Days, weeks, and months feel like they’re blurring into one right now. I probably (definitely) say that all the time, but it feels especially true at the moment.
Books, too, seem to be blurring into one big mushy whirlpool of letters, pages, and covers. Not that I’ve been reading a superhuman number of them – far from it! – but I have definitely been struggling to capture my thoughts and feelings on most of them.
Book thoughts and feelings can be slippery, slimy, and hard to keep hold of creatures.
C’est la vie.
Although it would kind of be helpful if it wasn’t la vie.
So, over the last few days, I’ve been on the hunt – decked out in full book safari gear – for a few thoughts and feelings creatures.
Luckily, I managed to track a few down.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: this book, people. This book. *clutches copy to chest* It’s utterly, utterly, utterly incredible. It’s mindbendingly weird and spellbindingly surreal. It’s magnificent and enchanting and effervescent; bitingly funny and shockingly horrific. It’s completely mesmerising.
It is, quite simply, all. the. feels.
All. The. Feels.
And seeing as I’ve run out of interesting adjectives and melodramatic uses for full stops, all I have left to recommend it is the blurb:
‘The devil comes to Moscow wearing a fancy suit. With his disorderly band of accomplices – including a demonic, gun-toting tomcat – he immediately begins to create havoc. Disappearances, destruction and death spread through the city like wildfire and Margarita discovers that her lover has vanished in the chaos. Making a bargain with the devil, she decides to try a little black magic of her own to save the man she loves…’
If you like weird and wild and anarchic, you NEED to read The Master and Margarita.
Tuesdays With Morrieby Mitch Albom: it’s typical, isn’t it? As soon as I write a blog post about being a slow reader, I start and finish a book in a day. I read this on a blazing hot June afternoon*, curled up on a blanket** in the garden, surrounded by buzzing bees and bumbling butterflies. It was a really, really relaxing afternoon, made even better by this endearing book. Originally published in the nineties, it’s a real-life tale following journalist Mitch Albom as he catches up with his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is slowly dying from ALS. The book flows seamlessly; it has a punchy, hook-filled, journalistic style, but somehow pulls it off in a relaxed, easy-going way. And its core message is head-over-heels heartwarming.
*June afternoon is weirdly fun to say. Or is that just me?
**which I had to adjust every fifteen minutes to keep up with the shadows cast by towels drying on the washing line because I was too lazy to go back inside and get some suncream.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: this book left me crying like an absolute baby, and “left me crying like an absolute baby” is probably one of the highest forms of recommendation I can give a book. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who, in May 2013, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died in March 2015. He wrote When Breath Becomes Air during the last twenty-two months of his life, as he grappled with the illness and the prospect of his imminent death. The book will break your heart. But it will also put it back together again.
‘What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.’ from the book’s epilogue, by Lucy Kalanithi.
Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen: I’m on a quest to learn more about the weird and wonderful world of minds at the moment, and learning a little more about empathy seemed like a good place to start. Zero Degrees of Empathy provides a fascinating and easy to digest insight into the evidence and ideas surrounding empathy; how it works, its origins, its usefulness, and the problems that arise when it malfunctions within individuals and societies. I particularly enjoyed chapter two – learning about psychopaths and narcissists was fun and worrying all at the same time.
And where better to end a blog post than on the subject of psychopaths and narcissists?
I certainly can’t think of anywhere.
♦ Have you read any of these? ♦ What did you think of them, if you have? ♦ How do you keep track of your book thoughts and feelings? ♦ Are you chaotic like me or organised like a sensible person? ♦
But, yesterday, I finally finished my story turtle quest to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
It’s been an adventure.
I feel like I have a hangover from it.
I’ve been drinking a lot of intoxicating words over the last five weeks.
Book hangovers make processing thoughts and writing reviews tricky. Which, considering this is a book review, is perhaps awkward.
But the black-out blinds are down, there’s a plate full of carbs by my side, plenty of book drugs to numb the pain, and copious cups of tea to keep me going. Plus, I have my trusty old bullet points to fall back on.
I’m definitely going to fall back on them.
There’s no other way with this level of hangover.
Overall, I loved it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It’s an extraordinary story and an incredible piece of writing. There were things I really liked about the book and, inevitably, some things that I liked a lot less. These are the things that I can currently remember…
The footnotes. Each one was a teeny tiny magical story within a humungous magical story, and they were so cleverly done.
The fantasticalness. Ugh, man. This book is beyond magical and fantastical and wonderful. It’s everything you could ask for in an alternative-history fantasy book. Everything and more.
The writing. It’s whimsical and witty and charming and it just made my reader’s heart all warm and happy. Susanna Clarke has skillz. (That’s the only way I can think to describe it – probably because of my lack of aforementioned* skillz.)
The characters. There are pantomime villains; blundering but good hearted heroes; loyal friends; secretive masters; chattering servants; a missing, ancient faerie king; magical vagabonds; plus many, many more besides. They’re all richly drawn and brim with life.
Regency. Regency England made magical is as good as it sounds. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to read Pride and Prejudice again without being disppointed there’s no witchcraft going on.
The footnotes. I know, I know. How can I like them and dislike them at the same time? I just can, that’s why. *sticks out tongue* Mostly, they were brilliant. One or two, though, felt overbearing and unnecessary and made me do eye-rolls worthy of a teenager.
Mr Norrell. Eeek. I’m certain Susanna Clarke didn’t intend for him to be a likeable character, which is fair enough and normally doesn’t bother me, but my lack-of-like for Mr Norrell stretches to pretty intense levels. He’s proud, arrogant, pernicious, dismissive, selfish, and one of his (many) ill-judged actions – I think bibliophiles everywhere will know which one – pushed him over into becoming an unforgivable character for me.
Move to Italy – the section set in Italy just felt heavy to read. Most of the novel kind of bounces along happily/unhappily from one thing to the next, but this part felt more like it was dragging its feet.
Length. Okay, I know. This is totally unfair and completely irrelevant. A story takes as many pages as it takes to tell it. I knoooow. My dislike is just a personal bias against longer books because I’m a slow reader. Aaaand it’s also because I’m pretty sure my wrists have developed arthritis from trying to figure out a comfortable way to hold it.
All those dislikes, though, are more than outweighed by the book’s general brilliance. It’s like a force of nature. You just have to give in to it and let yourself be swept away in all the pages, footnotes, and storylines.
It’s worth it.
Right. I think it’s time for that plate of carbs.
*aforementioned is my new favourite word even though it makes me sound like I’m 100 years old. What can I say?
… because it sounds super fun and fabulous, doesn’t it?
But I promise (blindly hope) it will be interesting.
Bear with me. Because it’s a long, long post.
Ah, this subject. *winces*
It’s a sore one.
Writing this post – and admitting this is an issue I struggle daily with – feels a lot like rubbing rock salt all over a wound, rinsing that salt off with neat bleach, and then bandaging it all up in a plaster made of velcro, thistles, wasps, and those big, bitey ants that live in the rainforest.
Sometimes talking about things that hurt makes them better in long run.
Hopefully it makes them better in the long run.
cute little ol’ passive-aggressive note
Before I ramble on, I’d like to note that I am very very very painfully painfully painfully aware of how messed up and broken the thinking behind BDD is, how contradictory and illogical it is, and its essential futility. And I’m aware, also, of how ungrateful it is. (For example: I think my legs are super weird and lumpy and enormous and gross and sometimes feel like they’re getting wider every second. But at least I have legs and at least they work. I would miss them if they were gone or I couldn’t use them. I should just love my legs! It’s so simple! *cries*)
If you feel the need to remind me of the lack of logic/the futility/the ungratefulness, please please please don’t.
BDD is complex and I can’t just switch it off.
It’s an ingrained thought process that has to be painstakingly unlearned.
And it’s a twisted personal belief system* that’s basically tattooed to every inch of my soul, and lasering all that shitty BDD religious text off of it has been, is, and will continue to be excrutiatingly difficult.
Let’s do this.
*head of church: my brain. Congregation size: one (meeeeee *waves enthusiastically from front pew*). Service times: any second/minute/hour the BDD spirit moves me to worship (which is a lot – I’m devout). Holy BDD days: every day *gets out tinsel and fairy lights and bad knitwear*.
what bdd feels like
We all have hang-ups about elements of our appearance.
Hang-ups are annoying but they’re mostly fleeting. They have very little impact on behaviours and only flare up every now and then – maybe in a fitting room, at the beach, or whilst having a photo taken.
BDD thoughts are relentless, time consuming, distracting, and impact behaviours signifcantly.
I’m guessing you’ve experienced that disappointed-at-what-you-see-in-the-mirror feeling? Your stomach sinks. Pieces of your self-esteem crumble away. Maybe, on a bad day, that reflection will make you want to cry. I’m guessing you’ve felt the embarrassment of seeing yourself in a badly angled/timed/lit photograph? You kind of recoil from it and you definitely don’t want other people to see you in it. You untag yourself or hide it at the back of the album. I’m guessing you’ve had the stab of jealousy on seeing a picture of a beautiful, airbrushed model in a magazine? Your chances of ever living up to that standard of perfection seem pretty hopeless. You hate yourself for not looking like they do and also hate yourself for caring. And I’m guessing, too, you’ve had days where you just feel a bit shit for reasons you can’t quite put a finger on and want to hide away? Of course you have. We all have.
We’re all human and all have vulnerable, squishy, softer-on-the-inside human emotions.
BDD feels like all those squishy emotions, all the time. Wave after wave after wave. Every couple of minutes, you suddenly remember how hideous you are and how disgusted you must make other people feel when they look at you. It’s like a rush of adrenaline coursing through your veins; or the buzz from a double espresso shot at 3am; or the burn of a downed whiskey on an empty stomach. It hits you – sledgehammer to chest – over and over.
And sledgehammers to the chest inevitably wear you down.
Sledgehammers to the chest make day-to-day life difficult.
They inform every decision you make.
They put you constantly on edge.
And they make you spend all your time – all your precious life – simply trying to mitigate the next hit.
That’s a rubbish way to live.
vanity & self esteem
When a lot of people’s ears hear “body dysmorphia” their brains hear “vanity”.
It’s understandable – it is an obsession focussing on appearance, after all.
The vanity element is one of the main reasons I’ve always shied away from talking about BDD. I already hate myself – the last thing I want to do is make other people hate me too by making them think I’m vain and superficial. Especially as I already assume they think I’m hideous on the outside. The inside is all I’ve got. I don’t want people to think I’m hideous there too.
But BDD isn’t vanity. It certainly has habits and compulsions associated with it (frequent mirror-checking, continually asking for feedback on appearance, etc.), but these unhelpful habits stem from a total lack of self-esteem, extreme insecurities, and feelings of worthlessness rather than high self-regard.
Vanity is mostly defined as:
‘excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own abilities, appearance or achievements’ – Wiktionary
‘inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance’ – Merriam-Webster
There is no pride in BDD.
There’s just shame.
The problem with dismissing BDD as vanity is that not only does it triviliase a complicated mental condition that happens to manifest itself as obsessive thoughts and compulsions relating to perceived physical defects, but it also heightens the shame and guilt already felt by people experiencing it – which makes them less likely to seek help for, and therefore recover from, what is a treatable mental illness. BDD attempted suicide and actual suicide rates are remarkably high. I’m sure (although I’m obviously not a doctor or scientist – this is just my opinion) part of this is down to people’s reluctance to talk about their obsessions with perceived appearance issues out of fear of being labelled as shallow and vain.
‘While the aim in many eating disorders is most commonly to reduce the weight of the body or to enhance the musculature and the aim in BDD is to ‘fix’ a perceived defect or defects, the underlying agony is ultimately the same: the belief that one’s physical appearance is something to be ashamed of, the notion that one is not good enough as one is, and the conviction that by somehow changing the physical body, one can become more ‘beautiful’, more accepted as human being, and more worthy of love.’ – page 33, Reflections, by Nicole Schnackenberg.
BDD thinking is messed up. But it’s not messed up to want to be accepted and loved.
That’s just human.
I love food. I hate food.
It makes me happy and it makes me sad. I wish I could just play it cool around it (I think I have actually got a lot better at playing it cool over the years) but the first thing food reminds me of is my body and how it might change my body for the (even) worse. And as you’ve probably gathered, being reminded of my body makes me all squirmy and uncomfortable.
I used to binge eat as a teenager and hated leaving the house (because I thought I was too ugly to go outside). Binge eating and rarely leaving the house, unsurprisingly, made me gain a lot of weight. Since my heaviest, I’ve lost 4 1/2 stone (63 pounds, 28.5 kilos).*
I still carry that weight around with me mentally, though.
When I eat in front of people, I worry about a lot of things. I worry about how disgusting I look while I’m eating and worry that my disgustingness will make people feel ill. I worry that people will think I’m greedy. I worry that maybe I won’t be able to control myself and will just eat everything in sight. My main worry is that someone will come over and call me fat.
When I buy clothes, I struggle to understand what size I should get and struggle to trust I’m seeing the right numbers. The label might say UK size 8 or 10 or 12 (it would really help if brands chose the same measurements for sizing) but hell no am I going to believe that. And hell no am I going to believe they actually, really, truly fit. I have to fight back against the idea – pretty much every minute – that all the fat in my body is bursting out of my clothes, breaking the seams of stitches, and oozing through the fabric.
Big baggy jumpers are my favourite item of clothing for a reason.
*although, obviously it shouldn’t matter what weight I am. Health and happiness are what’s important.
Coming to terms with the idea that you have a mental health problem, rather than a physical one, is one of the hardest parts of BDD and has taken me a good couple of years to grapple with.
This is my simplistic (but incredibly long winded, sorry *pulls awkward face*) way of describing it:
Imagine that you think you’re right-handed and you’ve been confidently, if clumsily, using your right-hand as your dominant hand for your whole life. It seems to be hurting you in weird ways that you can’t quite understand, and affecting a ridiculous number of your decisions, but it’s familiar. It’s uncomfortable but habitual. Newsflash: it turns out that you’re actually left-handed and your life would, in the long run, be so much better – and all those weird hurts would be significantly reduced – if you started using your left-hand dominantly. Imagine how weird that would initially feel. Imagine the leap of faith it would require to actually believe that you’re left-handed (look normal), not right-handed (hideously, disgustingly, irredeemably ugly). Imagine how many times you would have to stop yourself halfway through writing sentences (thinking obsessive, dysmorphic thoughts) to put the pen in your left-hand – where you’re told it should be but where it doesn’t seem to fit. Imagine how frustrating it would be and how much you’d inevitably relapse. Imagine the jumble of left-hand written and right-hand written sentences on a page, side by side in odd proportions, and how confusing they would look together (feel in your head). Imagine how much longer all those left-hand sentences would take to write. Imagine how wobbly all their letters would be. Imagine how much time it would take to get the left-hand’s writing up to the right-hand’s standard and how long it would be before you’re consistently reeling off pages of neat left-handed sentences (consistently thinking logical, realistic thoughts).
And then imagine how annoying, unhelpful, and humiliating it would be if, throughout the entire process, you had people telling you from the sidelines how they’ve never had a problem with being left-handed, and how they think you should just pull yourself together RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND and write them an entire manuscript in beautiful handwriting – complete with detailed illustrations – only using your left-hand.
Imagine how much you’d want to take the pen – in either hand – and write TWAT all over their smug face.*
*obvs you should never actually do that, but you can definitely think about doing it.
I have been lucky in my experience of BDD.
Although it has crippled my confidence and has impacted some aspects of my life severely, it hasn’t taken complete hold of it. I still leave the house. I still socialise. I can still hold down a job. I still try new things. I still have hope that things will get better if I continue to put the effort in and have the right support.
The BDD thoughts follow me wherever I go, but I still (mostly) go.
I think that is down to my weird and wonderful circle of family and friends.
At thirteen, I left school and studied for my GCSEs at home. One of the main reasons I left was that I couldn’t face crowded places anymore. I couldn’t bear being seen with (what I believed to be) my huge, strange body and disgusting face. I wanted to hide away. But I come from a big family and lived in a busy household that was always filled with people coming and going, doing interesting things, and living interesting lives. I was never going to be able to shut myself away in a little cocoon where no-one would ever see me. It was certainly stressful at the time (for everyone), but I guess it worked as a messy form of exposure therapy.
Plus, I get bored easily. Not leaving my room got very boring, very quickly. The fear of boredom overtook the fear of my ugliness and fatness.
So isolation never took root.
I also feel lucky that my early teenage years came just before the explosion of social media. I’m not sure how I would have coped with Instagram at thirteen – especially in the early days of Instagram.
On those fronts, I think I was really lucky.
But BDD does affect some aspects of my life massively and in ways that I have only talked – and will only talk – about with my nearest and dearest, my doctor, and at therapy. *taps nose secretively*
The last year has been a big one on the mental health front for me. I finally sought help for my anxiety and panic attacks, and was referred for cognitive behavioural therapy. My therapist quickly picked up on the dysmorphia, which I had been nervous to talk about in depth with my GP (because I was anxious she would think I was vain – and also because I was crying so much throughout the entire appointment I don’t think she could actually hear any of the words coming out of my mouth between sobs). Most of my homework activities were based on challenging my thoughts and behaviours relating to my perceived ugliness and fatness. Using the techniques learnt in CBT drastically reduced both my general anxieties and my dysmorphic anxieties.
I finished CBT in February of this year and was beginning to feel like I was a properly functioning, kinda normal(ish) human being who could start to make big decisions – decisions which I have spent a long time trying to avoid because I felt so useless and incapable.
Something happened recently, though, which caused a massive spike in my dysmorphic thoughts.
The CBT techniques have helped me from spiralling into anxiety-wonderland. Talking about it openly with people, rather than internalising it, has helped too. I’ve started yoga and restarted (for the gazillionth time) running – trying to take control of and use my body rather than negatively obsess about it.
But still the BDD thoughts have kept creeping in and setting up camp in my head.
Okay, now we’re back to a subject that makes me feel comfortable and confident and happy.
Is it weird that I had never considered reading about body dysmorphia?
I spend a lot of time reading. I spend a lot of time worrying about my body. And it never ocurred to me that it might be a good idea to pick up a book on the subject and learn more about it.
I think I avoided BDD books because reading is a form of escapism.
And why would I want to escape to a subject which simmers away in my brain every day?
But I was missing an important point. Knowledge is power. Problems shared are problems halved. Realising that loads of other people have been through similar experiences to you, seeing the thoughts that have swamped your mind every day for twenty years written down by someone else who has had them too, gives you a sense of perspective that is invaluable.
If you’re still with me *scans the horizon* then thank you for battling through. You deserve a medal. If I had one to hand, I would give it to you.
I’ve been writing this post for so long now (please send help! And biscuits. And alcohol.), I don’t really know if it makes sense anymore (or how many typos there might be hiding in it). I’ve probably not described some things very well and I’ve probably forgotten to describe some things at all.
But I’m going full Pontius Pilate and washing my hands of this draft now.
It is what it is.
I’ll continue to dip into books about body dysmorphia, continue to read articles, continue to watch programmes, continue to learn and to listen to other people’s experiences of it – and would encourage others to do the same. As with everything in life, it is so helpful to gain perspective. It lessens the severity, and therefore the impact, of dysmorphic thoughts.
But I’m definitely going to be doing those things in smaller doses than the doses I’ve been having in the last few days. *rocks backwards and forwards in a corner*
I don’t want to dwell and ruminate on it anymore – I’ve spent a lifetime doing that.
Slow and steady, little by little, I’m moving on.
And for now, all I want to think about are rainbows, unicorns, sunshine, kittens, and puppies.
Some links that might help explain BDD more clearly and succinctly than this post (I should probably have put them at the start and saved you from all my waffling, woops):
Ok, so I’m not actually old. But I am actually confused.
What exactly keeps happening to time?
I don’t understand.
Anyway, I wanted to mark the occasion (late, as always) with some bullet points and some of the things that make me happy in life. Twenty-seven bullet points and happy things, to be precise. Plus four photos.
So here they all are, in no particular order:
one: family. Dammit those weirdos mean the absolute world to me.
two: friends. See above explanation.
three: chocolate. Although it also makes me feel sad because it has a scary number of calories in it #emotionalminefield. Mostly, though, the yumminess is worth the calories.
four: colourful hair. My hair was untouched by bleach/hair dye up until two years ago so I’m making up for lost hair dyeing time now. And I absolutely love seeing other people’s colourful hair – I don’t want to think about how much time I’ve wasted on Pinterest and Instagram looking at prettily coloured hair.
five: reading (surprise, surprise). I can’t overstate how important reading is to me. Whether it’s books (obvs my fave), newspaper articles, blogs, or even just the back of a shampoo bottle, I am OBSESSED with it.
six: running in the rain. I can’t quite believe I’m putting actual physical exercise on a list of things that make me happy, but running – somehow (I think it has something to do with magical endorphin science things?) – does make me happy. And rain is my favourite going-for-a-run weather for a couple of reasons. Firstly, not only is the sound of rain therapeutic and calming, it also conveniently helps to drown out my desperate gasps for air. And secondly, all that sky water makes me look a bit less sweaty and disgusting.
seven: high-waisted jeans. The day I discovered high-waisted jeans was a revolutionary day in my life (I don’t even care how sad that makes me sound). Low-rise and mid-rise can burn in fiery jean hell. I have actual hips with actual flesh on them. Over time, I’ve learnt to hate me and my fleshy hips less and – you know what? – I really don’t appreciate my hips being cut in half by badly tailored denim.
eight: cats. Cats are just fabulous and they do the funniest things.
nine: sassiness and sarcasm. Being sassy and sarcastic is fun. But sassy sarcasticness is all about the goldilocks balance. Too much and in the wrong context, it’s rude – and rude isn’t fun, rude is just rude. You don’t want to overdo the sass. You need to know when sassy one-liners are inappropriate and you need to know when you’re speaking to a gentle soul who needs to be eased into your sassy ways. But don’t be afraid to get sassy every now and again. Sometimes, sassiness and sarcasm are the only answers to life’s problems.
ten: lists (see entire post). They make me feel organised which makes me feel happy. In reality, lists just make me a disorganised person hopelessly brandishing a piece of paper decorated with words that somehow made sense when I initially wrote them down (again, see entire post).
eleven: stationery. Stationery is life. Life I tell you. *waves hands in reverie towards the heavens*
twelve: pudding/dessert (whichever word’s your preference). To be honest, I could quite easily go for a three course meal made up entirely of pudding courses. Which probably means I have a sugar-related pudding problem, but, after twenty-seven years on this here earth, I’m finally at peace with who I am as a pudding loving person.
thirteen: looking triumphantly around a room I’ve just tidied. Obviously the process of tidying can be horrific, infuriating, and distressing, but the smug feeling afterwards is priceless.
fourteen: fresh bedding. It’s just so snuggly and cosy and perfect.
fifteen: the phrase “fuck it”. They’re the two most liberating words in the English language. You always know something good, or at least something interesting with mixed results, is about to happen when you hear/say those words.
sixteen: (and on that note) swearing in general. I just really bloody love it, right from the bottom of my feckin heart. Sorry mum.
seventeen: flowers. They make the world a better, prettier, more colourful, more bumblebee-full, and more butterfly-full place. What’s not to like?
eighteen: writing. Although, like chocolate, it also makes me sad. It makes me sad because I get frustrated that I’m not better at it. It makes me happy because it’s the ultimate outlet for my weird little brain and all its weird little ideas.
nineteen: the seaside. There’s no place I’d rather be; whatever the time of year, whatever the weather.
twenty: unexpected book conversations. Obviously all book conversations make me happy, but there’s something extra special about an out of the blue book chat. It’s a magical, warm the cockles of your heart moment.
twenty-one: Christmas (when I’m not at work). It’s just a wonderful time of year (when I’m not at work). Eating, drinking, and being merry (when I’m not at work) are all things that I’m good at doing anyway, so the fact that it becomes socially acceptable to do all these things in excess at Christmas time works out really well for me.
twenty-two: cognitive behavioural therapy. I was referred for CBT in July last year, started it in September, and in February this year was released back into the therapy-free wilds. This is a whole other blog post and that post will be super long and emotionally messy when I get round to it (not pitching it well, am I?). Basically, although CBT is hard work (why oh why oh why can’t therapists just flick a brain switch and magically fix minds?) the results are worth it and make for a much happier life in the long run.
twenty-three: baking. In general, I’m not a confident person and spend a lot of time thinking I’m doing things wrong. But baking is one thing that I am confident at. And I can eat the end result (mostly). Perfect.
twenty-four: cups of tea. I ❤ tea always.
twenty-five: charity shopping. I know some people get a bit grossed out about secondhand clothes – an attitude to which I have two words: washing machine – but I unashamedly love thrifting. You never know what you’re going to find, it’s much more environmentally friendly, and it costs a lot less than buying new.
twenty-six: baths so hot they make my skin a radioactive lobster shade of red. I’m old now and my body hurts – baths the temperature of lava make my body hurt less. That makes me happy.
twenty-seven: finishing things I’ve started. Sometimes (ahem, a lot of the time) I get distracted halfway through projects/housework/books/talking/writing blog posts, so actually finishing things makes me all happy-smug inside.
*basks in happy-smug glow*
So there you have it. Twenty-seven happy things. I’m looking forward to another year full of them.
Here’s to being a little bit older and a little bit wiser.
I recently wrote about a blog post about a few books in my TBR list that intimidate me.
The common theme with them?
The common theme with me?
Fear of commitment and laziness. *pulls guilty face*
I’m not a quick reader. I used to wish that I was, but I’ve grown to accept my tendency to meander through the pages of a book – and I’ve grown to be happy with my meanderings too. It takes me time to process a story. It takes me time to switch off from the outside world/the worry-filled world of my head.* It takes me time to decide how I feel about characters and it takes me time to settle into an author’s voice.
In other words: I’m a story turtle. Slow and steady.
Unlikely to win any races, though.
No matter how much I like the blurb, no matter how many rave reviews I read, my slowness means a big book always makes me nervous. A big book is a big commitment for me. Weeks – possibly even months – worth of a commitment.
And turtles are renowned by scientists for their fickle nature and total lack of commitment.
Okay, that’s not true.
It could be true.
I don’t know.
This story turtle is throwing caution to the wind.
This story turtle won’t let commitment nerves get the better of her any more.
I’m diving into the deep, Mariana Trench-esque waters of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It sounds too good and too wonderfully magicky to keep on avoiding. Who cares if it’s one thousand and six pages? *hyperventilates*
One thousand. And six. Pages. *hyperventilates more*
Wish me luck.
Send tea and chocolate.
You’ll probably hear what I think about it in October. Maybe November. Perhaps December. What even is time anyway? *tries to look philosophical and clever*
This turtle is making no promises.
*this has historically been the single biggest problem for me with reading (and pretty much everything else in my life). The chatter of worries flying around my brain was relentless, exhausting, infuriating, and maddeningly distracting. Literally maddening. Thankfully, it’s got a lot better in the last year. One day, I’ll write about it. Even if no-one wants to read about it. *sticks out tongue*
Lately, it’s been raining a lotta lot. It’s been cold and grey and cloudy a lotta lot.
On the one hand: it’s great weather for cosy, snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug reading. It’s great weather for big, baggy, woolly jumpers – my favourite things to wear. It’s great weather for cuddles with cats. It’s great for cheeky hot chocolates and holier than thou herbal teas. It’s great for baths so hot they turn my ghost-white skin a radioactive-pink. It’s great for morning runs that leave my lungs fresh and clean, but my legs unable to cope with stairs. It’s great for irridescent road rainbows shining, bleeding, and swirling across tarmac. It’s great for lazy lie ins spent listening to the drum of raindrops against lush leaves and blooming petals.
On the other hand: it’s Juuuuune.
*folds away summer dresses and cries tears that turn to ice in the air*
I don’t know how to write about them. My brain and fingertips can’t articulate the horrible weirdness of them. Each time I try, I’m just left with sentences of gobbledygook and paragraphs I can’t find my way back out of.
*takes a deep breath*
… a book.
Always the answer to any of life’s problems.
I found a copy of The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico in a charity shop on a rainy day last week. I was meant to be out buying lunch, but secondhand retail therapy called to all the corners of my soul and I’m very glad it did, even if my empty stomach was less happy about the distraction.
It’s a beautiful short story. Haunting in a magical, heart-breaky kinda way. Weird, strange, and unusual in the same heart-breaky way.
But as much as it might break your heart a little bit, it will mend it more.
Ever since watching a BBC documentary in August last year, ever since reading but not loving Nights at the Circus in September (review here), I’ve known.
I knew, deep down in my bones, that one day I would fall in love with an Angela Carter book.
All I had to do was find the one.
And I found it, second time lucky.
The Magic Toyshop follows the story of fifteen year old Melanie and her younger siblings as they try to come to terms with their new lives under the tyrannical guardianship of their eccentric Uncle Philip. It’s strange and bizarre, eery, grotesque, macabre, and uncanny – but I loved it. Truly, madly, and deeply.
And I can’t even explain why. I get halfway through reasoned, rational arguments for why I think it’s such a good book and then my brain short circuits until the only words left inside it are I JUST LOVED IT WITH MY WHOLE HEART and little puffs of smoke appear out of my ears.
So, I think the only way forward for this 100% biased and love blind review is for me to get out some trusty old bullet points.
The writing – it’s beautiful, lush, and completely hypnotic.
The sixties – the story was set in the present day at the time of its publication, so say hello to sixties England. In a way, the story itself is kind of timeless, but subtle details that ground the book in its era – corduroy trousers, p.v.c. jackets, a fleeting Mini – are there if you keep your eyes peeled. Initially, the sixties felt like an unnatural setting for this kind of story, but by the end I wouldn’t have wanted it set in any other decade. It turns out that magical realism and corduroy trousers go surprisingly well together.
The world building – although it’s set in sixties London, the toyshop itself feels like a separate universe. It’s creepy and unsettling and you’re never really sure if real-world rules apply.
Melanie – she’s not the easiest character to understand and errs on the side of self absorption (is there any other way to err at fifteen?), but you can tell she has a good heart by the way she looks after her siblings and helps her aunt. She goes from riches to orphaned rags and learns to take it in her stride.
Finn – again, not the easiest character to understand, but he has an impish spirit and strange fieriness that not even the monstrous Uncle Philip can keep down.
The relationships – there’s attraction and intrigue, revulsion and indifference, sweet affection and twisted obsession, hatred, love, and fear. In other words, there are feelings floating about all over the place and it’s hard not to get caught up in Carter’s emotional sorcery, even if it is all a bit (a lot) weird.
I could go on and on, but I think it’s for the best if I stop before the whole short-circuiting-smoke-from-ears thing starts.
Eleven years before the scheduled Armageddon, two world-loving other-worldly creatures – one a demon, the other an angel – accidentally misplace the antichrist with a little help/hindrance from a scatter-brained satanic nun. Chaos ensues – with all the forces of heaven, hell, and a village in Oxfordshire trying to keep up as the appointed dayeth and hour draws near.
So a book written by both of them about the end of the world?
Well, it sounded pretty perfect to me.
Plus, with a TV adaptation of Good Omens set to be released later this month – trailer here – now felt like the ideal time to dip my toe into this epic co-authoring waters.
And it was pretty perfect.
Once I got into its absurdly wonderful flow it was hard not to fall head over heels in love with how ridiculous it all was.
Clearly, Gaiman and Pratchett had a lot of fun writing the book. Ninety-nine percent of the time that translated as fun to read. One percent of the time, though, and I feel like killjoy R.P. Tyler* for saying this, it translated as slightly irritating because the storyline seemed to lose out to a two/three/four paragraphs long (plus a detailed footnote) gag. Hence** the pretty before the perfect.
Good Omens is definitely a Marmite kind of book – you’ll love it or you’ll hate it depending on your sense of humour. It’s very British, very Monty Pythonesque, very weird and wacky, very over the top, and very unapologetic for it.
I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
*my favourite secondary (maybe thirdondary, possibly even fourthondary) character. There are loads of these brilliant minor characters throughout the book.
**yes, I used the word hence. Yes, I am a hundred years old.
And finally, can we all just take a moment to appreciate Poppy, my wonderful photography assistant…
Ok, so maybe scared isn’t exactly the right word – intimidated by is probably a more accurate description for how I feel about these books.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit to being scared by the thought of reading certain books on a bookish blog – words are just words, stories are just stories, a book is a book is a book – but here I am, book-heart on sleeve, confessing that I do actually get nervous of reading sometimes.
Don’t judge me.
These are my top three intimidated-by reads:
It by Stephen King – one word: clowns. I am petrified of clowns – to the point where it actually makes me uncomfortable simply having a copy of the book in my house. Just those eyes peeping through the drain on the front cover scare me. *shudders* And I also worry, in the middle of the night when my brain has nothing better to do but try and freak me out, that the clowns might get out of the pages and cause evil clown mayhem (although I do accept that this is very unlikely to happen). There’s part of me that thinks reading It could be like exposure therapy and cure me of the fear, but there’s a bigger part of me that thinks it might scar me for life. Why oh why oh why did I buy a copy?
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin – I read A Game of Thrones a few years ago and really enjoyed it. But there’s something about A Clash of Kings that means no matter how many times I take it off the shelf I always end up putting it back again. I just don’t think my attention span is long enough at the moment to keep track of all the deaths, all the scheming, all the characters (new and old), figuring out who’s on whose side and whether that’s even the side they’re really on, and figuring out whose side I’m even on. Basically, whenever it comes to picking what book to read next, there’s always something shorter and less complicated waiting in the wings.
Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – one thousand and six pages. One. Thousand. And six. Pages. It’s abso-bloody-lutely humongous and the font is the teeniest tiniest font ever used in the history of the whole entire universe. I don’t really think I need to say any more as to why I’m scared to read this. I’m not a quick reader at the best of times, so this is going to take me ages when I’m finally brave enough to delve in.
I haven’t given up on my hopes of reading these three one day – it’s just that, so far, they’ve failed to win me over when the “what to read next?” monster comes to town.
One day, though, I’m sure they’ll conquer my scared book heart.
Do you have any books that sit on your TBR shelf like this? Or have you read any of these three? What were they like if you have? Will I die of a clown related panic attack if I read It?