Paper Views: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I know that my blog has kind of been all over the place this summer thanks to a dangerous combination of my various trips and general laziness, but hopefully now that I’m back at sixth form for my last year of school (eek) I can get back in the swing of things, and the holiday has meant that I’ve plenty of books of which to impart my professional opinion on for you. The first of these, and one that I wasn’t exactly eagerly anticipating reading, was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, one of the classics that was suggested reading for my A2 Literature course. Now, I don’t know if I’m the only one that had these preconceptions, but I was expecting this to be one of those novels full of wishy-washy lovey-dovey characters without any real plot line that anyone of our time can relate to (yes, this is exactly what I thought about Pride and Prejudice). I have to say, a few pages in and I was pleasantly surprised- the protagonist and the book’s namesake is a women who is independent-minded right from childhood and finds her way in the world without the help of any man- something that is refreshing to see in a book of that era.

It’s not until at least halfway through the story that you start to see a romance forming, and it is certainly not one of nature typical of romance novels; Rochester is moody and brooding and actually kind of ugly- something which only serves to make the characters more humbling and relatable. Described as something of a gothic novel, Jane Eyre definitely has more depth to it than the perhaps more commonly read Pride and Prejudice, and if you were going to read one of the two I would certainly recommend the former. Whilst I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite book that I’ve ever read, it completely surpassed my expectations and managed to be funny, gripping and profound in ways that I never expected. Definitely one to add to the bookshelf.

Book Launch: Popular by Maya Van Wagenen

On Wednesday night, I was lucky enough to go to the launch for the book that’s causing a storm both in the US and here in England. Written by 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is an eighth-grader’s memoir about her extraordinary journey from social outcast to daring 1950’s lookalike in pearls- something that was simply not done in her small middle school on the Mexican border.

IMG_1995The story is basically about her discovery of a book written by Betty Cornell in the 50’s all about teenage popularity. Maya decided it would be interesting to follow the advice given in the book to the letter as a sort of social experiment, and see if it could translate into the modern day- as, in her own words, she had “nothing to lose”. From girdles to gloves and hats, the next year of her life was an interesting one to say the least, from materialistic things, to mannerisms and confidence tests.

IMG_2107The book launch was held on the tenth floor of the Penguin offices on the strand, with a breath-taking view over London, especially late at night. The reason I was lucky enough to go was because my parents run a vintage clothing and homewares business and were invited to come along with some of their stock, so I joined them to help out. After getting dolled up by the 50’s hair and makeup pop-up salon that came along, we spent the evening chatting to various bloggers and people from Penguin, before going to hear Maya herself speak.

IMG_2006The evening was hosted by the editor of Glamour magazine, Jo Elvin, who interviewed Maya and then opened it up to us to ask questions. I can honestly say I was blown away by how eloquent and insightful she was for a girl of fifteen, there were definitely strong feelings of inadequacy within me  when hearing her speak! She talked about the project, which she described as her hunt for the true meaning of popularity. When asked if she had managed to find the answer, she smiled and said simply that there was no true definition. She knew only what it wasn’t; it wasn’t the clothes you wore or the way you walked, or having everyone know your name. It’s about realising that there is no difference between those at the top and the bottom; they both have the same worries, the same fears, and the same hopes. It’s about being able to put that to one side, put yourself out there and treat people as your equal, and they will reciprocate.

IMG_1957Maya is by no means your average high school ‘popular’ girl, but she’s happy. Whilst the book puts across this message skilfully, and if definitely a must-read- especially for pre-teens- it’s not until you meet her in person that you realise what an inspirational person she is and how much we could truly learn from her. At fifteen, with a movie already in the works and a best-selling book, I feel this is nowhere near the last we are going to see of Maya Van Wagenen.

Paper Views: Animal Farm

I know that I did a book post recently and I promised to mix it up a bit, but I just finished reading Animal Farm the other day and I can’t help but write about it. It’s one of those books that everyone should read as a teenager yet for some unknown reason I’ve only just gotten round to reading it- at only 102 pages I really have no excuse.

I won’t go into too much detail about the plot as I’m sure most of you already know it, but for those who are unaware (have you been living under a rock?) it follows the story of a farm on which the animals overthrow their master and proceed to run the farm themselves, renaming it Animal Farm. It’s written to mirror the 1917 Russian Revolution and subsequent Stalinist rule, with characters representing all manner of political figures, from Napoleon who represents Stalin himself to Mr Jones (Tsar Nicholas II) and Mr Frederick (Hitler). As geeky as it sounds, as someone who took GCSE History I love reading it and recognising characters or events that I learnt about- it’s one of the many reasons I love this book.

As satirical novels go, it’s clever. Really clever. Orwell has this amazing ability to convey the characters and story completely through characters of farm animals in a way which makes this book a great read for those of any age, even though it is often marketed as a kids novel.  It also helps you really understand how deceptively the USSR became a dictatorship by telling the story from the point of view of those who are actively being deceived by those in charge, which somehow manages to be much more relatable than a textbook (I empathise more with a horse than a Russian citizen.. go figure).

I just think that this is a classic that everyone should read, no matter how old you are. Simply but beautifully written in only 102 pages, there’s no excuse not to.

Paper Views: Perfume by Patrick Süskind

I’ve been writing these reviews for a few weeks now, so I thought it was about time to tell you about probably my favourite book of all time- Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskindy. This was a book that was recommended by my English teacher who raved about it so much that I just had to go out and read it for myself… and let’s just say I was blown away.

Without going into the plot in too much detail, the novel is set in eighteenth century France and centres around the unusual (to put it mildly) character of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is born and promptly abandoned, left as a newborn on the streets of Paris. The book takes no time at all with introducing the abnormal atmosphere around which this odd tale is constructed, with the introduction of the key theme: smell. Jean-Baptiste, known better as Grenouille, is a child born without a scent, yet with the keenest nose in existence nonetheless- something that is the cause of great unease from everyone he meets, meaning that his childhood was spent being passed around between carers. That is, however, until he finds himself working as an apprentice for Baldini, a master perfumer in Paris. By this point it is apparent that Grenouille has an unusually twisted relationship with scents, which proves to be almost perverse when he hunts down a particularly beautiful scent of a young girl, who later ends up as his first of many murders.

I feel like I’ve already given a lot of the plot away, but that’s only the first part of the book so definitely go read it to find out the ending, especially because I feel like I’ve severely depreciated the genius of this intricate plot! Seriously though, I think it’s an injustice that not everyone has heard of this novel; creating something this unique and thought provoking is pretty unusual in this day and age (this was actually written in the 80s) so  I personally believe we should grab every opportunity we find. So although it may not be the happiest story line and “not my kind of thing”, in the words of Rainbow Rowell, “art isn’t supposed to look nice, it’s supposed to make you feel something”. Which is exactly what this book does.

Third Time Lucky

Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved to write. From crappy love songs when I was 8 to poetry that I thought would change the world when I was 13, there has been no better way to hide myself away from the world than with a pen and paper.

Recently I’ve had to start to think seriously about what I want to do with my life, as I have to apply for university in just a matter of months. There was never really any question about  what I want to do, as no career seemed more perfect to me than journalism; of course I only ever saw the rose-tinted-spectacles view of it- the interviews with Hollywood celebrities, parties every night and the hustle and bustle of life in London or New York- basically a scene from The Devil Wears Prada.

Now, at 17 years old with hopefully a little more sense, I thought a blog would be a great place to start. I’ve tried this twice before, hence the name of the post, but this time I am hoping (possibly in vain) that I will actually be able to keep at it and not slack on posting like I  have previously.

To try and ensure this, I have decided that setting a regular post day was the best way to go. So at the moment the plan is to blog every Sunday talking about my week and just anything I want to write about (this could go completely wrong but we’ll see). Then at some other point of every week I will try and post on either Rhythm and Views or Paper Views, which are based on music and book reviews respectively.

As I write this it is the first beautiful sunny day of the year, which is something to treasure in England. While the weather and my consequential sense of optimism are both likely to be short-lived, I figure this is a good place to start and I’m excited to start blogging again.

See you soon for my first proper post,

Beckie x