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Reading

Reading lists and red flag books

A red flag over the front covers of six books (from left to right): The Millionaire Next Door, Atlas Shrugged, Zero to One, Can't Hurt Me, Think and Grow Rich, and How to Win Friends and Influence People.

If you invite me round your house and you have a bookshelf, I’m going to have a nose. Wherever there’s books, I want to know what’s there—even if I know I’ll never read anything of what’s on the shelf.

Perhaps that’s why I also love a good online reading list. Whether it’s a blog post or a Twitter thread or even a video, I’ll stop and read/listen.

So when I stumbled upon Brian Feroldi’s thread of 20 books that should be read again and again (back in early July), I stopped my mindless Twitter-binge and had a scroll. My reaction was much the same as everyone else: a feeling of despair at the soullessness of such a list.

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Reading

The male gaze is inverted in Eliza Clark’s compelling book “Boy Parts”

Boy Parts paperback cover, published by Influx Press (2020)

I got handsy. It’s hard to just look, isn’t it? It’s hard to look, and not touch, not squeeze, or prod, or squash all that soft, private skin they show me.

It takes a compelling book to compel me to write about it. But that’s exactly what Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts is, a compulsive read that gripped my attention so successfully my eyes did not glaze over a single word. When I’d turned the last page, I craved more.

Through the eyes of the protagonist, Irina Sturges, we get a subversive take on the male gaze. A photographer who specialises in—shall we say revealing—photos of men, the male flesh is for Irina to scrutinise.

Whether we’re knowingly aware or not, we are well-acquainted with the male gaze in our media and literature. For those unclear as to what the male gaze refers to, Wikipedia defines the male gaze as:

[The] act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and in literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer.

The unique lens of Irina Sturges gives us a story where men are objects. It pushes us to think about the way women have been framed in our media for decades. But the narrative is more than just an inverted gaze, it’s a story where we can never be sure of reality. Victim blaming and gaslighting galore, Irina’s world is tinged by trauma and the lines between pain and pleasure are blurred. Told predominantly through her voice, whether we are meant to sympathise with Irina is a decision best left to the reader.

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Journal

Ten lessons I’ve learnt so far from starting to write a novel

A month ago, I would not have envisioned even attempting to write a novel at this stage in my career. But then a literary agent asked if I had 25 pages of a work-in-progress to share, and I realised I wanted to say, “Yes.” So I’ve started to write one.

It’s very early days, far too early to share any concrete details publicly, but I thought it was worth writing about ten lessons I’ve learnt (mostly about myself) since I started writing it.

1. I’m not much of a gardener

My project has grown in the telling. Initially, it was conceived as a single short story. Then I decided to make it a trilogy of short stories. But then I had more ideas, so it became a collection of interconnected stories. It has now settled into its final form (I hope): a novel.

Therefore, I had a lot of key plot points and characters worked out quite some time ago. So I wrote my opening line—also worked out months ago—and I was confident a second line would follow.

Not only did the second line not come easy, but the next several were a physical pain to type.

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Journal

On kindness vs. niceness

From Peter Capaldi’s final monologue as the Twelfth Doctor: “Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind.”

I am a Whovian. Always have been, and I always will be. And the Doctor, in my eyes, perfectly embodies the difference between “niceness” and “kindness.”

In the Twelfth Doctor’s final speech, delivered with great emotion by one of the best actors to have played the role, he makes a distinction between being nice and being kind. The latter of which he places the emphasis on, and he’s right to do so. Nice is not the goal. Kindness is.

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Journal

Always writing, never written

For several years now, I’ve defined myself as a writer. It’s the only label I’ve ever felt comfortable with or enjoyed. And it’s never felt like a lie. I always feel like I’m writing. Right up until someone wants to read something I’ve written. That’s when the conversation gets a little… awkward.

“Have you written anything I can read?” When I get asked this question, my first thought is to wonder if I’ve written anything even I’d want to read.

“Well what do you write about?” Good question! Unfortunately, the answer is that I try to write a bit of everything, which is really no different from saying I write nothing. They’re both equally so non-specific as to be useless answers.

“Are you working on anything right now?” Yes: a blog, an article, a poem and a short story that isn’t very short at all. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Sometimes it’s even true.

I decided to total up my word counts from 2020. This includes the short fiction I drafted, blog posts I never published and the blog posts I did publish. Looking at the result, I might have felt better about myself if I had added all the words in my Notes app and all those job applications for companies that ghosted me.

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Reading

Explore the infinite lives of Nora Seed shelved within Matt Haig’s “The Midnight Library”

CW: depression, suicide

The Midnight Library hardback cover, published by Canongate Books, 2020

What if you discovered that between life and death there was a library? On the shelves are an infinite number of books. Contained within the pages is a life you could have lived. What’s the first regret you would undo?

This is the question posed to the protagonist of Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, Nora Seed. Nora is a 35-year-old woman whose life didn’t go the way she wanted. There had been many dreams and all of them failed to manifest into reality. Then a tragedy close to home kickstarts a string of events that lead to Nora’s final decision: to die.

But before she can get her wish, her old school librarian invites her to browse the collection of lives she could have lived. Within each is another Nora Seed she could have been if she had made different decisions. It is here where Nora’s journey to find the perfect life begins.

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Reading

My favourite books of 2020

Collage of all 15 book covers in this list.

Every year I set myself a reading goal. I set it high enough to be a consistent nudge to read often but never too high that reading becomes stressful.

My goal was to read 35 books in 2020, and I read a total of 45.

It was the first year that theatre plays didn’t contribute to that final number, which made reading in 2020 a completely different experience to the previous couple of years. Instead, I read a great deal more non-fiction than I normally would, which I found to be equally as pleasurable as reading fiction. I also learnt a lot, too.

I enjoyed most books I read last year, but I’ve decided to list 15 I felt were worth highlighting. I’ve listed them in the order I read them. I considered ranking them but that led to overthinking, and I already have enough of that in my life.

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Reading

Power comes at a great price in Jordanna Jade’s “The Eternal Garden”

NOTE: The author has since made edits to her book. The physical copy I read may now differ from the newer version.

Cover of "The Eternal Garden." Green stems with blood red thorns, subtitle reads: “Ilia Chronicles Part 2”

I have known Jordanna Jade since Year 10, and we’ve been friends since Year 12. She’s always been the person scribbling in a notebook, the person I’ve known with 100% certainty would publish a book. She was the kind of student who could convince any tutor she was hanging on their every word and taking extensive notes. In reality, she was penning the next chapter of her novel. Over the years, sitting beside her in class, her novel took many shapes. The Eternal Garden is its final form.

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Reading

A non-fiction prescription: “This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor” by Adam Kay

Paperback cover, published by Picador (2017)

No matter how hard you think a junior doctor works, they work ten times harder. This is Going to Hurt is a collection of diary entries from Adam Kay’s six years on the front line of the NHS. Often funny, at times stomach-churning, and inevitably heartbreaking. This is life on and (very rarely) off the hospital ward, “verrucas and all.”

Divided into 10 sections, each dedicated to a specific post throughout his career, the bite-sized storytelling makes it the perfect book if you only have sporadic moments for reading.

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Reading

Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep” will make you rethink pulling an all-nighter ever again

Book cover of "Why We Sleep." A sign hangs from a doorknob that says: "The New Science of Sleep and Dreams."

Sleep consumes a third of our lives and its necessity often feels like a burden considering how busy we all are. It’s no wonder so many of us will delay a good night’s rest to complete work or continue chatting with loved ones into the early hours. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” Right?

Matthew Walker is here to tell you that this is an attitude that needs to stop. Not only is poor sleep damaging your health right now, the longer it continues the more years it’s likely to shave off your life. In fact, Walker is here to tell you that sleep is the foundation of our health, perhaps even more important than our essential need for food, water and exercise.