Monthly Archives: April 2018

In Watermelon Sugar – Richard Brautigan

In Watermelon Sugar is a bonkers tale of life in watermelon sugar. Our narrator has no name, though other characters do. He tells us about life in watermelon sugar, hanging out and working at iDEATH. What is iDEATH? I really have no idea. Having said that, I did enjoy reading In Watermelon Sugar, even if I didn’t have much of a clue what the point of it was.

From the back of the book:

iDEATH is a place where the sun shines a different colour every day and where people travel to the length of their dreams. Rejecting the violence and hate of the old gang at the Forgotten Works, they lead gentle lives in watermelon sugar. In this book, Richard Brautigan discovers and expresses the mood of the counterculture generation.

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There’s a whole story about iNBOIL and his bunch of baduns who have rejected life at iDEATH. They live near the Forgotten Works. Also, the sun shines a different colour every day and this causes different types of watermelons to grow. Also everything seems to be made from these watermelons. As I said, it’s totally bonkers. Oh, and there used to be tigers roaming around, but they died. They used to talk to people.

Our narrator was brought up at iDEATH because his parents were eaten by the tigers:

After about an hour or so the tigers came outside and stretched and yawned.

‘It’s a nice day,’ one of the tigers said.

‘Yeah,’ the other tiger said. ‘Beautiful.’

‘We’re awfully sorry we had to kill your parents and eat them. Please try to understand. We tigers are not evil. This is just a thing we have to do.’

‘All right,’ I said. ‘And thanks for helping me with my arithmetic.’

‘Think nothing of it.’

The tigers left.

 

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I wanted to read In Watermelon Sugar for two reasons. Firstly, the Bookshambles podcast went on about it – this is the source of many book recommendations for me, and hasn’t failed yet (hello? Hope In The Dark by Rebecca Solnit, and I have the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels is sat waiting to be read).

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Secondly, Brautigan pops up in The Lovely Eggs song Have You Ever Heard A Digital Accordian? No, I don’t think I have yet, but I HAVE now read some Richard Brautigan. Yes!

 

To sum up. Bonkers and iconic. Worth a read.

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a very short story about a seagull who wanted to learn how to fly spectacularly. He wasn’t happy with living a normal seagull life. He decides to just get on with following his heart and he ends up as some sort of angel guru seagull, after he’s been to seagull heaven. He then goes back to his flock and you can guess what happens. It’s very short (hooray!) and full of spirituality nonsense that is not my thing at all. If it’s yours, you may love this little tale!

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It was originally published in 1970 as a three part story. The version I read is the FOUR part extended and reissued version, published in 2014. the fourth part was written at the same time as the original fable, but was never published. I haven’t delved into the fourth part during my description above, lets just say it changes the story somewhat.

Throughout Jonathan Livingston Seagull you get lots of pages of seagull photography. These are quite nice.

I can’t say anything more about it, otherwise my review might be as long as the book.

Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood – Hollie McNish

I’ve never been someone who reads poetry, but I’ve always liked the idea of reading it.

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My history with poetry is this. I recently bought a war poetry collection because I remember doing war poetry for my GCSEs and enjoying it (not enjoying it, like that!). But I haven’t read any of it.

I won a prize at school and got £10 to spend on a book. I chose a collection of Jim Morrison’s poems, because I was 17 when I had to choose. But I’ve never read it.

I got a poem a day book from my Grandma’s house when we were clearing out her house after she died. But I’ve never read it.

I spot the pattern, it’s not hard. I need to actually read some of the poetry I’ve already got. That would be a great starting point.

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I feel like I want to like poetry more because I want my kids to think liking poetry is normal (because it is!) and I’ve always felt like I should make more effort to find poetry I like. I do better with poetry for kids (shout out to Michael Rosen’s Bananas in my Ears, and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.) probably because they are so much more accessible.

Then one day, early last year, I heard Hollie McNish reading out a poem about breastfeeding on Radio 4 (of course!) and I needed to read her book.

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Nobody Told Me is in diary form about when McNish found out she was pregnant up to her daughter being 3. The poems are in amongst longer prose about the whole experience. I love this book with all my heart. I even had to stop reading it for ages because I didn’t want it to end. When I realised I’d shelved it for a year, I knew I had to just let myself finish it!

I’ll be honest, I’ve found so many things about pregnancy and having small children, and breastfeeding just shocking because they were unexpected. I heard ‘you will have to feed your baby every 2 hours at first’ and thought I understood how that would feel. I got a babies that wanted to feed constantly from 6pm to 5am and this gradually reduced over the first month. I felt horrendous for at least a year.

I knew breastfeeding would be ‘hard work’ but the reality of cracked, bleeding nipples and a baby that always wanted feeding, and people saying carry on, and others saying give a bottle was overwhelming and from another planet insane. And more than that, as an introvert having small people who constantly talk and want to touch you and want attention is beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

So an honest book, covering these tough years, with insanely emotive poetry is heartbreakingly great. It brought up so much emotion for me. There’s also bits that made me laugh out loud.

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McNish is so honest and so positive. Things happen while she’s pregnant (like people touching her bump) and she always tries to see the positive reason they are doing this incredibly invasive, annoying thing. He gran trying to get her to get married and she sees she is trying to protect her.

The mixture of heartwarming to heartbreaking to devastating is perfect. It’s the nearest account of pregnancy and small child parenting to my own experience, and it made me cry and laugh in equal measure. The poetry is incredibly moving and completely relatable and accessible. Hooray!

 

 

Books Bought and Read – March 2018

Books Bought

Firstly this month, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge appeared in the post. I had pre-ordered this at xmas and I can’t wait to read it.

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I then bought: Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want – Ruby Tandoh because I kept reading about it on twitter! and I really like food.

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I also bought fellow physics teacher Alom Shaha’s new book: Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder: Adventures in Science Round the Kitchen Table. It’s a beautiful book that will help you do science at home with children.

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I’m still trying not to buy more books, but I needed to get hold of a few for book clubs I have over the next few months. I needed to get This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell, and got The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne at the same time because I keep reading amazing reviews of it and clearly I just can’t help myself when it comes to buying more books…

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I got Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller for the Continental book club next month,

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and finally The Hidden Man by Robin Blake for this month! This is the American name for this book. It is called The Scrivener in the UK version, but that was more expensive!

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Books Read

Seven books read in March. Three super short ones though! Click on the book title to go to my review.

Women and Power – Mary Beard

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All the Beautiful Girls – Elizabeth J. Church

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Motherhood – Helen Simpson

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Serious Concerns – Wendy Cope

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The Circle – Dave Eggers

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The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

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Fat, Gay Vegan – Eat, Drink and Live like you Give a Sh!t – Sean O’Callaghan

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Fat Gay Vegan – Eat, Drink and Live like you Give a Sh!t – Sean O’Callaghan

Fat Gay Vegan is a book that is aimed at helping you make the transition to becoming vegan, or to help with a new vegan’s early days. I am not a vegan, and I’m not looking to become one right now, but I am interested in it enough to want to read this!

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Where the book really shines is where the idea of being vegan is extended to include being kind to humans and animals in all aspects of your life. Here making sure you live a generally inclusive, kind, helpful existence is explored. An analysis of where the vegan community itself is sexist, ableist, homophobic, etc is really fascinating. I wish more people had the same awareness of all these issues as Sean O’Callaghan shows he does in Fat Gay Vegan.

Become an expert letter and email writing champion in order to tell vegan food companies that oppressive language and images have no place in advertising to our community. Use social media to make them aware of the fact that you do not appreciate or accept the use of sexism, body shaming, toxic masculinity and white exceptionalism as tools to sell veganism as a concept or vegan products to the world. It perpetuates harmful forces that make people feel bad about who they are while cementing long entrenched power imbalances that favour very few.

These ideas are explored within the vegan community, and also beyond it.

As you can probably tell from the title, O’Callaghan is himself the fat gay vegan. His personal history is covered in Fat Gay Vegan – growing up as a gay man in Australia, and the associated difficulties he faced. Becoming a teacher, and blogging under the name fat gay vegan, which ultimately led to this book.  As well as all this, obviously the book also covers different aspects of veganism. I think it is neatly summed up in the quote from the conclusion of:

No matter how much we do, we can always do more and we can always do better.

There are recipes at the end of each chapter, but this is definitely not a cook book!

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

A super stunning, young adult book inspired by the Black Lives Matter campaign. The Hate U Give is the story of Starr Carter. She saw her best friend, Natasha, murdered by gang gun violence at 10. Now at 16 she is involved in a police stop and search that ends with her unarmed friend, Khalil, being murdered by a police officer.

‘Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.’

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Starr lives in a poor neighbourhood. After her friend is killed at ten years old, Starr’s parents send her out of the neighbourhood to go to an expensive, posh school, Williamson. Of course this school is mostly rich, white kids. Don’t worry, the Fresh Princeness of this is fully acknowledged.

Funny how it works with white kids though. It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black.

The Hate U Give deals with Starr’s double life. She feels like she must be careful at her school to not appear too ghetto or aggressive. In her home neighbourhood she feels ‘other’ because of her school. As she is the only witness to Khalil’s murder, she feels the pressure of her community on her to get justice, while she is also dealing with her own grief and trauma.

For at least seven hours I don’t have to talk about One-Fifteen. I don’t have to think about Khalil. I just have to be normal Starr at normal Williamson and have a normal day. That means flipping the switch in my brain so I’m Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang – if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.

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Clearly, The Hate U Give deals with an extremely emotional subject. I was in tears by page 30 and that has never happened with any novel I’ve read before! It is also very funny in places, particularly the interactions between characters. It has great humour mixed in with difficult, emotional subjects.

As well as Starr, we get to know her siblings, parents and extended family. She has home friends and school friends, and a boyfriend from school. Complicated relationships and histories between different characters are explored.

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The book is focussed on the aftermath of Khalil’s murder and Starr’s move towards activism. It’s a brilliant book and I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone to read. The link to real life events is made clear and I can’t believe anyone could read The Hate U Give and fail to be emotionally moved, and angry, that these events happen, and happen as frequently as they do.

Ms. Ofrah once said this is how I fight, with my voice.

So I fight.