‘Swimming Home’, by Deborah Levy: A Review

wp-1484491550591.jpg‘Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we’ll all get home safely’

-Deborah Levy, Swimming Home

Swimming Home has been part of a backlog of books I have wanted to read for a while now- and I completed it in less than 24 hours. It’s been a while since I was so glued to a book I couldn’t put it down, but Swimming Home definitely made that list.

I felt as if this novel would be hard going when I began it and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get into it. The style and tone isn’t something I’d usually go for, but this feeling dissipated within the first few pages. Initially, withheld information can be slightly confusing, but as you go along the picture the novel creates becomes increasingly clearer. The ending wasn’t entirely what I expected, and came as a slight shock- I actually gasped. But when you reflect on the novel, and what you’ve read, it becomes obvious that this was what was coming (I’m trying my best to avoid spoilers here). Continue reading “‘Swimming Home’, by Deborah Levy: A Review”

Human’s of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton

wp-1483540933660.jpgIf you read my Monthly Favourites, then you may recall this from December. It was a Christmas present I was dying to get my hands on, and have wanted for about a year now- and it was worth the wait.

Humans of New York is a blog, and an IG account, and there’s also another book- all about the inhabitants of NYC. If you haven’t heard of it before now, then you’ve been living under a rock. Brandon Stanton, the mastermind-photographer behind it all, walks the streets of the city, taking pictures and asking people’s stories. In the previous book (simply, Humans of New York), these stories were often confined to just one line. On the blog though, there can be paragraphs and paragraphs. So it wasn’t surprising when this book emerged.

New York already had a magical feel to it for me before HONY, but now I need to visit it all the more. Stanton’s photographs and the stories behind them are in equal parts beautiful and heart-breaking. They come from all over New York City, from all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds…and it’s astonishing how the book makes you realise each individual who walks this earth has a life as intricate as your own. The arrangement of the photographs in this edition also gives you some interesting juxtapositions to mull over; as a poetry student layout and order is extremely important to me, and so I appreciated the effort that had gone into this.

I’ll put it this way: no one does work like this as Stanton can. I recently saw a book by another photographer in Waterstones, with a similar vision but who had set the collection in London. It didn’t have the same magic on first glance. Maybe I’ll return to it, but the HONY collections have completely stolen my heart.

 

STRONG, by Zanna Van Dijk

wp-1483535583061.jpgIf you follow me over on Instagram (link to the right), then you probably saw that I got very excited about finally getting my hands on this book. Well, I was right to get excited. I don’t often go in for health and fitness books by YouTubers and IG personalities- even the ones by PTs can be a little…well, crap. One book I bought by an IG star kept the recommended diet plan incredibly low in carbs- except the one carb rich post workout meal. Needless to say, it didn’t work for me. Though I tortured myself trying to keep up with it and give it a fair go, it simply wasn’t worth it. I turn into a right arsehole without steady low GI carb consumption. Now, bear that in mind when I discuss this book; if I compare that to this, we’ll see that Zanna (thank god) does things very differently…

The book is hefty, and divided into ‘Move’ ‘Nourish’ and ‘Thrive’ (signalling this was off to a good start already). For simplicity I’ll be looking at each section, but as for things that apply to STRONG as a whole (yes I WILL be capitalising that all the way through, because it deserves it), the photography is beautiful and cleanly laid out. When used for the exercise section you can see exactly what you’re meant to be doing. It’s also incredibly easy to read. Any fans of Zanna’s YT channel (I’ll leave all links to her social media at the bottom of the page), you can pretty much hear her voice as you read it. The phrase “quite frankly” was when I realised this was happening, as it comes before her beloved rants about lack of balance on YT. I have to say, “the badger’s nadgers” has become a favourite after reading this. The tone is always light hearted and encouraging, not pushy or intimidating. The whole book also has a massive emphasis on sustainability in the long term. It doesn’t advocate cutting back all of your food, and upping all of your exercise at once (it doesn’t advocate scrimping on food, full stop). More importantly, it doesn’t advocate cutting back on life, or making fitness your entire life. Coming from a place where this has been an issue for me, I cant put into words how refreshing that was. I feel like this removes a lot of the risks you run with buying health and fitness books; Zanna is giving good, solid advice here. She isn’t telling you to go on a thinly veiled crash diet as I felt the aforementioned book did.

Now, down to the sections…

MOVE

  • As I read STRONG I underlined, starred, and also “!!” where something I had been doing for months was actually wrong. For example: doing my cardio before my weights in a combined session. I swapped them around, hey presto- suddenly I am able to lift more, simply because I am not knackered. I am by no means a beginner, but no one had ever taken the time to explain this to me. If you are a beginner, this is an excellent starting point, but even as a more advanced fitness fan, it is 100% worth a read.
  • Here we learn the importance of the mind-muscle connection; this has helped me no end.
  • All the words surrounding sets (e.g. straight, drop, giant…) are explained, as are other weight lifting terms. As a clearly female weight lifting fan, again, this is something no one has ever explained to me, thinking I “didn’t need the technical details”. And I didn’t know to look for them, because I didn’t know they frigging existed. Now, I do.
  • All the muscle groups (major ones) are pointed out in a diagram, and are easy to identify. Useful for beginners in particular.
  • There is a huge section of exercises and several workouts, then a section on putting together your own workouts. Zanna does encourage the reader to go an learn further moves through research, but this book already gives any reader the tools they need for quite some time, rather than trying to pull us into buying another book to top up our selection of workouts. This actually means I am way more inclined to buy another of her books, should one be written (hint hint Zanna).
  • The book also explains how to step it up in various ways and how to measure progress other than the scale, something particularly useful if you’re looking to build muscle.

Continue reading “STRONG, by Zanna Van Dijk”

In Order To Live, by Yeonmi Park- A Review

wp-1482953516273.jpg

Prefacing a review with a sentence telling you that this should be the very next book you read, pretty much gives away how this review is going to go- but to be honest the more people who read this book, the better.

Yeonmi Park was born in North Korea, and the beginning of her autobiography details life in the secretive nation. For someone who has never read anything from the point of view of someone living under the Kim regime, this was incredibly eye-opening. It is one thing to hear about conditions in North Korea from the British media; it is obviously another to hear about it from someone who has lived there.

Yeonmi speaks of her parents trading on the black market in order to keep herself and her sister, Eunmi, alive. Despite this, during most of her memories their family rarely had enough to eat, or enough money to heat their home. As the situation grew worse for Yeonmi, her sister, and her parents, they began to consider escaping North Korea. Eunmi left before the rest of her family, and Yeonmi did not see her sister again for several years. Herself and her mother believed Eunmi to have escaped to China, and so when they had the chance they followed, having to leave her father behind. Little did they know that they had been tricked by human traffickers.

The thought that a place exists where the people believe their leaders can control the weather with their mind, where there is never enough food, or electricity, where they are taught to instinctively hate “enemy” nations, where fairytales do not exist and are replaced by government political books, where it is claimed by those in power all are equal- when they are clearly not…it was sickening to read. This book is not just a story of survival, but of having to un-learn everything you thought you knew. This book is real life, and what Yeonmi describes is happening right now. The thing I was most hit by, alongside Yeonmi’s determination, intelligence, and courage, was how she captures that many people are neither good nor bad. They are a mix. And they are trying to survive. Until placed into situations such as Yeonmi has been, none of us know exactly what we are capable of.

I do not want to tell you any more of Yeonmi’s story in this review. I want you to read the book, and experience the mix of horror and admiration I experienced. It is possibly one of the best books I have read this year. When I read, I fold corners of pages and mark the paper when something really stands out to me; this book no longer closes properly for all of the folded corners and markers I have placed in there. Writing this book must have taken a phenomenal amount of courage, and I feel as many people as possible should read it. Yeonmi is a woman who has fought for her right to do things as simple as thinking her own thoughts, listen music, attend school, and speak freely in her own home.  Things most of us take for granted.

 

 

 

‘Sleep’ by Nick Littlehales: Book Review

wp-1482148488344.jpgIt’s been a long time since I wrote a book review, and though I have read an awful lot of books they’ve pretty much all been university reading. I could perhaps write you all some reviews of the more interesting texts, because I’ve been looking at a lot of crime fiction- but for today we’re looking at something which more of you may find helpful: sleep.

I bought this book in September, when I had just returned to university and was struggling to sleep. Third year is a massive jump up from second year, and I also had a myriad of little things causing me small amounts of stress (e.g. flatmates who don’t know how to tidy up after themselves, trying to maintain a social life, job hunting for when I graduate, deciding what I actually wanted to do when I graduate etc.). Lack of sleep was not helping in the slightest.

For as long as I can remember I have been told that 8 hours is the minimum amount of sleep I should have been getting each night. 10 was the best. So here I was trying to get 8 hours sleep, and then waking up even less awake than when I went to bed. I tend to wake up at 6am naturally, and I still was, but was struggling to function because my body didn’t  seem to understand that we had gotten a night of very poor quality sleep.

This book did provide me with some tips on how to adjust my sleep, and much as there were some things I refused to implement or simply couldn’t, overall it was a useful and informative read. Lets take a look at the things I took away from this, and the things I wasn’t so eager to try out…

 

The best points I took away:

  1. Which side of the bed I should be sleeping on
  2. What position is actually the best to sleep in and why (Nick gives reasons for everything, which I love; writers who expect me to accept what they say blindly are never among my favourites)
  3. I don’t need 8 hours sleep a night: I personally only need around 7 hours of good quality sleep
  4. Constant wake times are a god send hat I stick to (though I discuss this in the things I “haven’t” implemented/ have adjusted to suit me as well…)
  5. I can go to bed later than I was, 10:00/10:30pm instead of 9:00pm, and get a better night’s sleep, as the quality of my sleep is better
  6. We actually sleep in 90 minute cycles Continue reading “‘Sleep’ by Nick Littlehales: Book Review”

The Danish Girl: Book Review

wp-1476905726234.jpg

Around two weeks ago now I picked up a copy of The Danish Girl from HMV (£2.99 guys, £2.99!!). I’m pretty sure that most of us have seen the trailer for the Eddie Redmayne film, if not the film itself. But today, I’ll be dealing with the book, written by David Erbershoff. I’m less certain many of us know that the book and film are loosely based around the life of a real woman, named Lili Elbe.

Lili Elbe was born Einar Wegener in Denmark, in 1882. Einer worked as an artist, and eventually was one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery, having begun living as a woman some time previously. Though the transition operations were successful, Lili later died from post-op complications. The author’s note in the back of the book tells us that the storyline follows real events, though it is only loosely based upon them, with the characters themselves being close to fictionalised – as, obviously, no one can know the true feelings of Gerta (Einer’s wife, named Greta in the book), or Lili, or Einer themselves. The novel takes place over six years, where we see Greta and Einer move around from Copenhagen to Paris, whilst coming to terms with how their future will look with Lili in the picture.

Though I enjoyed the read (I couldn’t put it down), and Ebershoff writes beautifully, more could have been done to cover the feelings of displacement Lili goes through when she realises that she is in fact a woman in a man’s body. I’ve seen a fair amount of online critique of this, and though in one sense I agree, I have to say that I can see why Ebershoff chose not to go into such detail. For anyone not in the position Lili Elbe was in herself, to write a story including her point of view, and those surrounding her, must have been a challenge. Though not perfect, Ebershoff did rise to this. Continue reading “The Danish Girl: Book Review”

Level Up Your Creativity: 9 writing tips you may not have thought of…

Doing the degree that I am on, I have to pull ideas almost as if from out of a magic hat sometimes. Even if I’m feeling like the least creative person in the world.

As I’ve mentioned before, creativity is something which, up until reaching university, most of us thought just happened. You felt creative, or you didn’t. If you didn’t feel creative, you didn’t write. Wrong.

Although I firmly believe that great writers see the world in a different way- we’re often a little more observant, or just plain odd- I don’t believe that creativity is something that naturally springs forth from our minds 24/7. Which could be great news if you feel like you aren’t the most creative person- or bad news if you simply don’t know where to begin looking to get creative. Below, I have several ways you can level up your creativity, and hopefully begin churning out some writing more often:

Change up your writing spot

If you usually work from home then go sit in a café, library, simply on a park bench- or even in a train station. Look and listen to what is around you. Take a couple of notes, and see if anything comes up which you feel that you could later use.

Change up your writing time

I usually write in the morning- around 10am seems to be when I tend to grab a hot drink and sit down to write. However, recently I’ve found that my writing tends to be better in the evening, just before I go to bed. Don’t assume that just because one writing time has always worked for you, it will continue to do so. You may find that your best time is fairly odd- I know lecturers and fellow students who get up in the wee-hours to write, or stay up until 11pm to write.

Go and look around somewhere containing prompts

This is slightly different to the writing spot you may choose. A writing spot is somewhere you can sit and write, and have things happen around you that you don’t have to interact with. Somewhere containing prompts could be a museum, art gallery, photography exhibition, landmark, or an area of your city you haven’t explored yet. Exploring and learning/seeing something new is the key thing here.

Find somewhere to work that has just the right level of background noise

When you’re revising or trying to work on something complex you may find that complete silence is the way to go. I do. However, when I’m being creative a certain level of background noise is required. Coffee shops actually provide the perfect amount of background noise; it isn’t too intrusive on what you’re doing, but it means you aren’t completely alone with your thoughts.

Listen to music

Same as the above, although you may also find that if you usually listen to music in order to write, that changing up your backing track is the adjustment you need to product more creative work. If you usually go in for pop, try alternative or classical, and vice versa. Continue reading “Level Up Your Creativity: 9 writing tips you may not have thought of…”