Book Review: Supermarket

Image: Amazon

Title: Supermarket

Author: Bobby Hall

Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2019)

Rating: 4/5

Its been a very long time since my last post. Due to things going on in my personal life, I haven’t felt like writing for a very long time. I don’t even feel fully like I can now but I thought I would try and write a short review to get back into things.

Synopsis

Flynn (at the start) is your classic aimless millennial who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He is still living at home, working in a Supermarket and trying to write a novel. Working at the Supermarket was supposed to give him a kind of structure in his life and enable him to work on making it as a writer. However, things suddenly, and shockingly, go very wrong.

As readers, we are embedded in the mind of a paranoid, psychotic, schizophrenic. Follow Flynn and the entrails of his mind as he tries to narrate modern life, all the while trying to make something of himself, form friendships and find love. This is a tale of living inside the mind of someone with an array of mental conditions, that is both alluring, funny at times and indefinitely inescapable.

Review

Looking at online ratings of this novel, my hopes were not high when I started reading it. Most people on Goodreads have rated it between 1-2 stars, which seems overwhelmingly harsh. The book is not perfect, but it had me gripped, and for a whole two days I didn’t want to put it down. It shocked me, made me laugh and made me wonder and think a lot about myself.

I was drawn to the protagonist, Flynn in many ways. He is seemingly imperfect, trying to make it as a writer, meanwhile working in a mundane job just to try and keep the money ticking over in the bank. In a lot of ways, his situation mirrored my own current one. Naturally, I felt a connection there.

When the book suddenly turns (and I won’t say why or how as it will give the story away) it gets a bit mad – granted. There appears to be a lot of loose ends that were never tied up, regarding Flynn’s girlfriend, Mia and his close friend, Red. All of a sudden the story ends in the space of five minutes and I was left wondering why and how for a long time. Nonetheless, the twist in this novel really did take me by surprise and I never saw it coming. I was so invested in Flynn and his situation that the final outcome was never something I had initially considered.

This may be a novel by first time author, Bobby Hall, however, I never knew of his musical background or lack of literary experience. In some ways, this does shine through in the novel, when considering the amount of loose ends that are left and the sense of the ending being rushed and suddenly skidding to a halt. However, I thought that this sense of breathlessness largely alluded to the whole premise of the novel and what is is like to live with a mental illness.

This book was unlike any I have read before. I was initially drawn to Flynn as a character and empathized with his lack of direction in his life. I enjoyed the twist to the novel, its occasional dark humor and reflection on societal issues and living with a mental health condition. I believe it deserves far more praise than it appears to have gotten.

Furthermore, it’s a book about writing the book the reader is reading, it knows its a book and flaunts it – which I like.

Give it a try and let me know what you think if you do end up reading it!

“One doesn’t create art for the people who hate it. Plus, when it comes to other writers, if they think it’s bad they’ll hate it because to them it’s bad writing and if it’s good they’ll be covetous, wishing they had done it, and consequently hate on it all the more. So if you”re making your art based on others it’s a lose-lose. and if you say, “screw everyone, I’m gonna make something I love,” you’ll win every time.”

The ultimate book tag

Image: Pixabay

This one is just a bit of fun and a chance to get to know me! Copied from https://cupsandthoughts.com/ (actually one of the blogs that inspired me to start my own!)

Do you get sick whilst reading in the car?

Nope! I once read the whole of Jane Eyre in a single car journey and have been known to finish more than one book (depending on its length!) in a journey.

Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?

That’s a tough question… I’m torn between Haruki Murakami and Donna Tartt. The way in which they both tell a story is completely unique and something I have never come across before. They both craft characters and protagonists in such an in depth way which means I’ve always felt a connection to them. Tartt especially – for her use of stream of consciousness in the characterization of Theodore Deckcer – that was an entirely new reading experience. By the end of the book, it felt like I knew him as I would a close friend.

Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer.

Have been a devoted fan to both but Harry Potter all the way. The creation of such a unique and complex world so alike and yet so different from our own, the way you witness the characters grow up over the series, that’s pretty special, and the way it deals with complex topics (death, love, family etc) for a relatively young audience.

Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is it in (besides books…)?

What’s the difference between a bag and a book bag? I don’t think I carry a book bag but I always carry a book with me in my bag…

Do you smell your books?

All the time. I smell them before buying and a lot during my time reading them, maybe too much? I’m reading Big Sky at the moment and that smells amazing, I keep having to take ‘smell breaks’ – I much prefer the smell of second hand books though.

 Books with or without little illustrations?

Without – that way there’s more room for words… I like to read the words and create the image for myself, but sometimes it can be interesting to have illustrations.

What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing? (Ex. I read Twilight before I read HP and thought the writing was amazing but read HP and now think Twilight is a little bit of a joke.)

Probably the Dan Brown series (Angels and Demons) – amazing to read in terms of the story line, the detail and everything but the writing is actually really bad (spelling and grammar) which I didn’t realise at the time as I was so engrossed in the story.

Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!

I was always reading above my supposed age bracket when it came to books but I think it was when I was in year 5 (between age 10-11) and we had to read aloud to our teacher once a week which was something I never minded… At the time I was reading The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman, which I think is technically YA.. ANYWAY I was reading it aloud to my teacher and realised I was reading to her a sex scene and it was very awkward. I think she wrote a note to my mum in my reading log telling her she might want to keep on track of my reading hahaaa…

 What is the thinnest book on your shelf?

Probably my collection of George Orwell’s essays, published by Penguin.

What is the thickest book on your shelf?

Ducks, Newburyport (Lucy Ellmann) and The Little Friend (Donna Tartt.)

 Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future as being an author?

I do, flippantly and when I can. I would love to be an author one day, but I honestly don’t know if I’m any good at writing or if anyone would want to read it… haha

When did you get into reading?

I would say properly 7 onwards. I went through the care system between the ages 4-6 and I found a lot of comfort in reading (I didn’t like talking to people at all at this point) and especially Jacqueline Wilson’s Tracy Beaker. So that started me off really, also just generally growing up in a family that loves books and reading helps.

What is your favorite classic book?

Cliche, but it will probably always be The Great Gatsby.

In school was your best subject Language/Arts/English?

It was always a battle between English and History. I was slightly better at History which is why I studied it at University.

 If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated…what would you do?

Give it to a Oxfam book shop or other charity shop.

What is a lesser known series that you know of that is similar to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?

Probably more similar to Twilight, but I loved the Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick.

What is a bad habit you always do (besides rambling) while blogging?

Probably just writing SO much and having to massively edit it otherwise no one would even think about reading it.

What is your favorite word?

Poignant, nonchalant, irreconcilable (purely because I think they sound nice…)

 Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Or all of the above?

Probably a bit of a dork – I was definitely as a child anyway. Likely still am.

 Vampires or Fairies? Why?

Vampires – I will always have a soft spot for Edward Cullen as I grew up with the Twilight series… and was always Team Edward 😉

 Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?

Angels – they are far more complex than they seem. You can get good and bad angels or ‘fallen’ angels (read Hush Hush.)

 Spirits or Werewolves? Why?

Werewolves – much fluffier, and they would keep you warm if you became friends.

 Zombies or Vampires?

Vampires… always.

Love Triangle or Forbidden Love

Forbidden love, usually makes for a more interesting story.

 AND FINALLY: Full on romance books or action-packed with a few love scenes mixed in?

Action packed with a few love scenes mixed in. Don’t think I have ever read a full on romance book.

Feel free to copy and fill in your own answers! 🙂

Book Review: Ducks, Newburyport

Title: Ducks, Newburyport

Author: Lucy Ellmann

Publisher: Galley Beggar Press

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis

This book follows the thoughts of an Ohioan housewife who bakes for a living. In between baking one pie after another, she worries about the state of the world and everything in between.

She worries she is not making enough money to sustain her family, she worries her children will be shot in a mass shooting and the fact that humans are destroying the planet. In between these worries, she even worries that she is worrying too much. But that’s very difficult when she lives in modern America, and in a state home to Cleveland; one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S.

We never learn her name, but in some ways we don’t have to. This 1000 page book follows the stream of conscious of an average American, trying to make their way through the qualms of modern life.

Review

I will start off by saying this is unlike any book I have ever read before. It has been a long time since it has taken me nearly two months to read any book, however, I was reading other books alongside this, as I couldn’t read this for long without needing to take a break.

I was in awe of the themes and parameters of this book. Like many, I struggle to understand the ways of modern America and the direction in which it appears to be heading. This book deals with these very ideas.

Through a seemingly average American, we learn about problems within American society, Ohio, and the world. There is a persistent critique of society, the political system and sense of injustice,

“the fact that is is all so much about money and influence now, the fact that that’s not very democratic really…. the fact that they’re all in denial about Trump too, the fact that everybody around here just thinks he’s doing a fine job or something, while they get poorer and poorer, and angrier and angrier…”

This Ohioan housewife is definitely not a Trump supporter. It was interesting to read a book discussing many current American political issues in an honest, revealing, and sometimes, amusing way. There were elements which were rather poignant; especially when discussing gun crime, one of her main concerns as a parent, is that she can never do everything to keep her children safe,

“…the fact that that is really not fair, the fact that you haven’t even got a chance if somebody decides to do something like that, just start killing people out of the blue….”

Thus, this is a theme that is repeated throughout the book, which infers how much of a constant worry it is. It really hones in on after all these years and human achievements, this is what is has come down to. In the modern world, some are happy to shoot strangers and tear apart strangers and their families.

As well as these persistent worries, she also frets about the state of the environment and how humans are so happy to kill anything and everything, she worries about the prospects of imminent nuclear war and how we are so powerless as futile individuals to think we can stop it.

In spite of all her persistent concerns, there is always some light at the end of the tunnel. Frequently, she interrupts herself to remind herself that we have to be happy to be alive,

“the fact that there are times, maybe the most unlikely times, that you realize your’re simply thrilled to be alive, and what a great piece of luck it is just to be a part of things, to have a body, so you can feel and see and walk the earth….”

which should serve as a reminder to us all. Above all, this stream of consciousness is a critique of humanity and our collective actions as a species. How we are causing more harm than good, and how these world problems can drain the life out of your average American who is just trying to live a happy life and make ends meet.

As a character, she is endearing and funny. I found her relatable, as like her, I worry about anything and everything. As a reader, you are constantly inside her head with very few breaks which can be tiring but very insightful. There are no other books I can compare it to, that deliver this same depth of consciousness.

Despite its stunning exploration of important aspects of modern life, I can’t help but feel that its delivery was lacking. It really was exhausting to read and because of this, I felt like it could have been written in half the number of words.

Some things are repeated so often that they lose their original poignancy. In her construction of this book, Ellmann makes her point clearly, but I can’t help but feel it was done so much more eloquently by others, such as Ali Smith. The steam of consciousness she creates is initially enlightening, different, and puts across a significant aspect of the book itself – the very fact that this character cannot escape from the depths of her own mind. However, as a reader, reading 1000 pages of the same thing does get exasperating.

I feel like Ellmann was deliberately trying to break the boundaries of a traditional novel just to appear different, when in reality, the boundaries of a novel and its distinct divisions in chapters and paragraphs, are what makes reading such a pleasure and enjoyment. In abandoning this, Ellmann manages to make this read a chore. It may have been an interesting at times, but the sheer lack of structure and repetitiveness made it a far than enjoyable read, but more what you could call a ‘slog’. Abandoning the traditional structure of a novel is bold – but only celebratory if it works.

I was fascinated by the parameters of this book and fully invested in the character, but felt like the pace of this book was slow, going over the same bumps in the road again and again, and could have been cut in half to deliver the same message. I was relieved to finish this book – and that says a lot in itself.

I would talk more about the parallel narration between her and the lion, but nonetheless that wasn’t explained clearly. What I take from it, is that Ellmann was trying to show an animal view of humanity,

“She listened out for her kittens even when all kitten sounds were blocked by dimwitted human excitements, human mirth, human arrogance, and of course the noisy, smelly cars in which they slashed and stabbed and scarred their way across the earth.”

I would say this dual narration was one of the most interesting parts of the book, if only I could fully understand it. It felt like Ellmann was using the narration from an animal perspective to shed an insight into humanity, and offer the idea that we too, are merely animals, rather than some sophisticated beings we imagine ourselves to be. We are maybe not so intelligent, when we are pulling the world apart.

Final thoughts

If you’ve got the stamina to read a 1000 page long stream of consciousness riddled with critiques of contemporary America and everything in between, then give this book a go. And let me know what you think! It would be great to discuss this book with people as I haven’t yet met/talked to anyone who has read the whole thing. It’s definitely something different – and it deserves a try just for that.

If you’re interested, here are some articles on the book:

The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/can-one-sentence-capture-all-of-life

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/15/ducks-newburyport-by-lucy-ellmann-review

Why I started journaling (consistently)

Image: pixabay

I have kept some form of diary for as long as I can remember. I look back on some of the fluffy pink diaries I kept as a child, and see the familiarity of the entries,

“Today I went to school and we did this… I ate this for dinner…. and then I went to sleep…”

this kind of repetitive entry I kept up for some years. Then I entered my teen years and it became a bit more all over the place. Most of the time I sporadically wrote snippet’s of my life. Some years I managed to keep it up solidly for a few months, and then gave up. At university I tried, but mostly failed. However, this is the first time in my life where I have been finding myself journaling, simply out of necessity.

Why I journal (now)

I decided to turn over a new leaf at the end of last year, to buy a brand new fancy notebook, with the intention that its thick pages and sleek design would motivate me to write in it. I used to be a person terrified over the prospect of ruining a nice new notebook – but now I have gotten rid of that fear I find myself writing with far more creativity than I used to.

There’s roughly four main purposes I use my journal for: organisation, keeping a diary, planning and tracking.

Organisation

I’m the kind of person who needs to write things down on paper to feel more organised in my own head. There’s nothing like the permanence of ink on paper to keep your head tidy. I use a weekly spread to plan my weeks out every month. In this I will have appointments, dates when I am working and also use it to write daily to do lists. I like to see an overview of the week to know what I am doing and to stay on top of things. I used to put this type of thing in my phone calendar, but it doesn’t offer the same satisfying visualization for me.

Train of thought and more ‘typical’ journaling

In between weekly spreads I use my journal for traditional diary writing. I write when I feel stressed, worried, anxious or when I am happy and want to document something. It usually reads like a train of thought and is disordered and chaotic, but it does the trick in clearing my mind. There’s no specific time when I write, but I usually find it’s more towards the end of the day. Most of this is nonsense, but I write with no intention of anyone ever reading it. I find that it gives me so much mental clarity and introspection.

Planning

I also like to use my journal for planning – and just about planning anything and everything. This goes for the books I want to read this year, things I want to do each moth and yearly goals. I also have a section completely dedicated to blog post ideas and what posts I want to write per month. Any time I have an idea about anything, I always make sure to write it down. I find this keeps me on track for achieving the things I want to do.

Tracking

Recently, I have been trying to track what I spend as I am trying to pay off an overdraft. I work out my (very rough) in-goings for the month and track what I am spending per week and divide them into essentials and non essentials. This way, I can really see what I am spending. As I have paperless bank statements I don’t really get physical proof of what I am spending. I also track what I have achieved in the month and sometimes how much water I drink per day – but this is something I usually forget.

What do I use?

For the notebook, I use a blank paged moleskine. I find the paper to be of very high quality (as I often write with a fountain pen this is essential). I used to always write in lined notebooks, but for planning and drawing out weekly spreads this is more appropriate. My favourite pen to write with is my twisbi mini fountain pen or my parker rollerball jotter.

Hope you enjoyed reading about why and how I use my journal and that it might inspire you to start your own!

Book Review: Social Creature

Image: The Irish Times

Title: Social Creature

Author: Tara Isabella Burton

Rating: 3/5

Publisher: Bloomsbury, Kindle Edition

Synopsis

This dark, twisted and enigmatic story follows the life of Louise, an aspiring writer nearing her 30s. She lives in New York and is floating around jobs but is always hoping to make it as a writer. Louise has nothing, but like many young people, hopes she can make something of herself in the city.

Louise then meets Lavina. Lavina has everything that Louise doesn’t and soon invites her into her flat to stay. It all seems to good to be true. Louise relishes the prospect of living rent free and living the sophisticated writer life she had always dreamed of. However, we soon learn of the demands of Lavina’s friendships and social circle.

Louise is swept under Lavina’s wing with constant socialising, parties, relationships, gossip, drinking, drug taking and fine dining in America’s big city. Louise, would rather a quieter life, but she has to keep up with Lavina’s lifestyle in order to earn her place as her best friend and have a right to stay in her apartment. She has to perform the role of being her own personal, social butterfly.

Slowly, but surely, Louise manages to sneak money from Lavina’s bank account into her own. Her justification is that Lavina will not even notice such small amounts when her balance is over $100,000, and this is so that she can eventually escape and live out her own life. Also, this arrangement she has crafted, supposedly will allow her more time for writing, rather than working in jobs she doesn’t want to be in.

Many tragic events unfold and change Louise’s life for good. It’s a story of demanding friendships, the maintenance of a certain lifestyle and living in the ever present social media age.

Review

It feels strange to be writing a review on a book I only warranted three stars. I think that’s even a first on this blog…? But at the same time, you can’t always sing the praises of every book you read. Saying that, there were elements to this book that I enjoyed, but I can’t help but think everything about this was slightly cliche.

I was initially attracted to this book due to its portrayal of the social media age and its critique of the hold it has over our lives,

“Lavina does so many interesting things that week. Louise seems them all on Facebook and Instagram.”

Tara Burton

I think it is a very interesting topic and it was explored in the book well. Louise and Lavina’s whole friendship is based on telling the world of their latest outings, events and friendships by posting it online for everyone to see. They cannot go a day without taking each other’s photograph or resist a selfie when there’s good lighting. There is never a social setting where a picture isn’t taken and posted online, there always has to be proof. Proof that they weren’t sitting at home in their pajamas on a Friday night.

I think the idea of exploring this dependency on social media in friendships is an interesting topic and generally explored well in this book. However, everything else seemed a bit incoherent and unrealistic. The turn of events were completely unpredictable, but they did make me want to read on. I found Louise, the protagonist, quite likable but as events progressed, it was like following a different person who went from bad to worse. As a result, I was not able to fully develop a connection with her character as her actions were so unpredictable. I feel as a reader, I never really ‘knew’ her or had the chance to.

It was interesting to see New York used as a setting of a story in a negative way, as in many novels, this city is glamorized. However, Burton plays on its faults to critique the styles of social interaction which are prevalent in young people. Life for Louise, Lavina and their social groups, revolves around crack-cocaine, alcohol, 4am finishes, money and constant posing for their social media profiles. In a way, no one in this book is a ‘social creature’ but merely playing to the disguise of being one. Every night is more of the same thing,

“Nothing in this city changes, and every party is the same, and every bar is the same…”

Tara Burton

but yet it is all done again and again, as that is what is expected of you.

Above all, I thought it had the potential to be an interesting story due to the complexity of some of the ideas that Burton put forward. However, the characterisation of the main protagonist was weak as their was no consistency in her development and actions. At some points the writing felt very cliche, but perhaps that was the point. Nonetheless, I never wanted to stop reading this book due to the sheer craziness and unpredictability of it. It’s worth a read, but is not something that I would go back to.

If you want a quick read that deals with some interesting, contemporary ideas which require little concentration or awareness, this would be a good one.