autobiography · books · non-fiction · review

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s autobiography was at the top of my list for books to read in 2019; and as my first book of the year, it certainly didn’t disappoint. I rarely step away from the fiction sphere, but I do enjoy the familiar timeline an autobiography follows.

Elegantly written and at times raw and honest, Becoming showcases Michelle Obama’s remarkable life. From her upbringing in Chicago’s South Side to life in the White House, Michelle’s perseverance rings throughout. She stays true to both her ideals and values, never allowing the political surroundings to overcome herself.

Her life is extraordinary, there’s no denying that. But in the extraordinary lies the ordinary. The struggles of a working mother made harder by a husband away from home. The hardship of juggling what is expected from your career as opposed to feeling fulfilled with your work.

There are moments when being the First Lady seems too far removed from private life. During the first year of Barak Obama’s presidency, they go out for an evening in New York to see a show. A simple trip that should be easy to achieve. The secret service, of course, must sweep the restaurant and theatre before they can enter. Anyone who enters after them must also be security checked. The theatre show starts an agreed 45 minutes late to accommodate the extra security checks every visitor must go through. It’s a lot of extra resources for a simple night out.

Michelle doesn’t shy away from her political opinions either. She takes us through the transition phase of the Obama and Trump presidencies and her own realisation that she does not need to be openly welcoming or approving of Trump. And she isn’t. He was the one who spread lies that Barak was born in Kenya. Trump has openly declared a lot of Obama’s laws and legislations as stupid, repelling or replacing them with his own agenda.

Becoming explores Michelle Obama’s life, her personal gains and struggles. It shows the continuous oppression of an African-American in America, even one at the very top. As a women who didn’t aim for the spotlight, Michelle Obama has something to teach everyone.

Author · books · literature · review · signing

An afternoon with Markus Zusak

The Book Thief has remained my favourite book for the last decade since then I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read, but nothing has been able to kick The Book Thief off its top spot.

 But there’s a new possibility on the horizon. For the first time in 10 years, Markus Zusak has a new book. And not only has he got a new book, but he’s currently on a book tour to promote it.

 When I was in Australia last year, I was gutted to discover I’d missed a talk by Markus in Sydney by one week. Then when his book tour was announced, his London talk was sold out before I could buy a ticket. Luckily my aunt’s bookshop was able to entice him north, so I took a long weekend visit to The Lake District with the added bonus of a Markus Zusak talk and signing.

 I promise I wasn’t trying to stalk him.

 Friendly and charming, Markus Zusak is undeniably a storyteller. He recounted a story he later informed us he’d told close to a 1000 times. It was about his family, his brothers and a raw egg. But it wasn’t just his storytelling, it was his ability to deconstruct a story, adding and taking away literary techniques as the tale demanded. He stopped at different points, he told us what was coming up, and yet the tale always took a slightly unexpected turn.

 His question and answer session, proved furthermore his talents; the details of The Book Thief that tie everything together, his trial of finding the right voice for a story and of course, his honesty about getting things wrong and trying again. He kindly discussed literary and writing techniques, the requirement of a good notebook and the desire to work hard.

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The New Bookshop in Cockermouth was the perfect host for this event, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions or simply have a chat with Markus.

Written in his unmistakable quirky style, Bridge of Clay is a tale of love, family, survival and a bridge.

 Review of Bridge of Clay coming soon.

exhibitions · London · review

Designs of the year 2018 | The Design Museum

The Design Museum’s Designs of the Year exhibition is one I’ve been looking forward to all year. Having missed the 2017 event, I was keen to head down to Kensington as soon as I knew the doors were open.

It’s very easy in this day and age to forget how design is everywhere. Every item we use has been researched, discussed, built, tested and then evolved to reach a product that works seamlessly. There’s a lot of thought in there.

The exhibition was designed into different sections, from medical technology including an operation table that fits into a backpack to fashion and Burberry’s incorporation of the rainbow in their iconic print. Rihanna’s make up line showcasing her broad foundation range, and a smart furniture system to make the most of living in a small space also made an appearance.

With 87 different innovative projects to see, this is an exhibition to check out.

Beazley Designs of the Year 2018 is on at The Design Museum until 6 January 2019.

book review · books · literature · review

Elenor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Of course, Elenor Oliphant is not completely fine.

Honeyman’s debut novel demonstrates the behaviour of just-about coping. An existence of life certainly, but Elenor isn’t living. Instead, she simply goes through the motions. Flat, check. Work in an office 9-5, check. Down 2 litres of vodka every weekend, check.

One thing we cannot escape is just how lonely Elenor is, she leaves work on Friday and doesn’t speak to a single soul until Monday morning. She’s not just living alone, she expects to stay alone. She doesn’t understand the social interactions, she finds small talk pointless and she most certainly, doesn’t get involved in office politics; but that doesn’t mean she can’t be sociable.

All it takes is for an unexpected friendly encounter, a twist in Elenor’s otherwise predictable routine to change not only her perception of life but her way of living. We follow Elenor along this path and her journey towards friendship. She may be a character with troubles and torments, but she’s also warm and surprisingly funny.

With a few twists along the way, this book gripped me from start to finish. I flew through it in under a week, and pondered over the characters for even longer.

book review · books · literature · review

How To Stop Time

Occasionally you can stumble upon a book that stops you in your tracks, a novel that makes you think. Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time did just that.

Haig elegantly mixes history and fiction, allowing our protagonist, Tom, to struggle with the wisdom 400 years on earth has tormented him with. It breaks down the human traits we recognise, and weaves them throughout history.

Tom Hazard was born in the late 16th century, yet he’s still alive in 21st century London. His many lifetimes span generations, from playing with Shakespeare and The King’s Men to life in 1920’s Paris. He joins Captain Cook on The Endeavour but it is the search for his daughter that truly keeps him alive.

There are large periods of Tom’s life where he is surviving. He is disjointed from the world, living his life in the shadows; neither connected to a person or a place. It’s a hard way to live and a lonely life too. But that can change with one person, a single piece of hope to carry you through the hard days. At the end of the day it’s our relationships with others that makes life worth living. Our shared experiences and in turn our shared history. A connection, a memory and a desire to live.

Beautifully written, this is book everyone should read.

London · performance · play · review · Theatre

Pity at the Royal Court

From the very beginning, I knew Pity was not going to be a straightforward play. Having collected our tickets we were sent back out of the theatre, down a side alley and straight onto the stage.

The performance had already started, a brass band were playing centre stage and an ice cream stall had a long queue of patrons. We were invited to pick up our tombola tickets, buy an ice cream cone and take our seats. It opened up the theatre experience and, with it, created a community out of the audience.

Of course, once the show began it was clear we were to expect the unexpected. But the unexpected continued to surprise me. It was a fast-paced show, making the 1 hr 40 running time fly by. There’s a skill needed to keep an audience engaged when a play is in one act and Rory Mullarkey did just that.

From the simple town square, we followed Alex on a day like no other. There was death, bombs, guns, ice cream, a wedding, snipers, actors and statues. Each scene questioned the world we currently live in; the people and the politics. The questions raised covered the why and how to the confusion and the mundane. The world can change at any moment. Teams are decided, alliances are drawn and the bystanders are left to put everything back together again.

Pity worked very well as a comedy, it needed to have the lighter elements to contrast the destruction of the world we’ve come to know. The stage design enhanced the show as it managed to weave in more surprises at every turn. This is a piece of new theatre we need to see more of.

This may have been my first visit to the Royal Court, but it certainly won’t be my last.

book review · books · diary · non-fiction · review

Morning

Whenever I’m in doubt of what to read next, when the bookshop is overflowing with inspiration; I turn to the nearest bookseller and ask for their recommendation. Not only are booksellers a very friendly bunch, but they’re also big readers and often have a book in mind you’d never find nestled on the shelves.

I recently popped into Salts Mill (my all time favourite bookshop) and did just that. I was recommended a non-fiction book that would be hard to categorise; it’s a diary, a book of advice and wellbeing, and a little nod to nature too. With that description, I never would have picked it off the shelf. But it’s a small book, that’s beautifully simple.

Allan Jenkins uses Morning as a confirmation of what he already knows. A secret he shares with his readers. It’s effective and calming. It’s also very simple – to wake up earlier. Listen to the birds, watch the sunrise and enjoy the quiet calm before the day really begins.

It’s elegantly put together, a diary of Allen’s pre-dawn thoughts interwoven with interviews of others who wake before the sun. It’s very effective too. Although I’m yet to wake early enough to welcome a July sunrise, I am getting out of bed earlier. And more than that – I’m using that time wisely. For now this might be a little change in my routine, but I really hope it’s one that lasts.