Taking a break from the bookish community.

Hi guys, today I wanted to talk a little bit about why I’m making the decision to step back from bookish social media.

I love books. They’re in every room in my house, I wax lyrical about recent reads to anyone who will listen, and obviously, love them enough to run two blogs around them. The issue is that recently I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure and a lot of FOMO from different streams of the community.

I’m not saying that the community is toxic or bad or detrimental in anyway. Hell, discovering the bookish side of Tumblr five years ago is what made me rediscover my love of reading and introduced me to YA and a loving community of other readers. If wasn’t for booklr and booktube, I don’t think I ever would have kept up reading in the same way I have during my degree. I’ve met some amazing friends, discovered books I never would have picked up, and read more than I ever have before.

The issue, if you can call it one, is that the community is so vast, so diverse, and so varied that I’m finding myself constantly feeling under pressure. I watch booktubers who read more than ten books a month, which is just staggering to me, and people hauling upwards of twenty books in one go, talking about how exciting they all are, and all of them somehow find their way onto my Want To Read list on Goodreads. Having this giant, overwhelming TBR at all times that just keeps getting bigger has turned from something amazing to something terrifying, and not being able to read every recent release or recommendation makes me feel like I’m being left in the dust of other readers.

Goodreads itself has become stressful too – although I love having a record of everything I’ve read in any given year, and a place where I can check what other people thought of a book I’ve just finished, feeling like I can’t fall behind with my reading challenge is really affecting the way I read. I avoid long, difficult books, not because I don’t want to read them but because I’m worried I’ll fall behind. Being ‘ahead of schedule’ makes me feel like I’m winning, whereas being ‘behind schedule’ makes me feel like I’m losing – losing what? Reading and enjoying books has never been a competition, but with so many other people to compare myself to, it’s turned into one for me.

Also, because I’m getting so many recommendations at all times, I feel like I’m not discovering anything myself anymore. I go into a bookshop or onto a website with a specific list of things that I want, carefully curated based on other people’s thoughts, and checked against reviews. It’s been years since I’ve wondered into a shop and only bought books I’ve found by chance, going off nothing other than the blurb.

I want to spend some time to reset to zero, as it were, to enjoy reading a book not because it will put me towards my Goodreads goal or so I can post about it on my blog, but because I’m actually enjoying it. I want to feel like I can take the time, unrushed, to work my way through a tough classic, or not worry if I find an obscure antiquarian book that can’t be logged and shared with starred review. I want to get back to reading without obligation, and without stress.

 

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On Not Feeling Good Enough

I’ve been trying to make a piece of content – blog post, video, instagram post, whatever – for weeks now. Every time I write I tell myself no-one will see it. Every time I film something I tell myself I’m just adding to the oversaturated community and not adding anything valuable. Every time I go to take a picture I find something wrong – the lighting, a lack of interesting caption, or just the fact that neither myself nor my belongings look ‘instagram ready’.

Although this is largely a manifestation of poor mental health, I think that there’s a whole bunch of confusing feelings knocking around when it comes to creation that aren’t always completely internal. By putting original content out there, and what’s more, promoting it, you’re having to openly <em>try </em>at something, openly being passionate about a topic, which as someone into things like books and video games is a very vulnerable position to put yourself into. Creating content tells the world that not only are you interested in and passionate about a topic, but that you have the pig-headedness to think that your opinions also have value.

I find myself frequently caught in limbo between two thoughts: the first, that being creative and striving for improvement and exposure is a positive act and that you have something to add to a conversation; the second, that most people are just ordinary and that knowing your limits and what your strengths are prevent you from aiming with your ego.

I don’t know how to figure out if I’m good enough to keep making things. But I think that it is a negative thing to give up on something.

5 Life Lessons from Harry Potter

As I was born in 1996, I was only on this earth a year before Harry Potter was (in book form, rather than birthdate, but that’s just complicating things). I grew up with every book and film, aged with the actors, and shared this series with nearly everyone I knew throughout my childhood. In light of the 20 year anniversary this week I thought I’d talk a bit about the ways these books have impacted me – and are still impacting me – long after they were first published.

 

1. Everyone deserves kindness, because you don’t know what they’re going through behind closed doors.

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More than anything, the series taught me to be understanding and empathetic. When Harry and Ron meet each other on the Hogwarts Express, Harry doesn’t know that Ron is the youngest brother in a huge family that struggles financially and so hardly gets space for himself, and Ron doesn’t know Harry comes from an abusive home and hasn’t had a real friend before. Everyone has their own baggage, and you never know how much a simple kindness can impact someone.

 

2. Activism will not be easy, nor will it make you popular.

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Hermione starting SPEW (Society for the Protection of Elvish Welfare) is probably responsible for 90% of my belligerent stand-up-for-everything-even-if-you-piss-people-off personality. Her radical ideas about Elves and other magical creatures which are initially mocked are adopted by her closest friends by the end of the series, and serves as a reminder that equality is always the end goal.

 

3. Morality is not black and white

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The series gave us characters like Dumbledore and Snape, who both committed extreme acts of good and extreme acts of bad throughout their lives. Although one, arguably, did much more good than the other (who steps over a CRYING BABY to hug a DEAD BODY then emotionally tortures children because you didn’t get laid as a teenager I mean really) JK Rowling showed us that people are not split into good guys and bad guys, but everyone lies somewhere on a spectrum.

 

4. Life is defined by the choices we make

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Everything from Harry choosing Gryffindor over Slytherin to Voldemort choosing Harry over Neville, this series demonstrates that nothing is innate or fated in life, but that people have the power to define themselves through their actions. Knowing that you can become the person you want and define your own goals was an important lesson to learn and relearn throughout my childhood.

 

5. And finally…

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Battle of the TBR: My Book Buying Ban

So, as of today, after going through every book in the house that wasn’t my boyfriends (and some that were that I want to read eventually), I have 95 books on my physical TBR. 95. That’s actually insane. This is also not counting some books I’m waiting on from a book-swap, which will take the total to 102.

I argue it’s because I love books. I love shiny new hardbacks of recent releases, I love battered paperbacks from charity shops, I love a cart full of 1p secondhand titles on Amazon, I love buying books as a treat, buying them when I’m sad, buying books recommended by friends, and stocking up on a new author I’ve discovered.

But it’s ridiculous. I keep buying books faster than I can read them – and I read them fast. And the sad thing is that I hardly even feel excited about them anymore – books that I was so desperate to buy now sit forgotten on my shelf as I bring more and more into the house. I needed an intervention, and since all bookish areas of social media are filled with adverts, promos, reviews, and endless jokes about people not controlling themselves in bookshops, the intervention needed to come from me.

So here it is – I will stop buying books. Period. Until my TBR is down to 10 books (which I feel is a reasonable number to have waiting in the wings for my attention) I will not be buying books. There will, of course, be some exceptions: books from author events (I have one that I’ve already bought a ticket for in July), gifts, and book swaps (just because I’d rather trade with someone than donate them to somewhere they might never made it onto the shelves).

Given that I read anywhere from 50-70 books a year when I’m studying, it’ll take me around 2 years to get through it – not including any gifts and swaps, of course, which will make it even longer to get through.

I’ll try and do a monthly update on how I’m doing, which books I’ve received from my rule exception, and how I’ve felt going through backlist books rather than newer (more exciting?) ones.

Have any of you been on a book buying ban before? How did it go?

Hygge + Happiness: Books About Denmark

As I’m sure anyone who has wondered into a bookshop recently will know (or reads any lifestyle blogs, for that matter), almost every middle-class Brit is talking about Denmark and hygge – myself included.

Over the last few months publishers have been capitalising on the trend, with literal stacks of titles sporting the buzzword, offering cosiness and happiness and an idillic lifestyle in our very own England. Although I don’t see a few blankets and candles as a fix all for 21st century blues, I wanted to share two books I’ve really enjoyed on the subject, and the lessons that I’ve taken from them.

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The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell

This first book is a memoir-cum-cultural profile, written by a British lifestyle journalist who moves to Denmark with her husband when he is offered a job with Lego. The chapters are split into a month-by-month basis, with each section titled by a uniquely Danish cultural phenomenon. Her chapter on hygge appears fairly early in the book, but the ideas and the word itself appear frequently throughout her first year of living in abroad. She openly talks about what she thinks works culturally (and the things she thinks don’t) and the difficultly she faced as an outsider, but overall the book is a lighthearted and well researched peek into day to day life in Denmark.

What Russell emphasises as being the biggest impact on her personal happiness is the balance between work and home. In Denmark, the day finishes far earlier, and clubs, childcare, and family time seem to be built into everyone’s week. Although things such as family time, and time doing activities like walks, cycling, reading, or cooking all come under the heading of ‘hygge’, the shorter work days and government assistance are something country specific. Russell frequently theorises that it is the combination of personal choice and public policy that results in such reportedly high levels of happiness in Danes, and that short of actually moving to Denmark some aspects of life are not easily replicated elsewhere. However, she does argue that adjusting mindset and priorities are key in happiness at work, home, and with your own happiness, making sure that time is taken to spend time with loved ones, eat good food, and take life a little slower.

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Buy it here.

 

The Little Book of Hygge – Meik Wiking

Although this little book is also non-fiction, it couldn’t be more different in its approach. Written by a Dane, Wiking attempts to give a comprehensive guide on exactly hygge is, why it is important, and how to achieve it in every aspect of life. This volume is chock full of gorgeous photos, recipes, DIY projects, and even clothing tips.

After my first cover-to-cover read through of this book, I’ve so often gone back to it in times where I’ve needed a little pick me up. The tips Wiking gives range from the lifestyle altering to the most basic, so whenever I’m in need of a cosy break from the day to day, there always seems to be something that I can implement immediately.

 

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Buy it here.

What are your thoughts on the hygge trend? Let me know down in the comments!

Why I stopped rating books on Goodreads

About halfway through this year I stopped giving books starred reviews when I marked them as read on Goodreads. Although I still find the website a useful tool for keeping track of what I’ve been reading (plus I find the yearly reading challenges great motivation for me to get off Tumblr and get reading), I find the rating system really unhelpful in categorising what I’ve read.

 

I almost always think a book is great once I’ve read it

Before the elation of finally finishing a book has worn off, I’m always inclined to give it 4 or 5 stars as I mark it as ‘read’. Usually, within a few days my opinion of the book as a whole is properly formed, and it may be that I didn’t actually find it that engaging, or I realised some elements or characters were problematic.

 

It’s not always that simple

It also happens quite often that my enjoyment of the book was very high, despite me knowing that it wasn’t well written, was problematic, was cliche, etc. By giving it either a high or a low rating based on these things I’d have to ignore another element of the book, and I really don’t have time to rate a book and to justify it, or to explain that I understand why it may not be a ‘good’ book even though I’ve given it 5 stars, nor, do I think, should I have to.

 

It makes reading seem like a chore

Feeling like I had to think about a rating for a book once I’d put it down straight away was something that played on my mind all the way through reading it, and not rating one book but then rating another made me feel stressed and as though I’d been neglecting a responsibility. By deciding not to rate anything on the account I made my reading experience much less stressful, and it meant I wasn’t rushing to form an opinion on anything that I’d read.

 

Do any of you rate books on Goodreads? Do you find it helpful?

Consumerism in the Bookish Community

I’ve felt for a while, especially as someone who mainly interacts with the book blogging community through Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube, that there seems to be an overwhelming emphasis on the attainment, rather than the enjoyment, of books.

 

Although I appreciate a good shelfie as much as the next bookworm – especially as they work as fantastic inspiration for how to organise my cheap ikea shelves in increasingly creative ways – hauls, posts about spending ‘every last penny’ a month on new releases and crazy TBR piles are far more common than fan art, reviews, or even discussions (obviously this is just my own personal experience of the community, which I appreciate depends entirely on who I’m following. Although I do completely relate to an overwhelming need to obtain works of literature, and therefore end up with shelves upon shelves of unread novels, we seem as a group to be not only normalising this behaviour, but encouraging it – the true mark of the modern bookworm is the one that is excessively spending and collecting.

 

I also see a lot of positivity posts on Tumblr regarding bookworms that can’t afford the latest releases, or special editions, or that worship their local library. Although I think these are fantastic, and it’s important to make any community feel welcoming and accessible to people from all backgrounds and lifestyles, there is still a heavy emphasis on can’t. That these people can’t afford these habits, that they would given they had the opportunity to. What about those who don’t want to?

 

This kind of conspicuous consumption is also encouraged by societal assumptions, where the reading of books, and even literacy itself, has for centuries been viewed as an occupation of the cultured and the academic in most societies. Where a fashion blogger who owned 200 pairs of shoes that she hardly ever wore would probably be ridiculed by others outside of that community as vapid and as wasting money (note that I’m not saying this is an appropriate reaction, but that’s for another post), whereas a book blogger with 200 unread books is seen as completely normal and relatable, and likely as intelligent and worldly by someone outside of it.

 

I’m not saying that I’m not guilty of these actions myself – far from it. But when you’re fighting a battle to actually appreciate and make use of the things you already own or can borrow from the library, it’s difficult to fight that wasteful, consumerist urge when it’s seen as normal and enviable in your online circles.

 

I’d love to know everyone else’s thoughts on the matter, so please feel free to join in on this discussion!