The Restorative Power of Reading

In the past bizarre (and frequently terrible) year, reading has kept a lot of us going. Whether it’s through escapism or giving me much needed life advice, books have proven their power to keep us going. I know for myself books have been a great escape.

For me, opening a new book or even starting a fresh chapter has been like pressing the reset button. It doesn’t matter which head I’ve stepped into for the time being- it’s a relief to see the world through a different lens. Because books don’t just lower stress levels- they frequently act as a handy Guide Out of Hell. They may not be able to slay a dragon (try throwing one at its head and see how far it gets you) but they can offer some good tips 😉

Books are educational in a million different ways, teaching us everything from empathy to philosophy to practical skills… and beyond! It’s the one leveller we have left when it comes to education, because it’s still an affordable hobby (make use of your libraries people!!) A simple pen to paper can restore balance to a human mind. It can give our thoughts a moment of harmony.   

Reading is a refreshing pastime. It doesn’t simply take you away- it gives you plenty of souvenirs. Trinkets you carry around for years, maybe without even knowing it, until at last you look in your pocketses and there’s the one ring… Okay maybe not that last bit! Yet reading does remind me every time that when you discover a new story, there’s no knowing where you might end up.

And yes, this is an indulgent post to write about 😉 I’m sure it will not take much to have bookworms agreeing that reading is a wonderful hobby- but every so often we just need to celebrate reading for all that it is.

Do you agree? Has reading helped you in the last year? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Was Game of Thrones Always Going to Disappoint Me?

It’s the tenth anniversary of Game of Thrones… and I wouldn’t have noticed if not for this video on its ruined legacy. And it got me thinking a couple of things- 1) how did time fly so fast and 2) was GOT ruined or was it always designed to go up in wildfire? Obviously, I won’t be using this post to address the former, just the latter 😉

Before GRRM superfans tar and feather me- I’m not trying to take away the series’ merit. Don’t get me wrong: I love the world building, the characters and fascinating themes. However, speaking to my own personal taste, reflecting on some of the concepts does make me wonder if I was always going to wind up unhappy with the ending.

Game of Thrones was always a divisive series. Barely an episode could go by without some kind of critique or scandal. And this is not an accident or merely the showrunner’s doing. Going off of Martin’s own interviews, much of the series is designed to be a counterbalance to traditional fantasy. The traditional fantasy that I, and many other mainstream audiences, love. Lord of the Rings, for instance, is famously hopeful, inspiring and the prime example of good triumphing over evil. Though it has tragic elements, it certainly does not hinge on them. When we set out from the Shire we are assured of a safe(ish) resolution.     

Whereas GRRM promised us bittersweet. And if it is to be a counterbalance to the likes of LOTR then by golly that must be some BITTERsweet ending. Most of the plot points have tragedy written all over them; there is barely a glimmer of optimism in all the books. The best we could hope for is our favourites not dying and maybe, just maybe getting their revenge! In the words of Ramsay Bolton…

That’s not to say all tragedies are disappointing. In the usual ebb and flow of a tragedy, there is often a highpoint that alleviates the characters’ (and the readers’) suffering. Think Tess and Angels’ blissful summer in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Of course, we know this lovely moment cannot last, yet we can delude ourselves into thinking it will, and this gives us our catharsis. Game of Thrones never really does that. Romantic moments are often told from another perspective or tarnished by the realities of the situation (eg Daenerys may fall in love with Khal Drogo, but she’s also raped by him first).

There’s a reason every moment of “happiness” is framed this way. And that’s because it’s working from a principle of being *realistic in the postmodernist sense*. It’s fundamentally endorsing the idea that meaning is found where you place its value. In the world of Game of Thrones, there are no heroes and villains, there is no good vs evil, there is no right and wrong. There is no objective truth- merely the matter of where you place your sympathy. GRRM takes the morally relativistic view that all his characters will inevitably fall to the dark side… And frankly none of their struggles matter because of that. No happy ending is/was ever possible in this series- for anyone. Which is not so much tragic as it is depressing.

As much as I can appreciate this for its uniqueness, it’s not exactly satisfying. That’s not the point of this story. Rather, it’s designed to push boundaries, subvert our expectations and make us question the genre. While we like to blame D&D for the subversive elements, subversion is pretty much woven into the fabric of the narrative. And that has its upsides… and its downsides. Because sometimes there can be narrative consequences when you try to challenge an existing idea.

Inevitably you may question the story that’s making you question everything. I for one don’t think every concept in GOT makes sense. The critique of Aragorn becoming king, for example, is flawed. Because, I happen to think that if he’s capable enough to get an army of dead people on his side, then he’s perfectly capable of hiring some plumbers to set up a sewage system (and I have no idea why GRRM thinks otherwise). It is entirely possible for a leader to be strategic on the battlefield and with the treasury (and there are historic examples of this). This may seem like nit-picking, yet this is such a foundational element to the story, that it leaves me questioning will I ever be satisfied with the outcome of this series? These issues nag away at me and could indicate that this series was never for me in the first place.

Of course, this whole post is somewhat premature. No matter what I think I know, I have to add the caveat that I don’t know the actual ending (none of us do). There are some incredible theories mapping out sensational conclusions and GRRM’s finale could end up putting even those to shame. So, this post could be meaningless when the final book comes out. Personally, I very much look forward to being proved wrong 😉

So, what do you think? Are you optimistic about GRRM’s ending? Do you have doubts like me? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Does Book Twitter Actually Reflect the Reading Community?

Every year in free speech week, I try to exercise my freedom and talk about aspects of this (apparently contentious) topic. Yet this year I want to do something different. Not because we have reached the zenith of free speech- far from it. Despite the job losses, tragedies and general morose of 2020, the Twitterati have nothing better to do and have been busy cancelling, well, anything and everything. Which is why I wanted to talk about this tweet:

Maybe (most likely) it’s just my confirmation bias talking, but I think it’s such an excellent point. Disclaimer for book twitter: there are some nice little bubbles where you can play around with likeminded people (/primates)… Buuuut it’s not all fun and games. Twitter is kinda known for how toxic it can get. While it’s not the only place cancel culture thrives, it’s certainly one of the hotspots. I can’t tell you how often I go on twitter, see people congregating round an issue and think “oh no, who’s getting cancelled today?” Even if it’s a case of valid criticism, the platform doesn’t exactly lend itself to nuanced conversation and this leads to things getting heated pretty fast. And too often publishers get a whiff of the smoke and are scared off- but this needn’t be the case.

You see, (and forgive me if this is obvious) twitter is not reflective of the public at large. This is hardly a revelation. Looking at just some of the research (focusing on the States, given that 70% of users are from there… which you should bear in mind if you’re from outside the US like me), most twitter users in the US are more likely to have a college degree and have a higher income than the national average. Just 20% of US can be classed as active users (ie go on the platform once a month)- and of that number 80% of tweets come from the most active 10%. Meaning we’re only hearing from about 2% of the population. It probably isn’t any wonder then that (and many people will hate me for saying this) twitter often strikes me as an elitist club. As much as people claim that twitter is designed to give a voice to the voiceless, that it’s a great way for the powerless to have some power for themselves, that the gangs running rampant on there are noble “working class” vigilantes… I can’t see any evidence it’s representative of this. Observationally, I’d say the vast majority of big users are marketing/PR people, the so-called faces for faceless corporations, journos, professional activists and politicians. Ordinary people (ie consumers) aren’t represented on there for the most part… making me question, why is it taken so seriously?  

Time and again, it’s proven to not be a good source for elections for instance (which makes sense, given that even if a politician gets 100,000 likes, this isn’t a huge number considering… especially considering this can come from a global audience). Likewise, buzz on twitter doesn’t mean much- as excitable as twitter can seem about a reboot, this may not translate to actual fans buying tickets.

Similar logic can be applied to book twitter. A lot of readers don’t hang out on twitter. As the above tweet shows, it’s not necessarily going to reflect how well a book performs (especially since big names are so often targeted). It’s always been pretty debatable whether this particular platform even sell books. Anecdotally, I can also say that a lot of readers see the fires burning and run away. And even if they do stick around, a lot of people don’t want to get into the middle of a confrontation (giving the false impression that the debates are one-sided).

Which is why I wish publishers would take twitter with a pinch of salt. Instead of going off how angry someone can get in 140 characters or how many clapping emojis a person can use in one go, maybe just maybe, they can hold their nerve and wait for the general reading public to vote with their wallets. Maybe it’s time we ignored the drama flaming on twitter.

Ooh err, hope I don’t get burned at the stake for this one! 😉 But given I do actually like free speech- I’m open to hearing your thoughts! What do you think about book twitter? Do you think it’s representative of the reading public? Let me know in the comments!

How has my reading taste changed over the years?

Reading taste is a funny thing. In some ways, it feels static, like I’m stuck in a childish timewarp, loving what I’ve always loved and refusing to grow up. Other times, I’m feel like I’ve skidded into a space I don’t really understand, talking about genres I never thought I’d read. Because while I find there are some constants to my reading repertoire (classics/fantasy/classic fantasy) my taste has changed *a lot * in the years since I started blogging.

To start with, a big change (that may or may not be as noticeable) is how much I have fallen for romance and contemporaries. While I always enjoyed romance in my fiction, I didn’t tend to go for many rom com style books- whether they were adult or YA! Now, a shift began shortly before I started blogging, where I found I got a lot of stress relief from very fluffy YA books. Yet I wasn’t quite clear on where to find more of these books I was enjoying. *ENTER BLOGGING* and I started to get recommendations- I discovered New Adult and Regular Adult. A massive influence for me were people like Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse– who as far as I’m concerned is the Romance Queen! I’ve found too many heart-warming, charming and feel good stories to count! It’s been the start of a beautiful new adventure…

… Though that’s certainly not where it ended- because somehow I fell headlong into thriller territory (I bet you didn’t see that twist coming! I certainly didn’t!) I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but my first foray into adult thrillers was the Da Vinci Code when I would’ve been around 13. To cut to the chase: it did not go well. I thought thrillers would never be for me. And then I discovered blog’s like Meggy’s. With her exquisite reviews, introducing me to the dangerously seductive world of killers and stalkers and messed up people, my interest was piqued. Intrigued, I took the plunge and picked one up. Then another. Then I began to seek them out far and wide. I guess once you’ve got a taste for the dark side, there’s no going back 😉 (plus it compliments all the super sweet reads I go for 😉) I’ve even (and this surprises me no end) enjoyed a few mysteries here and there!

But the biggest shift in my reading taste is that… I like non fiction now?! Back in the day, when I started blogging, I was so disinterested in non-fiction that I had to set myself a handful to read in a year. Now I’m currently at 20 in 2020- and it doesn’t look like I’m slowing down! Odder still, even though I vowed I didn’t like memoirs… a great deal of those are in fact memoirs. In this case, I don’t know what changed- maybe it was the passage of time, maybe it was some good recommendations or maybe it was just practicing a new reading habit that shifted my perspective.

And I guess that’s a good note to leave on- because while I still love the same books I always did, I can also say that experimenting has made my reading experience all the more rewarding. And I don’t think all of that came down to chance. Sure, I happened to stumble on some amazing blogs and recommendations- yet it took a pinch of courage to step outside of my reading comfort zone. It didn’t take me long to discover that the reading world was full of even more wonders than I knew. So, I’d encourage everyone else to do the same- you never know where it might lead you.

How about you? Has your reading taste changed over time or thanks to blogging? What do you think brought about this change? Let me know in the comments!

How On Trend Am I? Looking at Whether My Taste Follows the Crowd When it Comes to YA

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I’ve talked before about whether my taste follows the crowd and it’s something I often wonder about. Last month, when Goodreads celebrated YA, I noticed how closely my taste follows the crowd… well, for the most part.

Looking at 40 most popular recent Young Adult Novels and 100 most popular YA books of all time, I was surprised to find I’d read most of the books. Even more significant is how much I liked the books- my average ratings were 3.9 and 3.47 respectively. I gave 15% of books 5* in the recent YA books and 10% 5* in the most popular of all time. There were some outliers that I didn’t love (like Caraval and Lord of Shadows) or won’t read (Turtles All the Way Down), but for the most part I was at least satisfied with the vast majority of the books on the popular recent releases list. Clearly, I’m enjoying these a lot more- suggesting I’m on the right track to keep reading them. Turns out, I know my own taste! (go figure 😉)

To me, it makes sense that I’ve read so many of these as well, since these are the books with the most visibility and I’m not immune to marketing 😉 Plus, these are also books that are more readily available on a budget and if you use libraries a lot. So, in this case, I don’t feel all that bad about my taste following the crowd- especially given it’s leading to high levels of satisfaction! As much as I’d enjoy being a bookish hipster, I guess I’m quite mainstream when it comes to YA.

One thing I have to note from this experiment is that there were books on the most popular YA of all time that (at least to my mind) weren’t YA at all (Red Rising and Anne of Green Gables being the most obvious). But that’s a discussion to have (again) another day. I don’t think it massively skewed my results- though have to do my due diligence and mention it 😉

Alrighty then! Do you notice your taste follows the crowd in particular genres and categories? Are you bothered by it if your taste is quite mainstream like mine? Let me know in the comments!

Reining in the Criticism – Reasons I Don’t Review Every Book

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Today I’m doing a different post to the one I’d planned, because I had written (and was preparing to schedule) a review… which I’ve now pulled back. And there was a reason for that. It was a review I did research for and worked hard on- yet looking into the author also told me he was coming from a good place. Right now, I’m seeing how easy it is to tear things down and attack others online. That’s just not what I’m about. Sometimes, we’ve got to look at ourselves and wonder is it worth it? I don’t want to speak for everyone and I’m certainly not telling anyone else how/what/when to review, I just want to talk about why I might not review something:

shameIf the author might get unfair backlash- in the last month, watching the internet explode, I feel a bit more cautious about putting criticism out there. I’ve talked about this before and hope to do so again (when I get the headspace), but the last thing I want is to be involved in is cancel culture. Now, even if I trust my readers not to turn into some angry mob online, I still sometimes think it’s better to hold back. This is not to say I’m veering away from all negativity- only that I want to be a little careful at the moment. A lot of the time, I can review a book integrating my criticism- however if all I’ve written is a barrage of criticism on one issue, then I may not want to put that out there.

who meIf I’m just not the right person to talk about the issue– because (surprising as this may be to some of you) I’m not an expert on everything- I know, shocker, right?! 😉 And I just don’t want to make things worse by trying to make things better. My intentions may be good, but much like the last point, it could easily backfire. Again, if I can integrate my opinion into the entire review, great. If not, it may be better to leave it to someone more suited to the topic.

I'm offendedIf my criticism is too strongly tied to personal experience– on the flipside, sometimes a topic may be too close to the bone and I don’t feel comfortable bringing it up. Sometimes I could give insight on an issue- I just don’t want to “out” myself in the process. I may also struggle to express myself in this situation, so chances are, I may just abandon the review, cos it ain’t worth it! Don’t get me wrong, I respect people who do, but it’s not my style. (Jeez- I don’t even feel all that comfortable tangentially talking about it lol!)

If the author’s an unknown– this is quite a straightforward (and far less controversial) point: I just don’t like to review obscure indie books super negatively. Though I’m sure I could find an exception, I mostly read pretty mainstream books anyway.

If I don’t have enough to say– I mean, that’s what my mini reviews are for, BUT some books are just so forgettable I can’t even come up with a few sentences.

And that’s where I stand! Do you review every book? What are your reasons? Let me know in the comments!

What even is an “important book”?

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A while back I was watching a great video by Alexa Donne on how you don’t need to write an important book- which I highly recommend checking out if you need a pep talk. But it made me think: what even is an important book?

At the risk of rehashing a lot of the discussion there, I’d agree that it’s often used in marketing for issues books. And, I’d also go as far as to say, much like the literary fiction label, it’s also a way of slapping a “this is worthy” tag on a book.

My first order of contention with the very idea of an “important book” is how much genre snobbery comes into play here. Because generally speaking, it’s going to be mostly contemporary (and very occasionally historical fiction) that gets this moniker. We might even see a sci fi getting talked about this way… buuut only if it’s dystopia. And my beloved fantasy? Forget about it. Doesn’t matter if it shines a light on the true horror of war or explores deep psychological themes- it’s just never going to be talked about in the same way.

More concerning to me is how this is often framed. As Donne said “what’s important for one person might not be important for another”. And this couldn’t be more true. We all know that books are such a personal experience: a book that touches us and proves important could really fit into any category. Regardless of whether a book covers an important issue, it can become important in someone’s life. On the flipside, a book that covers topical issues can feel irrelevant or be something an individual doesn’t connect with. Claiming a book has “importance” in such a context seems a little meaningless, don’t you think?

However, I also think this goes deeper and touches on a more significant issue. In the vast majority of cases, I see books and stories that are deemed “important” are on the same narrow range of topics. For instance, I have read countless literary books about the struggles of a working or middle class person to fit in with the upper class… which, surprisingly, isn’t super relatable for most working or middle class people, despite how often it’s portrayed in stories 😉 Not that there is a deliberate conspiracy going on- just that, as carefully curated as a list may be, it will always be subject to human decision making and a natural tendency to trend-chase. The problem for me isn’t just that these books are samey or that the topic is “unrelatable” (as I’ve mentioned previously, that doesn’t necessarily matter), it’s that it leaves so much space for *other* important topics that never get discussed. Especially injustices that that may seem hard to package in a palatable way or are too sensitive to be touched. And this is not to say there should be less of a certain kind of story, just that sometimes I think the focus of what is “important” could be broadened a little.

whole world in my hands

And, perhaps most controversially, I’d also say that being “important” or someone’s “magnum opus” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. There’s still that pesky matter of taste to contend with; there’s the possibility it was published to chase a trend. And, worst of all, there’s the potential for it to be tryhard and cringy and moralising… which can all be painful to read! I guess the only positive here is that calling a book “important” doesn’t give you any real hint as to its quality.

So, all in all, I’m not sure how helpful I find the term… even if I’ve used it myself in an offhand way 😉 Obviously, it’d be the pot calling the kettle black if I critiqued every usage- nonetheless I’m finding myself more sceptical by the day about whether any books are more important than others.

What do you think? Do you find the term “important book” useful? If so, why? I want to hear what you think in the comments!

How Dead is the Author Anyway? Notes on Authorial Intent and Reimagining Canon

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As an English Lit grad, it can be no surprise that I have a deep fascination for the subject “Death of the Author”. Briefly, Roland Barthes concept is that an author’s intentions and biography don’t have special weight in determining interpretation of their work. For me, I’ve floated back and forth over the years, drifting in the uncomfortable in-between of whether I should eddy these waters with my own pen. In the end, I was inspired by Rachael’s excellent “Is the Writer Dead or Not?” post to finally discuss it.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m hesitant to wholly get behind the theory. Dare I say it, part of this is because sometimes I think it gives too much credit to reader- as marvellous as we may be at finding bookish gems, a book’s value is not determined by whether its read (after all, as a tree falling in a forest with no one around to hear it still makes a sound, a brilliant book that never gets read is still technically brilliant. It’s the law of physics 😉). My silly quasi-philosophical musings aside, I do however see the value in “Death of the Author” (or I wouldn’t be discussing it 😉). Though a writer’s background and intentions shouldn’t be totally discounted, ultimately books should be open to interpretation. Looking at books from this angle is the most freeing. It gives readers the power to find meaning without being handheld along the way.

Another reason this theory is helpful, as Rachael brought up, is that it helps us separate an author from their work. As I’ve previously discussed, I’m a big fan of judging a work on its own merit, rather than writing it off because I don’t like the author. While I respect anyone’s right to choose what they read, I prefer not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And, as I’ve said recently, there are limits to interpretation- any interpretation. Both in the case of authors retconning their own work and when authors definitively say “*this* is what I meant by that”. Not necessarily because an author can be wrong about their intent- but they most certainly cannot say whether they were successful in conveying what they meant or whether an individual will interpret it differently. the dressFrankly, the 2015 tale of THE DRESS (where some people saw blue/black and others saw white/gold) tells us that we literally do not see the world the same way. Thus, an author cannot demand we see exactly what they intended to emphasise and dismiss what they did not want us to see at all. The messages that hit home may not be what they thought; the way we view their characters might not be a reflection of what was in their heart… and that’s okay. Once a book is out in the world, it’s going to take on a life of its own. Authorial intent ends when a story walks out the door and reaches new readers.

Of course, I feel that an author can give interpretations of their own work (though I’d personally prefer if they’d couch it in terms of “it could mean” instead of “I meant it to mean”). However, I am loath to call later additions and commentary “canon”. Like any other reader, I’m going to want proof of their claims; I’m going to expect them to say more than “it was there all along”. Interpretation has little value without textual evidence. Rewriting a book in retrospect is not only irritating, it undermines the fabric of the existing text. It muddies truths with lies. And it is also a sure-fire way to lose your reader. In that regard at least, I can safely say the author is dead to me.

So, what do you think? Is the author dead or alive? Let me know in the comments!

Why do I struggle to DNF?

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I’ve talking a bit lately about how to DNF and books I’m glad I DNF’d, but I haven’t actually got into why I find it so hard. With this discussion, I’ve been wondering if it’s always a mistake to DNF or (equally) if it’s a bad idea to keep going. So I’ve written a list of reasons why I struggle to DNF. Some of these reasons are good… some not so much- let’s get into them…

dune#1 FOMO– this is probably the biggest one for me personally. There are so many books out there that are acclaimed or a BIG DEAL in some way- and I can never quite forgive myself for not liking each and every one of those (ridiculous, I know! but that’s why I’ve powered through books like Dune, despite not liking the writing style from the start) A huge part of me always wants to know what the fuss is about and doesn’t like the idea that I’m somehow not getting everything I could out of books. If this is my sole motivator for continuing with a book I’m not interested in or don’t like, I’m just going to have to learn to let go.

mrs dalloway#2 Because I like to persevere. For me personally, I have a very positive association with perseverance. I like to see things through, no matter what. So, if I give up on a book, I feel ridiculously guilty. It even makes me pick up books again, like  Mrs Dalloway, long after I’ve DNF’d them!

 

lolita#3 The shame– this is kind of a combination of #1 and #2. I feel an overwhelming sense of failure if I can’t make it through a book I’m not enjoying (which is rather silly, since this is a hobby, not a job!) I also don’t like the idea of admitting I couldn’t make it to the end of a book. Thus, I tend to power through, long after I should’ve just called it quits.

 

a separate peace#4 For work/uni– of course, sometimes I am obliged to finish something whether I want to or not. And that kinda sucks, especially in the case of Lolita or even a Separate Peace, but it’s part and parcel of life- sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.

 

NutshellMcEwan#5 So I can review it– this is in part another sense of obligation (though of course I rarely do ARCs and more rarely still dislike them). However, it also comes down to the fact that I take (a twisted kind of) pleasure in being able to drag a book I didn’t enjoy. And how could I review something properly if I haven’t finished it? Of course, I could just review what I’ve read so far or *shock horror* not bother to review it at all… which I actually do with a fair amount of books I’ve finished anyway 😉 (plus, if the reason I didn’t like it is because I was bored, I won’t have much to say regardless!)

magician's guild#6 The occasional book that proves me right. We’ve all been there once or twice: picked up a book, found ourselves hating it, yet *miraculously* just as we’re about to throw the book at a wall or coming to the final act, the book rewards our patience and we end up loving it. For me, the most memorable example was Magician’s Guild– a book I’m still a bit meh about, but a series I’m crazy for! If I’d given up on that, I’d have really missed out (there’s that FOMO again) so with that in mind, I sometimes push on.

bringing down the duke#7 If I really like the concept. This goes hand in hand with the last one. If I saw something in the concept and have faith in the story, then I’m going to have a tough time giving up on it (especially if it was super hyped!) I can keep going as long as I have the merest glimmer of hope (…which is sadly so infrequently rewarded).

 

ordinary men#8 Some books are hard, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile. Similarly to #7, I do like to pick up the odd challenging book and that can have its downsides. A book can be tough for any number of reasons- difficult subject matter, complex writing etc. Often, it is for the best that I power through, even if I’m not enjoying it… but then, with books like Ordinary Men and Gulag Archipelago they’re not exactly meant to be enjoyed. And that’s okay- I just have to be a bit more prepared to persevere with those books and remember why I’m trying to read them in the first place.

happily ever after#9 I may have been in the wrong mood when I picked it up. As a self-confessed mood reader, I’ve had this on numerous occasions. And it doesn’t help that I don’t always recognise what I’m in the mood for… or in some cases ignore my mood entirely. Recently, I felt like reading thrillers, but with everything going on I convinced myself I must want to pick up fluffy contemporaries. All this did was make me slumpy (and make me give up on two contemporaries in a row: Happily Ever After and V is for Virgin). What a waste of reading time!

Now that I think about it, most of these are pretty positive reasons to keep going… it’s just those handful of times that I’m clinging to a book longer than I should. I know that if I’m only reading something out of a sense of misplaced shame or FOMO, that’s not good enough. And I have to recognise that if I’m in the wrong mood or it’s just not clicking, I may have to abandon it for the time being (or maybe I should just cut my losses). Ultimately, I have to be honest with myself and DNF for the right reasons.

So, how about you? Do you struggle with DNFing? Why? Or, if you are an experienced DNFer, what are your secrets? Let me know in the comments!

The Power of Catharsis

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Ah catharsis- what a painful topic 😉 Put simply, it is the purging or purification of emotions through art. Or to put it even more simply, if we’ve had a good old cathartic cry, then we know a piece of art has done its job… or is that just me? 😉 Naturally, every good story should have some form of catharsis, whether it ends happily or not- yet it is most readily noticeable in tragedies or tragic turns.

On one level, I see it as a way to emote and empathise. Catharsis can be educational; it can teach you to walk in someone else’s shoes, to feel what they feel, to see the world through their eyes. Not, of course, in a sensational or gratuitous sense- though such styles are hard to define, we all know melodrama when we see it and can tell if a plot point is empty of substance. No, I’m talking about the stories that really touch us, that make us wonder about the world, that shift our perspective. It’s through these moving stories that we can see there is as much beauty and meaning in sadness as there is in joy.

Yet catharsis, in my view, goes much further than simply helping you see things from someone else’s point of view. Sometimes, I’ve found, catharsis acts as a coping mechanism. Now, this is perhaps a grand and unsubstantiated claim- I can only speak from my own experience after all- but I’ve often sought solace in books to deal with bad experiences. Some wholly disagree with my perspective on this- they say, as I found when I wrote my trigger warnings piece, that people ought to be protected from their traumas or unpleasant memories. While I sympathise with the sentiment, I cannot say I completely agree. Life has its ups and downs and everyone must learn to handle it differently- and sometimes the safest way to do that is through a good book. For many of us, catharsis is a more therapeutic action, a useful tool to get past pain. Sometimes the knowledge is worth having- even if we have to go through a painful experience in order to get it.

thirteen reasons whyGoodness knows, I’m not saying “don’t critique art” (where would I be if that were the case?). However, I do think it would be good to be more mindful about trampling all over something that may bring others peace. Way back when, for instance, I had strong objections to the portrayal of depression and suicide in Thirteen Reasons Why– nevertheless what I have thought more and more since (especially as the show gained notoriety) is how the voices of those it helped get drowned out in the cacophony of criticism. As much as I think it is a good idea to break down the misconceptions that arise from some art, it does not do to negate it entirely.

outlanderEven more so, I notice that there’s a lack of moderation. If a piece of art offends- well then, it must have done something evil and must be destroyed. I feel like objectivity has gone out the window in these cases. Sure, it may not be relatable to your individual experience and it may not be great representation- but sometimes I think we could do with taking a step back. There have been times when I thought a piece of media went too far, though I understood at the time that it was me and my interpretation. It is okay to dislike something without resorting to *ALL OUT WAR*.

Personally, I am against sanitising art, regardless of taste. Making art more palatable robs it of meaning and power. It robs people of their chance to process pain and denies others their chance to understand it. Yes, this may mean there are books out there which make us uncomfortable, that we struggle to digest, that do not sit well- nonetheless, ultimately, we are all better off for their existence. Without these tricky tomes, we may never understand the true power of catharsis.

So, what do you think? Do you believe in the power of catharsis? Or should art be more sanitised? Let me know in the comments!