My Turtles Aren’t Your Turtles

**SPOILER ALERT: This article contains mild spoilers from the first chapter of Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. Please stop here if you haven’t read it!**

A take on reading the first chapter of Turtles All The Way Down by John Green, in which the author’s reading is compared with my personal reading.

If you haven’t yet grabbed your copy of John Green’s latest book, you’re truly missing out, and if you don’t follow the vlogbrothers (the collaborative Youtube channel between him and his brother, Hank), you may have missed his reading of the first chapter, uploaded around six weeks ago. The video has over 250,000 views and the comments section is filled with fans of John’s booked anticipating its arrival.

There’s something that seems very authentic about the author reading a piece of work to you. It feels raw, uncut and real, though we can say that this is definitely an edited chapter. In all honesty, I’d forgotten about this video by the time I picked up my pre-ordered copy.As I started reading, I began to remember these lines from a book hadn’t read yet, and it was an odd feeling. Not bad, just odd. But then I came across a name that was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time: Mychael.

As I started reading, I began to remember these lines from a book hadn’t read yet, and it was an odd feeling. Not bad, just odd. But then I came across a name that was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time: Mychael. This is a fairly unusual spelling of the name, but it doesn’t necessarily make the pronunciation any different, but I noticed. Because in my brain, when John was reading it, it was Michael, that was how it was spelt. Now, Mychael seemed like a different person to the Michael I had already met. I felt a divergence from what John had read to me and what I was reading. I think if I tried hard enough, they’d become one person but instead, I decided that John’s Michael and my Mychael were different. And that’s when it got interesting.

This surreal experience that sounds strange even when I’m typing it out got me thinking about the idea of “authenticity”. You’ve likely heard the word before in relation to so-called realness and sometimes even originality. Most things have a first or an original, which then becomes a catalyst for further things. The idea of authenticity is often very skewed in the music industry, for example, Amy Winehouse’s cover of ‘Valerie’ is exactly that, a cover so should be deemed something less original, yet it became more successful, more widely received and public, so just because it wasn’t the first you could say that it’s no less authentic than the original. Then we come to books. See, books are often “originals” just because they’re widely viewed as a “first” medium. Books provide spinoff films, TV shows, albums, merchandise that sometimes reach further but the book is still hailed as the original, the first and most authentic iteration of the text. Sounds pretty legit, right?

Maybe not. Something else exists before a book. The story itself overpowers its medium. The words you read were alive long before you read them, they existed in the brain of the writer, ideas that were honed and edited into a book. To John Green, the most authentic version of Turtles All The Way Down might well have been the one inside his head and that is what I felt I was experiencing watching that video of the first chapter. It felt more whole, more real and somehow different to reading it myself. I might never read the first chapter because I want to keep that alive.

Maybe it’s complete nonsense, but it felt nice and comforting to know that maybe for a second, I was seeing the story in a different way. Not better than how I would see it, but different. And that was pretty awesome.

What do you think? Do you feel different going to author’s readings and reading their book yourself? Do you think either is more authentic? Let me know in the comments below or on my Facebook page! Have a lovely day!

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I am Skellig: Reading as a Child and an Adult

David Almond’s Skellig is a book that many British adults will remember from their childhood. This acclaimed story about two polar opposite ten-year-olds who happen upon an angel is very hard not to fall in love with.

*CONTENT WARNING: Past the quote, this article will contain mentions of depression and suicidal ideation. Please do not read if you are particularly sensitive to such topics.*

*SPOILER ALERT: This article will also contain plot points directly from the book.*

When I first experienced Skellig, it was in a classroom. It’s not the most adventurous setting, but it works. Picture this, it’s September, it’s raining; a teacher, fresh out of university is reading a book to her very first class… Some of her kids are half heartedly paying attention, some are playing hangman, but there are a few listening intently and that is exactly why she got her PGCE. If you have been a bookworm since childhood, maybe you can relate. Before high school, other children might not yet have learnt to be cruel, but you already feel like you’re not like them. When the teacher reads you a story, you hang onto every single word because each one is a new building block contributing to a new world in your head. I re-read the book so many times in the library at lunchtime, and after hearing the tale, I was no longer afraid of dark spaces because I was always sure I would find Skellig there. This is what Skellig meant to me. Now, however, Skellig means something else.

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The cover of Skellig the first time I read it.  Source: moniee.deviantart.com

The narrative of this article was pre-planned, it was supposed to follow the story of a young girl who loves reading, but there’s more… You see, I was ready to read Skellig and maybe pick out a few quotes and laugh at lines like “bollocks” and “those are tits” because I had read this book before, in fact I’d read it dozens of times. But I honestly never expected it to leave more of an impact on me now than it did over ten years ago. First of all, as soon as I opened it, I couldn’t remember it being so… straightforward. When we think of children’s literature we always assume it’s fluffy and nice, but because adults always seem to sugar-coat serious things, so books provide a space to be frank and open. Yes, there is a beauty in the way Roald Dahl presents the world to children, but even that has a sense of underlying truth about it that only comes with the genre. Long story short – don’t underestimate the power of children’s fiction.

The odd thing about reading a book you read as a child as an adult is that the world already exists somewhere inside your dusty old mind, and there is nothing quite like the imagination of a child. I’d never be able to conjure up such vivid images reading fantasy now as I did then, but Skellig helped unlock a part of my brain that I thought was long dead. I can still feel the wisps of Skellig’s feathers and I can feel the baby’s heartbeat alongside my own. I wasn’t just reading a book, I was reading my past self.

Of course, these were slight revelations, but it wasn’t the biggest epiphany I had while re-reading Skellig as an adult. That happened about halfway in. I can pinpoint the exact moment my internal organs collapsed. Dramatic? Yes. Justified? Also yes.

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Batgirl is NOT Your Toy

Batman: The Killing Joke adds a prologue about Batgirl and Batman that isn’t seen in the comics, should we applaud the extra storyline or condemn its representation of Batgirl?

*SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers from the recent DC animated film, Batman: The Killing Joke and may also include comic book canon outside of the source material.*

It is arguable by some that many female comic book characters are sexist, but many others justify this by the times in which they were published  or individual character traits themselves. The big issue is representation and when characters are changed to portray sexist ideals. Female characters are built up with traits that are a common representation of women, thus perpetuating a certain idea of “femininity”. However, we would argue that the latter problem is more infuriating, when female characters are fundamentally changed to create an image of submission that is out of character, especially with the case of Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) in The Killing Joke film.

Now, let’s make a distinction between the comic book source material that we saw in the second half of the film (which was excellent and true to the story), and this prologue that was created seemingly out of nowhere for the first 30 minutes of the film. We know that atrocious things happen to Barbara in The Killing Joke, she is shot through the spine and The Joker assaults her by taking compromising photos of her while she is incapacitated and sending them to her father, Jim Gordon. As awful as that is, it is a justifiable storyline based upon the characters in question. The Killing Joke serves as away to see The Joker in two lights; in sympathy and in disgust. We see both his backstory and motivation, the reason he is the way he is, but we also see that he is evil and an all-around bad person. The point of the story is that he wants to “prove a point” to Batman and Jim Gordon, that all people snap and do awful things when the world is unfair to them. This is possibly the worst thing about him, as he justifies his cruelty and thinks of revenge as something wholly human.

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However, Barbara’s injuries lay the groundwork in her becoming Oracle, giving outside intel to Batman from her lair when she can no longer go out and be Batgirl due to her paralysis. This gives her power despite her disability and is truly empowering to see and in-keeping with what we know and love about Batgirl. She is a strong female character, a trait she is showcasing constantly, yet in the prologue of the film, she’s seen in a completely different light.

It is appreciated that the creators wanted to add extra content to the film, but it felt like the first half was unnecessary and it ruins Batgirl. This story shows a relationship between Batman and Batgirl, painting Batgirl as a subservient character to the will of The Almighty Batman™. Of course, romantic love is not the problem here at all, love is amazing, but the fact that love is always used to weaken women while it builds up men is frankly quite preposterous. This added with the notion that every woman needs a romantic relationship while men do not, makes for an unbalanced and unfair representation of women.

This is frustrating for many reasons and the list keeps getting longer as you carry on watching. As mentioned earlier, it shows a completely out of character Batgirl, but also, Batman and Batgirl are never together in the comic books; this relationship was pretty much entirely fabricated. At times Batgirl has been seen as the love interest of Nightwing, not Batman, so it’s not even like this can be justified by the fact that they are in a relationship, if you could even call it that. Barbara spends 30 minutes of the film pining after Batman, something she just would not do. Ms Gordon is the kind of woman who would assert her feelings. She does not pine.

Furthermore, this seemingly one-sided love affair escalates into Batman and Batgirl having sex, right after an argument about Batman being controlling (because obviously even though she is a strong independent woman, she secretly likes the fact that Batman is a domineering d***head). And if this wasn’t enough to make you cringe, after their encounter Barbara Gordon gives up her role as Batgirl just because she and Batman are on different pages. She literally gives up her power and individuality because of a man.

If you still think this is all absolutely fine and in character, note the period joke (yes, there is a “time of the month” joke and it is completely tasteless), the complete lack of any sort of character from Batgirl except the overwhelmingly strong “I love Batman sooooo much, I want him to be mine and I’ll give up everything just for him to notice me!” vibe, but most importantly, please note that this entire backstory has NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH THE KILLING JOKE.

Yes, that’s right, this 30 minutes of pining after an out of date yoghurt (Batman is great but sometimes he’s basically a dairy product past its sell-by date) is irrelevant and adds nothing to the actual story. It’s awful to write such a one-sided article when the actual Killing Joke content was brilliant, but there was just nothing redeemable about that story, and that’s not even breaking into the extra sexualisation of Batgirl through another character’s obsession with her. If you can overlook these discrepancies and focus on the second half then Batman: The Killing Joke is a genius addition to the line of DC animated films. If you can’t get over this, then Batman: The Killing Joke is just one huge joke.

What do you think about Batman: The Killing Joke? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

Three Contemporary Wordsmiths You’re Missing Out On

People say poetry is a dying art. This is simply not true. Poetry came from the streets and it may have retreated there but it’s still prevalent in our culture. One line is all it takes to fall in love with words.

Art changes to adapt to the times, the form, the structure, the language… And in our age of ephemeral Internet attention spans, it may well be the time for our friend the poet to use those seconds and make you see the world slightly differently. You may not be down for a full length novel, and that’s fine, but may I suggest a text-message size version that fits right in your pocket?

“I think this is where I belong – among all your other lost things. A crumpled note at the bottom of a drawer or an old photograph pressed between the pages of a book. I hope someday you will find me and remember what I once meant to you.”

(Lang Leav, Lost Things, Love and Misadventure)

1) R.M. Drake

R. M. Drake is the nom-de-plume of self-published writer Robert Macias, who started out life as a poet by posting his works on Instagram, using what has now become his signature style; printing words in typewriter-esque fonts on spotted or lined paper.

“Sometimes you have to shatter the mirror in you to see all the pieces that make you beautiful.”

(Beautiful, Beautiful Chaos)

From Instagram posts to self-published books, Drake has garnered quite a following, having celebrities share his work and not only selling his books on his own online shop, but breaching the top ten publications in the poetry category that made it as Amazon best-sellers. But, how does one go from writing on social media to having an audience in the millions?

This utilisation of social media as a tool to boost ones artistic reach is an interesting idea, one that has undoubtedly been the cornerstone of Drake’s success. It has become even easier for people to claim their way to fame with viral videos and images, however, for most this is short-lived. To sustain a viewership as large as 1.5 million and for a long period of time surely takes expert craftsmanship and dedication to said craft.

2) Steve Nash

With all the sonnets, stanzas and soliloquies we all had drilled into our skulls in school, it can be easy to lose sight of any personal connection with a text. Nash’s work will blow that notion from every inch of your brain.

“A woman stands./ There is no stage./ There is no audience./ There is nothing for her to stand upon/ And nobody to watch her.”

(Stage Play, Taking the Long Way Home)

Taking the Long Way Home may be Steve Nash’s only poetry publication, but it has a power about it unlike everything we think we know about poetry. He adopts a unique kind of diversity across the form and structure of his work, making each piece take you to a very different place while somehow maintaining this unbreakable string of knowing that makes you feel both complete and incomplete.

The anthology has a universal intelligibility to it, regardless of subject matter it would be difficult not to find it engaging. You don’t have to be a great lover of poetry to appreciate Taking the Long Way Home, you just have to be able to read English.

3) Daniel Rowland

Also known as The Pavement Poet, Daniel Rowland travels around the UK painting his poetry on the pavement, for the whole world to see. In this way, he has effectively transversed the medium itself and launched into a whole new kind of social statement.

“My chalk is tinder,/ My words a spark,/ My ink it’s fuel,/ As the fire starts.”

(Leeds)

Rowland has stated in a TEDx Talk that he focuses on challenging social norms, so not only does he lay out his work in this way, but he has the unique ability to gauge the reaction of the public seeing him unveil his words on the pavement. It can be easy to walk down a path and not notice your surroundings, but the work that Rowland does encourages people to look above and beyond and appreciate the written word in all its humble glory.

These people all share the quirk of being able to manipulate emotion with only a small amount of words; we can’t let them be anything other than what they are. After all, we are all poets, some of us just don’t have a medium for our verse.

“Sit still and grip the wheel,/ just don’t look back –/ behind, in the next layby,/ all you left wait/ with the engine running,/ still in gear.”

(Helen Mort, Passing Place, Granta Magazine)

The Five Books That Have Defined My Life

The written word is an important aspect of our culture as human beings and plays a huge part in shaping who we are as individuals. Here I will compile a list of books that have done so for me, in ways I can only begin to describe. 

1)Matilda – Roald Dahl

One of the first novels I ever read by an author who is a staple of most British childhoods, Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda‘ is what I believe sparked my love of literature. The eponymous character was the first idea I ever associated myself with, this coupled with the notion that maybe the nerd can be triumphant makes for a captivating tale for the alienated child. That’s what ‘Matilda‘ was for me anyway. Seeing myself as something other than just a target for bullies really helped boost my self-confidence and from then on, it was okay to throw myself into the things I loved simply because I loved them.

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2)Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling

Closely following Matilda came the Harry Potter series by her majesty J.K. Rowling. I’m classing this as one entry because it comes as a whole and you all know it! (For the record my favourite book is Prisoner of Azkaban because Sirius is amazing and if you disagree, you’re wrong). It’s really difficult to know where to begin with such a fundamental part of my life. I have such fond memories of reading over my older brothers shoulder and this one time he convinced me that there was one more sequel called  “Harry Potter and the Curse of Hagrid” in which Hagrid is evil. I was so sad I cried because Hagrid is one of my favourite characters. I grew up with Harry Potter and yes, even though I’m 18 now and for all intents and purposes an “adult”, it still makes me so excited. Because realistically, who doesn’t want to go to Hogwarts and learn magic?!

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3)The Animals of Farthing Wood – Colin Dann

So this one is a little different from the rest. Most of the books I read nowadays are part of a trend of popular young adult novels I find on offer at Waterstones (books are expensive, don’t judge me!) and I admit, I don’t use the library for fiction books anymore. But The Animals of Farthing Wood is a book that I happened upon by chance at a book sale at my school; 20p for a story that has stayed with me for over a decade. Happening upon books just doesn’t happen enough to me anymore, if at all. If there’s something I wish I did more, it’s picking up a random book to read. Second hand books at car boot sales are some of the best reads I have ever had, it’s such a special thing to read and love something that has had a profound effect on someone else too.

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4) The Last Dragon Chronicles – Chris D’Lacey

I was going to write about a different book series but then I remembered a project I did in high school about my favourite books and I thought about The Last Dragon Chronicles, which I haven’t thought about in years but I just did a quick Wikipedia search and I have now remembered the sheer awesomeness and how much I loved reading it. Naturally, I’ve gone straight to Amazon to order all eight books… The great thing about these books is that it was just so different to anything I’d ever read. Yeah, it’s fantasy and we’ve established that I’m a huge dork for fantasy but The Fire Within (the first book) just blew my tiny mind. It’s one of those series’ that you have to read all at once because you SIMPLY MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. (Don’t you just love it when that happens?)

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5)Paper Towns – John Green

This one was also really important to me, because I read it at a time when it was applicable to my life and I felt like the mysterious character of Margo just mirrored everything I felt about education and life in general. Some of the people I recommended the book to thought that the ending was unsatisfactory but personally, I feel like the ending is perfect and exactly what Margo would do. Paper Towns is by far my favourite John Green novel, another one you just can’t put down. I think everyone going through major transitions/existential crises (namely moving on from high school to college or university) should read it, it is the perfect coming of age book.

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I hope this gets you thinking about stories that have helped to shape your life and just how important books and ideas can be! Let me know what your top five books are in the comments below or on my Facebook page!

 

Feminism, Romanticism and the Gothic

Gothic texts make for interesting reads, whether it is traditional Gothic, neo-Gothic or anything in between. Here is a list of Gothic texts that every literature geek should read.

Firstly, a quick definition of the Gothic genre. Unfortunately, Gothic doesn’t really have a single definition. Put simply, the Gothic is about transgression, but what does that mean? The main element of a Gothic text is that it transcends social boundaries. It combines horror with romanticism to create an aesthetically pleasing sort of terror that combines nature and the unnatural in a sometimes fantastical way, such as monsters like vampires, and in other instances it is grounded in reality through realistic settings or characters.

Macbeth – Technically,  Shakespeare’s Macbeth predates the Gothic movement which is thought to have started in the mid to late 17th century, as Macbeth was written and performed in 1606. That being said, there is an astounding amount of elements associated with the Gothic genre that are interwoven in the narrative and symbolism. The witches of Macbeth provide a creature that only vaguely resembles the human form and is laced with demonic evil. This coupled with the personal plight of Macbeth and his “vaulting ambition” that spurs his inhumane actions, not to mention his wife who fuels his black desires make for a truly harrowing story. Regardless of the genre, everyone should read Macbeth.

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Frankenstein – Arguably, Frankenstein marked the birth of the Gothic and is also seen as the first true science-fiction novel. (The initial first Gothic novel is The Castle of Otranto, but Frankenstein triggered a whole line of Gothic fiction, more so than the former). Mary Shelley completely revolutionised fiction in this way, such a dark story had not been seen before and it set the tone for the entire Gothic era in history. Although nowadays, Frankenstein is seen as a cheap backyard effect monster compared to the modern space age craze, the gruesome tale of Doctor Igor Frankenstein stitching body parts together is still the hallmark for all Gothic horror.

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Dracula – Bram Stoker’s Dracula is timeless. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire as he was going off various myths and legends from across the world that predated his birth, he did define its modern form and characteristics. This novel depicts traditional vampires in all their glory, bringing together all the tales and folklore into one amazing package. Though the vampire has changed over the years, it is impossible to stray too far from the absolute basics, like the need to drink human blood which is completely horrific. On the other hand, the way it is written provokes a kind of perverse pleasure in the reader that is completely unparalleled.

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Skellig – This one is children’s book and is slightly different to the preceding novels as it has been classified as Gothic by yours truly, so you could potentially disagree with me on this one. This was most likely the first Gothic novel I ever read and it made a lasting impression on me. The reason I call it Gothic, is because of the dark themes that lie under the narrative. It’s the darkest book I read as a child because it challenged my beliefs of the world that I had been exposed to through other children’s books. David Almond’s Skelling is a quintessential book to carry you through into “the real world” as it challenges naïveté but not so much to be scary to a child.

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The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter is a huge influence upon the sub-genre of the feminist Gothic. This is a particularly interesting sub-genre as while the original Gothic plays on conventions in order to transgress and rework the norm, the feminist Gothic does the same thing again but with a feminist spin. The Bloody Chamber contains several short stories written in this fashion that reworks fairytales in keeping with the feminist Gothic, with empowering women. However, Carter also simplifies some fairytales to their sexist cores and exposes their true meaning.

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That concludes my top five Gothic novels, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Wolf Gift and Wuthering Heights were omitted due to word count.

I hope you have enjoyed this list, let me know if you read them or if you think I missed something in the comments below or on my Facebook page!

Happy reading!

The Facts In Our Stars

Box office hit “The Fault in Our Stars” based on the New York Times bestseller novel by John Green, fuelled by internet community: Nerdfighteria.

Many of you will have heard of, if not seen, the tragic love story of two teens suffering from cancer, Hazel and Gus. “The Fault in Our Stars” has gained $237 million in less than two months which would seem surprising as, at a glance, it seems to be more suited to a niche audience. However, this niche has been propelled to extraordinary heights by the vast internet community called Nerdfighteria.

This community was founded upon a YouTube channel run by John Green and his brother, Hank, the Vlogbrothers. This started out as the two brothers sending each other videos via YouTube in a fun attempt to keep visual contact instead of written. Little did they know that their mixture of humour and breaching topics that are normally never explained in day-to-day life would bring in such a huge and varied audience. Soon after realising this, the Green brothers began to tailor their topics to include subjects such as explaining politics and overseas situations in a simplified manner in order to educate as well as entertain. Now the channel has over two million subscribers and counting.

Some people may be turned off by the fact that Nerdfighteria sounds like a cult following, but John and Hank’s aims have been purely good. Nerdfighters work to decrease “worldsuck” or bad things that happen in the world and their slogan is “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome!” (DFTBA) which portrays just how tight and loving this community really is.

Nerdfighter Motto

This group of fans have helped to spread John’s literature and now the film; it can only be compared to a self-made viral campaign. Many fans of “The Fault in Our Stars” were apprehensive about the film, as with such a delicate storyline, readers were afraid it may become too commercialised and lose it’s essence as a book. On the contrary, the film has been dubbed “the most faithful book-to-film adaptation”, proving that director, Josh Boone, stayed true to John’s vision as a writer.

So while it seems that pop culture has a seemingly large negative influence on young people, it’s nice to know that communities like Nerdfighteria still exist and play a large part in our society and surely will for ages to come.

Watch an introductory Vlogbrothers video right here: