Jo Talks Books: Why Female Friendships In Books Are So Important

Hi everyone! It’s International Women’s Day today, so it seemed like the perfect day to cover a bookish topic that is very close to my heart, it’s something I always talk about loving to see in books and I wanted to talk a little bit more in depth today about why that is and why I think it’s so important. That is, female friendships in books, and I think today is a very apt day to do that, since International Women’s Day is all about celebrating the women in your life (yes men, you get a day too, it’s the 19th November).

Part of my reasoning for loving seeing female friendships in books is quite simple and personal: I’ve always had more girl friends than guy friends, even from primary school, all my friends were girls and it’s been that way ever since. I had bad experiences with boys at secondary school and so I’ve always been a little bit wary of making friends with them, I’ve always found it a lot easier making friends with girls than I have with guys because of that. My friends are massively important to me, they’ve been there for me for years, always supporting me and so I love it when I get to see supportive female friendships in books because it reflects the experiences that I’ve had with all of my amazing friends.

I also have a societal reasons for wanting to see good female friendships portrayed in books though. So often society pits women against each other, suggests that we should be tearing each other down instead of building each other up, that teenage girls should be jealous of other girls their age rather than supportive and I think that the toxic messaging that society sends women about other women is completely wrong. We need to see positive female friendships in books, especially YA books to counteract the horrible messaging that society sends girls, that other women are the enemy and we should only be looking out for ourselves because there’s only enough room for one woman in the room. I don’t think fiction should be responsible for exactly reflecting the society that we see, inequalities and all, I think that fiction should be responsible for reflecting the society that we want to see, where everyone is working together to combat those inequalities, since that’s what should be happening in the real world.

I find it so tiresome seeing books time and time again pit women against each other. We don’t need to see the women in the books we read hating each other because they like the same man, because honestly, that’s sexist and at least in my experience, happens a lot less frequently in life than it does in media. That’s not to say that girls can’t be awful to each other, they can be, but what’s not great is when fiction makes it seem like that’s the only kind of relationship that women can have with each other, which is categorically not true.

Female friendships can be so powerful and enduring and intense and often for teenagers, even more important than the romantic relationships that they have in their lives, anyone who has ever experienced a “friend breakup” can attest to how saddening it is when you part ways with one of your best friends. It’s doing women a disservice when books represent their friendships as completely drama filled and toxic and bitchy and not showing the loving, caring, intensely supportive side of female friendships. Women’s friendships are much more nuanced than fiction sometimes give them credit for and we need to have less of the women at each other throats constantly, because that feeds into the toxic bullshit that society sends us that women can’t be friends with other women because the patriarchy knows that when women support each other, we are stronger than ever.

I’d like to give some examples of really great female friendships that I love from books, to illustrate my point and show what I’d like to see even more of in books as I think friendship in general and it’s importance, especially in YA books which is what I mostly read, can be sorely overlooked sometimes.

Elizabeth Wein’s books are amazing for showing the power of female friendships and women working together. There are women at the centre of all her books and all of these women have other women surrounding them and helping them. Code Name Verity is all about Maddie and Verity’s friendship, it shows just how far women will go to help each other and the love between these two girls just spills of the page, it will forever be one of my favourite books about female friendship. Rose Under Fire also centres women’s friendships, how Rose is able to cope and endure her terrible experiences in Ravensbruck because of the friendship of the other women imprisoned with her, and The Pearl Thief shows the wonderful intensity of Verity’s first female friendship before she even became Verity. If you love women in historical fiction, I 1000% recommend Elizabeth Wein’s books.

Laura Steven’s The Exact Opposite of Okay is also incredible in its portrayal of female friendship. This one is particularly special to me because Izzy and Ajita’s friendship reminds me so much of me and my best friend, they mock each other constantly and to an outside eye that mocking might look mean, but it’s all based on true friendship and you know that they’d just do anything for each other.

The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants was probably my first great YA female friendship book (I loved The Sleepover Club and The Saddle Club for this when I was a kid), Tibby, Lena, Carmen and Bridget were so close, they were almost like sisters and they were always there for each other, even if they were mad at each other.

Throne of Glass also, for it’s many problems, shows some wonderful female friendships, you have the Thirteen who yes, are bloodthirsty witches, but they would rip out the heart of anyone who tries to hurt someone from their coven. Aelin and Lysandra are also a wonderful female friendship which inverts the initial girl on girl hate trope beautifully.

Those are just a few examples of books with amazing female friendships in them, there are so many more books out there that have such positive, wonderful friendships between women and I think the number has only been growing in recent years which is amazing to see. Women supporting women is so important and it’s vital at all age groups of books that girls and women get to see examples of positive friendships between female characters, because we desperately need to counteract the toxic messaging given by so many forms of media that pits women against each other. It’s 2019, there’s no place for that kind of toxic messaging anymore and I desperately want authors to give us the complicated, nuanced, but ultimately incredibly supportive female friendships that we deserve.

Do you like to see female friendships in your books? Tell me about your favourite books that feature awesome female friendships (make my TBR grow more, I dare you!). Let me know in the comments!

I don’t know if I’ll do another Jo Talks post this month, it depends how busy I am, especially with my project deadline coming up, but I will definitely be doing that post on Read-a-thons for you guys! In the meantime, the next post I’ll have for you will probably be my Top Ten Tuesday on yes, Tuesday, so look out for that!

 

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Jo Talks Books: How Blogging Has Changed My Reading Habits (5 year Blogaversary Post!!)

Hi everyone! As you can see from the title of this post, today is my 5 year blogaversary, I’ve always found it kind of ironic that the anniversary of me starting this blog falls around Valentine’s Day given what a romance cynic I am, but ah well! Anyway, before I get started on today’s post, I just want to thank all of you, however long you’ve been following or reading my blog for sticking with me over the past 5 years, there’s no way that I’d still be doing this without your support, so thank you so much. It’s hard to believe that when I started this blog, I hadn’t even done my A-Levels yet and now, 5 years later, I’m set to graduate University, I’ve had my work published in an actual newspaper and this blog has over a thousand followers, which is amazing.

Anyway, today being my blogaversary actually fitted quite well with something I was wanting to talk about anyway, how blogging has changed the way I read. My reading habits have changed a lot in the last five years and I could put that down to a lot of things, Uni has had a massive impact on how I read, general changes in my interests but I have to admit, I think blogging has probably had the biggest impact in how my reading has changed in the past five years.

For one thing, rereading. I used to love to go back and reread my old favourite from time to time, just to remind myself of why I loved them so much in the first place. Since I’ve started blogging though, I just don’t have time to reread as much as I’d like to, I buy a lot more books, so I have far more new stuff to read than I ever did before and when you’re only reading two or three books a month, you don’t really have time to reread.

I’m also far more aware of, and read far more new releases than I used to. Before I started blogging, I would only really be aware of when my favourite authors were releasing new books and other than that, I would mostly just go into Waterstones and see what I’d liked the sound of. Now I know what books are coming up, and what I’m excited for well in advance of their release dates, and I can either request an ARC or I can go into a bookshop and see if they have it. On the one hand this is good, because it takes away some of the uncertainty, but I do miss being able to just browse and come across something that really surprises me, it’s very rare that I don’t know about a new release especially a YA release coming out, so I can’t just go into Waterstones and be surprised by a random book anymore, which is a shame. It does however mean that I read a lot more debut authors than I used to, which has been great, I’ve discovered a lot more amazing authors through blogging because I’m more willing to try authors that I haven’t necessarily heard of before now.

Before I started blogging, I never read e-books at all, I’m ashamed to admit I was a little bit of a snob about them, I had a bit of physical book superiority syndrome. I will still say that I do prefer physical books to e-books, and I only really read e-books when I’m reading e-ARCs from Netgalley as I’m not a massive fan of reading on my computer, but since I’ve started blogging, I have come to appreciate e-books more than I did before and they do allow me to read more, as I read them faster than physical books, so that is definitely a benefit that I’ve enjoyed since I started blogging.

I was also very much a one book at a time kind of girl before I started blogging, and although I still don’t love having more than one physical book on the go at once, I have learned how to balance physical books and e-books so that I’m able to maximise my reading time and get a lot more done, which has definitely helped me in order to read more and therefore be able to blog more, something that I never would have thought about doing when I didn’t have a blog, because I didn’t feel the need to get through multiple books at once (nor did I have e-ARC deadlines to meet).

I’m a lot less willing to go into books blind now, before I would quite often go into a shop and pick up a book and if I liked the sound of it then I would try it, whereas now, I have to have heard something from other bloggers about the book before I’m even wiling to try it, which is good because I feel like I pick up less duds now than I did before, I’m more certain that I’ll like something before I pick it up. I get a lot more recommendations now than I used to, and am more likely to pick things up if they’ve been recommended to me by another blogger than if I’ve never heard of it.

I also keep track of my reading a lot more. I started my Goodreads account in my first year of blogging and since then I have religiously tracked my reading, which has been a really positive thing to come out of blogging, because I can keep track of the books I like and don’t like, the books I’m excited for, the arcs that I’m reading, Goodreads has been super helpful for me in keeping organised in my reading life and I never would have found it if it hadn’t been for blogging. I didn’t even have a TBR before I started blogging, at least not anything official and now because of blogging and Goodreads, my TBR has just exploded.

I’m far more aware of what works for me and what doesn’t because of blogging, and I think that has made me a more discerning book buyer. I can be pretty confident before even turning a single page now whether I am going to like or dislike a book, I don’t think this necessarily all comes from blogging, being a reader your entire life does this as well, but blogging has made more self aware about what works and what doesn’t for me in a book (and why) and this means that I no longer need to waste my time with books I know I won’t like, every book I pick up now, I am reasonably sure before I go into it that I’m going to like it. Blogging has also really helped me as a writer, because in writing reviews, I learn what works and what doesn’t work for me in books and take that into my own writing. I keep notes on every book I read now, and that allows me to sort out my feelings about a book a lot more cohesively than I was able to before I started blogging.

I’m a lot less patient with books now, I still have difficulties DNFing, because I like to have closure, but for the most part, if a book isn’t gripping me, or I’m struggling to get into it, I won’t push on through till the end, I’ll put it down because at the end of the day, I have a lot of books to get through and I don’t have the time to be wasting it on books that I’m not enjoying. I do worry if that means I might miss out books that I will enjoy because I’m not giving them enough of a chance.

I’m also a lot more aware of diversity in books which was something I wasn’t particularly aware of before I started blogging and I will be far more discerning of books that have little to no diversity in them than I would have been five years ago, because now I know how important representation is for marginalised groups and want to help support titles by diverse authors.

Before I started blogging, I had one friend who I spoke to about books all the time and if she hadn’t read them, then I just had to bottle up all my feelings about them until she had. Now, not only can I share my thoughts about books on the Internet, I have an entire community of people that I can talk to about books whenever I want, which is just incredible.

Blogging has definitely changed the way I read, in both good and bad ways, but after five years of doing this, I can’t imagine my life without it, I’ve gained a whole community of book loving friends, I’ve been to so many wonderful book events, I’ve read so many amazing books, it’s been a wonderful five years and I look forward to many more to come!

Has blogging changed the way you read? How? Let me know in the comments!

I have a giveaway going on over on Twitter for my blogaversary, you have the possibility of  winning one of my favourite books if you enter, so go and check it out.

I don’t know when my next Jo Talks post will be going up, it depends on how busy I am for the rest of the month, but I’ll be talking about Read-a-thons and why they don’t work for me, so look out for that. In the meantime, I’m almost done with my current read Alex and Eliza, so I should have a review of that up for you guys over the weekend.

 

 

 

 

Jo Talks Books: 2019 Reading/Writing/Blogging Goals

Hi all! Happy 2019, I hope you all enjoyed bringing in the New Year, whether you did that curled up in bed at home, or out partying with your friends. I am super excited for a new year on the blog, this is a milestone year for my little blog, as I will have been blogging for 5 years in February, I honestly can’t believe how quickly the time has gone. As always at the beginning of a new year, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my blog over the past year, and the previous ones, and I hope you all continue to enjoy reading my blog as much as I enjoy writing it!

Anyway, onto the topic of today’s post: since it is a new year, and Top Ten Tuesday doesn’t seem to be doing a goal related topic this year, I thought I would share my 2019 Reading/Writing/Blogging Goals as it’s always something I like to do at the start of a new year, it’s a nice way to set up the year and it gives me something to work towards throughout the year. I’ve done much better on these, since I started framing them as goals rather than resolutions, as I like having things to work towards throughout the year. As with last year, I have a nice mix of blogging, writing and reading goals, hopefully these will keep me busy through 2019:

  1. Complete my Goodreads Challenge

I’ll start off with one of my continuous annual goals, to complete my Goodreads Challenge. I’ve started at 24 books, the same as I did last year, and I ended up at 35 last year, so obviously I’m hoping that I will beat it, but since this year is my dissertation year, I wanted to try and be kind to myself, so if I’m reading more than expected I can put it up, but equally, if I find I have less time than I’d like I can put it down.

2. Complete my #RockMyTBR Challenge

Another annual one, I’ve once again set my #RockMyTBR Challenge at 12 books, and I’d quite like to actually complete all 12 this year, since I’ve finished at 11 for the past two years! Twitter put together another really great list for me this year, so I’m super excited to read all of them.

3. Become a 5 star writer for The National Student

I’ve been writing for The National Student for over a year now, and I’ve written over 70 articles and had nearly 68,000 views, which is amazing, but I’d like to hit that final, elusive milestone of becoming a 5 star writer before I graduate in June.

4. Continue working on revisions for This Is Not A Love Story in order to prepare it for querying

I had a pretty good year working on This Is Not A Love Story, I completed my first round of revisions on it, which was an achievement in itself since it was my first time editing a novel EVER, but this year I want to really try and make headway on my most recent round of revisions, send them back to my Critique Partner and maybe have more revisions underway by the end of the year. I’m determined to try and get this novel ready for querying in the next few years.

5. Read more non-fiction

This year, I’ve acquired quite a lot of non-fiction, specifically feminist non-fiction, and I’d quite like to try and read more of that this year, since obviously I read mostly fiction but I’m really excited for a lot of the non-fiction I got in 2018 and I’d like to try and read at least some of it this year.

6. Catch up on 2018 releases I missed

Another rolling one-it seems I spend every year trying to catch up with books from the previous year! I did manage to read quite a few of my most anticipated 2018 releases which was great, but there’s still quite a lot for me to catch up on, not least trying to finally finish Kingdom of Ash.

7. Unhaul some of my books in preparation for graduation

I’m graduating this year, so of course that means that I will be moving back home, and whilst I do have somewhere to store my books, I’m trying to take this as an opportunity to get rid of some of the books that I may have lost interest in since the time I bought them, and streamline my collection of unread books down to the ones I’m really excited for. This may be a totally ill fated goal since I’m terrible at getting rid of books, but at least the intention is there!

8. Start my Book/Movie comparison feature

Last year, I had an idea for a new feature for the blog, comparing books to their movie adaptations and the response on Twitter for it was pretty great, so I’m going to attempt to start that this year. I might not start it until after I graduate, but I definitely want to try and get it up and running before the year is out.

9. Focus on backlist books 3 years old or more

I’m very aware that I have a lot of books on my shelf from 2015/2016 that I still haven’t read yet and I really want to make a concerted effort to read some of those this year because I don’t want to leave them languishing on my shelves much longer whilst I read all of the shiny new books in existence!

10. Get my Netgalley ratio up to 80%

I ended 2018 with my Netgalley ratio at 71%, which is really great, but this year, I want to finally get my Netgalley ratio up to that all elusive 80%. It might not stay there very long, but I’d love to at least reach it!

11. Try more audiobooks

I used to love reading audiobooks when I was a kid, but for some reason I kind of went off them and I haven’t read any in years, but seeing so much excitement for audiobooks on Twitter has really made me want to get back into them. I am however going to need your help in finding good ones as I haven’t a clue, so if you have any recommendations for great audiobooks, then please leave them in the comments!

12. Have more guest posts on the blog

I really enjoyed doing a few guest posts and interviews for other people’s blogs this year, and I’d really like to get some guest posts on here, especially for my Writing Corner. So if you’re interested in doing a guest post for me, especially if you’re a writer, then please drop me a message on here, Twitter (@iloveheartlandX) or via email, jo.ell.x@hotmail.com and I’ll sort something out with you!

I think that’s plenty of goals to be getting on with for now! Do you set reading, writing, blogging or life goals for the year? If not, then why not? What are your goals for 2019? Do we share any? Let me know in the comments!

I haven’t planned my Jo Talks schedule for 2019 yet, so I don’t know what or when my next discussion post will be up but it will probably be at some point towards the end of the month. I will be doing at least one discussion post a month through the year, I’d love to do two a month if I have time, but I’m not going to promise that this year, since I’m going to be knee deep in dissertation work until April. If there are any specific topics you’d like to see me talk about this year, then please just let me know and I will do my best to accommodate them! Otherwise, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see what I discuss next. In the meantime, I’m going to have a review of my last read of 2018 up in the next few days and my 2018 #RockMyTBR Challenge wrap up, so stay tuned for those!

Jo Talks Books: On My Bechdel Test Experiment

Hi everyone! So it’s almost the end of 2018 (how did that happen?), and with that, I thought for my final discussion post of the year, I’d talk about a little experiment I’ve been running with my books this year. At the beginning of the year, I decided that one of my resolutions would be to analyse the books I read against the Bechdel Test, a test that looks at female representation in media, by asking three simple questions: a) are there two (or more) named female characters, b) who talk to each other and c) about something other than a man. This sounds like a pretty easy test to pass, but it’s actually more difficult than you would think. It’s usually used for films, but I figured why not try it on books? It’s been quite a fun and interesting little experiment and I thought I’d share the results with you guys here.

So I read 35 books this year, more than 2016, slightly less than 2017. Of those 35 books, a pleasing 24 of them passed the Bechdel Test, whilst 11 of them did not. In this post, I’m going to take a closer look at the books that did and didn’t pass the test, and look at some of the limitations of the Bechdel Test as well, since it’s not a perfect science.

Almost all of the books I read which passed the test were written by female authors, and had female main characters (the only one which passed the test and was written by a male author was Midnight by Derek Landy, but the main character in the book is female. VE Schwab’s Vicious was the only one with a male main character that still passed the test, but in that case, the author is female). I don’t know how much of this was just that I read more female written and female led stories than not, and 35 is a relatively small sample size, so I can’t really conclude anything definitive from this, only that the books I read, the ones written by women with female lead characters were more likely to pass the test than others.

I will say that one issue of using the Bechdel Test on books is that because of the nature of the test, it is somewhat biased against books that are told from a male main character’s perspective. Because the test requires two named female characters to speak to each other about something which isn’t a man, if the book is narrated by a male character, the likelihood of two female characters speaking without the male character present is highly unlikely, so even if the book does have good representation of women, it will automatically fail the test because the narrator is male.

This happened for me with The Burning Maze and A Thousand Perfect Notes-both books have quite nuanced, interesting female characters, but because they are narrated by a male main character, they automatically fail because the male character is always involved in their conversation in some way-we are seeing it through their eyes. This also happened with Firestarter, the book has plenty of wonderful female characters, Daphne, Cassie, Leila, Jo, Charlotte etc but because the main character is male, all of their conversations revolve around him and the one conversation that would have counted, between Daphne and her mother, fails because Daphne’s mother is not given a name, she is merely Mrs Richards.

The opposite of this problem is Vicious, which is a male led book that does pass the Bechdel Test, but it really only does so on a technicality-there is a brief conversation between Sydney and Serena that is not about men. That’s not to say that Sydney and Serena aren’t well drawn characters, they are, but it is definitely the men (Victor and Eli) who are the stars of that story, and Sydney and Serena are very much supporting. This is one of the reasons why I’m so excited for Vengeful, because we get to see the women in charge!

There were two books I read this year that failed because they only had one named female character in them: the first was Fawkes, the only main female character was Emma, the love interest of the narrator, Thomas, and I was actually pretty disappointed that this book failed the test, because it would have been easy enough to give Emma a female friend to talk to, and Emma was such a great character, it seemed a shame that Fawkes failed simply because she was the only one there. The other book was Not If Save You First, where Maddie was the only named female character in the book, which again, how difficult is it to just have one other female character who has a name? It’s a low bar people, low bar.

Then there were the books that failed because their conceit demanded it. For instance, Louise O’Neill’s Almost Love failed the test by design, because the only thing that Sarah can talk about to her friends is Matthew, since she’s in a toxic, obsessive relationship with him. In this case, the failure of the test works quite well for the book, because it shows how deep Sarah is in with this man, that he is affecting every part of her life. The other book which failed because its conceit demanded it was Night of Cake and Puppets-it’s the story of Zuzana and Mik’s first date in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone world and whilst Karou does pop up from time to time via text, their conversations do revolve around Mik, since that’s what the book is about-honestly I would have been quite surprised had the book passed.

Finally we come to the books that should have passed the test but didn’t. Hero At The Fall for instance, should have passed the test. It had numerous named female characters: Leyla, Shazad, Amani, her aunt whose name I can’t remember right now, but she definitely had one, there were so many opportunities for this book to pass the test and yet it just didn’t because whenever the female characters were together, they were talking about the men in the book. Wintersong had Liesel, her sister and her grandmother, there were enough women there to pass and yet, not a single conversation that didn’t revolve around a man. Sea Witch had Evie and Annemette, it would have been so easy for them to talk about something other than Iker and Nik and yet…..nope, that’s all they could talk about! If I found a mermaid, I would have far more questions about that than about her crush on a boy. The Enchanted Sonata had Clara and Zizi and yet the two of them barely interacted, it would have been so easy for them to have a short conversation that wasn’t about Nutcracker and yet again, there was nothing.

Then we come onto the books that did pass. There was a lot of variation between them as to the level of interaction between female characters and discussions of things other than men. There were the books that obviously and definitively passed, like The Exact Opposite of Okay, A Spark of Light, Rose Under Fire, Moxie, Things A Bright Girl Can Do which had numerous named female characters and multiple conversations between them that were not about men.

There were those that did pass, but at the lowest level of the test, they met the requirements but that was about it. By A Charm and Curse was one of those books, had it not been for a conversation between Emma and her best friend about food at the beginning of the book, it probably wouldn’t have passed. Vicious only passes on the basis of a brief conversation between Serena and Sydney. The Hazel Wood, I had to hunt very hard and it was only at the end of the book that I found a conversation which counted. For A Muse of Fire only passed based on a brief conversation between Jetta and Cheeky about clothes and Tower of Dawn because of a brief conversation between Yrene and Hafiza about healing (although with the latter two, I would argue that both have good representation of women, even if it was difficult to find conversations that weren’t about men, these women have agency and their plots do not entirely revolve around the men in their lives).

The problem with the Bechdel Test is that it’s not the most sophisticated test in the world, it’s relatively easy to pass, but just because a book passes, doesn’t necessarily mean that it has great representation of women because all it requires to pass is literally a few short sentences exchanged that aren’t about men. It also doesn’t say anything about race representation, or sexuality representation, or disability representation, so you can have a book pass the test purely on the presence of straight, cis, ablebodied white women and I’m sure none of us would say that’s the best or only representation of women we want in our books.

It is also as I have already explored, incredibly biased towards female led or multiple POV books, male POV books largely don’t stand a chance of passing the test, even if they do have valid and nuanced representations of women because it’s a lot harder to include a conversation between two women that the POV character (in this case, the man) is not included in.

The Bechdel Test is designed to favour quantity of female interactions in books, rather than quality, a book that has a two sentence exchange can pass, where a book with a great, nuanced representation of women can fail because there is only one woman present, even if the representation of that one woman in that book is better than the two sentence exchange in the book that passed. Some of the books that failed have great, complex multifaceted female characters, and the fact that they don’t pass an arbitrary test, doesn’t take that away. However, it doesn’t always have to be quantity over quality, all the books I talked about above, which had multiple female characters with multiple interactions, had both: they had complex, nuanced female characters and they had multiple interactions, so it is possible to not favour quality over quantity, but by design of the test, that is what tends to happen.

I also think that using the Bechdel Test as an indicator of how feminist a work is as opposed to a marker of female presence is a big mistake, because often so many of the conversations that we have as feminist involve men, so therefore they wouldn’t pass the test! The Bechdel Test was never meant to be some complicated test of how feminist a piece of work is, it’s a simple, by the numbers test, to see how often women talk to each other about non-man related things in a piece of media. A book could pass the test and still be sexist, whilst a very feminist book could fail-it’s not a perfect science, nor was it ever intended to be.

It’s also quite difficult to work out what counts as a conversation, so it’s very often up to the person doing the analyzing, what books I think pass the Bechdel test, someone else might think don’t because we have different ideas about what counts as a conversation.

Overall, I’ve had a fun year applying the Bechdel test to my reading and it’s been quite eye opening to see what has/hasn’t passed the test. I think I’m going to carry on doing it into next year, because it’s quite fun to do, it’s not something I see on any other blogs and I’d like to have a larger sample size to see if the results from this year carry on into next year (or if I have a larger proportion of one or the other!). One thing I think I’m going to change though, is putting the Bechdel Test rating at the top of my reviews, so you guys don’t have to scroll all the way through to find them if you’re interested!

I’m going to have another discussion post for you quite soon, my first of 2019, as I want to talk about my 2019 Reading/Writing/Life Resolutions! In the meantime, I will have my last review of the year and my End of Year Check In up hopefully tomorrow, my End of Year Check In will definitely be tomorrow, my last review of the year might end up being my first review of 2019!

 

Jo Talks Books: A Bookworm Christmas Shopping Guide For Non Bookworms

Hi everyone! I am so sorry that I had no discussion posts for you guys in November, I had so many deadlines and it just wasn’t possible to write a lengthy post-but, I’m planning on making it up with not one but two posts this month-that hasn’t happened since May! Anyway, with Christmas coming up, I thought it might be a quite nice idea to do a Christmas shopping guide, but with a bit of a twist. As bookworms, we all know the sorts of things that we like to receive for Christmas, but for our non-bookish inclined friends and family, shopping for us can be a little more difficult, so I thought I would create a handy little guide that can be shared with any non readers amongst our friends and relatives, to make Christmas shopping season that little bit easier. So here we go:

  1. Listen to our interests

If you aren’t a bookworm, it can be easy enough to think, “well this a book…insert friend here likes books….I’ll just get this for them” but alas, things aren’t as simple as that. Bookworms are complex creatures, with a myriad of different interests, and you cannot guarantee that any book you put in front of them will be one they’ll like (I mean there’s a high chance but it’s not 100% certain). My favourite book presents have always been the ones that show the person who bought them for me has really tailored their present to something they know I like-for instance my mum got me a book called Modern Women: 52 Pioneers, because she knows how much I like reading about historical women and it meant a lot to me because it shows that she listens to the things I like.

2. If you don’t know what books we own, ask!

Often times, the less avid readers in my life (and to an extent my friends who do love books) don’t get me books because they’re worried about getting me something I already own-I mean fair enough, I do have a lot of books, and sometimes even I lose track of what I own. But I do have a Goodreads shelf with them, and quite a lot of bookworms will, so if you don’t know what we already have, just ask us!

3. Gift cards are not a cop out! Giving us the opportunity to buy more books is just as much of a gift as buying them for us

I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I love getting gift cards, and it’s not even a book specific thing, although in this case, I am of course speaking about gift cards for book shops. It seems like often people think that gift cards are less of a present, because you can’t exactly unwrap them, but personally I love the chance to get to choose what I want myself at a later date. A book gift card for Christmas inevitably leads to a trip to Waterstones (or elsewhere, if it’s a National Book Token since those are non specific) and that is a gift in itself!

4. Etsy is a great starting point for bookish related goods

Gifts for bookworms don’t always need to be books! We love merchandise as much as the next fan, and Etsy is an amazing starting place for fandom merch. I have bought so much great stuff for both myself and friends over the years, so if you know the books that your friend is into, then searching on Etsy for related merchandise is a great way to get your bookworm friend something book related that’s not an actual book.

5. Book subscription boxes make brilliant presents

Not that this is something I have ever personally received, but I know it’s something that I would love to get. With a book subscription box, you can either get your bookworm friend a continuing subscription, so a gift that keeps on giving, or a single box, and they get the joy of both books and book related gifts. Plus, there is such a wide variety of book subscription boxes out there, you can tailor your gift to your friend’s personal interests.

6. Get a special edition/foreign language edition of one of their favourite books

If you know what their favourite book is, then a special edition of your bookworm friends favourite book, especially if they are a collector, would be a very well received Christmas present, though obviously this is not possible for every single book. If they speak another language though, or are trying to learn, then a foreign language edition of one of their favourite books might be a good idea. Penguin Classics is a great idea if your resident bookworm has a favourite classic book, as they’re so pretty (though sadly don’t have a pretty hardcover copy of my own favourite classic, Black Beauty).

7. Look out for events with your friend’s favourite authors

If your friend has a favourite author whose event they can’t make it to, because they don’t live near the event or have a clash or whatever, then you could surprise them with a signed, personalised copy of a book of theirs for Christmas. If their favourite author isn’t doing an event near you, but they’ve had a book recently out then you could always check the Waterstones/B&N/wherever you get your books from website to see if a signed copy is available.

8. Bookish Christmas ornaments

If you’re wanting to get your bookworm friend something a little quirky, then how about getting them a bookish themed Christmas ornament? Harry Potter baubles are quite common, you can get House themed ones at Primark. You can also get baubles filled with strips of paper with text from books, so if you can find one from your bookworm friends favourite book, that would be a good one. You could even make one, if you are particularly crafty.

9. Tickets to a book event

If you really want to make the resident bookworm in your life love you, then give them the opportunity to meet their favourite author/s. If you have a little more disposable cash, then tickets to a book convention like YALC or a Comic Con would be a great idea. If however you can’t afford that, then just have a look out for what events their favourite authors are doing in 2019 and if there are tickets available yet, as tickets for book events are usually relatively reasonable-the most I’ve ever paid is I think £20 and that usually includes the book.

10. Get the film version of their favourite book

Okay, okay hear me out because there is a caveat for this one. If they like the film version. Book lovers can be notoriously picky about adaptations of their favourite books (as they should be) and if they really hate the way their favourite book was adapted, it’s probably not a good idea to give them a permanent reminder of that. However, if they loved the film, or they haven’t seen it, then it might be a nice idea to buy them a copy, so they can relive their favourite book in a different way.

So there we go, my tips for shopping for bookworms at Christmas. Do you have any to add? Have you ever had difficulties with non bookworm friends/family members buying presents for you? Alternatively, have you had problems buying for non-bookworm friends? Let me know in the comments!

I am going to have another discussion post for you in December-I know, shocking! I’ve been analysing the books I’ve read this year to see whether they pass the Bechdel Test, and I want to discuss the results of my little experiment, so that will be coming around the end of the month. In the meantime, I’m going to have my latest review up for you guys, I think tomorrow!

 

Jo Talks Books: On University “Reading Funks”

Hi all! As always, I had fully intended on writing a discussion post for October well before now, but of course, Uni intervened and time just got away from me! That’s actually quite apt for today’s topic though, as I’m going to be talking about how going to University has affected my reading: or as I have affectionately called it in the title, the University Reading Funk (I know we more generally call them slumps, but Funk seemed like a better descriptor for what I’ve felt over the past few years, plus I thought it made a catchier title!).

I have to admit, and please don’t all hate me for saying this: I hadn’t experienced a reading slump before going to Uni. I mean I read less during my A-Levels due to time constraints, but I’d never experienced anything close to what I saw other bloggers describe as a reading slump until my first semester of Uni.

Reading has always been my escape, my happy place, the place I can go to relax, to feel better when I’m having a bad day, a place to go when things get difficult. When I started Uni, I, well I wouldn’t exactly say fell out of love with reading (clearly!), but I wasn’t finding the same joy in it than I used to. I had a hard time in my first semester of Uni, I wasn’t really making friends, I hated most of my flatmates, I was missing home and I wasn’t loving my course, basically, I just wasn’t having a great time. And whilst I would usually take solace in books, nearly everything I tried to read, I didn’t really enjoy (the exception being The Assassin’s Blade) and I only read three books the entirety of my first semester of Uni. This was my first experience of what I am now calling the “University Reading Funk” and although it was more caused by emotional reasons than an overload of work.

I’ve never experienced a reading funk to the same extent as I did in my first year of Uni, but it’s still something that happens from time to time-I mean it’s nothing new, reading slumps are a hot topic in the blogging community and a dreaded thing to all, but I don’t necessarily stop reading when they happen, even during my worst one when I started Uni, I was still reading, I just wasn’t getting the same enjoyment out of it than I had before. I started to read a lot more in the second semester of my first year of Uni, after I made friends and was starting to feel more settled but it seems like once the reading funks have started, they don’t stop!

For the most part, whenever I have a lot of work to do at Uni, my reading does tend to suffer for it, mostly because both parts of my degree are very heavy on reading anyway, so when I’m doing essays or research for articles, reading doesn’t feel like the same escape as it does normally, and so I tend to read less for enjoyment, which is a shame, but only natural when reading is a large part of your work (work related reading and enjoyment reading are very different!).

Fourth year has been quite stressful for me, work wise, and that’s kind of been reflected in my reading since I’ve come back to Uni. I’ve been reading a lot less and much slower than I did over the summer, which isn’t unusual, but I also haven’t been feeling as excited about reading as I did before I came back to Uni. When I have assignments due, I feel guilty about focusing on other things (and then ironically feel guilty about not doing the things that I enjoy because I’m so focused on Uni stuff. Uni induced guilt is a whole another thing that I’m not going to get into in this post!).

Luckily, I have become a lot better at anticipating my reading funks since becoming a blogger and I have become a lot better at balancing my workload since my first year of Uni. Whilst still not something I love,  reading funks are not something that strikes fear into my heart anymore because now I know how to deal with them. Whenever I feel myself sliding into a funk, I try to find something that will get myself excited about reading again. Whether that’s a new release that I’m excited for, a favourite author’s book that I haven’t read yet, or an old favourite, I want to find something that will make me forget about all the stress of Uni and just revel in and enjoy the story.

Of course, this doesn’t always work and the only surefire way that always lifts my University induced reading funks is the arrival of the holiday breaks, especially summer, where I have weeks of unlimited time to just read as much as I want to. But I have found, that even if I am completely snowed under with work, if Uni is feeling like more of a chore than something I’ve willingly entered into, a really great book can still completely turn my day around.

And even despite my work and emotional induced reading funks, I have still read some amazing books since I’ve been at Uni, in my four years of Uni, I’ve discovered the amazing talents of some of my favourite authors: VE Schwab, Samantha Shannon & Leigh Bardugo, among others. Sure, balancing reading with Uni work has been difficult and there are times when I slip into funks, but no amount of work is ever going to change how much I love books. Even when I have times when the last thing I want to do is read, it’s okay, because books will be there waiting for me, when I feel like reading again.

Do any of you have anything specific that makes you feel less like reading? Anyone else suffered from any really bad reading funks (no need to disclose details if you don’t want to)? What do you do to get over them? Let me know in the comments!

I’m not going to have another October discussion post for you, since October ends in two days (HOW?), but I will have another, topic as yet undecided Jo Talks post in November-I think I will be sticking to doing just one post a month in November and December, Uni is just so busy at the moment! In the meantime, I will have another Top Ten Tuesday for you guys tomorrow!

 

 

Jo Talks Books: On Books “Everyone Should Read”

Hi all! I had totally intended on writing a September discussion post well before today, the last day of September, but I just haven’t had a chance since I’ve arrived back at Uni. Today I’m going to talk about something that I’ve been thinking about for a while: something that I see quite often when bloggers are talking about books they really love, the “everyone should read this” praise.

This phrase has often made me feel uncomfortable. It’s a phrase often used on “books you should read before you die” lists and just generally whenever people feel really strongly about a book. It treats people as a monolith, not individuals with their own unique experiences. The beautiful thing about reading is that whilst we can all read the same text, we will all interpret it and experience it in different ways. So when we say, “everyone should read this”, it seems as if we are ignoring the fact that different people bring their different experiences to reading and that not every book will speak to every person in the same way.

Take probably the most popular example of this phenomenon: Harry Potter. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Harry Potter is an amazing series, and it really influenced me, both as a reader and a writer and yes, when I found out that one of my friends hadn’t read it, I was very surprised and really wanted her to finish it. However, would I say that series is for everyone? No. Because that’s impossible. There are 7 billion people on the planet, all with different likes and dislikes and asking one book or one series of books to speak to everyone is ridiculous.

I totally understand the feeling of excitement when you read a book that you love unequivocally and you think that it’s so amazing, you just want to shove it into the hands of everyone you know. Heck I’ve been there. But not everyone is unequivocally excited about the same things. Some people prefer stories in different mediums, TV or film or radio or theatre over books, and that’s fine. In fact that’s great, everyone should get to experience the joy of a good story, no matter what form its in. And for people who do love books, we all get excited about different things. For instance, I love fantasy and the books that I get excited about are things like A Darker Shade of Magic, Harry Potter, Throne of Glass, Six of Crows. But not everyone loves that, there are bloggers out there for almost every single genre, crime, romance, historical, fantasy, contemporary etc. Would I suggest that every single one of those bloggers reads the same ten books that are supposedly for “everyone”? No, because that would be boring. Variety is the spice of life and if we all read the same books then there would be no variety and we’d get so bored just talking about the same books all the time.

The “Everyone Should Read” label in general society, most of the time seems to go on classic books, books that have acquired a certain cache because they’ve been around so long. But the thing is classics aren’t for everyone. They can be long and boring and share outdated views and just because they’ve survived the test of time, doesn’t mean you have to read them. That’s not to say that they’re not worth reading at all, but just that the fact that they have been given the label of “classic” (which is somewhat arbitrary anyway, who decides what is a classic?) doesn’t mean that they automatically become “for everyone”. Like any other book, some people may love classics and some people may not, and even within that, there’ll be variations, you may love one classic book and hate another. We’re not dealing in absolutes here, reading is such a subjective thing, and you can’t expect everyone to react the exact same way to a certain book, even if you think it’s great.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon in the blogosphere recently with diverse books. Whilst I totally agree that we should definitely be pushing authors from marginalised backgrounds, & it’s really important that these books get exposure, the “everyone should read this” mentality can be just as dangerous here. Take for instance, The Hate U Give, which has become a pretty common “everyone should read this” book in the year since its release, there are such high expectations that you should love it going in, that it’s actually kind of intimidating, because what if you don’t love it? What if it’s just not for you? There can be a lot of pressure on reading these kinds of books, because you know that it is so important that that representation is out there for those who need it and you feel like if you don’t love it, because it’s not your genre, or you just don’t connect to the story or whatever, then people are going to hate you. This is why we need to push for diverse books in all genres; so that no matter what genre you like, you can see yourself in stories and everyone can have diverse stories to enjoy, in whatever their preferred genre is.

The reason that 90% of required reading at school sucks, is because you are being forced to read books that you are not necessarily interested in. That’s not to say that no one is interested in required reading at school, some people may love the books that they read at school, but the point is that not everyone will, because you cannot please everyone with one book. If you get 50 people to read one book, the chances are you won’t get 50 of the exact some reactions. The whole idea of required reading is not at all useful for fostering a love of reading, because you are not going to get that but telling people they have to read certain books: the only way that you can get people to fall in love with books is by allowing them to find stories which speak to them.

As a reviewer, I try to stay away from absolutes. I don’t want to say “everyone should read this” or “this sucks, everyone should avoid this” because reading isn’t an absolute science. A book that speaks to me, may not speak to you and vice versa, you might find a book that I hated absolutely amazing. I firmly believe that reading is the most magical experience in the world for this very reason: two people can read the exact same words on a page and take away completely different things and when we talk in absolutes, like “everyone should read this” we do that magic a disservice.

So there we go, my thoughts on the “everyone should read this” phenomenon. Have you ever fallen into the “everyone should read this” trap? Are there any times when you think that phrase can be justified? Let me know in the comments!

Obviously I won’t have another September discussion post for you, since it is the last day of September now, but I will have another Jo Talks post in October, though I haven’t decided what I want to write about yet. In the meantime, I will be back with a new Top Ten Tuesday for you guys on Tuesday, so look out for that!