Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Never Grow Up

Teen Girl Book Series Reviews

There's something about books aimed at the teen/tween girl market that I adore. Whenever I get the chance to spend a day in bed with hot chocolate and too many biscuits it's always these books that I pile up beside me. You can't read On The Road with hot chocolate. You can't read Lean In with greasy hair and pyjamas on. But books about girls who describe themselves as "utterly average-looking" whilst attracting all the hottest boys in town? They're perfect for this sort of self-indulgent literary wallowing.

The Princess Diaries - Meg Cabot

I read the third installment in this series when I was around twelve, having borrowed it from the library, and I think I read it around eight more times that year before I could get my hands on the rest of the books. The story revolves around Mia Thermopolis, a teenager living in Manhattan (already lightyears cooler than tween-me) who finds out that she's heir to the throne of a small European country. There are all the hallmarks of a great story here: Mia is interested in both Greenpeace and Lifetime movies, teetering on the boundary between nerdy and slobby like I always did, she eventually wins the heart of a devastatingly attractive and intelligent man, and she gets the ultimate makeover from geeky teen to princess-in-waiting. I still read this books continuously, they are clever and hilarious and so on-point with my feelings as a teenager. The movies are good in an airy, overly-theatrical way but let's face it, Julie Andrews is just not fierce and cruel enough to play Grandmere as she's portrayed in the books.

Confessions of Georgia Nicolson - Louise Rennison

Have you ever embarrassed yourself, ever, in your entire life, in front of anyone? Then you can empathise and enjoy these books. Of all the series listed here, this is the one that was probably closest to my own life as a teenager (although hello, I wasn't allowed to go to nightclubs when I was sixteen). Georgia is perpetually caught up with some boy who she will either like too much, too little, or embarrass herself in front of constantly. This is with the exception of Dave the Laugh, the just-a-friend character that you has you constantly screaming "GEORGIA WHY CAN'T YOU SEE THAT DAVE IS THE ONE FOR YOU JESUS CHRIST GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER!". I literally LOL at this series and figuratively LMAO too. They aren't the sort of books that I read again and again but they're great to devour and taught me important things about make up application and kissing. A+ for hilarity, B- for storyline.

Private - Kate Brian

This is the ultimate boarding school/rich girl/murder mystery series, sexing things up whilst keeping it relatively PG. Reed Brennan is a poor suburban brainiac who gets a scholarship to Easton Academy and immediately falls in with a group of unfeasibly rich, essentially sociopathic and model-beautiful girls. Various mysteries unfold throughout the books (Reed is always struggling to find out who's committing the murder/blackmail/deceit, basically) and after four or five it just got so ridiculous that it's outright hilarious. If Reed were a real fifteen year old girl her parents would probably be charged with neglect for allowing her to stay at the school where she is essentially a murder target at all times and ringleader of a number of criminal investigations. The story is pushed a bit too far at points (there's a spin-off where the girls all find out that they're witches) but it's overall an exciting and easy read, the sort of book you'll fly through in four hours and then wish you had the next one immediately on hand.

House of Night -  P.C. & Kristin Cast

Another boarding school series here, but one that combines another of my favourite subjects: the supernatural! I essentially spent my whole childhood pretending that I was a witch (brief interludes as a mermaid whenever I went swimming) so the premise of these books, that some people get "marked" and become vampires who must immediately go to a boarding school for vamps, sounded like my cup of tea. The storyline is okay but I stopped reading after five or six of them because the language the characters use is like a parody of teenage vernacular and there are a lot of slut-shaming statements throughout the books (plus a few instances of transphobic and ableist language) that really put me off. The storyline had potential but the books are really just an endless ream of love affairs with the same cookie-cutter sort of guy.

Gossip Girl - Cecily von Ziegesar

Let me play the teen-fiction hipster for a moment here: I was reading Gossip Girl long before it was a television show. I got so used to writing Cecily von Ziegesar's name on my Christmas list every year when I asked for the books that I don't even need to spellcheck it. The books are far superior to the show and to this day, I channel book-Blair Waldorf when I need that special blend of baddest-bitch-in-the-room confidence. I loved these characters, I loved their privileged lives, I loved that they smoke and drank expensive vodka and went to charity benefits, I loved that they wore designer shoes to school and that they were all a little bit jaded. The books are also just linguistically brilliant, von Ziegesar is a truly talented writer and has a knack for creating characters that you won't necessarily like but will absolutely want to follow. If you want bitchy high-school drama with the added zest of couture and New York nightlife, these books are for you.

Twilight - Stephanie Meyer

I get it, guys, it's cool to hate on Twilight. It exists at the special intersection of implausible, badly-written, and lacking in storyline. I just want to put forward the idea that it's not wrong to like books that are objectively bad; you are allowed guilty pleasures and you don't even have to feel guilty about them! There are actual issues with this book, like the creepy and borderline abusive relationship that the series revolves around and the lack of strong female characters, but we've addressed those. I get it. As long as the readers can acknowledge the problematic aspects of the series then I say go for it, read these stupid books, be Team Edward (ahem, losers) or Team Jacob (ahem, yes), and revel in their romantic silliness. Meyer had a good plot idea that she didn't execute particularly well and it sounds like she's now pretty embarrassed by the books, which is sort of sad. I read these right before the first movie came out, when I was around sixteen, and I have to admit that I really liked them at the time and wish that some of the problematic undertones weren't so horribly pervasive.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Me at 20: Thoughts on Children Versus Careers

I'm 20. Whilst I have done some very adult things in my life (moving out of home, living abroad, working in an office), I am still essentially a precocious child. I am inarguably too young to be worrying about how I will balance children and a career, but the subject has been forced upon me.

I was having lunch with some friends recently (all of us female university students) and we ended up talking about how difficult it must be to go to uni when you have a child, particularly young kids. I know some people who are doing this and balancing it brilliantly, and I'm sure that there are other people who find it too tough and take time out or leave altogether. I mentioned that I would probably be a gibbering wreck if I had to do all of the fourteen-hour days in the library and balancing multiple assignments and trying to talk to lecturers whilst also caring for a small living thing that needed me for food and safety. We were all in reverent agreement: it must be hard. Conversation turned to the inevitable what-if-you-got-pregnant-now, and I told them that there's no way I could have a child at this age because I'm just too young, I'm not responsible or financially stable enough, and I'm really invested in the career that I'm working towards. They all took the complete opposite stance on this, that they would have the child no matter who disagreed, and asserted that I would too, if it happened to me. As if I simply hadn't thought it through enough.

Here's the thing: I am working hard towards a career that I am jump-up-and-down, piss-your-pants excited about. I really want this. I think that I maybe would like to end up with a family some day and I have plenty of other interests, but being successful in the field I love is what my life is leading towards now, not settling down with a husband and kids (not that there's anything wrong with that). I went on to tell my friends that I'm prioritising getting qualified, which will likely take ten years plus, above settling down and that if and when I do have children I want to carry on working as much as possible. That in a perfect world, I would not have kids until I have a partner who can take equal time off and split the childcare so that we can both continue to work (yes, I have definitely been inspired by Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In). My friends were shocked. They all immediately took the stance of "haha, that'll change when you're older" and literally could not conceive of why I would prioritise a career over children. One of them outright asked what I'll be doing if I don't have kids, "just you and your cats". She wasn't joking. 

I'm not saying that my feelings won't ever change, and I'm absolutely not belittling the choices of women who do prioritise children over a career, but it really surprised me that my friends couldn't believe or even try to understand my stance. We are practically still children ourselves but this is something that we have obviously all thought about, to some extent, and it was pretty weird to feel like they thought I was cold or naive for being more motivated to end up in the perfect job than in the perfect family. It's possible that I will end up with a bunch of babies and working in a job that's very different to the one I currently want, or that I won't be working at all, but it's daunting to think about how they might see me if I do continue down this road; not as someone who is considering the "wrong" choice but as someone who is living their life in a way that is fundamentally wrong.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Back From Blighty

I was back in Bath visiting my dad and step-fam for ten days so my blog has been neglected slightly, apologies all round. I'm moving to Italy imminently so between attempting to learn Italian, find accommodation, say goodbye to everyone, and stop myself from falling apart mentally, I've felt pretty stressed and it was nice to get away from all that for a while. Here are some photos I took over the past week or so:

This was my attempt at being *artistic* on a sunny evening, fuelled by gin and tonic.

Fashioned a hat for this babe out of a popped balloon

This baby snail crawled onto my hand of his own accord. I may or may not have dropped him but he survived.

The most exciting part of my day was when one side of a bourbon biscuit had been put on back to front and left this imprint in the chocolate. My mum referred to it as "a freak accident", which is kind of cute.

Life is just doddering on at the moment really but I know it's just a matter of time (exactly a month from tomorrow) until I leave for Italy so there's a quiet hum of anxiety behind everything I do at the moment. I'm trying to resolve it by being proactive and e-mailing lots of people about career stuff so hopefully I'm rich enough to buy thousands of freak bourbons in the future.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Is This The Real Life?

Reality TV Reviews

I know, I know, reality television is trash and there are far more noble things to do with your time. Yes, Bill and Melinda Gates probably don't spend their afternoons watching The Only Way Is Palo Alto and eating whole packets of bourbon biscuits. However, I've recently gotten into "reality" shows in a big way, so here's my rundown of the good, the bad, and the hilarious.

Keeping Up With The Kardashians

I feel like I was intimately familiar with goings-on in the Kardashian family long before I started watching KUWTK this summer. I obligatorily disliked them just because they're filthy rich and Kim is so attractive that she's probably a Cylon. But seriously, this show is great. I feel like people should not be allowed to criticise the Kardashians before watching an episode because yes, their concerns can seem incredibly trivial compared to the issues most people face in daily life, and yes, it does sometimes seem like they have more money than sense. But there's also this over-riding sense of love for eachother, and a lot of self-awareness from Khloe and their adorable stepfather, Bruce. The show is ridiculous and trivial, but isn't that the essence of a good reality show?

Big Rich Atlanta

This show, oh my god. I originally saw its sister project, Big Rich Texas, in which people with accents like caramel hang around at country clubs and get ill-thought-out tattoos. There's something so other-worldly about Big Rich Atlanta though, and I think part of it is the fact that the cast have had so much plastic surgery that they all basically look like clones. The show revolves around mothers and their mostly grown-up daughters doing socialite-y American things and living in obscenely gorgeous houses whilst bitching a lot and occasionally getting slapped by pastors. It kind of makes me want to wear gold lamé skinny jeans and six-foot long blonde extensions. There's also this hilariously scripted quality to the interview moments that they put between clips to explain the girls' "true feelings" that adds an extra level of shiny plasticity to the show.

Masterchef Australia 

How do I love Masterchef Australia? Let me count the ways. This is SO MUCH BETTER than the UK version, and let's not even talk about the Irish one. My brother and I base our lives around the scheduling of Masterchef Australia because it is just that good. The contestants and judges are always super-happy and friendly and there are always a few contestants that you wish you could live with, not just because they could cook you jam doughnuts coated with lavender sugar when you're on your period, but because they're lovely and charismatic and unfairly attractive (ahem, season 2's Marion and season 4's Andy and Kylie). It's pretty much worth watching just for judge Matt Preston's cravat obsession, if nothing else. 

Made In Chelsea

I have tried to watch Made In Chelsea. I really have. It's just too staged for my liking, which probably tells you something about how patently set up it all is seeing as I gave Keeping Up With The Kardashians four stars earlier on. Basically, it's about a lot of rich people with names like Ianthe and Proudlock who go to polo matches and slap eachother sometimes. They talk a lot about someone called Lucy Watson and once, this guy had disappeared to Barcelona and then he called up his friend in Chelsea and was like, "Bring all our friends here, also my ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend." and no one went, "But I have to work on Tuesday?" or "I can't afford last-minute flights to Barcelona?" or "Who's going to feed my cat?", they all just went. Their hair is occasionally really nice though so I'm going to give it one star for effort.

The Biggest Loser

I watch The Biggest Loser Australia most weekday evenings while I eat biscuits and ice cream, proudly rubbing my tummy. The show brings out conflicting feelings in me because whilst it's uplifting to see people gaining confidence and moving on to happier lives, the methods by which they get there do sometimes seem unhealthy to me (1000 calories a day whilst doing vigorous, hours-long periods of exercise? Really?). But there's so much gameplay in this show, and the inevitable brilliance of makeover week when the contestants get new haircuts and clothes and everyone pretends that the already bald guy looks really different because they trimmed his beard. The US version is pretty good but as with Masterchef, it's the Australian one that steals my heart.

Tia & Tamera

Everyone's favourite Sister Sister stars are back and ready to prove that they're still the super-cool friends you never had! The Mowry twins are in their thirties now and although I can't remember any show they've been in since their childhood, they constantly talk about their agents and auditions they've been doing. One of them is pregnant and the other already has a baby and they do other things, like try to sell a breast milk enhancing tea and help with their husband's vineyard. They are still beautiful and seem quite sweet but every single scene in this show just feels like they're trying too hard to sell how FUN and QUIRKY and TOGETHER they are, and it's just a bit too much at times. I will still devotedly watch Sister Sister but I can't quite stomach this show.

The Great British Bake Off

You know all those foods that you really love but never ever have in your house, like fondant fancies and chocolate eclairs and hot cross buns? Imagine sitting on the sofa and watching someone convince you that it's achievable to actually make them at home. The contestants in this show are all brilliant home cooks and they come on the show and battle to make the best Victoria sponge cake and loaf of bread and it's just great. I don't particularly like any of the judges or contestants (although Mel & Sue add some likeability) but the food alone is enough to keep me watching. Also, it's cruelly wonderful when someone's pastry burns or their sponge collapses in the middle and watching it just for those moments is kind of worth it.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Galway Arts Festival

It is one of my biggest (and most first world problems-y) regrets that I missed Bon Iver when they played at the Galway Arts Festival in 2009 a couple of weeks after I saw this performance from Glastonbury on the BBC coverage. I had hit the peak of my Justin Vernon love at that point and was completely evangelical about For Emma, Forever Ago. I didn't know how popular the album was at the time (my house was still living in the stone age with no internet) so it's nice to know that I wasn't the only person who was quite literally in love with the music, with that performance in particular.

I did finally make it to the festival to see some music this year. My boyfriend got tickets to the RTÉ Concert Orchestra playing classic film scores (sort of the polar opposite of Bon Iver's folky, acoustic vibe) and we brought along a blanket and settled in on the grass under the giant, circus-like tent of the Big Top. I was a bit sceptical; I listen to a fair amount of orchestral music and scores (I keep the Skyrim soundtrack on repeat while I'm studying for exams) but I didn't know if it would hold my attention when I was seeing it live. I was completely hooked though! It was such a beautiful experience to realise all the individual elements coming together to create these massive, wildly evocative pieces of music. I was pretty overwhelmed by the time they finished the first piece, which was the Superman March. I was also experiencing endless squee over the two adorable little kids sat in front of us who pretended to be composers throughout.

It makes me think that I should get out and see more music, more art, even if it's not huge bands or plays that I know inside out. It's a better experience, I think, to find that something you were expecting to be pretty okay is actually spectacular. I wish I had more experiences like that.

Monday, 22 July 2013

New Books vs Old Favourites

I've always been an avid reader. I was the stereotypical bookworm child who spent all summer working my way through novels and magazines and newspapers. I attained the highest possible grade in my final English exam without too much effort. I even continued studying literature for the first year of university until psychology claimed my full focus. I maintain that the extra twenty five pounds of fat that I carried throughout my teenage years were a result of Friday evening trips to the library and the ensuing night spent curled up in bed pigging out on prawn and cocktail Walkers and Skittles and multiple chocolate bars and oh my god, let's not even mention the sheer volume of food that I would eat while making my way through books by Jenny Downham and J.D. Salinger and, yes, even Stephenie Meyer. 

Since starting university, however, I feel like I've hit a roadblock with my reading and don't have the same desire that I did to consume new books and spend every spare moment that I have reading. I understand why I feel like this during the academic year when I'm drowning in recommended reading for my courses and studying so much that the thought of picking up a novel after fourteen hours in the library is painful. But even now, during the summer, I feel more drawn towards old books that I read throughout my childhood or easy, lighter reads like the House Of Night series and The Princess Diaries and Tina Fey's Bossypants. It's not that these aren't good books, they are all engaging and well written and interesting (well, maybe not all of them - the House Of Night books are definitely a guilty pleasure), the problem is that I've read them all multiple times already and falling back on these old favourites stops me pursuing the classics and big new bestsellers that I feel I should as someone who purports to love literature. 

It might just be laziness, and the desire for something that reminds me of home when I'm so close to leaving everyone I know for life in a different country, but I want to get out of this habit and push myself more. I have consistently read new books this year but I would say that equally, or even more often than not, I've picked out a book that I've already read. In the past month I've used the university library more and read The Jane Austen Book Club, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Full Frontal Feminism, Never Let Me Go and some others that have all really impressed me. I'm currently reading Sense And Sensibility (I consider it a deep personal flaw that I still haven't read all of Jane Austen) and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. It's just about pushing myself out of my comfort zone and reading more of the books that I've heard great things about instead of letting myself pick up my many-thumbed copy of Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets for the eight thousandth time. I'm hoping that by writing it here I'll be inspired to actually stick to this plan because I know that I'm missing so much by constantly rereading instead of discovering new books.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


It was that sort of tarmac-melting, inevitably sun-burning hot this past week and I celebrated my weekend off by eating lots and doing absolutely nothing productive. I had a picnic with a friend on Saturday afternoon (we talked about bullying and how friendships change over time) and went for a run in the evening, feeling self-conscious about my legging-clad thighs and greasy hair every time I passed anyone.

I sort of dislike going out and about in my hometown because it's so small and the kind of place where you'll inevitably run into thirty people you kinda-sorta know, the kind of people who would tell everyone "I saw Phoebe yesterday and she looked like she'd been dipped in chip fat!". I know that as a psychology student I should probably be aware of the fact that I judge myself far more harshly than anyone else does, that in reality no one cares about my ratty ponytail or tubby arse, but in my mind it's a really big deal every time I end up in that "Should I say hi? Should I keep looking at the pavement?" situation that seems so ridiculous as a twenty year old. I guess being home brings back all the feelings that I had over the years here at ten and thirteen and eighteen.

When I woke up on Sunday morning I felt oddly free and over it, like I could acknowledge that those issues just don't matter in the grand scheme of things. I pulled on shorts and my awful bra (the comfy saggy one that creates the illusion that I have the body of an octogenarian) and a vest and walked to a park by the river where I lay on a bench and listened to YouTube videos by Rosianna Halse Rojas (who is just achingly clever and insightful and my dreamworld best friend). I also took these photos, one of which required me to stand on a bench and another which left me sitting on a big flat rock right in the river. I let go of the feelings of "What if someone sees me and everyone thinks I'm *uncool* forever?" for an hour and it was the most peaceful I've felt in months.

The riverbed
I'm aware that the composition is craptacular but the colours are just so pretty.
I love this tree's ghoul face.

The moral of the story is to always wear awful bras and be unselfconscious.