26 Oct 2014

Books I Read On My Year Off

As an English Literature student I read a lot. Though I have little control on the books that I do read. Having to make your way through up to five set novels a week has a way of leaving you with little time to knock off the books on your every growing 'to read' list. So if anything positive came out of me falling ill at the end of last year, and having to take the best of the academic year off, was being left with the time and freedom to read books of my choosing. So what does an English student read on her time off? Lots of Young Adult fantasy, apparently (that somehow always gets left off the curriculum). That, along with Young Adult non-fantasy, Classics that don't fit into any of my modules and even some non-English literature. These are some of my favourites I read in that time:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“I fear oblivion. I fear it like the proverbial blind man who's afraid of the dark.” 

(contains moderate spoilers)

It took until the beginning of this year to finally pick this book up. I had been a John Green fan for a while but had (foolishly) been putting this one off due to the mixed reviews I'd been hearing. But once the trailer for the movie was released I knew I'd want to read it before the film was out. In case there's anyone still left on the internet unaware; The Fault in Our Stars centres on the love story of two teen cancer patients. This format of course has been done many times before, but never in the beautifully profound way portrayed by John Green. Concerning itself with existentialism it explores a love, and a life, that is aware of its boundaries, and its place in a universe that has none. This book made me laugh, and made me cry, and I haven't stopped thinking about is since.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.” 

One of those books that everyone's supposed to read, so I did. To Kill a Mockingbird manages to be an intellectual conversation on human nature and convention whilst simultaneously telling a story that keeps you up all night in anticipation of how it will unfold, along with including a selection of lovably unforgettable characters. Told from a prospective of childhood naivety and development you're transported back to a simpler period of human life, but in the not so simple setting of the American south in the 1930s - where racial tension is rife, and being observed and questioned by 6 year old Scout. This novel calls out social conventions, prejudice and small town hospitality, and beckons us to question if the real villains of the story are who we'd first expect.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

“The universe is seeming really huge right now. I need something to hold on to.” 

Written in a poetic format, abundant with captivating metaphors and allegory, We Were Liars is an impressive Young Adult novel that enthrals readers of any age. Prepare to be sat in awe and dotted with goosebumps as glimpses of the final conclusion start to elegantly and tragically unravel throughout the chapters. We Were Liars is emotionally affecting, shocking and beautifully written. There is a circulated rule to not speak of the plot of this book, so that readers can go into it without any prior knowledge. So all I will say is that this novel now sits up with my all time favourite books, and as long as you have an open mind and a poetic core you'll likely love this book as much as I do.

The World in the Evening by Christopher Isherwood

"The lie of the novelists is a sin because it encourages the belief that you can treat human beings as characters; that you can fully know and possess them . ." 

Isherwood, in my opinion, is a highly underrated writer. This book itself has only 28 reviews on Goodreads, which in itself is a slight tragedy. Isherwood has a knack for writing about standard life and circumstance (he often draws upon his own life experiences) in an intriguing manner, and for portraying vibrant and involving characters. His books also often serve as an insight to homosexuality in the society of  Isherwood's time period. This book, following the similar format of his others, is no exception to these traits.  Set in the 40s, The World in the Evening centres around the character Stephen who, after finding his wife with another man, goes to visit his aunt in a small quaker community in Pennsylvania. Upon his visit he proceeds to break his leg, leaving him bed ridden and with ample time to reflect over his life, along with all the regrets that go with it. Isherwood writes impressively, depicting life for what it is; sometimes hilarious, often tragic, intermittently beautiful. 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

“Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.” 

Superbly written and highly imaginative Young Adult fantasy, displaying a unique take on the 'angels and demons' set up. Follow naturally blue haired Karou as she discovers why she never quite felt at home in the human world. I've already written a review on this lovely book which you can find here.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

“Perhaps watching someone you love suffer can teach you even more than suffering yourself can.” 

(contains moderate spoilers)

Protagonist Cassandra - a teen girl living in an old, previously abandoned castle with her family in 1930s England - not only 'captured the castle', but also my full attention and involvement. Written as her diary, I was fully engaged in her life through her entries; growing to love and laugh at her eccentric family, being in constant anticipation of the twists and turns of her developing love life and finding myself living vicariously through the depictions of her gothic-bohemian lifestyle. Refreshingly written in comparison to current teen based fiction (not a convention or happy ending in sight) with insight to the time period and motifs borrowed from rural Gothic fiction. I found myself so firmly captured by this book and the enchanting way the story was portrayed that I read it as slowly as I was able, in fear of it inevitably coming to an end and leaving me withdrawn. This book will be with me for a long while.

So, has anyone read any of these books and have opinions on them? Let me know below :)


17 Oct 2014

The Youtube Sexual Abuse Scandal: Abuse Apology And The Forgiveness Of Abusers

Trigger warning for anyone sensitive to themes in the title

If you're an avid 'internet person' you're already more than aware of the Youtube Abuse Scandal. But in the case of this being the first you're hearing of it, here's a quick run down. The abuse scandal was most prominent in March of this year, when many famous Youtube personalities were publicly outed by their victims as rapists, statutory rapists, sexual abusers, sexual harassers and/or emotional abusers. The list of abusers included Tom Milsom, Ed Blann and notably Alex Day - who had a large Youtube following of over 1 million subscribers - along with many more names. Many victims took to Tumblr to share their experience of abuse, with accounts varying in severity. The accused Youtubers were subsequently unwelcome in the Youtube community and soon lost their careers. 

With such a long list of famous Youtubers finally outed as abusers one would be forgiven to assume that no Youtube abusers were left in our midst. But unfortunately the scandal reared its ugly head at the end of last month for a 'Part 2'. This started with famous Youtuber Sam Pepper being accused of sexual harassment in one of his videos, in which he's seen pinching the behinds of unsuspecting female members of the public as part of a prank. The video caused such an uproar that he finally responded by passing the video off as a social experiment. He did this by releasing two following videos; one of a female committing the same acts on males, and another with Pepper explaining the whole thing to be preplanned with everyone involved having agreed to take part, the goal being to raise awareness for sexual harassment. But unsurprisingly not many people were convinced, especially considering that Sam Pepper has a history of making similarly offensive videos. These criticisms then led to much more serious allegations being made against him across Youtube, both by fans and fellow YouTubers alike. And despite some of the girls being visibly distressed in the videos, and also posting evidence to their case, there still have been many people choosing to side with Sam Pepper and discredit the victim accusations; which ranged from sexual harassment to violent rape. Many of these involved underage girls. Pepper indirectly denied the allegations by posting a scan of a letter from his lawyer onto his Twitter which states that he had not been arrested and that he denies any accusations made against him. Separate allegations against Jason from the channel 'veeoneeye' had also started to surface at this time in a similar way, the accusations consisted of statutory rape. Loyal behaviour towards him from fans and onlookers was witnessed once again.

I started being a part of the Youtube community only this summer so wasn't very aware of the first scandal at the time it was happening. But now watching the abuse scandal play out in a big way for a second time has left me contemplating these two questions:

1. Why are people so quick to defend abusers?

In terms of abuse in the Youtube community one element of it comes down to fan culture. Youtube fangirls (or boys) are some of the loyalist and most dedicated fans you will ever come across. Most spend their days tweeting their favourite Youtube stars in order to get noticed, adorning their Tumblr pages with images and information about them, making animated gifs of them, creating fan art dedicated to them, writing fanfiction about them, buying any merchandise or product their Youtuber releases, attending conventions or meet and greets, avidly promoting any new video or project their Youtuber releases. In the more extreme (yet common) cases the fan's whole lives revolve around their favourite Youtube star. They can do no wrong in their eyes. At a glance none of this behaviour is particularly harmful, that is until abuse is added to the mix. Extreme fan culture has already proved dangerous here in the cases of the Youtubers who abused their power and targeted their young, dedicated and impressionable fanbase. But this cycle is at risk of being allowed to continue and normalised due to the extreme fans choosing to remain loyal to their favourite Youtubers, even amidst the extreme accusations. Being a fan means so much to some that even when their favourite star is accused of something as serious as rape their loyalty still can't be deterred. The easier option for the fan is to place the blame on the victim or accuse victims of lying. Or in the cases were the Youtuber admits to their offences and apologises they are quick to accept their apology in the defence that 'everyone should be allowed a second chance'. These examples can be seen all over the comment sections of victim's Youtube videos and in the Twitter replies of the accused Youtubers. 

Of course, 'victim blaming' and 'rape apology' aren't unique to Youtube fangirls. You will also see people who weren't necessarily fans of Sam Pepper desperately trying to poke holes in victims accounts and professing that the victim 'shouldn't have gone back to his apartment if they didn't want sex'. It's hard for me to get my head around why so many people's first instinct is to blame the victim. But one thing I keep coming back to is the dehumanisation of rapists in society. People see a potential victim as in control of their actions but see a rapist as an evil subhuman being whose only purpose on this Earth is to rape. But the Youtube scandal teaches us that that is not the case. These Youtubers are everyday people, like you or me, who so happen to make videos and upload them to the internet. Everyday people who had a choice, like everyone else does, not to hurt others. But instead they made the choice to abuse. And it's they who deserve the blame, not any young girl who idolised an internet celebrity and was simply flattered and excited at their reciprocated attention. Of course it's always important to be wise in who you trust and to try and stay away from potentially dangerous situations when possible. But someone having a lapse of judgement does not mean that they deserve to be raped for it. 

2. Should we forgive Youtube abusers?

With the Sam Pepper fiasco still being rife, two weeks ago Youtube saw the return of disgraced Youtuber Alex Day. He returned with a video titled 'The Past', which he uploaded to his long abandoned channel. In the video he recounts some of the less incriminating accusations against him, telling them from his point of view which render him seemingly innocent. He also reiterates what he had said at the time that the allegations were made; that he didn't realise the girls he was with weren't consenting. And for about a minute after watching this video I actually forgave him. See, Alex Day wasn't ever accused of forcefully raping anyone, but manipulating and coercing girls into sex who weren't comfortable with the idea. I had always been horrified by this but in comparison to Sam Pepper, an alleged ruthless, violent rapist, Alex Day was almost looking angelic. And then I realised, that's probably exactly what Alex Day wants people to think. The timing of his comeback, in the midst of all the Sam Pepper outrage, is likely no coincidence. But luckily I was quickly able to see clearly and realise that what Alex Day did is still wrong and harmful and cannot be taken lightly. And should we believe Alex Day when he says he didn't realise what consent meant but he does now? No, because it’s safer not to. We can never know for sure that he won’t abuse his power again and take advantage of more girls, therefore we cannot welcome him back. Forgiving a sexual abuser on the basis of a (half hearted) apology sends the message to potential abusers that one can get away with rape, as long as you say sorry afterwards. That you can even still maintain adoring fans, and have potential future victims willing to heed your every call. It also normalises sexual abuse and rape, it becomes just another 'mistake' in which one can ask for a second chance after making, which also sends a harmful message to often very young Youtube fans. Horrifically I've even seen a few fans making light of the Sam Pepper accusations by saying that they themselves wish they had been raped by him. It's not safe to continue to let these accused Youtuber celebrities have influence. We essentially now have rapists (some alleged, some not) with hundreds of thousands of fans idolising them. This cannot be encouraged by defending and forgiving said abusers and letting this dangerous cycle continue. 


11 Oct 2014

5 TV Shows To Binge Watch This Halloween Season

First things first - apologies for the huge gap between this post and the last. Between moving flat, still having no broadband and being plagued with Freshers Flu, finding the means to post anything proved rather difficult. But today I finally reached the point where I felt well enough to stumble to the library in order to write, and posting shall be regular again from this week onwards. On the way to the library today I took a recently discovered shortcut through an old war cemetery. The cemetery is scenic and huge in size, and the shortcut through it makes for an atmospheric and contemplative walk (I don't even need earphones). And today the recent cold mist and abundance of crunchy leaves added to the graveyard's creepy yet somewhat darkly comforting nature. And that's when it hit me, it's starting to feel like Halloween! And what better way to bask in the Halloweeny atmosphere bestowed upon us for the upcoming weeks? Binge watching scary TV shows of course. Here are my top 5 shows which I believe are perfect for the run up to Halloween: 

1. American Horror Story

Most AHS fans are hyper-aware that with this week comes the annual return of the show. American Horror Story is a world class TV drama which is not afraid to go the extra horrific mile. Packed with gore, fright, laughs and tremendous acting and cinematography each season brings with it a unique new creepy setting along with enthralling new characters (though often consisting of old familiar faces). Whether you're an old fan getting ready to sink your teeth into American Horror Story: Freak Show or you're someone who still hasn't gotten round to watching the innovative first season, this month is the perfect time to be consumed by this thrilling show. Personally, if I do ever get an internet connection again, I'm planning to spend my evenings re watching the first (and in my opinion the best and most psychologically affecting) season this month.

2. True Blood

True Blood, everyone's favourite sexy vampire show. Set in the Southern fantasy town of Bon Temps, where humans are attempting to live in harmony with the coexisting vampire residents (and the various other supernatural creatures who happen to come out of the woodwork), True Blood follows the story of telepath Sookie and her resistance in stay out of any dangerous vampire-related situation. The show came to a timely end this summer making now the perfect time to revisit the pre 'shark-jumping' atmospheric and exciting first few seasons.

3. Being Human (UK)

Being Human is a massively underrated home-grown supernatural drama/dark comedy from the UK. It follows the tribulations of a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost who all share the same house (though the dynamics change in the later seasons where new main characters are introduced). Being Human is poignant, funny and exciting, and the short 6-8 episode seasons are filled with so much suspense that you may find difficulty in talking yourself out of staying up late and consuming the whole first season in a night. 

4. Hemlock Grove

Hemlock Grove is a more original take on the common vampire/werewolf set up, incorporating Roman and Greek mythology to make a modern gothic tale. The story starts off centring around the protagonist Peter, a Romani teen who, unluckily for him, moves into the mysterious Hemlock Grove at the same time young girls start to show up dead. Intensely gruesome and disturbing, but also involving and addictive - Hemlock Grove is a Netflix only program, meaning both seasons are there ready and waiting to be binged watched this October. 

5. Pretty Little Liars

Here's something for those too nervous to watch any bona fide horror shows. Pretty Little Liars is a dark teen drama following a group of High School girls who start receiving text messages from an anonymous terroriser following the death of the 'queen bee' of their clique. Pretty Little Liars is simultaneously spooky yet ultra-fun and girly - If you're not anxiously anticipating when the enigmatic 'A' will make their next move then you're lusting after one of the Liars outfits (or after one of the lead males). Luckily for me, being behind on so many programs means I have a whole season of this to catch up on in the run up to Halloween!

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