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.
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.
That’s right everyone, I have met my Goodreads reading goal for 2017! We are two months into the year and I’ve already hit that coveted goal, so why bother reading any more for the next ten months? Bring on the TV binge watching.
I know that last year when I changed my Goodreads reading goal to 10 books I had a few questions about why I’d set my challenge to such a ‘low’ target. Since this is a number I have decided to stick with I thought I might address the issue of ‘why’ in a wee blog post.
I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of lists, especially from mainstream outlets, suggesting ‘100 Books You Should Have Read in Your Lifetime’ are dominated by male authors. Fantastic authors with great books, sure, but nevertheless unrepresentative of the population makeup. My mum and I have a penchant for scrolling through these lists together and seeing how many of the books on it we have read – my mum in particular likes to set herself the goal of reading as many of these books as possible. More often than not, however, we despair at the overwhelming gender bias they present. Even when I sought out specifically female focused lists of ‘100 Authors You Must Read’ they did not offer 100 female authors but 100 books by female authors many of which were written by the same authors.
This is in no way due to a lack of phenomenal women writers to chose from. As fantastic as Jane Austen is (you will see her featured here) there are many more women writers out there. So I have decided to curate my own list of ‘100 Women Writers I Need To Read In My Lifetime’. The women on this list go as far back as antiquity and as far forward as the 21st century. They have been pulled from the suggestions on the standard ‘100 Books To Read’ lists, my own experience with women writers who have made important contributions to literature and recommendations from my mum (with a few adages from friends). Each and every one deserves to be on this list but it didn’t take long for me to realise 100 was a very small number; this list is, therefore, by no means exhaustive.
Over the span of the last week, I have re-read Suzanne Collins’ entire Hunger Games trilogy for the second time and what an adventure it has been. I originally read the trilogy shortly after the first film was released on DVD and I watched it one night not expecting much but coming away thoroughly surprised and impressed. After that I just had to read the books; I had to know what happened to Katniss, Peeta & the rest of the citizens of Panem. So I delved in with the first book in the series only to learn so much more than the film had shared with me and continued to zoom through books two and three. I was honestly shocked by how these books actually managed to successfully live up to the hype I had been hearing from left, right and centre; just based on past experience.
Now, four years on, I decided it was time to re-read the series for the first time. I am an avid re-reader as much as I am an avid reader. If life is proving stressful there is nothing I find more soothing than to return to a story that brought me joy the first time around and re-emerse myself in its pages. The re-read often provides with me with as equally an exciting journey as the original read, a return to old emotions and the discovery of new. The Hunger Games did not disappoint. Everything I enjoyed about the series the first time around was waiting for me and something extra too.
Books provide so many things, at different times and for different people. More often than not, however, they expand our world. They introduce to new places, and people, and ideas. They develope our vocabulary and show us how to use language in new and exciting ways. They make us consider ourselves and the people around us. They inspire and give us hope.
One of the most wonderful things my parents gave to me was the joy of reading. This simple passion has taken me to so many places, metaphorically and literally, that I may never have gone if it were not for them. And it all started with picture books. I was lucky that amongst my children’s picture books were insights into different cultures from my own, varied characters of different races, sexualities and backgrounds and introductions to difficult but important topics; I’m certain I’m a better person for it.
I was thinking about this most recently because of two books that came through my letter box (OK the postie had to ring the doorbell). These are truly beautiful books: beautiful ideas, beautiful words and beautiful images. They break down prejudices, open up the reader’s mind and potentially make some feel a little less alone. For that reason I had to share them with you all in someway or another.