Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Reflection - A level literature

Of all the subjects I studied at A level, literature was the class that I found the easiest. That doesn't mean I didn't have to work hard, it's just that I feel at home in my skin when I am analysing and talking about the content of something I have enjoyed reading and researching, so it never really feels too much like work. If anything it feels peaceful. Analysis reminds me of that saying about the duck on the water - you know, how on the surface it glides seemingly gracefully, almost glassily, across the smooth surface of the pond when the reality is that just under the surface area of it's own body it's legs are kicking away furiously to keep it afloat and moving. 

Starting A level literature for me didn't seem like too big a shift from GCSE level, but that was again because this subject was always one in which I had been at home and had done regular extra work in (alongside music and history) Pretty much the only factor that I found most difficult was the longer question at the end of the exam that we had to prepare for, as in those sorts of questions you had to write about all three of the left over four texts you had worked on. In my case at AS, this was Pride and prejudice, The road, and the poetry of Keats (in the first specialist essay questions I focused on the poetry of Christina Rossetti) These questions were difficult because you had to find the right amount of balance in your structure between each of the texts or else you wouldn't be able to round off the conclusion nicely enough and things wouldn't mesh well. Also, knowing how much detail to go into on each of these as separate topics in the same essay was also tricky as it meant further acknowledging balance - stating here is point A, B and C and in to each of those topics I am going to place 3 topics, rounded off with an introduction and a conclusion. 

Studying Pride and prejudice was one of the highlights of first year literature for me as it's one of my favourite books (have read it about 34 times) so it meant class was always filled with debate, going into the bigger questions surrounding the text and characters. Studying the Road was harder as I struggled at first with the written style (working with the theme of the apocalypse, drama is heightened by lack of grammar) I read this in one sitting but never read through the book entirely again after the first reading, I would just analyse sections. Did really enjoy the religious symbolism throughout this book though. I can still remember the quote 'there is no God and we are his prophets' which became one of my favourite quotes from the entire thing. Course work wise, that year was all about comedy (I've written a little about this before so won't go into too much detail) we worked on a favourite Shakespeare play of mine (Twelfth night) which I am also doing for my first year at York St John which is wonderful, and we also studied the more contemporary work the birthday party by Pinter. Despite differing generations of authors having written these texts, there were definitely strong parallels between the ideas of Pinter and Mccarthy now that I look back. 

In my second year of English literature, the focus exam wise shifted from poetry, comedy and the structure of a novel, to the Gothic. We actually got to attend a few lectures from the excellent staff of Manchester Metropolitan university (where the queen of all modern poetry, Carol Ann Duffy, reigns supreme) based on the books before we were officially studying them (possibly the best start to one of my favourite years of studying ever) 

For our exam, the specialist question would focus in one one of our set texts and the second essay would be a broader, overall question in which we would write about all of the texts studied. In our case this meant Wuthering Heights for the first question, followed by Wuthering Heights and the bloody chamber for the latter. The Bronte's are writers beloved by many because their works, in a similar way to all those we hail as the greats, speak to us as a modern generation in a way that still flourishes and bursts with life, creativity and energy on every page. Wuthering Heights has never been a favourite book of mine, but studying it in depth made me see it in a new light - it made me see that there is magic in the madness, literally in this novel. Plus classes were always fun because of the way our English teacher set up the activities - we would get to draw things so that we would internalise them better and show how we pictured scenes to others in the class. One that sticks with me is this one day when we had to sketch and label the attributes of the Byronic hero and then use this information to plan out an essay question on whether the character of Heathcliff was truly evil. The bloody chamber (Carter's short story collection) also got me really interested in fairytales and the line between moral and imagined moral - a very intriguing exploration of the gothic to say the least.

For my individual course work, I took Wilfred Owen's poetry (specifically his first and his last poems published) and explored how war impacted on his written style. It was my favourite essay that I have ever put together and one of which I think I will always be immensely proud. His poetic style started off yearning for experience and trying to sound older than it was, whereas the themes were much darker and more complicated as he matured and saw more of the world and of course, mostly they smacked of a wish to no longer know the meaning of experience. Another interesting piece of course work we all had to work on was one based on Irish plays (our teachers taught to their speciality and our lecturer had previously done a masters in Irish literature and had actually met the play wrights we were reading!) I didn't think it would be something I would enjoy at first, but Irish literature has ended up becoming a big part of my life and something I remain fervently interested in and ironically, it was one of the things that led to my focus in American literature. 

On a final note, I hope reading this has provided you with a little more information on what it is like to study English literature at A level and why it might be the right subject for you to enter into. It isn't a field of daisies, but it is exciting and interesting - it encompasses a little of pretty much every subject. You get to look at psychology in elements such as the madness that ensues in Macbeth, there is artwork based on pretty much every book you will study and hence you can look closely at this in relation to interpretation, and there is even music based on the lesser known plays on top of the great novels. There really is something for everyone - so if you want to study literature, but aren't sure whether or not it is for you, then look at the books in advance, research your questions until you have answers, contact the head of your department and when you are confident, give it your best shot. 

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Update - Exploring, sketching and thoughts on summer

Once when I was younger, my dad was driving us back from Southport and he decided to take us on one of his infamous short cuts. This usually consisted of him going in completely the opposite direction and us getting lost. This particular day though (some time 2004 it must have been) we came across a village where we spent the rest of the day. Despite many family outings and excursions on the way back from days at the beach, we've never since found that place nor do we know the name either. But this weekend, it was my turn to pick where we went, I suggested we put an end to the great mystery surrounding our forgotten village and go out specifically with the intention of looking for it. 

We didn't exactly get too far... we didn't find the village, though we did drive down at least 20 different side roads to look for it. We did however find this beautiful big park called Worden, which we explored instead and it was definitely a worthy component of the forgotten village. There was a maze, a walled garden full of flowers and even these cottages full of different artwork and antiques. It was the type of place you picture out in the middle of no where before you come back to earth and realise you pretty much are in the middle of no where. I know I keep talking about a golden summer, but these days with my family are so important to me and they are going to be what gets me through the next few months before Christmas break - because I'm lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful, whimsical people who will humour the need for adventure without questioning it too much and who will always have an opinion on the books you are reading because they will have definitely read them all twice before me. They're pretty great. 

Another thing today has me excited for is Halloween (as you can probably tell from the poisoned apple #snowwhite) Halloween is one of my favourite occasions because it is just so fun and it means that I can plan out movies to watch, costumes, what to carve the pumpkin into this year (I'm currently thinking Mickey mouse) Autumn is my favourite time of year, so Halloween is kind of the highlight of it all. Also, it's on my bucket list to pick my own fruit or vegetables, so maybe I'll go to an actual pumpkin patch this year - we'll see. 

Now that it's nearing the beginning of the academic year (ahhh!) I'm working my way as quickly as I can through the reading list (whilst making notes, so this can slow me down, but then again it is the most effective way) There is so much to be excited about over the next few weeks: 

1. The literature festival in Manchester
2. The release of Kubo and the two strings (Finally!)
3. Meeting up with my Halle friends and Halle rehearsal (first of the new term and my last year)
4. Moving out of home and into my new second home in York
5. Meeting my room mates and class mates
6. Actually beginning class

After a summer full of adventure and travelling, I have a feeling that it will be much easier to work full time with written text for a while and to see the world through the opinions of all those marvellous authors who set their books out as ships on to the sea.

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A guide to welcome week (Freshers 2016)

During Freshers week, there will be lots for you to get involved in - people to meet, places to go, a whole year to begin planning and to be immersed in. It can be difficult to know where to start, even if your university and students union have provided you with time tables galore. The first thing you should know is that moving away from home can take it's toll on you, even if you don't think it will so it's important to take lots of things from home to keep your spirits up and it's also good to know that it's ok to feel a little emotional about it all. Give yourself some time out and don't feel that you have to be going out all of the time - Freshers is meant to be fun, and it won't be fun if you are sad so make sure you have patience with yourself.

On another note, you are going to want to find the place to begin and the activities to get involved in that will give you a better idea of what modules you might want to take, what extracurricular you want to be involved in, maybe even what societies you might want to think about starting up yourself. From my time at Freshers last year, and knowing that freshers will be beginning for me again in just two weeks now, here a few tips compiled with all first years in mind:

1. Check out your enrolment time

First things first - your course! It is unlikely that classes will be on in welcome week, but it might be that university schedules a few. Usually the protocol is freshers week and then first week of classes the second week of term. Your course will probably have a selected enrolment time, so it is important to check to prevent you showing up for the right one. Especially if you are a combined student, as you might need to attend one of the specific course based ones (e.g. which ever you are majoring in) or go to a completely different timetabled session. York St John have sent us our timetables via an app called guide book which I know several universities are going to be using, but if you are unsure about the times for the week, do make sure you email the university as soon as you can so that you are sure of where to be and when when it comes to freshers week - save yourself any further stress.

2. See what your course has on + Freshers fair 

Now is a good chance to see what your year will be like for real - somewhere between an open day and your first week of classes, keep an eye out for those beginners lectures which might give you an idea at what to be looking at for your first few classes. They might even help you with selecting extra modules if you're still a little unsure, or give you some ideas for next year when extra modules are definitely introduced.

But it's not just a week for class work - if anything, this entire week is about exploring and trying new things (within reason) whether that be joining the chess club, going to a rowing class or auditioning for the orchestra. There will be a variety of different clubs and societys open to you, which will form some balance and mixture of topics around your specialisation - having the different breaks from your study will also enable you to think a lot more clearly and perhaps in different ways than you usually would because they all add a little something unique to your insight. Freshers fair is the place to begin - you can see what is available to you, find out when it is on and enquire about any of the things you know you would definitely like to be part of but would like to know more on. One of the best parts of freshers week, so make the most of it.

3. Make sure to do some reading + preparation work

Linking back to 1, this week isn't just about having fun and getting to know your university colleagues. Whilst networking, socialising and all of those things are important, it is also crucial that you prepare for the following week. This means going through your reading lists, making notes, having a copy of your time table at hand - the more work you do, the easier that first week will be and the less scary it will seem. Don't work too hard, it is after all the first week, but do try to get some balance in there, even if it means just going to the library for an hour a day to get through one of the books on your extra resources list. The more you do now the less you will need to worry about the nearer to deadlines you get.

4. Eat plenty of fruit + stay healthy

Ah the dreaded freshers flu... nope, it's not a myth. Even if all your vaccinations are up to date (which they should be at the time of freshers week, look into the meningitis jab now if you haven't already - it can be a matter of life or death) You can avoid freshers flu by staying healthy - everyone hates a cold, especially one that arrives right in the middle of a fun new year at university. Firstly, keep hydrated. Drinking responsibly alongside drinking plenty of water will combat nasty headaches and the flu that makes everything a million times more difficult than it needs to be because you're so tired. Secondly, mix plenty of fresh fruit and veg into your diet - keeping that balance in your diet means your immune stays in tip top fighting condition and can combat all the germs spread around by the element of new environment. Keep your best interests at heart and keep yourself in a good working condition so that nothing makes these weeks any more difficult than they need to be.

5. Get to know your city 

Use this week, especially the first few days, to get to know the new city. If you are staying at home, this doesn't mean you can't share in this - go to new places and introduce your friends to all your favourite parts of town, from the natural history museum to the best mall. There are usually maps on offer, so keep one of these handy in case you get lost. Locate the important things you will need first - such as supermarket, train station, book shop. Once you know where these things are, branch out into things you are interested in such as any tourist based attractions, museums etc. Finally, once you feel you are getting a grip of the city, branch out to just wandering awhile to see where you end up. Always make sure you keep track of where you are and that you have the capability of contacting anyone should you get lost. It can be useful to learn the main surroundings first so that you can pinpoint things properly. Free tours offered by the university can be really useful for this.

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Reading/Studying effectively

There was one of those joke sets of rules to being a good student that my mum gave me once, and one of them says that 'a clean text is an unread one' At first it made me laugh, but then I began taking it seriously. And then I get full marks on my English exams because of this advice, so I decided to start taking it seriously.

Reading and studying effectively are what will make you successful skill wise throughout your life, no matter what field you are working in (though obviously, this is hugely important to literature individually also) The more you do these two things, which are quite unanimous really, the more your mind will retain and hence in the long run, the more you will benefit from this. There is no shortage of reading material, and studying is merely getting to know a text and learning to analyse it well - to take from it what is necessary - so there is always the opportunity to practice, whether it be for your exam or simply because you are reading your favourite book and would like to look at how the meaning is layered. So it can help to:

1. Set aside a good amount of uninterrupted time 

You cannot get through the whole of Crime and punishment in one hour - remember this when you get frustrated. There is probably only 0.01% of anyone who has ever accomplished something like that and that is ok. We all work at our own paces, and this is what makes studying effective - working at your own pace. When you have been in a class, you work at the pace of all the other students in order to keep up with your teachers pace and this is why studying is effective. It allows you the time to look back over your work with hind sight and put together your own opinions gradually. To realise them fully, and hence write or explore them more passionately in the long term.

You know best how quickly you read, so if you want to read effectively make sure you pace yourself and set aside time daily. If a text will take you a long time to get through, maybe add a few hours into each day but broken up so that you don't feel pressured or forced to get through the books (your mind will shut down and refuse to retain plot line and such if you push it too much) If you work gradually, it will be easier to retain the information you are reading, and to enjoy it too. Make it a place that suits your conditions, for example finding a quiet place where you know you will be able to concentrate. Make the reading time 100% potent - no distractions.

2. Have a cheap copy of the text 

This helps study wise as it means you can scrawl your ideas, opinions, analysis over each and every necessary page until you remember or find the evidence and information you have been looking for. If you invest in a lovely leather bound edition of Pride and prejudice, it is highly unlikely that you will want to underline or dog ear any pages. Keep your best books as best books - don't feel compelled to turn them into note books. Of course it is your choice, but having a cheap paper back edition will allow you the freedom to carry around and add any new ideas as often as you like.

3. Highlight + colour code

There have been several studies into the brain and how it works with retaining information written in different colours, with blue being one of the most effective. It might sound silly now, but with your exams approaching fast anything is worth a try. If you pick a different colour for each section of information (e.g. pink for anything that comes under the theme of time, blue for anything that supports the theme of an individual main character etc) it can prove to be a really handy means of organisation to look back on when putting together your revision notes separately. Make sure you notate a key though, so that you don't forget why half of your quotes are in one colour and why this is important/relevant.

4. Notes + retaining information

Leading on from your on page analysis, keep a book journal in which to track these ideas so that once you have finished your reading for the day you can begin to put together well thought out, detailed notes which will help you when it comes nearer to exam time. You can continue to implement your colour code system too, if this is something you find helps.

Retaining the information is more difficult than the original note taking and creating, as all of that is something you can have answers in front of your for. For your exams you are going to need to know this information inside out. Even if it is for course work, you need to internalise this information so that in class you can really think about what links your ideas to others and how this creates a certain element of information, such as the development of the main character (how? what caused this specific change? why? what do you think of this? etc) The more you read, the more you work and go through your stuff, the more you are likely to remember. As with number 1 (the reading) make sure that you work this out from the beginning of the year. Work at your own pace - set aside time each day, after each class, in which to really go over things until they are firmly implemented in your mind and you are confident with everything. Retaining information only works if you understand it too.

5. Put it in to practice - write some analysis/essay work 

No better way to test your knowledge than to put it into practice. Whilst flash cards and speaking things through are really useful means of going through things to see just how much you know, a test similar to what you are preparing for is your best bet at improving and remembering the maximum amount to the best standard. So what are you waiting for? Plan out some past papers, write out your well structured answers, and keep timing them. The more you do now, the better you will feel when results day comes because you will know that, no matter the grade, you did your utmost best to read and study effectively and created a skill set in your mind which you will carry through your entire lif and use pretty much every day.

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!
If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

How does literature shape our world?

The world is a big place - and it's full of things. A million things. I was watching a video by Hank Green a few days ago (you might know him from Vlogbrothers - I'll attach his video somewhere in this blog, so keep your eyes peeled) Sometimes, there is too much media and too many voices for us to keep track of because of the sheer amount. We move from one book to the next, from trying one restaurant and it's food to another. There is a never ending stream of movies to watch in every cinema in every city - we are lucky to have this much media, but we are also (as Hank Green stated) not sure where to begin or end with it, and of course we also have favourites which we shape our lives with and parts of our identities. Those things are what unite us as humans. 

I love literature because there never stops being millions of ways to say the same thing. And there is always a new way, a new perspective, which we can provide to make a situation more comprehend-able, or realistic (in the case of fiction) One of the reasons that books in particular are such an important format of literature (and the most common means of word based content that we do attach to the name literature) is because the words are all that we have on that page. We have to use our minds to bring them to life, and hence we are able to put ourselves in the place of whatever has been written and it gives us ideas and opinions we might not usually have, because we put ourselves directly into the driving seat (so to speak)

Literature shapes our world because it creates everything from stereotypes (positive ones and unfortunately negative ones too, though mostly positive I feel) to cliches, to trends. Because literature isn't just the vast amount of adventures held in the many shelves of numerous libraries - it is also the scripts of every play and movie, the leaflets shared to attract us to listen to great music, full of lyrics which were inspired by books and movies and experiences - see the chain? It's a cycle of productivity and we are whatever we consume and also whatever we ourselves think and believe also individually through this.

Through reading and writing, we are able to preserve our memories, create stories and we are also able to create whole universes - which as Hogwarts, middle earth and Narnia prove, cannot be a bad thing! Literature shapes our world sometimes by not shaping this one at all, but allowing us the opportunity to take a break from reality and to explore new ideas and new characters who create such an impression on us that when we take a break and step back from our own situations, we are able to think more clearly in reality and to empathise with others to a better degree. In all of it's formats, whether that be audio books, a good old fashioned paper back, a graphic novel, or even just the subtitles on a TED talk, words and literature in all of it's guises is what allows us to tell stories. And humans cannot exist fully without them - stories are what make us human. To have the desire to reach out and communicate with others around the world. 

One of the reasons I have so many thoughts on this topic I think, is because when I was considering going down the route of literature degree, I asked myself 4 questions :

1. What can I give to a literature degree?
2. What can I gain from a literature degree? 
3. Why is the world an important element to explore in literature in various forms?
4. What can the world gain from people studying this topic? Why is it important? 

The more thought put into the questions, the more it became a realisation that whilst it is an art/humanity this does not stop it being valuable. Of course we need scientists who study science, and teachers who study teaching, and all of those other various important qualifications and job roles. But we also need the creative individuals who thrive through different formats such as sketching or writing to step forward and study their crafts. Writers who study writing and directors who study film - That is why literature shapes our world. Because it is part of something which explores everything. It allows us to escape ourselves and to imagine, making it equally important as anything from medicine and psychology to philosophy or dance. The world would be a pretty dull place without all of those things, which makes me grateful that we are human and that every story does matter.

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!
If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Open day at York St John + about my course

My first visit to York St John as a prospective student was several months ago now. This was when I was trying to get an idea of where was right for me, but also where my family and friends though was right for me as well - having different input and opinions was helpful in making the decision when it came to accepting my offers. When I went to the open day, I had already been accepted on to the American studies programme at Manchester university, but I didn't want to enter on to a course that was American studies alone. In fact, seeing an English literature course on it's own was what made me realise that I wanted a really defined knowledge in this area before basing my dissertation and any future postgraduate work firmly in the field of American studies. 

Any way, I digress. So the only open days I had attended prior to this were conservatoire based or for music at university. For those of you who didn't know this so far, I studied for the past year at Leeds college of music for one year before circumstances meant that this was no longer possible. Last year I also attended auditions at RNCM and Guildhall in London, and as well as LCOM with excellence scholarship, I was accepted on to the music pathway at the university of Goldsmiths, also in London. 

Attending an open day at a university where I didn't need to audition or be interviewed was something which made me both wary and excited because I wasn't quite sure of what to expect of the open day. I booked my place around two days prior, bought my train tickets, and that weekend me and my parents were on our way to York. 

One of the first things which struck me upon arrival in York is how beautiful the city is. It is a city with a lot of history, one with a lot of tourism and also one which is quite musical chorally as well as being in quite high ranks academically. It was already a place I liked, so it was a great comfort to find myself beginning to like the course and the university once I arrived. The theme for the open day this year was 'press play' - so there were lots of activities and ideas based on this. Upon arrival, I was given a time table for the day and the first thing me and my mum did was go on a tour of the campus. The campus is fairly small despite having so many students - this was, I must admit, a relief. Coming from a fairly small conservatoire I was worried that I would be overwhelmed by the sheer number of people around me and that this would be put me off the idea of studying here. But the support system seems really well built, and seeing how everything was organised (from their ERASMUS scheme, to how they put together your designated lectures) reassured me so much. Plus, the library is open even on Christmas day! That was definitely something which made me feel this place was committed to the education of it's students. 

Some of my time table included a few sample lectures. One of the ones which sticks in my head most vividly is the first one I went to that day with Dr Liesl King, who teaches a specific class (as well as other classes) on dystopian and post apocalyptic fiction (an area of reading and writing I have found intriguing since reading the Road at AS level) In her short class, we were shown some information on the course, given some samples of essays written by current and past students to look over at home, and also we did a little analysis in the class. The piece we looked at was the beginning of Kafka's Metamorphosis - which I had coincidentally been reading on the train ride down. 

The thing that really had me place myself and see myself as being happy at York St John was the discussion we had in that half an hour class working on Kafka. There were so many ideas which I would never have come up with alone. There were so many people like myself, who were eager to learn and to analyse. Already, there were people who had become good friends and who I am still in touch with - a promising sign. But the most promising sign out of all of that was that when I was reading on the train home, I was still analysing subconsciously, meaning when I got home, I was still thinking about what I had been learning in class two hours ago. That idea of keeping students inspired and thinking outside the class room is something I have found has continued the more I read from my reading lists. And the teachers have been more than happy to help - through emails they have supported me beginning the work over the summer and their advice has made things easier and further interesting to study. It makes me more excited for September to begin so I can begin work for real (and also because autumn begins in September and autumn is just my favourite thing in the world other than Elgar and carrot cake! So much excitement for Halloween and all the pumpkins - sorry for another digression haha)

As for my course, I've spoken quite a lot here about the open day side of things. Yes, I will be studying English Literature, but as I said I would like to branch out and bring in more of a focus on American literature towards the end of my course, but also I will be continuing musical studies in the format of choir, singing lessons, musical ensembles in York and working hard to gain my diplomas in the next few years. Who knows, maybe even two diplomas if I work hard enough! I'm in a place at the moment where I keep reminding myself - if I put my mind to something, I can do anything. And that is my advice to you too. Don't stop believing in yourselves - you are capable of whatever you dream of.  

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

A summer of books

Preparing for university has meant a lot of analytical reading, though I have attempted to keep the reading fun. Mostly this has been accomplished by mixing in other books with my study materials, because I know that as exciting and new my reading list stuff is now, soon it might be a little less so because of how much I will be re-reading it for class and what not. So mixing in outside material, un-required reading or extra reading for certain topics, has been useful in that it keeps me thinking differently, it keeps reading a fun new challenge as it always has been, and it lets me explore whatever I want in the literary world. As Murakami said:

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, 
You can only think what everyone else is thinking. 

Looking into different genres and fields is always fascinating, especially when you are delving in without knowing. That is one of the things that makes literature as a field so exciting, because you never know what you will find mixed into everything else and you never know where it might lead your own thoughts. Plus, as a subject, it isn't really defined to just one thing - pretty much every subject is embraced by some book or another whether it be fiction or non fiction: Every topic is given some liberation to roam free in the pages of a book. 

Some of my summer reads have been: 

1. When to rob a bank (from the authors of Freakonomics) 

This book collection (kind of a non fiction series) was first recommended to me by a class mate in history AS. The first time I picked up one of the books I knew it was for me because it is just so well structured whilst being simultaneously bizarre. The facts and figures are so cleverly explained as evidence for different situations, and it definitely introduces you to the field of economics without a lot of jargon that makes it too complex. This book, when to rob a bank, is a collection of questions they answered on their blog. One example which I found quite interesting was, if libraries didn't exist currently would they be formed? It discussed impact on book sales, what the system might look like etc. It basically takes a look at some of the things in life that don't have answers and attempts to give answers using the mathematics and the reality. Great if you are interested in general knowledge trivia - if you are a fan of the TV show Pointless, then this might be one for you. 

2. Re-reading Fangirl 

I think the first time I read this book was two years ago now? Can't remember when it was first published. Any way, it's one of my favourite young adult novels - summer is perfect for light reading like this. It also talks a lot about university (albeit, the American college system) which is useful preparation when you are getting ready to move out (only two more weeks now... argh!) The plot line follows Cather and her twin sister Wren (get it? Cather - Wren - Catherine?) as they move to university and begin experiencing student life. It follows them through every twist and turn, with some almost Harry Potter (Simon Snow) thrown in for good measure. Cath is a literature major, like I will be, which means a lot of this content is a glamorous fictional version of what I will be doing which is quite neat to learn about this way. Though I hope that my university experience isn't this dramatic, I am looking forward to reading this book in another years time and seeing if the similarities I think I see now still exist then. 

3. How to change the world (School of life)

Bumped into this book in Amsterdam - it's a pocket guide too, which makes it perfect for bus or train reading. Basically, this is one of a number of books in the school of life series which are (as it says in the name) books which help out with how to do all the things in your life that you want to do. Whilst they don't tell you how to go about doing it, or what exactly to do, they are useful for providing inspiration for how to put your ideas in action via examples of other people in the past who to some extent changed the world. Whilst not being world changing in direct connection to the world, this book is definitely world changing to the individual, and each individual world matters. If you want to make a positive impact on the world around you, you might enjoy this one. 

4. London belongs to us

Booktube (people who talk about books on youtube) are an excellent resource for finding out about newly released books (many of them work in publishing) or finding something which is similar to another book or genre you might have enjoyed and want to explore more of. London belongs to us is one of the books I discovered through listening to reviews. It sparked my interest because it was short, it was set in a city and despite being fiction it used real history to set the scene (before each chapter, the history of the location is explained, as each chapter is in a different part of London) in style, it is probably a less adrenaline filled version of the movie Nerve which was released a few weeks ago. It follows Sunny and her friends as they travel across London on their adventure. A book also for anyone who loves their city.  

5. How to kill a Mockingbird 

This was one I had put off reading for a long time until this summer. People complained about reading it at GCSE, whereas I myself had studied of mice and men instead - so I was wary to say the least. People either hail this book as genius or they dislike it. But I fit into the first category as it turns out... it's so superbly written, it could almost be a journal. A new favourite book of all time. You might like this if you enjoyed anything by Kate Atkinson.

On a final note, I've attached a recent video from one of my favourite book-tube channels: Sanne from Books and quills.

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The importance of literature - Translation

The writing and production of books is important for many reasons. Through fiction, we can often learn as much as we would from any non fiction book, because when we read we experience so vividly what ever it is we read about - especially when the text is well written. Or well translated. So frequently I have found the importance of culture by reading books translated from other places around the globe.

Sometimes we are lucky in that texts are already translated for us. Much of the work of Carre, Wilde and Hans Andersen is widely translated and read around the world in many languages other than the native tongue in which it was traditionally written and printed. Occasionally there are writers who have translated their own work, such as Gombrich (a well known art critic) It is intriguing to hear his thoughts on the process of translating his own work, in terms of one of his now most famous books a history of the world which was originally printed in German and took several years persuasion and translation to become a finished product in translated English.

In the modern day, I don't think there is anything more important than reading around the world because there are simply so many stories which reflect all sorts of history and cultures, and which possess the lives and thoughts of so many people. In literature courses, it is important too because it allows us to see how writers produce what they do, why they write that way and how it has an impact on us as an audience. In comparative literature especially, we are able to take say 10 books (all from different places) in order to see how they are connected but also find the factors that make them unique. We can then branch out to see how these things that make them unique link them culturally with other works from that place. Just as in music we can link Shostakovich, Bartok and Sibelius as 20th century musicians, we are then able to divide them as a Russian folk based composer, a Hungarian folk based composer, and a Finnish folk based composer - all of them united in their influence from Western European music and also their collective interest in their cultural heritage through folk music, which they then collected to produce similarly themed but entirely unique pieces of symphonic mastery and majesty. 

Translation is a field which interests me due to my regular work with languages. As a classical singer, translation became a big part of my life, which it still is but now due  also to my working with books and the field of literature. When you translate a song, it is a much quicker process than translating a book. Translating a book takes many months or years, which is why when you read a book in the language because you can speak it, it can be much easier to grasp the sense of how it was traditionally written - it takes a sensationally accurate and imaginative editor/translator to grasp the same frame of mind as the original writer and to translate it in their style - it is ghost writing in the sense you would use with any biography. Seeing the difference between a text reads in the actual language (if you can speak it or teach yourself to understand) can be a very different experience to reading the book translated into a different language. 

These are just some thoughts on translation and the impact it can have on what we read. Also cultural references (e.g. Gretna Green in pride and prejudice) might not carry across in their messages if they are read in say, Spanish, because this is English slang which might not translate directly or easily into Spanish. If you have any thoughts on translation please do share. I think it is such an interesting area that I definitely want to look into a lot more - maybe even do some of my own translation! 

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The lake district and Beatrix Potter

There aren't many places in the world that I have grown to cherish as much as I have home. Home is a very unique and individual thing - it's why we miss it so much when we go away. It's why we take photographs to remember things, because sometimes we find home in other people. It's why we have favourite books, or favourite colours, or favourite foods, because these are the things which spark memories or spark a comfort that we can only ever associate with ourselves. And hence with our homes.

The lake district was a place I spent the majority of my time growing up. Scafell will always be my favourite place - right at the top of that 3210 feet, when you get to the top of the boulder field and suddenly know you are in the tallest spot in England. There is a rush about having achieved that, but there is also a comfort. Those memories are associated with my grand dad who I used to hike with, and also with myself because through those hikes I realised a lot about the things I read, or listened to, because walking gives you the space and time to think. The surroundings around you are neutral and beautiful - spectacularly simple, which is why they can be so precious and inspiring. Great Gable is perhaps another of my favourites because that one always seemed to be caught in the middle of sunset when I hiked it. I don't know why - it just has a lot of soft golden colour to it perhaps, and plenty of green plant life growing every where.

When I think of the lake district, my lake district, I think of the time we were in the basin of where all the mountains meet (before you choose which one to hike up) and there is the stream running through the middle which opens to the river and then eventually, to the lake. Just where you cross the bridge to get to the path of Scafell pike, there is a wooden bridge and on that bridge one day was a shepherd. He was tall and thin, with a sheep dog by his side. The pair of them looked like they had been running through mud all day! And both of them at the same time with practised skill, jumped into the clear rushing water and began to swim around. That moment has always stuck with me, because that is what I associate definition wise with the word Freedom. For me, that is what the word carefree will always mean - the sound of that water fizzing.

My grand dad, as I have previously mentioned, passed away two years ago now from terminal cancer. I miss him very much, especially today as today would have been his 68th birthday. But I don't want to focus on the sad aspects - the reason I talk about home and the lake district is because those are two very positive things which I want to remember about him and about my family, but also because they are things which have been on my mind a lot lately. Today, to try and keep all of us happy/distracted, I organised for me, my mum and my grandma to celebrate my grand dad on his birthday in his favourite place. Of course we couldn't go hiking (my grandma can't walk properly due to polio as an infant) but we could go to Windermere, enjoy the boats and see what was going on for the Beatrix Potter 150th!

One of my earliest memories of reading is of the Beatrix Potter books (my absolute favourite was never actually Peter Rabbit though - always Jeremy Fisher!) Basically. when I was born my mum got me a lot of books and received a lot of books for my christening (as I said, my family loves to read) so I got Winnie the Pooh, the chronicles of Narnia and, of course, the complete collection of all the Beatrix Potter books.

I really wanted to read them and look at the artwork when I was around three, but my mum wanted to make sure the books were looked after so she wouldn't let me read them on my own and when we weren't reading them together, she kept them on the top of the tallest book shelf in the room so that I couldn't reach them! Back then I thought this rather mean, but now it is a relief she did this so that once book appreciation was fully grasped I could really care for these astounding little books.

Nowadays, I don't think I look back on these books enough. They aren't terribly long reading, nor do they possess all the answers to life's difficult questions but they do have the ability to make you laugh, or to make you remember that joy of reading when studying sucks out the fun from time to time. Potter was such a humble person, I hadn't realised just how much till I started reading more of her biography - she refused to be called by her published name once she was married and became somewhat an anonymous farmer. And yet she saved so much land, preserved it in it's beautiful natural state, and now hundreds of people flock to Windermere and to the mountains to follow in her foot steps, always on the look out for a tiny rabbit with a small blue coat with brass buttons.

Now that things are changing so much for me and I am actually making that shift from music college to university, I'm a bit afraid. Or at least, somewhere between afraid and nervous - that place where butterflies become more like herons wings. But then again, today has reminded me of why this decision is the right one. Seeing how a writer and a reader lived such a wonderful adventure of a life was inspiring, but more so learning of the struggle that existed within that adventure has been the reassurance, alongside returning to the landscape of my childhood. I think if my grand dad was here today, he would be happy to see me happy. And much as I miss him, this helps.

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

How to analyse a text

When you are getting back into the habit of analysing texts after a long summer, as I know I am, it can be pretty difficult to know where to begin or what to start with. Every teacher has their different taught strategy on what good analysis is and what makes it up. But the reality is, with any form of analysis whether it be a musical score or one with a focus on literary criticism, the point is to extract evidence to form an opinionated or unbiased perspective (depending on your topic)

One of my live by quotes is one which I read in those joke student rules books or wall plaques, and this particular one (from my mum) said 'a clean text is an unread one' and this is a good point. When I first started annotating and analysing, I was so scared of writing on the page of a book because I have been brought up in a household where it is wrong to write in books because it means we aren't caring properly for them or treating them with the right kind of respect. But the way I got around this was not by scribbling all over my well loved copies which were old or important, but by buying a cheaper edition (such as a Collins classic or a second hand copy, and then put into my practice on these using light pencil which could be erased. This really helped, because it meant I didn't have to keep switching between book and note book when revising and I cannot recommend it more, if like me you are afraid of causing damage to beautiful books.

So yeah, I guess you could say I have done quite a lot of practice analysis for seminars this summer so far. At the moment, I am working my way back through Behind the scenes at the museum in order to jot down all the little comments I made:

1. Pick out quotations

When you are reading the book first time, you are most likely to notice things with more of an impact. For instance, in the Atkinson I mentioned there is a theme of survival and what it means to survive from many different perspectives. This I have noticed because there are often quotes about drowning or of weaponry etc. 

Picking out your quotations first time round is not a life or death situation (it never really is, it's just that it feels pressurised after you have finished reading the book for the first time) Underline things you think are interesting, peculiar, striking or which you think display an unusual form of metaphor or grammar. These things will essentially give you a word web, so that when you read back through the text you can think more deeply about why this caught your eye or why it might have been designed to do so at this particular phrase. Don't underline everything or you will be swamped in text and never get through it - but do aim to find or pick out at least 2 intriguing phrases or paragraphs (short ones!) from each chapter. 

2. Find words or phrases you do not know 

Similar to finding interestigng phrases or quotations, look for those which you do not fully comprehend. I had a history teacher at AS who would mark us down if we used big quotations we could not actually explain, and stated we should always write our work beside a dictionary. There is no shame in not understanding something, but there is shame in not trying to ammend this when you know it is information you might need in class. Helping yourself is the chief aim of good analysis so finding out those definitions is important. 

There won't necessarily always be words or phrases you don't understand. Sometimes it might just be that you come across a word you can't define easily and want to know the direct definition. Other times it might be because what you are analysing works with a particularly broad dialect you are unfamiliar with, maybe it's even from another time long ago which can make things quite challenging to translate into modern English. I find it useful to keep a book journal for all of this information any way, but usually if there is something I want to research phrase wise, it is there that a note will be made about it so that it defintely gets looked up. Recently this has been a matter more of symbolism - for instance, what is the Victorian meaning of a particular flower and how does this add depth to the scene. 

3. Make links between sections + similar elements

When you are organising your analysis notes, make sure you start to link together anything you see that seems similar. For instance, maybe you might take a look at your page of quotes and notice that a lot of them possess qualities which link them with elements. To mark this, you might choose a different colour for each element and then highlight the text relevant to said element with the particular colour. If something is water, it can be highlighted in blue. If something is earth related, in green, and so on. But you can divide this into any sort of system that you like. 

This can be more complex when it comes to bigger texts, such as Ovid's Metamorphoses. But it actually makes it easier to analyse - if you are breaking down a big text like that in to bite size chunks from the beginning of the year and organising/analysing your notes on it in that much depth, then you are quickly going to get ahead of your class mates in gaining more from that text. Of course it can take a while, but it gives you an extra strength when it comes to dealing with that particular plot line, theme etc and how you talk about it in your essays (it buys you a great deal of extra time and effort) It also means if you start over the summer, you will be more than prepared for your classes once you begin in September. 

4. Look for running themes

Step three links nicely on to this one. As I mentioned in the quotations section, it was easy to spot the theme of survival once all of these quotes and ideas which represented different formats of struggle and oppression had been recognised. Themes aren't always this simple, they are sneaky things you know! They like to hide in all those complex paragraphs that you most dislike. But it is much easier to call them out and highlight them in bold yellow if you break up the text and slowly tape it back together (not literally)

Say for instance you have done step three and you have noticed a recurring word or a recurring idea, this is when you present a theme and begin compiling evidence to place with it. For example, if your theme is corruption of innocence in Macbeth you are going to need at least three specific differing examples. You can talk about the change in Macbeth's character, or the unfair treatment of children (namely those of Macduff) There tend to be three or four themes which are the foundation of a text, so finding them is mainly about comprehending what you are reading. Is there a particular discussion of friendship? Perhaps the significance of us versus them is representative of the prevailing theme of society and being an outsider? It's up to you and what you can find, not just what you can find on google or wikipedia. 

5. Form a point using this evidence 

Finally, go from step four into writing out paragraphs of your own where you can discuss why this theme is the way it is and what proves this. For instance, such and such says this which shows us this as we know that this has occurred because of this. A small quotation is better valued over a smaller quotation. But this section is an entirely different blog post in itself really, due to the fact that this is more about essay writing than it is about how to analyse. I hope the above information was of use though! 

^^ Here's a little clip of an arrangement I have been working on recently. 

Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.