WORLD BOOK DAY!!!!!!! <3 <3 <3

Hello, and HAPPY WORLD BOOK DAY!!!! With my love- ever verging on compulsion- for books, it is only natural that I commemorate this glorious day! It is a universal truth that stories bring imagination, togetherness and meaning into our lives, which is why it is so heart-breaking to read about the bastard tory cuts to our country’s libraries, and what these closures mean for us all and our future.

Considering 1 in 8 disadvantaged children don’t even own one book, it is not only sad but a public disgrace that since 2010, 700 libraries have closed- there are people being deprived of an education and development of emotional depth that everyone deserves. It isn’t a mystery why books are under threat from this government of liars, bullies and thieves. Books are the ultimate power. I always remember what my mother told me as a child: your education is the most precious thing you can cultivate, because it is the one thing nobody else can take away from you. Once you have read a sentence that sticks, or a fragment of words arranged to reveal a hidden matrix of intricate feelings, that knowledge and drive for more cannot be tamed. God even made the universe with language: ‘In the beginning was the word…’ and guess what? Words belong to everyone.

Ignorance is a fertile breeding ground for confusion, which leads to anxiety, which leads to hatred; and hatred is a very easy thing to make money from. By keeping us distant from books, the powers that be are trying to stop us from accessing a great store of tools, both for society as a whole and for our own inner lives of dreaming. In a cultural and revolutionary sense, books can help us connect to one another: to exchange and merge ideas to create new movements for political change and art of beauty. Without the literatures of Sojourner Truth, W.E.B Du Bois and later of Maya Angelou and James Baldwin, how would the oppressed realities of black Americans ever have come to the public consciousness in a way that promoted empathy and freedom over fear and exploitation? Without the words of revolutionary poets writing in their jail cells, without the necessity for freedom inscribed forever in suffragette or war pacifist leaflets, how could we know what we need to do to help one another?

Without books we would all be dead.

But it’s not just language’s capacity for fostering communal spaces of shared ideas to fight injustice which ignites my soul (READING IS SEXY IF U DIDN’T KNOW) but also for what it can do just for yourself. A good book is medicine, magic and mentor all at once. A good book can come to define a period in your life, or help organize the way you perceive reality. Reading educates you in the sense of grammar and vocabulary, but also in emotional literacy. The sense that stories and their characters and messages hold a vital puzzle: the more we pick apart and analyse a story, the more we reveal about ourselves, our biases and penchants.

It is evident that reading is and always will be FUNDAMENTAL (for any Rupaul lovers out there, I hope you got that reference- if not, take yourself back to the library hoe). Which is why, simultaneously as my heart breaks over the state of our libraries, it also swells with hope: as libraries are declining, there has been an unprecedented rise in young people reading poetry.

Poetry is often considered the less reliable, messier relative of fiction. More free-wheeling in its use of language and organization of time and plot, poetry is a maverick. Created in the material world, yet not existing by the rules of that realm- poetry’s power lays in the fact that it reverberates a visceral truth which cannot be pinpointed to a spreadsheet or reported on the news. Yet the truth you feel is real alright, the shivers and goosebumps that manifest when you read lines which somehow reveal an intuition you had felt all along, but never had the foundations of language to communicate before. There is something elemental and universal in poetry’s emotional scope, which is why I think it is such a strong mode for activism in uniting people’s hearts and minds with those of strangers.

And so, we live in hope. The libraries and our access to books may be under threat from tory heartlessness (no shocker there), but the peoples’ love of poetry cannot be cut by any austerity. The more the government continues to fuck with us, the more need we will have to fight back: to uplift and learn from each other, to stop our hearts ossifying into machines of profit. If you know someone who hasn’t read for pleasure in a while, or is curious of learning but afraid of looking like a nerd- encourage them! Share books with your friends! Volunteer at your local library or donate to causes who are fighting for the dignity and importance of the arts! AND NEVER VOTE FOR THE TORYS.

I learnt today that many thousands of books are being left unopened, and many lessons aren’t being learned. And so, I leave you today with one simple message: don’t forget to read, it is more important than you think. One of my favourite authors is Virginia Woolf, and I will honour today with what she had to say about the importance of reading and learning:

“…Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind…”

The articles I refer to are:

On library closures: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/mar/07/world-book-day-2019-libraries-tom-watson

On the rise of poetry’s popularity: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/16/rise-new-poets

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- HOME FIRE!!!!!

Hello everyone!!!! I have just finished reading Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 Women’s Fiction Prize Winning novel, Home Fire, and fucking hell IT IS SO AMAZING!!! A story of love VS betrayal, of state VS family, and of East Vs West in the ‘melting-pot’ of modern Britain. It is loneliness- what to do with the unbearableness of it: sink into the comfort of hostility and proclaim that there must be revenge, or to reach out through the pain, be honest with it and fight for what you need to survive?

Based off the ancient Greek myth of Antigone reworked for the modern day climate of Islamophobia- how it causes terrorism, and then even more Islamophobia, like a grim merry-go round of hate- this devastating novel has love and betrayal at its core; how we cope with each emotion, and which one should prevail overall if we are to hold on to one another. I had to keep stopping reading so that I could process all the conflicting passions without losing myself, and it is a book that will tear your heart not into two pieces, but a scattering of a million shards.

Shamsie’s novel is told through narrating the experiences of 5 main characters, all British- Pakistani citizens, all woven to put together a larger narrative that will draw them together whilst tearing them apart. This plot of tragedy and love is condensed into a seemingly anonymous Wembley household; the unseeming characters progressively more and more embroiled into a conclusion that reaches far beyond what they ever could imagine.

It starts with Isma, an intelligent but world-worn woman and elder sister/ mother to her two twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. I think Isma is one of my favourite characters, she is very good at balancing acts, of gently toeing the line between obeying the law to avoid further pain, and standing up for what she really believes in. Love of her family is Isma’s motive for pretty much all she does. Aneeka also is fuelled by love of her family, but without the forgivingness or subtlety of her sister- Aneeka’s love is pretty much all for her brother, not the mothering and hence oppressive Isma. Aneeka and Parvaiz’ twinhood is evoked so beautifully it makes the forces tearing them apart so cruel and callous I could hardly bear it; but whereas Isma’s love aims to bring everyone back together, Aneeka’s love is driven for one purpose only: to bring Parvaiz home from the terrorists he has been groomed into joining.

However, Aneekas love at first solely meant for Parvaiz actually multiplies in another direction. Aneeka falls in love with a man- Eamonn- her sister first met and sent her way- but this is not a tale of sisters fighting over a man ( it does still make me really sad that Isma is so alone in the book, it would have been nice for her to have at least one solace for herself). Eamonn is the son of the Home Secretary, and Aneeka, at first using him as a vessel for escape to bring Parvaiz home, ends up finding another escape for herself, away from the extremes of loyalty demanded by religion and state. Eamonn’s family are rich, integrated and push the piety of Islam to the back of their minds. Aneeka’s family are poor, derided by the general public for their devotion to their home land and religion. The contrasts are striking, which makes their falling in love only more bitter-sweet with the subtext of Parvaiz between them.

Shamsie evokes the character of Parvaiz before and after his defection to ‘the enemy state’ (the book’s main debate is essentially of loyalty to a state: which comes first, the state of law or love?) with a cleverness that doesn’t exempt him from criticism, but goes into detailed explanations of why what has happened has happened. Yes, he switched himself off and is complicit in the horrors of the Caliphate world in which he finds himself- but if that was the only way to survive, wouldn’t you dance for the devil, too? His choice to abandon his sisters, despite one of them literally being his other half, seems selfish and awful to the extremes. But, again, if you constantly felt alienated as the lone boy without a father in a world ran by women, at an age where you want to talk but don’t feel like anyone wants you… what I’m trying to say is that sadness makes people desperate, and desperation makes people do un-explainable things.

I don’t want to say what happens in the last scene, but it is a conclusion at once satisfying in its inevitability of plot tragedy, yet still discordant, gut-wrenchingly sad for all parties involved. It is reconciliation through grief, a reckoning that will make you want to simultaneously punch every bigot in the face (and by bigot, I don’t just mean Tommy Robinson clones, also the unflinchingly wicked men in suits at Westminster, too) and weep, clinging onto whoever love is to you.

I recommend this book very highly. It makes your brain think hard about the climate of xenophobia, islamophobia and prejudice that seems to govern politics today, and gives your heart a work out- that is never a bad thing!

“The language of violence, spoken by the powerful of all nations, erased distinctions beneath the surface. Two girls walked past, laughing, uninhibited. The sound- continuing on, burrowing down from the girls’ throats to their bellies- was more remarkable than bracelets or wrists. Perhaps surface was all there was to fight for. He remembered how it felt to float on a surface of freedom and safety, to feel himself buoyed up by it, and longing tugged at his heart…”