Appreciation and Enjoyment: Why It Doesn’t Matter If You Like Rupi Kaur or Not

If you have Instagram. If you enjoy poetry. If you have social media or enjoy reading of any sort, you’ve heard of Rupi Kaur by now. The first commercially successful ‘Instapoet’, Kaur has used the platform to distribute her work and her words since 2015, and to massive effect.

source: rupikaur.com

With the pictorial nature of Instagram, the visuals of her work have become just as recognisable as her verse, the clean lines of the illustrations reflecting the words she writes. The words themselves are characterised by Kaur’s first-person voice – it is intimate, simplistic and accessible. And that’s the key word here, I think. Accessible. Both in form and content, Kaur has struck a balance not many poets can claim: huge commercial reach with a fair amount of critical approval, plus outrageous success of a debut collection. Kaur’s Milk and Honey sold 2.4 million copies by the end of last year, and has prompted the speedy commission of her second collection, The Sun and All Her Flowers. So, all around pretty impressive, pioneering and pleasurable. I do, however, have one critique. I don’t like her work. Like, at all.

the universe works in funny ways 🧡 page 79 from #thesunandherflowers

A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

Then what’s this all about? Why am I taking the time to write about something I don’t like? Aside from the obvious issues with that statement, I’m writing this post as a sort of case-study for a wider debate in the literary community. I love poetry. Partly because I can never write it myself, so have a grudging respect for those who can, but partly because all my studies thus far have led me to truly appreciate the skill behind it. You know in A-Level when your teachers told you that in a timed exam ‘Every word’s a gem’? Same goes for poetry. The condensed nature of (most) poetry insists upon a careful curation of language and, being a language buff myself, I am endlessly impressed with those who can master it. It’s a source of constant argument amongst my peers, one that will never and should never be resolved, but I think poetry is the best form of writing, hands down. I also think it’s the hardest.

Now, I don’t think Kaur is a master of language by any means. Her poetry is the kind I come across often – it reminds me of the style I tend(ed) to write in, and the style I heard over and over in creative writing workshops. It isn’t bad, per se, it just isn’t a whole lot of special. It’s surface level. Even when dealing with intimate subjects or political concepts, the language and execution is still just floating on the water. For a splash of psycholinguistics, Kaur’s choice of words are nearly always base-level terms. Base-level terms are what they sound like, the general phrase for something that gives just enough detail, not too much or too little. An example would be if you saw a lovely lil fluff in the street, most people would say ‘Wow! What a cute dog!’, not ‘Wowza! Look at that wondrous short-haired Dachshund’ or ‘Cripes, that’s an adorable mammal!’. In real life, we use base terms most of the time because it would be ridiculous if we didn’t. Nothing would ever get done. But in poetry, however, there is a certain expectation to use not necessarily elevated language, but language which does something different than the everyday. Whether this is syntactically, semantically, or formally, poetry should demand some kind of deeper attention. It should be a little vain. Kaur’s work doesn’t do this for me. It is pleasant, yes, but I couldn’t tell you an example of when it grabbed me, moved me, or echoed in my head for days after.

😙🕊 page 24 #thesunandherflowers

A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

However, I’m not the first person to say this. There are spoof tweets and even an entire book using Vines to parody Kaur’s style. From Buzzfeed to Hercampus to the controversial PN Review article by poet Rebecca Watts, a lot of people, more qualified than me, have weighed in on this.

But, and this is hard for me to say, it really doesn’t matter what I think at this point. I mean, yes, of course it does, but me poo-pooing the work of a successful poet, a woman and a woman of colour, for that matter, shouldn’t be the top priority. Or anyone’s. Rupi Kaur has taken her art, shared it, and connected to millions of people, most of which I’d hazard a guess as to say aren’t otherwise engaged with poetry. Or any form of literary art, even. And this is what I mean by ‘It Doesn’t Matter What You Think’. I don’t mean your opinions aren’t valid, or that no one will listen, or that you’ll be shot down, although of course this is possible, I just mean that Kaur’s work is doing more for poetry than any sleight you feel like it has on ‘Littererchewer’ as Tony Harrison puts it. Kaur is engaging new demographics, perhaps even generations at a time, with poetic discourse, exposing them to a new form they may not have otherwise explored. So what if she uses social media to do it? The baby boomers would have the world believe you can’t get through to millennials at all if it’s not through their phones. So you know what? Lean in. Spread poetry through Instagram. Write a book one Tweet at a time. Engage people. Once we’ve done that, they’ll find it themselves.

Rupi Kaur is, for all intents and purposes, a gateway drug. Her poetry is accessible, obtainable and easy to swallow. It’s not high art, no. But like chic lit, chart music, romcoms or Topshop fashion, just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad. Just because it’s female-oriented, does not means it’s bad. Plus, the money publishers made off Kaur’s first book is probably enough to fund the publication of your more ‘literary’ poetry for years to come. So, there it is. Leave your prejudices a at the door and lean the fuck in.

source: thetimes.com

Featured image credit: bramptonist.com

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Updates, Apologies and Rhoda With No Face

You’re tired of hearing apologies and I’m tired of giving them. That being said – sorry for the absence. Assuming most of you are my friends, or twitter followers, or tutors, even, you’ll know that it’s been that time of year. Assessment season. Plus Christmas and New Year and all of that but really it’s been all about the assessments. An unfortunate side effect of said period is the absolute disinclination towards doing a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g other than work, and an unfortunate result of such is that this blog has fallen into a bit of disrepair. Or neglect. Or a combination of both. To be honest my brain has been well and truly fried, poached and boiled.

But here we are: new year, new me. It’s the final semester for me here at Nottingham, and whilst that is terrifying, it’s also exciting. In classic me fashion, however, I’m trying to jump the change by making other changes to lessen what will in fact be the real change of leaving the university bubble and stepping into the real world. By that I mean I’ve dyed my hair ginger and bought a suede coat and gloves and now drink coffee on the go. Although, turns out if you say to everyone ‘Hey, look at my new lady coat!’ it kind of ruins the facade of being a capable lady. You win some you lose some.

Source: Wikimedia

Anyway, enough of that. What I want to start this new year with is a quick ode to the best discovery of last year, my new favourite writer, and favourite woman in general, Virginia Woolf. Roll your eyes, I know. What female English student doesn’t like a bit of Virginia? Well, me from two years ago for one. We studied her briefly in the aptly named ‘Studying Literature’ module of first year and safe to say, me and V did NOT get along. I experienced To The Lighthouse via live audiobook, one of my friends reading it aloud as I cleaned the flat after a house party. Probably not the best environment to read Woolf in but it was first year when work and socialising were a joint endeavour. Neither me or the audiobook friend liked it all that much, and me being less literary than a lot of my peers, I dismissed Woolf as something not right for me. Fast forward to September 2017. Whilst picking out modules for third year, a good portion of my friends opted to do a single author study module. None of the modules we’d taken thus far had focused on one author, and that was a really attractive prospect. They all chose to do James Joyce though and I was not about to throw myself into that snake pit. The other option was Virginia Woolf, and my thought process was something like ‘Heck it, why not’.

Four months later, here I am, shoehorning Woolf into every literary conversation and essay I can. I love the woman. But I’m not here to sell you on Woolf. It’s been a while since I did some good ole psychoanalysis on here, and boy are Woolf’s works rich for it.

Source: Wikimedia

Now one of my top (possibly number 1??) books ever, The Waves was pitched to us in class as one of Woolf’s harder novels. However, I didn’t really find this to be the case. Perhaps due to the fact I took a trip to the hometown without any chargers which resulted in no phone or laptop for the long train home, I blasted through it in a few sittings. I’d argue it’s best read in this way, though, as the reported speech style Woolf uses to narrate the characters’ internal thoughts requires a bit of a switch in your reading process. Generally described as soliloquys, the passages of the novel are written completely through the internal workings of the six characters’ minds – there’s no external description whatsoever. The result of this is an incredibly intimate experience, as the only judgements you can make as reader are literally through the eyes of another. No objectivity here, thank you. Woolf was an extensive essayist, diarist and letter-ist, meaning a lot of her working processes are documented. The Waves is one of the lesser explained of her works, however, Woolf’s most allusive comments being that of ‘writing to a rhythm not a plot’. An initial subheading to the book, Woolf aimed to write ‘The Life of Anybody’ in this book, to write an experience both intimately subjective yet untied to external reality. And she really succeeds, in my opinion.

I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.’

Six characters narrate The Waves: Bernard, Louis, Neville, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda. Woolf once wrote in a letter that she perhaps intended the six to be facets of one person, and the possibility of such permeates the book – ‘I am not one and simple, but complex and many’, says Bernard. Paired with Woolf’s aim to represent all parts of humanity, this means that the characters in The Waves often come to represent the different people within us all. Bernard needs people, Rhoda despises company. Susan is steeped in nature, Jinny lavishes in the superficial. Neville is a poet, Louis desires order. There is something to connect with in all these characters, good and bad. However, what I found genuinely heart-wrenching was the way Woolf describes the dark parts of life through Rhoda.

Rhoda exists psychologically in what is a severely psychological book. Where most of the characters find some grounding in their external world – Bernard in his phrase-making, Susan in her farm, Jinny in her sexuality – Rhoda has no such connection. She struggles with her place in the world, saying she has ‘no face’, ‘no identity’ like those around her. Nonetheless, she longs for anonymity – ‘I like the passing of face and face and face, deformed, indifferent. I am sick of prettiness; I am sick of privacy. I ride rough waters and shall sink with no one to save me’. This is the tragedy of Rhoda – she cannot exist in the world of her friends as she has no sense of self, yet she will not let go of the anonymity that has comforted her all her life. She despises human beings for trying to chain her down in one spot, snatching from her the ‘white spaces that lie between hour and hour’ but without them she will drown in the nothingness. Despite being not dissimilar to Bernard’s fear of solitude, Rhoda’s struggle often goes unnoticed by the others. Bernard sees her and Louis as ‘spies, conspirators’, as more because of their introverted experience. He says ‘Rhoda was wild – Rhoda one never could catch. She was both frightened and clumsy.’ From the outside, perhaps, that is how Rhoda appears, introverted but content with it. After all, she attends the social events, she has a sexual relationship with Louis, so Bernard sees her isolation as a choice and an admirable one at that.

‘Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness.’

‘I will fling myself fearlessly into trams, into omnibuses […] I am flung upon this woman, upon this man, I am not injured, I am not outraged by the collision’. Rhoda speaks these words in the wake of Percival’s murder. It is in a passage of settlement, Rhoda creating a ‘dwelling-place’ amongst the anonymous faces of Regent Street, making peace: ‘Wander no more, I say; this is the end’. However, in the final passage, Bernard tells us ‘Rhoda, always so furtive, always with fear in her eyes, always seeking some pillar in the desert, to find which she had gone; she had killed herself’. Too late, he reaches out to her in a vision, a memory, and tells her to please wait for the omnibuses to pass. Rhoda does not think it will harm her, she sees her collision with the omnibuses as the only way to collide with other human beings, and assumes this will protect her. Rhoda was detached from her physical existence, and so she flings herself against the physical world in a desperate attempt to connect to it. The others, multitudinous as they are, never quite made the connection to Rhoda that could have saved her life.

Virginia Woolf Quotes. QuotesGram
Source: Lifehack Quotes

Woolf writes internal existence so well to the point of fear. Reading this book scared me in more ways than one – it made me confront all aspects of myself, including the dark parts that Rhoda represents. Yet Rhoda’s suicide was not the part that hit me hardest about this novel. It was Bernard’s, and the rest of the characters’, failure to see Rhoda’s experience for what it was – fatal. Bernard admired her solitude – he admired her suffering. He thought she was more whole because of it. It is this aspect that I wanted to write about in this post. Like Septimus Smith in Mrs Dalloway, Woolf touches on the grandeur that suffering is attributed in art and the power that exists within pain. Bernard only wishes he could harness this artistic potential, he envies Rhoda to the point where he can no longer see what is really happening. For both Septimus and Rhoda, whatever beauty exists in their suffering, whatever artistry, it means nothing in the end. They choose to fling themselves hopelessly outwards rather than be trapped inward a moment longer. Bernard sees Rhoda’s suffering as admirable, as poetic, as an artistic goldmine right up until the moment she kills herself. No one would call suicide an artistic expression, so why should we revere pain as we do when we are alive?

‘To let oneself be carried on passively is unthinkable.’

Of course I am being hypocritical. Woolf herself followed in the footsteps of Rhoda and Septimus, throwing herself into the River Ouse with her pockets full of stones. Without her sadness, we may not have got these outstanding works of art. Yet Woolf’s message in these characters is not that we should admire their pain, but rather we should see it for what it really is, and more importantly, do something about it before it is too late. Pain is not beautiful, suffering is not to be envied. The Waves is an incredible piece of art, devastating and deeply affecting. It is masterful, wonderful and full of light. It has some of the most uplifting phrases I have ever read. Yet it is also a warning. The long suffering artist – is there any image so dangerous?

The Waves by Virginia Woolf was published by The Hogarth Press in 1931. My copy is the 2015 edition published by Oxford World Classics and edited by David Bradshaw, available in bookstores and online. All of Woolf’s works are available for free on Amazon Kindle and in various places online. If you are looking to start reading some Woolf, I recommend beginning with Mrs Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own and her essay, The Narrow Bridge of Art.

Featured image courtesy of theintelligentlifemagazine.com

Inside Hachette UK: A Month On

On the 7th of November I woke up at 5.30am in my old, single bed. Surrounded by flowery wallpaper and the sound of heavy snoring, I was back in my dad’s house. The night before I’d hopped on a train from Nottingham and sped back to Sussex, heading – almost immediately – to the pub. I may have only been home for 8 hours but I was sure as hell going to get a glass of wine in there somehow. During the catching up, one of the girls asked me what exactly I was doing London the next day. My answer – ‘I don’t really know, honestly’.

So, why am I writing this a month on? Haven’t I basically forgotten everything? A lot, probably, yes. But in that time several of the other attendees have written similar posts, and when reading, I’ve realised my experience seemed kind of different to theirs. So here’s that.

After waking up in the purest darkness I’ve seen for a long time, I shot a couple grumbling messages to those two pub friends about what a mistake it was considering we all had early starts, downed a coffee and a slightly hard pain au chocolat (thanks Dad) and headed to the station. The train was full of business-looking people in suits on their Surface Pros with large coffees. I was in the midst of the commute. Being a student, I never really see this part of life, and it was horrible, frankly. Everyone just looked so sad.

hach
Making bad decisions together since 2013

An hour and a quarter later, I arrived at Blackfriars. Scurrying out into the street with my overnight bag in tow, I fumbled with my phone and Googlemaps until I decided to just follow the young-slightly-arty girl in front of me. Lo and behold, she walked right into the correct building. This is where the fun (and panic) began, as upon entering there were sofas and sofas full of young-slightly-arty-but-also-scared looking people. I tried to strike up a conversation with one or two people, but the nerves hadn’t yet simmered and no one had had caffeine in hours so it proved slightly tricky. My heart did sink a little at this point, I must admit.

However, we were taken downstairs, given tea and coffee and a seating plan. Finding my table, I sat with a girl I found out lives a couple of towns away from mine in Sussex. Very weird. Slowly the table filled, we got chatting and opened the goody bags left for us on our chairs (including a hardback copy of Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend!). More chat and I found I had mutual friends with the girl sat on the other side of me. This was looking up.

#hachette #hodder #risingstars office #london

A post shared by Miles Berry (@mgberry) on

So, the agenda begins. Essentially, we were delivered a series of short talks by members of each section of Hachette: Editorial, Sales, Marketing, Publicity, Rights, Contracts, Finance etc. Most were focused on telling us how they got to where they are, with only a quick overview of their roles at Hachette. This part concerned me, as I didn’t feel like I was getting to know all that much about the workings of the company itself, but more about the people who worked there. However, that all changed when at the end of the first talk, we were told to look under our chairs. There was a pack, with documents, flipboard paper, markers, a laptop etc. And one piece of paper that said the words: Vlogger/Blogger. We were then told that this was our group’s pitch proposal pack. We were going to design and pitch a book by the end of the day. Gulp.

Each talk ran much the same, with an absolute stand-out discussion by Sharmain Lovegrove of Dialogue Books, Rising Star and all-round incredible human, asking us to consider our approach to each section in our pitch. We had a kind of booklet that we filled out along the way. Luckily for our table, lots of us had experience watching and reading the content of our genre (watching YouTubers is my main form of procrastination) so there was a good base for us to work from. A main critique I’ve seen of the event was that we had nowhere near enough time to solidify ideas in our groups before the next speaker was up, which I do agree with. There were, however, a LOT of speakers, so the agenda had to be pushed quite a lot to stay on track. Lunch came and went, some fresh air grabbed (there were no windows in the otherwise awesome meeting space) and a bit more chatting done. Due to the lunch spread, the coffee and tea had been removed so me and my new pals had to go on a bit of an explore to find that sweet, sweet caffeine. A lovely woman named Sylvia who was helping run the event showed us where to go, and made the incredible suggestion to try the hot chocolate. It was so sugary I think I was feeling it for days after.

The second part of the day began similar to the first: talks, brainstorming, talks, brainstorming. It did begin to get a bit repetitive, and bless the girl who had to do the finance talk, but by that point people were getting a bit weary. A fresh face, however, was Lizzy Kremer of David Higham, a literary agency. Passionate, funny and kinda angry honestly, Lizzy did make for a change – there was a bit of tussle between her and the Contracts speaker, and I’m not entirely sure how jokey it really was. The talks ended, and here came the panicked part.

We got given half an hour to create our pitches. Half an hour! 5 out of the 10 of us had to present, and it just sort of worked out on my table that 5 people would want to and 5 didn’t. Miraculously, the sections of Editorial, Production, Design, Sales and Marketing all fell into the hands of people who wanted to present those particular areas. I was doing the Marketing and Publicity, and sort of felt like I took a bit of control of the organising. I was enjoying myself, I thought I had good ideas, and we got shit DONE. Our group were third or fourth in the track listing, so we had a few groups warm up to show us what worked and what didn’t. This was probably a bit unfair to the first groups, especially since they were presenting to the Big Cheese, Martin Neill, but I guess that’s just how it had to work. We made our pitch. It went well, we only left a few details out and the feedback was mainly positive. Sitting down, I felt relieved and full of adrenaline. It was kind of a rush. With big smiles from our lovely group, we took our seats to watch the rest of the pitches play out.

After every group had pitched, the HR ladies ran us through some CV and cover letter tips. You could see everyone scribbling furiously during this part – vital, vital info. Some tips included: they won’t get to your CV if your cover letter isn’t good; always always always check your work for spelling and stupid errors (one person addressed an application to Penguin instead of Hachette); and don’t tell the company how awesome they are – they know – tell them why YOU would be awesome for THEM instead. And that was it. Day over.

We were then invited to go up to the roof bar and have a drink with some of the staff. Unfortunately, me and another of my table girls were both looking at 3 hour journeys back to uni ahead of us, so we made our thanks and headed out. In hindsight, I really wished I’d stayed and just resigned myself to getting home at 1am, but the physical and mental exhaustion had really kicked in. I loved the people there, I loved the atmosphere, but I was completely networked out.

pretty average #insidestory

A post shared by elise (@elisejacksoon) on

To the conclusion, then. When I mentioned the other blog posts I’ve read, I said my experience felt different to theirs. I loved the event completely. I didn’t see much wrong with it at the time, I thought it was a really great insight into publishing (ey). However, with time I see what they mean about organisation and timings. It did all feel a little rushed. I think I was just incredibly lucky with the group I had – we were quick to get off the mark so nothing felt too panicked. But there were probably more speakers than there needed to be. Lizzy was a refreshing addition, but I feel like we probably could have done without, if only for time’s sake. But these all seemed insignificant things to me.

The biggest issue I’ve seen is that this event wasn’t for certain people. Whilst I think Hachette did a really great job of giving a wide variety of invites (there was a concerted effort towards gender balance, racial diversity, and subject/degree/job backgrounds), they perhaps didn’t think about those people who aren’t natural networkers. To get a group of people interested in books together and not expect some introverts seems a little naive. From this, I understand others felt a bit disillusioned with the way publishing houses are run. You need to be a people person, it seems. I’m not sure to what extent I believe this is true but I can see where they are coming from. The day was incredibly draining. Especially since many people, like myself, had travelled for hours and hours to be there, there was a lot of pressure on the attendees to be on top form all day. This, obviously, isn’t entirely possible. I know that by the end of the day, I was exhausted and desperately wanting to be alone in my room. But as I found out from this event, I am a natural talker. I can lead conversations when others don’t want to, but I like to step down and let other people talk. My group all got so comfortable with each other so quickly, and I do think that’s mainly due to the outgoing personalities within each of us.

So, yes. This event was… socialiser exclusive. It was intense, long and taxing both creatively and physically. It probably wasn’t for everyone. I know that it challenged my limits, 100%. But that’s why I think I found it such a success. I barely knew anything going in and came out with a true feeling of ‘Yes. This is what I want to do.’ That’s invaluable to me. With time, I’ve been able to ruminate on what I’ve learned and apply it to my life. The things that were talked about have obviously resonated with me and made me feel so much better equipped than I was before. I loved the place. I loved the people. I loved the atmosphere of it all. More than anything, I felt at home. So, thank you, Hachette. For an amazing day, an amazing company and for showing me that I made the right decision pursuing this industry. Until next time.

Featured image courtesy of officelovin.com

We’re All Sick and Jomny Sun is the Cure

Not often do I love something as much as I love the Twitter of one @jonnysun. Not often does a series of words stick with me for long periods of time, let alone inform my decisions and give me hope to the point where I put it above my desk. A few years back, I followed Jomny on Twitter because of this one, beautiful message:

jom.png

And now, I have that quote, that saying that’s been sat above my desk for two years, in a book. Jomny’s recently released book everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too is hands-down my favourite of the year. It is thoughtful and hopeful and gut-wrenching and optimistic. It is sweet and joyous and warm and so, so sad. It’s also a picture book. Before I talk about Jomny Sun as a brand and a concept, I’ll try and sell you on the book as just a book.

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everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too follows the story of jomny, a aliebn sent to earbth to learn about humabns. Along the way he meets a tree, a bear, a hedgehog, an egg, a frog and an auteur amongst a whole host of other adorably drawn characters. Thinking they are humabns, jomny tries to learn from them. Their advices and stories are sometimes profound, sometimes ridiculous and a lot of times both. jomny is sad, lonely and lost. His own people think of each other as ‘strictly colleagues’ and think little jomny is weird. The storyline is essentially just jomny coming to terms with himself and his place in the universe via the interactions he has with all of these earbth creatures and a few aliebns too).

The tone of this piece is sad. But that’s important. One of my favourite pages of the book is this:

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It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to think about those scary things and those lonely things and those things that make you want to cry and curl up and hide from the world. Those thoughts are going to be there, in everyone, so pretending they aren’t is pointless. In the end, though, jomny finds that being sad doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. Quite the contrary, we need the sad things in life. If we didn’t have sadness, we wouldn’t have happiness either (see: the dog).

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For someone like me who is prone to dwell and overthink, this book felt like it was reaching into my head and pulling everything out, spilling it onto paper then showing me that it was all okay. Never before in my life have I put a book down feeling more like everything was going to be okay. The conciseness of the text on lots of the pages is reminiscent of their roots on Twitter, 140 characters or less. Because of this, each little sentence reads like poetry. Jomny’s ability to take these sometimes unbearably painful feelings – lostness, loneliness, invisibility – and make them into something beautiful completely astounds me, in all honesty. He doesn’t gloss over them. He doesn’t sugar coat them. He shows them for what they are and how they exist inside our heads and makes them into something worth experiencing. He makes them funny, even. This is vital: if you can laugh at something, doesn’t it seem a lot less scary? Look, all I’m saying is that this book will change your outlook on, well… everything. In an hour or less.

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Okay, writing and tone and content aside, I just wanted to talk about the beauty of the thing itself. Completely black and white, the illustrations are simple. Childlike simple in most places with the occasional detailed artistic interlude. It’s on thick paper, with good quality, crisp matte printing. You’ll recognise the style from @jonnysun and it’s just as endearing. The use of a few clean fonts is all this book needs in addition to the illustrations, all carefully chosen to reflect the characters that they represent. It’s gorgeous to hold, to read, to handle. My cover is hardback, which I believe is the only form available currently. I don’t often think getting hardback copies of books is worth it but oh my days it’s worth it for this. Not only does it add a real concreteness to the experience but it makes you relish it in a way I think is really important for what this book is trying to say. You need to give your preconceptions up when you read this and let the words speak for themselves. It’s a treasure.

Now that you’re completely sold on it and are going to go and get it right now, I’ll explain to you why I titled this post the way I did. Jomny, in all his forms, is us. Everyone is a aliebn. Everyone is a humabn. This one little alien cartoon, this one guy with a Twitter account and bad spelling is more relatable than anything BuzzFeed could dream of writing. Within that comes the respect and admiration I have for this book and the author behind it. He is just… a person. Twitter as a platform is used like this all the time, to make otherwise inaccessible people seem accessible. But Jomny is accessible. The story he is telling in everyone’s a aliebn doesn’t seem to exist for any other reason than because it simply is the story. It’s the story. Not for fame, or to make some grand statement, the way this story is told just seems like the sort of conversation you’d have with yourself in your head. I’ve definitely had some of those conversations with myself. But so has Jomny. And so, presumably, have millions of other people who love this stuff like I do. Who feel this stuff and deeply as I do. It’s a triumph in connecting people to each other. When it comes down to it, all this story is is one guy, struggling with life, writing down his thoughts to the point where a coherent story about a little aliebn coming to earbth emerged. It’s kind of novel writing in reverse. I guess that’s poetry, really.

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People slam Twitter. I don’t want to point fingers (baby boomers) but the internet get a lot of slack over connecting people at the expense of disconnecting other areas of their lives. But for this, well… I think it’s worth it. Jomny’s tweets, and subsequently this book, have connected people in such a beautiful way. I’ve always had this naïve little thought that lots of the problems we face, as humans, could be solved if we just had a little more empathy. And by God, this book makes you feel that. Whether it’s how it’s written, what it’s saying or how it’s presented, something about what this guy says gets right into your gut, your heart, your head. You get it, instantly. And I think, sometimes, if we could understand each other as intensely as people understand this book, things could really be better. I know for me, certainly, I feel I can be kinder having read this. I feel softer and sharper and smarter and gentler. I feel calm. But most of all, I feel like I can accept the hard stuff. And I feel like the hard stuff won’t make my life any less worth living or any less wonderful. There’s no other way to go, really. I’m sick. But so are you. r u gona take ur shoes off or wat?

everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too is out now. Published by Harper Perennial, it is available online and in US stores. Follow Jomny on Twitter at @jonnysun and change ur lyf.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – A Review

I’m back! My sunburn has turned to tan so I’m ready to get back to working here in drizzly England. One thing I am already missing dearly, however, is the possibility of doing nothing but read a book on the beach all day. In an attempt to relive it, here is a small review of a book I demolished on holiday.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the debut novel from Gail Honeyman. The New York Times named it a ‘Book to Breeze Through This Summer’ and they aren’t wrong. I read this in a grand total of two sittings. It’s a charming read. Not too complex, not too wordy, but with the most endearing characters and heartbreaking moments.

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Now, this book could definitely be categorised as an airport read. The tone of it is not dissimilar to books like The Rosie Project or Sofia Khan is Not Obliged but the underlying issues it deals with are much darker. After hearing Eleanor’s conversations with her mother and subtle hints towards a traumatic past, we get the sense that something awful has happened to this woman. The main source of tension from the book comes from finding out just what happened to her. There are many clues throughout – I’m the sort of person who likes to guess the ending – and they’re only just under the surface. It’s accessible and sort of expected but Honeyman’s charactersation of Eleanor makes your heart break for her all the same.

One of my favourite things about this book is that its incredibly satisfying. There are a lot of recognisable tropes in this novel – girl struggles with bitchy coworkers, girl drinks at home alone, girl pines after dreamboat instead of noticing what’s been under her nose the whole time!!! – but this only added to my enjoyment. I don’t want to be thinking too hard on holiday, I just want to be sucked in and be pulled along for the ride. My absolute favourite trope was that of the makeover. As a less-than-attractive teen who had (has) no natural fashion sense, I felt… a strong affinity for Eleanor. You know how in teen movies there’s the makeover montage (Princess Diaries anyone?), well, somehow Honeyman does this in word form. You see Eleanor discover hair, makeup, nails and fashion in a clumsy way. It’s adorable and so, so real. What?? It’s satisfying. I’ve been socialised by all those movies to love a good makeover.

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Lastly, the characters are just right. In another novel, in another circumstance, I would say the supporting characters have been written lazily. But for this world, and for what this book achieves, they are just right. Aside from ‘the musician’, I know someone like every one of the characters in this book. I even found myself inserting them into the story as I was reading it. They are real people. Coworkers and store clerks and nice old women. It’s their relationship with Eleanor that really tells us something. Eleanor has, as you find out throughout the book, had an awful past that she’s somewhat blocked from her memory. It comes out in dribs and drabs but never enough to make her a sympathetic figure to those around her. They just see her as weird. But just like all the other characters, I could see myself meeting an Eleanor. Knowing an Eleanor, working with an Eleanor. What this book does is warn you that people have shit going on. No matter how under the surface, it always pays to be kind, first and foremost. It tells us that empathy is invaluable. The visceral reality that Honeyman presents us with doesn’t let you leave without thinking before you judge someone for being odd.

Best of all, this book is sweet. Eleanor is troubled, she has more baggage than a transatlantic flight but she never pities herself. Her tone, her voice, whilst grounded a lot in delusion and denial, is light in the most part. The contrast this provides with the dark sections and content of the book work to create a really full-feeling piece of literature, without ever feeling too heavy or depressing. It ends on a beautifully positive note, and embraces you warmly as you head out.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is published by HarperCollins and is available in all good bookstores. I got mine for half price in Waterstones! Thanks for reading and leave me some comments if you’ve read this book too, I want to talk about it more!

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig – A Review

Story time.

As an unwritten rule, once it gets above 22 degrees Celsius in Britain, we freak out. If it gets above 25, the old ‘Hot, isn’t it?’ ‘Yeah, might be too hot’ conversation starts emerging. And then you get this past week. Consistently hitting between 26 and 31 for a full five days, people have NOT been handling it. Despite loving the sun in my head, my body hates it. I burn, not tan, I get heat induced headaches after half an hour in the sun and for some reason I look super tired all the time when it’s hot out. So this morning was a glorious surprise. I woke up, or should I say was woken up, by the sound of rain. Heavy rain. Then a breeze came through my window – a cool one. Then there was thunder. And as I lay there, listening to the sounds of stormy weather, I realised how lovely it felt to be awake and alive and feeling all those feelings and hearing all those sounds. Not least because I was excited by the prospect of being able to actually go outside for more than 20 minutes unprotected.

This leads me on to the book for this review. This book is one that I actually read last summer, during what, in retrospect, was a really bad brain… two months. It was lent to me by a friend who was lent it by his parents who said it was amazing and that everyone should read it. I don’t often pick up this kind of format, but this guy NEVER recommends books so I was kind of amazed enough to try it. Now, in a much more positive place, I read it again just to see. Here’s what I found.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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The blurb of this book states it is ‘more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth’. It’s non-fiction but written like a diary format novel – think Bridget Jones, Sufia Khan is Not Obliged or the Georgia Nicholson series (there are a lot of nervy bs in this book too). It consists mostly of linear storytelling with inserts of lists, experimental stream-of-consciousness passages and internal dialogues reported in a playscript format. You follow Matt through 8 years of his life and various mental breakdowns. You meet his parents, his colleagues and his wonderful girlfriend-now-wife Andrea. You see, step-by-step, his ebbing and flowing, his sinking and rising and, finally, his recovery and stabilising. And it gets you, it truly does. I cried, I think. I remember feeling so relieved and pleased for him, but mostly I felt hope. I didn’t realise it at the time, but so much of Matt’s experiences were a little too easy for me to empathise with. A favourite quote is ‘I had never been one of those males who were scared of tears. I was a Cure fan, for God’s sake. I’d been emo before it was a term.’ My parents both love The Cure and when I was growing up my mum used to play their video albums to get me to go to sleep. Alongside The Smiths who, admittedly, I was listening to a bit young for how nihilistic they are, I always had that understanding that having emotions is fine! Expressing your emotions is cool! Cry if you want to, saying boy don’t cry is dumb! It’s those little things sprinkled through the book that make this so easy to engage with – Matt is real, you can feel that in the writing, and it makes his journey all the more engaging.

In terms of connection, Matt Haig really nails how to communicate complex states of mind. There’s a part where Matt lists what it feels like to have a panic attack, then recalls a time where he couldn’t go to the corner shop at the end of the road alone without having one. He gives you a clinical-looking list of steps or symptoms, then chucks you into a scenario in which those things happen like an unstoppable tide. The combination of objective understanding with emotional reaction means we, as readers, can feel just as frustrated as Matt when we can’t control the outcomes. We start expecting the worst before it can ever happen, and that, my friends, it what depression feels like. He uses a metaphor of the demon on his back, licking his ears while he’s at the theatre or in bed with his girlfriend. Matt Haig’s writing is nothing if not to the point and to the heart. His language isn’t fancy, but it is poetic and emotive. You understand everything that is going on at every stage in the process, something imperative for people to read. His simplicity and honesty translates so well because it provides the experience he had to other people in understandable and relatable terms. A Sunday Times bestseller, this book has reached not only the percentage of people who suffer from mental health problems, but the 2 in 3 people who don’t. It creates such an inescapable empathy through genuine care for him and his family that you find yourself completely understanding his brain along the way. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

I did, however, have some problems with it. Matt says himself in the book that we like to compartmentalise things and give labels to what is a much more complex set of factors than just OCD, schizophrenia or depression. I get the feeling that reading this book again would be a completely different experience each time, depending on the place that you’re in when you read it. When I read it, in the midst of a suffocating bout of depersonalisation and anxiety, it made me angry. I knew I had some of these things Matt was experiencing, but I didn’t react in the same way. I didn’t lash out at my family, I could go to the shop, I didn’t feel a demon licking my ear. I found myself getting defensive that I was doing it wrong. That my brain was faulty, but faulty in the wrong way. I couldn’t relate, and I was tempted to discard the book as reductionist because of this. But on a reread, I felt entirely different. I thought Matt relayed everything perfectly, sensitively and delicately to his own truth. I found it smart and funny in ways I didn’t during the first read. This reaction, to me, is fascinating. It’s a super quick read – it only took me a few days – so i’s definitely worth trying more than once to see if the same thing happens to you.

This makes it hard for me to really review it one way or the other. Reasons to Stay Alive is a brilliant memoir of one man’s experience. In one way, it felt isolating and confusing to someone who refused to acknowledge their own struggles. In another, it is gut-wrenching and close-to-the-bone but ultimately hopeful. Most importantly, it is educational and aware. Matt Haig is careful to insert lots of information and offhand advisory sentences to those who suffer from mental illness as well as to the carers of those who do. For everyone, it is worth reading. For some, like me, it is worth reading a couple times. It is honest, brutal, and, dare I say it, a really important signpost towards a larger conversation. This book opens avenues for discussion and understanding for both people who suffer from anxiety, depression, or any other manner of mental illness, and those who don’t. All aboard the empathy train, people!