Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss: My Review

Having recently read, reviewed, and relished Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I’ve been keeping a careful eye out for Lynne Truss and her quirky titles. You can imagine my joy when, bizarrely, I found Talk to the Hand on my own bookshelf, having obliviously bought it for approximately fifty pence a few years ago. (God, I love car-boot sales) On first impressions, I was slightly doubtful; the topic seemed slightly narrow for a book of two-hundred-odd pages. Don’t get me wrong; I work in retail. I experience rudeness on a weekly basis, and yet I never would have thought there was enough of it to base an entire book on. However, I am happy to share with you all that I was wrong in this assumption. I actually found that Talk to the Hand roused me out of a stupor, awakening my senses to what is actually morally right and wrong in terms of social etiquette. I now walk around with my critical hat on thinking “That is rude!” “How rude!” That word has become vastly overused by the little voice in my head, but whether this is necessarily a good thing is open for debate. 

Similarly to how Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a small dip into linguistics, Talk to the Hand is the equivalent to dipping your little toe into the relatively large matter of social etiquette, without becoming engulfed by all the technicalities. The book is separated into six chapters, which discuss six different variations of rudeness that we sometimes unknowingly encounter (and even contribute to) in our daily lives. These range from answering the phone on the train to a certain ‘end of deference’; the foreseeable end to mutual respect. This may sound like a negative and – forgive me – somewhat whiny topic for a book, and I guess it is, but Truss being Truss, she gives it a witty and sardonic twist, making fun out of those situations which make us so mad. Riddled with funny stories, and proffering lessons left, right and centre, I found it an illuminating read. It brought to my attention many aspects of rudeness that us modern-day citizens wouldn’t usually think to acknowledge. Her goal was explicitly to make us readers more aware of the impoliteness of everyday life; to make us want to ‘stay home and bolt the door’, and I have to say that she has partly succeeded in these aims. 

Now, obviously I won’t be staying home and bolting my door. That would be completely impractical. However, I have noted a significant change in my day-to-day thoughts since finishing this book. I have become more attentive to everyday rudeness; I notice a lot more. I noticed how that lady stayed on her phone whilst I was serving her, and I noticed that man that remained speechless for the whole time I was serving him. My friendly “Hello!”, “How are you?” and “Goodbye” were completely ignored; I don’t think we even made eye-contact. Prior to reading this book, I would barely have noticed, let alone cared. But now, it enrages me how I’m often seen as mechanical and senseless as the till that I’m standing behind. I know a machine can probably do my job, but come on, I am still a human being. On a more positive note however, this book has also made me reconsider my own actions, and has helped me recognise when I’ve been inconsiderate myself. I now remember (and cringe over) a particularly long phone conversation with a friend about things I’m sure nobody in that small, crowded train compartment wanted to hear about. But hey, we learn from our mistakes. 

Overall then, I would highly recommend this book. It made me laugh, and simultaneously made me hate my generation. It left me wistfully wishing for an era where the social media wasn’t a priority; where ‘banter’ wasn’t an acceptable means of abuse, and where kids didn’t swear. However, if you don’t mind seeing and adopting a slightly more critical view of the world, it’s great fun. Similarly to Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I’d say that Talk to the Hand should be taken with a pinch of salt, and should be read with a degree of caution; it may turn you into a pessimistic misery-guts, but it’s all fun and laughs along the way.  

IMG_1684-0.JPG

Eat’s, Shoot’s and Leave’s by Lynne Truss: My Review

Before I begin, let me just explain: that title was not written with sincerity. It was actually written with the intention of luring in fellow ‘grammar Nazis’ as some so cheerfully label us, and I suppose if you’re reading this; it worked. I’ve always been one to feel a shudder down my spine when I see incorrect grammar. I’m that mildly irritating person that finds fun in correcting and occasionally ridiculing bad grammar and spelling, and so Truss’ “no tolerance approach to punctuation” made me smile to say the very least. 

To give you a quick synopsis, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a fast-paced, witty guide to the correct usage of punctuation and grammar. Sounds boring, right? Wrong. It covertly instructs readers without coming across as a school textbook, and meanwhile dishes out interesting facts surrounding the origin of punctuation. It tells laugh-out-loud stories of the tragedies that grammatical confusion can cause (some of them are truly ridiculous) whilst also serving as a stickler’s cry for help in a world where punctuation is becoming increasingly dispensable. Stuffed to the brim with anecdotes and jokes, I salute Lynne Truss for raising this sad issue with such style. She writes with such vigour and passion, personifying those little commas and apostrophes to the extent that we really feel for them. I hear a little voice in my head muttering, “It must be awful to be mistreated and abused in such a way” and I realise that this is the book for me – not to mention that I may be losing my mind. I love how, with such ease, Truss is able to illustrate her examples within her explanation. This sounds strange, but I’ll give you an example:

“[..] the humble comma can keep the sentence aloft all right, like this, UP, for hours, if necessary, UP, like this, UP, sort-of bouncing, and then falling down, and then UP it goes again, assuming you have enough additional things to say, although in the end you may run out of ideas and then you have to roll along the ground with no commas at all until some sort of surface resistance takes over and you run out of steam anyway and then eventually with the help of three dots … you stop.”

I loved this passage, it perfectly demonstrates how punctuation single-handedly adjusts the rhythm, pitch, flow and tone of language, and this is precisely why Lynne is protesting against its depletion. 

I’d heard a lot about this book prior to reading it, which made the experience of reading it even more enjoyable. It was one of those wondrous ‘word of mouth’ successes which every publisher fantasises about; those books which are sometimes propelled by social media; sometimes by pure chance. Truss was not a particularly successful or well-known author prior to the publication of Eats, Shoots and Leaves and actually claims that one of her reasons for writing on such a topic was that she believed it to be “a book that nobody could accuse of failure, because it couldn’t possibly succeed.” There’s a certain degree of irony in how, what appeared to be a book aimed at a select minority of sticklers, received such a large and avid audience. I personally believe that its success came down to its uniqueness of title, blurb and cover. Upon first glances, the general image of the book is intriguing, and the joke on the blurb doesn’t give much away. My mother actually bought the book because the title and its joke made her laugh, knowing little of its contents, and this is living proof of what a little humour and ambiguity can do. Sure, giving the book such an enigmatic title and blurb was a risk, but it certainly paid off.

My only criticism of Eats, Shoots and Leaves lies in Truss’ tendency to make slightly rude and pretentious presumptions which slightly tick me off. For example: her inclination to call those who use punctuation and grammar incorrectly a “thicko” or “stupid”. I know of people who are inept when handling the English language but are masterful when handed a paintbrush or asked to juggle some numbers. That’s my rant over. Now, I know that this is one of those books which have to be taken with a pinch of salt, which is why I still praise it profusely. Overall therefore, this is an entertaining and educating read, in which I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the English Language, literature, writing, reading, jokes, anecdotes, and pandas. 

IMG_1667.JPG

One Day by David Nicholls: My Review

Having just finished reading this masterpiece, I can shamelessly reveal that I’ve been having an intense love affair with it for the past few days. I feel like it was made for me; destiny brought us together. Unlike many relationships, the timing was perfect but now I feel heartbroken that it’s over – yet happy it happened. Corny as it sounds, what I’m trying to tell you all, is that One Day is one of those few books that will move you and change your life in unexpected ways, and bloody hell it’s going to take me a joyously long time to forget it. This review will act as a sincere plea for anyone who has managed to escape this book’s captivating charm to stop doing whatever you are doing, to buy it, and to read it – immediately.

Now, I have recently come to realise that I neither have the time nor the money to read all the books on my ever-expanding ‘to read’ list, so when I picked up One Day during my lazy volunteer shift at Oxfam bookshop, I was planning on only dipping into it to pass the long hours spent working. However, I found it so utterly irresistible and absorbing from the very first page, that I couldn’t bring myself to leave the shop without it.

For those of you who don’t know, it tells the bittersweet love story of Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley, beginning on July 15th 1988 – the morning after their graduation. It follows them on their journey through life, catching up with them on the same day every year, for twenty years. This structure enables us to see the twists and turns that their relationship takes; we see them change and grow as people, and we witness the pains and pleasures that life relentlessly throws at them. Most importantly however, we fall in love with them ourselves. Ostentatious Dexter and self-effacing Emma are brutally realistic characters, who share the same hopes and fears as anyone from any age and background – even David Nicholls himself. As a pair, Em and Dex perfectly reflect that uncertainty, fear and hopefulness that comes packaged alongside graduation, and that impending descent into what is too often called ‘the real world’.

On first glances, it would appear that such deep and earnest characters must come from personal experience, and a little research told me I was correct. David Nicholls himself admitted that he was late to enter adulthood, calling his twenties “a sea of worry.” He, like many others, found post-university time difficult, describing it as a “restless, anxious time.” He didn’t feel ready to follow his parents’ domestic footsteps and this uncertainty can be seen through the lives of the characters he has created. In this modern day, so many young, free minds are pressured into decisions they are unsure about, and told that they need to know what they want to do in life. For me, One Day is written confirmation that sometimes it takes a little while for you to realise what really makes you tick, and also what is good for you and your future.

As for the ending, I cried – and I rarely cry at books. It was heartbreaking to see Dexter descending back to into alcoholism, and yet strangely I feel like I would have been disappointed with a classic fairytale ending. [Spoiler Alert] Emma’s death fitted the overall message that the book gave me – life doesn’t always go as planned, but you have to make the most of it while it’s there. Do a lot, don’t deny yourself what you love, and of course, seize the day and all that, as Emma would say.

For me then, One Day and its author act as a comforting reminder that mistakes are vital for growth. It has the enchanting power to spark a reminiscence of youth for some, yet acts as guidance and comfort for youngsters feeling rushed into adulthood. It is a book which perfectly reflects that uncertainty and fear of the future which is inherent in human beings whatever age you are, and as a student going into my final year of University (yikes), I feel like One Day was welcomed into my life at just the right moment.

 

IMG_1642.JPG

Comfort reading: what’s your guilty pleasure?

I’m sure we’re all familiar with comfort reading and its heart-warming qualities. It’s a bookworms’ equivalent to settling down with a nice cup of tea and switching on your favourite television programme; your guilty pleasure when you know you have a million other things you should be doing. As an English Literature student, nothing makes me feel more guilty than opening ‘Harry Potter, The Order of the Phoenix‘ for the hundredth time, when I know I should be revisiting a certain Dickens novel for my upcoming exam. Don’t get me wrong, I love literary classics, but nothing quite compares to the warm, comforting familiarity of those good old favourites.

Having recently finished my academic studies for the year, I’ve found myself indulging – probably a bit too much – in all my old comfort reads, paying them frequent visits during my vast amount of free time. I’m having the time of my life – as sad as it sounds – and it got me thinking about what actually constitutes a ‘perfect comfort read’ for me, and whether this differs depending on the person.

A comfort read is a book I can go back to again and again and never get bored. There’s a certain contentment in knowing exactly where the story will take you, but should a part arise that you’d previously forgotten about; well, its like finding a pound buried in the depths of the sofa: mildly surprising and hugely satisfying. It will act as an escapism from reality. Just for a short while, I can immerse myself in the frenzied lifestyle of Becky Bloomwood (Confessions of a Shopoholic), the ingenuous world created by C.S Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), and the thrilling adventures of Harry Potter. As you probably noticed from my personal examples, children’s literature features quite significantly in my list of favourite haunts.The reason being: the perfect comfort read is a book that brings me back to the very first time I read it. Every time I open up the last Harry Potter book, I am reminded of the sheer uncontrollable hysteria that I was filled with when it finally hit the bookshelves. Reading it today still rekindles these feelings; it revives my child-like enthusiasm and is a way of revisiting my younger self.

I guess then, that the attraction of comfort reading is the ability it gives me to escape; it takes me faraway from my worries and fears to familiar places, and to people whom I feel I know. Reading new books is exciting but it’s that warm familiarity that draws me to my old favourites. They’re like old friends: trustworthy and always there when you need them.

I’d be really interested to have some more opinions on your own experiences with comfort reading! Let me know in the comments what your favourite comfort reads are and why.

Sophie Kinsella vs. Madeline Wickham

Sophie Kinsella is widely known for her vivacious protagonists, and wild and witty plot lines but many are yet to be warmly acquainted with her disparate set of novels written under her real name: Madeline Wickham. Kinsella has always been one of my favourite authors and, in all honesty, the prospect of reading Wickham’s books scared me slightly. I was fearful of disappointment and I hated the possibility of Kinsella’s sparkling reputation becoming tarnished by her earlier and potentially amateurish work.

Upon reading the collection however, I was pleasantly surprised. The books were deep and thought-provoking, and discussed issues vastly different to those that would emerge from Becky Bloomwood’s mindless shopping habits. Unlike her later novels, Wickham uses heterodiegetic (third-person) narration and clearly relishes in playing around with internal focalisation by telling her stories through a number of perspectives. All her main characters are given a window of opportunity to express their hopes and fears, which helps to give the reader a balanced and fair perspective of the issues her characters face. I personally adore this narrative structure. It opens your eyes to an important truth; no matter how happy one may appear from their exterior shell, everyone is stuck in their own little worlds with their own problems, fighting a relentless battle to achieve a false appearance of ‘normality’. It soon became very clear why Wickham decided to separate her older and newer novels with a pseudonymous identity. Despite their similarity in appearance, Wickham’s earlier books differ vastly from her later books in both genre and writing style. Whilst her best-selling ‘Shopoholic’ series exhibits a playful and light-hearted tone, her earlier works generally follow darker plot lines and discuss serious ‘adult’ issues such as depression and suicide, homosexuality and loveless marriages.

Intrigued to discover whether fellow Kinsella fans had the same positive opinion on Wickham’s earlier novels, I decided to do some research and was at first surprised at some of the responses I found. A lot of people found them ‘hard to get into’ and despised the covers that Black Swan had reissued them in. (See image) Black Swan had evidently intended on uniting Wickham with her pseudonymous identity by republishing the set of seven with stylized covers which harmonise with her hugely successful Shopoholic series and other more recent standalone’s. However, many people found (and I found myself agreeing) that the girly chick-lit covers failed to represent the darker topics covered within its contents. Indeed, no-body would assume that ‘The Gatecrasher’ would feature disturbing and distressing scenes of domestic abuse from its cheery exterior.

I believe the problem lay with Black Swan attracting the wrong readership. Understandably, they were keen to boost sales by using the easily recognizable covers which are used on her most popular books. However, this may have had the detrimental effect of disappointing Kinsella fans who were looking for a light-hearted, emotion-free holiday read. (As I unfortunately discovered too late, ‘The Gatecrasher’ was certainly not the ideal cheery holiday read).

I hate to use the old cliché, but I guess the universal message is that you really can’t judge a book by its cover folks. And in terms of preference, do I really need to have one? I love the vivacious, ditzy protagonists and their outrageously witty complications, but I also love the dark and dangerous plot twists, the uncovering of family feuds and long-lost lovers. Wickham never fails to excite and surprise. Her diversity in genre, tone and style has proved to me that she excels no matter what form her writing takes. If she wrote a book about watching paint dry I’d still choose to read it, and I guess that’s the sign of a truly great author.

‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin – My review

I have never been remotely interested in self-help books, simply because I never believed I needed the help they had to offer; how wrong I was.

This book instantly caught my eye in a small book store at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok. I was awaiting a long flight home after having spent the last three weeks in paradise, and its bright and cheerful cover instantly attracted my attention. The title and its vibrancy subconsciously convinced me that this was the book I needed to cheer me up and prepare me for my descent back to rainy England. I bought it in a hurry, without even reading the blurb (something completely unheard of for me!) and I didn’t even realise it was part of the self-help genre until I opened it on the plane. However, once I’d started reading, not even the insufferable turbulence could tear my attention away from its pages.

‘The Happiness Project’ tells the biographical story of Rubin’s year-long journey, where she aims to discover the true meaning of happiness for her and how to achieve it. In her introductory chapter we see her setting herself several resolutions and challenges for every month of the year, with this sequential chronology used for the structure of the book. Each chapter focuses around an individual goal that is crucial to achieving happiness such as ‘Aim[ing] Higher’ or ‘Lighten[ing] Up’ and accounts her efforts, the struggles she faces and the results she sees within each particular month.

She admits in her introductory chapter of the book that her project did not originate from necessarily unhappy feelings but actually derived from a fear of wasting her life and an undesired lack of gratitude for the life she was living. She wanted to change her life without changing her life, and saw the importance of preparing oneself for what she called the ‘phone call’; the inevitable forbearer of bad news. She merges and modernizes past theologies of happiness and introduces it as a spectrum; something that can be boosted to its full potential if the necessary steps are made. By recreating happiness as a universally achievable goal that can be obtained through such small manageable steps she draws in a wider target audience, with her belief that a Happiness Project will benefit everyone and anyone; young or old, happy or sad.

Rubin’s witty yet self-concious style of writing draws attention to potential criticism’s of the book and indeed of herself as an individual. She recognises her imperfections and shows awareness of the limitations of her Happiness Project, admitting how it may be a much harder project to carry out for those facing chronic depression and mental health problems. She expects and awaits criticism’s of egocentricity, but it is her self conciousness that makes the book so refreshing and engaging, making her an author whom many readers will find it easy to relate to.

Rubin counteracts such critiques of narcissism through her active encouragement for readers to start their own ‘Happiness Project’s, and she uses her blog and website to assist and inspire others in creating their own individual projects and resolutions. This is what I find uniquely remarkable about Rubin’s book. It has shown incredible growth since its publication and has helped build both online and offline communities — a very important factor in boosting book sales — and happiness! Her website exists as a medium for people to interact with each other and share their experiences and progress with their own Happiness Projects. In this way Rubin has created a way of reaching and engaging with her readers, and has given her readers a means of spreading ‘word of mouth’ sales; sales that are propelled through hearsay and recommendations.

Overall, I found ‘The Happiness Project’ a burst of fresh optimism from start to finish; an original blend of laugh-out-loud moments and touching sentiments. Packed with motivational quotes and lessons, it has the rare ability of bringing cheer from the very first page and will be a place to turn for many on rainy days. Having successfully blurred the lines between the self-help, biography and fiction genres, it’s a book in which those who are uninterested in seeking guidance from the self-help genre can still find pleasure and reassurance in reading.blogger-image--28210986