A Book and Film Blog

Saturday, 27 May 2017

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla, is a collection of essays by 20 something BAME writers including Riz Ahmed, Himesh Patel, Bim Adewunmi; about what it means to be an immigrant/person of colour/ethnic minority in the UK today. What it’s like to be the only POC in your community; the significance of your name , your hair to your identity; stereotypes – are all subjects that come up more than once. As the essays draw on personal experiences, not only do the writers have contradictory opinions but, each theme is dealt with completely differently. Some comedic , others more academic, a couple of travel pieces thrown in there which altogether; showed just how complex race and identity are.

I’ve had this this post has been sitting in drafts for months now because the book had such an impact on me and I wanted to do it justice if I was ever going to talk about it. Well, months went by and I'd put too much pressure on myself and alas, I couldn’t write a cohesive review. So I did what I do best - I made a list. Here are just a few of the best things about The Good Immigrant.

- Some of the essays genuinely made me laugh out loud (shout out to Riz Ahmed’s essay #LOLS - I hope you have FOMO right now, go and read it), a couple made me very emotional, angry at times I think that more or less reflects the experiences of a POC. Sometimes I experience casual racism and the only response I have, is to laugh how ridiculousness it is. And then there are days where, you can't laugh it off. And when thinking back to those days is still painful to think about. The reading experience truly reflects this living one.

- Musa Okwana writes: “Society deems us bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit-scroungers, girlfriend-thieves, refugees – until we cross over in their consciousness, through popular culture, winning races, baking good cakes, being conscientious doctors, to become good immigrants.”
What joins the essays together is this idea of how people of colour, immigrants are “othered” by our own society and only accepted when we have something to offer. Essentially immigrants are just people, living our lives with a much higher standard put on us. As we're not white, we seem to have something to prove, and even when we prove it, we’re the exception not the rule and never truly accepted. Though I know this to be true, I haven't really seen the immigrant experience explained in such a  black and white way - pun intended.

- “ I have three voices … I talk in Guj-lish my normal voice and white literary part. I don't know whether my normal voice where I feel most comfortable, most safe, even feels like me anymore. I've splintered into personas.” – Nikesh Shukla

I read that with an ๐Ÿ˜ฏface because I have 5000 voices tooooo?! I'll explain. When I was 8 and realised that a) I was the only black person in my school apart from my brother and b) I had a very strong Ghanaian accent which made me stand out even more, I whited up that situation and quickly adopted an accent for school. And then over time my genuine accent changed as did the one I put on in that, it was no longer intentional. And yet the voice I use to talk to myself is a weird mesh of all of them? So now, I have like 3 accents I use interchangeably without thinking about it.

Now, I have NEVER heard anyone talk about this - I thought it was just me. And there were many other moments like this. I know that our identity is shaped by what we go through but understanding how and articulating it even to yourself can be hard and frustrating, especially when you can’t understand why you are the way you are. Being able to relate to so many of these essays helped me to understand myself– which ๐Ÿ‘is ๐Ÿ‘why ๐Ÿ‘we๐Ÿ‘ need ๐Ÿ‘more ๐Ÿ‘diversity๐Ÿ‘ in ๐Ÿ‘literature! Anyways.

I learnt a lot. I felt like I was listening to other people and learning about the experiences of other POC in the UK. Simple. There are people from other ethnic minorities whose struggles I hadn’t given much thought too.

The Good Immigrant has been doing really well and it's so well deserved. But I still feel disappointed when I hear people things along the lines of  “ it's a really important book given our political climate".  Its as if listening to the experiences of POC is this topical thing.  It makes you woke, it gets you retweets. Racism obviously didn’t start in 2016 + these writers are writing from a lifetime of experiences. So I reckon it should just be considered, necessary, required reading from now on. I'm also super excited because it has paved the way for many more books like it!



Saturday, 20 May 2017

Nasty Women

A day after Donald Trump called Hilary Clinton a "nasty woman"; every man, woman and child showed up on Twitter because  we'd all  rather be "nasty" and carefree ๐Ÿ˜Ž than whatever it is Trump expects women to be. The people (an independent publisher in the UK) over at 404 Ink took note and, got a kickstarter going to  put out a book written by women, on what it's like to be a woman in the 21st century. Months later and voila, here it is - Nasty Women, a collection of essays, interviews and accounts by fearless women who are unapologetically themselves.

This book of course does not and cannot account for every woman's experience in the 21st century and kind-of-low-key-claims-to-do-so. All these women are British and many of them are based in Scotland which is worth bearing in mind. That said, the book really tries to be representative. Even as a woman with my own experiences, this book was a window into so many more. My at times ignorance and preconceptions were definitely checked in the reading of this book. There are essays about race, visibility, class, culture, politics, family, religion, disabilities, contraception, the workplace - and many  if not all the essays, are intersectional.

Not so long ago, I went through a "thing" where I wasn't being treated fairly and in speaking up about it, I was labelled as "difficult". At the time I actually really beat myself up about it because I hate being perceived as being as an unpleasant individual. And that's the issue! We've been conditioned to be "nice" all the time. Speaking up or challenging or questioning things or not smiling or not being a sized  aren't what nice girls do. And because we've been so conditioned to feel this way, these labels "nasty","difficult" are used to silence us.  Because apparently the worse thing that could've happen to me, was being called difficult. Honestly the freedom when you realise how silly this all is is like nothing else.

Like the glorious day on Twitter :') this book reclaims the "nasty woman" label just by presenting intelligent, opinionated, female voices.


Monday, 15 May 2017

What's On Your Bookshelf? with Laura from Two Paper Girls. We chat Booktube, Fantasy + Graphic Novels !

Halo all. I'm back doing another one of these chats, this time with Laura. Laura is one half on Two Paper Girls, a Booktube channel set up by herself and best friend Amy. I first heard about their channel through the grapevine at university two years ago and I've been watching ever since!

It's a channel I go to for recommendations because unlike quite a few Booktube channels, this one doesn't really have a niche. Laura and Amy read pretty widely which is quite nice because what I read next, depends on how I'm feeling and there's something for everyone on the channel. So before we talked about books, I was pretty excited Laura even agreed to do this chat so ya know, I had to get all my low-key fan girl questions about her channel out of the way first! 

What made you decide to start Two Paper Girls?
“Amy and I have been best friends since primary school and we’ve always liked reading so we sort of inspired each other to start. I'd started watching a lot of YouTube and discovered Booktube. We both thought it looked fun and thought, why not make our own?. And because my dad and brother had the equipment, we just thought we’d try it one day. We both really liked it and it sort of stuck!"

And what type of videos do you like to film?
"Challenge videos are so much fun to film! Like, we did this blindfold challenge and it was such a laugh. They don't seem to get as many hits but we always have a laugh filming them."

You're both at uni and running a YouTube channel, do you find it hard to balance the two?
“We've sort of got into a rhythm with it so it's not too bad no. We film once every two weeks and plan which four videos to film. It can take a while but it’s not so bad. It helps that there are two of us because we take turn with editing which actually, is what takes a while. Uploading can take hours." 

Now I don't have a YouTube channel but I remember Zoe Sugg or Alfie saying once it can take 2-3 to edit a video so, much respect.

Would you say you read a lot?
"I think it depends on "a lot". There are booktubers that read way more than I do and some people read a lot less. I read maybe 4 books a month but it depends with uni work and all the reading I have to do for my course." FYI Laura studies under grad English (a course I nearly chose :') ).

What are you reading at the moment?
Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence "I'm doing a DH Lawrence module for my course and it's [Lady Chatterley's Lover] nowhere near as scandalous as its reputation! I guess it was at the time but it's basically just about an affair."

We did get chatting about DH Lawrence whose books, if you didn't know, had a reputation I believe for writing what was considered to be 'unconventional' at the time given that he explored themes such as female sexuality. "He used the ‘c’ word and wrote about sex and violence a lot! But he’s definitely not an author of erotica, but his characters are in touch with their sexuality." I'm actually not the biggest fan of classics bar Shakespeare (I know, gross overgeneralising) but I can never really connect with the characters or settle into the style. But after Laura talked about Sons and Lovers, I was intrigued and slipped it onto my TBR. 

"It's about a family in a mining town in Nottingham. We first follow the character of Gertrude Morel when she marries below her social class for passion but her husband is actually quite violent and temperamental. She has 4 children and becomes very attached to the two eldest sons. The perspective then shifts to her second son, Paul Morel, as he tries to find love despite his overprotective mother and difficult upbringing. It’s a great classic because the characters feel very human and real. Even though they’re not all likeable, and do some terrible things, you understand their motivation and it’s a really engaging read!"

Was there a time in your life you'd say you started reading?
“Probably when I was about 9 and I started reading all the Animal Ark series. And then I found the Harry Potter series which also means a lot to me.  I probably started reading them when the 6th book came out, and it was the first time I was fully part of a fandom.”

Guys, wasn’t the animal section at your primary school library ๐Ÿ”ฅ ? It can't just be me?! Also! I too remember the first time being fully fledged into a fandom :') It was Twilight and I feel like now, we’re all just embarrassed by our collective overreaction to the books and the film and Taylor Lautner , but the series itself was good, come on. And while I too, loved loved loved Harry Potter, I haven’t liked any fantasy since and I’ve tried.

So what would you say someone should read to ease themselves into the fantasy genre?

"Well The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss has magic school elements so if you liked Harry Potter, it’s a bit like that in that sense. But it's quite high-epic fantasy though and that can be quite hard, maybe a better recommendation for those interested in the genre is the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas! I also really liked Peter Pan by J.M Barrie– the story itself of course has is fantasy by it’s actually quite dark and I really enjoyed it.

Then there’s The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare – don’t watch the film, the film was awful and they changed so much! But the books are really good. I love The Lord of the Rings and the films too but again,  that’s more epic fantasy.”

I also want to talk about a genre that not enough people talk about on Book tube but, I’d seen pop up on this channel in hauls … comic books! I don’t talk about them enough but I’m a comic book fan. The art is often beautiful but so different for each comic, the plot lines an be sharp and witty in a way that just can’t be found in novels. They also don’t take that long to read ! “And the weirdest things can happen in comic books that can’t really happen in books. You can just do the wackiest things and have really over the top humour - like in Rat Queens or Giant Days. And this kind of thing works so well in comics but not necessarily in anything else.” Yes๐Ÿ’—

We got into talking about how comic books really push the boundaries, and portray genres in a way that is so different to other mediums of literature. I read mainly Marvel and DC but even within those, are so many genres and it’s a different type of creativity all together. And even if you don’t like superheros, know that there are now comics about crime, horror, biographical, historical, mental health – it’s not all Spiderman.

Current Comic Books on Laura's Shelf:   
Spider Gwen Volume 1, Watchmen - "both on the TBR!"

Volume 2 of Giant Days “It’s about a university set in England and it’s just nice to read about university students, you don’t see that very often. It’s also quite funny.”

Rat Queens –“It’s so much fun! It’s diverse, feisty and has a really strong portrayal of female friendships.”

Rapid [ish] Fire Round

Who are your Instaread author/s?
“Anything by John Green for sure. … Ian McKewan though he’s more more of an Instabuy writer for me. I think I read Atonment back in sixth form and loved it, so now I  just buy everything he brings out, but haven’t read them yet. His latest one is a modern Shakespeare retelling and it looks really good so I think I’ll read that soon. J.K Rowling maybe, though The Casual Vacancy wasn’t that great ... And VE Schawb – again it’s more Instabuy with her. I keep hearing people talk about her books on YouTube and keep buying them!

What do you plan on reading next?
"The Penguin by Tom Michellanother animal book! I’ll start it after all my coursework’s out of the way. It should be fun and light reading."

Best book of the year so far?
I have LOVED A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas – it’s a beauty and the beast retelling with sexy faeries! It’s got a really interesting plot and I’ve heard great things about the rest of the series! Also I finished This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab which was awesome! A really dark book full of monsters that are created through violent human acts and an unlikely friendship which, refreshingly, doesn’t turn into a romance! And I'll add On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher – It’s whimsical, magical and I did cry at the end."

Thank youuu Laura for this chat, was the dream :')  Make sure to check out Two Paper Girls and subscribe! 


Friday, 12 May 2017

TV Review: 13 Reasons Why

The Netflix show 13 Reasons Why is based on Jay Asher's YA book and is about Hannah Baker; a teenage girl who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 audio recordings; one for each person she believes was the reason she ended her life. The tapes are passed to each person and we find them with Clay, who comes back from school one day to find them at his doorstep. Hannah was the new girl at her high school and as the episodes progress, we learn more about her school experience and we sort of see through her eyes, how she feels she was wronged by these people. She was a victim of slut shaming, bullying, public humiliation, witnessing a rape, being raped, and being majorly let down by her "friends". The whole show is portrayed through a string of flashbacks as Clay follows Hannah's trail to find out what was really happening to her at school, why he has a tape and why she dies. Unsurprisingly her suicide, and these tapes really badly affect those she sends them to.

The acting itself that phenomenal and on that front, the show has a very afternoon Lifetime TV feel. I give props to show for giving us such a diverse cast full of new talent. That said, perhaps the show didn't really require strong performances because the very nature of the script, is so emotionally draining, that it naturally distracts from the often mediocre cast. Dylan Minnette however who plays Clay, carries the show through for the most part, giving a compelling performance as a student who is uncovering these dark experiences his close friend had, his possible contribution to her death, while clearly struggling with his own mental health . The latter isn't really brought to the forefront of the plot but I think is integral in forming and understanding his character and so, I felt required a lot more of a nuanced performance, which he executed very well.

What the show also handles well, is its depiction of  bullying, slut shaming, the difficulty in finding loyal friends and, the debilitating effect that these experiences can have on someone. These were clearly well researched and deftly handled. It doesn't take away from the fact though that the show makes a spectacle of suicide.

The premise itself; leaving essentially elaborate, very creative suicide notes to every person who you believe is the reason you're ending your life, is problematic and best, sadistic at worst. But given Hannah's state of mind I can understand or at least reason with it. Though a flawed character, Hannah really grew on me as the season progressed. And yet we're not given any space to mourn her death or really digest what how tragic this suicide because from episode 1, we the audience are on "trail" to find out why Hannah kills herself and "who" is to blame. Each episode, the tapes reach different individuals and though some (others didn't 'deserve' a tape) wronged her, all are battling their own issues. The show dabbles almost in being a psychological thriller as it becomes about how each tape pushes each "receiver", further over the edge.

Every episode we get closer to who is really to blame and in doing so, the  show completely ignores the most obvious answer, that Hannah is ultimately responsible for her own death. While others contributed to her depression, it is Hannah who takes her life. And the final episode does entertain this line of reasoning, but it is ultimately cast aside and we leave the season with the conclusion that responsibility for Hannah's death lies squarely on the shoulders of these teenagers. The overall message becomes - treat people with compassionate (fair enough), if you so much as even slip up and they kill themselves, it'll be your fault.

Everyone, particularly Clay, leaves the season almost "at peace" and coming to terms with his said responsibility for her death. Which as a show, is so irresponsible given its target audience, are young people struggling with mental health problems. As if to say that you can somehow if you 're depressed and if other people have contributed to the way you feel or look at yourself, you can avenge yourself by taking your own life. In Hannah still essentially "living" through these tapes, there is something to be gained from taking your life.

I'm trying not to leave spoilers but there is one scene I have to talk about: Hannah's suicide. We witness the entire process: picking the weapon, the actual suicide, her final thoughts, watching her die and her parents finding her body. These scenes were shot so cinematically, so detailed and were so visceral in a way that made them so so unnecessarily graphic.  Producers claim that they made this show to help people with depression and those who've considered suicide. And yet these are the very people, who shouldn't be watching this show. "Research shows that exposure to another person's suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide."

I'll admit the show makes for addictive viewing but not for the right reasons. And I'm not happy. Yes because so many people are watching the show, we're having and engaging in conversations about mental health, perhaps far more than we were before. But there are TV shows (few though they exist) such as The Fosters that deal with issues such as rape, bullying, teenage identity, depression and so on, far better in a way that inspires hope.


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Missing University

I haven't been at uni this year because of the year abroad and while this has been an incredible opportunity and if you get the chance you should totes do it ... I've struggled. I've just noticed my mental health has properly plummeted over the last year, which got me thinking about firstly how important community is (cringe but ya know, true). There's something about being plugged into uni life, even when it felt like it was sweeping me away, it was still a healthy distraction. It also got me thinking about  all the things I bitterly miss about uni life and everything I took for granted ! The novelty I imagine will wear off after week 3 but anywho:

1. the campus - it's so beaut and was a big factor in me choosing my university. I don't have photos but take my word for it. We have swans and lakes and benches and lots of trees - it is very nice.

2. learning - only now realising how bloody fantastic my course is! So many cool modules, great lectures (I actually enjoyed most of my lectures and sometimes, even, left feel inspired ?! and grateful I even got in to such a great uni. okay this bracket is very long) and all those course friends you don't talk to outside of the lecture hall - i miss them too :') And not to sound like an eager beaver but I love learning, having work to do all the time and concrete goals to reach. This year, I've sort of felt like an aimless wanderer with not a lot of purpose ... I don't feel like I'm doing anything. You don't realise how great that lack of sleep mixed with caffeine and course anxiety is, until it's gone :') (Jokes)

3. societies. I take for granted how many societies we have. I've been wanting to go to Lego Soc since Freshers but keep putting it off because I can't find a friend to go with - I know, lame. ... Maybe Lego Soc is lame. But it dawned on me that I could leave university and never meet another grown ass person who likes Lego when meanwhile, there is a room filled with Lego lovers somewhere on campus.

4. having people around you all the time. being so geographically close to your friends. ๐Ÿ’—And all the chats I had with my 2 flatmates till 2am. And also after university, when else in life are you ever going to have such a large network of people around you? Even if you're not making life long pals, when else in your life are you going to have access to that many people around you?! I'd say my uni is a really friendly one too - maybe i'm just thinking that because I've been gone a year and can't remember. But in general if you want to talk to someone, you don't have to look so far.

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