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Classic literature has been the talk of the town since lockdown began, as people turn to those dense, un-read books cluttering up their bookshelves. I have seen arguments floating around that claim classics are not relevant in today’s world – which is a premise I find interesting. I agree that no one should read classics just for the sake of it, but would hate to think we shouldn’t read them, just because they don’t reflect the society we live in.
The “yes” argument
Firstly, the most basic one – there is a reason classics are classics. It usually means they’re good, right? Attaining the classic status isn’t easy and there’s usually a reason that a book has one. As readers, we may disagree with its status, however, they are usually deserving in some respect.
Personally, I like reading classics because of the historical element. When writing a book, the author either consciously or unconsciously is writing in response to their specific social and cultural climate. Reading classics take you to that author’s past and you are able to see the world through their eyes.
I’ve said it before, but I have always felt like classics offer us a unique window of opportunity into another time or place . Take James Joyce, for example, I haven’t read anything by him myself, but I’m aware that his writing has been credited for this ability. As well as Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Jack Kerouac and many others.
No one should read a classic because they feel they ‘have’ to or that to be a reader you need to read classics – this isn’t true at all. You should read what you want, as simple as that. However, I do find that when finishing classics I get a different sense of accomplishment. Classic literature can be hard to read with the language often being very different to our own, some works can be heavy and dense and these are all things that the modern reader isn’t trained for. Not because of the kind of literature being written now – but because of our tuning into social media, which encourages us to read things in the quickest time possible. I don’t know about you, but my attention span during lockdown has definitely gotten worse…
I truly believe that reading a classic once in a while does a very good job of working your brain and making you understand the world in a way you hadn’t viewed it before. Of course, there are good and bad classics but there’s nothing like the sense of achievement when you realise you connected with a book written decades ago.
The “no” argument
The term “classic” is very vague, and one we have created ourselves because of popularity or to what extent books have influenced the literary genre. Additionally, just because a book is popular, doesn’t mean it is going to be good. I still don’t understand the current obsession with Normal People… It is easy to obsess over status and how well a book has supposedly changed the world; when sometimes readers just won’t connect with the story. You are allowed to dislike a classic! Some examples of mine include The Graduate by Charles Webb and Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger.
Essentially, what I’m saying is that “classics” are man made and pre-loaded with expectations because of their status. This can give us a false sense of hope and already influence our opinion on what the book will be like.
I sometimes think the categorisation of books into “classics” and “non-classics” creates some kind of hierarchy which we sub consciously take note of when choosing books to read. It also breeds this notion that somehow if you read classics, your’re more intelligent which is obviously ludicrous. However, when I was younger I definitely thought this was the case – I even had a list of the 100 Books You Must Read Before You Dieprinted out, and tried to make may way through them. I don’t do that now but this is an example of the kind of reading mindset that “classics” can influence.
Additionally, books given a “classic” status many years ago, were more often, the best on offer in an age dominated by white, male authors. Obviously society has changed a huge amount and we have a more diverse range of authors to choose from, but this argument does have some significance. We should always be viewing classics in perspective – as they are a product of the time in which they were written.
Or you could just say when categorizing books we are simply thinking too deeply. Maybe I even am in writing this post – but I think it’s an interesting discussion to have.
My experience with classics
As I said, I used to be one of those people who obsessed over classics, as a result I have made my way through a fair amount. It barely even crosses my mind now, as I pick a book to read based on if I like the sound of it, or other peoples’ recommendations and what I know about the author. That said, I do still have an ongoing appreciation and respect for classics, but more the “modern classic” variety such as George Orwell, John Steinbeck, John Fowles and Ian McEwan (oh dear they are all men…)
If you’re interested, you can still access this same list I had printed out as a young teenager. I have now read 42 out of the 100, not that it matters but I thought some of you might be interested!
On a lighter note, some of my favourite classics include: The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath,Jane Eyre,1984, On The Road and To Kill a Mockingbird,
What do you think about classics? Do you read them? I’d be curious to know your thoughts!
England is taking its first tentative steps forward, nearly three months on from an unprecedented, national lockdown. Tomorrow will see the opening of “non-essential” shops, as the great British people prepare to flood the high streets during a pandemic which is yet to disappear.
As I sit here writing this, I do wonder what will be going through those peoples’ minds as they make trips into local towns and cities across the country, acting as if the pandemic has magically gone away. It’s safe to say I will not be in a rush to visit shops any time soon.
Many major high street retailers will be adopting the “quarantine items” approach and storing things for 72 hours to kill off the virus. Many shops will not be allowing customers to try items on, and instead encouraging them to take them back to their own homes and bring back if need be. This all seems so comical to me. If the queues for McDonald’s reopening are anything to go by I think the turn out for retail will be just as crazy…
Meanwhile, my furlough has been extended for the time being, I have no definitive date for going back to work but expect it may be between July-August. It feels so strange to realise I have not been to work since the end of March. The world feels so different to the last time I got on that commuter train and made my last latte. I’m pretty sure I won’t even know how to operate the coffee machine when I return… (sorry to my boss if you happen to see this!)
These past few weeks have been pretty rough. I almost feel as if I’ve had this cloud of fog over my brain. Any time I have go to do something, I have found a million excuses why I shouldn’t or just put it off for as long as possible. I feel like my attention span is now worse than ever and I find it hard to concentrate on anything that makes me think. I still feel like there’s a thousand things I could be doing that I’m not. I actually plucked up the courage to send pitches in for national news outlets but have heard nothing back which is disheartening. However, I know that I can’t give up and I need to keep trying. It’s annoying though because the piece was quite “time-sensitive” and I can’t re pitch it as it just wouldn’t be relevant now. I find that half the battle is getting the article idea in the first place.
I’ve been lax with exercise too. At the beginning of lockdown I was taking the daily exercise allowance quite seriously and would go for walks most days, however, since it has gotten busier outside with the loosening of the lockdown, I now feel more worried about going outside. I do generally feel like most people are acting like the pandemic is over and the virus has just disappeared. It worries me because you can never predict how anyone is going to behave, I actually wrote a piece for empoword journalism about this. But I am managing to at least get in one run a week – this week I actually managed two so I guess that’s pretty good going.
Day by day, the political response gets worse. What worries me more than anything is the sheer lack of integrity and accountability that Boris Johnson shows. When he even bothers to turn up for the daily conferences (which now seems to be like a weekly thing) he doesn’t answer the questions, he silences the scientists and offers no valid information for the public. His treatment of the Black Lives Matter movement has been diabolical, it took a prompting from the leader of the opposition at PMQ’s for him to even address it, and even when he did it was shoddy and half hearted. I can never agree with Conservatives politically, but at least some in the past haven’t been so full of hypocrisy. It really worries me.
I’ve recently re-discovered the value of podcasts and how great they are to listen to whilst you are doing other things. I love cooking but sometimes I just get a bit bored chopping and waiting for things, but now I tend to pop something on to keep me entertained. I also listen to them in the bath a lot – which I am still having loads of. They make me happy and content which is what I really need right now.
For some unforeseen miracle, we managed to get our hands on some flour – the first time in about three months. I have since made two batches of Irish soda bread – as we’ve got the flour but still no yeast – and have been enjoying the taste of fresh bread. Although maybe a little too much, because on the second bake I basically ate the whole loaf to myself which resulted in a carb induced coma for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t recommend.
I am actually really proud of my blog at the moment and how far it has come since the start of the year. In January when I properly started I could count the amount of followers I had on two hands, and now I am fast approaching one hundred. I know that isn’t much in the grand scheme of things but I think it’s mad that so people want to hear what I have to say. And I am so pleased that I managed to save up enough to get myself a new laptop – my old one was so clunky, heavy and slow and now I have a really fast laptop which feels lovely to type on. Getting it at this time was definitely a good idea.
Anyway, I’ll stop rambling. That was my isolation update. I thought I would be doing more of these but I guess I didn’t realise how “samey” the days would be.
Since lockdown started nearly three months ago, I’ve been really into podcasts. I’ve been having more baths so that means more podcasts and I have now gotten into the habit of listening to them whilst running – which has changed my life! But I’ll leave discussing that for another day…
I actually find it quite hard to find podcasts I like and want to stick to. What I listen to largely depends on my mood. Sometimes I like to listen to historical/political podcasts which are more educational and then other times (like this week) I just want to chill out and listen to something lighthearted and entertaining.
I’ve compiled a list of the ones I’ve been listening to and thought I would share them with you. If you have any you’ve been enjoying please comment them down below! I’m always in the mood for listening to more podcasts.
In an attempt to educate myself and understand the Black Lives Matter movement and the ongoing, systemic racial inequality in America and all over the world, I have been listening to 1619. It is a podcast by the New York Times, hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Each episode takes a thematic approach, for example, looking at democracy, the economy or music, but places these within the historical framework, starting from 1619. 1619 was the year in which the first African slaves were brought to North America on an English ship into Virginia.
I have listened to two episodes so far and have found them to be so informative – but not too heavy. Each includes individual experiences and voices alongside the history, in an attempt to place the origins of racial injustice in its modern day context. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the host, also has a very nice voice to listen to, so that’s a plus!
Each episode looks primarily at the history of slavery, the black struggle and tries to answer how this has shaped modern America. It is eye opening and incredibly informative. I would highly recommend this!
This re-ignited my podcast obsession and I have not been able to stop listening! Hosted by Grace Campbell, comedian and feminist activist and her Dad, Alastair Campbell, journalist and former advisor to Tony Blair, each episode (bar the lockdown ones) features a special guest and an informal, comedic chat.
Each interviews combine, you guessed it, a bit of football, feminism and everything in between. The ‘everything in between’ part usually centers on politics but it is usually influenced by the type of guest they have on the show or the events going on in the world at the time. Guests range from Julia Gillard, Kay Burley, Sean Dyche to Ed Miliband. There’s been a few people they had on that I didn’t even know but still enjoyed, which just shows you what a good repertoire the two have to keep me engaged!
The duo have also done a series of lockdown podcasts where they both reflect on the political goings on in number 10 and what they’ve each been doing to fill the days. Every podcast has me at least laughing and rolling my eyes and all most all of them get me thinking. I think the fact these two are Father and Daughter really makes the podcast. They have a very natural relationship which shows in each podcast.
It combines a bit of everything that I like – politics, dislike for the Tories, feminism, mental health, books and journalism so in my opinion, it could never go wrong!
I have really enjoyed this one too. Hosted by the bestselling author and journalist, Reni Eddo-Lodge (Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race), this podcast looks at the history of race in Britain and ties it into contemporary politics. Unlike 1619, each episode is shorter, and hence why I have gotten through them a bit more.
Episodes often feature outspoken political activists, like Owen Jones and Billy Bragg, and center around a specific issue. Like the rise of far right politics in the UK and the lead up to the EU referendum. Reni Eddo-Lodge methodically picks apart each issue and places them in context to fully explain the ongoing racial inequalities in British society today. The BLM movement has evidently been huge in America, but it is important to be aware that it has so much significance in Britain, as we are still far from perfect.
The episodes also have great music with them – which makes the listening experience even better. I have found the analysis of the history of racial inequality, alongside the explanation of the rise of far right politics in he UK incredibly insightful and interesting. These feel very light and easy to listen to, despite dealing with heavy topics.
I have been learning a lot from this podcast and think it is very well put together.
I recently discovered this one when having a bad week and I just wanted to listen to something lighthearted, without having to think too much about what I was listening to. At first (I admit) I did have to get over the overwhelming American ascents, but after that I was fine.
Each episode (and there are so many!) looks at a variety of different things; from historical crimes, more recent crimes, to weird stories and personal experiences sent in by listeners. Each episode is introduced by a long, informal and funny chat by the two women, which almost always has me grinning. They are two very down to earth and funny people which are great to listen to when you are feeling a bit down. I’ve also learnt a lot about some horrific crimes in America. Like the Kent state massacre in 1970, and the Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771, which crashed along the West coast in 1987, as a result of an airliner pilot being shot by a passenger.
I just love these podcasts because I can just have them on in the background whilst I’m cooking or washing up, as I’m getting ready in the morning or just chilling in the evening before I get into bed. They are funny, chatty, and entertaining – with a dash of education. Love them!
If you have any recommendations, don’t forget to pop them down below.
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I am writing this from the perspective of a white woman, who in recent days has become even more aware of this privilege, due to the horrific death of George Floyd – a black man who was murdered by a white police officer. Although this incident is far from an isolated one, but part of a sad, ongoing injustice that has been rife in America since their history began, the graphic footage of police brutality has caused many more people to speak up.
Granted, we should have all been speaking up and being proactively anti-racist all along, and it shouldn’t have taken the death of another black man for us to do so. Evidently, this is wrong, but it would be worse to dwell on this and not do anything. It is easy to have an excuse for not speaking out – I have had many over the years. Partly, I have been silent because I have felt I didn’t have the correct language to speak about these issues, that I don’t know enough, but also because I’m white and have previously felt that I don’t have a right to speak about racial issues. These are all ones that come from self ignorance, I can now admit. But I am trying to be better and that’s what counts. Recognizing your ignorance (and excuses) is the first step forward.
Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on everything to do with race; how I understand it, how I act upon it and how I can become better at being actively anti-racist. I’m not writing this post and claiming I am perfect (I’m far from it) but I am working on it in the best way that I can. I accept that it isn’t just these few weeks that matter, but it is a lifelong effort that everyone, but particularly white people must take.
I don’t have a huge platform, but I do have one and this is enough. Something you share or post could influence just one person to think differently – but that is enough. Thus, I feel it is necessary to write this post. I deplore everybody to do everything in their capacity to be actively anti-racist; in their communities, online, in work places and in every day life. Being against racism is simply not enough – we have to do more.
Britain is far from perfect. Our Prime Minister has been silent on events in Minneapolis and refuses to condemn the actions taken that ended George Floyd’s life. It was only when he was criticised by the leader of the opposition, more than a week on, that he bumbled his way through addressing it. During his previous career as a journalist, he blatantly used racist, inflammatory language. This is just one example, “It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.” And lest not forget our monarchy has been built on systematic exploitation of other races, and the current Duke of Edinburgh (Price Philip, the Queen’s husband) has been outwardly racist his whole life.
Growing up in an almost exclusively white town
I went to schools that barely had any black, or people of colour in the classrooms – students were almost completely white as well as my teachers. During my whole compulsory education, from the age of 5-18, I was never taught about black history and the realities of British led imperialism and slavery, it was never on the curriculum. It was only when I went to university and studied history that I began to understand it. It shouldn’t have taken until this age for me to wake up to the white bias of our classroom curriculum’s, and society’s ongoing, sheer denial of British imperialism. But I fear if I hadn’t have gone to university to study history specifically, I would be far more naive. In part, there is a degree of personal responsibility here, but also, a fundamental national one.
Black history and the horror of British imperialism should be at the forefront of the history we are taught from a young age. Most fundamentally, because black history is British history. We are taught the unblemished version of events, and grow up believing it until we are challenged by it, or realise we need to challenge it ourselves. For some, this process never comes to light. Instead of memorializing the great British war efforts, achievements and sense of national pride that history curriculum’s celebrate – we should be taught the realities of Britain’s past and role in harboring racial inequality.
At university, I studied the history of America, the origins of racial discrimination, the growth of white supremacy, and how inequalities still plague the country of “freedom”. In my final year, my special subject was in “Development” which focused on how Western powers – particularly America and Britain, had exploited African countries from the nineteenth century all the way up to present day. In a way, since being at university I am far more knowledgeable from a historical point of view – however, regrettably I have failed to speak out about it. But I am recognising that. I want to be better and to educate myself even further, and I encourage everybody to do the same, if you are not already doing so.
Social media and #blm
Although I think the blackout trend on social media had good intentions, I believe it ended up silencing black voices and the important educational content that had been circulating. I noticed it was primarily being used by white people, who had not spoken out before. I feared it was being used as some form of social media bandwagon that white people could jump on to claim they had done something and been anti-racist. When many of them had perhaps not done the bare minimum which has a greater impact – like signing the George Floyd petition and donating to good causes.
Social media is a good tool to spread educational content and have your voice heard – but the simple posting of a black square is not enough nor effective in my opinion. I didn’t engage in this – but instead, shared important educational resources and the links to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
Changing reading habits to elevate black voices, authors and POC
As someone who reads a lot and whose online presence is geared towards writing book reviews, I am going to make a real effort to diversify what I review.
I have also made an effort to educate myself more with podcasts. I would recommend 1619, The New York Times podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones and About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge. I have also donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and signed the George Floyd petition – but I acknowledge that these actions are not a quick fix, the struggle is life long and I will always be doing what I can to speak out and educate myself. I haven’t documented this here to gloat about what I’ve done, but to encourage my readers to do the same and point them in the right direction.
Below I’m going to post a list of resources I have found helpful over the past weeks.
I am by no means perfect. Feel free to call me out if I’ve said anything wrong, or could have phrased things differently. I am very much still learning, but as always, I am open to starting conversations and helping each other. If you have any other good resources please comment them below!
I hope this honest insight from me may have helped at least one person re-assess their actions and words. Together we must always be fighting for black voices to be given the respect they deserve. This fight is ongoing and long term, and it goes beyond the realm of posting on social media. Education is lifelong but I’m sure you’ll all be joining me in this process. Thank you for reading.
“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”