
Here are some of the books being published in the new year that I am VERY excited to read:

  1. The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons. A love affair between the living and the dead. All I need to know. Bizarre and intriguing. 
  2. So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith. A short story collection about female desire, obsession and bad behaviour. Yes please. 
  3. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby. I loved We Are Never Meeting in Real Life so I'm really looking forward to this. An essay collection which promises to be raunchy, shockingly honest and funny. 
  4. Writers & Lovers by Lily King. A woman tries to juggle her creative ambitions with her daily life as a waitress. Very relatable. High hopes for this.

  5. A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende. Two young people flee the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in search of somewhere to call home. This sounds beautiful and I can't wait to get my hands on it! 
  6. The Squiggly Career by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis. On ditching traditional linear career paths and embracing jumping between roles and industries. Hopefully this has some useful insights. Employment can be a tricky thing to navigate...
  7. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. 'It's just my luck,' he said, 'that when I finally find a soulmate, she's fifteen years old.' I mean, come on. This has me gripped already. A psychological account of a 'relationship' between a teenager and her teacher. It's been compared to Room and The Girls. I'm imagining that it'll be as powerful as Three Women, too. 
  8. Luster by Raven Leilani. A woman floundering through her twenties (there may be a running theme here...) finds herself in a catastrophic open relationship with a married couple. Sounds gloriously messy. 

  9. All Adults Here by Emma Straub.  Main character suddenly recovers a repressed memory. On family dynamics and midlife crises. Fun! I've had my eye on Emma's Modern Lovers for a while now, too. 
  10. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. This is a memoir which deals with abusive relationships and plays with horror story tropes. If Her Body and Other Parties is anything to go by, this will no doubt be amazing. 
  11. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. A babysitter is accused of kidnapping the child she is looking after, and the awkward consequences of 'transactional' relationships are explored. 
  12. Weather by Jenny Offill. It's been called 'funny and disturbing',  so obviously I can't resist. Here we have a librarian with a interesting side hustle... as a fake therapist. What happens when you try and save everyone? Hopefully we'll find out... 

Lemme know what you're looking forward to reading next.

I'm nosy. Thanks.