Getting Out of a Slump. Advice?

So, reading this year really isn’t happening – at least in the traditional sense. It’s now been 3 months since I picked up a book and I’m starting to feel a little sad about that fact.

I’m in one hell of a reading slump, and it’s one of those that even rereading a favourite book wouldn’t pull me out of, I don’t think. It’s not that I’m not reading at all, it’s a case that I’m reading news, blogs and magazines which don’t really warrant talking about. Other things I’ve been up to – video games, watching movies and TV, spending time with friends and family – have all been time well spent, but I’m getting to the point that looking at all the books surrounding me in my room is making me anxious because I want to be reading.

So, I want advice. I want your remedies to get you out of a reading slump. Any surefire ways that work for you. I want to know if you’re someone who waits a slump out or someone who tries to force the slump away. I just want to be picking books up again, and I this time I’m asking for help!

I hope you are all well, and I look forward to your suggestions!

Review: The Gendered Brain – Gina Rippon

018 - The Gendered Brain

018 - The Gendered Brain

★★★★★

I’m not going to lie, this book was pretty much a cover buy – just look at how beautiful this cover is – but the content is just as fantastic. If I could give this book 6 stars I would, because honestly it’s one of the most comprehensive looks at the differences, and similarities in human brains on the basis of Sex (assigned at birth).

One thing I am going to applaud is how brilliantly the author distinguishes between sex and gender, and elaborates on how one is a biological entity (sex) and the other is more of a fluid thing which can differ from what biology tells us. So often books focus on the binary but Rippon doesn’t shy away from the non-binary. I will say in this review I do use male/female in reference to biological sex.

So, on to the actual content of the book. There have been a hideous amount of scientific studies to show that there are significant differences between the biology of male and female brains. However, studies have only been published if it has shown “significant” advantage to the males of our species. Primarily because studies have been carried out by men, for men, to prove women can’t do X, Y or Z. Infuriating and completely unfounded – a significant result statistically is dependent entirely on the type of analysis done, and while I won’t make myself relive the horror of my final year at university, I know that statistics can be skewed in favour of a particular result by using different analysis methods.

But these studies have impacted lives. They’ve perpetuated stereotypes and gender myths. Brains aren’t a one size fits each biological sex deal. What we’re now learning via neuroscience is that brains are more like play doh and completely shaped by the environment around us in our childhood. Children have experiences, and are surrounded by messages – gendered stereotypes – and that’s what shapes our brains. In telling a girl early on that she’s less likely to be good at science and maths it makes her less interested in it (in turn reducing their ability, completely “proving” the stereotype).

Biological sex is just one of the many variables which influence our brains; society has a far more pivotal role in influencing a brain of a child than anyone believed. Allowing a child to play with whatever toy they want, praising them and encouraging them to excel in whichever subjects they wish to lead to more varied brains – and more rounded individuals. Those encouraged to do what makes them happy are less likely to have mental health issues.

I found this book absolutely fascinating, and I think it’s going to be a book I refer to regularly and push in to hands of anyone not intimidated by such a big ole book! I listened to part of this on audio and loved that too. But anyway, I loved this book and I do imagine it’ll be a bit of a reality check for a lot of people who read it. I loved the detail, I loved how Rippon reviewed past research and also looked to the future. The future after this book is something I’m really excited to see because this, for me, is going to really open up discussion on this subject.

So yes, I absolutely loved this book. I would recommend it to anyone, seriously, even people not interested in the subject could benefit from reading this. And it’s definitely one to take slowly and appreciate, because it’s fact heavy but so important. So give it a go. If you only read one non-fiction book this year – or in your life – make it this?

Blog: Spring 2019 – A General Update

Blog 002

Hello again, and welcome to a wee chatty post on my corner of the internet. It’s been quite some time since I checked in with you all – and a lot has changed for me in the last few months, so it feels an appropriate time to do that! So, below the cut there is a 500 word update where I’m talking Fibromyalgia, the Wellcome Prize, Book Slumps, Theatre Trips, Language Learning and lots of other random stuff.

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Review: Spring – Ali Smith

019 - Spring

019 - Spring

★★★★★

Hello lovely readers, it’s been quite some time since my last review, and what a book to come back on. Spring by Ali Smith is quite the book, and quite the masterpiece and going to be quite the challenge to review because it is so good. I think it goes without saying, if you’ve stuck around here for a while, you know I love Ali Smith and this book is, possibly, my favourite of the Seasonal books so far.  But as with all of Ali Smith’s books it’s hard to actually explain what it is about because it’s so real. 

Before I start, I would also like to say thank you to Sarah Withers Blogs for running a competition in which I won this book – thank you lovely!

Spring follows two main strands, which cross over around half way through. As with all Smith books, this is done perfectly, and a little bit oddly (but equally, absolutely believably).  First we have Richard, a TV and film producer, who in late 2018 after the death of his best friend decides he wants to escape. Then we have Brit, who works for an immigration centre where detainees are, quite unreasonably, treated like prisoners. Finally we have the person who links these two stories – Florence, a young girl with unknown roots. All three of these characters end up at Kingussie station, which is the point at which their stories converge.

As with all of Smith’s characters they’re believable, even if on the extreme end of it. I’m feeling more now that these characters are all intrinsically interwoven in other books in this series – ever so slightly. For me, this series is becoming more and more genius and each book I enjoy more than the last because of the little nods to previous books.

This quartet, so far, has been very political – albeit sometimes more subtle than others. In this book there’s a focus on immigration, and people who are considered ‘other’. Brit works in an immigration centre, and unfortunately those places exist – people are treated like that. She’s our ‘voice on the inside’ – trying to justify what she does, making it as impersonal as possible by resorting everything to acronyms.

There was one paragraph in Spring which solidified this as a 5* book very early on for me, and even now reading it over again I’ve got goosebumps. So I’m going to leave you with this quote.

No, see, I’m not going to tell you what I voted. I’m not going to let you think you can decide something about me either way. All I’ll say is, I was younger then, and still thought politics mattered. But all this. This endless. It’s eating the, the, you know. Soul. Doesn’t matter what I voted or you voted or anyone voted. Because what’s the point, if nobody in the end is going to listen to or care about what other people think unless they think and believe the same thing as them. And you people. Asking us what we think all the time like it matters. You don’t care what we think. You just want a fight. You want us to fill your air. Tell you what it’s making us meaningless, and the people in power, doing it all for us for democracy, yeah, right, pull the other one. They’re doing it for their pay-off. They make us more meaningless every day.

Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh

013 - My Year of Rest and Relaxation

013 - My Year of Rest and Relaxation

So far the Wellcome Prize list has been nothing but a pile of disappointment. But there’ll be more of that in a separate post because this is a review (of sorts) of a book that I really didn’t enjoy and isn’t the time and place for that discussion.

Oh where to start with this book? The fact of the matter is I have nothing good to say about it. I didn’t finish it. The book infuriated me to no end and I only got to page 50 or so. I found it completely intolerable.

The premise is a semi-good one which did pique my interest but the execution was abysmal. The blurb says that it’s a “hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation”. There was nothing hilarious about this book. There was nothing tender about this book.  The protagonist is a self absorbed, highly strung, super rich type who swans about in her New York mansion, only working because she’s bored, and woe her life gets a little bit difficult so she decides to go to a really, really awful psychiatrist who just sends her away with a cocktail of drugs and almost advocates that she sleep for a year.

It’s truly a piss poor representation of depression – as much as most of us would love to just go to sleep for a year we just get the hell on with it because going to sleep for a year isn’t an option. It’s also a poor and irresponsible representation of medical professionals too.

It really concerns me that this was longlisted because the representation of mental health and medicine in this book is not okay. This book is really not okay. So many people have raved about it, saying it’s wonderful, but as someone who has been in a place that dark where all you want to do is hibernate (or worse) this book is so damaging. To say it’s a hilarious novel is so dangerous.

On top of all the really awful medical/health related stuff there’s the subplot of the fact it’s 2001 in New York City and her friend (who she treats awfully) works at the World Trade Centre and you know where it’s going. But that feels contrived, it feels like it’s there for the sake of being there. And call me a bit touchy but I don’t think September 11th should be used as a plot point in a book for the sake of drama when it otherwise has no reason to be there.

There was also the fact that this book had a lot of racial signposting and stereotyping which made me feel really uncomfortable. I don’t care where in the world your masseuse comes from, or your pool boy, or whatever other employee who is undoubtedly being underpaid and overworked because you’re an overprivileged 1%-er. But making a big deal about their ethnic origin, or their race, or their religion for that matter, isn’t representation it’s stereotyping and that’s not cool.

I read 15% of this book. Less than a quarter and I am this angry. My anger towards the judging for the Wellcome Prize is an entirely separate discussion but this book is not good. I truly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they want to read a book and really not enjoy the experience whatsoever. Because this book is, quite frankly, utter trash.

Review: Sight – Jessie Greengrass

014 - Sight

014 - Sight

★★

I read this a few weeks ago, shortly after the Wellcome longlist was announced, and if I’m entirely honest I don’t remember much about this book. I wish I could say wonderful things but ultimately if I had to pick one word for this book it would be forgettable.

From what I remember this book follows a rather self-absorbed, 20-something woman who is pregnant with her second child. That didn’t interest me in the slightest unfortunately. I have no desire to procreate, so pregnant narrators are something that are very hit and miss with me anyway. I will say that the idea of a grieving daughter and a soon to be mother assessing her relationships with the females in her life is a good one, however if it had been left at that I think I would have enjoyed this book marginally more than I did.

However, it wasn’t just left at that (of course it wasn’t!) instead we had random sections about figures from history thrown in – something I really didn’t enjoy. I found the dichotomy between the present day story and historical figures jarring. Just when I felt I may be getting in to the present story I was pulled out of it by a tangent about Freud or the man who discovered the x-ray, and while I think this could have been a good tool if applied correctly, I don’t think it was applied correctly.

As I said, I don’t really have a lot to say about this book unfortunately as 2 weeks have passed since I read it and I actually forgot I had read it until I checked my list of books to review. I can understand that this might work for some people, but for me it was a massive miss unfortunately.

Review: This Really Isn’t About You – Jean Hannah Edelstein

012 - This Really Isn't About You

012 - This Really Isn't About You

★★★

This was my first foray in to the Wellcome Book Prize Longlist for 2019 and, what can I say, this is an okay book.

This Really Isn’t About You is the authors experience with finding out she had a gene which increases her risk of specific types of cancer, and ultimately is the gene that killed her father. For me though there wasn’t nearly enough about this aspect of it – it was more a memoir on grief, sexual harassment and dating in a 21st century world than it was about the medicine and Lynch syndrome. That’s fine, but I was expecting a lot more from it I think.

It’s a very readable account, and the title is correct, it really isn’t about you it’s very much written by the author for the author. It reads like a therapy exercise, and while that does make it very easy to get through I did get to the end of the book and wonder what the point of it was. I would have loved a book which was more about her father – her father who was partly responsible for building the worlds first MRI scanner, a man who has had his part in the history of medicine. Her father was an incredible man and I’d have loved more about him, instead I found parts of this book to be really self absorbed.

But as I said, finishing this book I wondered what actually was the purpose of it. I don’t feel any more educated on Lynch Syndrome and, honestly, I read this book nearly a week ago and don’t feel I can recall much of it at all. I’d not have picked this up if it wasn’t for the Wellcome Prize, and honestly unless you’re really in to memoirs I’d not recommend it to anyone either.

Review: And the Wind Sees All – Guðmundur Andri Thorsson

011 - And the Wind Sees All

011 - And the Wind Sees All

★★★★

One of my many mini-challenges to myself in 2019 is to read more translated fiction, and a good place to start with any translated fiction is publishers which specialise in it. As I always seem to go for the same few publishers for translated fiction I decided to do a bit of research and branch out this time around which is how I discovered Peirene. I had previously heard of them, but just never picked anything up from them (so they disappeared from my memory, bad Ashleigh.) Anyway, I decided to go over to their website to see what they had on offer and was happy to find a number of books from countries I’ve never read before. Including this little gem from Iceland.

The blurb says that this book all takes place in 2 minutes, and that is sort of the case. What I thought it was and what it became were very different things in that I thought it was from one persons perspective, but it wasn’t. The book is a series of vignettes, from a series of individuals who all have one thing in common – the village in which they live. The main thread of the book is that the narrative takes place over a two minute bike journey which Kata – the choir conductor – takes through the village to the concert that evening. Each vignette from there is a snapshot in to the life of different villagers – some she encounters herself, others who observe her from their homes – sometimes we’re in the present but often we’re in the past.

With chapter exploring a different person it becomes more interesting the further in to it you get. I love seeing how characters from one persons past fit in to another past, or hearing a story from the other side of the fence. It really does bring the village alive, everyone is involved in everyone elses lives in one way or another. People have secrets, people have pasts, some people left the village and inevitably find themselves coming back, others have come to the village with no previous ties to it to escape from the city.

The writing in this book, and therefore also the translation, were beautiful. Parts of this were so, so poetic. I loved the more atmospheric descriptions of the landscape and whatnot, I’m a sucker for beautifully described nature and this was spot on for me. If this is the quality of all books published by Peirene I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on my next one from them (and bonus, some of the eBooks are 99p on the Kindle store at the moment, which cannot be snuffed at).

Wellcome Book Prize 2019|| Longlist Discussion

WBP - 001 - Introduction

Well it’s that time of year again, Wellcome Book Prize season. This year the Wellcome Prize is celebrating it’s 10th year, so it’s quite a special one. For those of you unfamiliar with the Wellcome Prize, all books nominated feature central themes of medicine, health, illness or biosciences and can be from either fiction or non-fiction shelves in your bookshop – they just have to represent the key points in a new and innovative way.

This year the longlist has surprised me. Books I expected to see there (including The Gene Machine) were not longlisted, and there are a few books I hadn’t even thought eligible which have been put there. So interesting to say the least and I will confess to being quite underwhelmed when I first saw it. The more I’ve looked in to the books I didn’t know about, the more positive I’m feeling about the longlist – the key themes this year appear to be mental health and gender and I am all for that – but compared to last year I don’t feel there are any immediate stand outs at this stage.

I’m also really happy to see that it’s pretty much 50/50 fiction and non-fiction – this excites me because it means that biosciences and medical representation are becoming more prevalent and better discussed in fiction. What I am sad about though is the lack of hard science – I understand the prize wants to be inclusive and get more people reading science based books but as a scientist I can’t help but be disappointed just a little bit that there’s not a more “sciencey” popular science book (The Gene Machine). But that’s just me being difficult.

WBP - 2019 Longlist

Wellcome Book Prize longlist 2019

 

The more I look at these books, and read about them, the more enthusiastic I find myself. The books this year are very different to the ‘traditional’ shortlist of denser popular science books and while I dislike change, I can only look at it objectively and say that it’s a good thing. In spite of my reservations with less “hard science” the Wellcome Prize remains one of the most varied literary prizes out there and this is definitely an accessible reading list with a good balance of fiction and non-fiction. A lot of the time prizes can get stagnant, but this one surprises me every year as it always seems to evolve in to something new.

A few of the books have been on my radar for a while (The Trauma Cleaner, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Sight and Heart) and only two I was actually going to pick up so this is just the motivation I needed to read the rest. The others I know very little about, I know there’s a fictionalised account of Alan Turing’s final year of life in Murmur, Amateur is the authors biography of becoming the first transgender man to box at Maddison Square Gardens. In fact there seems to be a lot of biography this year, which is all the better as I’ve really been enjoying a good biography/memoir as of late.

The shortlist is announced on March 19th – thankfully a Tuesday (I don’t work Tuesdays) – and I’m hoping to have got through the bulk of this longlist by then. Needless to say I have a few very, very exciting reading weeks ahead of me and I for one cannot wait!

Are there any books here that you’ve read? That you want to read? I’d love to hear from you!

Blog: January 2019

Wrap Up - 01 - January

Hello chums and happy February to you all! I hope this blog finds you all well and settling in to 2019 nicely!

Today it’s a wordy post as I’m going to be talking about my January highlights, this isn’t going to be solely book related but will instead include a general overview of January with some of my favourite things. Hopefully a little more interesting than a blow-by-blow account of all the things I read and the statistics of it all. But if you don’t give a toss about reading this, that’s also fine. Bookish related posts will resume tomorrow with a Wellcome Prize 2019 introduction!

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