Late (For) Tea

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks – Review

Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,

I don’t usually write letters to books but your author, Annie Spence, made me do it. When we first met, I was skeptical about you. I had never read a book about books so I was unsure what to expect. I must say that I like you. We are friends. You’ll be hanging out on my book shelf for a little while. But we will never be lovers – and that’s fine.

I will forever remember that The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides is Annie’s favorite book. I’m embarrassed to admit I have never read it but you have definitely sold it to me. If a book can get someone this obsessed, I just have to find out why and how. Annie mentioning it (at least) three times and literally swooning over her favorite book is weirdly inspiring. It makes me jealous, somehow, because you made me realize that I have yet to meet the book love of my life.

You have a great sense of humor. You made me laugh out loud more than once and I honestly can’t say that about many books. I’m thankful for all the great book suggestions you gave me. My fearfully humongous TBR list has grown even more. I’m in awe of your literary savviness and I can tell that you love your job. You deserve to be gifted to a true bibliophile. Only we will truly appreciate your humor and intelligence. Only we will understand how cozying up with a good book always, ALWAYS comes before attending a social gathering.

You may not be the life of the party but you’re definitely the cool, brooding blonde reading The Virgin Suicides in the dim-lit corner of the room.

Yours faithfully,

Lee

Disclaimer: Many thanks to Flatiron Books and Goodreads for sending me a free Advanced Reading copy of this lovely book.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence will be first published by Flatiron Books on September 26th.

Where to get this book:
Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life
The Book Depository (free delivery worldwide)
Barnes & Noble

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The Giver by Lois Lowry – Review

Two days before his Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas feels ‘apprehensive’. Fear, like love and pain, are feelings unknown to the dwellers of Jonas’ seemingly perfect community. Jonas’ apprehension therefore causes his parents to worry. Moreover, he starts experiencing what seems like hallucinations. At the day of the ceremony, the Elders decide the young boy will be the community’s next Receiver of Memory, which is one of the most important jobs in the community. The Giver, an old man with a noticeable white beard, is responsible for transferring memories to young Jonas, which he does through touch. Consequently, Jonas learns that there is more to life than what the community’s been led to believe.

In The Giver, Lois Lowry creates an intriguing utopian-dystopian world that keeps you reading. From the moment the inhabitants of this world are born, they are being observed and studied by the Elders, who rule the community and keep order by giving passive-aggressive instructions through giant loud speakers. The Ceremony of Twelve is the most important event in a young dweller’s life as they’re being assigned to their jobs. Sexuality (“stirrings”) is repressed with pills. The people in the community don’t get to pick their spouses; the perfect spouse – like the perfect job – is picked for them by the Elders. Each couple has to adopt two children, a boy and a girl. Since couples don’t have intercourse but merely exist to work and rear the next generation of people, these children are born by Birthmothers. The elderly, who have become useless to the community, are released. So are those dwellers that are disobedient or fail to do their jobs properly. It’s not a secret that “release” stands for execution or euthanasia. However, for a strange reason nobody in the community understands what release actually means. They don’t even understand what death means, which I find hard to believe.

The main issue I had with this novel was its inconsistency. There are a variety of sci-fi elements built into this story. For instance, Jonas’ world is technologically advanced enough to control climate and produce pills that suppress sexual feelings. However, Lowry then abruptly jumps to the fantastical by introducing magic into the story. Wanting the reader to suspend disbelief is tricky and Lowry fails at it. I’m usually rather fond of writers mixing different genres but it does not work well enough in The Giver. There are too many plot holes in this novel and they are downright annoying. Leaving certain plot points open-ended can be a useful tool to create suspense, but in The Giver it looks like Lowry didn’t care enough to develop a number of rather significant ideas. For example, Jonas’ gift is never truly explained. How come some dwellers have this gift and others don’t? The way memories work is not explained either. How come Jonas can experience physical and emotional pain through memories? Lowry establishes that colour exists within the community. Jonas’ friend Fiona has blazing red hair. However, the people in the community are not able to see or perceive colour. How does that work? Lowry suggests that they cannot perceive colours because they don’t know the words for colours. She uses the same explanation for other concepts, like love. Her representation of the way language works is a gross misrepresentation. George Orwell’s obsession with language in 1984 was clearly an inspiration for Lowry. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but Orwell’s language determinism is outdated. I won’t get into this too much now, but there are various indications that language mirrors society, instead of exerting control over it.

Unfortunately, I can only give this novel a rating of 2.5 out of 5*. The innumerable plot holes, the somewhat boring characterisation and a completely irrational ending made this a gruelling read for me. I have no doubt in my mind, however, that most young people will probably enjoy this novel. It’s decent enough to serve as a light introduction to the utopia-dystopia genre.

Where to get this book:
The Giver (The Giver, #1)
The Book Depository (free delivery worldwide)
Barnes & Noble
BookFinder
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10 Ways to Get Back into Reading Books Again

While you were dusting your book shelf the other day, you saw a book you bought years ago when you were on holiday, but never actually read. Suddenly you start wondering about the last book you read, because you can’t quite remember what it was about. You kind of miss reading. You start books but never seem to finish them because you’re busy or not motivated enough to read. Maybe you cannot afford to buy books. You don’t know how to go about re-discovering your love and passion for reading books. Here’s a list of ten things you could do to develop a reading habit again.

  1. Read before going to sleep

Reading for half an hour every day before going to sleep is more than you might think. Not only will it help you get back into a reading habit, it can also help you relax. (It depends on what you read, obviously.)

  1. Read on public transport

Whether it’s on your daily thirty-minute commute or you’re on a twelve-hour flight, bring a book or an eReader. It will make time pass more quickly and your journey more interesting.

  1. Give Netflix a break

I know, I know. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Sometimes watching one or two episodes of your favourite series seems more appealing than reading a book. Yet, books can be very entertaining too, even if it does require your brain to work a little harder.

  1. Start a smart phone diet

Smart phones are one of the greatest technological inventions of our time. I love how convenient they are. Yet, sometimes I feel like my phone takes control of my brain. I’ve caught myself more than once scrolling through Instagram for hours, leaving me feeling unaccomplished and bored. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much reading you can get done if you pick up a book every time you feel the urge to look at your phone.

  1. Organise a Read-a-thon

Read-a-thons are a great way to start reading that one book that’s been waiting for you patiently, rotting away on your book shelf for forty-eight months. Reading can be a lonely endeavour. You could make a read-a-thon more social by inviting friends to read for a couple of hours. Get some snacks, drinks and cosy blankets. Read for a set amount of time, then talk about what you’ve just read and share your thoughts. You can also organise a virtual read-a-thon.

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Photo: Anthony Delanoix/snap.io

  1. Set small goals

You’ve always wanted to read The Lord of the Rings because it seems that everyone’s read it, except you. However, reading The Lord of the Rings also means you’ll have to read quite a few pages, making it an overwhelming task for some. Set small goals for longer reads. Try and read a chapter a week or ten pages a day. You could also read longer novels on an eReader. Sometimes it’s the visual bulkiness of a book that makes us put off reading in the first place.

  1. Join GoodReads

I’ve been a GoodReads member since 2009 and I’ve been using it regularly ever since. It gave me a fierce hunger for books again, because it made me realise how many great adventures I was missing out on by not reading regularly. GoodReads allows you to show your friends how your reading is going, which is a good incentive. It also has an annual Reading Challenge. You can set a goal of how many books you’d like to read in the course of a year. The website will tell you when and by how many books you’re behind (or ahead) on your goal.

  1. Join your local library

Books are expensive. If money is the main reason you’re not reading anymore, join a library. Whenever I’m in a library I feel like reading. I love looking at books, smelling them, touching them, and being surrounded by hundreds and thousands of them. Libraries can also be a great place to relax if you’ve had a stressful day. They tend to be quiet and less busy than other places, like coffee shops, for instance.

  1. Listen to audiobooks

You want to read this one book but somehow can’t seem to fit enough time into your schedule to get it done. At the end of the day you’re often too tired to read and reading on public transport makes you ill. Luckily, we live in a wonderful world that makes it possible for you to have someone read a book to you. You can do laundry, cook dinner, wash dishes, etc. and listen to an audiobook at the same time. I had Roald Dahl’s Matilda read to me by Kate Winslet and it was such a joyful experience. Listening to audiobooks will take you a lot longer than reading the book yourself, but it’s definitely worth it if you don’t have the time or patience to read.

  1. Download free ebooks.

If you don’t feel like joining the local library or you simply don’t have access to one, don’t despair. The Gutenberg Project gives you access to over 50,000 ebooks for free. Due to copyright reasons, you won’t find any contemporary books on there, but you can legally download classics like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. They also offer ebooks in different languages. Literature.org and Bartleby also offer classic works for free.

Happy International Women’s Day!

A Mother’s Reckoning – Review

On 20th April, 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went to school with the intention to kill. They murdered thirteen people – twelve students and a teacher – and injured twenty-four. Eventually, the two perpetrators turned their guns against themselves and committed suicide. Eric and Dylan had intended to take many more lives. However, the pipe bombs the boys had built and brought to Columbine High School fortunately failed to detonate. The Columbine massacre shocked the world. Speculations on the reasons why these teenage boys decided to commit such a heinous crime began circulating soon after the shooting. There was talk about bullying, violent video games, and bad parenting. Not being able to get an explanation from the two dead teenagers, the media and families of the victims did not take long to turn against Eric and Dylan’s parents. They were blamed for failing to see their sons’ intentions and to prevent the massacre.

Next April, it will be seventeen years since this tragedy unfolded. Unfortunately, Columbine wasn’t an isolated incident. There was Virginia Tech in 2007, which claimed thirty-three lives. In 2012, the Sandy Hook shooting left twenty-eight dead. These are only the most “high-profile” school shootings. There were so many more. In each of the shootings I’ve just mentioned, the perpetrators – like Eric and Dylan – committed suicide. Nobody could deny the shooters in these cases were deeply troubled kids.

After all these years, Sue Klebold – Dylan Klebold’s mother – made the decision to write about her son and her shattered life after the shooting by publishing A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy.

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Sue Klebold writes about the Dylan she reared and loved. She writes about the son she knew before the massacre. She explains how she clings to the image of her son as her “sunshine boy,” rather than the cold-blooded mass murderer. She includes pictures of Dylan looking like any ordinary, happy and loved child. The pictures are particularly heart-wrenching and I understand how difficult it must have been for Klebold to wrap her head around the unspeakable crime her son committed. Even after seventeen years, it appears that Klebold is still struggling to write about him. Her writing is disjointed, repetitive. It underlines the sheer impossibility to write clearly about such an emotionally complex subject.  It highlights the guilt she still feels after all these years and her distraught desire to atone for her son’s crime. Her book left me wondering how anyone could have blamed the parents for not being able to read their sons’ minds like an open book. No parent truly can, which is the point Klebold eventually makes. Depressed teenagers are often experts at hiding their anguish from those who are closest to them. I commend Klebold for sharing what she’s learned about mental health and her attempt to educate her readers about suicide. She doesn’t deny the damage her son has caused but very bravely admits that she still loves him despite the pain and chaos he left behind.

A Mother’s Reckoning is a troubling read, which makes you wonder whether you truly know those who are closest to you. It will make you thoughtful and sad. I’m grateful Sue Klebold wrote this book and shared her pain. There are many things to be learned from this text and I can only recommend it to anyone who’s interested in learning more about mental health, Dylan Klebold’s short life and how Sue Klebold deals with being the mother of a dead teenager, who forever will be remembered by the public as a mass murderer.

This book was published by Crown on 15th February 2016.

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy

Where to get this book:

The Book Depository (free delivery worldwide)
Barnes & Noble
BookFinder
AbeBooks

Our Shared Shelf: A Feminist Book Club

Ever since British actor Emma Watson appeared in the Harry Potter films as Hermione Granger, I have always felt connected to her. We are both women. We were born in the same year. We seem to like the same things, we have similar ambitions. Emma has been in the public eye for a long time now. I respect her most for using her influence to try and make a difference in the world, rather than merely focusing on her career as an actor. She understands and acknowledges her privilege as a wealthy, white woman. She understands what it means to be a feminist, and – most importantly – she is not afraid to identify as one. (Thank you, Emma!)

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Photo from tricks ware on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

My admiration for her has only grown since she’s become a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and a more than adequate representative for the HeforShe campaign. In a recent article for Paper magazine, Emma revealed to American writer and feminist bell hooks that she’s taking a year off from acting to focus on “personal development” by doing a lot of reading and listening. As a result she created a feminist book club called Our Shared Shelf on GoodReads in January this year, which seeks to motivate members to discuss and learn from the club’s selected feminist works. The first book the group members analysed was Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road. It was followed by Alice Walker’s The Color Purple in February and this month is dedicated to bell hooks’ All About Love: New Visions.

If you are an Emma Watson fan, you love reading and/or you’re simply interested in feminism, I would urge you to create a GoodReads account (if you haven’t done so already) and join the book club. I’ve had a GoodReads account for a few years now because I love the idea of a social media platform which focuses on books. There are many different online book clubs on GoodReads and I’ve joined a handful of them in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, they always failed to engage me on a meaningful level. I wanted to have more complex discussions than “I liked the book because…” or “I hated it because…,” which probably stems from being a literature graduate. I am excited to see that Emma’s book club appears to be much more engaging. It attracts so many feminist book lovers from all over the world. I also appreciate that Emma tries to get interviews with some of these wonderful writers. A couple of days ago, for instance, she shared an interesting conversation she had with Gloria Steinem. It’s a great talk and you should take some time to watch it, even if you have no idea who Gloria Steinem is.

I haven’t read any of the suggested books yet as I have only recently discovered the club. However, today I ordered hooks’ All About Love and hopefully I will be able to join the discussion sooner rather than later. I encourage you to do the same and I really hope I’ll see/read you there. Happy reading!

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Daiquiris.

You would think successfully completing a Master’s degree at a decent university, without having suffered any life-altering psychological damage, would make you feel accomplished. Maybe even a little proud. If you’ve read the title of this post (which I hope you have), it’s probably needless to mention that I don’t feel accomplished. I certainly don’t feel proud. Rather, I feel like my university just rang me to say “We are sorry to inform you that we intentionally ran over your cat. Since this must be of inconvenience to you, we would be happy to offer you a replacement cat in exchange for a mere £1,000,000 fee”.

If Future Self had told Past Self this would be the way I would feel, Past Self would have scoffed at Future Self. It’s difficult to believe that I started my MA with the intention of doing a PhD after. I wanted to be Professor “BA MA PhD” Kaiser and spend many happy days behind my tiny desk, revelling in my academic bubble. It turns out that the world of academia looks nothing like the overly romanticised, pink version that exists in my looney mind. It’s dark. It’s grey. It’s utterly bleak.

West Pier, Brighton, UK. Taken by Laetitia

“Farewell, Brighton”. Taken by Laetitia “Lee” Kaiser.

Of course, I had a few doubts about doing a Master’s. I didn’t know whether it was the right thing to do. I remember thinking it would make more sense to start looking for a job instead of accumulating even more debt. However, my relatives – most of all my parents – urged me to go through with it because “a Master’s degree is always useful to have”. I tend to believe there is a truth in that statement, but is it still true if it cripples you financially? I paid over £6000 for a 1-year Master’s degree (which may not seem like a lot to my American friends, poor sods). I only had 4 hours of class a week. I didn’t enjoy the course that much. However, it taught me a couple of things. I did not only stick with a course I so utterly despised, I also fully invested myself in it. So, it taught me determination and resilience. The programme allowed and encouraged me to do what I love most: reading and writing. It made me rediscover my love of books. I was also happy to see that I got good grades. During my undergraduate, English literature had been my Achilles tendon. In a way it was a relief to realise that I could do well in something I initally thought I sucked at. Also, I never thought I would be able to write a 15,000-word dissertation. That is something. I may sound silly but that dissertation was one of the greatest challenges of my life. (Partly because I started writing it two weeks before the deadline). All of this doesn’t even sound so horrible. Still, I feel defeated, used, abused, you name it….

Why? It seems I’m completely unemployable. The more time I spent looking for a job, the worse I feel. I feel worthless. I feel like I have no skills. I have life skills. Who doesn’t have life skills? Yes, I can tend a bar. I’ve done that several times but I didn’t go to university to be a bartender for the rest of my life. I feel lied to by all those people that told me Transferable Skills were important. They left out the “at least 1-2 years experience needed” part. If you don’t have experience, you may still get the job if you know someone who knows somebody. If you don’t know anyone, well, pardon my French but… you’re shit out of luck. There. I said it.

I have never been and I never will be the most confident person to walk the face of the earth, but I reached a new low. At least I’m confident enough to tell you that. I don’t think I have hit rock-bottom yet. It’s amazing how situations often find ways to get worse. Being unemployed wouldn’t even be so dramatic if I didn’t have to leave the UK, which has been my home for over 4 years. I’m 25 and I have to move back in with my parents. My relationship is about to turn into a long-distance relationship again after having lived with my partner for over a year. Let’s not even address that angry-looking 35,000€ debt looming over my head. I feel like I took one step forward and ten steps back. I keep thinking “du-uhh… #firstworldproblems”.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it less painful.

I find some comfort in knowing that I am not the only one. I wish I was the only one, but I know that many of my peers are experiencing similar setbacks. There is always someone somewhere that has it better or worse. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Although life could be better right now, I still want to live each day as it comes rather than hoping Tomorrow will be better. We already know Yesterday. We always know Today. And if that still isn’t comforting enough, Yoda would probably say “Like a Phoenix from the ashes, rise again you will”.

Thought of the Day #14

This is my simple religion:
There is no need for temples,
there is no need for complicated philosophy.
Our own brain, our own heart is the temple;
the philosophy is loving kindness and compassion.

—  My Religion, The XIVth Dalai Lama

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by Laetitia “Lee” Kaiser

Thought of the Day #13

You are not here to fill space or to be a background character in someone else’s movie.

Consider this: nothing would be the same if you did not exist. Every place you have ever been and everyone you have ever spoken to would be different without you.

We are all connected, and we are all affected by the decisions and even the existence of those around us.

 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People (Niven, D.)

 

Old Shoes

Today was a particularly strange day for me. Today, I finally decided that it would be best for me to dispose of my favourite pair of leather boots. I have been avoiding this for months, maybe even years.  About five years ago or so, I ventured into a small, rather inconspicuous second-hand shop in Luxembourg. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but quite a few people had told me about this shop. It was called “Camden Shop” and they were selling second-hand clothes and shoes straight from London. It was one of a kind and I loved the retro decoration. I also loved the smell of old, English clothes. I was only in secondary school then. Studying and living in London was a dream and I was obsessed with everything London. I had fallen in love with the city after I had first visited it in 2008. Of course, I was going to spend all my money there.

I found a beautiful pair of leather boots, tried them on and they were a perfect fit. It was love at first sight. These shoes had found me. They weren’t cheap at all, around 40€, I think. In addition to that, the boots looked quite worn-out already but I didn’t care. I was meant to buy these boots and go home with them. And I did. I remember my mother telling me off for having spent so much money on ‘old shoes’. I loved these boots from the very first day.

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When I looked at my shoes this morning, they were looking back at me with dilapidated sadness. And for the first time I admitted that these boots needed to go. I had tried to get them fixed several times, postponing the inevitable. After all these years, I had grown so fond of them. They were like an extension of my body. It wasn’t just that. They had gone on so many crazy adventures with me. These boots had gone to university with me. These boots had also walked around in so many different parts of the world. When I first went to the US, I had my boots with me. When I studied abroad in New York, they were there with me too. They kept my feet warm and safe in every type of weather. Torrential rain, icy sleet, deep snow… you name it. I had also fallen in love several times while wearing my boots.

The shop I got these boots from has since closed down. I am about to graduate from university and the other day I bought a new pair of leather boots. It might sound ridiculous when I say that I almost started crying when I took the laces off my boots. It was a heartbreaking moment because letting go of these boots also meant letting go of the past. It wasn’t just saying Goodbye to a simple pair of shoes, but it also meant closing another chapter in my life. These boots had a long and prosperous life with me. I am sure that the previous owner had also given them many important moments. Even though my leather boots look so much worse than when I bought them, they are definitely worth more than just 40€ to me now. Next time you look at an old pair of shoes, look at them closely. Goodbye, beloved shoes.