2020

I know that most of us want to completely forget the past year and focus on a possibly brighter year ahead. 2020 was bleak and even though I was fortunate enough to not be affected by the pandemic in terms of loss and work, I still felt the heavy weight of this year on my shoulders. However I have to say that I have learnt a lot about many different things this year and so I really wanted to properly say goodbye to what has been a pivotal year for all of us.

I tend to only broach this topic during my yearly check-ins and I was really hesitant to mention that this year because it is something very personal. But I have mentioned this before and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of their struggles – we need to speak out more on mental issues. As I said, I have hinted at this before but I’ve been struggling with my mental health for quite a while now, and I started the year in a very bad place. I had been hunting for jobs during the last half of 2019 but couldn’t find anything. I had to accept the fact that I wouldn’t get a great job straight out of uni, and so I applied to literally every entry-level job I saw. I was in a very bad place financially and I’m not someone who copes well with uncertainty and having no purpose, so this was a very difficult time. I then found a job and it was nice to get a little bit of money in the bank but I knew from the beginning it wouldn’t do.

When lockdown started in March, I struggled even more because I felt like my whole life was my job in recruitment and I didn’t even like it that much. In the day, I would look at CVs, cover letters and job descriptions. In the evening, I would edit my CV, write cover letters and look at job descriptions to get a job in publishing. It was all very repetitive, and I think my brain assimilated the two and I started getting very upset when someone would get hired at work because it felt like everyone was getting their dream jobs but me (which I know is completely ludicrous as 2020 has been terrible for many who lost their jobs and struggled to find a new one). I just felt so sad and empty, I couldn’t even sleep properly anymore.

I was on the waiting list for therapy all that time and I finally got assigned to a therapist in the Spring. It helped me so very much – I can’t stress that enough. It sounds silly but being confronted with your own thoughts and words on paper or in someone else’s mouth makes everything sounds completely different. I realised what was wrong and what I needed to do to let go of unhelpful thoughts. I am still working hard at giving up my old thinking pattern, but I already feel so much more like myself – something I hadn’t felt in years. The NHS is a wonderful system and we need to applaud it – not at our windows, but by voting for people that would fund it properly. I would’ve never been able to get the help I needed if it wasn’t for the NHS, and I know this is the case for many, many people in the UK.

In the summer, I’ve also been accepted into the Society of Young Publishers mentorship program, SYP Into, to help people get into publishing. I got paired with the most helpful and lovely mentor, and I’m so glad I got to meet such a wonderful person during such a grim year. I feel a lot more confident that I can get a publishing job and I’ve even had several interviews since I became a mentee. I also learnt a lot about what I want and don’t want in my career, and I think that’s really useful because when we start we tend to accept everything and that’s how we end up being taken advantage of. Publishing is a very competitive industry though, and it’s been even worse this year, but I’m hopeful I will find something for me this year.

Finally, last year I started this blog and photography again – two hobbies that are very dear to my heart. It’s been a joy to share my love of books on here again. I have taken a break recently because I’m still not quite healed yet and I know now that it’s better to just stop and rest, than desperately trying to exhaust myself and go around in circles. I have spent the holidays with my family in France, which was lovely as I hadn’t seen them for a whole year! I’m back in the UK and in quarantine now, so I hope to be able to bring some nice content in the coming weeks.

This was quite personal, but it’s nice to check-in every now and then. I hope you all have a good year, may it be filled with laughter and great books!

Bookish Gift Guide

There are two things I love doing in my free time: reading and browsing websites to find beautiful things. It’s a little bit of a problem, really. I spend hours looking at books, clothes and various random things that I find beautiful, but I actually never buy them (well, sometimes but very rarely!). I just like looking at them. For that reason, I love gift guides because they gather all these pretty items in one place for me to admire. I thought I would try my hand at those this year, although I know that there are so many gift guides out there already. Hopefully, you will find my personal touch a nice addition!

Last time, I shared some books that would make a great present for Christmas. Today, I thought I would share some bookish accessories and gifts that would please every bookworm in the world.

Bookmarks

I think bookmarks are a perfect gift if you’re shopping on a budget or doing a Secret Santa because they’re always useful, and there are some amazing designs out there. I especially like these hilarious bookmarks from BookmarkBoys on Etsy. Each bookmark costs £3.75 but you can get a bundle of 3 for £10 – perfect for someone who’s always reading several books at once!

A book-inspired notebook

Everyone loves a good notebook, and Country House Library has the most beautiful selection of notebooks with vintage book covers. I also love Paperblanks notebooks as they are extremely luxurious journals which you can close and that have a pocket to put loose papers. They’re also beautiful and I have gifted a few in the past few years… to myself!

Writing Sets

I think that most people who love to read equally love to write. As we not be able to see all our friends and relatives for a few more months, writing letters might a nice way to make communication a little special. If you’re looking for something to gift to a Jane Austen fan, then look no further: this stationery set is just perfect. It seems to be quite popular, though so I have linked it in three places in case it runs out!

Waterstones | Blackwell’s | Amazon

Bookish Clothing

It’s not often that you come across bookish clothing that is both cute and stylish. Joanie Clothing managed to do just that, and they have a wonderful selection of bookish slogan tops to choose from. They go up to a size 22, which also a great bonus! My personal favourites are their famous Avid Readers Club sweater, their Read More Books t-shirt, and 1984 sweatshirt.

Something from a Museum Gift Shop

If you know that your bookworm is particularly fan of a specific famous/old author, it’s definitely worth checking the museum’s online gift shop. You will find beautiful gifts there, and you will help supporting a museum in what has been a very tricky year. You can also make a donation to the foundation, in the name of the person you’re offering this donation to. I linked to the Bronte Parsonage Museum because it’s a very special place to me, but all museums have an oline shop.

I hope this little guide will have provided you with some inspiration – if not for this Christmas, then next year. You can also definitely pick from this list to treat yourself, I won’t tell!

Books to Gift This Christmas

There are two things I love doing in my free time: reading and browsing websites to find beautiful things. It’s a little bit of a problem, really. I spend hours looking at books, clothes and various random things that I find beautiful, but I actually never buy them (well, sometimes but very rarely!). I just like looking at them. For that reason, I love gift guides because they gather all these pretty items in one place for me to admire. I thought I would try my hand at those this year, although I know that there are so many gift guides out there already. Hopefully, you will find my personal touch a nice addition!

This week, I will focus on actual books that would make a great present (for a loved one or yourself), and in a next article I will talk about bookish gifts in general.

Penguin Clothbound Classics

These books look so beautiful on a shelf! There’s currently a deal on the Penguin website where you can get 3 for £33, instead of £45. This allows you to get a nice little selection to spoil your favourite reader of classics.

Barnes and Nobles Leatherbound Classics

These are truly beautiful editions of your favourite classics – and not so classics! My personal favourites include Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. You can also just google ‘barnes and nobles leatherbound classics’ + the title of the book you’re looking for and it’s very likely that you’ll find the title you’re looking for!

Literary Gift Sets from the Literary Emporium

The Bell Jar Gift Set (I need this t-shrt in my life!)

These gift boxes are so exquisite, it will make any bookworm happy. Three to four presents in one, and the utter joy of wearing your favourite book on your chest – nothing can compare. I especially like the Hamlet one.

Juniper Books

For a higher budget, Juniper Books is a great alternative. They offer unique and gorgeous cover designs of well-loved hardback titles. You can get the books with it, or just the dust jackets. Special mention to the Nancy Drew set, Banned Books collection, and the Christmas Classics set.

Literary Box Subscription

Books can be such a personal thing, right? You know that a person close to you loves books, but choosing the right title can be a daunting thing – even if you too are a bookworm. This is when book subscriptions come into play and allow you to offer books without the pressure of choosing a specific title. There are so many out there but I personally prefer the more surprising ones with a general theme and goodies as well, everyone loves a little treat with a book. A perfect example of this is the gorgeous Books That Matter, pictured above. For secondhand lovers, this subscription is everything they could desire – including tea and stationery. Finally Reposed is a great option for a reader who needs to take a little bit of time for themselves (thinking of subscribing to this one myself!).

A Vintage or Antique Copy of Their Favourite Book

A gorgeous edition of Wuthering Heights from the 1940s that a friend got me for my birthday a few years ago – how stunning is that cover!

This one requires a little bit of research, but it’s so gratifying to find a gorgeous book for a gorgeous friend or relative. You can also adapt your budget very easily, and the most beautiful editions are not necessarily the most expensive. My favourite places to hunt for used books (online) are Oxfam, AbeBooks (which is owned by Amazon, but has a very good research tool) and PsychoBabel (their physical store is called Skoob Books and is located in Bloomsbury – would highly recommend paying them a visit if/when you can). It’s always worth having a look on eBay as well, there are some great bargains on there! This is where I found most of beautiful Stephen King paperbacks, for instance.

I hope you find this little guide useful – if not for Christmas, for a nice little treat to yourself! Anything in particular you’d love to find under the Christmas tree this year?

Organising my bookshelves (and a mini bookshelf tour!)

As I mentioned in my last Stacking the Shelves, I bought a lot of new books in October, which means that I quickly ran out of space on my shelves. As I needed to tidy all my books, I thought I would document the process! As you will see, I really don’t have much space for all my books (or at least, I wish I had a lot more) so I have to be clever. My boyfriend (he’s a big reader as well) and I share a big bookshelf and a few shelves that we have on one wall , we also have a couple more wall shelves but I leavethem to him as they’re his ‘writing books’. I figured it made more sense for him to have all the books useful for his writing at the same place, rather than scattered around the place in my very personal organisation! Anyway, here’s what we had to deal with:

Look at my cute Halloween glow-in-the-dark skeletons!

So… yes, it was pretty messy. It was all the more upsetting that I had last organised my shelves in September! I had attempted a rainbow shelf (separating paperbacks from hardbacks), and I had freed a couple of the wall shelves to put some books on, but the bottom one ended up receiving my cameras and lenses, books awaiting for their rightful place, and various bits and bobs. Besides, it was a tragic set-up as there is a gap between the end of the shelves and the wall which meant that books kept falling off. I had also an extra pile of books on our coffee table that needed to be put away –

The only way to get started was to get everything out of the way, putting all paperbacks and hardbacks together, and also differentiating collections and purpose (for instance, I like my Penguin Classics to be together, and my Victorian non-fiction to be apart from the rest).

Paperbacks (in the background, on the shelf, are my Harry Potter books because they’re quite fragile so I prefer to have them in a safe place)
Hardbacks/Oxford and Penguin Classics/Penguin Modern Classics/French books/Victorian books/Antiques/Special series

I didn’t remove many books from the bottom shelf of my bookcase because they’re all big and heavy books that can’t fit anywhere else, so I saved some time and effort by leaving them where they were.

I started by putting all my antique books on the higher wall shelf, as well as all my Jane Austen Vintage classics. The shelf below is for my Penguin English Library books, my Brontës Vintage classics, and my Harry Potter books. Below that, we have my Persephone books, My Brilliant Friend book series, our Penguin Modern Classics, some Penguin orange spines and my Victorian non-fiction books. Finally, I’ve put together my Penguin and Oxford classics, and my French novels on the bottom shelf.

For the bookcase, I went for rainbow shelves again – separating paperbacks and hardbacks. I have to say, I’m not convinced I like this set up, I think I prefer a more traditional order or sorting out books by size. I feel like it looks a bit chaotic at the moment! There are also some books underneath the bookcase because I ran out of space… To be fair, these are my boyfriend’s economics and maths textbooks so they can absolutely stay hidden there, haha!

I also realised that most of the books I have I’ve either read or presented to you in a haul, so I don’t think I will be taking part in Shelf-Control for the time being. I have many more books in France but if I’m honest, I don’t know exactly what’s there… so yeah, taking a break from this meme which I really liked but I don’t think I’ve got interesting content for it.

Anyway, here are my two favourite bits: My Harry Potter and English Library section, and my vintage Stephen King paperbacks collection – with a delicious Peach-scented candle on top!

I don’t know if this was very interesting, but I hope this might have inspired you to try a new way of organising your shelves, I think it’s a great lockdown activity!

I tried to read 1,000 pages in one weekend

‘Hmm… okay Sophie, do you have too much time on your hands?’ I may very well do, but I thought it would be a fun way to challenge myself to read more. Recently, I’ve been very good at making time during the week for my reading but at the weekend, I just scroll on Instagram and Depop for hours without reading a single page. I would much rather read than scrolling aimlessly, but I’ve had troubles motivating myself so I thought this challenge would be perfect for me.

The aim is simple: read a thousand pages between Friday 7pm and Monday 12am. That’s what I did, and I kept a little diary meanwhile to keep track of my reading so here is my crazy weekend!

Disclaimer: Before I start, I would like to say that one of the books I’ve read this weekend will be problematic to some people and I completely understand. I do not wish to promote its author’s point of view in any way at all. This is just a series that has a special place in my heart (as many, I’m sure) and it helps me with the low mood I’ve been experiencing recently.

Friday, 7pm – TBR
I am currently in the middle of reading and/or want to read this weekend:

  • Saltwater by Jessica Andrews ➡️ 100 pages left
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ➡️ 300 pages left
  • The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark ➡️ 142 pages
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett ➡️ 343 pages
  • Selection of short stories by MR James ➡️ 250 pages

Friday, 9.45pm
Had some dinner and watched The Office US, on page 210/295 of Saltwater – will try to finish tonight 🤞

Friday 11.48pm
Two hours later and I’ve only read 50 pages 😭 Saltwater is written in such a beautiful way that I really try to take my time and savour the author’s words. Some of the themes are difficult as well, so it’s not the kind of book you read quickly, I think. I should probably have gone for easier books but oh well! I will definitely not succeed in this challenge, but it’ll be fun to try anyway!

Saturday 12.18 am
I finished Saltwater and I cried because I lived very similar things to what Lucy is going through in the book. Andrews puts words on how I felt in such a beautiful way, I just couldn’t help crying (I need to add it was ugly crying, not a couple of dainty little tears at the corner of my eyes!). I will read a couple of chapters of Harry Potter in bed to feel a little happier now!

Saturday 1am
On page 376/636 of Harry Potter. I read 140 pages tonight in total – going to bed now!

You are allowed to laugh at my bookmark… I really need to get an actual one!

Saturday, 9.39 am
I had a full night of sleep for the first time since forever! Will read a chapter before getting up 😄

Saturday 11am
Had some breakfast and did some chores, now onto some more reading! Currently on page 398/636 of Harry Potter and I feel like the more I read this book, the less I move on with the story – there are some long passages that I just want to skim if I’m being honest!

Saturday 12.56pm
On page 504/636 of Harry Potter, yay! This one was never my favourite. Although it’s a little better than in my memory (in comparison to the mediocre film adaptation), I still find that some passages are dragging for too long and it’s a little annoying. It might also be due to the fact that there are more action scenes in this one (I like my stories slow and descriptive) and that I already know what’s happening. I feel like there are certain scenes that I’m looking forward to reading again and I’m annoyed that I have to read through everything else 🤦‍♀️ I will have a little pampering session and (finally) get dressed, and I’ll prepare lunch before another reading session!

Saturday 7pm
I had calls with relatives and baked some little bread loaves. Time went by so quickly! It’s already time to cook tea and I feel a bit guilty for not ready much at all this afternoon. I did some reading before baking though, but I can’t believe how fast time goes during the weekend!

Saturday 7.53pm
I’m now on page 559 of HP, the end is near 🙌 Now off to make tea and watch a film or something!

Saturday 10pm
Starting to read again! I knew I wouldn’t manage to read so much this weekend but I didn’t think I would be so far behind 🙈 for now, I’ve read 323 pages out of 1,000… lol. On the bright side, it’s a lot more than I usually manage to read in a whole weekend, so that’s pretty cool!

Saturday 11.45pm
Finally finished HP! It’s funny to read a book you loved as a child when you’re an adult. I remember thinking Harry was a bit annoying in this book, I was nine or ten then and now, I understand more simple things like being a teenager or being around death. These are not ideas you really get as a child, I think, or maybe but in a totally different way? I just remember thinking all teenagers were idiots when I was little! Also, I was ready to sleep but my bed broke… that certainly woke me up so I guess I’ll do some more reading then!

Sunday 12.28am
Tried to fix the bed but quickly gave up! Started The Girls of Slender Means but I feel so, so tired 😑 On page 26/142 and I read 426 pages so far this weekend, almost halfway through!

Sunday 9am
I just read for 30mins and I really like reading first thing in the morning, before getting up. Especially if the story is as nice as The Girls of Slender Means! It makes up for the terrible sleep I had last night. I only read The Prime of Miss Jane Brodie by Muriel Spark but I loved it so much, so I’m glad to be back in her writing – it’s so unique and funny, and it really makes you travel in time! On page 52/142

Sunday 1.39pm
I fell asleep while reading… the book is great but I was so exhausted! I couldn’t sleep because the slats of the bed underneath me were broken. It turns out that Ikea thought it would be clever to glue two scraps of wood together to make bed slats… IT REALLY ISN’T. Anyway, we fixed it and I feel a little better now. Getting some lunch before more reading – on page 120/142.

Sunday 2.50pm
Had some lunch and started to plan for my boyfriend’s birthday in September (exciting!). I also finished The Girls of Slender Means – I really liked it, it felt like opening a time capsule from 1945! Although I have to say I did feel uncomfortable when the narrator kept stressing that one of the characters was fat. As fat as she is, she’s still one of the main characters and goes on to do great things with her life, so I don’t think it was an actual mockery of fat girls. Probably just echoing all the other girls’ obsession with thinness. Nicholas reminded me of the writer in Auntie Mame, a sort of wannabe poet who’s better at seducing girls than writing.

Saturday 3pm
There’s a few things I need to do now – including writing my Sunday Post so I will stop reading. Started The Vanishing Half and I’m already hooked! On page 33/343

Saturday 6.35pm
I don’t know if my laptop is not good or if WordPress secretely hates me but it took me AGES to write my Sunday Post article and I had actually to write it twice 😭 anyway back to reading now!

This cover… seriously beautiful!

Sunday 9.45pm
On page 81/343 – I feel so into this book, I don’t want to stop reading! The writing is very atmospheric, and the premise is so engrossing. Bennett tackles loads of different issues really well, I can already say this will be a favourite at the end of the year! We had dinner and watched a bit of TV and now to do some more reading before bed… I won’t obviously get to the 1,000 but we’ll see how much I can read before my eyes can’t open anymore 😂 for now I’ve read 625 pages in total I think, so I’m actually very happy because that’s so much more than I usually read in a weekend!

Monday 12am
It’s over! I have read in total… 705 pages! 🙌 Obviously, I didn’t quite succeed but still pretty happy with my reading this weekend 😄

Well, that was quite an experience! I had a lot of fun trying to pack as much reading as possible in one weekend and I think this is something I will try again. It’s been tough finding motivation to just sit and read, when this is something that makes me so happy usually… so I’m very happy to have rediscovered the joy that it is to be completely engrossed with a story you don’t want to do anything else. I feel a lot more stimulated intellectually and creatively, and I think I fell asleep faster (apart from when my bed broke!). I’m not usually into challenges but this really was a lot of fun!

Do you think you could read 1,000 pages in one weekend? Maybe an idea for the bank holiday weekend! Let me know in the comments and Happy Reading x

The Sunday Post #2

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share News. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog.

You can find the original post here.

I complained about last week and I will complain again: it is HOT! I really don’t like hot weather, summer dresses are nice but I would rather be a little cold, thank you.

This week has been quite uneventful (as most weeks are these days)… I’m just waiting for our little weekend away next week! Here in the UK, the government has started a ‘eat out to help out scheme’ where you can get 50% off your meal at most restaurants if you eat in from Monday to Wednesday in August. We haven’t even thought about doing this because I heard that some restaurants were fully booked for the whole month because of that. I’m not sure I’m ready to eat in a very busy restaurant, yet.

We did have a little trip to Covent Garden yesterday, and it was less busy than usual so it felt a little bit nicer (although of course, it was still a little busy!). We bought some secondhand books and had an ice cream, it was quite lovely.

Currently reading

Akala, Natives (2019)

Kiley Reid, Such a Fun Age (2019)

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (1938) (although another edition)

Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent (2016)

Father John Misty – Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins), just a light summer song!

Have a great week ahead, everybody!

On not finishing books and other bookish sins

In July, I took part in #Middlemarchalong, a readalong of George Eliot’s famous 1872 novel, Middlemarch, hosted by Claire Fenby. Claire organised things so well with a discord chat, and weekly videos to discuss various topics of the book. It was really nice to feel connected to other readers and feeling this sense of community. But (there’s always one) I didn’t really care about Middlemarch. I painfully dragged myself along for the first 300 pages, only to realise I had only read a third of the bloody book. I started skimming some pages but felt very tempted to do that up until the very last page, read the last line, close the book and shout at the top of my lungs, ‘I have finished Middlemarch’. It seemed to me quite silly so instead, I just put the book back on my bookshelf.


I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t care for it. There are so many things that I do every day that leave me indifferent but that I must do, so I don’t want my reading for pleasure becoming the same sort of drudgery I take no pleasure in. So I simply did not finish the book. I know that a lot of people would never think of doing that because they need to feel closure and read till the end, or they feel a certain pressure to not give up on something. But when it comes to books I read for fun, I’m 100% a quitter. It doesn’t mean I’ll never go back to them, it’s just at the moment I started reading these books they were not what I needed.


Here’s a list of a few books I started but didn’t finish:

  • Dolly Alderton, Everything I Know About Love (2018)
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2015) – This one I know is to do with language skills, unfortunately!
  • Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
  • Tracy Chevalier (ed.), Reader, I Married Him (2016)

Some of those I will never go back to because they were a bad reading experience for me, but some others I know I will reach for again at one point. I think that it’s okay to DNF a book if you’re not having much fun reading at a certain point in time – it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad book or you a bad reader.


That got me thinking, what about skim-reading? I don’t think a lot of people approve of that, either. But honestly, this is what got me through my master (although if I believed everyone else, they were reading the whole of the books and articles?). I think I got pretty good at this, but it definitely requires some practice. Once again, I think it’s okay and in some cases, a rather clever thing to do. I remember that one week I had to read Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop alongside two other novels (plus all the different academic books and articles). It did break my heart to skim it as I thought it was such a nice novel, but it certainly saved my brain! I do skim passages of books I read on my free time as well, sometimes. Because it gets a bit boring or I’m dying to know what happens next and skip the descriptions, etc. 


What I’m trying to say with this article is that everyone should be free to read the way they want to (and what they want!) – especially if it’s for fun, on your own time. Of course, if you work on a book this might not apply to you. Still, I used the example of my degree because we all did at uni and we still got great marks, I’m sure. There’s sometimes pressure to read certain things a certain way, and I’m here to say ‘No, thank you’! 

What about you, do you always try to finish a book you started or are you happy to put it aside if you’re not enjoying? What is something considered ‘sinful’ by some that you do with your books?

Mid-Year Review

Today, I won’t review a book but how my year has been so far. This is a very selfish post as it is a very therapeutic thing to write. It feels good to take a step back and see what I have achieved these past few months – something that can be difficult when you’re in the middle of… well, your life.


The first highlight of my year was to actually find a job after months of desperately applying to any entry-level role. Of course, I started by focusing on publishing jobs but I quickly understood that I had pretty much the same CV as everybody else and needed to seriously work on gaining new skills. So at the moment, I’m not doing exactly what I wanted but I’m very happy to learn new skills in a professional context – and having a salary, obviously. I realise how lucky I’ve been as I started my job just a couple of months before lockdown and was able to keep on working from home.


And how can I mention the beginning of 2020 without talking about coronavirus and lockdown? This has been a strange time for everyone. In the UK, I am not convinced that the crisis was taken seriously soon enough and as a result, we suffered from a very high number of deaths. Now that the lockdown is easing down people seem to be going back to normal, which feels strange to me. I am happy to be able to go out again but I’m being careful and conscious of others’ vulnerability. Yet, we’ve booked a little weekend away by the sea as we are slowly going stir-crazy in our tiny London studio flat. I miss fresh air and I’m really looking forward to stretching my legs and walk on something other than concrete for a couple of days. Lockdown has changed us all and I think we realised the value of slowing down, the importance of green spaces, and that it’s okay to not do much at all.


We are living in such extraordinary times, a lot of bad things have happened this year but it’s important to look at the bright side. It made me very sad that people needed to see a man die in a video to take full measure of the racial issues that are engrained in our Western societies, but I feel that things are changing. I hope that the momentum will keep going and that we will see our world become more diverse and open to others.


On a personal note, I finally found the courage in me to refer myself to get therapy at the end of last year. It was nerve-wracking to admit that I was unwell and needed help, added to the long wait to actually get to see somebody (not blaming our wonderful NHS workers here, obviously). I have properly started my sessions during lockdown on the phone, and I can already feel a change in me. I feel more motivated and have more goals: getting back to posting on here is one of them, and it makes me so happy. I also try to be more active in the book/publishing community (which is so incredibly lovely by the way, I still can’t believe how nice everyone is to each other!) and refocus my attention on what I want to achieve with my life – at least in the next five years. It’s a long process and it takes time, but I feel very hopeful. 


I’m not sure what the rest of 2020 is going to look like, and I don’t know if anyone needs to hear that but please, hang in there. We’ll get through it – with lots of books and cups of tea. x

Books by Black Authors that Changed my Outlook on Race

I have been silent for a little while on here… I wanted to talk about Black Lives Matter but didn’t know how, and then I figured I would use books to convey what I want to say. A lot of non-fiction books have been shared all over social media and I have kept these useful lists for my own education, but I thought I’d share here a few fiction novels (apart from the first one) that I found very useful in making me more aware of racism.

Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)

Olaudah Equiano was a pioneer in the fight against slavery during the late eighteenth century. According to his memoir, he was born in Africa and was stolen as a child to be sold as a slave. He later bought himself free and joined the Sons of Africa, a group of Africans living in London who led a campaign to abolish slavery. He is a very important figure for me because in history class, we tend to study the white intellectuals who campaigned for the abolition of slavery (who were definitely instrumental and I think we should still appreciate what they did today) and picture black people as ‘only’ suffering.  Here, you have a black man who is taking full possession of his narrative by writing up his life story and leading the fight.

I have to say that I don’t know of a lot of writing by black people prior to the nineteenth century, but I think it is important to amplify historical voices from minorities and give this part of history back to those who own it.

I guess I need to add that not everything is true in Equiano’s memoir; we now know that he was born in the US rather than in Africa, but we shouldn’t forget that this memoir has a political agenda. When he evokes a childhood in Africa, Equiano is depicting a romanticised version of tribal life which makes his abduction only the more violent and cruel – in order to make his European audience understand the inhumanity of the slave trade.

Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

I’m not sure this novel needs any introduction by now, as it is a classic in its own right, inspired by the true story of an enslaved woman who escaped, and killed her baby after being captured. In Beloved, the child, Beloved, comes to haunt her mother, Sethe, and sister, Denver, as a ghost – representing the impossibility for Sethe to ever forget where she comes from. This novel gave me a true sense of the impact of slavery on black people, even long after it was abolished. The story of Beloved is the heavy burden that African Americans have to carry on their shoulders, as their country was built on their blood and that of Native Americans.

This is not an easy book to read, no matter who you are. But of course, I am talking as a white person and I think that in history books, we study slavery as a distant concept without taking into actual considerations the individuals who were affected by it. We know, of course, that it was cruel and inhumane, but we need a book like Beloved to hit us in the face and show us why.

I have recently read Yvonne Battle-Felton’s Remembered (2019) which is really reminiscent of Beloved – it too is a novel of magical realism and deals with the notion of collective memory for African Americans, especially women and its impact on motherhood. A collective memory is the memory of a group of people passed on to the next generations, and slavery is at the basis of many black communities’ collective memory… and how could it not be? I think that it’s important that we read about slavery and its impact on individuals, and I think fiction is a great way to immerse yourself in this dark but essential part of history.

Paul Beatty, The Sellout (2015)

The Sellout is about a man who tries to reintroduce slavery in 21st-century California. The premise of this novel is bold, absurd, and absolutely awful; I think we can agree on that. It reminds me of the TV series, The Wire, when a desperate police captain legalises drugs in a specific neighbourhood of Baltimore. The Sellout is a little more satirical and really highlights racial issues in the US.

Yet another book I had a hard time reading, as it made me deeply uncomfortable! I guess I didn’t find it as funny as everyone else because I only found the idea of reintroducing slavery half-absurd. I find that American politics have always been absurd and sometimes ridiculous in its lack of subtlety – like when Native American affairs were directly dealt with by the Land Bureau, clearly showing their interest in Native lands but their disregard for the people that inhabit them. I think I can believe anything can happen in the US, especially given the current president’s never-ending succession of idiotic comments.

Candice Carty-Williams, Queenie (2019)

When we first meet her, Queenie is in complete denial that her boyfriend has broken up with her, she has to move back to her grandparents’, and she feels like she’s going nowhere in her career. Queenie is presented as a dark comedy and of course, there are funny bits and the characters are, for the most part, really loveable but I found it to be a very uncomfortable and heavy read. I related a lot to Queenie because she is a bigger girl with mental health issues, but I never realised how easy I had it compared to a black woman… I’m ashamed to say that I never knew, before reading this book, that racism permeated every single area of daily life. My self-esteem was never deteriorated by nasty comments from doctors who can’t examine me correctly because ‘they can’t see properly’, or by men who objectified and sexualised my body with racial clichés. I’ve never had to think that my appearance could potentially be the reason why some people can’t stand me to start with or are prejudiced against me.

Queenie is a very important book to read, because even if it might make you uncomfortable at points (which is okay, by the way, I think we need to face the disagreeable facts first to then be better allies), it is very nice to read – it was more of a page-turner for me – and most importantly, it shows how much we need feminism to be more intersectional and refuse the too widespread branch of feminism that is exclusively white.

There are a lot of free resources online, especially on Instagram and Twitter, which are really great to educate yourself on racial issues and allyship. When you’re not in a position to donate or protest, I find that reading and sharing are the best alternatives.

How to Overcome Your Childhood, by The School of Life

It might come across as a bit of a cliché to claim that everything that we are now is a sum of our experiences as a child, but it is essentially true. This is what this book tries to explain, but endeavours to show that it’s not because this or that happened during our childhood that we can no longer do anything about it. On the contrary, this little book aims to help us find avenues to heal from our childish wounds.

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The School of Life is an organisation which strives to provide people with resources to find calm, resilience and self-awareness in their lives. They have a great YouTube channel, which I would highly recommend as they have lots of short films about different aspects of daily life. They also have very informative videos about key philosophers and intellectual figures, I found them really useful when I was studying Enlightenment thinkers last year! In short, The School of Life aims to make people understand themselves and feel better, but if you had seen me reading this short book (118 pages), you may not have believed I was feeling any better. I cried, and I cried, and I cried – through the whole thing.

As far as I can remember, I have always seen myself as an ugly duckling. I have always tried my best to please everyone and be a good little girl. I am still like this, a desperate people-pleaser who just doesn’t know how not to do things 200%. I still struggle with criticism as I experience it as a rejection of my whole being, and I demand a lot emotionally from people. I always thought that this is how I was born, however, I realised recently that it might actually have been a consequence of my childhood. I have heard the words ‘emotional abuse’ to refer to my own experience, but I am just unable to accept these words for me. I prefer to think I just wasn’t good enough from the youngest age (writing it down, I realise how ludicrous this statement sounds, though!).

With this book, I understood that there were quite a few things that I was deprived of growing up and which prevented me from being a mentally healthy adult. I found it useful to have concrete lists and tabs under my eyes, to really understand what I need now. I need to tackle the bad memories and really try to remember as much as possible. As they say, ‘We need the novel, not the essay’ in order to accept what happened and move on. It sounds fairly easy but when you have tried to bury those memories at the back of your head for many years, going back to them is an actual work of pain.

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Little me, aged 4 or 5, channelling my inner Dorothy

The one concept that they promote and which really stuck with me is that of a ‘bittersweet life’. How every good memory we have is tinged with melancholy and sadness, how nothing is ever all white or all black. This sounds fairly obvious but when we reflect on our childhood, we tend to lose this balance and tend to focus on just one aspect. Equally, when we experience a disturbed development we grow up forgetting about this bittersweet aspect of life and to see all in black – in my personal experience, at least. Yet it is important to accept that everything bad in our lives do not cancel the good things, life is a balance between the two:

‘Bittersweet memories force us to acknowledge that the positive is never far from being devilishly entwined with something more difficult.’

I am not a big fan of self-help books, in general. The ones I have partially read so far have been a little bit too spiritual for me, I just can’t get on board with gurus, higher-callings or revelations, which I realise is a matter of personal taste. However I found this one very useful as a way to start a long process of recovery, in order to understand ourselves better and feel a little relieved that we are, in fact, good people – if only we take the time to nurture our inner child. Of course, professional help will always be the best option as there’s only so much books can do to help someone to heal from their mental wounds.

 

Featured image is a still from Atonement, directed by Joe Wright (2007)