Top 5 Friday – Gothic Books

Now, I love Autumn, and I love October, but I hate Halloween and I stopped really reading and watching horror years ago. However, I still wanted to do a Top Five Friday post with a traditional October theme, so I settled on my favourite Gothic stories!

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Not only is Frankenstein a great Gothic novel, but it is the first published sci-fi novel. I love the story of how Shelley ended up writing this novel just as much as I love the novel itself. How, one stormy night in Geneva, Switzerland, Mary Shelley, her husband Percy and, Lord Byron’s talks of galvanism and the occult turns into a horror story writing competition. The novel follows Victor Frankenstein in his quest to create life by piecing together body parts and bringing them to life with electricity. However, it doesn’t quite work out the way he imagined it would…

Like most people who have read Frankenstein I first read it because I was studying it at school. Throughout my education I’ve studied the novel around four times, so I’ve read it quite a few times at this point! Now I must admit, as I’ve got older and studied it more the more I grew to love the book. There are just so many different layers to the novel, with many different narrators, that you initially don’t realise if you just know of the several adaptations that have come from this novel now. 

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner a black woman who escaped slavery to Ohio with her family. However, they were ultimately found and she made the difficult decision to kill her two-year-old daughter so she wouldn’t be subjected to life in slavery. In Beloved we meet Sethe, a former enslaved woman who is now living with her 18-year-old daughter in a house that is haunted by a spirit who is believed to be the ghost of Sethe’s eldest daughter. 

Okay, so this might not be a Gothic novel in the classic sense however as I came across it during my Gothic to Goth module I’m adding it to the list! This was such a beautiful, haunting, novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and analysing. Beloved does an excellent job of combining gothic fantasy with the real history of slavery in the U.S. with fantastic and unforgettable characters. 

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter 

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is a collection of dark, feminist, fairytales with a seductive twist. Whilst the tales draw upon classic favourites such as “Beauty and the Beast”, “Red Riding Hood” and “Puss in Boots”, they look very different with Carter’s wonderful retelling. 

I was lucky enough to study The Bloody Chamber during school, and I’m thrilled I did because otherwise I might not have ever come across this! I adore all of the stories in this collection, I think my favourite one was The Snow Child, it was the first one that I read and it just stuck with me after that. The collection’s titular story, The Bloody Chamber, is a great opening to set the scene for the rest of the collection with a young virgin girl marrying a much older, mysterious, man with a dark secret. 

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman

Again, another entry that isn’t immediately what some people might think of as Gothic but GoodReads is telling me it’s Gothic so we’re running with it. This story explores the treatment of mental illness in women in the 19th century through diary entries. However, the treatment of being confined to a room slowly sees our protagonist spiral even more… 

I came across The Yellow Wallpaper when I had just finished my A-Levels and I wanted to prepare for my degree by reading generic texts that are usually found on university reading lists. Whilst it’s only a short story it’s impact is no less than a full novel. The diary format is the perfect way to tell this story, it was personal and the reader witnessed the extent of her mind unravelling.

Selected Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is revered as one of the best American writers in Gothic fiction, or even the best. I particularly love his short stories as they are brilliantly able to unsettle the reader despite only using a few pages. 

My first experience of Edgar Allan Poe was in an episode of The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror when they recreated The Raven. To this day it is still my favourite Edgar Allan Poe work, however, it isn’t one that is included in Selected Tales so I’m sort of cheating by mentioning it. However, I also love many of his other works, hence the addition! From his short stories, I think The Tell-Tale Heart or The Murders of the Rue Morgue are my favourites and ones that I definitely recommend! 

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned? What are your favourite Gothic reads? Let me know in the comments!

Top 5 Friday – Books Studied at University

Throughout my time at university I had the opportunity to study a variety of books as we had a lot of very different modules available to us. There were many that I loved, many that I just about tolerated and some that I forced myself to finish (as I did try to read as many of the novels as possible) or just gave up with.

So, I thought I’d go through my five favourite books that I studied at university! As always, this list isn’t in any particular order. 

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

I studied this dystopian novel in my Health, Illness and Technological Imaginaries module (like I said, our modules were different) and loved it. My entire dissertation was around dystopian novels so they’re usually a win for me. I just loved how this was pretty much the reverse of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It’s also one of the only dystopian novels that I’ve read where I felt genuinely unsettled as it felt like the idea of this society could actually come to fruition in reality. 

Dawn by Octavia Butler

I’ve briefly mentioned this book before, but this was a novel I also studied in my Health, Illness and Technological Imaginaries module. Unfortunately, I missed our discussion seminar on this novel (as I was failing my driving test at the time) which is a shame as I had so much I wanted to say about the novel. I thought this was a really interesting take on the idea of a small number of humans left alive and it remains one of my favourite sci-fi novels. Perhaps I will re-read this one to review it properly, as well as give the rest of the series a shot!

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Now, I’m going to be honest, I’m not a fan of Jane Austen at all. I’ve read four of her books at this point and this is the only one that I have enjoyed (sorry to all the fans of Mr. Darcy out there). This novel came up in my Gothic to Goth module which looked at the progression from Gothic literature to the ‘Goth’ subculture. What Austen does with this novel is very clever and it’s a brilliant parody of the classic ‘gothic’ genre and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

This novel was included in my Postcolonialism module and it was just amazing. When I used to see a long book on my reading list, I would feel a bit of dread as it could very well derail your reading for the entire week for other modules, but that dread was totally unfounded with this book. The novel is set in 1970s India which sees four different characters come together during India’s ‘State of Internal Emergency’. A Fine Balance is both hopeful and heartbreaking, and a novel I highly recommend. 

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

I’m fairly certain this novel was in my first year module The History of Literature. I had heard of the book before but I didn’t really know anything about it. I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this novel so much is because it wasn’t what I expected at all, it also opened my eyes to post-modernism. I loved the sudden change in narration and it made the novel feel fresh and left a big impression. 

BONUS – Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

Now, the reason this is a bonus entry is because it isn’t actually a book it’s actually a play that I studied in my Modernism module. I love it when texts break the fourth wall, so to speak, and this is something this play does brilliantly. With the characters storming the stage, demanding that their author finish their stories. I would love to be able to see this play performed in person. 

Have you read any of these texts? Do you have favourite texts you’ve studied at school or uni? Tell me what they were! Also, let me know if you’re interested in a post going over the worst books that I studied at university. 

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Top 5 Friday – How to survive your Literature degree!

As it is September I can’t help but be nostalgic for my time at university, so as a way to indulge in this nostalgia I decided to focus my additional monthly posts on university advice and reflections! 

Although the start of this academic year is not like the others, with more long distance learning than ever before, there are still things you must know before starting your English Literature degree! You may think some of these are obvious but as starting university can be overwhelming, it is incredibly easy to overlook the basics! So here are my top five tips for getting through your Literature degree!

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Spend your time wisely!

When you first receive your timetable you may think you have more free time than you actually do. In my first year I had a total of eight hours of class time a week. However, this was to accommodate all of the time that I would need to spend reading and preparing for classes. 

Try and plan your weeks as best as you can, not only with the work you’re expected to do but also so you can fit in your uni work around chores.

Read, read and READ

Okay, this should go without saying but try to read as many of your set texts as possible. Not only does this help when it comes to seminar discussions but, it also helps give you an idea of what you would want to write about for your essay. If you’re struggling to keep up with all of the reading, try listening to an audiobook whilst you’re doing chores. 

It’s important to remember that lecturers aren’t the uncaring, scary, people that school teachers make them out to be. They want you to do well and understand that university is overwhelming at times. If you have a lot of long books due to be read all for the same week, let your lecturers know. Some will then tell you specific chapters to read to be able to contribute in the seminars. By letting them know as much in advance you can show that you’re trying to plan and manage your time, instead of discovering at the last minute that you won’t finish the book on time. 

Avoid buying new books

You’re going to get a lot of reading lists throughout your degree, which means a lot of books, which means a lot of money. Student loans only stretch so far! It’s relatively easy to pick up cheap fiction books, either through second hand websites (like AbeBooks or World of Books). When it comes to classics, you’ll be able to find a lot of them for free on Kindle. 

If you do prefer a physical copy, though, Wordsworth Classics is your best option. Not only are they cheap but they also still include all the notes you need. There will be the odd occasion when your lecturer puts an obscure novel on your reading list and it’s best to get those from your university library. But be quick! As there will unlikely be enough copies for everyone in your class if you all have the same idea!

However, if you would prefer to buy new books or are able to (which is great!), Blackwell’s have a student price match guarantee and offer free shipping so click on one of the banners on this post to find out more!

Research around the texts

Naturally, you will be researching texts to write your essays and to prepare you for exams, however I also recommend that you read around the texts to prepare you for seminars. Everyone dreads the ‘seminar silence’ where no one wants to share their ideas, however if you do a bit of research around the book beforehand you will be more confident in speaking up in class. 

Not only will this score you some serious brownie points with your lecturer, but you will also be seen as the saviour amongst the rest of the students! Additionally, this will open a dialogue with your lecturer and your class resulting in more thoughts and arguments coming across which is a great help when it comes to assignments. 

Up your note taking game

Although many lecturers use powerpoint for their lectures, which then gets uploaded to a learning platform for students to access outside of lectures, it is still important to take as many notes as possible during the lectures. Some lecturers will have in-depth slides, and some will have the basic points, regardless of their approach there will always be things that come up through discussions that won’t be on the slides and you will most likely want to reference or research later. 

If you prefer the pen and paper approach to note taking, I recommend typing up and restructuring the notes digitally, either through Google Docs, OneNote or Evernote. Not only does typing up the notes help go over material from the classes but having digital copies of the notes makes them easily searchable for when you come to do assignments or exam revision later. 

BONUS – Have fun!

It’s easy to get caught up in all of the work, and the reading, and the chores that come with uni. But, you need to remember that university isn’t all work. In your classes you’re surrounded by fellow bookworms and fundamentally you’re just expected to read and write for your classes (no more maths, no more P.E.!). 

Are you starting your literature degree and have any questions? Have you finished a literature degree and have some tips of your own? Comment down below!

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Top Five Friday – Childhood Books

Welcome to my first ‘Top Five Friday’ post where I will be posting my top five on a particular bookish topic once a month. As this is my first one, I thought that it would be good for this top five to look at where my love of reading started: my childhood. 

These aren’t in any particular order as they are, as you will see, very different! I’ve also only chosen books rather than include picture books for this post.

1. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo 

This novel is the account of soldier Tommo (Thomas Peaceful) as he looks back on his time on the front line during World War I and the relationships he has with his brothers before and during the war. I think out of all of the books on this list, this is the one that had the biggest impact on me and it’s haunting ending has followed me ever since. Just thinking about the novel again for this post is causing my heart to break all over again. 

2. Point Blanc by Anthony Horowitz

This novel is the second in the Alex Rider series where the teen spy is sent to a boarding school for troubled elite teens to discover the sinister motives behind the institution. After seeing Stormbreaker in the cinema I immediately begged to be taken to Borders (still bitter that got shut down as it was HUGE) to get the books. I loved the series as a whole but Point Blanc stands out to me in particular. I just loved the settings and the creepy undertones! 

3. The Witches by Roald Dahl

Now, it is important to note that this book isn’t a fairytale, it’s about real witches. A young boy learns of this fact after going to live with his grandmother, who happens to be a hunter of witches. He quickly discovers that witches aren’t as rare as he thought and they are incredibly dangerous to children. This was a book that I studied in primary school and loved it, despite it also leaving me rather unsettled! Although, as well as the book being an exciting tale of a boy trying to save himself from being eaten by witches, it’s also a lovely representation of a child’s love for their grandmother.

4. Fairy Tales told by Berlie Doherty and illustrated by Jane Ray

A collection of classic fairy tales including Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood, mixed with some lesser known fairy tales that quickly became favourites like The Wild Swans and The Fire-Bird. I remember finding this particular edition at a school book fair and immediately fell in love with the illustrations. I still treasure this book to this day with the magic of the fairytales combined with the beautiful, unique, illustrations. 

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling 

Okay, so, I’ve buried this one at the bottom as I still wanted to acknowledge it (as the series was a huge part of my childhood, as it was for most people my age) but not dwell on it. Out of all seven books, the fifth one was by far my favourite and the one I re-read multiple times. I will always be disappointed in how much the film adaptation cut out, but not as disappointed as I am in Rowling herself and her views on trans rights amongst other things…

So, here are my top five favourite books from my childhood and I’m curious to know what are yours? Do we have any of the same? Let me know in the comments!