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!

2019 – A Year in Reading

As I have done for the past two years, I want to take the time to reflect on the books I have read this year thanks to the Year in Books page on Goodreads. Here are my previous posts:

2018 Year in Reading

2017 Year in Reading

I wanted to read 40 books this year and I ended up reading 42 so that’s pretty cool. I have not read so many whole books during a good chunk of the year since I was researching and writing my dissertation. I did reread Villette and Jane Eyre for the occasion as I was working on the portrayal of men in these two novels. I have published an excerpt on here, a paper that I presented to a conference and which is a summary of a chapter of my dissertation. You can find it here: Charlotte Brontë’s Rochester as A Hero of Romance. From April to August, I think I mostly read journal articles so of course, that does not count in a reading challenge but really, I have never read so much in my whole life as I have in 2019. At one point, my eyes got so tired I thought I was going to need glasses! Thankfully, that was not necessary, I just had to calm down and set myself a proper reading schedule – especially of Victorian texts, the font is always too tiny! After my Master, I took a month to completely relax and recover from the stress (and anxiety) which allowed me to read great books I had been waiting to read for a while. Now, I am unemployed so of course, I have time to read but I’ve recently found it hard to focus because I have not been feeling so good in my head. This will be for another post though, so let’s get cracking with the books.

bartleby

The shortest book I have read this year was Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener (1853) with 80 pages. I doubt this result as I have just finished The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892) but as I intend to write a post on it later, I’ll stick with Bartleby. I first read it during my undergraduate degree when we were studying Antebellum American Literature. I hated it. I absolutely hated it and told anyone who would listen that that was the most boring story I had ever read. I found it so boring I could not focus on a paper copy so I downloaded an audiobook which would make me fall asleep very quickly. I can still hear the voice of the narrator saying ‘I prefer not to’… But this time around, I actually really enjoyed it. Bartleby is the new clerk at a law firm and just refuses to do any work. In the 1850s, in a time of industrial revolution and intense activity where the utmost sin was idleness, that could not go down very well. I actually read this novella because I read the Vegetarian by Han Kang (2007) for a class and was reminded so much of Bartleby (he too refuses to eat and speak whilst everyone around him gets angry and even violent with him) that I thought I would write an essay on it. I think I could but it was way too ambitious a project for a 4,000 words MA essay! In that context, I really liked Bartleby’s silent and peaceful revolution against the capitalist obsession with productivity and I find it still quite relevant to this day.

The longest book I read was 922 pages and a combination of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor (1857) and Shirley (1849) as I have that Everyman’s edition:

shirley and prof

I definitely want to write more extensively on these two novels as I love Charlotte Brontë so much and could talk about her work all day long. To make it short, I loved The Professor and think it deserved more interest as it is such a beautiful way to see the evolution of her writing and storytelling. Shirley however, not such a fan. I would definitely need to read it again but I found it very bland and banal unlike all her other novels. It’s a good book, but there’s no power in it – I think.

friendship

The least popular book I read this year was Friendship: a History, edited by Barbara Caine (2010) and I really wanted to mention it here because it was that good. I used it for research as I wrote an essay on Rousseau’s views on friendship (fell in love with Rousseau btw… only took me to cross the Channel to do that!) and ended up reading most of it out of sheer pleasure and interest. Even though it’s an academic book, it’s very accessible and so fascinating as friendship is a fundamental part of being a human being. Highly recommend if it’s in your library or if you can find it second-hand as I know scholarly books can be very expensive.

I read lots of different varied things this year, and overall it was all quite good apart from two which I can remember not liking at all. Both are going to be controversial because they are well-loved works of literary fiction. The first one is Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) because, in spite of getting the message of the book, enjoying the Spanglish, and loving to learn about Dominican history, it really didn’t work for me. It was too much for me, too rough, too vulgar and I just could not deal with it. It made me angry. I would read it and then violently close the book to throw it at the other end of the bed. I see the point of the book, but I just don’t like that kind of literature.

oscar wao

Second one is, I know, very controversial as it Sally Rooney’s Normal People (2018) aka the book that everyone loved this year. I have very little patience with people who relish in self-destruction and I don’t like to read about unromantic and messy relationships as something good or even okay. I did not find an ounce of love in Marianne’s and Connell’s story, they’re just having sex. Marianne is messed up because of her unfunctional family and she needs help that I don’t think Connell brings her at all. By the middle of the novel, he doesn’t love her, he is used to her; she is familiar and that’s why he feels attracted to her (that’s how I read it anyway). Marianne’s confession that she’s a masochist read for me as a confession that she is definitely not, but does not know how to deal with tenderness because she’s never encountered it. I think it was all too messy for me, and I couldn’t deal with the mess for personal reasons, maybe. I loved the writing, though, so I will try to read Rooney’s other works (past and future) in the hope there is less sex and more actual feelings.

normal people

So as I said, I read lots of good things this year and it’s been tricky to just pick a few of my favourites so here is my top 5 (in no particular order):

  • Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2011)

my brilliant friend

Someone had told me this book was not what it seemed and that it was quite bad. They were certainly right in that it is the opposite of what it is marketed as, but immensely wrong with regard to the content of the book. What a powerful story! It is so complex and addictive, I haven’t read many things like that. From the cover, I imagined a romance which would make me travel to Italy. Rather, I was transported to a popular neighbourhood of Naples where everyone is unhappy and violent and where there is very little room for romantic dreams. Instead, the relationship at the centre of the story is Lila’s and Elena’s friendship, which you see grow from childhood. It is a beautiful, awful thing of attraction and repulsion, something very real and very difficult to come to terms with, I think. There are not any really likeable characters in this novel, but somehow, they gripped me and stay with me once the book is closed. This is the first volume of the Neapolitan series and I have read the second one, The Story of a New Name (2012), this Summer and loved it just as much. I really want to read the two other tomes of the series next year.

  • Leïla Slimani’s Chanson douce (Lullaby) (2016)

lullaby

I should start by saying that this is not a book for everyone. The novel begins with a nanny murdering the child and the baby she is in charge of. I don’t think I could read that if I were a mother, and I hope I won’t think of this story too much when that time comes! After this intense beginning, we go back in time to try and uncover the reason for such a terrible crime. The sense of superiority of a middle-class Parisian couple, the isolation of a working-class nanny, a naughty little girl… these do not explain why the nanny did what she did, but Slimani draws a great portrait of different categories of people whilst keeping you on the edge of your chair. The author was interviewed on the High Low last year, which you can listen here (all in English) and I found this podcast really interesting.

  • Ian McEwan’s Nutshell (2016)

nutshell

I was quite interested by abuse on babies this year apparently… But Nutshell is lot funnier. McEwan rewrote Macbeth from the perspective of an unborn baby. His mother and uncle are having an affair and plot to kill his father. It is incredibly funny because the foetus sounds like a middle-aged man rambling about wine and the state of the world, all the while seeing his parents as semi-Gods. In reality, the adults are mediocre at best and none of them seem to actually care about the baby to come. His mother rarely mentions him, she drinks – a lot – and she is just terrible. Her lover never acknowledges the fact that she is pregnant. The father is bad poet who lets his wife basically steal his family home. A strange family portrait but such a great book!

  • Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1869)

little women

It was obvious I would love this novel. Nineteenth century, women, writing, sisterhood and just sheer kindness all throughout – that sounds a lot like me. Yet, I had never really wanted to read it because I remember the TV adaptation being shown every Christmas and my mum complaining about it, saying it was too corny and boring. I can see why some people would say it’s cheesy, but it is also such a cute story of sisterhood! I cannot say too much as I got my copy from a Church book sale and didn’t realise it was just the first part of the story. I got a beautiful edition with the whole thing in it for Christmas so I will start reading it straightaway, and watch the film adaptation by Greta Gerwig which looks quite exciting.

  • Vladimir Nabokov’s Le guetteur (The Eye) (1930)

the eye

Finally, I read Nabokov for the first time, and absolutely loved it. The narrator is a Russian emigrant in Berlin in the 1920s (I think) and after a failed attempt of committing suicide, he thinks he might be a ghost but lives a very normal life nonetheless, amongst other Russians living in Berlin. Up until the end, this novel seems to have no meaning, the narrator lives like a ghost because nothing ever happens to him and he only describes what others do. At the close of the book, you realise you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator and that this is a story about identity, finding who you are and where you belong. I found it all very poetic, beautifully written and as someone who lives in another country and struggled for a while to find myself, this novel really resonated with me.

I hope you too had a great year in books! x

2018

Well, it was about time I did my annual summary of my readings on here! 2018 was a pivotal year for me; I recovered from a very dark time and I started my Masters degree in England – which I still can’t quite get my head around.

I thought I would reflect on the books I have read this year with the great Goodreads tools ‘My Year in Books’ as I did last year. I wanted to read 35 books in 2018 and I have read… 60. I haven’t read much at all between March and August if I remember well, but I have been reading so many texts every week for uni that I ended up reading about 40 books in three months. I am very happy with how much I have read because it means I have discovered many new stories and authors, which is my main motivation. However next year, I won’t set a very high number in my reading challenge either because I don’t want to feel pressured.

malachi550Anyway, let’s begin with the books. The shortest one I have read this year was Malachi’s Cove by Anthony Trollope (1857), which is about 40 pages long. So it’s not really a book but a short story, but in any case, it was very good. It’s set in Cornwall and Malachi is a young woman who pulls out seaweeds out of the beach in order to sell them. She lives with her very old grandfather, and this is their only income and way to survive. She’s a rough girl, in her manners and appearance, but she is also very endearing. It was a very nice story, but what especially interested me was the characterisation of the landscape. Very different from the Yorkshire moors but it was not that far from reading Emily Brontë.

Vanity Fair by William Thackeray 001

The longest book was William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847), which was 912 pages. I have already written on this one earlier this year, but I will repeat myself and say that it is a very hilarious read and although it’s quite long, it’s really worth the commitment – and it felt way less long that Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right (1869), my god.

fruits basket

I have read a few mangas this year, as well. I love to borrow from my sister’s shelves when I’m back in France for the holidays, it’s such a nice way to unwind. The one with the highest ratings on Goodreads is Fruits Basket Perfect Edition vol.1, by Natsuki Takaya (2016) – it’s a collection of the first 3 or 4 volumes of the series. Fruits Basket is the first manga I have ever read when I was 13 and I absolutely loved it. It was very nice to rediscover this lovely story of humans who can transform into zodiac animals.

 

orange

As far as mangas are concerned, I read the six volumes of the Orange series, by Ichigo Takano (2012-2017), and this was one the best things I have read this year. A young high school student receives letters from her future self, giving her advice on how to prevent the death of one of her friends. It’s very moving but also very sweet, I just love everything about this series. And also, it’s not long at all so there’s no excuse not to read it.

 

Is it time for my favourite book of the year? I think it is. This will come as no surprise, I think. Obviously, Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853) is the one. I wrote about the power of this book on here, already, and that’s really the most important thing to remember about this book in my opinion. Lucy Snowe is poor, obscure, and plain (possibly more than Jane Eyre), but she has a will and an inner-power that I had never found in any character before.

Villette book cover

2018 was a good year, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what 2019 has in store for me. I know it will be a challenging one, but I have high hopes it’s going to be a good one too. I wish everyone the best for the year to come, no need for silly resolutions, just do you! x