Is it worth analysing and reviewing non-fiction?

You know how sometimes real life and the blogosphere collide? Well recently someone told me that they didn’t think I should review non-fiction books. Now my first reaction was something like this…

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But then when I cooled down a bit, I actually came up with an argument as to why it’s just as important to review non-fiction as fiction…

To answer the question I posed- the short answer is YES! I mean, I started my blog to tell the truth- to be honest about my feelings regarding books in a way I often couldn’t be in real life. Part of that might be to recommend books and part of that is to discuss the way a book touched me- and for so many books what can really strike me is the ideas it holds inside. So what would be the point if we could not talk about the ideas in non-fiction? Why limit myself?

Well, for a lot of people, it is the fear of being called arrogant if we happen to disagree with greater thinkers than ourselves. BUT- and I shouldn’t really have to point this out- just because someone disagrees with another person doesn’t mean they think they’re better than them- just that, in the words of John Mill, “mankind are not infallible”. Moreover- how limiting would it be to the progress of human thought if you could never disagree? Disagreement is the very essence of finding truth and having a healthy debate (Also “how dare you disagree with my favourite philosopher you arrogant prick” is not an argument or a refutation, just sayin’ 😉 ).

Non-fiction creates a discussion and encourages the spread of ideas. So much of it is crying out to be shared, discussed and argued with. A lot of these thinkers did not want people blindly listening to them or obeying them like lemmings running off a cliff…

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Of course, there are different ways of looking at and writing about non-fiction. I’ve personally found the more philosophical a book, the more room for thought there is in my post about it. And that is so exciting to me! It keeps me on my toes and makes for more diverse types of reviews.

For me, and for many of you, book blogging is a part of our journey as readers. We evolve with the things we read with the things we read and if we can’t or don’t feel comfortable arguing back or discussing ideas then we may as well pack the whole thing in.

Quite simply, when I talk about ideas I learn about them. As fun as it is to be a passive reader, it is very rewarding to actually have to think while I read from time to time. And knowing that I have to write about it afterwards really helps me stay focused. I learn so much when I decide to read and review something non-fiction. I won’t be stopping any time soon.

So what do *you* think? Should we discuss and review non-fiction just as much as fiction? Let me know in the comments!

What to read after something existential and deep…

Hello all! Hope you’re having a lovely Sunday and Happy Mother’s Day!

I don’t know about you, but after reading something heavy or deep, I always feel like I *deserve* to read something super light. So after my post yesterday, I decided to compile a list of things to read after you’re done delving into the existential and need to read take it easy:

  1. Weather reports– weather reports are safe, they will not hurt you and it’s always good to be prepared!

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  1. YA contemporary– fun frivolity where the biggest stress is what to wear to the school prom- yes please!! But watch out for the ones where people die…

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  1. A frothy fantasy– not the kind where anyone gets hurt- but the semi-safe kind where they wander off in New Zealandesque landscapes for hours on end (if nothing else you can let your mind wander to “where are the hobbits”). Again, preferably with the emphasis on the main character’s dress sense.

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  1. The TV Guide– let’s face it when you’re done with all the heavy stuff, you’ll be reaching for the remote and may as well find something good…

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  1. Those clickbait posts that begin “you won’t believe…”- and sure enough you won’t believe you stumbled on such crap by the end of it. (Although that example was taken from this awesome post of clickbait titles for classics)

clickbait books

And that’s it! Now I’d have also included kid’s books on this list- but we all know how existential books like Goodnight Moon can get… But as long as you can resist the urge to read too much into them, you should be safe…

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So what do you like to read after something heavy? Let me know in the comments!

Man’s Search For Meaning: A Little Book With A Big Impact

“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake”

man's search for meaning

Confession: about two years ago, I finished university and was feeling a little lost. I picked up this highly recommended book and found myself feeling a little less out-of-place in the world when I was done. To say that it was helpful to me would be a massive understatement. I decided recently that I could do with that kind of boost again, so returned to it and felt like it had even more to offer.

“Now, in logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.”

Though this is an impossible book to review, I thought it might be a valuable experience to share some of the lessons I learnt while reading it. For a little background, this book is split into two halves- the first being Frankl’s experience in the Holocaust and the second half being how to utilise his practice of Logotherapy to find meaning in life. But do not let that quick synopsis mislead you- this is not a despairing work- there is no book more uplifting on the planet. So without further ado, here are some of the things that struck me this time round:

“Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire”

  • You must have a future or you will not have a present. There is a lot about the importance of hope in this book. Frankl talks on more than one occasion about how the loss of life in the camps frequently came down to people losing hope. One of Frankl’s most vivid messages is to hold onto the idea of love- not just the person, but the emotion. Love is integral to his message of hope for the future. For what is love if it is not the embodiment of hope?

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

  • Meaning comes from struggle. Frankl speaks of the existential vacuum that arises from having too easy a life. For me, this speaks of how boredom is bad for the soul. While people may desire a constant state of rest, it’s like wood wanting a lower energy state- if you burn it to ash it loses all potential. There is no real value in having nothing to strive for.

“if pain and suffering is avoidable, then avoid it!”

  • But for goodness sake- don’t go looking for trouble! To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic not heroic.

“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

  • Life cannot be meaningful without responsibility. It is very tempting to lay responsibility elsewhere and a lot of people when faced with a struggle cannot take responsibility for their own suffering or refuse to try and fix it themselves. This is a mistake. If personal growth is found in struggling, then to pass the responsibility off somewhere else will make one’s life very meaningless indeed. Therefore, everyone is “responsible to society or his own conscience”.

“Man has potential to be swine or saint, monster or martyr”

  • Resentment won’t get you anywhere. There is an incredible part of the book when Frankl rejects the idea of collective guilt. It shows how important it is not to hold people accountable for crimes they did not commit. And if a holocaust survivor can reject the idea of “guilt by association”, it proves that there is never any justice in it. I also felt like there was a really clear illustration of the deep-seated resentment that drove the Nazis in a story Frankl tells about how a guard beat him when Frankl says he had been a therapist for poor people before the war- when confronted with someone who had done such fulfilling work with their life, an Auschwitz guard has no other options but to beat the prisoner, because how else can he be reconciled with himself? (incidentally proving Dr Jordan Peterson’s theory about resentment of being lying at the root of much of the world’s evil) Someone filled with so much darkness can only try to snuff out what remains of the light

“saying yes to life in spite of everything”

  • And lastly… don’t take yourself too seriously! Frankl describes how one cure for neurosis is for the patient to learn to laugh at themselves. But this can be applied more broadly- especially since he talks about how people relied on humour to get through Auschwitz. And what is a better target for humour than ourselves?

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Alright, this post was a little different, but I hoped you liked it.

Of course, it goes without saying that this book gets 5/5 bananas:

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Have you read this book? Do you feel inspired to give it a go? Let me know in the comments!

My Top Ten Fantasy Books

I’m very excited about today’s post! A couple of days ago, I mentioned how Red Sister had the power of reminding me about why I had fallen in love with fantasy. And as I was doing the post, I realised I have never done a post about my favourite fantasy books.

Ever since being obsessed with Peter Pan as a child, I have always loved escaping to other worlds in books. And since these are *my* personal favourites, this post is about to get super nostalgic up in here 😉

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1. The Hobbit– although I will give an honorary mention to LOTR, this one was always my favourite of Tolkein’s work. More than that, it was my gateway drug for fantasy and the main reason why I love dragons #TeamSmaug

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2. His Dark Materials– this is another one I remember from childhood and it’s stayed with me over the years as one of the best series I have ever read.

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3. The Abhorsen Trilogy– ahh I cannot say how much I loved this book- I was obsessed with it in my teens and used to take it out the library over and over to reread it back to back. To my mind it’s the *perfect* dark fantasy and the best story about necromancy I have ever read.

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4. Black Magicians Trilogy– so this is a funny one to include, because I didn’t initially like this series. I felt letdown by the first book and only continued because the last part picked up enough to have me intrigued about where it was going. I was so glad I con tinued though, because by the end of this series I had fallen in love with the characters and became so invested in the series that I was *wrecked* when it was all over. So yeah, definitely top ten material.

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5. Seven Realms Series– I can’t actually think of another series with characters I’ve loved more. This series is nothing totally original, but man, does it get you with the *feels*.

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6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy– this is one of the very rare series I’ve rated 5* across the board- and for good reason! Call me a sucker for a good romance, this series had love interests I was actually routing for the whole way through. Add an incredibly clever storyline and utterly unique world-building and, *bobs your uncle*, you get one of the best series I’ve ever read.

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7. Carry On– I absolutely adored this book. I wrote a post titled “ten reasons to read Carry On”- but to be honest, I could probably think of ten more! Not least because it is such a fun book that for a change doesn’t take itself too seriously. I love how it subtly pokes fun at the genre, whilst also delivering some the most emotional and interesting storylines to date! And speaking of funny books…

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8. Anansi Boys– oh man do I love this book!! Yeah, I’m a Gaiman fan- and proud of it! This one is easily my favourite (though I won’t say no to anything he’s written to be honest)

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9. Discworld Series– come on- did anyone not see this coming? And for the record, my favourite to date is Mort.

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10. Neverending Story– this is the most recently read book on this list, but it *easily* made it onto this favourites list. One of the best books I read last year, it is self-aware, smart and very imaginative. Plus, it’s a book about books- and you know how much I adore those!

So I like to think there will be others to add to my list of fantasy favourites one day- and I can already think of some candidates from series I’ve not finished yet… but for now…

that's all folks

(actually can’t believe that I’ve never used that joke before)

How about you? What are your favourite fantasy books? Let me know in the comments!

Holy Moly- Red Sister was Divine!

*I received this on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

red sisterEvery so often a book comes along that reminds you why you fell in love with your favourite genre. This was one of those books for me. If you are in any way a fantasy lover, then this book will be right up your street!

Utterly absorbing and wonderfully crafted, the world building in this was outstanding. I really admired the dystopic, end of the world feel, combined with high fantasy elements. It was both unique and reminiscent of the best of the genre.

I also loved the writing style. The sumptuous storytelling was nothing short of gorgeous- the kind that is like warm, thick blankets you can wrap around yourself and get totally lost in. Tucked up with such a story, there’s no doubt I felt like I had come home.

And you have to love the characters!! True to form with what I’ve experienced so far of Mark Lawrence’s characters, the whole cast is richly drawn and intriguingly complex. I mean they’re killer nuns for goodness sakes- need I say more? Most importantly of all though, the protagonist, Nona Grey is as sharp as a knife’s edge and one serious badass!

Now while the pacing does change tempo in a lot in places, the ending is so exhilarating that all you are left with is a feeling of “I want more!!”

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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This is out in two weeks on 4th April- so be sure to snag a copy!!

Will you be reading this? What book reaffirmed your love of your favourite genre? Let me know in the comments!

In the Beginning…

in the beginningI had my doubts about this book, but it turned out to be pretty good.

What struck me first about this book was how it showed the psyche of the Jewish people. David, the main character, is often viewed as a literal reincarnation. His beginning is marred by the ending of others. Through this symbolism, Potok shows how David has inherited the trauma of thousands of years of persecution. It in part marks the long memory of a culture and in other ways serves as a reminder of the psychological scarring that can haunt people for an eternity.

Above all, what I loved most was how empathetic David is as a character. Not only is he smart, but his constant entreaties of “I don’t understand” and questioning the world around him is very telling. In part this reminds us that we shouldn’t have to understand, because man’s inhumanity to man does not always make sense. But more than that the character allows recognises from a very young age that there is more to humanity than his own culture.

Seeing this through a child’s viewpoint is especially eye-opening. Much like other Potok characters, David is keen to step outside his culture and seek truth. But what I found particularly admirable in him- and what made me feel an especial kinship with him as I have not always found in Potok’s characters- was that it was his compassion that ultimately drove him to explore the world beyond his own.

In the end, I would rate this:

4/5 bananas

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Have you read any Potok books? And what character did you find to be particularly relatable lately? Let me know in the comments!

Prattling on about the way books are marketed

So there’s something really strange going on in the world today. People do not like to be told that things really aren’t as bad as they think- especially when it comes to issues that they care about. But sometimes things really aren’t as bad as some people think. Especially when it comes to the way books are marketed.

Over the years, I’ve seen *a lot* of different complaints and claims made about publishers that to my mind are misguided, nonsensical and really inaccurate. The two main grumblings I’ve heard are book cover designs being deliberately aimed at one gender or another and using initials for female author’s names.

Straight off the bat I could say that these are really storm in a teacup complaints. But I thought it would be worthwhile to break down some of this and provide a counter-argument for a change.

The first and most obvious issue with the objection that book covers are marketed in a certain way is that capitalism doesn’t work the way these people think. Commercialism is quite simply about supply and demand. It’s about the freedom to choose. As fun as it no doubt is to cook up some half-baked conspiracy theory about how publishers have some sinister agenda to hide female writers from us, or deliberately discourage men from reading certain genres, just from a business perspective I can say this would be a really foolish thing to do. To be blunt, if a commercial operation can take your money, it will! If these marketing techniques didn’t work at all, no one would use them.

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No prizes for guessing the book genre here…

But why then are books marketed this way? And why is it important? Well, we as book bloggers will all admit that we *love* judging books by their covers. Book covers are often designed in a way to give us some indication of what to expect. When I see a half-naked man on a cover I know what I’m getting in for. I like to have my expectations met and don’t like being misled about what’s actually between the covers. In all honesty, I wouldn’t buy a book that didn’t show me anything about what’s inside and I’d be peeved if the cover was, say, an innocuous picture of a boat and it turned out to be hard-core erotica.

Now we are all old enough here to be able to make these decisions for ourselves, but I would like to point out that there doesn’t seem to be a major issue of bias in the way children’s books are chosen. Given that 78% of people in the publishing industry are women, I’d be interested to hear people trying to make that argument. Anecdotally I can add that as a child I had no problem picking up masculine books, like Alex Rider, which FYI were stocked in my all girls’ school library. And I have male friends whose shelves are stuffed with Diana Wynne Jones, Eva Ibbotson or Enid Blyton books.

One final point that I’d like to make is that there is a logical reason behind the decision to use non-gendered names. JRR Tolkein started the trend over fifty years ago, anonymising his name to give his fantasy works an air of mystery. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I see initials being used. To this day, it’s still a trend for both male and female authors of fantasy to give their books the allure of the unknown. An author like V E Schwab would certainly be playing into that tradition- and I would argue that given she was already published under Victoria Schwab, it kind of negates the argument that she needed to do this in order to be successful. And let’s be honest, it’s never been a secret that J K Rowling is a woman- but even if this was a decision that was made because she was woman, I feel like this was a kick in the teeth for aforementioned authors like Dianna Wynne Jones, who had conquered this market twenty years prior. Anyway there is no comparison with using initials to authors like Austen having “a novel by a lady” written on the cover of her books or Charlotte Bronte going by Currer Bell. Personally, I think it’s a shame to make a mountain out of a molehill over an issue like this given the stark comparison.

Forgive me for this random, rambly piece- this is just something that has been on my mind a while and thought I’d share.

So what do you think? How do you feel about the way books are marketed? Let me know in the comments!