An absolutely remarkable thing

Hank Green has been in my life since I was about 12 years old. Typing that out has just made me realise that is 10 YEARS of my life which I’ll react properly to some other time. I have complex feelings about the Green brothers at this time in my life, but the fact remains that I care about the things Hank Green creates.

I was especially interested in this book. I truly had no idea if Hank Green would be able to write something I would enjoy, regardless of his ability to create content I enjoy in other media. I’ve never thought of him as a fiction writer, he was the ‘science’ brother and I think that’s why he was my favourite Vlogbrother for so long – I fell more on the science geek side of things.

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The book had endless positive feedback from everyone I followed online with an advanced copy. I still didn’t entirely feel I could trust them (I know I would struggle to criticise Hank) and I wasn’t entirely convinced when the book arrived. I had, of course, pre-ordered it despite all this doubt – like I said, Hank Green has held such a long-term place in my life, I care.

I wasn’t even entirely convinced after one or two chapters. It took me a little while longer to get into the story than I expected. I had recently read the miseducation of Cameron Post (blog coming soon?) and I had barely been able to put that down once I got it.

By the end of an absolutely remarkable thing I had teared up and had a little swell of joy in my chest as I read the acknowledgments. So in the end, I liked it. I did actually really like it – I’ll admit books with a bisexual lead get an immediate bonus 50 points from me (I’m biased as heck), but it wasn’t the only thing that I loved.

I do think the story was great, it was interesting and thoughtful. Eventually, I did hit a point where I did not put the book down again until I had finished. Hank names a lot of people in the acknowledgments who helped him write the story of someone who had different life experiences to him – and it showed. I was so pleasantly surprised by how he wrote a bisexual woman, and how he tried to make sure there was some diversity explicitly included. It’s still a book by a white, well-off, dude – but it helps a little.

Something which Hank is likely unique positioned to write about, which I found interesting in a way almost unrelated to the story, was the tale of becoming popular online running alongside the events in the book. It feels like it’s getting popular at the moment to have stories featuring vloggers and influencers – an absolutely remarkable thing felt like a more legitimate version of this story than some of the others I’ve encountered. I wonder how many of the comments about April’s relationship with her viewers and her celebrity status stemmed directly from Hank’s experience. Even as someone without a following I recognised the desire for attention April regularly admits to.

Ultimately, I liked this book, it’s not right at the top of my ‘favourites’ list, but it made me really happy. It snuck in ideas about the human condition without being too aggressive about it, and honestly, the story was just really fun – you want to know what happens, you want to solve the mystery that is Carl. I’ll definitely read the sequel – I’m dying to know more.

 

 

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Next blog coming soon!

Allie

 

Turtles All The Way Down

On the one hand, I had been utterly convinced I had grown out of John Green books. My increasing cynicism about the world kind of made me question my enjoyment of them in the first place. The boys especially, in a lot of his books, are pretty stupid. But on the other hand, if 15-year-old me found out 21-year-old me thought that she was gonna throw a fit. John Green, and his brother Hank (of whom I arguably have more fondness for) were an important staple of my teenage years. So I pre-ordered TATWD. And I’m happy I did.

It’s not like it’s my favourite book ever, or it’s changed my life or anything like that. But as I finished it I just felt incredibly satisfied, and calm, not just because I had two ginger kittens crawling all over me at the time.

It felt like a book John had always wanted to write. I could really hear him throughout the story, and most so at the end. The last few pages had me sitting with my younger self, curled up with a cat, watching youtube, hearing these people tell me it wouldn’t always be the way it was. It was a very real and honest story, with an honest ending.

My skepticism about Johns characters that had grown in the years between Tfios and now has started to dissipate again. I thought about it a bunch as I took the train home, and realised one of the reasons those books had always been so interesting to me is because it was a refreshingly honest take on being a ‘Young adult’. You are a bit stupid and pretentious. You want to romanticise everything and find meaning in everything. Johns writing can make you fall in love with that kind of mindset,  but it also makes you think more about it, see consequences of it.

The road doesn’t always run smooth. But in a real way? I’m not sure what I’m saying here. But it was good.

Turtles appealed to me particularly because of the main character’s anxiety. I knew this would feature in the book before purchasing, another thing which drove me to pick it up. Aza’s anxiety manifested differently to my own in many ways, but the way in which she spoke about her thoughts read like my diary. John Green articulate feelings I struggle with, and I know thousands of others do, with perfect clarity.

The experiences Aza had beyond her anxiety were also refreshingly honest. Her anxiety was not a fancy interesting thing. And she grew to see how it went beyond her. She didn’t use her anxiety as an excuse to be shitty. She made an effort to change the behaviours, more so when she learned from her interactions with other people.

John has written a really lovely depiction of teens, and anxiety, which doesn’t glamorise either, but doesn’t shy away from all the things special about being in high school.

I may feel I have ‘aged out’ of Young adult fiction in many ways. But it turns out I still learn from it, I still love it, and when I read it I feel like I’m looking after my teenage self. Who really needed some good looking after.

Hope you’re all well, see below for aforementioned kittens
Allie x

Women in comedy for days

Without being entirely conscious that I was doing it, I managed to book a whole lotta women comedians for the Fringe. With 5 or 6 shows left for me (3 of which are more female comedians) I have spent most of this month of August laughing my ass off at some fabulous women in comedy. To save you from a number of short posts on each individual show, I thought I’d compile some reviews here. If you’re in Edinburgh, or at any festival, remember to support diversity in arts and entertainment, coz women can be fucking funny.

Rose Matafeo ★★★★★

rose matafeo

This was definitely my Stand-up comedy highlight of the Fringe. I’ll admit to a slight bias because she’s from New Zealand. What really set her apart was her energy. She was on point from the second the audience began entering the venue, dancing around and chatting to us, making us labels with a label maker for no real reason. I had a crush on her before she had even begun the comedy. The skill with which she explores identities offered to women without losing the funny and light atmosphere for a second is incredible. I feel even if her comedy wasn’t your thing, the killer personality, and good vibes she radiates throughout the set will make you love her anyway.

Twayna Mayne ★★★1/2

What felt like a tepid start at this show quickly became forgotten as Twayna Mayne did her thing. Keeping up the comedy while exploring her life, to an audience of mostly white people over 40, was really quite the feat. There were certain moments where I know I didn’t feel the most engaged, but it highlighted for me how often I rest on having shared experiences with the comedian I’m watching. For the first I’ve ever seen of this lovely comedian I think she did a stunning job, and I think she’ll go on to do awesome things in comedy.

Standard Issue Stands Up ★★★★

There were several fantastic comedians in the line up for this evening. I’ll admit I had booked in entirely to see Sarah Millican, but I left with the decision to book two more shows to see some more material from other women the show featured. Jessica Fostekew was running the show, and she was so funny and fantastic that I ended up at her own show the very next day. Evelyn Mok was first up, and I now have tickets for her show next week! The other ladies also did a fantastic job, but those two really stood out. I think it’s when a great kind of personality comes through alongside the clever comedy that really does it for me. Sarah Millican was a gem, of course, I couldn’t have been more pleased to see her on stage. If I’m around in Edinburgh next year I’d be delighted to see her tour.

Jessica Fostekew ★★★ 1/2

Jessica Fostekew Silence of the nans

So less than 24 hours after seeing her at Standard Issue stands up I was at Jessica Fostekew’s solo show ‘Silence of the Nans’. I’ll admit seeing it quite so soon after was perhaps not the best move as a couple of jokes I had already heard, obviously didn’t land quite so well as the first time. But again, it was that personality and her voice coming through her comedic tale that made it so entertaining. There were moments where the comedy lagged a bit as she had to move forward in her tale of cruise ship woe, but she pulled it all together wonderfully.

Samantha Baines ★★★

Now, this show was probably better than I think it was in my head. But my high expectations may have clouded my judgment a bit, and maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood? The puns were absolutely spot on. I definitely laughed a great deal at those and other jokes. I think it may have been poetry corner that put me off a bit. She’s got a wee book of poetry out, which I’m sure is hilarious, but its place in the show felt a bit odd. I admired her choice of topic though, ‘lost women in science’ is a great idea, and she executed it pretty well, I just didn’t leave this show with the same sense of satisfaction I did the others.

 
Hope you’re having a fantastic fringe fest,

Allie xx

Edinburgh Book Festival: The First Weekend!

Last weekend the Edinburgh Book Festival launched for 2017 and I managed to get to a couple of events on those first days. On Saturday afternoon I treated myself to ‘Afternoon Tea with Yemisi Aribisala’ and the following evening I was privileged to see Carol Ann Duffy with John Sampson.

Both events were exceptional, and great picks for the opening weekend.

I confess prior to booking my festival tickets I did not know of Yemisi Aribisala and her fantastic food book ‘Longthroat Memoirs’. I was mostly drawn in by the promise of discussion based around food, and led by an inspiring Nigerian woman. Part of my goal for the festivals (and in life) is to hear and engage with stories from as diverse a population as possible, so this was a must-do for me. The promise of some tea and food certainly helped.

Yemisi kindly took the time to introduce herself to us all ahead of speaking, and she instantly gave off such vibrancy and warmth, I knew I would be a fan. As the event went forward and her discussion of her life and book began, she absolutely won me over. She was fantastic and witty, and I was incredibly interested in what she had to say about food and her culture. She is absolutely the sort of woman I’d love to have a chat with at any time.

Her wonderful, witty voice comes through in her book, and while there are a small handful of recipes, it is so much more about the culture surrounding food, and beyond. I would certainly recommend picking up her book to get a feeling of just how lovely of a person she was, and how well she tells her stories of food.

Yemisi Aribisala at afternoon tea

As with many people my age, I, unfortunately, had a small handful of Carol Ann Duffy’s poems completely ruined for me when I had to over-analyse them in order to get a grade I wasn’t even that pleased with in high school. To any student that endured a similar cruelty, I could not recommend seeing her perform enough. I laughed, and cried, and completely adored her. Carol Ann Duffy is a wit, and a marvel, I have seen comedians at the Fringe who did not make me laugh so much as her. She also gracefully raised a middle finger to Donald Trump, and you know I’m always on board with a bit of that.

The fantastic performance was only enhanced by her marvelous companion John Sampson, who played beautifully on any number of instruments and made the jolly vibe just that much stronger. The poetry was lovely, the humour was exceptional, and the performance was an absolute highlight of my entire Edinburgh Festivals experience.

I can’t wait for more Book festival events, I’m back again this evening! What a privilege it is to be living in this City of Literature.

Allie

Scottish Poetry: The Cafe Review

I would be absolutely lying if I said I knew a single thing about ‘The Café Review’ before I attended the launch of the Summer 2017 issue a wee while ago. The journal is a sort of ‘grassroots’ poetry anthology released quarterly over in the United States. The reason I found myself at this event was because I wanted to become a better consumer of poetry, and this seemed like a good place to start.

I’ve never been quite so ‘with it’ with poetry as I have a myriad of other written mediums. Quite frankly I think it is a result of the mad man who taught me English when I was aged about 11. He was a big fan of poetry, I was not a big fan of him. I was quite content in my dislike of poetry until recently. Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey changed my mind completely. I decided I wanted to rediscover poetry on my own terms. Blackwell’s was hosting the launch of this Scottish poetry edition of the journal, so I would go along.

The event was absolutely packed and a huge number of attendees were poets who had contributed to the issue. The poets ranged from someone who looked about my age (though after some extensive googling he might be in his 30s??) to true veterans of the art. Those that have made a name for themselves in poetry, and some fresher faces. I had no fucking clue who a single one was. But they were all brilliant.

Turns out I like poetry to be read aloud. I don’t mind reading it myself, but when read to the audience in a lilting Scottish accent, it made the poems magic. This was particularly the case with those performed in Gaelic – I didn’t entirely understand them, but it felt good to listen (and luckily there’s some translations in the physical copy of the journal).

It was a lovely hour or so of readings, coupled with a lovely glass of wine (or two), and as always it made me feel lucky to have such events taking place just down the road from me.

I don’t know how much more Scottish poetry I’ll read after I’ve thoroughly gone through the issue. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself googling some of the magnificent writers and ordering a collection or two. And I’m excited to keep looking into poetry more, and find a place for it in my literature-loving heart. After all, Rupi Kaur is releasing a new book soon…

 

Allie

Summer in the City: Books!

Obviously the growing overlap of books and YouTube is controversial. I won’t go into that. For me, it was really cool to see how the two different interests of mine overlapped. There were two panels I was really excited about – and luckily managed to get to (I was volunteering at the event so panels were not the top priority). I saw the Booktube panel on the Saturday, and the Women who write panel on the Sunday.

Penguin Platform stall
Penguin had a great stall at Sitc and even gave me free books and a cute ass tote bag

When I tried YouTube when I was younger I had always wanted it to be related to books, and if I ever try again I suspect I will come back to that. The Booktube community was one of my early points of access to the wider YouTube community. The Panel was moderated by Sanne (booksandquills) who I have followed for years and years. Other speakers were Hannah Witton, Ariel Bissett, Lucy Powrie, Genista Tate-Alexander, Olly Thorn (PhilosophyTube), and Imani Shola. I had known of and watched about half of the panelists before, and am really interested in what the other panelists do.

I was particularly interested in Olly Thorn’s work on YouTube. As a soon-to-be Psychology graduate I have often thought about making academia that I am familiar with more accessible by making YouTube content. This is effectively exactly how Olly got his start. I think it’s so important that knowledge is made more accessible to everyone. University is insanely expensive. Textbooks, journals, and even general non-fiction books can really empty out one’s wallet quickly. I was glad to see people are already doing the things I have thought about in approaching education accessibility, and I hope to be a bigger part of it someday.

It was interesting to hear Hannah and Imani speak a little on their own published works. I had already read ‘Doing It’ as a big fan of Hannah and as someone who is very involved in improving sex education. I now have Imani’s poetry book ‘Heart Shards and Lip balm’ sitting on my bed for me to read ASAP. I did not know of Imani before but she was such a highlight of the event. She radiates positivity and thoughtfulness, and I think it was so worthwhile having her voice on panels at the event. I can’t wait to see more of her.

women who write panel
Women who write panel

I would love to write more, so hearing from people who have written is an opportunity I don’t like to pass up. Whether it be poetry, non-fiction, or something else entirely, I love to hear about other people’s processes and experiences with writing (particularly if their writing is out there in the world, on bookstore shelves and in amazon warehouses). This brings me on to the second bookish panel: Women who write. As well as Hannah and Imani making an appearance again, Savannah Brown, Hazel Hayes, Connie Glynn, and Dodie Clark were there to talk about heaps of different kinds of writing.

Each of them were coming at writing in different ways. Hannah, who was moderating, has written her non-fiction book about sex education. Imani and Savannah both have published poetry books, and Savannah is also in the process of writing a novel. Connie (who you may know as Noodlerella) is writing a series of YA books. Hazel is a film-maker, and has written a number of scripts, but also has a background in short story writing. Finally, Dodie is primarily known for being a song-writer, but also has a non-fiction book being released later this year.

It was so interesting hearing all of their different perspectives and experiences with writing. I was really fascinated by what each of them had to say, and was taking notes on my phone about some of their strategies and techniques. I particularly like hearing women speak on it, and it was really interesting to hear about the prominence of women in the book industry (Especially in contrast to the film industry, which Hazel had good insight into).

I’m really glad to have had the opportunities to hear all of these people speak at both panels. My love and passion for writing, books, and publishing, was well supported at the event, which was really exciting for me. I hope to see more insight into this world in the future, and continue to explore how it connects with online media and personalities.

Allie x

P.S. Later this week I will probably write a blog about YouTube culture more broadly, and being a ‘fan’. As I have a lot of thoughts I’d like to write down, and as I’ve learned in the last 24 hours, Twitter is not sufficient for sharing those thoughts…

 

Mentioned in this post:

Sanne Vliegenthart
Hannah Witton
Imani Shola
Lucy Powrie
Ariel Bissett
Genista Tate-Alexander
Olly Thorn
Hazel Hayes
Dodie Clark
Savannah Brown
Connie Glynn

Fringe Festival: Urzila Carlson

Despite living in Edinburgh since 2014 this is the first time I’ve ever actually been to the fringe! Over the next few weeks I’m going to throw up some short blog posts about what I’m going to. Naturally when the book festival starts there will be a lot about that too. Finally, I’m going to Summer in the City this weekend, there are a couple of bookish panels I’m going to try and get to! So look for a post about that coming up next week.

So, last night I went to my very first Fringe show ever. Urzila Carlson is a fab comedian that I know well, because she’s been on my TV back home in New Zealand heaps. She is a fat queer woman, so obviously I resonate with her a lot. I’m always here for my women in comedy, and I know she makes me laugh.

I was sat directly in the middle of the front row, practically feeling her breath on me. Luckily she quickly dispelled my fears of being picked on, otherwise my anxiety would have had me out of there like a rocket. She was absolutely marvelous. Lovely, and funny, and so real. She absolutely nails the whole ‘I’m saying things that have definitely happened to almost anyone but making it so much more clever and funny’ vibe that stand-up comedy has. I also seriously appreciated some of the more serious chat she wove into her hour on stage. She started a conversation that absolutely needs to be had, without derailing the show at all. I thought it was cool to hear a badass female comedian talk about some life stuff that isn’t so easy to tun into a joke.

I couldn’t have wished for a better show to kick off my Fringe experience. It was so nice to be that close to a piece of home (I’m so fucking homesick guys), and she was truly fucking funny.

Highly recommend  – check her out if you’re in Edinburgh!

urzilacarlson.com