Charlotte's blog

Charlotte is currently a first year student at York St Johns University studying English Literature. 

28. Inspiration: J.K.Rowling

So far, this small series of blogs has largely featured on my literary inspirations. Those who I have found to be inspirational figures throughout my reading and research, ultimately fuelling my own ideas and encouraging me to keep working hard in the process of developing my own voice as a writer/creative individual. It is easy to pick out examples of inspirational role models from throughout history in terms of books or artwork. Well actually, not necessarily easy - there are so many of them! Beginning with Woolf, this blog series has slowly begun to take shape in showing some of the people, writers and artists from the past and present who inspire me to do what I do every day.
We all have that one voice that we remember for as far back as we can remember and whilst we all have a different particular literary voice (not counting those within our families in this case) there are those voices which many of us treasure equally. Those voices that are loved world-wide, who are re-read in every house-hold until the pages are dog-eared. And for me, as I don't doubt is the case for so many of you, that would have to be the voice of J. K. Rowling. 
My awesome new edition in Ravenclaw Blue! - Copyright CLSS 2017
Throughout my childhood, there were so many books in my house. Everything from Chaucer to Jacqueline Wilson lined our shelves and my parents were the wonderful sort to patiently sit with my reading for hours every day (even if somewhat begrudgingly when I demanded a third bed time story). Today Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone celebrates its 20th birthday, something people across the globe are celebrating with bookclubs, reading events and all other sorts of celebration. This is a book which began something magical. I don't remember the first time the book made its way into my home but I do remember being welcomed into this world for the first time and embarking upon the adventures with Harry and his friends with so much excitement. Hogwarts has not only been a home to its characters but also to those of us who return again and again to the books and films. And whilst I don't remember the first time the book was brought home, I do remember the second and third copies we bought of it because the binding became so worn with pages falling out (we still have those battered copies on our shelves with tape along the spines). 
Reading those books was one of the first things that initially got me reading. There was always a new reason to turn the page, whether it be to find out what was in the Forbidden Forest or to discover which magical new creatures were awaiting round the corner. My favourite from the series is always changing because as I grow older and return to re-read each of the titles, there is always something new to learn. Currently my favourite is either the third or the sixth (Snape and Lupin are my favourite characters). Rowling has researched her world so closely and intently that the more you read the more detail there is to unpick. And by un-picking this word tapestry it becomes easier and easier to appreciate the majesty of the person who first weaved it. I think this every time there is a new aspect added to the wizarding world, whether that be new story branches (the completely unique zoological adventures of Scamander) or the technology which allows further access to the world (finally being sorted on Pottermore and finding my patronus for the first time - Ravenclaw of course, and a St. Bernard for my patronus). Plus not only has it remained something which brings me new lessons, it also holds many memories of those early days of reading and sharing these magical adventures with my family who followed the story equally as avidly. It is a comfort book in every regard.
I think that this is the thing that most inspires me about J. K. Rowling. She has not only remained incredibly motivated throughout a difficult journey in her own life to voice her stories, but she has written something which can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. It is not just a fictional tale, it is also something which holds moral. It express the importance of equality and likewise, how power can be abused. It is written with any possible shred of condescending nature completely absent from the pages. This is a place where adult and child are welcome alike to witness something marvellous. To feel at home when the not so fictional world becomes a little to difficult to bear. Growing up, Hermione Granger was as much an inspiration for me as J. K. Rowling is for me now. It isn't easy to be an outsider, but sometimes it is the noblest and bravest thing you can be no matter the context. Rowling taught that to me as much as my own family and friends did.
So on this 20th anniversary, I proudly read my Ravenclaw paperback of the Philosopher's Stone which will (of course) find its place beside my well loved editions on the book shelf which have been there since they were first published and my mum read them to me until I was old enough to read them for myself. And once I have read the last sentence and closed the book I will carry a little magic with me throughout my day which, whilst it may not be immediately obvious to the observer, will give me the strength to find the positives in every difficult situation. Because as Dumbledore said, happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light. 
Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 
If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

27. How I Write

I've written previously on writers block (the bad hair day of academics everywhere) and how it's possible to go about defeating it. It is an enemy to the best of us, and even professionals have stated that at times they have been sidetracked by a bad case of it during the midst of a big project. But today I wanted to speak to you about writing in general. More directly, how I write. They say to write what you know and this seems a good place to start, albeit quite a time into my writing here on UCAS.

There are different approaches for me with different kinds of writing. With academic work, I tend to start early and write everything over a scheduled period of time. Having that schedule can really help with motivation, and also means that I have plenty of time to do research. Often there will be hours set aside for research alone and I really like being able to go to the library with a notebook to sit and write out page numbers, authors names (everything I need for the Harvard referencing style) as I go. But whilst I work best writing out my references on paper, I type the majority of my academic work in blocks and save copies along the way. The combination of written, in depth research, and typing up the essay itself means that starting as early as possible is always the best way of working for me. Some people work best in a shorter period of time after they have done all the research, but combining the two produces my best work. Likewise, it also helps to not write directly to a word count in the early days but to instead edit down to the count once everything is up to a standard I am pleased with.
There always has to be a great because - Copyright CLSS 2017
Throughout my time studying during my first year in York, I experimented with where I wrote best academically speaking. For the majority of my work I have always found it easiest to write on my own, with not real preference of the whereabouts. Yet I have found over the past year that I began working really well around other people when I was confident with where work was going (such as with final edits and such). It was easy to work around noise and conversation for the first time in my life. But essentially with the majority of academic work, silence and solitude seem to be the best approach for me. It was frustrating in a way as it meant that pretty much the only place I could concentrate was my flat fairly late in the evening (I'm also a night owl). Hopefully I find a new space that works as well as this one did for the rest of my degree.

I first began blogging with UCAS back in 2014. At first it was a practice that was completely new to me and with the new territory there came a lot to learn. There is still a lot to learn, but I feel much happier with putting together blog pieces now. My literary studies have aided me a lot in that way as the better my academic writing gets, the better my blog work becomes also. It's true what they say about experience being the quickest and most efficient way to learn - the only issue is that to get experience is not a quick procedure. Instead it is something which takes a lot of time, perseverance and patience to attain. Plus, often you have to appreciate the adventure whilst you are on it because that is what you will find yourself inspired by initially when it comes to your writing. The adventure is going to be the best part (trust me) and you aren't going to want to miss out on it. For me, travelling and making the most of my interests (beginning with what I know) has always been the starting point. If there is something I think is important to share (such as advice and experience) then my main interest in writing about it will be to find a new way to approach it and make it engaging. Mindmapping can come in useful when it comes to planning how to do this. The best part about writing something is that you essentially create something from nothing - just like magic. 

But like my academic work, blogging takes a lot of planning. This month for example, much of what I have written has been based upon a schedule I put together so that I know what to aim to achieve in the month. Sometimes it is a more in depth plan than others with something set aside for every day just in case I have no inspiration, but other months it might just be a few key words on a post it note set to one side to give me a starting point and then I think as I go. It's an ongoing process that again, there is no definite answer to. I like trying out different methods of approaching my own writing here because it allows me to shape and define my voice as it develops. Plus, blogging is such a lot of fun - it means I can share with you dear reader all manner of thoughts and ideas.

Sometimes I suffer from writers block, even if I do plan in advance. There is not always an obvious way through it other than to keep writing best I can and to not let it completely define what I produce. There is a concept frequently discussed called the 10,000 hour practice rule which states you need at least 10,000 hours of full and intense practice in an area before you truly become a master of it. Sometimes when I am stuck on what to write I figure that the best to go about defeating it is to just keep writing. By doing so, I am getting some of the hardest work done I ever will in that 10,000 hours. It is in part why I aim to write every day so that I can see what I am capable of achieving if I continue to work hard. Plus, writing here every day means that my brain always gets at least an hour or two of exercise or a warm up before the academic drafting needs to begin. It is the equivalent of my glass of lemonade on a sunny day.

So why do I write? There are a million reasons. Two of which I have discussed previously: to complete my academic work on time and to help provide advice for fellow students based upon my own experience. But it is so much more than that. Writing is my vocation in every regard- it is the way I express myself best and where I feel most confident speaking out about what is on my mind. Through words I have discovered fantastical worlds that other writers have created and I have learnt so much about the reality surrounding me too. It is not always so much the how I write that is the main motivation, but the why I write element. Because having a reason for me is the most important part. If I do not truly feel I have a reason to write something then I will not, because then the words will be empty and meaningless and a waste of time on both sides of the paper. The good news is, the more I write the more reason I have to write. The more I write, the happier I am and the more the world makes sense to me.

The reason that writing makes me so happy and that I have so much to say is probably down to one thing other than hard work and that would be this. Every time I sit down to write I think up the motto I live by (I highly recommend you too design your own motto, they are wonderful, life-saving things). Mine is: There always has to be a great because. For something may be great, but it is great - because? ...
Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! Do you have a particular writing approach? How do you work best?  Let me know in the comments below!
If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

26. Adventure, London + Books

No summer is complete without a trip to London. London is one of my favourite cities as there is such a positive energy, with so many historical elements to explore as well as a myriad of new things to discover. There is never a dull moment and I always leave wishing that I could somehow take the tube back home with me as it is such an efficient way to travel! On my most recent trip, I was on a very important mission. Mission being to visit as many book shops as possible - what is commonly known as a Book Crawl. 
On arrival, after browsing Tottenham Court Waterstones and finding Van Gogh's Ear, the first place I headed to was the British museum. The American exhibition from my last visit unfortunately wasn't on any longer, though I did get to spend a lot of time reading up on Ancient Egypt. Seeing the Rosetta stone always leaves me feeling a bit incredulous because, without that who knows how much we would understand when it comes to de-coding hieroglyphics? It might have ended up being one of several lanaguages to not stand the test of time. For whilst there are many early writings, many of them remain mysteries to even the most skilled of language experts. The architecture of the museum itself is also something of a marvel, making it the perfect site for learning in how light and open it is. So I also made sure that I had a little time this visit to do some sketching. 
Sketching the British Museum - Copyright CLSS 2017
From the British museum, I attempted using my maps app to get to one of the first book shops on my list as it is an independent branch that wasn't signposted too clearly. After sitting awhile to read some Peter Pan in a park near to Great Ormond street hospital, I managed to continue on my way fairly easily. Whilst it was slightly cloudly, it was oddly very warm so it made for a pleasant walk overall. And eventually I came to my first real stop of the day (not counting the Waterstones) Persephone Books.
The gorgeous Persephone Books - Copyright CLSS 2017
Wandering around, I was struck by the loveliness of reading book titles I had never stumbled across before. So often we remain blase towards the books lined up on shelves, for we have heard of them all before in some way or other. But here, in these neat grey editioned rows, there were ideas that had not yet been mentioned to me in any format before and it made me so happy. The only issue being that, with the book crawl an ongoing project, I was on a budget so there was a limit of one book per store. The publications you see here feature neglected literature, largely that written by women over the past hundred years or so. Also fiction translated from other languages which perhaps hasn't gained the audience it might have done had it been published at a different time. There were plenty of new books as well though, one of which featured two stories by Virginia Woolf and Mark Haddon (of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time).
Stuck for choice, I found myself taking inspiration from the vintage poster on the wall. With it's rather comical statement and bright colours, it was not hard to find one of the best selling books Miss. Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which bears this image on its cover. If reading the blurb was not enough (it showed it to be rather Dalloway/Cinderella-esque) the recommendation from a customer was. A lady browsing through the books told me that it was her first visit too and that she had been given Miss. Pettigrew as a birthday present. It felt like a positive omen one stranger to another that this was the book to purchase for my journey.
Wandering back down through the streets full of cafes, clothes stores, sweet shops, bakeries, art supply shops, florists and eventually past the British museum again, it struck me for a moment how little space there was. How these streets of London are in themselves almost pages of a book come to life. Each thing a word or a sentence in itself, which all adds up to create one picture we can drink in. Each street is a cacophonic symphony, each window is a paragraph. So many different influences from all over the world, I felt all the more greedy to learn more about it after having a glimpse.
After a brief trip to the London Review of Books, I carried on towards to a place I was particularly excited to experience in person.
Finally meeting Foyles in person! - Copyright CLSS 2017
Of course I am referring to Foyles - every book lovers dream. I've never seen so many books on every subject you could possibly imagine all in one place. Each floor brought with it pleasant new surprises. The first floor I headed towards was the fourth, which is where the languages are. Usually I struggle to keep up on my reading in my secondary languages because of how little literature is stocked in these tongues in the book shops near home. But here I was again, spoilt with so much choice. There was a whole book case just for Dutch literature, with some rather hilarious short comics and plenty of YA fiction opposed to the usual limited range of classics, which can at sometimes be a bit tedious to get through due to how old the language is and the resulted concentration it requires in order to be deciphered. As for French and German - whole walls of books! I spent a good half an hour at least browsing through what was available.
The fiction and non-fiction floors were where I ended up finding my choices for this particular book haul however, and also several more titles for my to-be-read pile. Namely the new collection of Fitzgerald short stories which has just been released and a popular author translated from Chinese who kept popping up in every book shop I went to. My choices were quite contrasting to each other. Firstly I went with an obvious choice - the 20th anniversary edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in my house colours (true Ravenclaw blue). But I spent most of the train journey home reading my second choice which was Nasty Women. This being a collection of essays by numerous authors regarding what it is like to be a woman and writing in this century. There are a myriad of different stories, some discussing class in regards to the arts and others focusing in more specifically on personal anecdotes to explore key issues. It is certainly food for thought and, whilst heavy to read, I am glad that I came across it.
Whilst I waited to meet up with my boyfriend for the rest of the book crawl and London adventuring, I headed up to the Foyle book shop cafe. It is such a pleasant place to sit and read, particularly as the cake on sale makes everything smell like Heaven. Unfortunately they weren't too allergy friendly, so I settled for doodling the amazing raspberry sponge cake instead whilst curling up with my cherished new Watson and something cold to drink.
Admiring the Dutch literature at Foyles + Reading with snacks (the best way to read) - Copyright CLSS 2017
After spending several hours here (I really did need that long if not longer) we headed out to Hatchards, which is the oldest bookshop in the UK. It was such a cool space to be in, with a mix of the new and the old just like the British museum. If I had to repeat the book crawl I probably would have placed this before my stop at Foyles simply because there weren't as many language books available which made for a tiny bit of disappointment. Though that being said, they again had lots of titles I hadn't come across before. It was quiet and cool, the perfect place to read through a little non-fiction. We also called at the Piccadilly Waterstones nearby, which had a fantastic floor for children's literature - so colourful and creative (also featuring some brilliant books for girls, with one picture book featuring the wonderful Ella Fiztgerald). 
With a non-bookish (instead touristy) destination being Tower bridge, we decided to walk near to Shakespeare's Globe on the way. It was so strange to see in person, especially as we were headed away from it and not further inside to see a play! (Will certainly need to go back soon to see one). It was also at this point that it began to rain, meaning it was time to hold the books extra close to ensure no curled page mishaps.
London buses, Shakespeare + more books - Copyright CLSS 2017
It was a busy day but one I really enjoyed. From shopping on Oxford street to getting lost in London on my own for the first time, there was a lot to take from the adventure as there always is. Like I said earlier, it is a city which uses every space to the fullest of its potential meaning that it reads as one giant work of art. I imagine if it were a novel in itself then it would have switching narratives for each chapter. Neil Gaiman's two essays on the character of a city from The View From The Cheap Seats also comes to mind. 
It is colourful and messy and creative and wonderful. The pace of everything is so exhilirating it takes catching your breath as you go to keep up which takes a while to get used to but, once you have, you feel so much a part of something really unique. This quirky, loveable place, which is so many things to so many different people can instantly feel like home. All in all, I think I can say I have had a successful book crawl as I sit here typing about the things I have learned so far. But this trip ended up being much more than just the books I have to remember it by, it ended up being the sort of adventure I would like to write about because it feels there is still much more to say about it. The sort of adventure that I want to keep hold of tight and never let go for fear it may, like old film, be exposed to the light undeveloped leaving the pictures blurred round the edges. And yet even blurred like that, I don't think London would be any less brilliant to the beholder.
A bad day in London is still a better day than a good day anywher else - Unknown
Image copyright JCS 2017
Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 
If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

25. 100 Book Challenge Favourites

As you might know, each year I aim to read 100 books as a part of my New Year's Resolutions. The aim is not so much to read 100 books (though I have now completed my challenge for the year) but to encourage myself to keep up my personal reading and to challenge myself to read things I usually might not. Studying literature is useful in this regard as it means I am frequently working with texts that I wouldn't pick up in a library or book store but end up really enjoying. This has definitely been a big part of my reading throughut this past year, both due to my reading lists and beyond. This is something I am quite glad of as it means my reading tastes are becoming further eclectic and I am getting into the practice of always being an active reader.

There has been a variety of reading materials throughout my 2017 book challenge, with some of them being more enjoyable than others. It has been a really interesting experience to engage with books from my childhood for the first time in forever alongside texts which have only been published as recently as a month or so ago. Likewise, going back to the literature from hundreds of years ago (Shakepeare, Chaucer et al.) after reading something I could understand more easily has made for a welcome challenge and unlocked new perspectives of the texts I am reading at the same time due to the coincidence of similar characters, concepts and themes.

Here are some of my favourite books that I have come across in the 100 texts read so far. I am looking forward to reading even more! Do you have a book challenge this year or any book recommendations? Let me know in the comments below.
Travel far enough you greet yourself - David Mitchell
1. Public Library and Other Stories - Ali Smith 
This charming collection was both heart warming and heart breaking. In a world that needs books more than ever, it is important to discuss public access and why exactly we need libraries to be increasing in numbers not decreasing. My public library is probably my favourite place in the world simply because it is the place I can use as a rocket ship or time machine to so many other worlds. Through the memories of others collected in Smith's interviews and fictional stories, I was able to see to a greater extent than previously just how much damage has been done to the library circuit and how important it is to keep the conversation open within our communities. Ali Smith's voice here cannot be underrated in it it's importance to this discussion. Through her work, here and in other publications, it is evident enough why story-telling is as important as it is. Afterall as humans, we survive on story-telling. Let us never take that for granted

2. Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi
The first thing to greet you from this book, other than the epigraph, is a family tree. One free of dates but a family tree non-the-less. It felt in a way like opening up the first book of a long series because they always have some form of map in the front to help you keep up with events throughout the following pages. When I began reading, it became very evident that these characters were living in a traditional setting within Africa. It was difficult at points to read about elements of this culture because it is so different from elements of my own.

But that is what made it quite so important and engaging to read. It offered me a look into the life of not only this first fictional woman of the tree but also her children and great great grand children, who are written into a part of history using a language which is very much real. Until I was around a quarter of a way through the novel, I did not realise that this story is not just following one family but halves of a separated family. Two sisters separated at birth who both take very different paths. This leads to two almost entirely separate family trees, although they can both be somewhat traced back to that original root which connects and unites them. Heritage is a big theme in this regard.

I think that this is a book that has something for everyone. If there is one book that you invest in reading this 2017, let it be this. It possesses so many intriguing elements explored through this myraid of different voices all spun by one incredibly talented author. Evidently a writer who is not only well read but who has researched this project inside and out to create this perfect imperfect final result. Beautifully written. At times frighteningly or astoundingly realistic. Incredible

3. The Circle - Dave Eggers

A favourite read from this month would of course have to be my suggested read for my UCAS student book club - Eggers The Circle. This is a book about technology, creativity, the future, identity and power. It is an excellent read for many reasons, more specifically because it is well paced suspense wise and develops even the smallest of details mentioned until the very atmosphere of the company leaps off of the page as though it is a living creature. It is quite unique despite being one of several books I have read recently which speak about technological themes under the guise of speculative science fiction. It was great to return to a familiar author I knew I liked but through fiction instead of non-fiction. Now that I've finished reading it, I highly encourage you to read it too and to watch the brilliant movie adaptation.

4. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls
So well written and put together, with a gorgeous use of illustration. I loved the idea of mixing biography with artwork. It felt like you were getting a deeper insight into someone and their life + experiences due to this, more so than if there had simply been a signature head shot photograph from Wikipedia chosen and stuck there. Every illustration is designed by a different artist, meaning a personal touch is given to each and every of the amazing women discussed throughout these pages. Such an important book, amongst the sea of recent publications focusing upon bright, brilliant female inspirations to provide positive role models for young women. 

The tone was far away from condescending, which is one of the things I found most engaging. Because opposed to trying to make things easy to comprehend, these writers recognised that life is not easy to understand and should be written in a way that is clear but inspires further research. The world is wide open here through these astounding role models, with nothing edited out as so frequently these women have been from the male history books which dominate the canon.

Makes me prouder than ever to be a young woman in the twenty-first century. We have so much more power than we realise. The recent publications being released at the moment surrounding feminist ideas pushing for further gender equality for all fill me with hope. They fill me with hope for a future in which girls will be equal in every term of the word when it comes to work, life in general and happiness.

5. The Reader on the 6.27 - Paul Didierlaurent

Translated fiction is one of my favourite areas to read within. This novel (6.27) is part of a project I had earlier in the year to read more French translation. I really enjoyed this book in particular as it has such a creative concept - compiling a myriad of pages torn out of books and reading them to an audience of strangers. A heartwarming idea that was then mixed with more complicated issues surrounding being too afraid to do the things you might dream of doing in a rather Amelie-esque fashion. The descriptions are molten, the most vibrant colours, leaping out from every page to create such a quirky and individual story. I can't wait to give this a re-read very soon.
Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 
If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

24. Researching Genre - Children's Literature

A recent project has been expanding my love of reading and literary analysis to a variety of different genres. Because it is summer at the moment, it is an easy habit to stick with what I enjoy reading and to work my way through the to read list that I have tailor made for myself over all of the years I have been reading. But I don't want to always read inside my comfort zone because, whilst it does mean getting to read what I enjoy, it also means I am not really pushing myself to think more about other forms of writing, what they incorporate and how they achieve their outcome. When I am reading actively and thinking about all of those things, I am really pushing myself to reach my full potential as a student.

One of my research projects at the moment has been based upon reading and analysing popular children's books from the past few years. As we grow up, we leave behind the stories which we initially began reading with and move on to more complicated texts. We leave behind those picture books regarding them as something from a simpler time, meaning we don't necessarily always pay the credit that is due to those writers. It is so difficult to write a good children's book. The complication being largely in that these books are supposed to be teaching everything from how to read to some form of moral/lesson, whether that is learning how to be a good friend or how to be brave enough to conquer your fears. Reading so many of these new publications has really opened my eyes to this, with some of the themes tackled so subtly that the story itself always remains the main focal point of the reader. Complicated to achieve, but crucial to the success of the publication.

Some of the best children's books I came across are listed below, along with some of the reasons I think they are at the top of their genre. What do you think? What do you think is important about writing for children's literature? Let me know in the comments below.
A childhood without books - there would be no childhood! - Astrid Lindgren

1. Please Mr. Panda - Steve Antony

This short book was one of the first I came across when I began researching this genre. It features a range of cute animal characters who all interact with the rather grumpy Mr. Panda. Selling doughnuts, he offers them each one to which they often reply that of course they want a doughnut! But they never say please, not until the very last character, so none of them get a treat. The moral of course is surrounding good manners, but it is so subtly done. The focus of course being between the panda and his animal friends.

The design of the book was also quite elegant. The language and illustration were equally simple in design, making use of black and white for the characters but bright colours for the food which created a really effective clash. This works as a picture book because it focuses more upon the artwork, creating an all around reading experience that is pleasing to both observe and read.

2. It's A Book - Lane Smith

A lot of the books I have come across focus upon encouraging children to read and the importance of libraries. In many of the books, libraries are shown to be magical Tardis-esque places which can whisk you away to any time in history or transform into magical lands. This book goes one step further and brushes upon the importance of separating books and a love of reading from technology. Too often we become dependent upon computers and screens to the point that here our main characters have to discuss what exactly a book is - what it is made of, why you can't just scroll through it or charge it up. A comical little book that deals with a much bigger issue, all whilst encouraging young people to continue picking up books and reading.

3. The Day The Crayons Came Home - Drew Daywalt

One of the biggest picture books discussed in recent years has been The Day the Crayons Quit with this new title being released as a recent sequel. Both of these books make use of a range of visual techniques, mixing together photographs with hand drawn illustrations. The stories focus in upon creating characters out of crayons, to explore the perspective of something that can often be taken for granted.

This was a really funny story which has a lot to offer - it uses metaphor to ask bigger questions. It embraces talking about feeling scared or different, or sometimes wanting to be someone else when you are most vulnerable. But by embracing the sillier side and leaning upon this, it doesn't feel scary to talk about those things and this is a really big part of the genre of children's literature: Making sure it doesn't feel like someone is being cornered to talk about something but instead making it a part of a story - something that can be realised gradually. This is a really effective way to approach that through positive, creative story telling.

4. Press Here - Herve Tullet

A classic, quirky, interactive book. Where previous books I've discussed have focused upon getting children to read, go to the library or discuss the role of technology in reading, this book focuses upon the creative and upon making art. It isn't interactive in the sense of pop up or moveable elements to pages, but in the sense that each page will ask you to do an activity that seems magically fulfilled on the following page. Thing of a younger version of 'wreck-this-journal'. For instance, press the yellow circle and bam! On the next page are two yellow circles as a result. It was again very fun to read, and reminded me of what Davinci said about embracing your inner childish creativity in order to make the most of your potential, no matter your age.

5. Lost And Found - Oliver Jeffers

One of the most moving of the children's books I read was this one, which is part of a series focusing on the adventures of the character of Boy. Where previously he has been to the moon and met aliens and caught a star from the sea, this book is much stiller. It focuses upon his meeting a Penguin and trying to find his home, only to realise that sometimes home doesn't mean a place but instead means a person. It is all about friendship, hope and of course, defining what home means.

Home is a very complicated word and hence, another complex issue for children to grasp at a young age. The written technique here again tries to focus on the positive and also the use illustration to help brighten a topic which might at points seem heavy or dark. It's successful because it combines the realistic with the slightly magical - I mean how many people do you know, though we all wish we did, who have a penguin as a best friend? A really heartwarming book that uses simplicity to make something complex not all that complex at all.

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 

If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

23. Erasmus Diary - Research, Planning + Writing

Getting through everything on the Erasmus tick list is taking a while, especially as some of it won't be easily completed until I get there. It is stressful having to work in blocks on different tasks over a spaced out period of time opposed to completing everything all in one go, but unfortunately that is the way these things work due to the sheer number of people on exchange programmes and studying in the Netherlands in general.

The good news is that, as of now, I seem to have accommodation in order and most of the health insurance information required. Researching Amsterdam has been a really interesting experience so far, especially because I can already see where there are slight differences. For instance, when on a study abroad in the Netherlands it is a legal must to have several forms of health insurance and also to have some form of identification paper on your person at all times. has been a really useful source in filling me on this sort of thing, with lots of information too about settling in. Everything from getting a museum card (so that everyday can be an affordable museum day) to what to pack (lots of suitable rain clothes because it rains a lot!).

In terms of getting to know the city, I know that this is going to be similar to my experience with moving to York for my first year last September. Learning the paths by walking and cycling, or researching the origins of street signs. At first it becomes a bit of a habit to stay near the university campus and to get used to going to and from that area, but it takes pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone after a few days once you are comfortable with the basics in order to branch out and really begin living in the area as though you are a local. A kind of fake it till you make it stance - afterall, you have to walk confidently in order to begin really feeling that confidence. If you don't do this, then your knowledge will never begin to expand and as a result, you won't experience as many interesting things as you otherwise might. I'm not too worried about getting to grips with the centre of Amsterdam itself as from my visit last summer, I feel I already know this part of the area quite well. It's just going to be a process of putting it into the context of further new places now. I am also super excited about a feature article I recently wrote on my favourite places in Amsterdam for The Travel Pocket Guide (a new magazine that is coming out later this year). You can check it out by clicking on the image below:
Outside of researching these locations more specifically, I am also trying to get right to the heart of the location by learning more about the language and the history. I spoke a little previously about the Dutch langauge, which is fairly similar to German, in my Adventures post. It is tricky getting the hang of it, especially the accent, but by doing a bit of work every day it is gradually getting there. It is so rewarding being able to track my progress and look back over everything. A reassuring point which is helping me really take my time and get to grips with what I am learning is that, in the first few weeks of my arrival my university will basically be doing a crash course in Dutch. Hopefully by then I will have learnt much more and will know most of the basics - it will be really fun if that is the case as I will be able to begin putting it into practice more officially.

In my process of learning about the history, I have begun by reading through what is known as the Dutch canon. This is a series of 50 historical topics which are currently taught to school students in the Netherlands. Much of the history, particularly about the early days of the Netherlands, is similar to what I already know of other European history. For instance, mysterious stone statues which have no direct evidence to prove they are tombs, churches, etc and are too old to give away what they are just from their placement. But there are some elements of the history which are brand new to me and are proving a great deal of fun to learn about. Today I have become something of an Erasmus of Rotterdam expert because I just became so interested by this famous figure. Perhaps it is because it is the name of the whole student exchange programme in Europe and I wanted to know more. But either way, here are some fun facts:

- Erasmus is affiliated most closely with Rotterdam, but he only spent 4 years of his life there and never returned. Whilst it is likely he was born there, there is much debate about his birth (location and date wise). This is due to the his parents passing away fairly early in his childhood from the plague.

- He travelled a lot, studying in many of the location he visited for lengthy periods of time. Most notably, France, England and Italy. Though comically he hated the English weather and beer!

- The British library has 10 columns of catalogue just for his works in their various editions and guises.

On a final note, I won't go into too much detail on the paperwork side of preparation, I am officially going to be a Digital Ambassador again for York St. John for the academic year 2017-18! I am so pleased about this because I really enjoy being able to put together advice for students questions, sharing my own experience and being able to answer questions more specifically about a place that has proved such a fantastic learning environment for me so far. Hopefully it proves another year of sharing some positive progress, opportunities and amazing memories. But for now, until it is moving day and the beginning of term again, I am going to use this time to reflect on my journey so far and to begin planning more adventures for the summer weeks that lie ahead. For now, Tot Ziens!
Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 
If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

22. Adventure, Strawberries + Books

Summer seems to have really arrived now that the sunshine is beaming down in the plenty and it is possible to see the blue in the sky without all of those clouds in the way. As a result, there has been time for the post-deadline adventures to really begin taking shape. There have been things on my bucketlist forever that I have been looking forward to having the time for, whether they be big or small ideas. As a result, today has been a very busy day!
This morning I was up early as the first strawberries of the season at Kenyon Hall Farm were finally ready to be picked. And, as you might have guessed, one of the smaller tasks on my bucketlist is to pick my own fruit. For some reason, this is just something I have never got around too even though I buy pretty much all of my fruit and vegetables from the farmers market because they taste so much better when they have been freshly picked. It was so much fun to wander the strawberry fields searching for berries amongst all of the leaves with the Beatles stuck on repeat in my head (Strawberry fields forever!!!). My mum was so much better at it than me, but by the end we were experts in the game of strawberry hide and seek (Tip - you'll find the best berries in the shade of bigger leaves). As a result, we had more than enough strawberries to bring home. They smell amazing and there might even be enough left over to make some jam! If not, there is still plenty of time to go and pick some raspberries and experiment with those. 
Adventure 1 of today - Strawberry Picking! ~ Copyright CLSS 2017
After strawberry picking, it was time for father's day celebrations. Also known as Adventure No. 2. The plan was to go on a family/dog walking trip to some place new. Whilst walks and hiking, alongside beach trips, are a regular thing the whole aspect of a trip to somewhere new isn't always on the cards because we aren't amazing at maps and my dad (who is wonderful) is very good at coming up with 'shortcuts' that end up getting us lost. But in spite of getting lost, we still always end up having an adventure, so it just takes a nice day to tempt us into setting out on to the path less taken.
Everywhere I go I find canals! First here - next stop, Amsterdam - Copyright CLSS 2017
Today we ended up at Sale Water Park which was perfect. Because of all the water it wasn't overbearingly hot plus, alongside the dog walking, there were so many other activities to get involved with. Everything from kayaking to open water swimming, which made for a very fun day. But whilst we all enjoyed it, I think my dog enjoyed it the most. Swimming is something new for him as he is only just out of the realms of puppy-hood. So he still behaves as though he is going for his first swim leaping and bounding, which is completely adorable.
The most special thing though was getting to spend a day with my dad. He is a big role model for me, specifically in that his work means a lot to him and so he puts a lot of time and energy into getting it just right. But despite that, he still always has a smile on his face. I don't rhink serious is ever, or has ever, been a word to describe him! He has so many stories and jokes to make us laugh, and even has this way of telling memories that make them sound as though they are completely new to us. He isn't one for being soppy either, so it's difficult to tell him just how brilliant, wonderful and oddly wise he is. I get my face (we look at lot alike), my laugh and my story telling habits from my dad, and I wouldn't trade them or him for anything in the world. He isn't perfect, and yet he is because he isn't. I hope he had the best father's day adventuring with us today. Plus, he hates having photographs but actually took a (kind of) selfie with me today!
A rare photo with dad + Water Park! - Copyright CLSS 2017
The day ended with my usual swim training and reading - I am now nearly done with the Murakami which is good as, much as I like it, the stories are a lot to take in all at once and I am looking forward to being able to read something a little lighter before I continue working my way through the other things that he has written. Additionally, Dutch practice which is getting there now. Repetition is proving really useful, even if it sometimes means learning lots of words which don't immediately strike any purpose. But, for your viewing pleasure, here are some Dutch phrases which you might find useful should you ever find yourself in the Netherlands:
1. Spreekt u Engels? - Do you speak English?
2. Hallo, Hoe Gaat Het Met U?  - Hello, how are you?
3. Waar is het Toilet? - Where is the nearest bathroom?
4. Het Pinautomaat - ATM
Amsterdam journal, Vintage mini paperbacks + more! - Copyright CLSS 2017
Also, some other cool things that have happened recently that I haven't really had cause to mention in previuos blog posts would include the new mini paperbacks which have recently been released by Vintage. These little books are similar to the small ones released by Penguin a year or two ago for their 80th anniversary, containing extracts from popular authors works of fiction + non-fiction so that you can come across new thoughts by new writers in bite size. The hope is that once you have read on this a little, you will be thinking about it more and will continue to read widely on something new which has taken your interest. In my case, I have been learning more about an old hobby which would be Swimming. This book on Swimming focuses in on Deakin's memoir (published in the 1990's) on open water swimming. It's so beautifully written that it has made me want to swim on a whole new level - namely with safe open water events (there are several in my area) and also with scuba diving which has always been on my bucket list. I'm looking forward to seeing what the other titles in this small series will introduce me to.
A final thing to mention, which is another of the things not mentioned in previous blogs, I have finally found the perfect journal for when I move to Amsterdam. Pocket journals are really useful for me as I am always on the go and this size of notebook can be taken anywhere. It's a bit quirky with its banana pattern (most of my journals are) and I cannot wait to begin recording all of my adventures. A lot more has been going on behind the scenes in regards to my Erasmus/Study abroad, but I'll fill you in on that soon in another blog post. For now, it's time for bed. Another day of adventure awaits me tomorrow. Toodle-pip!
P.s. - Here is a summery song for your ears. Have a good Monday!

Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 
If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

21. More June Reads

Each month, there are a number of books that I set out to read or find myself reading throughout the days and weeks. My aim is usually to get to finish as many as possible, but also not to rush through them. There is no point in reading a book if the aim is just to read it as quickly as you can as this always means you don't read at the pace that is right for you and consequently, don't appreciate the gift of a new story. If you pay attention, there is always going to be at least one new thing to learn. You have to be on the lookout for it though, like a really difficult word equivalent to Where's Wally? 

Because I have been spending a lot of time at the local library, I have been really fortunate in that I have ended up reading twice as many books this month so far as I had initially hoped. So, because there are definitely going to be a lot more books on my reading pile next month, I thought that now would be as good a time as any to fill you in on the rest of the books that I have been reading throughout sunny June. A June Reads Part 2, if you will. These texts vary from journal format, to short stories, to even childrens literature. Eclectic is certainly a word you could apply. Something really strange about reading such contrasting pieces is that often you find yourself thinking about one book in a completely different way than you would had you never read it alongside, or just after, another. For example, reading the new Murakami collection after reading some Enid Blyton from my childhood. Odd!

Without further ado, here are some more of the books I have been reading this June:

1. Vinegar Girl - Tyler

Throughout last year, there were many books written by popular authors based upon Shakesperian texts. These re-tellings were to bring into the public conscience via celebratory fashion the ideas of Shakespeare 500 years on from his death. The two I was most excited to read were Atwood's Hagseed and this one, Tyler's Vinegar Girl. Whilst it has ended up taking a year to get around to, with it being the bi-annual Shakespeare festival in York at the moment, I am still really excited about getting to read this book. Especially as it has a very summery feel around it with everything from gardening to dealing with highschool included in the plot.

A re-telling is always complex to do, but this is so far shaping out to be rather a good one. The plot is kept in that perfect place of complicated but seemingly effortless, like the appearence of a gold level figure skater at the Olympics or a world famous ballerina. After seeing the popular teen movie 10 Things I Hate About You I was concerned that this re-telling of The Taming of the Shrew would end up being a copy or not as high of a standard. That fear was wiped as soon as I opened on to the first page. For this story feels entirely fresh and new, with the protagonist stomping in already fully relatable. The witty comebacks, those moments of growing up and above all, the desire to be yourself are so well represented in this novel. I think it will be great for young adults and adults alike, plus it makes for the perfect beach read.

2. Men Without Women - Murakami

I'm currently 3/4 of the way through this short story collection and so far have conflicting feelings on everything I've read. Some of these stories translate really well, but others have left me a little confused and I don't know if this is due to something being lost in translation or simply because the parts of the story I want to read simply aren't there. For whilst the plot twists are well orchestrated, they don't usually read like plot twists on certain occasions because these stories are less story and more realistic observation of day to day human lives. Or at least, that said, observation of realistic, developed character lives.

Murakami is, despite this, a master of words. The way the phrases run are so poignant and poetic, with each new line possessing the feeling of an epiphany. The stories are so still that it is almost magical how time passes and leads to the development of each character. My favourite of the short stories would have to be Scheherazade which is all about relationships, storytelling and the importance of memory. Each tale has the feeling of being found in the format of a tape recording or a journal. Because of this they are again easily relatable, with a conversational tone that matches perfectly the societies around the world in the modern day.

3. Botanicum - Willis

Beautifully illustrated, I have been reading and re-reading this book since I got it for my birthday. You might have heard of the previous publication in this book series which is Animalium. The illustrations are magnificently detailed, matching well the information provided on each of the different plants making it quite an astounding read to come across.

Growing up I had so many collections of wild life identification books. You know the kind, that you would pick up at a school jumble sale and spend hours poring through to learn about everything from birds to carnivorous plants. Botanicum will feed the imaginations of amateur botanists everywhere, because it creates a unique experience that really is like having VIP seats to the best museums in the world from your own sitting room.

4. The Enchanted Wood - Blyton

If you haven't heard of this series by Blyton, I highly recommend that you go out and make this your first read of the summer! These books were such a big part of my childhood - adventures with the characters (Moon face was a personal favourite) and climbing to the lands at the top of the Faraway tree were as important for me, if not more, than Wonderland and Narnia. There is something timeless about the woods especially here for it is simultaneously the site of the Grimm's fairytales and all things that have come to be known as Disney. Blyton had the ability to bring a world to life with the suggestion that it had always been alive and she was just recording it. Even now I often wish that this wonderful place were really somewhere I could find it - and who knows, maybe it is.

5. The Sun Is Also A Star
Going into this book I didn't have much idea of what the plot was focusing on but was pleasantly surprised. The structure is so well put together and completely unique - not only are there the narratives of the two lead characters (Daniel and Natasha) but also explanations of elements of their conversations. This is both useful and interesting as there are often difficult subjects explored, such as the complex physics that Natasha loves as well as elements of Jamaican and Korean heritage which are not widely known yet are a big part of the characters lives. No detail is left undeveloped, that goes for the smaller characters too - every story is explored.

Whilst there were elements I didn't enjoy, such as the ending and lack of realism at times, I did find it an easy read. It is incredibly enjoyable and uplifting with elements that invoke a similar voice to that of London belongs to us. A step above the average YA. Especially in how it opens up the discussion on themes such as home, cultural heritage, family and the entirety of being young. A real eye opener in this regard and crucial to inviting young people further into the conversation.
6. Hour Of The Bees - Eagar

A YA book that is also looking to be one of my favourite summer reads. I'm not that far in yet, but already really enjoying it and finding it a moving plot. Some of the themes already explored are the idea of home, the importance of family and the difficulty of dealing with dementia and grief. Sometimes the need for optimism in relation to difficult times can be lost in the dealing with things, but it is so so important to focus on the bright side and to look for all of those silver linings in order do the best possible to find the good in the bad. Carol as a character is an excellent example of how complex a situation that can be, especially when it is ongoing. Really well written and perfect for a young audience in relation to exploring difficult issues, but again written with optimism in a way that shows life doesn't always have to be going swimmingly in order to find the bright side and make the most of life. Because sometimes it is in the darkest of days that we can find the reasons for why we are the luckiest people in the world, a juxtaposition but the truth nontheless.

7. Bee Quest - Goulson

This one I will Bee beginning shortly (did you like the pun?). I do have a bee theme going on at the moment, with recent books I have read including Duffy's The Bees and Bee Journal by Borodale. The poetry is now making way for a non-fiction book which focuses in further on bees themselves - the reality and the science opposed to the art, though that definitely plays a big part too. This book looks at a range of bee related topics, including the impact of climate change upon the hive and pollination situation as well as how bees work, different/rare species and why bees are so important to our world. This will be a mind provoking text for sure.

8. The Princess Diarist - Fisher

What more can I say other than that if Fisher was worried about 'imitating art' and making nothing new, then she never needed to worry. Her journals are so many things - funny, witty, brutally honest. They show the mindset of someone who fakes it until they make it, are good through and through yet remain human enough to admit that at times there are always going to make mistakes. This is proving only further eye opening and making me hold Carrie Fisher as even more of a role model than before. A feminist icon.
Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 
If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

20. June Favourites

It's that time again! I tell you my favourites of the month, everything from the books that have really stood out and been unique new reads to the songs I have been listening to on repeat. June has been quite a slow month, much slower paced than I have been previously used to over the past year. Because I work best in the evenings I am still in the habit of sleeping late and waking early, but this is gradually improving over the days of adventure and resting now that I am back home for the summer. I definitely miss the fast paced nature of university life and so am trying to get involved in as many projects as possible (such as producing my poetry anthology which I have mentioned in previous posts) to keep me occupied and used to working hard.

My favourites this month include a range of different things. Sometimes I notice themes when I upload these posts. For instance, they very often end up turning into my listing favourite reads from the month instead of being as varied as other points. Yet, whilst books are a big part of my existence as a human, this month only one of the favourites below is a book! Strange, isn't it? But nevertheless it is a good feeling to have done so much already this June. A lot of contained energy from deadline season is now finding its way out through other forms of creativity and it is good find that there is so much energy to put into new ideas and experiences. I've particularly enjoyed getting involved again with so much sport and listening to more music than I usually would. I envy those who can read or study with music in the background as I am very much one of those people who needs as close to quiet as possible to concentrate on a single sound - as a result, it's impossible for me to read with even my favourite music on.

Without further delay, here are my favourites for the month of June. What are your favourites this month? Let me know in the comments below!

1. Dear Evan Hansen

A huge musical theatre fan, it came as no surprise that I love all of the music from Dear Evan Hansen which is absolutely incredible! I'm not quite sure how to summarise the plotline without ruining it though... so I'll leave you to discover it for yourselves, for now I'll just talk about how much I've been enjoying listening to it. I only wish that I could be at a broadway production of it in person, especially after the its recent achievement of winning 9 Tony awards including best actor for he portraying the protagonist, Ben Platt. You might have heard of him from the Pitch Perfect movies.

Some of this music is so vulnerable and emotional but you just have to listen to it anyway because it sounds familiar, even if you are hearing it for the first time. It is definitely a musical that anyone can engage with because it deals with loneliness, grief and growing up which are all things we have to deal with at some point in our lives. Above you can hear my favourite performance of the song For Forever which incorporates all of the listed themes. It was the first song I heard from D.E.H and it's the one which reminds me the most of summer. Fitting for the month of June.

2. Baking + Making Lemonade
Making Lemonade - Copyright CLSS 2017
So I made lemonade (finally). I'd been meaning to make some because of that old cliche. You know the one - When life gives you lemons make lemonade. It turned out better than I could have hoped if not a little too sweet, but next time I would like to try a different recipe and experiment until it tastes just right. What can I say, when it comes to making things I am a perfectionist. Baking has also been a big part of June - the smell of carrot cake is one I will always attach to it. 

3. Hiking 
A glimpse of beautiful Edale - Copyright CLSS 2017
Getting back to hiking has been such a relief. I have missed it more than previously realised and it feels like riding a bike again for the first time in years. Hiking is something I always did with my grand dad and growing up, my family used to call me mountain goat because I was always out exploring somewhere new. Since my grand dad passed away 3 years ago, there has been no one I could really go hiking with until my boyfriend began to take an interest in picking it up as a hobby.

Whilst I have hiked up many interesting places, I've never been to Edale before. I'm sure my grand dad would have loved it because it was such a beautiful day and I could just picture him setting up his amateur radio at the trig point with his morse key and antennae. It made me feel a lot of things but like I say, more than anything it made me feel free. It felt like coming home for real after the past busy year and particularly busy end of semester 2. Good things have happened through hard work, so it is fitting that the hard work ended with a hike. And also fitting that I found out about my first on the final assignment whilst descending a mountain - there is no better place I can think of. Plus it has been an excuse to plan further hikes and to re-visit my well thumbed copies of Wainwrights works.

4. Rag Time + Learning Joplin
Here is a little snap shot of the piano work I have been putting together the past few days. This is from Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag which is one of the most famous rag time pieces of all time. As a genre, it is definitely the most fun (and underrated) branch of what is known more broadly to the world as 'jazz music'. It is also my personal favourite. Getting around to learning some rag time has been a long time in the making. It is intimidating to approach, even whilst working on it, because there are some reall tricky memories. It sounds bubbly and light but is not easy to get to grips with, particularly when it comes to maintaining the right kind of steady tempo that really allows it to work. But it is getting there gradually, bit by bit. Once you get a section right, it is very easy to get into the habit of playing it on repeat as a form of ostinato because it is so much fun!

5. Bees 
Sketching with pen: Bees - Copyright CLSS 2017
I've been learning a lot about bees this month. Some of you might know that the bee is the symbol of Manchester. On our city crest we actually have 7 bees. This is because during the industrial revolution, the city of Manchester was largely a work dominated place, with lots of factories and mills. Because of the number of workers all focusing in on their tasks, the illusion of an intricate hive full of bees was a fitting metaphor. And from there on out, it stuck. You can spot the symbol throughout the city, from mosaics in the library to even on the trash cans!
I've just started reading The Hour Of The Bees as well as another more informative text about the life of bees (and of course, the poetry books I mentioned in my June books blog) which was recommended to me during the York literary festival: Pollination Project. They are such fascinating little creatures and hard work doesn't even cover how they manage to organise everything in the hive in order to survive. I think there is still such a lot we can learn from bees, particularly in terms of their motivation to fulfil their own individual tasks to the best ability. 

6. The Circle

Finally, a favourite read this month would of course have to me my suggested read for our student book club - Eggers The Circle. This is a book about technology, creativity, the future, identity and power. It is an excellent read for many reasons, more specifically because it is well paced suspense wise and develops even the smallest of details that it mentions until the very atmosphere of the company leaps off of the page with its very own character. It is quite unique despite being one of several books I have read recently which speak about technology under the guise of speculative science fiction. It was great to return to a familiar author I knew I liked but through fiction instead of non-fiction. Now that I've finished reading it, I highly encourage you to read it too and to watch the brilliant movie adaptation.
Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 
If you like, you can click here to vote for me as Blogger of the month. Thank-you! 

19. Student Reads Review: The Circle

A project I previously announced that I would like to work on over this summer is starting my own mini book club. More than anything it is an opportunity for me to share some of the things that I have learnt about literary analysis (in the forms of a review) with those such as yourself who are looking for a personal project to keep you thinking over the summer and prepared for your degree/next round of exams. Especially with reading being such a popular summer activity, it seemed a good idea to put this into practice now when there is a larger amount of time free than usual due to the summer holidays.

Many of you will not yet know your reading lists or might be looking for something university appropriate to read over the summer. If this is the case and sounds like something you would be interested in, all you need to be a part of this book club is a copy of the book to read along and at the end of the month there will be a post with some further literary analysis of the text, a discussion of some of my own ideas in relation to the themes and a few other comments which will (if all goes to plan) allow you to see into the mind of a student going into the second year of studying literature at undergraduate level. I don't know everything about the subject yet mind you (and with the number of books available it is unlikely that I ever will) but for me, literature is an open conversation and the best part of it is sharing ideas. Sharing that conversation and all of those ideas is something that I, as an individual, am extremely passionate about.

For June our book of the month was The Circle by Dave Eggers. 

From the very beginning of this book I was completely drawn in. The written style is almost as addictive as the fictional company described. The plot centres around the life of our protagonist, Mae Holland, who has come to work at The Circle after working at a job which she did not find intersting or fulfilling. The Circle, a technology company which seems engaged with everything and to have defeated all similar competitors, is ideal for her and she soon begins to find herself fitting in comfortably to their way of life. However, things grow increasingly disturbing throughout the novel as events progress. This beginning when Mae decides to go 'Transparent' meaning that her every move can be seen and tracked on camera at all times around the world. 

Previously, the only work by Eggers which I had read was for my contemporary writing class and that was the non-fiction biography Zeitoun. The move to reading some of Eggers fiction is one I am glad to have made as his written style is so well thought out. Whilst discussing this technological company, even with the element of satire, we too as readers feel drawn to be a part of this incredible place where you can be a part of so many different things. I mean how cool would it be to have a work place where you could see the latest specimens to have been recovered from deep in the ocean before walking down the corridor to 'the Enlightenment' (buildings are named after historical periods) to get free samples of the latest technology, books, clothing and so on. The atmosphere created is one where you feel so drawn in and included that it comes as a shock to find yourself thinking in certain ways, almost as the characters do. Whenever I went to check social media it made me think about satire and speculative science fiction, and about just how powerful it can be in getting you to see something in a different light. 

Overall I thought this was an insightful read. It was well paced and developed in every regard. Whilst at some points it may appear that nothing is really going on, it is usually the case that you are simply observing a clue that is about to reveal something new in the following pages. That kind of suspense keeps reading necessary - it becomes as natural a thing to do as breathing because you have to know what happens next. These characters are so very human in their behaviour which is odd for a text which focuses so predominantly on technology and its affect. It is easy to see how Mae develops in certain ways, though it is not always easy to read of her actions as a result. Many of us will say when reading it that we would never behave that way, but the frightening element is that it is likely many of us would. 

The aspect of going transparent and of having watchers reminds me a great deal of The Hunger Games which is one of my favourite dystopian novel series of all time. Just as Katniss, Peeta and the Tributes are watched in the arena, this form of watching a regular person live their life possesses Freudian quirks. It connects to this philosophical idea that we cannot truly connect to another persons mind completely, though it can be something which is enormously desired. No matter how much we are able to achieve with technology to make life easier or to gain access to other parts of the world more easily, we can never know what is going on in the mind of a person deep in sleep or someone who remains silent. For Mae this is a particular frustration. For in the pursuit of knowing all knowledge, surely then we must be able to read thoughts even? Know what is going on in another persons thought process?

A final note would be on the writing style in general. Eggers has a way of making something which is often sterile (the Circle) or hostile (the home) into something beautiful by breaking into moments of nature. There was one particular section where he describes Mae kayaking which describes how the water moves her because she cannot see that far down below the surface even though she longs to see to the depths and know what is there. How cleverly and subtly is that comparison made between the lake and the aim of the Circle? 

In terms of how you might write about this at the level of literature degree, it would incorporate a lot of what I previously said but would obviously go into a lot more depth, have a lot more research and would alter depending on the question chosen in relation to the text. For instance, say the question was Discuss the representation of technology in one of the texts studied in this module. You would firstly begin with planning, which would require around three points to look at in detail. For this you could easily look at it in many numbers of ways for the same question. You might discuss the representation of technology in the work place, then in the home space and finally discuss the contrast between those who regard it as a positive thing and a negative thing. Likewise you might base the sections upon characters, such as the three wise men in contrast to Mae and then maybe Mercer or Annie. But before you even began thinking about those sections, you would firstly need a thesis statement. 

In relation to the example question I have asked above I think a good thesis statement on how technology is represented in the Circle would be: In the Circle, technology is represented as a means of collecting all knowledge and of maintaining great power which is as frequently opposed as it is encouraged. The previous statement draws upon important parts of my argument - that technology is a means of gaining knowledge (which is the main ambition of the company and its employees) but is not always viewed as the best approach. There are many who oppose it and how technology responds to opposition is much more a focus of this text than observing those who agree with it. 

What are your thoughts on this book? Did you have any favourite sections? Do you think The Circle is speculative science fiction, dystopia/utopia, a combination or a new genre all of its own? Let me know in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!

If you enjoyed reading the Circle, you might also enjoy:

- Nerve - Jeanne Ryan
- The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
- The Long Earth - Terry Pratchett
- The Man In The High Castle 
- 1984 - Orwell
Thank-you for all your support and comments. It is a fantastic thing to be able to help answer any of your questions and to share my adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day! 
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