So now that the New Year is rolling in, you are all going to be hearing back pretty soon in relation to your offers and interviews etc. This can be scary, I remember only too well how nerve wracking it can be even if you have been given positive comments and reviews. So to make things a little lighter, on this side it is essays and exam weeks coming up, I thought to celebrate my shelf expansion, three book cases already full!, as you can see above, I would give you some of the reads I think might be either fun or useful, as they have been for me, for the next year when you return to sixth form, school or university:
1. Brooklyn - Colm Toibin
I am probably one of the only unlucky few to have not seen this in the cinema recently which is devastating as I am a huge fan of Ireland and Irish literature. This beautiful book is one I read with the poetry of Oscar Wilde and just the wittiness of the writing, the complexity of both and the importance of silence to both (what isn't said reflecting more on mood/dynamic than what is) is just written in a stunning way. When I was studying Irish literature in sixth form, it struck me that a large element of the writing is identity and what identity is. In this book, that is a large element, but the writer manages to deal with so many other issues along the way such as life before the civil rights movement, life in America, what it is to be home sick and to miss home. As a university student around the same age as the main character, this book really hit home and I highly recommend it. Definitely one of the best books to be really focused in on towards the end of 2015.
2. Berlioz - The memoirs
My edition is one I treasure as I found it in an antique shop near where I live and it has full analysis of some sections and fun facts written in along the way by some one who was clearly a huge admirer of Berlioz. Me myself, I much prefer anything but Berlioz (apologies!) or at least I did until I read this. In music lectures we have been told about the importance of Berlioz because of his music, namely his importance in the shaping of the introduction of programme notes to help tell the tale of the music. In orchestras when we have played, usually, his symphonie Fantastique, we have been told of his exceptional ability to create sound. But what no one had told me until this point, and I wish they had, was that he was primarily trained (like Schumann) in something other than music. Trained originally in medicine, it took a lot for him to decide to pursue the career he loved. In the most passionate language, Berlioz captures life in Paris. He captures the littlest thing, like the noise of a carriage or a review he read in the newspaper. He rages about Mozart being played wrong at a premiere, he even quotes Macbeth. Reading a little behind the scenes has definitely intrigued me to know more about Berlioz the musician because Berlioz the writer is one heck of a guy.
3. Shakespeare - The sonnets
From my ramblings you've probably discovered by now that, yes, I am a Shakespeare fan. The more I analyse his work, the more I hear compositions filled with his poetry, the more I see performances and interpretations of Shakespeare the more I long for there to be new Shakespeare publications on shelves everywhere every day so that we might never run out of new Shakespeare to read! This edition is very special to me, more so than the Berlioz (though I suppose every book is special to me), because the sonnets were the first thing by Shakespeare I ever studied and they were what entranced me and guided me to continue reading his work. The thing with reading his sonnets is that, even more so than with the plays from the portfolio, you have to look beneath the surface because everything is not what it immediately might seem. The sun is never just the sun and believe me when I tell you that not a single line of Shakespeare was not deliberate. I recommend sonnet 116 (!!!) and 97.
4. Stasiland - Anna Funder
For all you budding history students, some of you lucky ducks will be studying post war Germany (great politics) and for those of you who aren't studying this area of history but would like to do degree level, or just really enjoy the subject as a hobby, I cannot express to you how useful and eye opening this book is to us in the modern day when this tragedy, which occurred not too long ago, is already starting to fade from the public eye. Funder goes so far into others experiences that she captures everything in the most majestic written manner possible - she is both gracious and considerate, well communicated, concise, expressive, clear. After reading this, I approached my studies with a whole new enthusiasm because her awareness of the importance of the issues which occurred in war time and post war Germany is one which you cannot get in the same format from a text book. Her level of detail is something well beyond what you have to learn, but it is a more humane way to learn it - by listening to how other people actually experienced those things, opposed to statistics and purely unbiased evidence for essays, and by seeing how it continues to impact through history today. It reminds us why history itself is so important to us as people.
5. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Another fiction book, also set in Germany, and I don't have too much to say directly about this book because I believe it is one that tells itself so to tell anything would kind of destroy the purpose. What I will tell you is that this benefitted me in two ways: firstly in my academic A level studies (history and literature, more so the latter) and secondly, it opened my mind to new types of creativity. This is, like with Funder, a whole new level to story telling, fiction or non-fiction. Zusak narrates the story from the point of death, something I had never read (though of course there are hundreds of programme notes which state what music is depicting, occasionally this character but rarely) and it is just so... poignant. Like the silences in Brooklyn, silence too here plays a part, but it is more the suspense and the beauty of a thing you thought was a thing that could happen and not be part human too. To see a personified version of death, something which many texts hold as far a distance away as possible, was intriguing and really drew me further into the story than it would have done if say Liesel had been the one to tell it.
6. How to be a heroine - Samantha Ellis
When people say 'don't judge a book by it's cover' I really do try to listen but occasionally have a moment of weakness in which I will see a pretty book on the shelf and just think 'that looks good' and end up at the counter with it. This one did not disappoint. Going back through fairytales and the like, Ellis tells us her experience with growing up and how her views on the equality of women were fed by the works she read and how that is beginning to change now as she gets older and re-reads some of those favourites such as The little mermaid by H. C. Andersen and pride and prejudice. Obviously those are two very different stories, but it is fascinating to see how they impacted in similar ways on the same person : to see how her views have developed now. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always affectionate for her favourites, Ellis takes feminism beyond being feminism and discusses it as an individual who has found it hard to find her place in society. For every literature student, there isn't a better place to start than with a simply structured, chocolate and coffee suited read like this one.
7. Benny Lewis - Fluent in three months
Learning languages can be a pain at times because no matter how many times you write out verbs or adjectives or nouns or even the basic grammar principles you are never going to just speak the language in ten minutes which I think is what we all have set up in our minds when we actually begin doing something such as this. Lewis is like Ellis in that he takes something we think is a difficult topic, hard to broach, and breaks it down into this lovely clean style where can see exactly what we need to do, how to go about it and doesn't condescend us in the process (which I think can be a thing with any kind of how -to book) Perhaps not as useful if you are already fairly fluent, but definitely useful to someone returning to a language or who wants to try something new. Keep an open mind and you will find that many of the ideas he puts forward are useful in the long run (e.g. keeping a pocket translation book favoured over google translate)
8. Danny Wallace - Charlotte Street
With the Ellis I picked the book up because I was intrigued by the cover. This one caught my attention because of the name. A. I have never heard of a book named after a street before and B. because it had my name and this made me want to know how it was being used. This one saved me from boredom on a rainy train on the way to school and I have re-read it many times. Because Wallace is even wittier than Wilde - or maybe he is the modern day equivalent. There were moments when I laughed out loud and got some strange looks and there were moments when I found myself sniffling (I had something in my eye, of course...) but I found I couldn't wait for the way home every day so that I could find out what happened next to each of the characters. Spoiler alert, Charlotte street plays a part, but not a character though it might sound like one. If you want a book to help you relax during your studies, this one should do the job.
9. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
Another one mainly aimed at literature students or people being college/university. Moving away from home is hard and it does affect your relationships with other people, both those you have known for a long time and those you are just meeting and this obviously impacts on you too. We do not always stay the same person right from the cradle to now. We change constantly, evolving into different versions of ourselves who are each capable of amazing things. And this book will remind you of that, as it did me. Paired with Brooklyn, this is a lighter, more modern dealing of university - what it is to be homesick and to miss your family and how to deal with things such as difficult classes or bad grades. It is also another funny one (I have a thing for collecting witty books by witty writers) with some touching moments and you will want to read it all in one sitting, which is exactly what I was doing this time last year. There is also another book you can find after reading this one which is called 'Carry on' based on the story that is being written by a character throughout (It will make more sense if you read it)
10. Anything by the Brontes
2016 marks the beginning of the celebration of the bicentenary of the Bronte siblings - four in total, with 2016 celebrating Charlotte (Jane Eyre, Villette) 2017 Branwell (their brother) then their father, then Anne, then Emily. I am very excited for this, because it means there are going to be lots of interesting books being published about their lives and ideas, and also new editions of all of their novels (I hope this includes Penguin!) This year I read Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre and getting through everything they published is a current aim. I also love Emily's poetry, which captures so wonderfully the moors and how she saw the world. The best time to get involved with this incredible family if you haven't already! I have attached an interesting debate above which features Austen vs. Emily which I found really gripping and will hopefully prove useful to you too - let me know your thoughts in the comments. I am hoping to visit the parsonage in Haworth sometime over the following year as from my research I can see that it is such an inviting place and I just really want to experience it first hand. On a final note - Lost in Austen (not related to the Bronte's directly but please, watch it!!!)
11. The cello suites - Eric Siblin
As a music student I loved this book because it made classical music accessible to those who are none musical which might be what draws you to it. Siblin is that remarkable journalist you come across who becomes so committed to his craft that he begins learning the cello so that he can further understand the minds of those such as Casals and Bach who made so much music that we still love and hold dear to us today. Split so that the structure of a cello suite equals chapters depicting both of these figures as well as the writers own research and opinions, thoughts on the process of his research and how it is impacting on him. This is the musical equivalent of Stasiland and something that allowed me to really invest in my passion for music when I was deciding what to do at degree level. This book will be one I probably re-read many times throughout the rest of my life because I have never found something that can capture things from analysis to the life of Bach, something we know so little on, in so much clarity whilst also being able to almost photograph through the level of detail the colour of the sunlight on the day a thought was made or an experience occurred. To me this book is equally about music as it is about living and being alive.
Some other similar recommendations based on the ones listed above:
12. Quiet - Susan Cairns (for those of you who are studying literature)
13. Virginia Woolf - A room of ones own (links well to read after 'how to be a heroine')
14. Thomas Hardy - Woman much missed (Penguin pocket editions, 80p - beautifully told)
15. Ovid - Metamorphoses (Works well for classic history students - amazing!)
16. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson (my book of the year 2015)
The first book I ever read, and one I will never ever grow tired of. This is the epitome of everything I would ever want to write as an aspiring writer. Alice was there when I tied my first shoe, when I first learned to ride a bike and that there a solar system and that poetry can be written in a sad manner or a happy manner. Alice has been the reason why I wanted to thirst always for an education and an open mind to allow me to maintain creativity. And in 2015, Alice turned 150 years old which is so odd because it still sounds so fresh and so quick of the page. There have been many interpretations this year, and I am very lucky to have received lots more Alice related things and wonderland related things as Christmas gifts for my collection. I encourage you to love wonderland and to return to it time and time again as I do - especially with the new film coming out in 2016, it is a nice way to round off the anniversary year after so many new ideas and the musical (wonder.land) I am excited to see he progress Alice makes in the years to come.
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