Thoughtful Thursday – Studying Shakespeare

For me, because I am a Literature geek and a lover of Stratford-upon-Avon, whenever I think of April and important literature dates my first thoughts are, of course, of William Shakespeare. Now I know, especially in the UK, Shakespeare and his works can be very divisive, people either love him or hate him. Of course, this is understandable, all literature is subjective: people have their own preferences and that’s okay! When it comes to Shakespeare, however, I can’t help but wonder if this is also due to the way Shakespeare is taught in schools.

In the UK most people’s first experience of Shakespeare is when they are taught it in secondary school (ages 11-16 for any international readers), mainly because it’s required by some exam boards rather than teaching it because the teachers are genuinely passionate about the texts. Of course, some are, but there are many who are teaching it because they have to rather than because they want to. Although, this number is dropping around the UK due to Shakespeare no longer being taught in schools in favour of more modern texts. 

Now, it has been over a decade since I was taught Shakespeare at secondary school or sixth form so it’s possible that things are different now. However, when I studied Shakespeare we either studied just one particular scene out of a play (eg. Romeo and Juliet meeting for the first time) or we studied two whole plays to compare (eg. Hamlet and Othello). Regardless of what you were required to do, the way of teaching the plays was the same: we were told to read them. The only deviation from this being when we watched Baz Lurnham’s Romeo + Juliet as a treat once we had finished the coursework. 

Anyone who has ever read or seen Shakespeare will recognise why trying to get a bunch of angsty, restless, teenagers to care about the plays by reading them is a bad idea. Although, I must say that this selfishly worked in my favour when I was 14. One of my English teachers organised a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit important landmarks in Shakespeare’s life and watch some plays, however, the fact that this trip was based around Shakespeare put most people off so there was only 11 of us on the trip (including two teachers) out of around 180 students in the year group. It’s likely that there were other factors which contributed to low numbers, such as cost and other commitments but considering that a much larger group of us went to Alabama the year after makes me wonder how much cost and commitments did impact this, rather than just a disinterest in Shakespeare. 

Fast forward to my first year of university where ‘Understanding Shakespeare’ was a required module for us to take. However, this was a much different way of teaching Shakespeare that I had encountered before. Not only did we have lecturers who were genuinely interested in Shakespeare and the Early Modern period, one even had his own podcast on the subject, but we were told to watch them, not to read them. In fact, they told us only to read the plays as a last resort if we couldn’t find a theatre or film adaption in the library or through other means. Their reasoning? Shakespeare had written these plays with them being performed in mind, therefore to truly experience what he was trying to convey through them they had to be watched rather than read. 

To me, it seems odd that I had to study Shakespeare at university level for it to be acceptable to watch Shakespeare’s works rather than reading them. There’s just so much that can be conveyed on the stage that can’t be through text, especially with the way different actors interpret and portray their characters or directors giving the setting or production a twist or modern update. Whilst getting students to watch Shakespeare rather than read it won’t suddenly make them love his works, I do wonder how much easier it would be to understand and study his works. Especially for the first time. 

Did you study Shakespeare at school or university? Let me know what it was like in the comments! 

Thoughtful Thursday – How lockdown cured my book burnout

It’s strange to think that it has nearly been a year since the UK, and most of the world, went into lockdown in some shape or form. I think we can all collectively agree that the past year has been incredibly tough, with many people’s mental health suffering as a result of it. 

At the beginning of lockdown I, like quite a few other people, was trying to be optimistic about using time being at home wisely to learn new skills or to be productive in some way that I always claimed I didn’t have time for. However, it very quickly became clear that working from home because of lockdown isn’t the same as just working from home normally. Whilst I’m usually a homebody and happy to be inside, I was finding that I wanted to spend more time out in the garden but I was at a loss of what to do out there – sunbathing isn’t my thing!

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts but after I finished my English Literature degree, I suffered from major book burnout after three years of reading around four texts a week. At the beginning of 2020 I had started a book on my commute but didn’t really keep up with it. So, in order to spend some time away from the internet and social media, I decided to pick that book back up and start reading outside. 

Before I knew it I had finished that book, and another, and another… and another. It was the closest I have ever come to reading all the books on my TBR! It was just so nice having an escape by sitting in the sun and being transported to another world for a few hours, especially as I would have otherwise been anxiously refreshing the news. To ensure that this would continue after lockdown (back in the days where we thought that it would be over in a few months), I started looking over the books that were sitting on my TBR and was ruthless in deciding what should stay on there and what should go. This included books I had already bought on my kindle. 

By taking time out from reading and pursuing other hobbies, as well as having to stay at home giving me plenty of time to overthink, I realised that my reading habits and preferences had changed and instead of forcing myself to read something because I bought it years ago wouldn’t be beneficial for me. There was something really freeing about reorganising my shelves, physical and digital, and ensuring that I was just left with books I was genuinely interested in. 

Although this is something that I had thought of doing before lockdown, I just kept putting it off and didn’t feel any reason to do it. However, with lockdown I found that not only could I not put it off for any longer but I didn’t want to either. So, whilst I didn’t become fluent in a language, or strictly stick to a workout routine or learn how to play an instrument; I did rediscover my love for reading and be cured of my book burnout. 

Thoughtful Thursday – The Importance of LGBTQI+ Own Voices novels

When I was compiling my top five for this month I noticed that those of the books on my list weren’t actually written by LGBTQI+ authors. This is especially strange to me as barely any of my texts set on my gender and sexuality module at university were either. This got me thinking, although I enjoyed the novels I listed, how accurate are they in depicting LGBTQI+ characters? Yes some on that list are fantasy but the point still stands.

Before we dive into this, I just want to shout out Charlotte over at Sapphistication who was a wonderful help checking this over and added brilliant insight! I’m so grateful for you taking the time to help me with this! 

As someone who will not experience the same societal hardships of this community, I think it’s important to listen to the stories of those who do experience this. By reading these stories, those outside this community are able to see firsthand the difficulties that are faced both on an individual level (eg. someone struggling to figure their identity out) and on a wider scale (eg. how they are restricted in society). Not only does reading these accounts allow you to understand issues that you have not had to consider before (unless you’re part of another group or community that is ostracised due to your identity) but, in doing so this also highlights what your own privilege has been able to shield you from. Additionally, if all queer narratives are from non-queer people, the view we have of these issues is incorrect and the more this is the case the more that becomes entrenched in our views as a society.

However, it’s important to remember that it’s not all about the negatives. Reading LGBTQI+ own voices really cement the fact that these characters (well, this community as a whole) still have the same lives and loves that we have seen depicted for centuries in heterosexual fiction (and, of course, in the word as a whole). This community isn’t just a community but individuals who deserve to be recognised as such. Not one person has the exact same experiences in life as someone else, and the same is true for the LGBTQI+ community and their identities. Similarly, this is also really important for those struggling to figure out their identity and even for the people who have. By seeing LGBTQI+ characters in the same roles that have always been taken by straight characters, not only is this reassuring that happy endings are genuinely still possible for them, despite what has been depicted in the past, and it is also empowering. Whilst some people do, in fact, sit and consider the meaning of life and identity in a brooding fashion, it doesn’t happen all the time or for very long. So why should so much of LGBTQI+ literature be depicted as such? Instead of only focusing on the trauma of discovering your identity, it’s important that readers see a celebration of it too, which is much more genuine and authentic from an own voices novel. 

Whilst these points are extremely valid and important, they don’t quite cover another major important aspect of reading these novels. The more LGBTQI+ novels we read by LGBTQI+ authors, this sends a message to the publishing industry that we want more of these stories in the future. Yes, the publishing industry has come a long way since I first started blogging in 2010 but it does still have a way to go when it comes to ‘own voices’ novels. Therefore not only is it important to read these novels to support the authors, and reassure them that their stories are needed, but it will encourage others to write and share their own experiences (whether it be in a Young Adult novel or Fantasy etc). The more these novels are published the more balanced the currently oversaturated industry will become, which will not only make the ‘veterans’ of the LGBTQI+ community proud but, it will also shape younger readers into more aware and compassionate people. Something that many people, unfortunately, don’t learn early enough.

It’s impossible to detail all the ways the LGBTQI+ novels are important, especially for someone outside this community. However, there is one last important point I’d like to make: to all my LGBTQI+ followers, please remember that you’re not alone; that you’re loved and that you are enough.

Thoughtful Thursday – My 2021 Goals

Last month I went through what I was able to achieve with my blog in 2020 and now, as it is January, I wanted to outline the goals I have for myself and my blog this year for my first Thoughtful Thursday post! I’m not really one for resolutions, I always start off with good intentions but they never last the full year- I’m lucky if they last past January and some even past 2021!

Goodreads Reading Challenge

Although I managed to read over 100 books in 2020, this is definitely not the norm for me! So, with that in mind, I’m going to set my reading goal at 50 again and hope that last year wasn’t just a fluke!

12 Classics in 12 Months

In addition to my usual reads, each month I want to read a classic or a modern classic. These aren’t necessarily for reviews, but I might do a feature on the classic I read a month if you guys are interested in that. I have an idea of the classics that I want to read but, if you have any suggestions for me I would love to hear them!

Read One Japanese Book

For people that have been following me for the last few months, this might seem like an odd goal considering how much Japanese fiction I read last year. However, what I actually mean by this goal is to pick up Japanese studies again and enough to read a book – whether it be a short story, or more likely, a children’s book.

To Wait Before I Rate

Whilst I was very lucky in 2020 with the amount of great novels that I read, there were a few times where when I reflected a later few days or came to write the review, I felt that the rating I added to GoodReads was no longer accurate. Therefore, this year I’ve decided to wait before adding my rating to GoodReads instead of doing it as soon as I finished the book, as this will be a more accurate reflection of what I thought.

Read More Blog Posts

As things started to pick up towards the end of the year, I found that I was spending less time reading other blogs and reviews so I want to rectify this in 2021! Not only do I want to read more blog posts by the wonderful bloggers that I’m already following, but I want to discover some new ones as well so please send me any recommendations!

Keep Up With Tags Better

I love doing tags and ended up being tagged in quite a few last year, however I struggled to keep up with them as I was still getting settled into a schedule – then by the time I was it felt too late to do it. So next year, I want to stay on top of them much better and take part in them!

What are your goals for 2021? What do you want to focus on? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughtful Thursday – Reflecting on 2020

I can’t believe that it is the end of 2020, if I was reviewing this year the way I would a novel it would simply state that it did not live up to expectations and the pacing was way off at times – the beginning dragged and the end was rushed. That being said, I feel that I have been able to make the best of a, globally, terrible year.

In fact, if it wasn’t for lockdown then I may still be suffering from severe book burnout – instead I have read the most books that I have ever read in a single year. With this renewed enthusiasm for books, and reading, I found myself wanting to talk about them and start blogging again. As I had been away from the book community for as long as I was – I fully expected to spend the first six months to a year just shouting into the internet void. Instead, I was welcomed into the community in a way that I never was before and felt a part of it straight away instead of as an outsider looking in. So, thank you for that and for all the support you have given me.

It feels odd to be doing a year wrap up when I’ve barely been blogging five months or so. However, I think I have achieved a lot in those five months! 

  • I have a total following across all my platforms that exceeds (by a whole lot) the total that I had amassed after five years of blogging previously. 
  • I’ve also taken part in blog tours for the first time and love it!
  • I have created my own blog branding and even bought a domain.
  • So far I have been able to stick to a consistent blog schedule.
  • I have begun to form relationships with publishers and be sent arcs unexpectedly.
  • I am an affiliate of Blackwell’s and UK. 
  • Most importantly, I have made so many friends in the community and I look forward to making many more in the future.

Outside of blogging the biggest, and most unexpected, aspect of this year was getting a fluffy addition to the family! It still feels very surreal to finally have a cat after wanting one for nearly two decades – even though I’ve only had Yuki for a couple of months I genuinely can’t imagine life without him – or what it feels to sleep through the night… or what it feels like to take photos of something other than him…

This is a fairly short wrap up as, like I said, I have not been back blogging for very long and I’m still very much still finding my feet. I hope to create more new content next year and have a fully fleshed out end of year review for 2021! I’ve already put together some goals for 2021 which I’m excited to share with you all in the New Year!

If you missed my top 5 books of the year, go and check it out – you may even find a new favourite yourself! 

Regardless of what 2020 brought for you this year, I hope that 2021 is everything you need and want it to be. 

Thoughtful Thursday – How Video Games Influenced my Reading Habits and Vice Versa

Continuing with the video game theme of this month with the launch of the PlayStation 5, I’ve been thinking a lot about how video games have actually influenced the kind of books I read, and how reading influences the types of games that I play. Whilst opinions have changed somewhat in recent years, some people still believe it is the case that you either enjoy reading or enjoy playing video games. That these two activities are very different and one is allegedly superior to the other. However, I believe the two not only go hand-in-hand but can influence how you consume each media. 

I’ve been an avid reader and gamer since I was a child and would spend a lot of time doing both. As you can tell, both things have stayed with me my whole life and are still huge passions of mine. Like a lot of gamers my age, I started with Nintendo and Mario (more specifically a SNES and Super Mario All-Stars). I continued with platformers for quite some time, although Spyro: Year of the Dragon became my favourite title when I eventually moved to 3D gaming on the PS1. It wasn’t until university, and treating myself to a PS4 that I began to notice how the two could influence each other and how far my tastes had come since I first started reading and gaming. 

At university I learned about Roland Barthes’ theory The Death of the Author in which he discusses the idea that consuming a text is far more of an active process than passive. This places much more importance on those who consume the texts rather than those who write them. This idea has really stuck with me since and this, coupled with the exposure I had to different genres and themes in novels that I hadn’t come across before, I began to move away from platformers (but not entirely) and started to play more RPG and story-based games. Games where the plots are complex and well developed and have a cast of characters to match. I found that I became more drawn to open-world, story/character driven titles as these allowed me to explore the story at my own pace instead of being forced into a chronological narrative. 

To have slightly more freedom over the direction you want to see the story take (even if it doesn’t have a huge impact on the ending) makes me feel much more connected to the story and the characters. Novels are able to make me connect the same way, although they are a fixed narrative with no ability to deviate from it, they provide such detail and complex plot that you are able to become attached to the story and the characters. This is something that you don’t get in classic platformers or battle royale games etc. I still play these and find them fun, but they don’t leave as much of a lasting impression on me as a good single-player campaign game. 

Whilst it may seem that my love of novels and the idea of readers having more power over a text than originally thought, the genres of games that I play also influences the types of genres that I read. As I began to play more and more open-world RPG type games, I found that I was drawn to the fantasy elements in the games more than anything else (Dragon Age: Inquisition rather than Grand Theft Auto V). After graduating from university I was in a reading slump, but even when I did read I would tend to read general fiction or literary fiction. However, the more I began to play fantasy based games, the more I wanted to explore the genre in other ways. 

Up until this point I hadn’t read much fantasy since I was a child. Despite still loving the genre I couldn’t find anything that I could get into or wanted to pick up. As I began to play more fantasy games of different types (high fantasy vs urban fantasy) I started to realise how diverse the genre is, not just in video games but in novels too. This then helped me understand the aspects I enjoyed in fantasy and which elements I didn’t, which made it much easier to navigate the genre and find fantasy novels that I was genuinely interested in reading. I’m much more interested in high fantasy and magic than I am in fantasy that are war based (although, there are always exceptions to the rule). 

I’m sure that as I continue to play more games and read more books I will find other ways that the two have influenced each other, and get to discover many more amazing games and books because of it!

Are you a gamer as well as a reader? Have you noticed any similarities or influences between the two? Let me know in the comments!