I am absolutely certain that I would not be the avid reader I am today if it was not for my dad. My dad read every day of his life. He read to learn. He read to relax. But he also read to hide from the world. I bought him books for Christmases, birthdays, and father’s days. If there was a wall in our house that you could stand a bookcase against then up one went. He visited the library at least once a week. We had to hunt down English language books on our holidays abroad when he inevitably read everything he had packed. If I needed a recommendation growing up, he could hand me something in an instant. And he was still reading huge tomes on that cruelly final day before the cancer took him two years ago, aged fifty-nine. Still when I picture my dad, he has a book in his hand. Everything about my dad’s relationship with books has affected my relationship with books. At this point it is impossible for me to disentangle one from the other.
But just as he was, in a way, always present when I was reading before he passed away, he remains present now, just in a different and often more difficult way. Every time I see a new release in a bookshop or press release that I know he would have loved I feel a pang of remorse that I cannot buy a copy, parcel it up, and post it up north to him in Scotland anymore. When I consider picking up the last few books by Terry Pratchett, ironically published after his own death, I feel frustrated that I get to read them, and my dad does not. And that is not to mention the stack of books that he bought before passing away, which are now sitting on his ‘to be read’ shelf with no hope of ever sharing with him what they have inside. Whenever I do read a book that he loved or recommended to me when he was alive, I am overwhelmed by grief remembering that I cannot talk to him about it or hear him explain why he chose it. When I pop into a bookshop, I wish he could be there. When I visit the library, I remember him taking me there. When I dog ear a page, I hear him telling me to put a bookmark there. And when I pick up a book, he is, in a sense, always there.
But reading is my greatest love. Just as my dad found solace in those tightly bound pages, I turn to books for comfort and relief. If you asked me where I would like to go at any given moment, I would be halfway to the bookshop already. And not a day goes by that I do not read a little bit of something. The library was my favourite place to visit as a child and really, I am still that same little girl two decades on. I am still my father’s daughter. And I do not want to be anything else.
So, I am learning. I am learning take comfort in the books he loved even when he cannot tell me why. I want to be able to pick up Émile Zola and remember that it was my dad who recommended I read him in the first place. I want to be able to engross myself in the kind of prose my dad always cherished and experience them for myself. I do not want to push the memory of my dad to the side and clamber to find my complete independence as a reader. I still want to share everything about this beautiful and enlightening pastime with him, even if he cannot be here himself. I want to embrace all of these emotions, this sadness and love, and find joy in the fact that reading was a gift my dad gave me and that one of the best parts of me was a part of him as well.
There’s an epidemic in the world of publishing. Ladies in love don’t sell books. Or so they say.
When I first started seeking out queer women in literature, I found a lot of books exploring the rejection and homophobia faced by thousands: the quintessential coming out tale. But that was where queer literature seemed to start and end. Or did it? Turns out the stories of adventuring princesses and dragon-riders who fall in love with their fellow women are out there; they’re just hidden from plane sight.
Time after time I’ve picked up books from the genre fiction shelves, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi or historical fiction, and quickly discovered my heart’s desire: ladies in love. At first this was a pleasant surprise and I thought, I need more. Then I realised discovering more was going to be a quest in itself. How do you find queer women in literature when the publishers don’t tell you they’re there? Books that turn out to be queer are often exactly that: they ‘turn out’ to be queer. There’s no mention of queer identity or romances between two women in the blurb. There’s mention of women who must save the world or forbidden romances with no further elucidation but rarely are there rainbow flags flying throughout these stories’ marketing campaigns.
Please don’t tell me it’s because romance doesn’t sell. From Twilight to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, from Throne of Glass to Clockwork Angel, romance plot-lines between women and men are implied if not explicitly stated in the blurbs of popular genre fiction. So, who are we hiding the queer relationships from? Because it surely can’t be the queer readers.
Having spoken to queer authors the teams behind their book’s blurb seem to think that these themes won’t sell, or they can surprise homophobic readers into queer-acceptance by springing these subplots on them during the reading experience. Well, there are problems with both of these arguments and they both come down to the undervaluing of the queer audience. Who do queer books exist for? Of course, everyone can read and enjoy a queer novel, but the significance of representation is that it makes queer readers feel seen. It gives us a voice; it says ‘you are not abnormal’ and that ‘your stories matter too’. Queer literature doesn’t exist to convince others we are valid.
In fact, hiding these romances does all readers a disservice. LGBT+ bookshops like Gay’s the Word, the only one of its kind in England, rely heavily on customer recommendations when stocking their shelves because the publishers fail to flag their titles’ queer themes. How many books have I missed-out on in my local bookshop or library because I had no idea I might find myself represented in these fantastical adventures? How many authors’ works have been done an injustice because their publisher convinced them they would sell more copies if they kept their book in the closet? My guess? Too many.
This year will be my second Christmas without my dad. On November the 8th, 2017, my dad passed away from oesophageal cancer at the age of fifty-nine. Last year his death was so raw that my mum and I floundered when it came to Christmas. Friends offered to spend their days with us, cousins invited us to their homes instead, and we ended up participating in an eclectic selection of old Christmas traditions, whilst abandoning others and spent the day with family friends. Every single minute was excruciating.
Ever since I was born I have spent Christmas with my mum and dad. We would host Christmas every year at our home with my grandparents and occasionally a few other family members spending the day with us. When my grandparents on my mum’s side passed away our numbers dwindled to four: myself, my mum, my dad, and his mum (my gran). Despite the absence of much love family members who were no longer with us my ‘Christmas spirit’ never dwindled. I’ve always been one of those annoying Christmas enthusiasts who revelled in the public and personal traditions that came with the season. I counted down the sleeps before the big day even into my twenties. At the end of the day, however, it was always about spending time with the most important people in my life.
I recently joined Scribd – an app that allows you to listen to unlimited audiobooks and read unlimited ebooks for a set monthly price. Like with anything else my instant instinct since signing up has been to troll their catalogues for books that spark my interest, in particular audiobooks because it’s a massive saving listening this way. As an avid audiobook listener, however, where was I to start – their selection seems endless. So apart from searching the app I’ve been asking on Twitter for recommendations, and using google to look for other Scribd users favourite audiobooks. During this proccess it occured to me that if you are looking for something, chances are, someone else is too. And since I’m asking for your help I thought perhaps I could also lend a hand of my own. Which brings us to this blog post where I’m going to share my selection of the best audiobooks currently available on Scribd (this may vary depending on the country you’re listening in). Most of these I have already listened to either prior to downloading Scribd or since I installed the app but a few are books I’m incredibly excited to listen to myself in the coming weeks and months. I hope you find some recommendations from this list and do let me know what audiobooks on Scribd you would recommend.
I knew finally signing up to my local library in London would be a good thing! Binti has been on my radar for a few years; it consistently pops up on sci-fi readers’ channels on BookTube and in particular Elizabeth from BooksandPieces sells this story with infectious passion. Now I’m no hard-core science fiction reader. I enjoy John Wyndham and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy plus I’ll devour any dystopian novel you hand me. Aside from Douglas Adams, my experience with stories sent in space itself, however, extends as far as Dr. Who, Star Trek: Next Generation and Firefly. It’s not something I’ve actually read a terrible amount of. But if anything could convince me to do so it is Binti.
This book blew me away with the emotional impact it was able to have in less than one hundred pages. A novella as opposed to a full-length novel this book is the first in a series, of which two more are already available (and I’m half way through number two). It follows our protagonist Binti, a member of the Himba people who are one of multiple cultures that live on Earth. The Himba tend to remain in their own community and never do they leave Earth. Binti, however, is the first of her people to have been offered a place at Oomza University, situated on a planet other than her own, and she is not about to turn it down.
This year I’ve been pushing myself to write more. Creative writing was my first love when I was a child, I went through endless notebooks writing my own stories and ‘novels’ (usually about dragons). As the years have gone on and I’ve moved through university and academia my fingers have become more and more occupied with non-fiction and academic writing. This isn’t a bad thing but I do miss regularly writing fiction, even if it’s mediocre fiction. In 2018 I’m trying to focus on doing things I love and after finding that I was spending more time writing in 2017 than I had been recently I wanted to set aside time to pursue that pleasure on a regular basis this year. I am, however, somewhat rusty so I’ve been experimenting with lots of different forms and having a bit of fun with it. A few of you mentioned you’d be interested in reading some of the little things I’d come out with so here is a piece of ‘flash-fiction’ I wrote earlier this year that I’ve imaginatively titled ‘Hungry Eyes’. Enjoy! (Or don’t, whatever.)
This is the first book I have read by Libba Bray who is, in fact, quite the prolific author and incredibly popular amongst fans of Young Adult literature. My interest was peaked in Bray’s writing after reading an article she had written here for EW that Monica from SheMightBeMonica shared online. Upon reading Bray’s article I immediately ordered both A Great and Terrible Beauty and Beauty Queens by the author. Seeing her discuss the influences and objectives of her young adult work made me see them in a much more complex light than perhaps the blurbs alone would have. Not only did my first foray into her work not disappoint, it far exceeded all of my expectations. A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first in her Gemma Doyle series and what a beginning it is.
The year is 1895 and our story follows Gemma Doyle, a young woman from a wealthy English family who has spent her entire life thus far growing up in India. After tragedy strikes, however, her life is uprooted and she is sent to board at a girls’ finishing school in England. Her life in England is far more than elocution lessons and keeping up with this season’s latest fashions; Miss Doyle is haunted by visions of another world, one both terrifying and beautiful.
This book melds together 19th century Britain, female friendships, sexual awakenings and magic. The story and characters are engaging and mysterious with so much more bubbling under the surface. There is so much I enjoyed about this first book in the series that it is difficult to condense my feelings for you in one blog post, but here I go.