Word on the Water ⌲ Regent’s Canal Towpath, Kings Cross, London N1C 4LW
I recently moved to London, a city I love and have written about many a time before, to begin a new career in the Film industry. Not only have a fallen in love with London itself and all it has to offer, but I have also visited many a bookshop since living here. It is no secret that Daunt Books in Marylebone has been my favourite book shop for a long time, I dedicated a post to the store which you can read by clicking here. However, dare I say, I may have found a new favourite…
I took a stroll down Regent’s Canal from Angel through to King’s Cross on the premise of visiting Word on the Water, not really too sure what to expect. It was my birthday, so I knew I wanted to treat myself to a new book or two. When I arrived, I was charmed by the quaint little barge that managed to house so many books. Both on the outside of the barge and in the cosy interior, there were a wealth of titles to choose from – I was spoilt for choice. Not only did they have a variety of amazing novels but they also had a variety of beautiful editions, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I could have spent hours in there (I almost did!). From the low ceilings and upholstered couches to the worn, leather armchair and vintage trinkets adorning the shelves and the walls, I had never been so charmed by a book ‘store’ before. The vintage-feel and uniqueness of quite literally have a book shop on the water were a new, refreshing way to browse the literature that I love. And, if the charming interiors and the hundreds of books were not enough to draw me in, the owner’s absolutely beautiful dog and his pet parrots were definitely enough. I fell in love with his beautiful dog who was so calm and friendly, and his parrots who would happily have a chat with you whilst you browse. The staff members were also incredibly attentive, friendly and happy to help and discuss the books with you. I picked up a beautiful copy of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ and a hardback Chiltern edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby,’ and I was extremely pleased with my choices. For all book lovers visiting or living in London, I couldn’t recommend Word on the Water more.
Click here to visit Word on the Water’s website for more information.
In light of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and many other Black people in the world due to the racism that is so ingrained in society, both now and for generations, I decided that it was time to further educate myself. I looked at my bookshelves and realised that 98% of the works I owned were written by white writers. It was time for a change, and so I decided to dedicate September to reading novels by Black, female authors. I feel it is important to note before I begin writing that the experiences and sufferings of Black people should not be white-centric: white liberals should not be painted as heroes for their allyship with the Black Lives Matter Movement. That is no way my intention for this blog post. But, I think it is important for myself and for white people and Non-Black people to read, listen, watch, learn and educate themselves. As an avid reader, I decided that my bookshelves were a great place to start. I decided to read a mixture of books, and it is important to note that Black writing is not a monolith. The authors I chose to read this month come from many different places, they write in different styles that fit in with their genres and they deal with issues of race in many different ways. This diversity expanded my knowledge and as Black authors’ lived experiences inform their writing in different ways, the novels I chose took me to new places and gave me new insights which I heavily value. Whilst I discovered new authors and even added a couple of new books to my ‘favourites’ shelf on GoodReads, I also explored an old favourite of mine, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and was extremely happy to revisit her writing. With all of this said, I believe it is important to recognise that my reading material in the past has not been diverse enough, if at all, and moving forward I aim to make a conscious effort to read more Black writing. Reading Black writing and blogging about it, posting on social media about the Black Lives Matter movement and similar should not, in any way, be performative. This support and proactiveness of white and Non-Black people should continue even after the media reports are silent. I am keen to continue my education, and the diversification of my reading. If anyone has any recommendations, I’d really appreciate you leaving them in the comments.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Reading time: just less than 1 day GoodReads rating: 5 out of 5 stars
After reading ‘Queenie,’ I am absolutely not surprised that it is a Sunday Times Bestseller and has been longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. I absolutely loved this book – it made me laugh, cringe and cry. It is quite rare for me to find books that make me physically laugh out loud but I found Carty-Williams’ character of Queenie to be absolutely hilarious. I was particularly fond of Queenie’s friendship with Kyazike, which was both endearing and amusing. Carty-Williams’ depiction of racial micro aggressions in friendships, relationships and the workplace was particularly eye opening and shed light on the challenges faced by Black women every single day. Through Queenie’s everyday life and the culmination of many challenging events that ultimately impact on her mental health, Carty-Williams demonstrates both the conscious and unconscious racial bias ingrained into our society, from within the medical services to Queenie’s place of work.
A quote I found particularly interesting was ‘I wished that well-meaning white liberals would think before they said things that they thought were perfectly innocent.’ Whilst we all must keep fighting the fight and speaking out on the Black Lives Matters movement, this particular part of the book reminded me that we should keep educating ourselves – there is always a lot more to learn, especially for non-Black people, and we need to continue to read, listen and understand the correct ways to speak on the matter.
I have spent many years writing about the problems faced by women in society, in the economy and in a political climate, amongst many other circumstances, and it’s extremely important to recognise that it is impossible to be a feminist unless you are an intersectional feminist. Carty-Williams’ harrowing writing relating to Queenie’s sexual relationships and in a broader sense, Black women’s experiences with men, broke my heart and educated me on the importance of recognising not just female struggles, but Black female struggles.
Arguably, my favourite part of the book was Queenie’s relationship with her grandparents, particularly her grandmother. The balance between matriarchal affection and tough love made an endearing read and as someone who is extremely close to my own grandmother, it resonated with me a lot. I absolutely adored their relationship and the resolution of Queenie and her mother’s strained relationship at the end of the novel.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Reading time: 3 days GoodReads rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Where do I start? I had been looking forward to reading Smith’s work for a very long time, and had to start with her debut. Please don’t get me wrong, I found this book to be amazingly witty, with clever quips galore that had me laughing out loud. Smith uses her quick wit to create a whole world, spanning three generations, and depicts the nuances of the differing cultures within the novel. Smith encapsulates the meeting of different ethnicities, cultures and demographics to detail the lives of Archibald and Samad, and their respective families. Smith writes with constant reference to varying iconographies of popular culture which is an element of White Teeth that I absolutely loved. Archibald himself gave me Humbert Humbert vibes, marrying Clara when she was quite young and in all, seemingly being a little bit dense.
The strange thing about this novel, whilst witty and clever, is that it forms no cohesive plotline. With a deviance in timeline and a wealth of characters to be narrated, I found the lack of cohesive plot difficult to engage with, which is one of the reasons that I was limited to three GoodRead stars only. I felt the length of the novel was unnecessary, the book is split into four different parts and, by the final part, I was willing the ending to come, finding that Smith unnecessarily deviates from the plot onto tangents that add nothing to the story for my personal liking. The parts dedicated to both Samad and Irie were my personal favourites, and read them with the most speed. The lack of cohesiveness for me, makes me think that this novel may be slightly forgettable for me, though the characters themselves are memorable enough.
Nonetheless, I did enjoy this novel – whilst I felt no attachment to the characters, I thought the character development was excellent and Smith’s strong narrative voice made for an amazing debut novel. The quirky characters and their diverse and creative family histories made for some amusing reading and I would not be discouraged from picking up another Zadie Smith novel in the future.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reading time: a few hours GoodReads rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The Bluest Eye is novel that follows Pecola, a young Black girl in 1940s Ohio that wishes more than anything to have blue eyes, a feature on many young white girls her age that is considered beautiful. The novel follows both her desire and the traumatic events that happen in her life, and also pertains to her family and their background. Morrison alternates between writing from Claudia MacTeer’s point of view, Percola’s point of view and sprinkles in third-person, omniscient narration to tell the tragic tale of Percola’s life.
Firstly, it is impossible not to mention Morisson’s writing style. Though writing about hard hitting, heartbreaking topics, her prose is soft and fluid and almost feels as though the book is one long, beautiful poem. Morrison’s skill of writing so beautifully of something so heartbreaking only makes the book that much more tragic. Her words and descriptions are reminiscent of the era, the book quite literally taking the reader back to Lorain, Ohio in the 1940s. Every time I picked up the book, I was transported.
I quite literally have no words for the beauty of this book, it left me with a broken heart and is a story that will stay with you forever. Exploring not only the general racial oppressions of the Black people in 1940s America, but also the tragedies and oppressions faced by Black women. From beauty standards devised from white features, to the abuse and violence imposed on Black women by men. The bluest eyes in the novel represent the beauty of the white, middle-class in Lorain, Ohio but, (*spoiler alert*) as she finally obtains the bluest eyes that she has for so long desired, she loses her sanity in exchange. An ironic, beautifully told tragic tale that I will carry with me forever. I can’t wait to read more of Morrison’s work.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Reading time: 2 days GoodReads rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I have very few words for this book other than utterly incredible. Americanah tells the tale of Ifemelu and Obinze, childhood sweethearts from Nigeria, whose lives change during many years apart during their respective UK and USA hiatuses. The novel details the course of their lives when they meet again in Lagos during adulthood.
I have always been a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, her novels on feminism (namely ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ and ‘Dear Ijeawele’) are those which introduced her to me, and I relied on them heavily to support my thesis during my undergraduate dissertation. I now attribute Purple Hibiscus to being one of my favourite books of all time, so I was keen to read Americanah. I was not disappointed, and now may dare say that I loved it even more than Purple Hibiscus.
The character development in this book is incredible, Adichie leaves the reader actively rooting and hoping for the characters. I loved Ifemelu, and was completely enraptured in her relationship with Obinze. This element of character development and thus reader attachment is what I found to be missing in Zadie Smith’s writing, picking up Americanah which, for me, was a huge page turner, was largely refreshing.
The book is rife with dialogue, conversations in the UK, USA and Nigeria, with both Black and white people, of varying ages in varying social settings, and this together paired with the inflection of time throughout the novel really made clear the continuation of racism, micro aggressions and prejudices. Adichie raises the idea of ‘being Black’ in the USA vs. being Nigerian in Nigeria, and I really learned a lot about Nigerian and more widely, African experiences of expatriation. Adichie skilfully worked the topic of racial injustice and prejudice into a novel that was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Whilst the ending was not entirely sad, it still left me sobbing. I can’t recommend Adichie’s works more to anyone, wanting to learn and educate themselves more on issues of racism, or simply to someone who wants to read an incredible novel.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Reading time: 2 – 3 hours GoodReads rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Renni Eddo-Lodge’s ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ (2017) is arguably the most important book in my entire list. This book taught me more information about Black British history than all of my years in education. If you’re looking to learn and be educated on matters and motivations relating to the Black Lives Matter Movement, this is the book for you. It’s the book for everyone. It taught me how revisionist and reductionist the British education system’s portrayal of British history really is, and I felt that I walked away with a wealth of knowledge that is essential for all to know.
Eddo-Lodge humanises the issues that Black people face in British society. She puts a name to the children who suffered under the racial discrimination of the social care system, the parents who suffered under the prejudice of the British healthcare system and the people who suffered under the brutality and negligence of the British criminal system. Eddo-Lodge makes it impossible for Brits to say ‘it isn’t as bad in the UK as in the USA,’ something which has been circulating around social media for months now. She humanises and showcases the racial injustices and micro aggressions ingrained in all aspects of Britain’s institutions for every reader to see and understand with her poignant words. It is impossible to read this book without feeling ashamed of the UK and without feeling to need to further educate yourself and understand that the UK is an extremely racist country. Whilst it isn’t written into the GCSE curriculum or A Level specification, it is our history, and we need to learn and understand it if anything is going to change.
This book made my heart ache and imposed shame and disgust on me, but in the best way. I put it down feeling more educated and motivated to really understand more of my own country’s history and the ways in which our society needs to change. I couldn’t give this any less than 5 GoodReads stars, I would have given it 10 if I could. If there is any book in this list that you choose to read, I’d argue it should be this one.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Reading time: 1 week GoodReads rating: 3 out of 5 stars
There were many things that I loved about this book and many things that I didn’t love, hence the 3 star rating on GoodReads. I feel as though a 3 star rating isn’t going to be very popular, given that the book won the 2019 ManBooker Prize! I can totally see why she won the prize, and appreciate the skill of her writing. However, my reading preferences meant that I wasn’t blown away by the novel. I feel separating my loves and my dislikes into two paragraphs is the best way to explain this…
Evaristo’s intersectionality in this novel is incredible. I feel it is so rare to read about, for example, non-binary identifying people in modern day fiction as a whole. So to have a non-binary character in the novel was so refreshing, it added a new dynamic to the plot and I loved learning about it through a fictional tale. In general, Evaristo’s inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community is something I really loved too. She didn’t stick to the rigid character type of cisgender, heterosexual women with a wealth of men-related issues. It was great to see diverse characters with different life experiences, and actually made the plot so much more engaging. I felt that whilst the book was fictionally enjoyable, I was learning too, which is something I really value in a novel.
The novel also has little-to-no punctuation. At first, I found this so strange and really quite difficult to engage with, but, as the novel went on, I actually found that the book flowed beautifully due to this grammatical element and it made it more of an enjoyable read for me. It made the ease of picking up the book and quite literally flowing through the pages incredible, and felt it was a representation and reflection of the fluidity of characters within the novel itself.
However, I am very much a reader of plot-driven novels. I love when a book is driven by the plot rather than the characters, I feel it makes for much more of a page-turner and keeps me engaged throughout. Evaristo’s chapters focus on a different character each time, whilst they are seemingly all linked in some way. I found it difficult to keep engaged and saw myself oftentimes losing interest in the story. As the book is character driven, I hoped it would be a novel I would be able to dip in and out of, however I didn’t feel this way and found it difficult to pick up once I had put it down.
Having said this, I did enjoy the book on the whole and am keen to read more Evaristo novels. I also thought the cover art was beautiful and love how the novel looks on my shelves. The cohesiveness in art work between all of her novels is so visually pleasing. Perhaps I’ll get on better with more of her work but for this particular novel, I was not blown away but did enjoy the book.
The fight for racial equality continues, and reading/educating ourselves is the bare minimum of work that needs to be done. For more information on how we, as a human race, can help, please see the links below.
2019 was my book-ban year. I had hundreds of books on my shelves that I just hadn’t gotten around to reading, and I decided that in 2019, I wouldn’t buy any books but rather read everything that was outstanding on my shelves. It’s been great, and whilst I’ve read books that I didn’t necessarily like or love, I’ve equally read books that have quickly become my favourites. I loved many of the books that I’ve read this year, but in this post I’ve listed six that I now consider some of the best books that I’ve ever read. Whilst it is now February 2020, it’s never too late to write about books you love!
Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult This is a book that had been sat on my shelf for a while. The only other Picoult book that I had read was, predictably, My Sister’s Keeper. I really enjoyed it and thought her writing style was great – I love the way each chapter focuses on a different character’s perspective and think that it adds real depth and character development to her stories. I decided it was time to give Salem Falls a go and I really didn’t regret it. At first, I wasn’t too sure about the Wicca element of the story, I felt it could take away from the realism of the tale. In the end, I found it only enhanced the story and it became a real page turner. I was invested in the fate of the characters, particularly Addie and Jack. I thought it was a different approach to a harrowing tale and in the end, it really worked. I’d recommend this novel to those people who like both page turners and romance. I’ll definitely be picking up more Picoult novels in 2020.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger I’d heard great things about Salinger’s work and had always wanted to read The Catcher in the Rye, and couldn’t resist picking up this beautiful Penguin copy when browsing in Waterstones. A seemingly superficial novel but when read with deeper focus, becomes an intriguing comment on American society in the late 40s/early 50s, particularly what it means to be a youth at that time. Holden is full of angst and his story epitomises the true feelings of alienation, identity and youth-hood. A coming-of-age story that is definitely worth the accolades and prizes it has received, and also a relatively short novel that could be read in one sitting. For anyone looking to dip a toe into contemporary classics, I would argue that The Catcher in the Rye is the way to go.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier There is nothing surer than the fact that this book was my ultimate favourite from 2019. I couldn’t resist the absolutely gorgeous Virago Modern Classics edition, the cover is beautiful and compliments my book shelf perfectly. At first, I found this book to be a little bit slow on the uptake – du Maurier is extremely descriptive, the intricacies of this book make you feel as though you’re genuinely stood in Manderley with the characters, as though you’re a part of their conversations, of them readying the morning room, as though you’re experiencing the memory of Rebecca first hand. As the mystery grew, I became more intrigued but the one thing that made this book my favourite of 2019 was the plot twist. I really was not expecting it at all, and I think that’s where du Maurier’s description and intricate detail is important. Without this, I don’t think I would have been so shocked at the plot twist. 10/10, could not recommend this book more.
Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel García Márquez My only collection of short stories of 2019, I thought it was brilliant. Twelve stories that relate to the strangeness of living in a foreign land, I found a lot of it, whilst largely symbolic, to be heavily relatable having previously lived in two different countries (Spain and Portugal). What is means to be ‘foreign’ is the common theme and something which I haven’t read about before, so it was refreshing to read something new. My two personal favourite stories were ‘I Sell My Dreams’ and ‘Maria dos Prazeres.’ I found a lot of the writing to be dream-like, whimsical and more fitting to a fantasy theme, yet still portraying a realistic, societal issue. For this reason, I found García Márquez to be such a talented writer and I can’t wait to read more of his work.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho At some point in their lives, everyone should read this book. It took me a while to get around to it but when I finally did, I didn’t regret it! A philosophical novel but still a page turner, I loved following the protagonist’s journey. It really made me think about my approaches in life and being more positive/prioritising myself and my goals. It’s also a relatively short novel and can be read in one sitting. I’m not the biggest fan of the edition that I have but Waterstones and Blackwell’s sell beautiful, hardback editions of the novel for anyone interested in buying it. I’m looking forward to reading more of Coelho’s novels, I feel they offer great lessons of life but also amazing page turners.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov I would argue that this is possibly one of the strangest books I’ve ever read, and considering the premise to the plot, I’m almost ashamed to say that I enjoyed it. Hubert Hubert is pathetic and honestly one of my least favourite characters I have ever come across, but nevertheless, I loved the book and can see why Lolita is so popular. Nabokov has influenced me to delve deeper into Russian literature, despite the very strange storyline and I can’t wait to read more of what Russia has to offer. I particularly love the Penguin Classics copy of Lolita that I own, it was relatively well priced and I picked it up in Waterstone’s. I know it’s a common debate when Lolita is discussed but I personally do believe that Hubert Hubert is a monster, nevertheless I really enjoyed the book and would say it is definitely worth the read.
I can’t wait to lift my book-ban this year and read brand new, current books. Hopefully I’ll come across some that are just as amazing as this year! For any avid GoodReads users out there, I log and review everything that I read and also make lists of books that I still need to read, you can find and follow me by clicking here.
After seeing Joe Wright’s cinematic adaptation of ‘Atonement’ (2007) when I was younger, being a big fan of both James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, I was enamoured. The cast, the cinematic landscaping, costume and make-up, the mise-en-scène in general: I thought it was perfection, and arguably this was one of the films that inspired my love for cinema and cinematic adaptations of novels. I noticed recently that it had been uploaded to Netflix and couldn’t help indulging in another watch, it felt strange to watch a young Saoirse Ronan take on the role of Briony after becoming a big fan of hers after seeing more of her recent films such as ‘Brooklyn’ (2015), and was pleased and not at all surprised to see that she was nominated for an Academy Award in the category for Best Supporting Actress. In short, the film is one of my favourites and I would recommend it to anybody interested in historical female subjectivities, British history as a whole or skilful and concentrated use of location and setting as a cinematic technique.
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On the contrary, after seeing Wright’s adaptation as an early teen, I had attempted to read Ian McEwan’s novel; inevitably I wanted to draw the contrasts and the similarities and to understand and analyse the book that inspired the cinema. Unfortunately, after around 30 pages, I put the book down. I found it difficult to engage with, I wasn’t lost in 1935 England as I was with the film, the characters inspired no feeling in me and in all, I wasn’t motivated to continue with McEwan’s novel. I largely now attribute this to my age, as an early teen I was engaging in teen literature along with some of the classics, but I’m not sure I could’ve appreciated McEwan’s writing style or understood some of the literary techniques that he employs. Now, as a 23 year old, much more educated woman, I took on the challenge once more of picking up Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’, and I did not regret it…
Admittedly, the first 100 pages of the book may have been tougher than the remainder. The book is separated into three parts, and the first one has the slowest version of events. In fact, you almost feel as though nothing of substance has really happened. But when you gain understanding that this is a literary technique employed by McEwan to represent how one small action, that of Briony, can escalate the events of the whole novel, you begin to appreciate the varying speeds of progression within the novel as a whole. Briony’s running away with Robbie’s letter, in which he includes the crude use of the word ‘cunt,’ her latching onto Lola’s insecurity and uncertainty and accusing Robbie of being a ‘maniac,’ leads onto both part two and part three of the book, whereby Robbie is imprisoned, World War II begins and Cecilia becomes a trainee nurse in London, a path which Briony also follows. Thus McEwan, by using varying modes and speeds of progression, represents the escalation of events and creates a book which becomes impossible to put down, even giving a nod toward the theory of The Butterfly Effect.
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For me, I became largely attached to the characters. Robbie took on a level of softness in my eyes, I found him to be warm yet stoic and extremely admirable. His story was the one in the novel that I most wanted to follow. Cecelia, for me, is a character of contrasts, of binaries that make up a complex character, yet a character of clarity. Strong willed yet messy, determined and stoic, just like Robbie. Warm, yet cold. One of my favourite parts of the novel is during the first section, whereby Cecelia is dressing for dinner, a dinner which Robbie is due to attend. Her uncertainty regarding her outfit, how she looks, the aura and character which she personifies, this doubtfulness contrasts against the strong willed nature we have previously experienced, especially in her address of Briony and her cousins. As for Briony, I have read many a review stating that by the end of the novel, a certain level of sympathy and understanding for Briony was invoked. Throughout the course of the novel, I only felt a level of disdain and disappointment for Briony, arguably due to my investment in Robbie and Cecelia’s relationship. But it is McEwan’s character development and the complexities within these characters that is created which makes the book so literarily perfect and so beautifully constructed.
However, my favourite part of this novel and yet the most controversial, is the ambiguity of the ending. I have seen many reviews speculating on the the ending – some writers argue that in fact, Robbie died in Dunkirk and Cecelia died in Balham Underground station, and that neither survived the war, as Briony writes in the post-script of the book. Others debate over the fact that in actuality, as depicted in Part Three of the novel, both characters survived the war and went on to live happy lives together after so many years of separation. I couldn’t say that I came to such a definite conclusion, but I think that this is the beauty of the novel – it allows you to make your own judgements on the plot, as it does with the characters, and through this use of ambiguity, McEwan has created a novel that stays with you for not only days, but weeks after putting it down. ‘Atonement’ is now back on my bookshelf, amongst some of my other favourite novels, but I am almost certain that in years to come I will pick it up again and indulge once more.
Toward the end of Rupi Kaur’s second installment of delectable poetry, ‘The Sun and her Flowers,’ she writes, ‘the road to changing the world is never-ending.’ A fitting quote for the book that has undoubtedly touched on some of the most politicised issues affecting the lives and cultures of people all over the planet. A step up from ‘Milk and Honey’, Kaur’s first instalment of poetry of which I wrote about here, ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’ has become a staple on my book shelf, and a book I have reached for time and time again. As always, Kaur’s words are both relevant and comforting, and a source of reassurance in testing times. Though this time, her words are politically charged and socially situated in the current climate of social pressures and rape culture. Kaur relates her words to topics such as the refugee crisis, perceived images and expectations of women, sexual abuse and cultural heritage. Nobody can deny the importance of her work in a climate such as the one that we, the society of today, are living in.
After reading ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’ over and over, bookmarking the pages that held the most relevance to me, and continuously returning to Kaur’s words, I became as attached to this book as I did with ‘Milk and Honey’, but also curious as to the perception of her work amongst critics. For the most part, Kaur is praised for her attention to detail, social relevance and words that relate so perfectly to the young female generation and the challenges they face. However, existing criticism for both ‘Milk and Honey’ and ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’, most notably from male critics of the older generation, critique Kaur’s writing style: her lack of poetical structure, punctuation and any real pentameter. Of course, Kaur’s work is a far cry from Shakespeare’s sonnets, but it is seemingly a pioneer in revolutionising a genre that is becoming more and more accessible to the youth of today, and further than that, more and more engaging. Kaur tackles polemic struggles of predominantly the female generation through what could be described as a stream of consciousness, thoughts, words spilling onto the page. Unconventional, but in no way should this reduce credibility. Kaur forms a pathway for an ever-emerging genre of poetry, and this should surely be celebrated.
Kaur does make use of a common theme in the poetry genre that has been utilised by the greats over and over again throughout the years from Frost to Wordsworth: nature. Kaur separates her book into chapters titled in relation to the evolution of a flower: ‘Wilting’, ‘Falling’, ‘Rooting’, ‘Rising’, ‘Blooming’. Kaur’s poetry starts with the emotional struggle of grappling with events in her life which have heavily affected her: ‘Wilting’, ‘Falling’. As aforementioned, this emotional struggle is both contemporarily relevant and of utmost importance for many, and the development of her chapters correlates with the development of her recovery, of her overcoming the effects of these events: ‘Rooting’, ‘Rising’, ‘Blooming’. Kaur’s symbolic description of her emotional growth and recovery, becomes a source of inspiration and support for a generation of youth who have continuous impending societal pressure placed upon them. Kaur not only tackles the issues of body image and societal popularity, but also the issues that more and more young women face today, including sexual assault. Kaur shows once again her bravery to face these issues with determination and grit. Her writing is frank, targeted and determined.
‘Wilting’ and ‘Falling’ mark the start of the emotional process depicted in the book. ‘Sun becomes moon and moon becomes sun and I become ghost,’ the line which conveys the ever changing of the days, the continuation of time along with the continuation of sadness. Kaur grapples with herself, conveys the conflicting emotions plaguing her mind and symbolises the internal suffering that most go through during a break-up, during a loss. A concentrated use of nature is present here, one of my favourite lines being ‘I explain how a honeybee does not dream of kissing the mouth of a flower and settle for its leaves.’ However, whilst Kaur describes sadness and struggle, she, too, is empowering, strong and conveys the way in which we should never settle for less than we deserve: ‘if I’m not the one of your life I’ll be the greatest loss instead.’ Kaur foreshadows the emotional growth and strength that she achieves toward the end of ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’. She also presents the issue of societal pressure, of feeling the need to conform: ‘I hear a thousand kind words about me and it makes no difference yet I hear one insult and all confidence shatters,’ a quote which is all too relevant, and something which I myself, as a 23 year old woman, could relate to. In the same chapter, she tackles the issue of sexual violence. The placing side-by-side of the two issues represents the plethora of struggles that women, and people in general, face in today’s society. ‘Home’ is the poem which describes one particular experience of sexual assault. Kaur creates irony through the juxtaposition of both the imagery of sexual violence and the subversion of connotations of the word ‘home,’ a conventional place of comfort and solitude. Through techniques such as this, Kaur takes subjects of a somewhat ‘taboo’ nature, subjects that are both sensitive and scarring, and places them in the everyday, situates them into the norm, into the lives of today’s youth and more broadly, today’s society. She does not shy away, she confronts these issues with full force: expletives and all.
‘Rooting’, ‘Rising’ and ‘Blooming’ mark the evolutionary section of the book. These three chapters are where Kaur grows, in emotion and in strength, where Kaur begins her recovery from her aforementioned trauma. ‘Rooting’ makes reference to Kaur’s immigrant background, both politicizing the book and offering it a place in today’s society, when considering the current refugee crisis and debate in both the UK and the US (used merely as examples) surrounding immigrants, refugees and borders. Kaur writes ‘borders are man-made. They only divide us physically, don’t let them make us turn on each other.’ Her words ring loud and clear in a society divided by prejudice and opinion surrounding the refugee crisis. Rupi Kaur also addresses her own cultural heritage, making reference to the strong female figures in her life, small trinkets of memory that remind her of her childhood, of her roots, her past. It is in this part of the novel that Kaur’s prose becomes personal, and culturally rich. This section of the book is what particularly sets ‘The Sun and her Flowers’ apart from ‘Milk and Honey’. Whilst ‘Milk and Honey’ is emotionally rich, addresses the internal conflict and emotion faced by many in today’s society surrounding the circumstances of break-ups, broken friendships, familial conflict, ‘The Sun and her Flowers’ is much more politically representative of worldwide issues, whilst simultaneously addresses her own, personal culture and heritage. The combination of the two juxtaposed together is wonderful.
In all, and in true Rupi Kaur fashion, the undercurrent of feminism and empowered female strength is what makes ‘The Sun and Her Flowers’ stand out for me. Kaur maintains her ‘girl power’ ethos, no matter which issue is being tackled in which section of the book, her feminist undertones are maintained throughout, and this, more than anything, is why I continue to engage with her poetry. She writes, ‘I am busy learning the consequences of womanhood when I should be learning science and math instead,’ an idea which may seem preposterous to some, but is wholly relevant in a world where women are largely underrepresented in industries such as Finance and Engineering. She also describes the way in which we, as women, engage with ‘a trillion dollar industry that would collapse if we believed we were beautiful enough already.’ Once again, addressing the issue of body image and self confidence, alongside the issue of underrepresentation and women’s education, Kaur covers the plethora of issues faced by the women of today. Last but certainly not least, and arguably my favourite element of Kaur’s works, her words are an ever-comforting source of support and inspiration for those who are struggling to deal with or overcome issues in their lives, no matter what those issues could be categorised as. Her words of comfort come as a breath of fresh air in her poetry which deals with heavy, suffocating issues. She reassures the lonely that ‘the irony of loneliness is that we all feel it together at the same time,’ and reminds those who have suffered that ‘here you are living, despite it all.’ And, much like Milk and Honey, Kaur not only reassures but reinstates faith lost through her words, and here is where I will finish, with arguably my favourite quote from the whole book:
‘Like the rainbow after the rain, joy will reveal itself after sorrow.’
The first time I wrote about Milk & Honey was in the first ever edition of my Wishlist series, which you can read by clicking here. There was much hype surrounding the book, the implications and meanings of the poetry and almost every female within a 30 mile radius had this book in hand. Shortly after writing my wishlist post, I actually went on to buy the book. I’ve had it for a few months now, and read and re-read it I would say over ten times. I have completely fallen in love with Kaur’s prose, but I didn’t want to write a post on the book until I felt completely compelled to: until I understood the meanings and intentions behind her work, and until I felt like I could do the book justice. I think the time has come!
Firstly, I want to comment on the appearance of the book, how beautiful is the cover? I suppose it’s arguable that the book itself doesn’t affect the content: ‘do not judge a book by it’s cover’ etc, but it just looks so super pretty on my bookshelf. It had a matte black cover which feels so luxurious, and the monochrome colour scheme with a hint of honey-gold is both appropriate and gorgeous. I know it doesn’t affect the skill of Kaur’s words and the effect they have on the reader, but there is nothing quite as satisfying as a beautiful, well constructed book.
While on the topic of appearance, I’d also like to comment on the illustrations of the book. They aren’t the epitome of art; they aren’t super detailed, but they are functional, simple, and through this, become skilful and almost beautiful. The way in which the images seem to be hand-drawn almost with a ballpoint pen, makes the words even more relatable to everyday life, makes the pages adaptable to your own personal situations. Much like her words, the images are so simple that they take on their own beauty.
But now for the actual book itself: the ‘poetry.’ I quote the word ‘poetry’ because I’m not sure how far to argue that Kaur’s words do classify in this genre. Of course, the words themselves are not a novel, they do not progress into a storyline of such, but they do not seem to follow a metric, they do not form a conventional form of poetry. I’ve read much critique of Kaur’s work because of this, but isn’t this what makes the book unique, beautiful? The simplicity of her words and the uncomplicated nature of the structure, for me, is what makes the book so special. She is unapologetically brutal, she doesn’t miss a beat, and she talks of her themes with the utmost candour. For this, I have the utmost respect for Rupi Kaur. Anyone who is planning on reading this book should be aware of triggering topics such as sexual abuse and rape, topics of which she is very frank about. Her frankness and openness about such topics, are what make her a bold and incredible writer.
The book is split into four parts: The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking and The Healing. It becomes almost a process; a cycle that I’m sure every woman has experienced or will experience at least once in her life. I love every part just as much as each other but I would say that The Healing is my favourite, it’s both empowering and reassuring. Below I have left some of my favourite quotes from each section. I fully recommend purchasing this book and giving it a read, you won’t be disappointed.
‘A daughter should not have to beg her father for a relationship’ (28)
‘I was made heavy: half blade and half silk, difficult to forget and not easy for the mind to follow’ (30)
‘the thing about having an alcoholic parent is an alcoholic parent doesn’t exist, simply an alcoholic who could not stay sober long enough to raise their kids’ (39)
‘you tell me quiet down cause my opinions make me less beautiful, but I was not made with a fire in my belly so I could be put out’ (30)
‘I want to be so complete I could light a whole city and then I want to have you cause the two of us combined could set it on fire’ (59)
‘You might not have been my first love but you were the love that made all the other loves irrelevant’ (63)
‘you look like you smell of honey and no pain, let me have a taste of that’ (66)
‘how do you turn a forest fire like me so soft I turn into running water’ (65)
‘don’t mistake salt for sugar: if he wants to be with you he will, it’s that simple’ (85)
‘I didn’t leave because I stopped loving you, I left because the longer I stayed the less I loved myself’ (95)
‘I am a museum full of art but you had your eyes shut’ (100)
‘I had to leave, I was tired of allowing you to make me feel anything less than whole’ (107)
‘You cannot leave me and have me too, I cannot exist in two places at once – when you ask if we can still be friends’ (136)
‘Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself’ (153)
‘If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise’ (156)
‘fall in love with your solitude’ (161)
‘your body is a museum of natural disasters, can you grasp how stunning that is?’ (173)
‘the world gives you so much pain and here you are making gold out of it – there is nothing purer than that’ (185)
The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan: The structure of this book is something which caught my eye and part of the reason I picked it up. Written from the point of views of various students, this book is an insight into the world of high school, and an insight into the minds of the modern adolescent. Being a modern adolescent myself (although I could technically be classed as an fully grown adult now, sob!), I found the book relatable. I found the description of the high school atmosphere nostalgic: the gossip, the friendships, the arguments. It’s a book that discusses the struggles of high school but isn’t a book that dismisses them, Levithan conveys the importance and struggles of young people, and for this I think the book is brilliant.
If I Stay by Gayle Foreman: I had high hopes for this book, as I’ve wanted to read it for a long time; I wasn’t let down! Truth be told, I wanted to read this book in desire for wanting to watch the film. I hate watching films that are based on a book, without reading the book, is that just me? So I picked up a used copy from a charity shop, and I loved it! The style of writing and the plot very much reminded me of ‘The Lovely Bones,’ which is a book that I’ve read over 20 times, (if you have never read this book, I highly recommend it, its super special to me!). The character development in this book is really good, and the story too is gripping. Would highly recommend!
After You by Jojo Moyes: I’ll start by saying the obvious: it wasn’t as good as the first book. But I really don’t hold it against Moyes, ‘Me Before You’ was a masterpiece, and super hard to follow, and for all other soppy romance novel lovers like me, I think you’d all agree that a sequel wasn’t even really needed to this book. I say that with the greatest of intentions, because ‘After You’ was still a brilliant book. I still found myself encapsulated in the lives of the characters, which seems to be something that Moyes does really well. While I think a sequel wasn’t wholly necessary, I simultaneously think that Moyes rounded off the story of Louisa Clark’s life really well, and I’m super glad I read this book.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini: Okay, so this book was a little out of my comfort zone, I’m known for reading either as many tear-jerking, soppy romance novels as I can get my hands on, or a classic, a book from years ago which is studied in English Literature classes all over the world. But I decided to pick up this book because I’d heard it was highly acclaimed and praised as being a masterpiece. The praise wasn’t wrong, I read this in a day, and I found myself completely attached to Craig! It reminded me of ‘Girl, Interrupted’ a little bit, which is one of my favourite books and films. I liked how Vizzini took a taboo subject, and made it relatable, he wrote about suicide in such a way that it took away the fear of asking for help, as Craig did – a review on the cover of my copy says ‘this is an important book,’ and for my generation, and generations to come: it truly is.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: this book gives me vibes of ‘The Virgin Suicides’, in that the style of writing seems to be voyeuristic like that of Jeffrey Eugenides, the book is confined to one space, and we see the unfolding of events through the eyes of Cadence. The thing about this book was that it was a short read, but it was a read that had me turning page after page until an hour later, I was done. I couldn’t put it down. By the end of the novel, my jaw had hit the floor! The ending was completely unexpected! Giving an insight into both the world and the prejudice of the rich, this book truly transports you.
When Alex Chung released ‘It,’ I was sceptical. Curious, but sceptical. I adore her, I think her gamine figure and androgynous style make the perfect combination, and should I ever ask for anyone’s face other than my own, it would be hers. But what could she possibly write about? Fashion? But how would her book differ from any of the other coffee table books you can find sitting at the back of your local Urban Outfitters? I was doing what we are always taught not to do: judging a book by it’s cover. I also understand that I am very late to the party with this one, but I finally took the leap (years later) and purchased the book.
So here I am; eating my words, if you’ll pardon the (extremely bad) pun, because the book was amazing. A brief, but significant read. Alexa takes us through a list of her favourite things, her wardrobe staples, her thoughts, snippets of her childhood. Whilst learning about her, we also learn of her development: how she became who she is today. I love her mocking tone of the model industry that centres around size 0 women, I love her positive attitude toward heartbreak and how one day, it will be overcome. I love her listing of essential wardrobe pieces, and I too find myself sharing her penchant for leather jackets and admiration for Jane Birkin. I earlier referred to the book as a ‘coffee table book’ and I say this with the best of intentions: the images are gorgeous. From doodles from Alexa herself, to 90’s photographs of the Spice Girls.
She speaks of everything in the book with a happy heart, a positive attitude and it was a breath of fresh air to read. From lists of movie stars and music artists that inspired her, to lessons her mother taught her during childhood, Alexa’s life and thoughts make for an interesting read. My favourite page in particular was the one in which she described her grandfather, and his eccentric style. I loved how she fondly reflected on memories of his whacky shirts and jumpers gifted to him at Christmas that would always be left unworn, as he had a particular way he liked to dress. Memories such as these make her, and the book itself, more relatable. My scepticism was misplaced, and she completely disrupts the model stereotype in that she is an ordinary, everyday girl. And it seems that this, in turn, is what makes her extraordinary. Not only did I fall in love with Alexa Chung’s book, I too, fell in love with Alexa Chung.
Wanting to delve into the world of Spanish poetry, preferably more modern than the usual Pablo Neruda I’m used to reading, I saw this beautiful book in a bookstore in Madrid and had to pick it up. While I’m not sure you could categorise this book as ‘poetry,’ it’s certainly thought-evoking and conveying of emotions. Carrillo describes the entries in this 431 page novel as ‘microcuentos‘ which directly translates as ‘micro accounts,’ but more naturally I would say snippets – short insights into her thoughts, her experiences, her musings.
‘Te quise como si no me fueras a romper el corazón’
The book is split into three equal parts, which are all separated by the title – el tiempo (time), todo (everything/all), locura (insanity). The musings seem to depict her battle between heart and head, of wanting but at the same time not wanting someone, it’s full of contradictions, juxtapositions – but that’s the beauty of it. It leaves double meanings, it’s confusing but clear at the same time. Her self conflictio, the separation of her head and her heart, while confounding, is relatable.
‘Y, al final, la espera fue el fin’
The book itself is absolutely gorgeous, a hardback complete with covering sheet and two silk bookmarks attached. My copy is looking a little bit worse for wear after taking it on the metro with me during commutes to the city – yes, I really did carry that huge book around with me. It was definitely worth it, and my Spanish has radically improved after reading it.
For those who don’t speak Spanish, I thought I would just leave a couple of my favourite snippets from the book, alongside my translations of them, so you can get a feel for the book and what I’m trying to convey in this post. Please note, I’m not a native speaker and my translations may not be 100% correct!
(213): ‘Olvidé que para quererte bien tenía que enamorarme de mí antes’ / ‘I forgot that to love you well, I had to fall in love with myself first.’
(225): ‘Ella tenía tantos defectos que le parecía perfecta, él era tan imperfecto que no resultó defectuoso, perfectamente imperfectos’ / ‘She had so many flaws that she seemed perfect, he was so imperfect that he wasn’t imperfect, perfectly imperfect.’
(293): ‘Qué culpa tendrá mi corazón si no esta bien de la cabeza‘ / ‘How guilty my heart will be if it is not right in my head.’
(315): ‘Te quise, creer, te quise, querer, y de tanto que te quise, olvidé quererme hasta que me quise, y olvidé quererte‘ / ‘I loved you, believe, I loved you, want, and I loved you so much, I forgot to love me, until i did love me, and I forgot to love you.’
(341): ‘Contigo tuve el superpoder de enredarme en mil pensamientos y el defecto de no saber desanudarlos‘ / ‘With you I had the superpower of being tangled in a thousand thoughts and the problem was that I didn’t know how to untie them.’
‘Te eché de menos cada día de más’
Below are a couple of photographs of snippets from my copy, which I also love. You can see the shortness of them, and often the senseless locura of them, but in this way, they gain meaning:
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‘Y llegó la temporada de tormentas, y mi tormento, tú’