Friday Thoughts: To annotate or not to annotate

There always seems to be a debate about this – whether or not you should highlight or annotate books as you read. I’ve heard phrases such as but the writing still belongs to the author and you are damaging that or you should treat books with respect before when people have seen me do it.

I was at an author event in London the other month. When people all stood in the endless queue to get their books signed, I didn’t. I’ve been to enough events to know that standing up doesnt make the line move any quicker! Instead, I sat down, pulled out my current read (at that point, it was Cursed Child), pulled out a pen, a highlighter and started reading. And when I went to write something in it, I heard a scandalized gasp from the queue.

…That didn’t stop me.

I’ve highlighted in books for years. I have a rule, though – I only highlight on second reads, because if I’m reading it a second time, chances are I’ll never get rid of it. Books I know I’ll give away don’t get things in them, because I know others don’t always like it.

I like going back over things years later and finding little highlighted snippets that meant something to me before. I’ve always said you can understand a lot about a person on what they would highlight in a book, because it shows a side to them that isn’t always seen.

I only started annotating this year though, and I started with the Harry Potter books (the 2014 editions, even I wouldnt write or highlight in my very original copies!) and Cursed Child. I find annotating interesting. You can mark down anything, from sarcastic responses, to angrily shouting at characters, to your own thoughts on what is happening. All of which can be found in one of the four snippets of my notes here … or even my really over the top thoughts about characters, of which are here (I’m actually writing an entire post for the Malfoy family, I am obsessed)

I’ve realised that I really enjoy annotating books. Writing in the margins doesn’t mean you look after the book as much, or you don’t love it as much. It’s just another layer of reading; a review of the words that you don’t always show to other people. And I like the idea of one day, someone stumbling across an old, annotated book and reading it and piecing together the person behind them. And it’s funny, going back and reading over what you’ve written before to find something you’ve completely forgotten.

So, I’m all for highlighting and annotating (your own) copies of books – are you?

Who Runs the World, Virginia Bergin

Welcome to the Matriarchy.

Sixty years after a virus has wiped out almost all the men on the planet, things are pretty much just as you would imagine a world run by women might be: war has ended; greed is not tolerated; the ecological needs of the planet are always put first. In two generations, the female population has grieved, pulled together and moved on, and life really is pretty good – if you’re a girl. It’s not so great if you’re a boy, but fourteen-year-old River wouldn’t know that. Until she met Mason, she thought they were extinct.

Publication Date: 1st June 2017

I don’t… I don’t know how to talk about this book without getting really pissed off.

I don’t even know where to start.

I get what the author was trying to do. Problem is, I feel like she attempted something that she had no idea where to start, and she just added onto that and kept going without really thinking about what she ended up saying in it.

Heres the thing. We are a very ‘gender-structured’ world. We all know the ridiculousness of the whole pink is girls blue is boys thing. And the stereotypes of girls should wear dresses and make up boys should never cry. But gender- it’s not all black and white. It never has been, even if in history we were shoved into boxes and told to shut up if we thought it was wrong. And while we are not perfect, and no where near being so, the world is slowly opening its eyes to realise that gender- it’s a word that really, that means nothing. 

But in this book, though the blurb reads like it is set in a ‘genderless’ world, it is completely the opposite. Sure, it makes comments about how free they are to wear hair whatever length they want, to wear what they want, thats… that’s about 1% of everything that ‘matters’.
In the book, no one could work out why Main Character River wanted a running machine. No one knows why Mason likes to play video games- They dont even have video games, and the women are horrified to see what he plays? (Like, really? GUYS ARE NOT THE ONLY GAMERS?)
My personal favourite, though, was a comment about when women took over, all wars stopped. It turned out, none of us really wanted to fight anyway. Like…I just. I can’t. Okay, firstly, women aren’t all these, peace seeking people? Not every women in the world doesn’t fight, just as not every man does? Peace, war, all this crap, it’s a non gendered thing. (Like jesus christ I have one of the worst tempers out of everyone I know. I can argue for England when I want to. Most women I know can. If all men suddenly disappeared, war wouldn’t stop all of a sudden, and everything wouldn’t suddenly be quiet.)
Added to that, despite that line, when Mainy first comes across Mason, shes all ready to stab him with a knife? Like isn’t that the opposite of what the above statement is about?!

A lot about this book annoyed me, but I think my main issue with it was the attempted- yet failed- thought of diversity. Like, at the start when you start to learn about the world, its mentioned that it’s only male-born people that suffer and die because of the virus. And that though everyone in the world is female-born. There is a passing comment about those who don’t identify as a women- yet no one knows the ‘He/him’ pronouns (or even ‘they/them?’). They constantly misgender Mason when he first appears, because it confuses them- yet it shouldn’t do, if there are transgender people around.

(Of course, theres no actual trans characters in the book. Which, you know, would have made it more interesting- because what would this world be like to live in for a guy?)

Secondly… in a world where women are the majority, it would be much more accepting for them to be falling in love, getting together etc. And I’m pretty sure this happens- Main character keeps telling another girl that she loves her and they kiss, but on the next sentence it will be talking just about their friendship. Seriously? In the future where there are no men and lesbians are still being ‘gal pal’ed?

I just… I can’t with this book. I’m actually too angry at it to form real thoughts on anything but the fact it is horrifically ‘straight’. It had so much promise but like… why do all men have to die so women lead? Why is there so much fuss about only friends or anything else and just WHY.

I read this book in March. I wrote this review between March and April, having to come back to it every few days because I just couldn’t form words in the beginning, and I still cant.

I just… cant.

one star

Friday Thoughts: On the Power of Words

I’m reading a book at the moment (*gasp*), called Letters to the Lost – which, in all honestly, will most likely have a review on here far sooner than this post does (since I write Friday posts weeks in advance) – all about a girl who has lost her mother and a boy who lost his sister years ago and has pretty much lost himself.

The book, to me, is pretty hard hitting. I didn’t think, when starting it, that it would be so bad. After all, I’ve read a lot of books about mental health and self harm and even the terrifying Only Ever Yours, which to this day, creeps me out. And compared to many of them, this book is easy. 

Except this; grief is not an easy thing. Its often pushed away, ignored and underestimated, as shown by the main characters friends, who six months after her mothers death, don’t understand why she still struggles.

And while you know the characters in the book are not real, when you’ve struggled through your own grief and the characters coping mechanism mirror your own… its extraordinarily hard to read. Only a few chapters in, I had to pause and put the book down, because it made me feel like I could barely breath.

And just like the power of grief, the power of words is also often underestimated. Every piece of writing ever read has the power to change us. Look at Harry Potter, for example. A series that shaped an entire generation, and changed the way people look at childrens books forever.

In 1996 – a year before the first Potter book came out – the average childrens book was around 140 pages long. Ten years later, it had increased to 170, and ten years after that (2016) it had gone up to an amazing 290 pages. (information from here)

The theory is that well before Harry Potter, people believed that children would never be able to sit down for that long and just read. So they never bothered publishing long childrens books – since they were apparently less likely to sell. Then along came Harry Potter (whose first few books were relatively  short, but still far longer than the average for the time. The first book was 223 pages- about 75000 words), and suddenly they were seeing that children were sitting down and reading it, and enjoying it! And of course, the series got longer and longer- the height of it being book 5 with a whopping 257,045 words (or 766 pages). And guess what? Children were still reading it. 

Publishers suddenly saw that if the story was good and engaging, then any child would read it, without being too intimidated by the size of it.

Of course, not every long childrens book is good. Its still about quality rather than quantity, but it gave longer stories a way to finally shine.

Staying on Harry Potter for a bit longer (I mean, I am of the Potter generation, can you blame me), there was also research done that showed by reading books such as Harry Potter, it helped you become a ‘better person’ more open minded to things, less judgmental… (here) Because Potter is a story of friendship, love, good VS evil and a whole lot more. Sure, there are the the downright despicable characters (I’ve never seen a fandom like Potter, where you say Umbridge’s name and everyone hates her), but they teach you how not to be, and the lesson learnt is that if you act like Umbridge, you too could be carted off by magical creatures into a giant forest. There are the characters that bring out the arguments. Draco Malfoy, the bully of the story. We all know he was a terrible child, but, as seen in Cursed Child, forgiveness is always important. Snape – who I won’t stay on because I refuse to accept he was ever a good character, because really, a teacher should never ever bully a child. But then there are the characters we all adore. The Weasleys, who show that you should always help others and have your arms wide no matter who you are. Hermione, who for a while was seen as awful, who turned out to be loyal and smart. And Harry – a boy who had lost everything, grew up in an abusive home and still became a wonderful, lovely person.

And talking about characters – did you know that you pick up the traits of characters you identify with? (That explains so much about me, since the Weasley twins and Lila Bard are my bookish siblings…) So next time someone judges you for reading something, find them a book with a really lovely, non judgmental character and it might change their minds! (read stuff about it here)

The thing is… so many people assume that books and words are just that; pieces of dead tree inked with symbols we somehow perceive as letters.

But books well and truly shape us. Think back to your childhood favourites; to this day, I can name many of them, and I still have a whole bookshelf dedicated to most of them. And books more recent; I have another bookcase where I store all my favourites, ones I go back to time and time again, or just the ones I read that caught my heart so much I knew I would never let them go.

Sometimes we read books at the right time; Celaena, from Throne of Glass, came into my life at a time I needed her. I was tired and frightened and lost, and I remember thinking, as I read it, if she can survive then so can I. Books, and their characters and their meanings can make more of a difference to someone than most people will ever imagine.

And then there are the words that maybe the world do not see. Your own words. People say that every person has a book inside them. I disagree. I think people have their own universes inside them, ever expanding and creating and dreaming, and with every book read or written, that universe grows more and more.

But we are taught to push those worlds away. Our childhoods and teenage years are all about education. It’s reading for the sake of dissecting, rather than reading for the sake of enjoyment. Its writing for essays rather than writing for joy.

At school, many of my books would have real school work in the front, then plots and mini stories in the back. I remember having countless arguments with my English teachers, because according to them, I didn’t write correctly. Even at 14, I knew for a fact there wasn’t a correct way. Writing is personal, even fiction, and every one of us has our own style. School batters that out of you. They tell you that even creative writing has it’s own form. That your characters must be identical and your writing all the same, and they grade you on how near to their own you can write. How- how can you grade something like imagination and voice?!

My English teacher from year 10 actually told me never to bother being a writer because I couldnt write. I mean, I dont know if I can, but you can look for yourself if you want. But because I refused to conform to what school taught as ‘creative’ (eg, fitting into the box and not being creative) I was punished and put down.

Her words could have had power over me. If I wasn’t stubborn, I might have believed her and stopped writing. But while education tried to box my universe down to size, I wouldn’t let them, and I let it flourish.

It’s why you should always be careful with those words you wield; often, they have more power and punch than, well, a real punch does, because words – spoken or written – can burrow under the skin and stay there and shape people long long after they were said or the book was closed.

In Letters to the Lost, the main character writes letters to her mother even after she had died. By chance, someone else read a letter and was effected by the words. They resonated in them and he understood the pain the girl felt, even without knowing her.

Sometimes, that is why we write. Even a published author can write for themselves, not knowing who would read their words and who would understand them. Sometimes we don’t write to be heard or seen; we write because our own words can change us too. Everything we read, everything we write, it shapes all of us more than we will never know.

Noah Can’t Even, Simon James Green

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Poor Noah Grimes! His father disappeared years ago, his mother’s Beyonce tribute act is an unacceptable embarrassment, and his beloved gran is no longer herself. He only has one friend, Harry, and school is…Well, it’s pure HELL. Why can’t Noah be normal, like everyone else at school? Maybe if he struck up a romantic relationship with someone – maybe Sophie, who is perfect and lovely – he’d be seen in a different light? But Noah’s plans are derailed when Harry kisses him at a party. That’s when things go from bad to utter chaos

This book is hilarious.

And before I write a review, I want to convince you to read it in two pictures:

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and

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And if that didn’t make you cackle and cringe, there’s plenty more (of both) in this book that will make you.

It’s awkward. Oh my god, this book is full of awkward teenagers and even more awkward moments that honestly makes me feel like my own teenage years were almost normal.

I mean, the book is ridiculous. It jumps from one ridiculous thing to another, but the best thing is that the main character and his wonderful mess of a life makes it believable. From his panicking talking to anyone else to his attempts to be cool to the numerous plot twists that make everything worse, this book is a masterpiece of bumbling through the awkwardness of teenage years and sexuality and school and embarrassing mothers.

I was laughing (out loud) so much through sections of this book that my colleague ended up grabbing a copy off the shelf and reading it too – half an hour later she bought it.

This book is just a wonderful friesh of breath air. It’s funny and clever and over the top, but it’s also light hearted and good… and an lgbt book where all the lgbt characters survive (wow the fact that my bar is so low for gay characters says a lot). And its also a book with more than one gay character – I’m sure you all know what I mean. In 90% of  books there is just the one lgbt character… which is so not true to real life.

Basically, you should go out now and buy this book and you will not be disappointed. I would talk about this book for ages but I don’t want to spoil anything for people, so please, please, go and read it.

five stars

Friday Thoughts: The Best (and worst) Literary Pets

Ahh pets. Can’t live without them. Sometimes can’t live with them. Either way, they are a big part of life, and often that’s reflected in the books we read.

So, what memorable pets are there?

Malkin (Cogheart)
I don’t know if he really counts as a real pet, since he is a mechanical fox, but I think he is great. I mean, you don’t have to feed him, he doesn’t make a mess. All you have to do is remember to wind him up when he starts to slow down. Plus, he can talk, he’s kinda intelligent, and foxes are really really cute.

Nana (Peter Pan)
I mean, Nana is one of my favourite things about Peter Pan? Here you have this family of seemingly normal people. They work, raise their children and don’t believe in shadows locked in drawers. But they are happy to hire a dog to look after their children?

Scabbers (Harry Potter)
Not the best of pets, I know. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a big part of the books. Does he even count as a pet? Who knows. Either way, we all hate him.
Though the books really would have turned out differently if someone had thought to test him sooner- imagine if he had turned into a human with that not-spell from the first book (Turn this fat rat yellow)

Fleetfoot (Throne of Glass)
Who doesn’t love the adorable puppy? The single character everyone in the ToG fandom wants to survive… and the only character that has been promised to survive.
That’s okay, I’m sure any kingdom would be happy with a dog as a ruler.

Hedwig (Harry Potter)
An owl so famous he got his own themetune.
Then died.

Who are your favourite bookish pets? Have you named any of your own pets after book characters? (My dog is named Bellatrix Lestrange.)

A Court of Wings and Ruin, Sarah J Maas

I warn you now, this is not a review. More of a thought on the series as a whole and the last book. Also, spoilers abound, so read at your own risk!

So. After many many years, we finally have a ‘series’ ending to a Maas series. I can’t remember ever reading a series in which people were so scared to read the last book – because we all know the glee Sarah has in inflicting pain and oh my god who will she kill.

And as I expected, it was just as full of pain and emotion as the rest of her books, and just like the name it has, very full of WAR. 

Not just battle-y war, but war with words and war waging inside people to find out who they are and to accept it.

It was amazing to read, because all the characters made mistakes, did things wrong, tried to put their friends before themselves (Rhys, you fool). Those characters we thought were good did bad things and the ones we thought were bad did good.

Which is awesome. I’ve lost count of the amount of books I’ve read where good stays good and bad stays bad no matter what. Where everything is black or white. Sarah has shown it in her previous books, but in this one it is really clear; every character is shades of grey. She shows how messy we all are, how messy living is, and is one of the few authors I’ve seen actually do that.

And wow, those characters. We get more of Feyres sisters, more Az (yay) more of the High Lords (who are mostly brilliant) and characters like the Bone Carver. We get more of their stories and hints of who they are and so many questions for later books.  (I still want a book about the Summer Court, so much)

And we get more of our lovely mains. Feyre, Tamlin and Rhys. And more Lucien (though still not enough!).

Don’t get me wrong – this is not my favourite of the series. That would be book two, because of the amount of growth in it and everything. This one has stepped up in the game of Smuttiest Section, with there seeming to be something in every few pages at some points and flirting at wildly inappropriate moments (aka in the library). It was still amazing though – I just felt there was less story in it than there was in the other two.

But it was still incredible.

Still as tear jerking. More so, since I think I cried twice and had tears in my eyes on at least three other occasions. The wonderful thing about Sarah’s writing is you really feel for the characters. You grow to love them and their relationships with each other, so you really feel for them when they are in danger… and thats pretty much the whole book.

All in all, it was a perfect end to the series, though I’m seriously thankful that it’s not the of the books from that world, because there are so many courts and characters to explore.

Friday Thoughts: Fangirling and Embarrassing Moments in front of Authors.

No matter who you are, there’s always that one (or two, or three…) author that you know you will completely panic about meeting. You try desperately to act ‘normal’ around them…. but you fail.

I’ve met a far few authors in the last couple of years. Thanks to working in a bookshop and events like YALC, it’s become a regular thing. So you would have thought that I would have been used to it- I mean, these people… they are just people, who happen to be really good with words (mostly).

But, yeah, my brain doesnt listen to logic like that (thankfully, authors themselves are just as bad, and fangirl over each other too) which means that I’ve embarrassed myself or been an idiot in my excitement more than once.

My most memorable one was actually the best day of my life as well, though I still internally cringe at myself for it, despite it actually being like, two years later.

I had won a competition to have afternoon tea with Sarah J Maas in London. The comp was as follows- all you had to do was be a bookseller, and email Bloomsbury with reasons why you and not someone else, should meet our Dear Queen of Fantasy.

My email read like this:

1) It’s because of Sarah and the utterly amazing character that is Celaena that I started doing archery and found something I loved
2) she had given me many sleepless nights because of the amount I read Throne of Glass, and has stolen enough of my tears to make another ocean, and she ought to have a chance to redeem herself (Or not, I mean, I am half dreading reading Queen of Shadows at the end of the year because of the TORTURE to my emotions.)
3) She is my favourite author and if it was acceptable to chase strangers down the road screaming ‘READ THESE BOOKS’ at them, I would, and I think she should know that.
4) I was on my hands and knees begging Bloomsbury for a proof copy of A Court of Thorns and Roses, and it became an instant favourite when I was on the first page (I then read it twice and almost cried when I had to give it to my colleague so she could read it)
5)I would trade anything for a chance to meet Sarah. My soul, my first born child (on pre-order) and maybe even my plans for world domination (reading. Taking over the world by reading.) Of course, what I won’t trade is Sarah’s books.

Now, what they failed to say to me before I met Sarah and her Bloomsbury Rep was that they found the email so entertaining (since most other people just wrote things like ‘I sell a lot of her books’) that the entire department of Bloomsbury had read it.

*cue embarrassment*

So when a comment came up about it (mainly, where was Sarah’s promised child)… well I’m never going to forget it.

On the actual day, though, I was so excited that when I saw Sarah walking into the place we were eating in, I stood up, held out my hand and just squeaked “You’re Sarah J Maas” as if, somehow, this bestselling author would really forget her name. I didn’t even introduce myself.

I think I was in a sheer state of bliss (mixed with lots of champagne since it was free) that day I kinda just constantly made a fool of  myself. Thankfully, at Sarah’s real event that evening, she walked into the room, spotted me and went ‘Look! These people are already my friends!’ so my idiotic didn’t seem to make that much of an impact.

Between then and july last year, there were many other author meetings, including Leigh Bardugo, but the other main one that sticks in my head is that of Non Pratt, at YALC last year.

Now, for those of you that don’t know, once a year in july, the YA book lovers of the world attempt to converge on London, to a floor above comic con that month. Along with them go many many authors, publishers, agents and anyone attempting to be bookish.

Last year, Non Pratt was among those authors. Each day she dressed as different characters (I think one of which was Kaz from Six of Crows and it was amazing). One day, she was dressed as Harry Potter, and I, dressed as Draco (from AVPM) was dared to go up to the first Potter I saw and reenact the ‘Moonshoes Potter’ scene from it.

Guess who the first Potter was I saw? Guess who also had never seen AVPM, and thus ended up looking like the most terrified author in the world? You’ve got it, the wonderful Non Pratt.

Yeah, well, I’m never showing my face around them again. Ever. Forget secondhand embarrassment, every time I remember it, it’s like I’m back there, just slowly drowning in a pool of humiliation.

It’s a good thing I gave up with dignity years ago, isn’t it?

So I may love authors and love meeting them, but it seems to go hand in hand with making a fool of yourself.

Have you ever met an author- have you ever said something to them you instantly regretted?