, , ,

VERY ANNOYING MAGIC

I recently confessed to a new friend that I'd quit watching Breaking Bad mid-way through the second season. He was horrified, particularly after I explained that I did the same when watching Arrested Development and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. My TV habits are entirely governed by the motto, 'Life is too short.' When it comes to books, though, I make it my mission to finish every one I start; I'm not the type to bail out at the halfway point. Often, I resent this about myself, especially when I'm struggling through pages of quantum physics. So, why do I do it? Because most books can't be fairly judged before you've got to the end. That said, most books aren't as excruciatingly painful to read as Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic.

When I first heard that this book was coming out, I was uncharacteristically excited. I didn't get on so well with Eat, Pray, Love (Gilbert's notorious bestseller) but I thought a non-fiction guide to 'creative living beyond fear' might suit me better. That, and the cover was perhaps the most beautiful I'd ever seen. Almost a year since the book came into my possession, I finally got round to reading it. I'd just finished my MA and started a full-time job; it was the perfect time to take on some creative guidance, encouragement and general inspiration. But, you guessed it, my plan didn't quite work out. In total, I made it through a grand total of seventy-eight pages, for a couple of reasons...

1. IT'S ALL ABOUT LIZ
Here's the thing about Elizabeth Gilbert, she likes to write about herself. And that wouldn't normally be a criticism; many of my favourite writers are no different. However, I do take issue with the fact that she pitches Big Magic as a kind of self-help book. Like most of her work, it's nothing more than an indulgent exploration of her own first-world problems. 'Oh, I was so busy touring South America that I never got round to writing my second novel.' Gee, poor you. We know we're being duped within the first chapter when she confesses, 'I did not write this book for you; I wrote it for me.' Why bother addressing the reader then? Just call the book what it is, the diary of a rich kid.

2. IT'S UNBEARABLY PRETENTIOUS
Now, I knew this book was going to be a little hard to stomach. I'd been warned about its 'sage-wafting' tendencies and I was prepared to be open-minded. In fact, I was almost on-board when Gilbert explained that 'The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.' But two pages later, she lost me for good. Recalling the story of a woman who learned to figure-skate at the age of forty, Gilbert writes:
'Susan is still figure skating - simply because skating is the best way for her to unfold a certain beauty and transcendence within her life that she cannot seem to access in any other manner.'
This, she explains, is the philosophy of 'creative living.' And you know what? I call bullshit. I'll bet Susan didn't carry on figure skating because it allowed her to 'unfold a certain beauty and transcendence' in her life - no, she probably did it because it was fun. Y'know, like any normal person. Pretty much every page of this book could be summarised in one sentence and I'm sure Gilbert's airy-fairy drivel could test even the most patient of readers.

3. IT'S INSULTING
I'm very uncomfortable with Gilbert's association between creativity and religion, particularly her suggestion that we are all merely empty vessels waiting to be filled with the universe's genius. Work hard, she preaches, and you will be rewarded; let your day-to-day life get in the way of your creativity and, presumably, you will be punished. This is a damaging philosophy that speaks of Gilbert's privilege and I have absolutely no time for it. (Having read through the various criticisms of Big Magic on Goodreads, I've also been informed that Gilbert makes some pretty dire comments about the apparent 'uselessness' of higher education in the arts. I'm glad I stopped reading before that point.)

You want my advice? Go have fun making whatever it is you want to make and read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird if you're in search of inspiration. Oh, and remind me never to read anything by Elizabeth Gilbert again. 

, , ,

TINY COOPER HATES OVER THE RAINBOW

The Saturday prior to my flight to Portugal was not a good day, mainly because I spent a grand total of three hours searching the entire house for two books, Big Little Lies and Me Before You. I'd saved them for my holiday because I knew that in my post-dissertation bewilderment I'd want something easy to read. As it turns out, my plans had been sabotaged by my mother, who cheerfully confessed: 'Oh, those? I think I took them to the charity shop. They were really good, you'd have liked them.' After embarking upon a naive and rather desperate mission to rescue them, I eventually picked up John Green and David Leuithan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson instead.

Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again: I do not like John Green. I hate his super soppy, quasi-deep narratives which scream 'I'm so intellectual.' (In this case, he actually manages to align a budding teenage romance with the philosophy of Schrodinger's cat - will someone please make him stop?) That said, Will Grayson, Will Grayson was a really, really good book. In it's tale of two teenage boys, both named - you guessed it - Will Grayson, the book manages to break away from YA tropes and present something that looks, dare I say it, a little more like teenage reality than anything I've ever read. Here's what I loved about it:

WELL-CRAFTED PLOT
Will Grayson, Will Grayson is written in equal parts by Green and Leuithan, who take on alternate chapters written from the perspective of each Will Grayson. For the first few chapters, there are two narratives playing out simultaneously, in different locations, in remarkably different circumstances. It seems unlikely that these two parallel narratives will ever meet, but they do, and the orchestration of this collision was enough to make me pause, put down the book and recall the complex web of the story to my slightly disinterested mother. I will say nothing more about it, but if you've read the book, please tweet me so we can discuss.

MULTI-DIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS
Following their accidental collision, the boys' lives become entwined by their simultaneous orbit of Tiny Cooper, who is, as we learn, 'not the world's gayest person, and he is not the world's largest person, but he may be the world's largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world's gayest person who is really, really large.' He's also a bit of an asshole, as are both Will Graysons, which is what makes this book so great. These are YA characters that I can totally get on board with, characters that are flawed, and not in an 'I've got issues but that makes me interesting' kind of way. These characters are as annoying as every teenager you've ever met, including yourself.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVE
This isn't a book about straight love but it's not just about queer love either. It's about all kinds of love; first love, puppy love, familial love, parental love, passions, hobbies, and most of all, friendship.
Remember that scene in Mean Girls, where she-doesn't-even-go-here-girl stands up and declares: 'I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school. I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy.' Well, this book is about that. There's even a musical. You're gonna love it.

Overall, this book was really enjoyable and it totally restored my faith in YA lit. (Although perhaps I haven't read enough to make a fair judgement.) With that in mind, I'd appreciate some recommendations if you've got any?

, , ,

A DAY - DISSERTATION HAND-IN

It's been four months. My MA dissertation has officially taken up a third of my year and I have barely any recollection of it. I can't remember any of my initial ideas or any moments of epiphany and frustration. Time has erased everything aside from my final submission. I should have kept a journal, I realise that now, which is why - in one last bid to preserve something, anything, of the experience other than a stack of A4 pages - I've chronicled the day of hand-in. 

5:27 - Bed
It's back. I can hear it through the open window, c-oo-OO-oo-oh. Again and again and again. I throw the covers off, reach for the curtains and slam the window shut before climbing back into bed. I hate that pigeon so much. 

7:00 - Bed
My alarm clock bleeps. It's a horrible high-pitched sound that gives me palpitations, but I'm sticking with it because I don't like my phone to be the first thing I touch in the morning; it's actually the second thing I touch. Baby steps, right? I get up after allowing my eyes to adjust to the light. 

7:16 - Desk
I take a few sips of my tea and eat half the bowl of porridge I've just made, quickly scrolling through Twitter and Instagram on my phone before responding to a couple of messages. As soon as my laptop has fired up, I open the browser and check Facebook; then I check Twitter again. I spend the next hour fixing the half-assed conclusion I wrote last night. It's still not great but it'll work. 

8:45 - Kitchen
There's a new oven in the middle of the kitchen floor, all wrapped up in polystyrene foam. The dog is circling it, sniffing every corner. As I wait for the kettle to boil, I think to myself: 'That's the kind of protective casing I'll need of I'm going to get through this day.'  

10:23 - Desk
I've finished editing, at last. I want to catch the 11 o'clock train into London so I have approximately 10 minutes to check page numbers and compile 5 different pdf files into a final document. I'm thoroughly panicked.

10:42 - Front Door
I'm stuffing my back with books as I run through my checklist out-loud. I give the dog a quick kiss and tell her to wish me luck, then head out of the door. My dad yell's 'you can do it, mate!' as I scramble down the garden path, adjusting my t-shirt and tucking my phone into my pocket.

10:53 - Greggs
I've given myself shin splints from walking so fast, but at least I've got some extra time to stop off in Greggs before I reach the station. I pick up a bottle of water and some kind of caramel filled, sugar covered donut. I Instagram it, what else? 

11:07 - Train
I've bagged a window seat so I'm pretty pleased. After replying to a few messages I plug in my headphones; I'm listening to My Dad Wrote A Porno because it makes me laugh and I'm enormously anxious. A guard checks my ticket after about 20 minutes but other than that my journey is uneventful.

11:50 - London Waterloo
I've missed my connecting train by a few seconds, so I wait for the 12:03. It's really hot. 

12:36 - Library Cafe
I need to take a moment. I'm sitting on a purple sofa drinking tea and eating a cheese and onion sandwich, the same spot I sat in just over 2 years ago, but I was with my housemates then. We'd been surviving on a diet of cheese toasties as we prepared to submit our BA dissertations. It would have been cool to share the MA with them. I'm trying not to get sentimental so I listen to another episode of My Dad Wrote A Porno and write a list of all the things I need to do next.  

14:34 - Student Office
After battling with printers and binders, I hand in my dissertation. Various pieces of paper are stamped and I watch as the past 4 months of my life is dropped into a cardboard box, wrapped in green-coloured plastic. That's it? 

15:06 - Corner Shop
I call my mum from outside the station to tell her I've done it. I feel a bit spaced out, so I nip into the corner shop for an ice cream. There's carpet on the floor which isn't as gross as you'd think. The whole shop smells like pick'n'mix and I feel like I've been transported back to my childhood. I resist the urge to stay there and head to my platform to catch my train.

15:56 - Train
I wake up after falling asleep against the window. I have a few messages from friends congratulating me and asking if I feel relieved. Weirdly, I don't. I feel stressed, tired, and a little sad. These moments are always quieter than expected. No confetti, no heart-pumping soundtrack, but that's ok. For now, I just want to get home and have a lie down. I'll toast to my achievements tonight.