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.

Book Haul #1 ~Ali Smith, Ottessa Moshfegh, Zadie Smith & More

It’s been a while since I have purchased physical books and enough to make a whole post out of, but I thought I would give you a quick round-up of the books I have brought in the last few months. Most of these I got this month, as I treated myself to some books for my birthday.

I love physical books as much as the next person, but that said, I am trying to consciously limit my consumption this year because I have very little space and am on somewhat of a budget. Also, with the pandemic, I’m not going out of my way to browse in bookshops at the moment.

That said, I have splurged a little this month and this is what I’ve bought.


Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

Coming of Age, Fiction

I brought this because it was the only book listed on the Booker prize nominees that I had heard of and wanted to read.

It opens with an incident following a young black woman who is interrogated by the police for appearing to kidnap a young, white child. This all takes place in Philadelphia, in an affluent neighborhood. Emira, the babysitter and one of two main protagonists, looks after the child of Alix, a well known white blogger. Their lives are inextricably linked but divided along the lines of social and racial inequality.

I am currently reading this at the moment and am about seventy pages in – I’m enjoying it and can’t wait to read the rest of it. I also love the cover and design!

Autumn, Winter, Spring, Ali Smith (Seasonal Quartet)

Fiction, literary fiction

I first read Autumn a while ago but had it on loan from my local library. In love with the cover designs by David Hockney, I decided to purchase that and the rest of the books that are out in paperback. Although Summer came out a month or so ago, I’ve decided to wait until that comes out in paperback so I can have the whole collection.

This Seasonal Quartet is made up of four stand-alone novels which are all connected in some way. Having only read the first one, I don’t know how or why, but I’m guessing like the seasons, they have some similarities and stark differences. With Autumn, I feel in love with Ali Smith’s remarkable prose and sense of starkness and political commentary, so I can’t wait to read the rest of them. As a concept and physical book, they are all so appealing.

English Pastoral, James Rebanks

Nature writing, Non-fiction

James Rebanks, a farmer whose family has farmed the same land in the Lake District through generations, has published his fourth book which looks at what lands means to us and how it is owned, regulated and enjoyed in England.

I read The Shepherd’s Life last year and was taken aback by how beautifully it was written. It dealt with issues such as tourism and our respect for places of great beauty, but also his struggles with continuing the generation of farming in his family. I am very much looking forward to reading his next book as it deals with the wider political questions over land ownership, and how we can make farming into a more sustainable endeavour for the future.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh

Psychological fiction

Image: Violet Daniels

I have heard great things about this book and seen it everywhere, so I thought I’d pick it up.

Telling the story of a young woman, living in New York and struggling to figure her life out – I was naturally drawn to the premise of this novel. Being a regular insomniac myself, I am also drawn to her struggles with sleep and hopes at self-medication. From what I’ve read about this book, it combines dark humour with some heavy topics so I’m looking forward to seeing how the author navigates this contrast.

Intimations, Zadie Smith

Non-fiction, personal essays

After having a roaring success with Alone Together, I decided to give another Covid memoir a go. Although a lot shorter I figured I would enjoy this one too. Written by the highly accredited author Zadie Smith, this collection of essays documents her experience of lockdown and the emotional and personal difficulties it involved.

I know Smith is a profound and talented writer, so I am interested in reading about her perception of recent events and how it affected her life. I’m sure it won’t take too long to read either, in being such a small book.


That’s it for now! You can keep up to date with any new books I buy over on my new Instagram account. I’m trying to learn how to take nice photos but I am still new to the whole thing, so please be kind!

Happy reading, as usual!

Violet

Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.

Currently reading ~ 21st July

Just a quick mid-week catch up from me. There won’t be any reviews this week as I don’t think I am near finishing a book. Last week I whizzed through An American Marriage, and finished A Tale of Two Cities, however, this week I have started two new books that have been on my TBR pile for a very long time.

Image: Violet Daniels

I read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch last year and completely fell in love with the writing. A few years before I had read The Secret History and really enjoyed it, but The Goldfinch was really something else.

The Little Friend is the first book Tartt published back in 2003, before she had received so much literary acclaim. Being a fan, I of course wanted to pick this up. It is written in the same fashion as The Goldfinch, as Tartt centers on one narrator’s intimate perspective to tell the story. This time it is told through the perspective of twelve year old Harriet, living in Mississippi in the 1970s.

One day when Harriet was young, her brother was found hanging from a tree in the family’s yard, and ever since his murder hasn’t been solved. Harriet sets herself the task of solving the murder despite her family’s hesitancy. Harriet is bright and observant – making her an excellent narrator for the intricate story that follows.

I’m only around 200 pages in out of 624, but I am really enjoying it so far. It’s definitely a slow burner, as to be expected, but it already contains so much suspense and intrigue that will inevitably keep me reading. Tartt has such an eye for detail and ability to write literary and poetic prose, which is what I love so much about her writing. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this! Although I feel like I should savor it as Tartt usually takes 8-10 years to write a book!

Also how beautiful is this cover? 🙂

Image: Violet Daniels

This has been one of the most sought after books since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I can totally see why.

Although I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, Eddo-Lodge writes in such a clear and concise way, making even the most complicated issues easy to understand. She provides a well informed account of black history in Britain and how our education system has typically left the worse parts out (Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, colonialism and the race riots of the 1980s to name a few examples) and makes a case for a revolution in how British people understand racial inequality.

She goes on to tackle other sections to uncover how racism is embedded within our institutions and takes a look at white privilege – however, I haven’t got that far yet! It’s safe to say I’ve learnt more in these first 100 pages about black history than I was ever taught at school.

I would highly recommend this! Really accessible but super informative.

My July TBR as it stands

  1. An American Marriage
  2. A Tale of Two Cities
  3. The Little Friend
  4. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
  5. How I learned to Hate in Ohio (e-ARC/NetGalley)

General update

This week I’ve been having a bit of a break from writing, last week I churned out quite a lot of stuff and now feel a bit burned out. I think I’m going to focus on reading instead, and just jotting down writing ideas when they come. I’ve been getting back into running this week, not doing anything crazy but just easing myself back in.

I recently hit a milestone of 100 followers and am feeling very grateful for this little online space I have crafted for myself.

I’m still pitching to other publications and having no luck… but I am not giving up and still trying so that’s the main thing! Many places, including big ones like The Guardian have been hit really badly by Covid-19 and it’s not surprising that their commission budgets have been slashed. I think it’s going to be really hard for me to get things published, so I’m going to focus on my blog and other smaller, student/graduate ran places.

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing reviews and uploading them to YouTube, but I am really not sure. I love the idea of it and think they could potentially reach more people but I also know that the platform is flooded with other people doing the same thing. If you have any thoughts on this, let me know!

That’s it for now. Hope you are all keeping well and safe.

Violet xxx

Book Review: Airhead ~ The Imperfect Art of Making News

Image: Deadline

Emily Maitlis is rather topical in the UK at the moment because of her framing of the Dominic Cummings debate on Newsnight. Maitlis opened the current affairs program with,

“…He made those who struggled to keep the rules feel like fools and has allowed many more to assume the can now flout them.

The Prime Minister knows all this but despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his back benchers, the dramatic early warning from the polls and a deep national disquiet – Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it…    

(You can see the full opening statement here.) In my opinion, her statement did not break “impartiality” regulations but there we go, some are always bound to think otherwise.

However, funnily enough I was actually reading her book before this started. I’ve always admired Emily Maitlis for her approach to broadcasting and this was largely inspired by her brilliant interview with Prince Andrew during the Epstein scandal last year. As someone who wants to go into journalism, I couldn’t wait to read her book.

Review

Title: Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News

Author: Emily Maitlis, British journalist and presenter of Newsnight

Genre: Non-fiction, biography

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Maitlis’ Airhead is premised as an autobiography of her experience as one of the UK’s leading British broadcasters. In hosting the current affairs program, Newsnight, she is often at the forefront of breaking news. This book documents a range of interviews she has conducted, from President Donald Trump, to the Dalai Lama. Each chapter is structured as a specific interview, or peppered with a particular experience in her career – such as when the BBC got arrested in Cuba, or when she took her twelve year old son to see the Chippendale’s in a Las Vegas strip show.

Although the interviews were interesting to read, I found they were largely driven by pure narrative, and each chapter had the same structure and format. In a sense, it was quite repetitive and lacked substance. Some chapters were better than others, and I did enjoy reading her experience as the interviewer – one that stands out is the interview with former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, days after the Grenfell tower tragedy. Her writing reveals to the reader that indeed, no interview is ever perfect and a lot of the time, due to constraints they are haphazardly glued together in the moment, for the purpose of fulfilling the “breaking news” agenda.

Before reading this I thought it would focus more on the ins and outs of news making and the philosophies of journalism itself. By this, I mean who does news making aim to please, the morals and ethics of breaking news reporting, and how instant reporting via social media has undergone a revolution in recent years. Also, the impact that breaking news has on history making and our conception of events. These are all things Maitlis has been in the thick of over the years, and I was therefore, surprised they weren’t really discussed. Perhaps I expected too much?

Maitlis integrates some of this ever so slightly, but only in the final chapter,

“A huge amount of thought goes into what we do. Interpreting moments of history whilst they are still unfolding is both deeply rewarding and endlessly challenging. Television news is messy. It gets things wrong. It is imperfect – sometimes laughably so – and sometimes you just nail it.”

Emily Maitlis, Airhead

I felt that she had saved the best until last – this reflection on the art of making news should have framed the entire book, and she could have gone deeper into this and been more selective with the amount of interviews included.

The book is marketed as an “autobiography” but it certainly doesn’t read like one, we don’t receive details of her early life, childhood, or how she got into journalism, just snapshots of favourite moments in her career that when reading, feels more like a diary entry. Don’t get me wrong, the interviews were interesting and funny at times, but I found the book lacked depth she could easily convey, considering her remarkable career.

There’s a lot to be said about news making and the ethics of broadcasting, and Maitlis is one of the best people to discuss it, but it’s a shame she didn’t make this more of a feature, perhaps she is saving it for another title!

All in all, this is an interesting book and a worthwhile read for anyone that is interested in broadcast journalism and wants to read about it from her perspective. But don’t expect too much from the sub title, “the imperfect art of making news” as this isn’t given the attention it deserves.

Enjoy my reviews? Feel free to support my blog by buying me a coffee! 🙂

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

What I read in May (2020)

Another month in isolation brings another months worth of reading to an end! I have read a variety of things and pretty much loved everything. I’m starting to think maybe I need to be more critical…!? I found myself feeling drawn to non-fiction which isn’t the norm for me, but nonetheless, the month was still dominated by fiction.

The Library of the Lost and Found, Phaedra Patrick ★★★★

It feels like a life time ago that I read this but it was only at the start of the month! A lovely, heart warming story about a librarian who attempts to discover the truth about her family’s past. Uplifting and reviving in a time of need! And if you like books about books, stories and words, you’ll love this.

Re read: Normal People, Sally Rooney ★★★☆☆

The beginning (and most of May it seems) has been dominated by the hype around Normal People. I decided to re-read this in the hope of liking it more, again, I was left with the same feeling I got the first time round. Average story documenting a strange kind of relationship – something about it doesn’t sit with me well. A nice little coming of age novel, but one that doesn’t deserve the hype, nor the literary credibility.

The Bullet Journal Method, Ryder Carroll ★★★★

I enjoyed this very much. To coincide with my increasing habit of journalling during isolation, I decided to read the definitive bullet journal guide. I found it very informative, motivating and easy to read and would recommend it to anyone who is looking to learn more about the benefits of journalling to manage anxiety. It also contains useful diagrams and examples of how to lay out your journal.

The Bridge of Little Jeremy, Indrajit Garai ★★★★

I was kindly sent a copy of this and really feel in love with the story. It is one of the most beautifully written stories I have read and I feel in love with the language. It’s told through the perspective of a twelve year old boy living in Paris, trying to save his Mother from going into financial ruin. It really tugs at your heart strings, but in all the best places. Above all, it is a story about the love and appreciation for art and seeing the beauty in the everyday.

Frozen Butterflies, Simona Grossi ★★★★

This was weird story, it had such a lingering weirdness that I couldn’t bring myself to write a review about it on my blog. The characters were directionless, possessive and obsessive and I found the relationships that Susan (the protagonist) perused worrying and strange. However, I found myself addicted to the book and couldn’t stop reading it. The discovery of a stranger’s journal starts the whole thing off and gives the reader the hook they need to read the novel. Intriguing is one word to describe it for sure.

Hot Milk, Deborah Levy ★★★★★ 

Arguably the best book I have read this year, I loved everything about it – from the story, the protagonist, Sofia, and the general ‘feeling’ the book left me with. It’s descriptive prose made me notice even the small things in my day to day life, and I felt I could immediately read it again. Set in Spain, the story follows the journey of post-graduate, restless Sofia, as she takes her mother to Spain in the hope of curing her various ailments. It is essentially a coming of age novel, but told with such sincerity and depth that it kind of blew me away.

In the Dark, Soft Earth, Frank Watson (ARC, due to be published July 2020) ★★★★

I was kindly sent this from the Plum White Press. This collection of poems explores many elements, from love, relationships, desire, to an appreciation of nature and our place in the world, but essentially draws upon the idea that everything we experience has an ancient history. The language is simple, but charged with pivotal imagery and sentiment. The images created are beautiful, and a hypnotic ode to the human experience.

Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News, Emily Maitlis ★★★☆☆

I found this book enjoyable, interesting and funny at times. As someone who is interested in journalism and admires Emily Maitlis for her wit and manner when interviewing, I was excited to read it. However, I felt it lacked depth. It reads as a snapshot diary documenting various interviews, but offering little in depth insight into the philosophies behind news-making and journalism. Maybe I expected to much from it, but I felt she could have gone deeper as she certainly has the capabilities to do so. However, still an interesting read.

Reading stats

Average rating – 3.8

Books read – 8

Pages read – 2, 276

What I’m currently reading

I’m currently still reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists but I’m so close to finishing! I’ve been reading it in-between the sixteen or so other books I have read for the past couple of months, hence why it seems like I’ve been a bit slow. I have to read it in small chunks as I’m trying to really take it in. I am actually writing a piece on it for another publication so I want to read thoroughly. I must admit, there were a few sections in the middle that dragged somewhat, but I’m currently on a bit that’s really good! I think it will be a book that ends up having a significant impact on me and the way I think.

Final thoughts

I’m actually feeling very happy with myself in terms of reading. For three years whilst I was at university, I just didn’t find the time to read for pleasure and I am so pleased that this is something I am able to do. COVID has helped obviously, but I think I would be reading just as much anyway. This month I reached 30 books read so far this year which is crazy! I sent myself a target of 50 at the start of the year and thought that was ambitious!

I’ve had a couple of really great comments and feedback recently on my reviews – saying they are really in depth and thought out which is wonderful to hear. However, it has got me thinking, am I perhaps writing reviews which are too in depth? Would it be better to adopt more of a chatty, informal style or still stick to the ‘rigorous’ type approach. I’ve tried doing the short and snappy style which I enjoy, but sometimes it doesn’t feel right for certain books. If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know!

Happy reading and best wishes as always,

Violet xxx

Enjoy my reviews? Buy me a coffee to support my blog!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com