Nothing of Me

I have a quote tattooed on my ribs, by Chuck Palahniuk, back when his writing was cutting and edgy, and full of vitriol, and good. His more recent novels have been amongst the worst books I’ve ever read, but there was a time when he was at the peak of nihilism and barely contained rage. Those books are amongst the best books I’ve ever read, so I guess it balances out in the end. Regardless of his waning talent, there was a quote I read in one of his earlier novels, titled Invisible Monsters. The quote reads “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.” I liked it so much that I went out and got it inked into my skin forever.

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Like much of Palahniuk’s earlier works, Invisible Monsters brought forth questions that teenage Amy was determined to seek answers for. Certainly, I wondered how I would have been different if it were not for the people around me, and their ultimate influence. I still think about it today, which I suppose is why I got tattooed in the first place. I often wonder how my life would have been altered had I never met my best friends. Or if my bookshop had never closed down. Or if I had have moved away and not ever come back. I think about the bands I like, the movies I’ve seen, the books I’ve read. And I wonder whether I would have had those same interest if I had have been born in another time, in another country, or even to different parents.

It’s easy to ignore the influence of other people, or pretend that it doesn’t exist when you’re determined to come across as independent. But even the most self certain people in the world have taken some measure of influence from the people around them. It’s impossible not to. Every discussion you ever have with another person is an opportunity for them to introduce you to a new way of thinking, or a new interest that you may not have previously had. And you hold that same power when you talk to other people. Maybe you make a statement and the person you’re talking to suddenly had their eyes opened to a new idea that they had never considered before.

I grew up listening to music from when my parents were teenagers, the music that they brought with them into adulthood, and parenthood. Would I have loved music from the 70’s and 80’s if I had not had that particular influence from the very moment I was born? Would I have come to find a liking for it entirely on my own, if it was not something I had developed an interest in as a direct result of my parents? These are the questions I find myself thinking at least semi regularly, when I wonder if my life would be better if. Admittedly that whole grass being greener thing is just a matter of perception, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering how I got to this point as the person I am. Who influenced me, who made me? The answer is probably everyone, myself included. I am not a person made of nothing, I am a person made from every experience, every interaction, every thing.

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The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir

Recently, I went into Big W looking for a specific book. I didn’t find the book I wanted, but I did leave with six other books instead. The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir was one of those six, one purchased on a whim because the blurb just captured my attention. It turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

As you can guess from the title, it is about a young woman called Biddy Weir. She is quirky, and misunderstood, and considered by everyone to be a little bit odd. In fact, she is so odd that Alison, the mean girl at her school, nicknames her Bloody Weirdo, and the consequences of that name stay with her all through her school years, and well into her adulthood.

As she suffers daily torment and abuse at the hands of Alison, her self worth slowly vanishes. Every happiness she has gets wrenched away from her, for the cruel entertainment of a bunch of girls. If I’m honest, the book is actually rather reminiscent of Carrie, albeit without the telepathy and the violent ending. But something about Biddy got to me, and stuck.

It is a heartbreaking story, and a familiar one. The one who dances to the beat of her own drum, is always the one left outcast and alone. Because even today, in our supposedly liberated society, to be considered weird is an insult. And Biddy is weird. But that is what makes her so special. Author, Lesley Allen, created a protagonist that I loved instantly, for all the reasons the other characters hated her.

The book is well written, has a steady pace, and is full of heart. It is beautiful in its sadness, and made me cry…and I’m not usually emotional. If you’re a little bit weird, I encourage you to meet Biddy. And I challenge you not to love her.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here 

It was a slow day at work on Sunday, so I smashed out an entire book. That book was The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness. After a long run of reading mediocre titles, I’m finally reading more books that are not “just ok”, but rather make me say “holy fuck that was good”, and I’m pleased to say this book fell into the latter category. I read his Chaos Walking trilogy a few years ago, and fell in love with his storytelling and his character development, so I was super excited to finally get my hands on a copy of this book.

The book actually tells two stories; that of the “indie kids” who encounter strange happenings and try to save the world. The kind of story you read when you pick up any urban fantasy series. But the best part about this book – and the cleverly worded title tells you all you need to know straight away – is that the world saving part isn’t even the main focus. Ness tells the story in the chapter titles, and it’s brilliantly presented as second fiddle to the main plot, which centres around a group of friends – very much the opposite of indie kids – who each have their own personal issues, and are just trying to make it to graduation without someone blowing up their high school…again.

Our narrator is Mikey, a soon to be graduate, on the cusp of adulthood, who has anxiety so severe, he can’t stop himself from washing his hands over and over and over and…but as all consuming and frustrating as it is, his anxiety is the least of his problems. He is about to graduate, and his life is about to be turned entirely on its head as a result. He has a drunken father and an overbearing, seemingly unfeeling politician for a mother. His sister Mel, (and a member of his close knit group of friends) is a recovering anorexic, and he isn’t sure whether he is in love with Mel’s best friend, Henna, or his own best friend, Jared. 

This book was so cleverly written, I wanted to read it again straight away. Ness takes the whole “Chosen One” trope, and turns it into background noise. But he does so in such a way as to poke gentle fun at it, without actually paying any insult to the genre. This whole book plays with the notion that not everyone is the Chosen One, and puts the spotlight on the normal ones, who are just trying to make it through their day to day lives. As our narrator says, “…sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.”

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is clever, funny, touching, and to be honest, quite brilliant. Ness effortlessly combines fantasy elements (zombie deer, anyone?) with down to earth, very normal issues and characters. The plot is engaging and entertaining, and the book is well written. I encourage you to give this book a read, I promise you won’t be disappointed. 

How To Build A Girl (review)

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I finally found it. The book I’ve been waiting to review. And let me tell you, How to Build a Girl is hands down the best book I have read in a long, long time.

Written by Caitlin Moran and set in Wolverhampton in the 1990’s, How to Build a Girl follows the life of Johanna Morrigan from the ages of 14-17, as she tries to navigate the tempestuous waters of young adulthood. It is funny, clever, filthy, and raw, and I found myself relating to this awkward, dorky, sassy teenager in more ways than one. There is something about the way Moran captures what it’s like to be a teenage girl that really resonated with me. And she doesn’t shy away from the realities of exploring sexuality either. The book frequently delves into Johanna’s masturbation habits and later, her sexual encounters, with a kind of blunt honesty that I found both refreshing and amusing.

Johanna is an aspiring writer, who leaves school to pursue her dream and turn it into a career. She lands herself a job writing music reviews for a magazine, and it is a move that thrusts her into the music scene, and into the adult lifestyle that she so desperately craves.

Enter Dolly Wilde; a drug taking, alcohol guzzling, top hat wearing cynic, who manages to charm and repel people in equal measure with her razor wit, outlandish tales, and scathing opinions. Dolly Wilde is Johanna’s greatest creation; the very embodiment of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. And it is through Dolly, and the fearlessness that she is able to enjoy whilst wearing that mask, that Johanna is able to discover herself, who she truly is and what she wants. Though she manages to get herself into some pretty interesting – and cringeworthy! – situations along the way.

An array of interesting characters are interwoven throughout; a lovable bunch of misfits that add a kind of dark humour to the book. Amongst these are Johanna’s father; a sometime drunkard who has grand plans of making it in music…if only he can get someone to play his tapes on the radio. There is her surly older brother Krissi, who doesn’t seem to reciprocate Johanna’s unfailing feelings of adoration, but who still remains her hero and one of her favourite people. And of course, her first real love, best friend and favourite person; quirky rock star, John Kite. It is this last relationship in particular that really struck a chord with me. There’s something inherently sweet and pure about their easy friendship, and the intensity with which Johanna loves this slightly dishevelled, but truly genuine soul.

This book is honest and funny and heartfelt, and everything I could want in a coming of age story, without any of the saccharine overtones. I laughed out loud, and there were even times when I felt the prickling of tears at the corners of my eyes. I loved it so much I almost want to go back and start it all over again. But, more books are yet to be read and so, for now, I will simply say that How to Build a Girl has definitely made its way into my top ten books of all time.

Reading Goals and Disappointments

I’ve been tracking my reading with Goodreads, and so far I’ve read 9 of my 30 book goal for 2017. I haven’t actually bought any books to read in months, as I’ve been making my way through the sloooowly diminishing pile of books that I’ve had stacked up for literally years. The stack has gotten bigger and smaller, and the books have changed over the years as I’ve made my way through them, but the stack itself is a permanent fixture in my house. Anyway, despite reading a fair bit more regularly this year than last, due in large part to getting time to read on public transport, nothing I’ve read has really jumped out at me, or stuck in my mind. I keep telling myself I will do more book reviews, but I don’t want to review any of the books I’ve read recently. It’s not that they’ve necessarily been bad, it’s just that none of them have really been all that…good.

Most of the books I’m reading are books I bought from the Book Grocer back home, when I had friends that worked there. I literally purchased bags of remaindered titles for a pittance, pretty much anything I saw that had an intriguing blurb or a pretty cover (ooops). I am currently reading Tales from the Dead of Night; a collection of short horror stories by thirteen different authors. I’ve always been a fan of the horror genre across all mediums (so long as it’s done right) and reading horror stories in bed at night is one of my favourite things in the world. Not that I’ve done that in this case, and the stories themselves have less of an effect when read on a busy, bright train car in peak hour. Nevertheless, so far the book has kept me intrigued and entertained. And it’s a hardback with a really nice cover, so points for that.

There are some decent titles in the stack at home, or so I believe. But so far the ones I’ve chosen haven’t been all that spectacular. So I’m actually thinking I might reread of some of the books I’ve read and actually shelved. Return to some old favourites and familiarise myself with the stories that I love. First on that list is going to be Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. That was the first Gaiman title I ever read and, incidentally, the first book my best friend ever lent me. American Gods was the book that started my love affair with Neil Gaiman’s writing. And with the upcoming television adaptation due at the end of the month, now is as good a time as any to get back in touch with Shadow, Mr Wednesday, and the Gods gang.

I do know that there are a couple of titles that I would like to read from the stack. Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series is one that I’ve been meaning to get around to for months. And despite his more recent literary failures, I’m fairly certain there’s one of Chuck Palahniuk’s earlier works in the stack as well, from a time when his writing was actually still good. There is also one of his more recent books, Make Something Up, which I have been hesitant to read because of how little faith I have in his work these days. I should point out that, despite still being one of my favourite authors due to his earlier work, pretty much everything since and including Damned written by Chuck has been heinously awful, with Beautiful You sitting in the top three of worst books I have EVER read.

I’m hoping that the rest of the books I read this year will be better than the ones I’ve read to date, so that I can actually get around to writing some proper reviews. And, y’know, so I can actually enjoy the things I’m reading. There’s no point in setting myself a reading challenge if I’m only going to hate all the things I read. That being said, if any of you have some book recommendations, I am open to suggestion. Regardless of genre, throw some ideas my way and I might find myself enjoying my reading more!

Savage Night Review

I recently finished reading Savage Night, the 2008 crime fiction/noir thriller novel by Allan Guthrie. And sweet baby Satan on a Savoy, what a novel it was. Take two families, add some revenge, toss in a handful of cold blooded violence and a twist of dark humour, and you have a book that asks the question; how much blood would you spill to avenge those you love?

On one side of this bloody feud is Andy Park; ex(?) con, and haemophobic, vaguely psychotic patriarch of a family that considers casual violence to be the norm. On the other side is Tommy Savage, a man made wealthy off years of working shady deals, and with more than a few skeletons in his closet. When the two families clash, violence and bloodshed ensues, and no one is going to walk away unscathed. What begins as a simple case of blackmail – and in Park’s case, a chance to get even with the man responsible for the failing care of his brain damaged wife – soon turns into something infinitely more violent than either family could have imagined. After a money exchange goes wrong, and costs the life of someone Park holds dear, his motivations quickly change from blackmail to revenge.

What follows is a sick, twisted series of events, each one more shocking and – as the title suggests – savage than the last, and soon both families find themselves in increasingly dangerous situations where it’s unclear who will survive, and who will join the ever growing number of bodies piling up in the wake of such brutality. The tables turn more than once in this novel, and I found myself unable to predict anything that was coming next. Guthrie’s penchant for intrigue kept this reader on her toes, and I couldn’t put the book down. His writing style is concise and direct, and the plot, while not overly complex, is written in a way that makes you feel as if this is the first revenge story you’ve ever read.

His characters were cleverly written, certainly believable and mostly all detestable, but in a way that didn’t detract from Guthrie’s writing in the slightest. He is a talented writer, and Savage Night is definitely worth the read. The story is entertaining, the writing is clear and the ending is vaguely ambiguous. This book gets a solid 4 out of 5 for me, and I highly recommend reading it.

Hoarding vs Collecting, and the Notion of Never Enough

I am not what you would necessarily call a hoarder. Having lived in such a small space for such a long time, I’ve gotten good at discarding useless things, and miraculously making space (out of no space) for the rest. This is especially true since I moved. I was brutal, and the unnecessary crap was remorselessly tossed without a second thought. Everything that I didn’t want, use, like, or need was thrown or given away. Clean slate.

Amongst the things that I kept were my books. I mean, obviously. I’m not a heathen. Now, whilst I wouldn’t really call myself a collector either, I have amassed quite a large number of books over the years, ever since first being able to buy them. And I am notorious for buying multiple books at a time and stacking and storing them, reading through them one by one (and sometimes up to three at a time). My to be read shelf currently houses 31 books, in addition to the two I am currently reading (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and the abridged version of The Princess Bride by William Goldman). I love books. I need them. I may or may not be addicted.

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Be patient, my pretties. I will get to you all in time.

I have a decent amount of films, a number of art prints, a selection of both pens and pocket watches and about seven Pop vinyl figures. My collections, as they are, are small in number, and limited in volume. A true collector, I am not. And yet, my best friend and I have a life motto; never enough. Now he, unlike me, is an avid and voracious collector of cool things. Barely a day goes by when I’m not being sent photos of the rad figures, books, films, weapons, prints, band merchandise and/or multiple other things he has had delivered in the mail. And he is even more adept at making the best of a small space than me! So much so that I have a genuine fear that the precariously stacked boxes of cool shit in his study will one day fall and crush him under the weight of awesomeness.

Our catchphrase, if you will, applies to most everything. Do I really need that new book…or ten? Never enough. I had a really good orgasm earlier, but now I’m toey again, and my vibrator is right there… Never enough. I’ve spent a lot on tattoos this year, but I just found an incredible design I want. Never enough. I’ve had two glasses of red wine and I’ve reached that pleasant state of mildly tipsy warmth; never en…actually, yeah I’m good here. Ok, so there are exceptions to the rule, but otherwise we both firmly believe in making the most of the simple pleasures in life.

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But that philosophy come with judgement. You get accused of wasting your money, which is one thing that always bugs me. I always pay my rent and bills on time, and I’m not careless with my money. Why does it matter – moreover why does it concern anyone else – if I buy something for myself with the cash I have left? Then there are the accusations of hoarding. I’m not keeping empty water bottles and scraps of paper. I’m buying things that provide me with entertainment and enjoyment, thus fulfilling a purpose in my life. Not that I need to justify why I buy things, mind you. And of course, the misconception that I’m selfish. Well, let’s think on that for a second. I am an independent adult woman, with neither spouse nor child. I rely on myself, and am relied on by no one else. I work five days a week between two jobs to earn my own money. So I will buy as many books and films and typewriters and tea paraphernalia as I damn well please, and you can put your judgement right away, thank you very much.

I like cool things. As often as I am able, I will procure said cool things and do so without shame or guilt. I will enjoy cool things, and I will keep enjoying them. And why is that? Come on guys, you all know the answer.