September/October TBR Video

You know that period in which I was musing on the idea of trying out being a booktuber? Well, at which stage of making videos about books can you actually call yourself that? Is it when you make your first haul? When you compile your first TBR list? When you make your first review? I’m not entirely sure but I think I’m definitely going to continue this book vlogging lark because it’s awfully fun.

So, here is September/October’s TBR list, necessarily dominated by university required reading, in video form. Oo la la.

September/October TBR

The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
Atomised – Michel Houellebecq
The Flood – Maggie Gee
Crash – J.G. Ballard*
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro*
The Faerie Queene – Edmund Spenser
How To Build A Girl – Caitlin Moran
How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff
One Million Lovely Letters – Jodi Ann Bickley

[* marks a re-read]

September TBR

It’s 1st September and we all know what that means! Yes, yes, we all have to choke down sobs at the realisation that not only are we once again not boarding the Hogwarts Express for another year of fun and friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but we are also very much past the age of admission for said hallowed school. Sorry to have to break it to you like this guys, keep on dreaming your letter just got lost in the post if you wish, I sadly must move on.

To bigger (ha) and better (unlikely) things, namely constructing some kind of TBR for this month.

The strategy of compiling a TBR went… okay-ish last month. I didn’t finish all the books on my list but I did read some more that weren’t on there so I don’t feel too guilty about the whole thing. I intended to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Anna Karenina, The Remains of the Day, and Notes from an Exhibition, coming it at 2364 pages. What I actually read was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Remains of the Day, The Shock of the Fall, Fangirl, and Anna and the French Kiss (along with 260 pages of Notes from an Exhibition, 214 pages from Anna Karenina, and 90 pages of A Short History of Nearly Everything), bringing in my total page count to 2779 pages for anyone who likes numbers (i.e. not me). Which is, you know, not what I intended but clearly better than I intended, right? Right?

I don’t actually know what that says about TBRs or read-a-thons (a lot of my deviation was to do with the wonderful Bout of Books 11) but hey ho I decided to compile a tentative TBR for September. This one includes some exciting reads for university since, now I’ve done my pre-registration stuff online, is looming wonderfully on the horizon and I’m getting ridiculously exciting for it to just be move-in day. But, without further ado…

September TBR

  1. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline (x)
  2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs (x)
  3. The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman (x)
  4. [Changing Places – David Lodge] (x)
  5. [Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde] (x)
  6. The War of the Worlds H.G. Wells (x)
  7. Brave New World Aldous Huxley (x)
  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick (x)
  9. Crash – J.G. Ballard (x)
  10. The Faerie Queene – Edmund Spenser (x)

That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? I’m not going to calculate the number of pages for fear of freaking myself out. Books 6-10 are all things I need to read for the two classes I’ll be taking in Michelmas term so I really do need to read those as a matter of priority. I’m not expecting to get onto Fforde or Lodge to be honest, but we’ll see, maybe I’ll finish the outstanding books from August (hahahahahahaha)?

How are your September TBRs shaping up you lovely people? Any keen amongst you already made progress?

August Haul

“Books are a uniquely portable magic” – Stephen King

Yeah, not if you have a stack of them and you just want to read all of them at the same time, Stephen, I think then I’d need a bag a la Mary Poppins or Hermione Granger to consider them portable.

Which is my obnoxious way of saying HI I BOUGHT TOO MANY BOOKS THIS MONTH CONSIDERING I SHOULD BE BUYING ONLY REQUIRED READING. I should probably also actually complete the required reading since there are summer reading lists for the two courses I’ll be taking next term (Posthumanism and Early Modern Bodies and Spirits, for the curious) and they’re not insubstantial.

For now, however, I bring you an August Haul, aka a photo of things I bought/borrowed from the library and have put on my TBR for the tiny remainder of this month/September. And I really do need to have these read in the course of the new few weeks because I shall be returning to my beloved Lancaster on the 27th September sans my book collection. Let us all take a moment to mourn that loss… and then move on to consider all the shiny books I’ve hauled.


Continue reading

Time to say goodbye

I’m going to have a lump in my throat when I write this. I know I am, it’s inevitable, so let’s all accept that and continue on anyway.

Last Friday I, with shaking hands, jostled through a small group crowding around a couple of sheets of A4 pinned up on a window that meant so much considering how seemingly innocuous they appeared. Degree classification results. I was overwhelmed to discover my name there under the First Class Honours section. I still can’t really believe it; I don’t think I will until I get my final transcript and official certificate. But that’s it, three years of work, or ten years (if you count the additional seven clocked up to get into university in the first place), and this is the final result.

Never again will I experience that vomit-inducing walk towards a table to collect results. Never again will I have to do the night-before-before totting up of how badly I could possibly have bombed my exams and what the damage would be on my final grade. Actually, never again will I have to sit an exam. After ten years this fact is overwhelming to realise.

I’ve seen that moment of realisation sink in on the faces of my friends at university. It might dawn during the triumphant walk (or self-pitying crawl) out of their final exam. It might dawn during the final weeks of term when younger students have yet to do their final exams and they’re instead happily drinking frappucinos and chilling at the castle in the sunshine. It might dawn when they graduate, feeling silly in black robes and mortarboards. It might not dawn at all until they’re unpacked, back at their family homes, and trying to adjust back to a world that doesn’t include university.

Overwhelming is the only word I can think to describe the feeling, but as Douglas Coupland identified in Generation X, when presented with a world of opportunities, the amount of choice leads to no choices being made. Instead, there is stasis, or as Coupland calls it ‘optional paralysis: the tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none’. I wonder how quickly this fades into ‘mid-twenties breakdown: a period of mental collapse occurring in one’s twenties, often caused by an inability to function outside of school or structured environments coupled with a realization of one’s essential aloneness in the world. Often makes induction into the ritual of pharmaceutical usage’.

This realisation that education, by one’s own volition, is now over is overwhelming and underwhelming in equal measure. I think it’s then coupled with a dawning feeling of ‘oh crap, I suppose I should think about getting a job now’. If you’re like me, you’ll choose the flat-out delusion tactic. Or, if you’re as masochistic as me, you’ll choose to sign yourself up for another year of education – willingly, gleefully even. (Disclaimer: No, I don’t know what’s wrong with me either. Only time will tell.)

But this is a choice to continue education, a choice the majority of my friends and peers are foregoing in favour of this brave new world called life outside of education. I can’t say I blame them, at all; it’s liberating to know that, if you want, you never again have to read journal articles or pull an all-nighter to finish off that essay due at 11am the next day. It’s wholly liberating, but it’s a liberation I’m not quite ready for. Yet. I’ll say goodbye to education, for all of a summer, but I’ll be saying hello to the next chapter (the scary world of MA Literary Studies) come October. To all those leaving education for greener pastures, I salute you. Good luck, I bow down to your bravery.

A Retrospective: Shakespeare and Les Misérables

Oh, why hello there 2012! Wow, you really were a lifetime ago. And guess who forgot about this blog entirely in that intervening passage of time? Yes, me! It’s particularly wonderful to take a look back at 19 year-old me from the position of 21 year-old me, a person who has finished university and is now waiting for results and at the same time anxiously trying to lay down the train tracks in front of a moving train which I don’t yet know the cargo, or the speed, of. Does that metaphor hold up? We’ll see if the train derails come results day, I guess.

Whilst we waiting for that impending crash (or maybe/hopefully not) let’s take stock of what changes have occurred since my last post on 15th October 2012. Well, I’ve had 2 birthdays since then, not bad places to start. Especially since the 21st was celebrated in particularly geeky fashion – going down to Stratford with my ever lovely university friend and housemate, Sarah, to see the RSC’s Richard II. So I spent my birthday in the same room as David Tennant, watching him king it up, not a bad way to spend my birthday and it’s so very me that I couldn’t have asked for a nicer celebration. (Well I could have done without the audience member being taken ill half-way through the show, but, I’m sure everyone could have done without that to be honest). It’s been a year or two of Shakespeare, in which time I developed a shiny new obsession. Namely a certain Mr Thomas Hiddleston – of Loki/Avengers, War Horse, and maybe Suburban Shootout fame (do not Google it, for the love of all that is holy) – and that man’s particular penchant for Shakespeare only served to deepen that pathetic fangirling tendency. So, it made sense that when he was starring in Donmar Warehouse’s Coriolanus, had to see it. It wasn’t a passing fancy and as the reviews came rolling in, it became a mission. I wouldn’t have succeeded if they hadn’t extended the run a couple of weeks. I wouldn’t have succeeded if it had only been me trying to nab those sought-after Front Row tickets. I wouldn’t have succeeded if it wasn’t for the tenacity of aforementioned Sarah whose emotional outburst in the library on that fateful ticket-successful morning (the last ditch attempt too) encapsulated feelings that I just couldn’t express. I didn’t fare very well at the performance itself either. Having seen the production via National Theatre Live (which, quick shout-out, is such an invaluable way of getting theatre to the mainstream) I thought I was prepared. I’d cried throughout the second-half of that broadcast because I knew how the tragedy of Coriolanus would inevitably end. I was not emotionally prepared. It was not pretty. I couldn’t stick around the theatre to give a quick thank you of appreciation to the actors who came out to stage door because if I had I just would have burst into tears in front of Hadley Fraser and Deborah Findlay. And we all know that would have been just a touch embarrassing for all involved.

Seeing the RSC’s Richard II and Donmar’s Coriolanus has been two highlights of my 2013/14 and experiences I will definitely remember and cherish. The sad fact of theatre, unfortunately, is its ephemeral nature. But it’s also its greatest virtue, the connection between audience and actor (if you will allow me to be particularly thee-ah-tar, dah-ling for a moment) is something that changes so much from show to show. Aaron Tveit says it well – it’s an exchange of energy between performer and observer, and there’s nothing else quite like it. 2013/14 has awakened, and firmly cemented, a love for theatre (and for Shakespeare) that I didn’t fully realise back in October 2012. Also a shameless love for a Mr Hiddleston, but we’ll leave that one well alone/to my Tumblr.

Which brings me to another obsession which was well fostered and, oddity of oddities, also at the hands of Sarah who introduced me, in the January of 2013, to a little thing called Les Misérables. Who would have guessed the downward spiral that quickly occurred. I’d never particularly been a huge musical theatre fan. Sure, I’d seen a few things – We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia, Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang – but they were more to do with my grandma’s love for musicals than my own. How very wrong I was, and how very naive I was to think that Les Misérables wouldn’t grip me the way it did. In the end, for some godforsaken reason, I ended up doing my undergraduate dissertation on it, the book in any case – though I did spend a sizeable portion of that 10,000 word limit talking about the musical and film adaptations. I couldn’t have guessed that in October 2012. I had no clue that I would have obsessed over a blonde-haired student revolutionary called Enjolras; that I would have synced up Spotify playlists whilst we were in separate rooms and belted out an embarrassingly out-of-tune rendition of the entire film soundtrack with, oh you guessed it, Sarah. That I would have spend countless hours of frustration trying to pin down in 10,000 words why Les Misérables needed to be paid attention to – this is the best I could come up with. That I would, thanks to a well-timed Christmas Present IOU from my parents, be able to perfectly coordinate seeing Les Misérables in the West End with that Coriolanus trip to spend two days in London being incredibly geeky but loving it? I couldn’t have predicted that.

That’s the funny thing about retrospection, isn’t it? It’s hard to mentally rewind to that place of inexperience. It doesn’t have to be huge life-changing moments you want to try to un-remember to see what life was like back then, it can be the little things. It can be trying to re-imagine what you were like in October 2012 having not heard Red And Black yet or having not shivered in terror seeing this still frankly scary-as-fuck single expression from Coriolanus. Maybe my next blog post will be about more serious things, more grandiose things, like graduation, examinations, what on earth to do in the rest of that unknowable thing that is my future. Sounds ominous.

A reflection on personal statements

Writing a College Essay: The Miracle of Swindon Town #153

I’m a big fan of John Green’s insights into the wonderful world of writing. In his latest video he talks about college application essays and gives some useful advice. For example, don’t be melodramatic,  make sure your writing isn’t fancy and flowery and unnecessarily overwrought. And the importance of drafting… wow does that take me back – I can’t quite believe it’s been practically two years since I was starting to panic about having to write my personal statement for university. Because I was applying to Cambridge, I had to submit by UCAS application by mid-October unlike most of my peers who had the luxury of having teachers nag them to get theirs finished right up until after Christmastime.

I remember sitting down in front of a computer, later a blank piece of paper (in the hope a change of ‘scenery’ would magically inspire me), and trying to conjure up some kind of argument as to why on earth I wanted to study English Literature, why I loved it, and most importantly why the university should pick me over the next application they read. At first it seemed pretty basic, talk about why you enjoyed the subject you want to study, talk about extracurricular responsibilities and interests, chuck in some stuff about skills gained from work experience and twist them to be handy for your proposed degree. Don’t use quotations, don’t start your essay with something you found by Google-ing ‘inspirational quotations’. And while you’re at it, try not to be too cliche, don’t say “From a young age, I have always been interested in <insert your hopeful degree subject here>” – no matter how that is phrased, it sounds cliche and… false. Most people don’t emerge full-formed from the womb knowing they want to go to university to study medicine, later becoming a doctor, before working in their local hospital, rising the ranks until they become a consultant. Kudos to those who do. Check your sentence lengths, check your grammar, check your spelling (especially homophones, computers don’t pick that up) and check what you’ve said actually makes sense to someone who is not you.

One of the most important things I learnt during the university application process was to never be afraid of handing your personal statement over to another (a teacher, a peer, a family member), but make sure this person will be honest with you, make sure you pick someone who could could tear your work to shreds if they felt like it needed it. Above all, accept constructive criticism and actually bother to make the changes people suggest you should make. Do not get precious over your first draft. Chances are, it’ll be terrible, it’ll lack coherency and brevity, you’ll waffle to try and pad it out to get to the character limit on the UCAS form. There will be unnecessary crap, completely unrelated to your proposed subject that, no matter how hard you try, cannot be twisted to sound like it’ll be an invaluable skill. Listen to other peoples’ advice. In the end, your personal statement isn’t solely about your fitness for the course you’ve applied (relevant work experience, good grades and a genuine interest is preferable however), rather it’s about your ability to communicate, to put across your thoughts in a clear and understandable manner, and to do so whilst your writing remains firmly yours.

Oh and don’t be disheartened if you’re rejected. It sounds easy to say that now, looking back on it. I was rejected by 3 universities I applied to (granted they were pretty competitive to gain a place- Cambridge, Durham and Edinburgh if you’re wondering) but that doesn’t matter now. What does matter is that a university read my application and thought ‘hey now, I like this girl’s essay/grades, let’s offer her a place to read Literature’. And here I am.

So don’t leave your essay until last minute, don’t think you’re going to get it all done on the first draft, and don’t hide your personal statement away and refuse to take account of other peoples’ comments about it. If you take the time to step back from your work, avoid being overly protective of it, and listen to feedback, you might just end up with a pretty damn awesome personal statement… in my opinion.

What is it good for?

I think I’ve finally realised why I have such a hard time when it comes to certain essays – right now the essay titles for the International Relations side of the politics course are leaving something to be desired, in my opinion. I don’t get it. I just don’t get IR. I mean, sure I get the theories well enough to give a general overview but when it comes to trying to predict what a certain state will do based on structural realist theories or Marxist perspectives, I’m partly lost. I think I understand it enough to bullshit to a layman that I know about it, but not enough to write 2000 words on it to fool a seminar tutor into thinking I get the theories.

I feel shit at the moment. And the reason? Because I can’t handle not getting something, not knowing. Being bad at something is hard for me. And it’s not because I arrogantly think I’m amazing and intelligent, no, believe me, I have self-esteem issues when it comes to my own knowledge. It’s because I’m nothing else but academic and if I don’t have good academic grades, good understanding of a subject then I am nothing as a person. I don’t have hobbies. I don’t have talents. Thus far in my life, I’ve been… ‘Emma, the clever one’ so when I don’t get something it’s really hard for me to handle that fact. Because without that understanding, what am I?

Sure I can sketch a person’s likeness well (if I have a model and an hour of silence), but I haven’t practiced it in years so I’ll undoubtedly be rusty. Sure I indulge in a little forum roleplay sometimes (the kind where you create characters and then write for them), but it’s hardly considered a talent. Sure I read and adore stories but that’s just a sideline, it’s hardly something that I (realistically) could call a hobby or talent since most people see it as a passive activity (if you read properly it isn’t). Sure, I can speak Spanish but as my self-confidence is zero I’d never feel good enough to strike up a conversation with a Spaniard whilst on holiday. Oh and I can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t play an instrument, can’t play sports very well (I have terrible coordination). I’m just… I don’t know… the one who’s good at essay writing (or the one who used to be good at academic work).

So when I’m not, when I feel as though I don’t know anything or haven’t grasped the material that’s been taught for this feeling of inadequacy and do something about it. *sigh* I’m having a bad day I reckon.


(PS- I can only apologise for the whiny, self-indulgent nature of this post. Like I said, bad day, and I need to let it out even if I know it’s not interesting for anyone to read, I need to write this out for me.)

A reason to feel like an ignorant human being?

A reason to feel like an ignorant human being? Hmm well I know nothing of world history. There, I’ve said it. I can just about tell you about World War I and II (the reason I dropped History after Year 9 because I simply couldn’t take another lesson about Adolf Hitler), the Industrial Revolution, castles and the Battle of Hastings to name some thrilling secondary-school curriculum topics. In primary school we delved momentarily into the Victorians, Henry VIII and Ancient Greece and Rome… so I could cobble together some vague statement about Greek myths and legends probably. I’ve done a bit of Spanish history amongst A Level Spanish lessons so I could tell you about oppression during Franco’s dictatorship, the falled coup of Tejero and such. But, overall, my historical knowledge is pretty shocking. I’d say most of my historical knowledge has come from A Level Politics lessons (Thatcher and the Falklands, Vietnam War etc.) which is ironic when I consider what has prompted me to feel like an ignorant human being – my politics seminars.

Occassionally during such seminars we’ll momentarily delve into, what feels like to me, an obscure bit of European history. Turns out it’s not obscure but, as it didn’t fall under the remit of either World War lesson plans, I wasn’t taught it. I’m sorry, I know World War I and II was extremely influential and, please don’t mistake me, I’m not shitting on anything to do with the World Wars, I find the literature of the period (and literature about the period) really intriguing and emotional. I suppose this is why it is on the curriculum but I do think it’s damaging to students to place so much emphasis on it. You create a generation of students whose historical general knowledge consists of solely that; they’re blinkered, in a way. For me, it means I’ve reached the age of 19 with an astounding level of ignorance – seriously I feel stupid.

And it feels as though it’s too late really for me to ‘catch up’ and even if I did wish to catch up what could I do, read ‘The New Penguin History of the World’? Probably. But look at it, it’s hundreds of pages long and, frankly, it’s not a priority when I have reading to do for my actual university subjects. But I somehow feel as though I need to read it to help improve my general historical… awareness I suppose. Because I would probably find things like Spanish culture lectures more bearable if I could visualise a certain period in Spanish history against what was happening elsewhere in Europe or in the rest of the World. And I wouldn’t feel so pig ignorant when a politics seminar leader asks us about, bloody hell I don’t know, the French Revolution.

I suppose I just needed to let this out, knowing it has made me a bit irritated at/sick of myself as of late.

Edit: As proof of the ever-growing awesome of Hank and John Green (vlogbrothers on YouTube, if you don’t know them, shame on you), I feel the World History series on their new Crashcourse channel might just help me with my horrendously bad history knowledge. Thank you John Green, seriously.

On feeling dislocated

Right now, I’m confused. For the last seven years I was merrily attending Macmillan Monday-Friday, waking up at 7, bus at 20 to 8, lessons until 2:45 then bus home. Even when I moved into sixth form I stayed on at Macmillan, meaning 2 more years on the 5-year standard in a place that I could now walk around blindfolded. It was familiar. I gained new friends in sixth form but, essentially, it was the same group of people that I was interacting with 9-3, 5 days a week, for 7 years.

And then, along came university. Moving out to an unfamiliar place. Having to meet and get along with completely new people from completely different places and walks of life. Uni throws you in at the deep end in terms of both social interaction and academic work. But I loved it. I can safely say, despite the hiccups, despite the workload (mainly due to me putting essays off until the night before, suffering moments of crippling insecurity over my abilities, somehow whacking out 2500 words and handing it in mentally exhausted, and repeat), despite all that awkwardness and anxiety, I frigging LOVED IT. Now I’m at home again, very close to my friends from school, my mam sat in the next room and my dad doing his usual Sunday night routine of going to the quiz at the cricket club. And yet… I feel… dislocated. Like I shouldn’t be here anymore.

You know when people always said – “Oh you’ll feel like you’ve known people at uni for years even though you’ve only known them for weeks”? Well it’s true; they actually weren’t lying. In some ways I feel more at home on B Floor now than I do at home. It confuses me. I’ve just gotten used to a routine and the place that is Lancaster Uni’s campus and now I’m back in Thornaby. I’ll develop a routine here and then come 16th January I’ll have to change it all again. It’s a weird feeling. I’d only been at Lancaster for 11 weeks and yet it was feeling like my home. But what does your ‘real home’ become then, when uni has taken precedence? I don’t know. In fact I’m not sure where all this came from. I was planning to write something about how great uni has been and how I’m glad to be back home for Christmas yet what came out when I sat down to type it was this load of rambling.

I suppose I didn’t know I was feeling all this until I just let my fingers move over the keyboard.

How is it so easy for people to just not care?

I experienced this problem throughout secondary school, I arrived at Post-16 and foolishly thought ‘right, you’ve all chosen to be here studying subjects you also got to pick, so everyone ought to care about their grades/education’. Nope, turns out there were still quite a worryingly large group of lazy sods who coasted all year doing the bare minimum so they didn’t get chucked off their course. And now at uni I feel like there’s something of the same issue but how on earth can other people just… not care about their education?

I should explain the background to this – I’ve just spent the past hour in excrutiating discomfort in a Spanish culture seminar in which about 1/4 of the class had completed the work for it. The point of being set work is so that your own studying/research is structured and productive as you can then note down any issues you may come across that need clarifying by an expert – i.e. the seminar tutor. All we had to do was watch a 2 hour film about Ernesto ‘el Che’ Guevara and answer a (to be honest) not-terribly-taxing set of questions about it. I’d say, at most, if you spent time reading a little about the context of ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ or Guevara himself, you’d spend 4 hours on it, really. And yet 75% of people in that seminar group just couldn’t manage to put aside 4 hours somewhere in the 2 weeks between seminars in order to complete the work. Seriously, I have to ask it again, how is it so easy for people to just not care about their work?!

It both infuriates and baffles me because I will never ever understand the mentality, I don’t understand how intelligent individuals, doing a course they chose to do don’t forget, can just say ‘ah sack it, I’ll just turn up having not prepared work for it’. I couldn’t ever allow myself to do that. Okay okay sure enough, I do procrastinate work (we all do, I think you lie if you say you don’t) but I still ensure that I’ve at least gained a basic understanding of the topic before I go to a seminar and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t turn up anyway and expect to be able to just sit back and not volunteer an opinion because ‘I haven’t had chance to see the film’. That’s not an excuse, it’s your education, your studying, take responsibility for it and don’t act like it’s fine if you just couldn’t be arsed to do 4 hours of work in the 2 weeks you had.

I feel like my time has been wasted now by a completely inefficient seminar in which I learnt maybe 1 useful titbit of information (and that came from a girl who was well-read in Guevara and Latin America) and the rest was people saying ‘oh yeah sorry, haven’t actually watched the film so I shall be completely useless in this discussion’.