It feels like it’s been a while since I did a Wednesday post that wasn’t a book review. But, it’s not because I haven’t finished a book… well not fully. It’s because I’m hoping to get a few interested bloggers to help me out with a project. So, if you fancy writing a little something for here then read on. If not, feel free to go about your business.
Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,
As if it could end any other way? It’s the final day of this project so, of course, I’m writing to you. You are, after all, the book that started it all off. I mean the idea has been wandering around my head since the start of the year but I didn’t know how to approach it. Then I met you. I found you in my local bookshop one day but didn’t buy you. Well, I didn’t buy you until I went back the next day. I couldn’t get you out of my head. I was excited to read you and you didn’t disappoint.
It was a gimmick that could easily have gone wrong but Annie Spence’s letters were heartwarming, funny, and relatable. Anyone who loves books can see themselves in her words. We all have such strong bonds with certain books that the idea of telling them what they mean to us just makes sense. So I copied you. Instead of writing a review for each book that I felt had touched me in my life I decided to write them a letter. This decision possibly has something to do with time and my laziness but it also comes down to how you made me feel. I loved reading your letters and I wanted to replicate that feeling myself.
Not only did they give a good sense of the book but it allowed Annie to come through too. You can put yourself into a book review in some way but, in the end, it’s all about the book. If I was really going to celebrate the books that shaped my life then I felt like I had to be in it. It had to be about me too. And reading you gave me the confidence to do that. To explore my inner feelings and get a bit sentimental. Maybe a bit too sentimental at times but we’re bookish people. We have loads of emotions constantly fighting to get out. Some of the letters were harder to write and they were definitely not as funny as I’d hoped. It’s difficult when you’re starting point is something so bloody wonderful and charming. The comparison will never be a great one.
So, you may be the book on this list that I’ve known the least time but, in this context at least, you are the most important. I’ll never regret picking you up and I’ll always enjoy coming back to you. Dipping in and out of your letters. Dipping in and out of my own letters. I think I knew the moment I first picked you up in that shop that we would be friends forever. We’re on the same page… if you’ll pardon the super obvious pun. I just hope our relationship can survive my obvious attempt to copy your style. I feel like you’re Regina George and I’m Gretchen Weiners. And nobody wants to be Gretchen Weiners.
Please don’t weed me,
Dear John Donne,
What happened to you, man? You used to be the man. I mean you once tried to convince a woman to sleep with you using a fucking flea. You were one of the original players, dude. Legendary. The fact that, whilst we studied you at the age of 16, my elderly English teacher had to explain the “sucking on country pleasures” pun to one of my clueless and naive classmates just makes me love you more. There’s nothing funnier than a woman nearing, if not having surpassed, retirement age trying so hard not to say the word “cunt” to her A Level class but being unable to explain it in any other way. It’s one of my favourite school memories. I kind of adored her anyway but that really settled it.
So, yeah. I had a lot of fun reading your poetry at 16. It was hilarious. Also, it’s not as if they’re bad poems. I actually really like them. I’d started to get more into poetry by that point anyway (it was after my first day with the Ancient Mariner) but you were accessible and different. Pretty clever stuff. But, it was your way with the ladies that really captivated my friends and I. We thought you were great. I mean talk about using your powers for evil, John. I know poetry has always been used in the pursuit of romance but you skipped the love hearts and got straight into the bedroom. You were the ultimate bro. You were a legend.
Well, until my further education introduced me to the yawn fest that is your later work. And I get it. You always struggled with your religion but don’t worry about it. Don’t turn your back on the man you once were. I’m sure God would have appreciated your resourcefulness. Using your talents. Your God-given talents. Of course, I have nothing against these poems from a literary point of view. They’re good. They’re just not fun. And I always associated you with fun. It’s like watching comic actors/comedians doing serious acting roles. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s always a little bit disappointing.
You’re like Eddie Izzard. I love Eddie Izzard and think he’s one of the funniest people ever. His comedy is bizarre but so hilarious. Nowadays, you only ever see Eddie popping up talking about politics. In theory I have no problem with this and think he talks a lot of sense. However, I still kind of wish he was still talking about cake or death. Or like Michael Sheen. I have huge love for Michael Sheen and think he’s one of the greatest actors ever. So, it’s always a bit of upsetting to see him on TV talking about how Port Talbot and not pretending to be Tony Blair. Not bad but upsetting.
You see what I’m saying? No? Here’s one more stupid, pop culture analogy for you. You’re like Kings of Leon. I think Youth and Young Manhood, they’re very first album, is one of the greatest all-round albums I’ve ever heard and I, personally, don’t think any of their subsequent stuff has ever lived up. I’ve enjoyed a few songs here and there but have never been able to listen to full albums in one sitting. So I, basically, just listen to their early stuff. Just as I, basically, just enjoy your early poems. You see? Simple.
I’m glad I’ve finally taken the time to explain it to you. I feel like this letter will only bring us closer together.
More than kisses, letters mingle souls,
Dear One Of Us Is Lying,
It’s books like you that make me say things like “I don’t like YA books. They’re all shit.” What I mean is, I don’t like shit YA books. Books like you. Books that, somehow, manage to get a load of hype around them even though they don’t deserve the attention. And what’s worse… you had the audacity to create a link between yourself and The Breakfast Club. As if you had what it takes to rub shoulders with pop culture royalty. As if you had any right to share in its flawless reputation. All you were doing was desperately trying to pass off its acclaim as your own. Because you knew you didn’t deserve to get any of your own.
I’ve read a fair share of crime thrillers in my time and, even if I do say so myself, have become pretty good at spotting who the killer is. I can, usually, see a big twist coming a fair few pages before it happens. Do you want to know when I spotted your twist ending coming? The first paragraph. I’m not even joking. On the very first page the killer, literally, announces his plans in front of another character. It’s so blatantly obvious that it’s not just annoying but insulting to your audience. You clearly think your readers are so fucking stupid that they’ll spend the next few pages really confused.
But you aren’t just guilty of bad writing. Oh no, you’re guilty of lazy writing. You don’t feature a well-crafted narrative that twists and turns its way to the end. Nope. You are chock full of YA stereotypes that have been done so much better elsewhere. The jock who is secretly gay but too afraid to come out? Seen it a thousand times. Do you really think you added to the debate? I don’t. It added nothing to the character and didn’t even feature an empowering ending. It was just an easy way to give a character depth. But you stopped there. Aside from their basic traits, your main characters have no personality. There is nothing interesting or realistic about any of them. They have even less depth than a supporting character in a romantic-comedy. I know fuck all about any of them.
You couldn’t be bothered to create realistic teenage characters or a realistic situation. You used real life issues and used them badly. You didn’t add any new insight into the narrative of suicide, homosexuality, or abusive relationships. Yet, you constantly used them as easy ways to progress your narrative. You carelessly throw these ideas around without any kind of care or attention. Yes, you are badly written, boring, obvious and lazy. But what is worse is that you don’t give a shit about your audience. You are potentially damaging. You are potentially triggering a whole bunch of your audience for cheap shocks and cheap emotional pull. It’s pathetic. You’re pathetic. You’re the worst book I’ve ever read… and I’ve read a lot of shit in my time.
Some [books] are too toxic to live
I don’t even know if I really do love your poetry. I love you as a person and your reputation so much that I can no longer distinguish between the two. You’re like the Sean Bean of Romantic poetry. I have such a great love for Sean Bean that I have no judgement over his films anymore. I can’t separate the awesome Northern badass for the awful characters he’s playing these days. Similarly, whenever I read your poems I just think of the rock star you once were and can’t tell if I actually like them. Chances are your poems are much more impressive than Sean Bean’s recent filmography but, hopefully, you get my point.
You see, I’m already getting flustered talking to you. I’m like all of those women who believed you were writing love poetry to them. You were the first rock star poet, man. You were like Tom Jones. Did women throw their underwear at you too? Did you appear someone to read your poetry and loads of horny women would just throw their undergarments at you? They did faint in your presence after all. You turned all of your female fans into the heroine of a gothic novel. How could I not love you? I’d probably have been one of them.
But I do, also, appreciate your poetry. Although, you are responsible for one of the most embarrassing moments in my university career. During my third year I took a half-course on you and Shelley. I was excited. I already loved you and I took the chance to do anything linked to Romanticsm. In one of our seminars we were tasked to analyse small sections of the poem Don Juan. My friend and I were given Dudù’s dream sequence, which pre-seminar I had only skimmed over. It took us both a ridiculously long time to understand what was going on. Our tutor thought we were both idiots and I felt so naive. Still, we got there in the end.
I’m not stupid enough to believe that you are the best poet to come out of the Romantic period but I believe that you, more than the others, really sum up what it meant to be a poet of that era. You rejected so many social norms and did what you wanted. You embraced your celebrity, you wanted a fun and exciting life, and you were an artist in your own way. More than anything, you’re fun. I mean, what would vampire fiction have been without you? John Polidori based the first ever true fictional vampire on you. You’re the reason we have Dracula, dude. You’re quite a guy. I’ve never felt the same way reading the poets of Keats, Shelley or Wordsworth as I do reading yours. You may not be the greatest but you’re the most entertaining. And the one that caused the biggest stir. Nowadays, women may be more likely to swoon over pretty-boy Keats. If we’re talking about the real Romantic pinup then, in my heart I know, it’s you.
There is no instinct like that of the heart,
Dear William Shakespeare,
I think the first time I can remember studying you in any depth was in year 8. So I would have been about 12/13 years old if my maths is any good. We were focusing on Macbeth and, in particular, the witches speech. We had to come up with our own version or something. I’m not entirely sure what the point of studying you at that time was but I was definitely drawn in by the whole witch and magic vibe that you were giving off. So, you could say, I’ve loved you from the beginning. And it’s a love that has continued with every new play I have discovered and with every play that I have revisited. With every sonnet I’ve analysed. With every play I’ve watched or film adaptation I’ve seen. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare it to Romeo and Juliet’s because we all know how stupid that whole relationship was but I’d happily compare it to Nerissa and Gratiano (one of the most underappreciated but most adorable romances in your plays).
And I could go on and on about why I loved you and what you mean to me. I could tell you which my favourite plays are. Question why I still find myself having to reassure people who you aren’t too difficult or the language is too hard to understand. I could thank you for the many ways in which you’ve changed our language or our culture. How you’ve remained relevant for such a long time and remain one of the key figures in English literature. I could revisit some of the times I’ve watched you on stage. Name drop Michael Sheen again and talk about how great an experience it was to watch him play Hamlet on stage. How watching Tom Hiddleston play Coriolanus whilst sitting next to a non-Shakespearean friend was both an uplifting and totally anxiety-filled experience. I could go on and on about how wonderful you are. But I won’t.
Instead, because I might not get this chance again, I want to ask you a question. What’s with all the cross-dressing, dude? I mean, was it really that funny to have so many of your characters dress up in someone else’s clothes and be mistaken for someone else? Was it really worth the cheap laughs to have The Merchant of Venice end on a pointless case of women dressing as men again? It undervalues the rest of the narrative to have that scene at the end where the two women trick their new husbands into giving them their rings. I was with you when Portia was using the disguise to school a bunch of men even if it does raise some questions. It was still a power move. But then the thing about the rings? Unnecessary. Portia is one of the most irritating women in you plays and it’s because she plays that stupid game. And don’t even get me started on Rosalind.
Was the taste in humour so unsophisticated in your day that all it took was one women to dress up as a man to create the best comedy of all time? Imagine what your audiences would have though of Mrs Brown’s Boys. They’d bloody love it. But I’m happy that you found something that worked for you. And, maybe, you were making some bold statement about gender and women. Maybe you were allowing these women to take a significant part in their stories that they would have been unable to do dressed as a man. Maybe. Or maybe it was simply to give the poor young man pretending to be Portia a chance to play a boy for once? Either way. I’m worried about you, man.
Exit, pursued by a bear.
Dear His Dark Materials,
I feel weird writing this letter to you because we barely know each other. The truth is, I tried to read you when I was younger but, once I’d finished The Northern Lights, I put you aside never to go back. I just didn’t get you. I really wanted to love you and there were plenty of aspects that I did enjoy. I just got to the and realised I hadn’t really taken in what I’d just read. I’d basically been sleep reading the whole book and taken no real notice of the plot. It made me think, it’s probably not wise to continue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you’re bad. I enjoyed the writing. There was no part of me that thought ‘this book is too bad to carry on with’. I just didn’t feel compelled to continue.
It’s something that I’ve always been vaguely embarrassed to admit to. I think I’ve always felt that it was, in some ways, super shameful to have not read you. You’re an important part of literary history. I remember when we got you. My mother found you in a bookshop in Scotland and bought them so I could read you. I started the first book almost immediately but, as I’ve already said, you remained incomplete. I don’t think I ever mentioned it to her that I didn’t finish it. In fact, I remember getting a copy of Lyra’s Oxford a few years later for Christmas. Clearly I’d managed to fool my family into thinking I’d read you. I imagine I did the same thing with everyone else. Which is crazy. No matter how great your reputation, you are still just a book. I shouldn’t have a problem with not having read you.
The problem is, this seems to be a bit of problem for a lot of people. Whenever I’ve mentioned on Bookstagram that I never finished you there are people who can’t believe it’s possible. Now I’m super happy that you have such dedicated and loyal fans. It’s great. However, the more people tell me to read you the more I pull away from you. I imagine nowadays that you and I could become friends. We probably do have a lot in common and would get on well. But you only get one chance to make a first impression. And, quite frankly. the first time we met you did very little to sell yourself to me. You’re like that one really popular person that all your friends love but who I have “a weird feeling about”. It’s not that I think you’re a terrible person but there’s something about you that bugs me.
So I don’t know if I’ll ever read you. I kind of want to and I kind of feel as though as I should. But, there are books I desire to read more. I can’t forget that year. That year young me (I can’t remember how old) made the decision not to do what people thought she should. When I made a choice not to read something for the sake of it. When I decided that this series probably wasn’t for me. I made that choice years ago and it’s difficult to go back on it.
I can’t choose my nature, but I can choose what I do,
Dear J K Rowling,
I’ll try to make sure that this letter isn’t too long. I think that in the years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve presented my feelings towards you quite clearly. But, after writing my letter to the Harry Potter books earlier this month, my sense of disappointment is even stronger right now. Also, earlier this month you caused yet another stir by liking a tweet that has been considered as transphobic. I just find myself sitting here and wondering “what has happened to the author of one of my most loved series?”
This next comparison is, admittedly, a little extreme and I’m a little reticent to carry on with it but we’ve come this far. These days you’re most know for your political statements on Twitter. Particularly against US President, Donald Trump. Now, I’m sure you’ve come across the idea that people who are too similar are always going to risk butting heads. Of course, I’d never say you were anywhere near Trump’s league of disgraceful and immoral behaviour but, you have to see, there are some similarities. You both attack people using your social media to a vast following (for very different purposes mind), you both routinely ignore and block critics of your viewpoints, and you rewrite the narrative to work in your favour.
By that last one I’m referring to your constant supply of tweets from fans explaining how you saved them from depression. Now, I’m absolutely positive that you have helped people. And I’m glad that people have found comfort in your writing and think it’s great that you helped so many people. You are a genuinely good person. However, there are just as many people out there who are not satisfied with some of your recent decisions. Where are their retweets? Where are their answers? You’re writing your own narrative to further your image. Between your political, professional, and charity related tweets, your feed is just a long supply of retweets of people fawning all over you. You continue to feed this idea that you are the hero who changed her own life and the lives of so many people, which, whilst true, is not the full story.
It’s probably not your fault but there are times when it feels as though you’re suffering from the same thing Harry Potter himself was in the final 3 books: the Chosen One complex. If enough people have, basically, canonised you over the years then I imagine you might feel untouchable. But that doesn’t mean you can do anything. With this latest Twitter scandal, your response wasn’t the first-hand account of what happened. No, you got your assistant to make a statement on your behalf that blamed middle-age. Whilst I’m not convinced of the excuse anyway (you know if you mistakenly like a tweet or not), the fact that it didn’t come from you directly is just another example of how removed you are from your fans these days.
When people were outraged about the casting of Johnny Depp after accusations of his domestic abuse you brushed them off by essentially saying “he’s always been nice to me”. When people were annoyed by the announcement that Dumbledore would remain in the closet for Fantastic Beasts 2 you remained silent. You’re continually praised for reaching out to your fans but, unless it’s a good PR opportunity, you mostly remain suspiciously quiet. I’d go so far as to say that your attitude towards the fandom nowadays is pretty casual. As is your attitude towards adding to the canon. Incidentally, a thing you continually promised you wouldn’t do. You just don’t seem to care anymore. As if you know the majority of fans won’t say anything against you and you’ll ignore the ones that do.
Look at The Cursed Child: what we must now consider to be the 8th book in the series. Something you were so proud to create. Yeah, so proud that you had pretty much no involvement. Never has anything reeked more of money-grabbing than the 2 part fanfiction-esque play that many of your fans would never be able to see for various reasons. The ones that can’t make it to London? Who cares. The ones that can’t afford it? You don’t need them anyway. You just care about the people willing to hand over their cash, right? The people who will visit the theme parks and the studio tour. People who will watch a series of 5 films based on the smallest book in the fucking world. The people who will buy the accompanying screenplay of the film for god know’s what reason. This is a franchise that knows its fans will spend and continually manipulates them for it. Which, I should point out, isn’t your decision per se. However, there is a level of complicity at play.
You are often compared to George Lucas when it comes to your creation. Both of you, people will say, don’t know when to stop and are risking their fans’ loyalty in doing so. I’d say you were worse than George Lucas. He, at least, was changing Star Wars because he wanted to make them as good as he could. He was blinded by the improving technology in graphics and went a bit mad. The films were his children and he wanted to help them grow up. You? As far as I can see you just want to stay relevant. Everyone wants to continue making money and making sure people remember the series. The thing is, people would remember anyway. Your fans, your true fans, don’t need constant updates on Pottermore. They don’t need tweets every year saying you regret killing people. We were happy with the books.
Besides, if your ‘improvements’ were so important then why not include them first time round? If it was so vital to point out that Dumbledore was gay then why keep it hidden? Why continue to deny it? On the one hand, you celebrate casting a black woman as Hermione whilst, on the other, you fail to definitely state race in your books. You want to seem like you represent everyone but you do so by not adequately representing anyone. You have always played it safe. Creating works that never challenge the status quo too much but that channel an idea of hope and rebellion. Your characters are fighting an evil power that threatens the right’s of a section of society. Yet you refuse to openly represent the under-represented in your major roles. It’s sad.
Once upon a time, you were such an important person in my life. Your books gave me so much and made me feel like I was part of something. I felt connected to so many other people in the world because of my love of these books. As I’ve grown up, I’ve not only seen that the books themselves are flawed but that you and the community you have created is. I’ll always respect you as a human being and a writer. You achieved a great deal and have done a lot to help people. You are, when it comes down to it, a genuinely fantastic person and a wonderful figure in the world. But, still, I find myself pulling away from you. I guess it’s just difficult when the people you idolised growing up turn out to be as flawed as the rest of us. Just a bit sad.
To hurt is as human as to breathe,
Dear Sherlock Holmes,
Back in 2012, you were awarded the Guinness World Record for the most portrayed literary human. According to the GWR people you have been depicted in film and television 254 times, What an achievement. Especially considering your own author was so sick of you that he killed you off in cold blood. But as we all know, you have always been a fan favourite and they campaigned to bring you back from the dead. And now, apparently, we still can’t get rid of you.
Now, I’m not trying to suggest this is a bad thing. I’m a big fan of your books and enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch’s face enough to watch the BBC adaptation. I get why the books have last as long as they have. Arthur Conan Doyle tackles each mystery with the same medical practicality that he would a patient’s ailment. He has written some clever, memorable, and exciting crime books. They aren’t exactly dark or, indeed, very taxing to read. They aren’t all that difficult to fathom in the end. But they are incredibly put together and you can all the pieces coming to place as you turn the page.
There is a great sense of nostalgia and British-ness within these stories too. It’s something that makes it so comforting to read. They totally encapsulate the period in which they were written. The stories set in London are such wonderful representations of society at the time. The characters all feeling real. You tell us so much more about the time in which you were written than you really do about your main characters. And that’s, really, how it should be. You represented the fear at the time for the growing population in London as it became the fastest growing city in the world (I think but don’t quote me on it). You’re well worth a read.
But, I don’t get what’s happening to you, Sherlock. You’ve always been a great detective who can pick up on subtle social cues to find out things about people. You’ve always seen things most people don’t. And you’ve always had amazing skills when it comes to disguise, weaponry, and self-defence. However, you’re an arsehole. A genuine, honest to goodness arse. But you’ve become a Hollywood hero. Women on Tumblr are obsessed with you. They want to try to change you. You’re up there with Mr Rochester and Heathcliff for most absurd literary crush. It’s all Steven fucking Moffat’s fault, of course. In updating you for modern-day you had to become someone capable of falling in love. Capable of feeling real feelings. It’s ruined you.
And, the worst part is, you’d mostly hate it. You did have feelings in the books but it happened so rarely. Rare glimpses of care and sympathy. The rest of the time you were just a brain. But not anymore. Now you’re a dynamic and sexy hero. A sexy hero that you either want to be or want to be with. The whole franchise has gone a bit insane and I can’t imagine what Arthur Conan Doyle would think. He hated you enough before so what the hell would he think about you now?
The problem with you being portrayed so many times is that each new time there has to be something unique. Something that makes you stand out from the rest. And with every subsequent adaptation we move a little further away from who you were. For proof, just look at this awful obsession people have about you and Irene Adler. Why is everyone so keen to make people fall in love? You met her once. She was in one short story. But suddenly, thanks to Steven fucking Moffat, she has become the love of your life. It’s so frustrating. I enjoy Sherlock as much as the next person but I don’t like it as a fan of the books. I like it in spite of being a fan of the books.
The distinction is clear,
Dear Gone Girl,
A few years ago, I lent you to my sister and you have been sat on her shelves ever since. At least until last weekend when she finally brought you back. I can’t say that I was very pleased to see you. Really, I only wanted you so I could take a picture to accompany this post. I’ve never liked you. I didn’t finish you. You annoyed the shit out of me and, if I’m honest, I was glad to get you out of the house. You have a ton of hype surrounding you even to this day. But I don’t get it. I feel like I’m the lone survivor of some awful disease that makes you love shit books.
You’re constantly being praised for being clever but you’re not. What you are is super obvious. How anyone can read the first half of the novel and not realise that it’s all bullshit is beyond me. I didn’t even finish the first half because I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the inevitable. And before you start crying and saying “but how do you know if its obvious if you didn’t finish it?” Bitch, please. I have Wikipedia.
I’ve put off writing this letter for ages because I just didn’t want to come face-to-face with you. I’ve never met a book that deserved its reputation so little. Even 50 Shades of Grey was acknowledged as being shit despite its massive success. But you. You fooled everyone. You continue to fool everyone and you’ve started an endless parade of increasingly poor psychological thrillers. Girl on a Train? Urgh. It was even more obvious than you were but at least I fucking finished it.
Whether it admits to it or not, at least Girl on a Train knows its place. It knows it’s trash. You have the audacity to think you’re better than trash. You suffer from the Dan Brown complex: a trashy novel that thinks it of great literary worth. Just because you put on a fur coat and some fake diamonds it doesn’t make you different. You’re still Jenny from the block.
So why am I writing this letter to you? After all, this is supposedly a list of the books that “changed my life”. Well, in spite of everything, you did change my life. You were the first book I ever purposefully did not finish. Before I met you I struggled through every shit book I picked up no matter how hard it was. No matter how long it took me. I mean, yeah, there are books I stopped halfway through with the intention of picking up again that still sit, unread, on my shelf. That’s not the same. See, I genuinely hated you. You made me angry. I was so annoyed by you. I couldn’t do it. I don’t know how you’ve managed to fool everyone else but I see through you. I see what you really are.
There is a lengthy and oft-praised passage inside you which discusses the idea of the “Cool Girl” and how it doesn’t really exist. You know what? You’re the ultimate Cool Girl. You pretend to be this clever and refreshing new type of thriller so everyone will like you. But it’s all just bullshit. It’s all just pretend. Your tagline is “there are two sides to every story”. Well, there is: mine and all the idiots you’ve managed to trick.
We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way
The line “Sleep is like a cat: It only comes to you if you ignore it.” is the biggest piece of bullshit I’ve ever read. This isn’t good prose. This is nonsense!