9 Top Dystopian Reads (and what I want to read next…)

Hello and welcome to another Top Reads post! I’ve covered quite a few adult and YA dystopian reads in my 21 years, and below are my top picks for anyone wanting to try and get into dystopian literature. These are my absolute favourites (I’ve even thrown a poem in there). There are a couple of YA dystopian series I’ve read but haven’t included here, as I thought they just became plain boring after the first book and a half. The very last series I mention (the Divergent series) I have mixed feelings on, but have included it anyway because overall it was a great read.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley- This is a dystopia disguised as utopia. A world where people are drugged up and constantly kept happy- but art, culture, books and general free thought isn’t allowed. Loved the twist at the end. Full review right here.

1984, George Orwell – This is a parallel to the above. This dystopia is obviously a dystopia. The media lie and cover things up, the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. The poor have the man power to overthrow the ruling Big Brother, but aren’t encouraged to think and so to see a different future. Forbidden relationships, fake news, brutal law enforcement, and torture in Room 101. Full review here.

We, Yevgeny Zamyatin- This is massively underrated as a dystopian book, although it has a lot in common with 1984. The ending is very similar, but no spoilers in this post! I don’t believe I’ve written a review of this novel yet, and so keep your eyes peeled in the future. One of my favourite dystopian novels of all time, possibly in the top three.

The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins- This is my favourite YA dystopian series. I completely fell in love with it. Its one of the only things (excepting London Grammar), where I can say that I liked it before it was cool. Katniss is one of the best female YA characters I have come across in this specific genre of fiction.

Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, Anna Letitia Barbauld – This is actually a poem. It criticises Britain’s role in the Napoleonic Wars, and imagines a future where Britain as an empire has declined, and America’s empire is on the rise. Barbauld gives the vision of London (and Britain itself) joining other ancient civilizations long gone. Its got some pretty dystopian elements, and wasn’t well received at the time because of this. Continue reading

The Handmaid’s Tale: Book Review

1500221125976This book has been on my reading list for a long time, since reading The Penelopiad in a first year uni module, back in 2014. Its taken me three years to get around to it, but I have finally read the book. Now I feel I can start on the TV show!

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel written in 1985, by Margaret Atwood. In the USA, a wave of totalitarianism has swept over the land, creating a place where some women are used as “Handmaids”, an odd kind of surrogate to those in power. This new world is called Gilead. Many women have been left sterile due to pollution levels (it is implied that the rest of America outside the confines of the novel- “The Colonies”-  is barren and toxic, with those living in these areas suffering some kind of radiation sickness where the extremities and even the skin peels away), and STDs. The world inside the borders of what I suppose is a large compound where the characters of the novel live (at least as big as a city), and is a strange echo of a literal reading of the Old Testament views on women. Many references are made to the biblical, but in the most fanatical ways. Women are not allowed to have their own money, read, and modesty is a must. Offred, the protagonist and narrator, vaguely remembers a time before this came to pass, before she had to become a Handmaid. There are implications that outside the world she lives in, war between the fanatics who run the compound, and other religious and social groups, is still raging. Offred knows she has another name from this past, but never mentions what exactly it is. Her memories are brief and fragmented, so that as a reader you understand she had a partner called Luke (previously divorced, and under this new law divorce doesn’t exist, making Offred an adulteress), a feminist mother, a friend named Moira, a young daughter, a rigorous academic education (she often remembers things she learnt in past times), and a job which required a knowledge of technology. We understand that as things worsened in society (all women’s bank accounts were closed and the women laid off of work, the money in the accounts being transferred to the next male of kin), Luke, “Offred”, and their daughter attempted to escape across the borders. Luke was shot (it appears, we have no idea if he is dead or alive), Offred captured and forced to become a Handmaiden, and her daughter taken somewhere else.

There’s all the background you need to know. I want to leave the finer points and weirder little things, and of course THE ENDING, for you to discover yourself. There aren’t any major spoilers above, but from this point on, there will be. There are a few things about this novel, a few messages in it, which I think are very important. Grab a cuppa, because this is a long review/discussion. Skip to the last one if you don’t have time. Anyone who has also read this, please chip in below and let me know what you thought: Continue reading

The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter (Book Review)

1498738436270My latest book purchase was on a bit of a whim, as recently I’ve been spending more money on poetry than prose. Here, I made an exception.

Little bit of background on my kind of fairy tales: I am Grimm girl, not a Hans Christian Anderson girl. I used to have a book of fairly gruesome English fairy tales when I was about twelve, and they were brilliant too. I would say Carter leans more towards the Grimm versions of the tales most people know, but with definite modern twists. If I had to sum up her style in one word? Refreshing.

The style of writing is very elaborate in most of the stories. Its much more convoluted that I’m used to, and I swung wildly between loving and hating it. In some stories it made the whole atmosphere gothic and strangely beautiful, in others I found it made the tale harder to follow. The tone is definitely reminiscent of the classic fairy tale mode of story telling. There really is something magical in many of the stories, but with a grittier edge that makes them more adult. They’re more focused on the female body and sex for one. Continue reading

Book Review: Brain over Binge

From the end of April until the end of May I was struggling with some of the most hard-core binge eating I have ever experienced (I know I owe you all a recovery update soon, because I’m now doing pretty well!). Nothing I was doing was improving my situation, meaning that I was ready to try absolutely anything- including buying this book. I had heard amazing reviews, and reports of people stopping binge eating immediately after having finished it. I was not one of those people. I have some severely mixed feelings on this book, and am still not sure entirely what I think of it, so this could be a long review.

Before buying Brain Over Binge I had a good long browse of the responses from readers on Good Reads and Amazon. They were overwhelmingly positive, but a few stood out to me as swinging the opposite way, claiming that the book was frustrating and disappointing, that the author (Kathryn Hansen) lacks the expert knowledge of the functioning of the brain to make the assumptions she makes, that the style of writing is awful, that the writer tells her story in pointless detail- and that the overwhelming message of the book was insulting to those suffering from binge eating. Because the message was : just don’t binge! Now, I don’t entirely agree with these reviews. I didn’t find the style of writing annoying, I found the details of Hansen’s journey interesting, and it was comforting to know someone had gone through close to the same thing as I was in that moment. I know that the author isn’t a brain scientist, but although her book is mainly theory based it does all make sense. She also does signpost the fact that she is drawing on her own experience and rookie research. I thought she had made links between other addictions and their treatment very well. However, I do have to agree with two things:

  • There wasn’t enough advice on handling the urge to binge, and so stopping (I did some research here: Hansen runs a podcast and has numerous blog posts and YouTube interviews, where she addresses additional questions such as these).
  • The “now you know this you can just stop binging” message did bite me in the arse further down the line.

Continue reading

Poetry you need to read. It could convert you…

1496929404558Hello there readers! So, its been a while since I wrote a post here, what with final year hand-ins. More importantly, following hand-ins I made the decision to take nearly two weeks away from IG and blogging, because on Sunday I leave Newcastle forever (only joking, I’ll be back), and move home to Yorkshire to begin life as a working girl (that’s right, I’ve signed my life away starting in September). The weeks I had left, I understandably wanted to spend with my amazing friends, who are also all buggering off home in a few days. What else have I been up to? Well, if you read this blog often you’ll know that my degree was English Literature with Creative Writing, that I specialise in poetry, and that I always have a book on me. For the past few weeks I’ve been living in a bubble of coffee, reading, and poetry writing (lots of book reviews coming soon). And much as I knew I should be getting some recipes up here, I also knew I didn’t have any ingredients for what I wanted to make -I’m winding down my cupboards so won’t be buying anything in until I reach Bradford. All I wanted to do was read and write. And then I realised: this is my bloody blog and I’ll write what I want. And so today we are talking poetry, and recipes are on hold until I get home.

A lot of people hate poetry. But, poetry is one of the most powerful literary forms out there. Poetry is dangerous. Look at the Romantic era radicals and their poetry. Look at poetry of witness now, and political or spoken work poetry. One of my lecturers once said that poetry holds us in a little bubble of the present; it’s more alive than prose because you experience things so much more vividly for being held in one moment. You’re carried along in that little bubble, and things don’t have to be 100% clear in poems- its about a feeling you get from them. You have to leave a good poem or collection changed in some way. I’ll write a whole post on this at some point. Today, I want to introduce you to some collections, and some poets I think you will love. Some are classic, some are modern, some are to be spoken, some are to be read, some are female, some are male. I hope you find at least one you like.

 

 

Rupi Kaur- Milk & Honey

A fellow poetry student recommended this to me, and I fell in love with it. I read it cover to cover in one sitting. I love collections that tell a story, and this definitely does that. Each poem is short and I’m sure you will find at least one that resonates with you. If you’re a feminist, get yourself a copy asap and thank me lat.

 

Andrew McMillan- Physical

This was the first poetry collection that made me want to be a poet. I fell head over heels for this collection. Its about a homosexual relationship and the male body. It is beautiful. It is painful. It is a must-read. I met Macmillan at a reading in Leeds and actually forgot how to speak for a good five minutes. Its also a novelty to hear poetry in a Yorkshire accent, if you fancy listening to his readings online.

 

Staying Alive anthology (numerous poets)

If you want to read a few different poets in one purchase, then I can’t recommend this enough. If you’re new to poetry then you can flick through and find poets you like to follow up on a bit more. This anthology is published by Bloodaxe, and its contemporary poems on the reality of living in unreal times. Continue reading

‘Girl Up’ by Laura Bates: Review

1491131746351It was a toss-up between this, and ‘Everyday Sexism’. This won. And although this is Bates’s second book, I’m glad I’ve had this as my first experience of her work. I mean, it opens with a recommendation from Emma Watson. What more do you need to be sold on this?

If you follow me on IG then you may remember an instastories of this book, and that I felt it should be read in high schools across the nation- it was that good. ‘Girl Up’ is a book aimed at girls, of an age quite a bit younger than me (to be honest though, it filled in parts of my sex education that STILL  had gaps in) -but I don’t think it would harm many boys to read it either. I think that its a really good idea to set reading for our teens when sex education begins. Just two books a year. Maybe only for one year, to get them started on looking into stuff they need to know. One book aimed at boys, one aimed at girls. And here’s the thing: both sexes read both books. Because the more we feel the opposite sex “get us” the easier it is to talk about sex, eradicate sexism, and basically make life a hell of a lot easier. Sexism is a focal point of this book, and sexism affects both sexes- historically, more so women (heads up: there’s a handy little snippet on why its called “feminism” if feminism is all about equality).

This is the thing: in Britain we have a pretty horrific attitude to sex. Sex education is on the same level as talking about haemorrhoids and bowel movements. Which is completely and utterly wrong. The less educated people are the less fun, and the more dangerous/disguising/confusing/embarrassing, sex seems. The more sex is something to be ashamed of, the more likely people are to turn to porn as education. This is in no way a good idea. Mainly because porn does create ideas of “how sex should be”- ideas which are dangerous, disgusting, confusing and embarrassing. Nearly all porn videos make sex into something that degrades instead of empowering women. In a real relationship all parties having sex should feel respected and should be enjoying it. Continue reading

‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ by Susie Orbach- A Review

I’m not quite sure where to begin with this book. It has been sat on my shelf for a good 6+ months. I bought it at the same time I bought The Beauty Myth, but didn’t manage to get past the first few chapters until the end of last month. The book addresses compulsive eating, examining the causes that Orbach argues originate in our society. The book suggests that obesity caused by compulsive eating has roots in the socialization of women, before moving on to a self-help section about how to tackle these issues. I had very mixed feelings about this book, and felt parts of it were outdated (it was written in 1978…), and some of the arguments flawed- which I’ll talk about later in the review. Yep, I definitely have very mixed feelings on this one…

To begin with: what does Orbach argue?

Orbach argues that women within our society are expected to automatically take on the role of care-giver within a home, even if they have a career outside of it, when they become a mother. Part of the role of care-giver is providing food, and seeing the rest of the family is fed. This can place strain on the relationship of the mother with the children, in particular with daughters, due to a mixture of feeling they must meet this role of caregiver, but also resenting it. On one hand, the mother wishes the daughter to be like her; she wants to bring her up with morals, see she has opportunities etc.  On another level, the mother knows that the daughter will in all likelihood become a care-giver like herself, and so must be prepared for a life of not placing emphasis on her own needs, but on the needs of others. This ambivalent relationship can often be embodied in food.  In learning to be a giver and not a taker, Orbach suggests, women also learn to supress anger and resentment- it isn’t “giving” or “caring” or “feminine” behaviour according to society. This resentment then can often be expressed in eating compulsively, to in effect ignore the feeling of anger/resentment, and cram it down with food. Thus, a young female learns quickly that food is a substitute for emotions: you can use it to show that you care, and you can use it to cram emotions further down inside of you. Continue reading