I had real trouble coming up with a headline for this one, so let me explain as best I can. You know those books you read that transport you to other places in such a way that you really feel you’re living in them? You look up after a few chapters and realise that you’re still on your couch in your yoga pants and haven’t actually left the room at all? Those books.When words can transport me to another place in a significant way, somehow the book always ends up in my favourites list.
This year, I decided to step outside my comfort zone when it came to reading and challenge myself a little. I decided to go back to the classics. You know, the ones with those beautiful Penguin classics covers, or the ones you can get on Amazon for almost nothing. You know the ones I’m talking about- the sort of book they either made you read in school (resulting in casual resentment) or the ones you struggled through in university (more resentment)- or indeed, the one tome gifted to your parents by Great Aunt Mildred, which your mother has been using a doorstop since the 1970s.
The classics have a bad reputation for being mean, fastidious and immovable beasts of burden. They are vastly the product of male authors (with notable exceptions) and therefore the cultural context they present might be seen as old-fashioned, or even periodic.
Bookshops in other countries can be completely beautiful- and because we don’t necessarily speak the same language, it would be easy to forego them and visit different stores, sites, or landmarks. I think we often see lists of famous bookshops, but this year I’ve managed to actually peek inside quite a few!
In September, I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Argentina and Uruguay with a friend. Needless to say, my Kindle was almost the first thing I packed. I’d never been to South America before so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I planned to read a little, but accidentally (as always) ended up reading quite a lot.
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When I first moved to London, I lived in this weird panacea, which only existed in my head. I thought the morning (and evening) Tube rushes were delightfully whimsical- and that the platforms full of shoving, sweaty Tube-dwellers were a modern transportation miracle.
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Note: Patrons for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were asked to #KeeptheSecrets, and I’m a good Secret Keeper: there are no spoilers here. However, you may wish to avoid this article if you want to see or read the play with absolutely no background information.
In July 1999 my father read to me a small article in a national newspaper about a book called Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He (a teacher) said kids in his school talked about it. I asked him if I could read it. He came home a while later with a hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which I chomped in a day. A few days later, we were in a local bookshop and a copy of Harry Potter and the Philsopher’s Stone was in the bargain bucket for £3.
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In 2001, Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima met on the set of Harry Potter and began a collaboration that would become iconic. The graphic design work in the Harry Potter world has brought visual joy to millions- think about the letter addressed to ‘Mr H Potter, The Cupboard Under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey’, or the eclectic beauty of a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.
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On March 18th last year, in a hospital bed in Ireland, one of my best friends passed away. She was 25. Diagnosed with a brain tumor at eight months old, Aileen fought for a quarter of a century before her war ended. She barely had a chance at life but she used the card she got dealt to live the life she did have with a resounding courage that I still can’t comprehend.
Aileen and I first bonded over books- namely, Harry Potter. She was one of the first friends I made in secondary school and we stuck together while we negotiated the move from childhood to adulthood, via the Teenage Years of Embarrassment. One of her favourite books was War of the Buttons by Louis Pergaud and in later years she remembered it really well even when her memory faded. It was the first book I read in an effort to bring her back to life in my mind- a story of rampaging children fighting a seemingly silly war with far-reaching consequences. The book stayed with me: even the smartest of us have big lessons to learn before we can properly grow up.
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As a child, I stumbled across a miracle book. There was a bright place in the woods where a giant tree stretched to the clouds, its branches hosting a plethora of whimsical residents. The magic spilled out of every page and I read, and re-read, and read it again. It was called The Enchanted Wood. I was 6 years old, I’d just found Enid Blyton, and the world exploded.
Arguably, the adventures of Jo, Bessie, and Fanny were my introduction to fantasy, a genre that I adore to this day. I had no idea, reading The Farway Tree series in 1996, that it had been written in the 1940s. The world was at war a second time, hardship was everyone’s neighbor, and Enid Blyton was producing stories that would, for generations, help young people imagine a better, brighter place.
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Ireland has a sort of mythical status among creative types. The land of saints, scholars and Guinness. Many depictions show Ireland as a home of parties and alcoholism, religious dogma and at time, Troubles. Ireland is both more and less than this mythical generalisation- but understanding the real Ireland takes more than a read of Ulysses.
2016 marks 100 years since the Easter Rising in Ireland. Revolutionaries, aggravated by years of imperialist rule, took up arms and led a struggle against the British forces in Ireland, beginning on Easter Monday 1916. It’s a story that often gets lost in the babble of world history, but some of Ireland’s best creative work covers that period. Sean O’Casey wrote , a play based in central Dublin in that week of 1916, and shows the experience of a family dragged into the rebellion and the devastation created in Dublin by rebels and British soldiers alike. The play is a microcosm of a history that gets lost and forgotten too often.
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