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?

Review: Coffee Boy, Austin Chant

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After graduation, Kieran expected to go straight into a career of flipping burgers—only to be offered the internship of his dreams at a political campaign. But the pressure of being an out trans man in the workplace quickly sucks the joy out of things, as does Seth, the humorless campaign strategist who watches his every move.

Soon, the only upside to the job is that Seth has a painful crush on their painfully straight boss, and Kieran has a front row seat to the drama. But when Seth proves to be as respectful and supportive as he is prickly, Kieran develops an awkward crush of his own—one which Seth is far too prim and proper to ever reciprocate.

CONTENT WARNING: scenes of a graphic sexual nature, mild transphobia

Why I picked this book up:

I was in the mood for something quick, fun, and fluffy, and I thought this romance would be perfect.

The bad:

At 90 pages, I only wish this book could have been longer. I loved Kieran and his self-assured sarcastic personality and could have read a full book about his internship and about him getting into politics.

The good:

Funny and warm, this book was a beautifully constructed mini romance. The characters were flawed and believable, and did a great job of illustrating older and younger members of the queer community and their reactions to labels, and also showed how even straight liberals can be accidentally homophobic or transphobic without the correct knowledge. The sex scenes were also well written without resorting to cliches or overly euphemistic language, which was refreshing. I’m excited to read some more of Chant’s other novellas, and hope he goes on to write more full length fiction in the future.

Overall rating: 4/5

Spending Diet

Today I’m going to talk about something that I haven’t before on this blog, and that topic is money.

Since the beginning of the year especially, and after reading The No Spend Year, I’ve been attempting to become more conscious with where my money is going and what I’m putting into savings every month. In the last week, I’ve accepted an offer for a masters degree, which although is a really exciting opportunity, comes with a whole host of new financial worries. With my fees for one year of study coming to just over £6k, and the government loan for postgraduates stuck at £10k, there will have to be some serious lifestyle changes that come with my next round of studies. That’s not even including this summer, where I will be getting no support from student finance, and even with working extra hours will have nothing left over once the essentials have been paid.

I will be keeping my current part time job in order to help pay the bills, and luckily with the loan and my income combined, all the basics will be covered during term time, leaving about £60 a month spare. Although this is much more than I ever had ‘spare’ for the majority of my life (and even the majority of my degree), since having a little extra income my spending choices have adapted to meet my disposable income.

So, in light of this, I’ve decided to put myself on a spending diet, from now until graduation. Instead of doing the tempting thing, which would be to ‘make the most’ of my spare money while I still have it, I will bring down my spending to what it will have to be over the next year. Everything that I have coming in that is ‘extra’ will go straight into my savings account, meaning that if I do desperately need more than what I have coming in next year, I can feel more comfortable dipping into what I’ve put aside.

I’m also hoping that choosing to reduce my spending now, as opposed to being forced to come September, will make the transition easier and that I won’t feel tempted to over spend or use up my savings.

I’m hoping to keep a mini weekly diary of my spending in order to keep track of it, as well as little ways that I’ve managed to save money on day to day costs.

Countless, Karen Gregory

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When Hedda discovers she is pregnant, she doesn’t believe she could ever look after a baby. The numbers just don’t add up. She is young, and still in the grip of an eating disorder that controls every aspect of how she goes about her daily life. She’s even given her eating disorder a name – Nia. But as the days tick by, Hedda comes to a decision: she and Nia will call a truce, just until the baby is born. 17 weeks, 119 days, 357 meals. She can do it, if she takes it one day at a time …

Heartbreaking and hopeful by turns, Karen Gregory’s debut novel is a story of love, heartache and human resilience. And how the things that matter most can’t be counted. Perfect for fans of Lisa Williamson, Non Pratt and Sarah Crossan.

CONTENT WARNING: Eating Disorders (anorexia, binging, and restriction)

 

Why I picked this book up:

I requested this book because I was curious to see how issues of mental health and pregnancy would be handled, and I was interested in a YA novel set in the UK, as almost everything I’ve read in the YA Contemporary genre has been very American-centric.

 

The bad:

Honestly, there was nothing negative to say about this book, other than the possibility that it my be triggering to ED sufferers due to some details about Hedda’s methods of restriction and obsession with other women’s weight. Other than that, the topic of the main character’s eating disorder was handled well – great details and insight were included regarding Hedda’s recovery and relapse without making this novel a handbook on how to lie about food and lose weight as some others on the topic can tend to be.

 

The good:

Wow. Just wow. At times this book winded me with descriptions of Hedda’s self-hatred, with her two halves battling towards health but also towards her anorexia, which she refers to as ‘Nia’. The way Nia is personified is so chilling, and was a great narrative device in order to convey often inexplicable emotions. There was a moment where I was worried that a love interest would become the ‘cure’ or the main plot, but Gregory allows any romance to become background to Hedda’s personal journey, with her feelings used as a way to demonstrate her self-destructive behaviour rather than something that felt shoe-horned in to make the book sell (which is a trope I feel that a lot of debut authors fall foul of). Hedda was also a great and flawed character, selfish due to her illness, but also deeply passionate, analytical and efficient, with a wicked sarcastic sense of humour. Overall this book was tragic, hopeful, and beautiful, exploring motherhood, mental health, learning to trust others with your problems, and the difficult to break spiral of self-loathing. Hedda is never ‘cured’, but her steps towards self-improvement are inspiring and heart-wrenching.

 

Overall rating: 4.5

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: 1984, George Orwell

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✮✮✮✮☆

The year 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “negative utopia” -a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions -a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

 

Why I picked this book up:

I’d read this book a good few years ago, but as it climbed higher up the bestsellers list over the last few weeks (three guesses as to why) I realised that I hardly remembered anything about the book itself, or even the majority of the characters. Luckily this classic is fairly short one that I could dip in and out of during a hectic week of job interviews and class presentations.

 

The bad:

As you can probably tell from the 4 star rating, I did thoroughly enjoy this book – that being said, I don’t think it was anywhere near perfect in its construction. The first hundred pages, until the character of Julia comes into play, is almost entirely exposition told through the quite boring day to day activities of Winston. I also felt that when Orwell included passages from the book, these 5 page excerpts were quickly condensed by Winston’s internal monologue immediately after, so felt very unnecessary and clunky in what was a very fast paced section of the book. If I’m really being picky, in places the political messages felt a little over-stated, with some passages, such as that on the creation of newspeak, extremely intelligent and deftly handled, whereas others, such as when Winston discovers a photograph of some inner circle members, were a little overdramatic and lacked the nuance so much of the book contained.

 

The good:

Despite my few small problems with the narrative, this reread really cemented how excellent and relevant this novel still is. Orwell’s exploration of intellectual freedom, language, and different forms of rebellion is like nothing else I’ve read, and so clearly defined a genre that is continuously replicated today. The dark and menacing ending acts as a warning and stark reminder of political powers that go unchecked, and how rebelling can be as large as standing up to corrupt leaders, or simply finding the beauty in life that those in power would have you forget.

 

Favourite quote:

“Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

 

Overall rating: 4/5

February ’17 Wrap-Up

Books Bought:

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor
  • How to be Both – Ali Smith
  • White Teeth – Zadie Smith
  • On Beauty – Zadie Smith

 

Books Read:

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor
  • Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
  • 1984 – George Orwell

 

This month was a bit of a slow burner, with a few deadlines hovering at the start of the month meaning two weeks passed by with hardly any reading at all. It’s one of the main reasons why, unusually, I read a children’s book, a memoir, and a piece of historical fiction, rather than my usual mix of fantasy and literary fiction.

In terms of buying books, The Year of Living Danishly and The Ashes of London were books I bought specifically to try and force my way out of a reading slump, so unlike the majority of my other purchases which are slung unceremoniously onto my growing TBR, I ended up reading straight away. The other three I picked up at a sale in a charity shop, where I managed to get the three of them for £2. After everything I’ve heard over the last few months about Zadie’s Swing Time and Ali’s Autumn, I took the opportunity to get my hands on some of their backlist titles before I spend money on their new releases, which in the UK are only available in hardback.

 

Reviews:

The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell     4/5

The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor    3/5

Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild    4/5    (coming soon)

1984 – George Orwell    4/5    (coming soon)