6 Books that Changed me For the Better

Here’s to the books that taught me more than I could ever learn at school.


How much of what you were taught in school do you remember? I bet it’s very little. Learning how to add up, write sentences, locate countries, and spell is necessary, but just the start of our education. School sets us up for life and future learning, but we shouldn’t stop there. That’s where reading comes in.

I was lucky enough to enjoy school and did well. Alongside this, I was always a prolific reader. I marched through titles that were probably beyond my age range and emotional maturity at the time, but they certainly left their impact. They challenged me and taught me new ways of thinking that weren’t featured in the textbooks I read in the classroom.

School teaches you facts, knowledge and gives you a skillset, but books have the power to change the way you think. When I say these books changed my life, it refers to how much of an impact they had on me and how I came to think about the world as a result.

Many of these books were read in my early teens when I was discovering my views on social and political issues. Since they have been re-read many times over, but that doesn’t stop them from having a significant impact on shaping me as a person.


One Day, David Nicholls

Fiction

At its core, One Day is a romance novel told over the course of a few decades. It begins in July 1988 when Emma and Dexter have just graduated and documents their friendship through letters. Emma is the perfect narrator; she’s funny, thoughtful and pays attention to every detail. Dexter is her opposite, arrogant, thoughtless in some instances, and forgetful.

As Emma struggles to get her teaching career and writing ambitions off the ground, Dexter swans around the world, living the high life. Their lives couldn’t be more different. However, their friendship, and the letters, remain. It’s a typical ‘will they won’t they’ romance story, but told with a poignancy that stole my heart.

How it impacted me

Emma is portrayed as being incredibly bookish, a little dorky, unfashionable and clumsy, but she is so loveable. I saw a lot of myself in her, and it was the first time I connected with a narrator in a novel and realised it was okay to be all of the above. In fact, it was actually quite likeable. It taught me to embrace my bookish nature, and for that, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Without revealing too much of the ending, this book taught me the value of time and how much difference a single day can make during the course of our lives. It hones in on the importance of decisions, their impact and how our lives can be shaped forever.

“Whatever happens tomorrow, we had today; and I’ll always remember it.” — David Nicholls, One Day


1984, George Orwell

Dystopian fiction

In an imagined totalitarian future, Winston Smith is a low ranking member of ‘the Party’, and he demonstrates his frustration with its surveillance and intrusion into normal life. This is a police state, bound by authoritarian rule and a warning for the nations of Europe at the time of writing, who were descending into totalitarianism and fascism in the midst of World War Two.

At its core is Big Brother, who is watching everybody’s move, but also a state that perpetuates a type of truth founded on lies. 1984 has become associated with the modern trope ‘that’s a bit Orwellian’ as political discourse in the West has fed into post-truth and dangerous narratives. But its impact on our social, political and cultural lives is still significant.

How it impacted me

I read this when I was about 14, and I can still remember when I finished the book and spent several moments after thinking about what I had just read and how much it had blown my mind. I distinctly remember focusing on the idea of “two plus two equals five” (2 + 2 = 5),” as I contemplated the idea that everything I had learned at school could be questioned.

From that moment, I started to question everything more and not just accept things. Obviously, facts are facts, but we should always scrutinise opinion and point of view. In short, it changed my mindset and approach to life.


Jo Cox: More in Common, Brendan Cox

Biography

Jo Cox was an MP (Member of Parliament) who campaigned for togetherness, inclusion and fairness in the face of the rather toxic, Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. The news of her murder by Thomas Mair, who held far-right views, shocked the world.

More in Common tells the story of Jo’s life written by her husband, who survives Jo alongside their children. It reveals a woman who was passionate about politics at all costs but tried to add a human element into everything she did. She held ideas for a better world: less division and more coming together, and this book documents the beginning of her political career. Above all, it reminds us of so much that was lost.

How it impacted me

Voting against Brexit was the second legal vote I cast at the age of 18, and it was the period of time in my life where I was becoming politically aware. The news of Jo Cox’s murder shook me to the core, as it did the world. I remember watching the news roll in that day and not quite believing what I was hearing.

After reading this several years later and realising how much politics in this country lost that day when Jo was murdered, it profoundly impacted me. Jo strove for a less divisive society and believed in hearing all sides of the debate, which shaped how I came to approach politics. Reading this inspired me in many ways, and I will always strive to be more like Jo.

“We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.” — Jo Cox, maiden speech in Parliament (2016)


The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Classic fiction

As classics come, this is a pretty popular one across the board. Set during the jazz age in the Roaring Twenties, The Great Gatsby tells the story of Jay Gatsby, an outlandishly rich man who is trying to win back the heart of his childhood sweetheart — Daisy Buchanan. Caught between it all is our narrator, Nick Carraway, who moves to Long Island and finds himself as Gatsby’s neighbour, soon frequenting his lavish parties.

It’s a story of love, friendship, excess, wealth, loneliness and revealing all the holes in the promised American Dream.

How it impacted me

I’ve read this more times than I can count. At one point in my life, I would re-read The Great Gatsby every year and marvel at how I would find something new to take note of each time. When I first read it, I was moved by Fitzgerald’s prose, description and symbolism, and it made me realise the possibilities of literature and what words can do.

It’s a work of art, and it made me believe in the power of books to move, inspire and captivate us all. Call me dramatic, but I would never look at any work of literature in the same way again after reading this.


Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

Fiction

Emira is a young, black woman accused of kidnapping two-year-old Briar — the white daughter of the person she babysits for. It is clearly a racially charged accusation, filmed by a few onlookers who upload the footage to social media. This opening act sets the theme for the rest of the novel.

Alix Chamberlain — the mother of Briar and Emira’s employer — continuously boasts that she understands racism and is in the know because she has a handful of black friends. However, her privilege and intolerance towards people of colour are revealed as the story progresses.

This is a tale of race and privilege and how they intertwine with gender and social class. Set in modern-day Philadelphia, it shines a light on our present world and the casual forms of racism that infiltrate every level of society.

How it impacted me

As a white person, I can only understand so much in terms of racism because I am privileged enough never to experience it. I can recognise it and call it out, but I am not subjected to the microaggressions that can happen throughout a person of colour’s everyday life.

This book changed the way I viewed racism by exposing just how subtle it can be. It was useful and enlightening for me to witness a black woman’s perspective on the world and realise how not having to be subject to casual racism daily is a massive privilege.


I could include many more books in this list, but for now, these are the most impactful ones I have read so far. They have either shaped my understanding of the world, my political outlook, or how I understand the social and cultural undercurrents of the world. And for all those reasons, I am immensely grateful for coming across them.

Books have power, and there are certain ones we read during the course of a lifetime that stay with us forever. These are some of mine. What are some of yours?


This was initially published in Books Are Our Superpower 19 April, 2021.

Training to Be a Journalist from Home — over One Month In

Has media law killed me yet?

It’s been over a month since I started my NCTJ, and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. There are days when I love what I’m learning about and days where it all seems to feel a bit much. But I guess it’s all part of the journey. Ahead of my first exam (in just under two weeks), I thought I would write another update and let you know how I’m getting on.

I don’t know if these posts are useful or not — but they may be nice for me to look back on in the years to come when I am hopefully — a qualified journalist.

I did make another weekly vlog in March, but it’s taken me so long to edit and get up. I don’t know if the filming thing is really for me. Doing it over the course of a week is quite draining (time and energy-wise), so if I do make any more videos, I think I’ll probably do more day style or sit down videos. But if you would like to watch, I’ll put my second vlog here.

So, how have I found it, over one month on?


Exam nerves are creeping in

It’s been two whole years since I last sat an exam whilst I was at university, so it feels strange to be returning to the repetitiveness of a revision cycle. I have my newspaper and magazine test, which is part of the ethics and regulation module, on 26th April, and of course, it’s online.

I am feeling worried about the exam because I have never taken one online, and there are all sorts of protocols in place that I’m not used to. I’m probably more worried about the technical side of it all rather than doing the exam. But I’m hoping it will become more understandable as I do it. You have to be invigilated by online software because no exams are being taken in person at the moment.

The exam itself is multiple choice — which has its positives and benefits. I feel like answering the questions is a bit binary, and you don’t get to explain yourself. But on the other hand, you don’t have to remember as much stuff. The revision has been okay, apart from the lack of resources.

As a distance learner, you get far fewer practice papers and revision material

In total, we are provided with one practice exam we can sit using the software we will be using on the day, but that’s not really enough to get used to the exam style. In the past, when I’ve been revising, doing past papers has been essential for me, so I’ve found revising for this quite difficult.

I sent an email out to two NCTJ tutors asking if it was possible to be sent some extra past papers, but one reiterated how we had access to the one practice exam, and the other said they would look into it never got back to me. It’s a bit frustrating when you think distance learners get the same qualification as anyone else taking it at a centre, but yet we have access to far fewer resources.

So, of course, I took to Twitter. And luckily, I had a kind follower email me some resources, which have been a godsend. But it shouldn’t have to happen. Just because we aren’t at a centre doesn’t mean we shouldn’t access the same resources. I wouldn’t even mind paying for them — but we aren’t even given an option.


Media law is as difficult as ever

I am about two-thirds of the way through media law, and although it’s becoming a bit more digestible, there is still so much content, and it’s hard to know how much of it we will be expected to learn and be tested on. In the beginning, I was making notes on my laptop, but I switched to taking notes by hand because I realised I was typing out word for word of the textbook, which wasn’t helpful.

This was an essential switch because I now think about what I’m reading, what’s important and then re-write it in my own words. It probably sounds basic, but I’ve been out of practice for such a long time. Also, I figured it was better to get some handwritten practice in preparation for shorthand (which I think I’ve decided I will take after some deliberation.)

I’m pretty much certain I will opt to take the exam in July, but I have no idea whether I’ll pass the first time. It would be nice to get a hefty module under my belt to focus more on the e-portfolio and start to choose my other modules.

Some parts of media law have been enjoyable

It hasn’t all been bad. Some topics are dense and complicated, but others have been interesting and enlightening. I can see why it’s all useful to know as a journalist, but there is just so much of it. I’m sure journalists in their day to day lives can’t recite the entire McNae’s textbook off by heart, but maybe they can…

A lot of it is common sense, and I’m sure it will become second nature as I learn it. But it’s definitely hard to sink your teeth into at first.


Group support is essential

The wonders of the internet mean that you can still feel supported by your peers as a distance learner. Being part of a group chat of people doing the same course and taking the same exams has been essential. You need to learn a lot on your own, and the course can be hard to figure out at first.

It has been so useful to share my worries and questions with others, as it would be hard to get the answers myself. Many of the group chat students have also done the exam I have in April, so it’s been so useful to learn about their experience and any tips they have.

In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure being part of a group chat would help me that much as I’ve always been a solid, independent learner. But when you have minimal tuition and have to do everything on your own, it really is an essential support network.

All in all, there’s been inevitable ups and downs. I’ve found that it has sucked away at my time, but that was always bound to happen. The course will probably take me more than a year to complete as there are so many components, but that’s okay because you can take up to two years in total.

Of course, I’m yet to go back to work, so it might be an entirely different story in May when I have to balance this with my day job. Until then, I’m going to try and make the most of the time I do have.

Please note, this was initially published on Medium.com (April 15, 2021)


Read more about my journalism journey

What Studying to be Journalist from Home is Really Like

I’m Having Doubts About Going into Journalism, Writers Blokke, Medium

How I Was Able to Benefit from Self-Doubt, The Ascent, Medium

What Studying to be Journalist from Home is *Really* Like

The highs and lows of my first week studying the NCTJ via distance learning.

I had been thinking about doing an NCTJ Diploma (National Council for the Training of Journalists) for a long time, but I think the experience of lockdown 3 finally pushed me over the edge to take the plunge and start.

Training to be a journalist is no easy feat and undertaking this whilst we’re still in a pandemic is even more problematic. But I figured doing this would definitely be a story to tell.

Like any natural journalist, I’ve decided to document the process and this stage in my life. Hopefully, it will be useful for people considering taking the first steps into the industry or considering a career change. It will also be a nice documentation for me to look back on in the future when I’ve hopefully ‘made’ it.

After ordering my materials and enrolling a few weeks ago, I thought I’d take some time to pause and reflect on my experience so far. In this post, I’ll be discussing why I opted to go down this route, what I’m currently studying and how I’ve found the process so far.

If you would prefer to watch or listen to me talk about this, I did make a video documenting my first week. But a quick disclaimer — I have no desire to be a broadcast journalist or go down the TV route — writing is very much my medium of choice. Still, I’m enjoying the process of trying something new and experimenting with editing.


What Is an Nctj and Why Did I Decide to Do it?

First of all, the NCTJ Level 5 Diploma is pretty much an industry standard, you don’t need it to become a journalist, but it’s beneficial if you’re starting from scratch like me.

It covers important topics like media law, public affairs, shorthand (optional) and the essential skills you need to become a journalist. My degree is in History, and whilst this is useful to some extent — the only experience I have in journalism is in student media. To apply to journalism jobs and enter the industry, I felt that this could potentially hold me back without having some formal qualification in the field.

Why distance learning

You can do an NCTJ qualification as part of some integrated masters or with an organisation like News Associates or the Press Association. A few years ago, after attending a talk from PA at university, I applied for one of their courses, went for interviews, got a place and was going to take it up. However, affordability was an issue for me and having to commute to London five times a week.

Essentially, doing the NCTJ via distance learning was the only financially viable option for me, as you pay per module and don’t have to pay a lump fee to secure your place. Additionally, I won’t be having to pay for the commuting into London. Also, with everything still happening with the pandemic, even if I had opted to study the NCTJ at a centre, most of my learning would be remote anyway.

It may be a slower pace than the traditional route, as it is meant to be studied alongside full or part-time work, but personally, I would rather take my time and complete it within 1 year than pack it all into a few months.

To wrap up, affordability, convenience, and practicality were reasons I decided to do the NCTJ via distance learning.


What I’m Studying — including Modules & Assessment

Image provided by the NCTJ

The NCTJ program via distance learning is compiled of mandatory skills modules which include: essential journalism, ethics and regulation, media law and the e-portfolio. When you enrol, you have the option to purchase these all in a bundle at a lower cost than paying for them individually, so that’s what I decided to start with.

As well as completing the mandatory ones, you also get to choose between a range of more specialist modules, including court reporting, data journalism and public affairs. But I haven’t got that far yet; I aim to get the core modules under my belt first.

Ethics & regulation

This module essentially consists of some of the ethical issues that arise from reporting, attaining evidence and gaining interviews and is heavily influenced by the Levenson inquiry and phone hacking scandal.

As part of the module and assessment, you have to learn the IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation) Editor’s Code of Practice, which basically sets out what a journalist can publish and how to attain that information. It’s a set of editorial standards that publications in the UK (if they chose to be part of IPSO) have to adhere to. It takes a bit of getting your head around at first, but I found most of the module’s content to be pretty straightforward.

I’ve already booked my IPSO Editor’s code exam for April, as it’s multiple choice and only takes half an hour. I’m looking forward to getting that under my belt to focus on more of the hefty modules. I managed to get through most of the content for this in a week, as it’s a relatively small module (only worth 3 credits out of 82 for the entire course) — but it is assessed throughout the other mandatory modules too.

Overall, I enjoyed studying this module as I learned about the theory, issues, and problems that can arise from reporting and put that into practice with case study examples and some more present-day ones.

Media law

I can already feel this module becoming my nemesis. It is a hefty one, which makes up 10 credits as opposed to 3. I only started it this week, so I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, but I can totally see how important it is for journalists to know about the law — as they could easily be sued for defamation or libel.

As someone coming from a non-law background with minimal knowledge about how the court systems work, it is a lot to take in at first. I feel the 2 and a half hour exam will be tough, but it’s made me realise how important it is to know about this stuff as journalists with platforms and responsibilities.


An Overview of What the First Few Weeks Were like

Before I actually opened the textbook and started studying, I did feel overwhelmed. Unlike traditional face to face (or virtual teaching), doing the course via distance learning means you don’t have anyone to structure your learning for you.

I had to spend quite a lot of time figuring out the modules, how the course worked and what to start with. I’m also lucky enough to be part of a distance learning group chat, so I turned to them for advice. But it was hard to have no guidance on this — especially when it’s something you are so used to having in formal education. However, after a bit of work, the course did start to make sense, and I don’t feel confused anymore — which was good.

I’m very glad I started with ethics and regulation as that eased me in, it’s not an overly complicated module, and the assessment is pretty lenient too, so I would suggest (if you are looking to do this course and are feeling lost) to start with that. Media law is another topic altogether, and I will have more thoughts on it as the weeks progress.

In terms of support — we get one hour of tutor time for every module, but they are incredibly responsive to emails and have been super helpful. I had some problems with the links in my documents and got a rapid response after contacting someone about it. Although obviously, it’s hard not to have that constant support, tutors are always there when you need them — and so is the group chat!

Last week wasn’t a great week to be a trainee journalist

But it isn’t all blue skies. I started my course amidst Piers Morgan’s coverage of the interview between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (which was diabolical). Seeing certain people online agree with the broadcaster was infuriating. It corresponded with the very week I was studying the ethics of journalism, and it angered me that so many people couldn’t see how his dismissal of Meghan’s suicidal feelings wasn’t damaging and sets a dangerous precedent for how we think about mental health.

And that week also corresponded with Sarah Everard’s kidnapping from London and the outpouring of women’s experience of sexual assault, rape, and mistreatment all over social media. It was a heavy news week and being inclined to read the news and engage with it as I am, I spent so much time on Twitter and felt compelled to keep up.

It made me question whether I could cope with the news cycle’s heaviness and the constant pressures to stay online and up to date. But then I realised that all journalists are human and take time off (without feeling guilty) all the time.


All in all, I’ve had a very positive experience of my first few weeks studying the NCTJ from home. It is far harder than opting to study it at a centre, as there’s no constant guidance to get you started — but once you’ve taken time to get to grips with the course, it’s fine.

I plan to get as many of the theory modules under my belt as possible, so I can then focus on doing the e-portfolio and getting placements — which will be the most difficult part, considering we’re still in a pandemic. But I’m hoping as the months go on that restrictions will ease and things will get easier to organise.

Next week might be a slightly different story as I progress with media law and the complexity and heaviness that it brings, but I’ll make sure to keep it real and keep you up to date with my progress.


This was originally published on March 18, 2021 at Medium.com

Everything I read in January 2021

The one lesson I took away from this month, was that quality matters more when it comes to reading.


Do you set a reading goal each year for how many books you want to read? When I set a Goodreads reading challenge this year, I realised it felt a bit strange. Setting out the number of books we want to read in a given time slot naturally prioritises quantity rather than quality. 

It made me think. Is it better to read more (and more widely) or to read less, but more deeply? There are benefits to doing both. Although I’ve set myself an arbitrary target for how many books I’d like to read this year — to me — it’s irrelevant if I surpass it or end up reading less. What matters more is what I get out of each book.

In this post — I will be outlining what I read throughout January. Although my Goodreads account tells me I am “behind schedule” to complete my yearly reading goal, I’m not really bothered. 

By reading at a slower pace, I can fully digest each book, pause to reflect on them, and think about what I want to read next. It’s a more leisurely process. So, this is what I read in January 2021. And you’ll notice, there is definitely more quality, rather than quantity.

(Please note that links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you are a UK or US resident, I will receive a small commission if you buy books via these links. All links are included in the book title. Bookshop.org is a website that supports independent bookshops.)


#1 Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams

Fiction, 4/5 stars 

Photo by Sam Lion from Pexels

I read this during bouts of insomnia that I was having at the beginning of the month. It was easy to read in those bleak and quiet hours when everyone else is fast asleep. 

This novel tells the story of Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old British Jamaican who has just decided to go on a “break” from her long term boyfriend, Tom. Whilst she has to live her life without him suddenly, she’s also struggling with motivation at work and with some of her friendships. 

Queenie finds herself attracting (sometimes warranted, sometimes unwarranted) attention from the opposite sex, which she continually strategies and discusses with her group of best friends over WhatsApp. All the while, she hears nothing from Tom and struggles to know where they stand. 

It’s an amusing book — and made me laugh out loud at times. But Queenie, as a narrator, can be frustrating. There’s always a tragedy, always something going wrong. She comes across as a very needy friend — someone I would struggle to deal with, quite frankly. 

But the book also deals with darker issues such as fetishization, black womanhood, and mental health. It’s breezy, chatty and brilliant, but also shines a delicate light on what it’s like to grow up and enter early adulthood as a black woman. This is well worth a read as it strikes a balance between maintaining a sense of contagious humour and talking about real and raw issues.

“Is this what growing into an adult woman is — having to predict and accordingly arrange for the avoidance of sexual harassment?”


#2 The Discomfort of Evening, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Fiction, 3/5 stars 

Forever intrigued by those novels that go on to win the Booker prize, I picked this up and had no real idea of what to expect. As the title tells us, even before our eyes grace the first page, it is a bizarre read. 

At times, the strangeness erodes what could have been a more harrowing, poignant novel. The reader can easily end up reading about incest and animal abuse and be taken aback, even put off from the novel, and may even abandon it altogether. I don’t blame people who have. There’s no forewarning for what is outlined in this novel in such a visceral style. I know that’s the point, but all the same, I can’t help but feel it didn’t work. 

The Discomfort of Eveningis the first novel from the award-winning poet, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Set in the rural Netherlands and featuring a family slowly descending into dysfunction, it paints a harrowing picture of how grief can change people. One day, ten-year-old Jas, the narrator, tells the reader how her brother dies in a tragic incident. She documents how the family dynamic slowly but surely decays. It’s an interesting perspective, which makes the feel of the novel all the more powerful. 

It’s certainly original — even addictive to read — but I thought the levels of discomfort to which it goes to, was unnecessary in parts, and would certainly not engage a general audience. But maybe I’m wrong and missing the point entirely. Who knows? That’s part of the beauty of literature. 

“Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.”


#3 Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

Fiction, 5/5 stars 

No novel is ever universally loved. But as a bookseller, I noticed this was one that flew off the shelves, and everyone raved about it. After being recommended it by a handful of people, I decided to try it. This is a type of novel that is hauntingly beautiful. There is so much sorrow, misfortune and sadness, accompanied by a beautiful landscape and message. I couldn’t stop reading it, and neither did I want to. 

After finishing it, I noticed the reception was more divisive than I had initially understood. Some people said they were bored by the book and even gave up halfway through. But for me, I couldn’t put it down. 

Where the Crawlands Sing is set within a small town on the North Carolina coast. It tells the story of, “Marsh girl” abandoned by her mother and the rest of her family, as they fled from her abusive and violent father. Soon, he leaves too, and Kya is left to fend for herself as a child. She learns how to fish, cook and befriends Nate, who teaches her how to read — as she only managed to attend one day at school. 

Kya has spent most of her life in solitude and at one with nature, making it difficult for her to form close relationships with others. However, something soon blooms between her and Nate as she struggles to navigate those first feelings of love. As soon as things start to work out for her, and she opens herself up, something dreadful happens that has the ability to pull her life all apart — again. 

This novel had all the assets that I believe makes a compelling read. The characters were believable and interesting; the plot was thick with what-ifs, questions and interesting thoughts about childhood, community and social expectations. The story was well told and kept the reader on their seat. I enjoyed it from start to finish and would recommend it to anyone. 

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”


Overview 

In January I read just over 1,000 pages, which is far less than I would usually reach. However, I’m coming away from the month feeling satisfied with what I read and what I’m taking away from each book. 

Each novel I read opened me up to new ideas, experiences and thoughts from different perspectives I would not necessarily encounter in real life. I learnt a lot from each and was reminded of the power of words and how they can make us feel. 


Currently Reading 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

I’ve been reading this for a while. Because it covers the course of an entire day in such depth, I find it quite heavy to read and digest. I’ve been reading it in small chunks, hence why it is taking me so long to finish. 

I do love it though — but realise it is not everyone’s taste. There is something so unique and magical about reading Woolf’s words, and I can’t quite put my figure on what exactly that is. Perhaps I’ll know when I finish it. 

The Searcher, Tana French

I love this. I love the feeling of it; it’s so eerie and creepy. It’s definitely a slow burner, which I don’t mind, but I’m intrigued to find out where the story will go. I’m reading this on my Kindle which I use for nighttime reading in bed. I’m about halfway through and enjoying it so far. 


Well, that was my month in reading. Based on my history, I read less this month than I usually do, but I’m not bothered. I’m not trying to race ahead and read as much as possible this year, but take in every read.

I want to value every word on the page and give each story my full attention — rather than always being focused on the next book. 

Thank you for reading


Stuck for what to read? Check out some of my recommendations: 

5 Non-Fiction Books Everyone Should Read

What The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley Teaches us About Friendship

50 Fiction Recommendations for 2021


Please note, this was originally published on Medium in A Thousand Lives.

‘The Discomfort of Evening’: A Disturbing but Compelling Read


The Discomfort of Evening is a novel like no other. In many ways, it is evocative of the traditional literary fiction genre. Told through the perspective of Jas, a 10-year-old girl — it is highly character-driven. 

My qualms with the novel lay in how it portrays discomfort — as it goes beyond certain (usually) respected boundaries. As a result, it may make many readers uncomfortable, with often, little warning. However, it makes for a truly compelling and addictive read. But maybe that’s precisely because it is so uncomfortable and strange? In the same way that many people are compelled to read and watch true crime stories — as readers, we can’t help but read on further despite our raging sense of discomfort. 

All in all — the clue is in the title for this one. In a nutshell, The Discomfort of Evening is a strange novel with a very strange feeling. 


About the Book 

A Discomfort of Evening paints a picture of rural life in the Netherlands, told through the perspective of a 10-year-old girl, Jas. She lives on her family’s farm with her two siblings and parents. One day — pretty early on in the novel — her brother tragically dies, after that, the family dynamic suddenly changes. 

As the whole family struggles to come to terms with death, havoc and strangeness are let loose. The parents start arguing and Jas, as the narrator, lets us know how concerned she is about their lack of love between each other — she picks up on every change. The family as a whole goes down a dark path. 

This culminates in a case of foot and mouth which is discovered on the farm, resulting in the culling of all livestock which not only damages the family business and their livelihood — but is another reminder of the persistence of death. In between this, Jas and her siblings have to face the changing pace of her father’s religious belief. Even though she was used to growing up in a religious household, as these events unfold, her father becomes increasingly driven by religion at all costs. 

And of course, the children rebel in their own ways. And this rebellion is completely disturbing, at times unnecessary, but all the same — completely addictive to read.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is a prize-winning young poet in the Netherlands, add this is their first novel. It won the international booker prize in 2020, and has since, sold many copies worldwide, after being translated from the original Dutch. 


What Makes the novel Disturbing and Discomforting? 

“Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.”

Just from reading the title, we know it’s going to be a strange and uncomfortable read. But I never thought it would be this weird. 

Jas, inevitably, is growing up and exploring her own sexuality — which in itself — is not strange. She documents this with a matter of fact style, evocative of a young child. However, this exploration of herself, and her own sexuality, get incredibly uncomfortable when it involves her brother (who was several years older) and her sister. 

The casualness to which incest is witnessed between two siblings, one 10, and the other in their early teens, is incredibly uncomfortable and disturbing. But, this is not where it stops. When the foot and mouth outbreak happens, a vet comes to the farm to try and help Jas’ father. As a grown man, he tries to groom Jas, a 10-year-old girl, right in front of her parents’ eyes. 

But this sexual discomfort and exploration don’t stop within the family. Jas invites her friend Beth over and her brother assaults her in the cowshed. Evidently, this novel aims to incite discomfort to demonstrate one family’s decay and how disorder can reign. I appreciate the intention — but the delivery using these examples — is unnecessary. 

But there are other disturbing elements — such as animal abuse. Jas shoves an ice cream scoop into the bottom of a cow, which is described viscerally and physically. She treats them with no respect for somebody who has grown up on a farm and developed a love of animals. But perhaps, this is the result of the prevailing family dynamic infiltrating all of her actions. 

Lastly, — Jas’ mother is evidently suffering from depression. She makes it clear to Jas, at one point, that she wants to die. The whole family walk on tiptoes around her but don’t attempt to comfort her, or help her in any way. I found this one of the most disturbing elements — it wasn’t one told with graphic imagery — but simmering beneath the surface. The casual dismissal of a mother in complete suffering was far more disturbing and uncomfortable than anything else. 


How the Style of the Book Feeds into this Discomfort 

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld writes vividly, and without limits. They do not shy away from patining a visceral and uncomfortable picture of death, incest or animal abuse. It’s plain and simple for the readers to witness and feel. 

The delivery and imagery created tunes automatically into this sense of discomfort, which could be executed with greater poignancy — if you removed the incest and animal abuse. 

The author draws upon what is obviously disturbing and uncomfortable, I found myself at times, finding it clunky, gimmicky and crying out for attention. 

Through the language, style and narration of certain disturbing events, Rijneveld paints a picture of one family who is on the verge of decay — just as their farm is crumbling around them. It portrays a disturbing account of youth, grief, suffering and everyday life but propels this to new — and often — unworthy heights. 

Fo me, the parts I found most disturbing were less obvious — such as Jas’ mother’s mental decline. More examples of this slow, subtle and simmering discomfort, for me, would have been more effective in displaying the novel’s message. Although certainly unique, I feel as if this novel falls short of what it aims to achieve, and potentially, eliminates a whole bunch of readers. 


Did it Deserve the Booker Prize? 

This novel was a bestseller in the Netherlands before it was translated into English and won the international booker prize in 2020. The author grew up in a strict, religious, Protestant household — which bears a significant resemblance to the one depicted in this novel. 

Rijneveld also experienced the loss of her own brother when she was 3 and this novel, in many ways, is an attempt to document how that impacts a family. 

“Either the family grows closer or it falls apart. As a child, I could see that ours was starting to fall apart.” — Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

In this respect — it’s aims and intentions are noteworthy, making it worth a read. It is a unique way of exploring grief, trauma and growing up within a troublesome family. Rijneveld style of writing makes the novel compelling and addictive. It will also alienate many readers who don’t want to subject themselves to reading about incest and animal abuse in their spare time. 

I can see why it got the Booker prize, but I wouldn’t say it necessarily deserved it — when considering what it was up against. However, as readers, we should remember that just because a novel wins the Booker prize or has critical acclaim, it doesn’t always mean it’s good or better than anything else. 

All in all — this gets a 3/5 for me, as it was a compelling read, which explored many difficult themes. I liked the writing style and can appreciate its execution and what it aimed to do — but I have problems with the disturbance levels portrayed in the novel. And I’m not sure that a mass market of readers would enjoy reading it. But perhaps, that was the point. 


Have you read The Discomfort of Evening, if so, what did you think? I would love to know.


This article was originally published on Medium.com.