January is over. Everyone can rejoice. We made it through the toughest month of the year and came out the other side unscathed. Well, relatively. But that’s a whole other tale I’ve no longer got any time for.
Despite the cold snap finally relenting, it is crazy windy out there. Like, Toto-I-don’t-think-we’re-in-Kansas-anymore windy. I took the dog for a walk yesterday and I swear I nearly blew away and I’ve got some junk in the trunk to weigh me down.
So, if like me, you’re not feeling venturing outside and a) having your skirt blow up and reveal your knickers to a load of workmen (Piccadilly Station. Yesterday) or b) have to contend with a Medusa-like barnet that can be tamed no more than that crazy-ass snake from that film with Jennifer Lopez in, then read on!
I’ve been spending a lot of time out with friends recently and both my liver and bank balance are feeling the pinch. What, with my trip to Budapest coming up in a few weeks, and having to lay down some cash monies for the next round of fun and frolics at Moniach Mhor in Inverness this Summer, I thought it was high time I spent a little bit of time indoors.
And what better way for a bookworm to spend her time than with a mug of hot-chocolate, a cute puppy and a stack of new books to binge read? That’s right. Nothing.
“And most of all, books. They were, in and of themselves, reasons to stay alive. Every book written is the product of a human mind in a particular state. Add all the books together and you get the end sum of humanity. Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself.”
Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
First up, is the wonderful Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. Now this book has been doing the social media/book blogger rounds of late, as well as adorning the display windows in major bookstores like Waterstones. Not usually one for book-hype, I was attracted to this Sunday Times Bestseller by the tagline on the back cover – What does it mean to feel truly alive? – written in bold, rainbow colours, I knew this wasn’t going to be a simple self-help, narrative about depression, rather it was something different. Something positive.
And honestly? I couldn’t have been more right. I follow Matt Haig on Twitter. He is incredibly funny, positive and honest. It just goes to show that mental illness comes in all shapes, sizes, genders, and walks of life. It is an absolutely stunning read which left me belly laughing as much as it left me in tears. I read this in the bath on a Sunday morning. In one sitting. I kept topping up the hot water and turning the next page. I read this book when I was starting to feel a little hopeless and it reminded me of all the hard work I have put into living my life the way I want – with positivity, humour and, above all, passion – and it reminded me that I need to have faith in both my own abilities and the world around me.
“Maybe love is just about finding the person you can be your weird self with.”
Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
Next up, is the new novel from an author I have fan-girled over previously on Emma is Writing. Louise O’Neill.
Described by The Guardian as ‘the best Young Adult fiction writer alive today,’ she is not only a girl after my own heart (when asked in an interview what superpower she would like to have, she replied that she would quite like to teleport, not so she could go back in time, but so she wouldn’t have to wait for a taxi home when she was drunk. YES!) but her books touch on some pretty important subject matter. I have heard that her latest offering really packs a punch, exploring the issues of sexual consent and society’s rather skewed attitudes towards sex.
I haven’t read it yet. It’s on my TBR pile. It’s like that last chocolate you just leave and leave because you know it’s going to be the best one yet.
The premise? Emma O’Donovan is 18, young, happy and the most beautiful girl in Ballinatoom. She has her whole life ahead of her – university, a family, a future – until one night, one party, snatches all that away. The morning after the night before she wakes up on her doorstop. She doesn’t know how she got there, doesn’t know why it hurts. But everyone else does. Pictures scattered on social media show in horrific detail the events of that night. They say she is a slut. They say it was her fault. They say she was asking for it. Sometimes Emma doesn’t know what to believe.
In a world where police posters warn and urge women not to drink too much or place themselves in danger, where one third of rape cases are dropped, where people think it’s OK to comment on what a woman is wearing like it is somehow her fault, where shame is prevalent, sexual consent is a complicated and important subject.
In my opinion, it needs to be talked about. It needs to be openly discussed in schools with honesty, clarity and urgency. More women need to share their stories.
“We teach our girls how not to get raped with a sense of doom, a sense that we are fighting a losing battle. When I was writing this novel, friend after friend came to me telling me of something that had happened to them. A hand up their skirt, a boy who wouldn’t take no for an answer, a night where they were too drunk to give consent but they think it was taken from them anyway. We shared these stories with one another and it was as if we were discussing some essential part of being a woman, like period cramps or contraceptives. Every woman or girl who told me these stories had one thing in common: shame. ‘I was drunk . . . I brought him back to my house . . . I fell asleep at that party . . . I froze and I didn’t tell him to stop . . .’ My fault. My fault. My fault. When I asked these women if they had reported what had happened to the police, only one out of twenty women said yes. The others looked at me and said, ‘No. How could I have proved it? Who would have believed me?’ And I didn’t have any answer for that.”
Louise O’Neill, Asking For It
In a sea of bubble-gum romances, O’Neill, like many other fabulous female YA writers like Holly Bourne, Julie Mayhew, Non Pratt and Laura Dockerill, is a breath of fresh, brutal air.
I am fan-girling for England today, because next on my list is The Humans, yet another offering from Matt Haig. I actually picked this book up before Reasons to Stay Alive but I have only just started reading it. It’s a fabulous book so far, written with excellent wit. I really believe that Matt Haig is one of those writers who has a grasp on the human experience, it’s like he is on the outside looking in – much like the central character of the novel, Professor Andrew Martin who believes himself to be an alien on an important mission – exploring what it is to love and be human. I don’t want to talk too much about this novel as I am still currently in the process of reading it but so far, so brilliant so I urge you all to pick up a copy.
“No one will understand you. It is not, ultimately, that important. What is important is that you understand you.”
Matt Haig, The Humans
At lastly, a little bit of poetry. I have been making myself read a poem a day since Christmas as some sort of New Year’s resolution. I have found these everywhere, limericks, poems posted on social media, graffiti, poems on a certain subject, sneaking into a bookshop, selecting one at random and reading it there and then, anything really. I have a soft spot for a bit of cheesy love poetry and sonnets. A single girl in this Tinder-age has got to get her romance from somewhere so why not Shakespeare, I say!
“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”
William Shakespeare (Sonnet 116)
But I am also loving a little bit of Emily Dickinson (The Collected Poems) on the go. I read a little of her work in my teenage years. During that faze where I devoured Ariel by Sylvia Plath and had a little bit of an emo haircut going on, but have never really revisited as an adult. I find poetry quite difficult to master. I can’t write it. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I was always that kid in class who just looked blank when asked what the poet meant. I don’t think I didn’t get it. I just think there was a stigma surrounding poetry, a belief that it’s as pretentious as a hipster in an independent coffee house clutching a copy of On The Road and waxing lyrical about some indie band, but now looking at it through my adult-eyes, its starts to take on a different meaning, it starts to make more sense. I can kind of start to see what they are talking about it. Honestly.
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
What’s on your TBR pile this month? Do you have a big stash of recommendations? Are there any books that you just loved recently and feel the need to spread the word? How do you feel about poetry? Do you find it difficult and shy away? Or do you devour it line by line? Let me know here, or over @EmmaYatesBadley or come say hi over on my Instagram page @embobs85 or find me on Facebook.