Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, which means that lists of the most romantic reads are popping up all over the internet. Now, I have a huge problem with these lists. Mostly because of the books that continually appear on them. I’ll be honest, I’m not a massive fan of the romance genre anyway. It’s just not my thing. There’s nothing wrong with it but I get bored of the waiting. I also know that romance novels aren’t as terrible as certain people try to make out. There is a pretentiousness that often comes out when talking about romance that mostly occurs because, historically, it has been a genre written for women. I could go deeper into the problematic history of the genre and the marginalisation of certain writers/subjects but I think that’s best saved for a better writer. Instead, I want to focus on problematic books that appear on lists of Valentine’s Day reads. Let’s be honest, many of the supposedly most romantic books ever written feature relationships that we shouldn’t be celebrating. Everywhere I go, I see young bookish people romanticising toxic and awful relationships and I can stay silent no longer. Here are just a view literary loves that we really need to accept aren’t #goals.
As I’ve said countless times already this week, I didn’t get a lot of reading done over Oscars week. I just couldn’t find the time between writing so many posts and watching so many films. Yet, I’ve been determined to continue writing 2 book reviews a week. For one thing, it pushes me to read more and, for another, it gives the blog a better balance between films and reading. In order to catch up, I listened to 2 more audiobooks this weekend. The first was The Child which I reviewed on Monday. The second was a dramatisation of Winnie The Pooh. I was all set to post a review of it today but, instead, I wanted to talk about something that’s been bugging me recently. I was out with some friends last week (none of them are big readers) when I mentioned how many books I’d read last year. They were impressed, which is how you can tell they’re not overly bookish people. Compared to most of you buys I’m an amateur! But, they’re encouragement was quickly displaced with disbelief when I mentioned how useful audiobooks had been in helping me get there. Apparently, it doesn’t count. I know they were joking but, in the bookish world, this attitude still exists. And I’m not here for it.
Do you remember when Ricky Gervais was doing interviews about Special Correspondents and decided to lecture everyone about what comedy is? And then it turned out to be dreadful? Yeah, pretty awkward. Well, this week director Martin Scorsese has decided to use an interview discussing the release of his film The Irishman to deride comic book movies. Actually, he didn’t even do that. He simply dismissed them. In an interview with Empire magazine, Scorsese told them he didn’t bother watching Marvel movies: “I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema”. Now, of course, Scorsese is in a much stronger position than Gervais was to tell people what’s what but that’s not to say he deserves the final say on what is and isn’t cinema. After all, what is cinema? According to Google, “the production of films as an art or industry.” The MCU sounds like it’s the exact definition of cinema.
So this is the official end of my run of book reviews. I was doing so well and now I’ve lost it again. It’s been a super hectic week and I’ve not had much time to read. Plus, I’ve been trying to get ahead with my posts and stuff before I go on holiday. I think I can just about manage it but it does mean I’ve had to put aside reading to get things done. I’ll definitely make up for it whilst I’m away but it does mean my next two Wednesday posts will be kind of bullshit. Well, hopefully not bullshit but not what they could have been. I even started reading The Hate That U Give in the hope that I could finish it in time. I didn’t. But I hopefully will soon. I’m enjoying it much more than I expected but that’s mainly just due to my general mistrust of YA fiction. Something that I could go into now but I have bigger fish to fry. Bigger fish like Johnny Depp… again. After all, the second Fantastic Beasts trailer was released a matter of days ago. And, unsurprisingly, I had a lot of thoughts about it.
It’s reaching that time of the month when us bookish people start to set out what we plan on reading in the weeks ahead. As a keen Bookstagrammer who sticks to a couple of photo challenges for inspiration, I am used to post at least one photo at the start of every new month to show off the books in my monthly TBR. Now, I know there are people out there who will stick religiously to whatever they pick at that point but I’m not one of them. In fact, each of my TBR Instagram posts just tend to be a random selection of books that I kind of want to read but know, deep in my heart, that I won’t be doing it any time soon. It’s just a routine I’ve found myself in. But this month is worse than other months. Because I’m in the middle of a major reading slump. I’m currently still reading Frankenstein in Baghdad: a book that I actually opened for the first time towards the end of March. Fucking March, guys! That was ages ago. So, I’m feeling a little more stressed than normal about my selection this month. And, as we all know, stress isn’t something that really helps in a slump.
Poetry. It’s something I love but don’t often read these days. I blather on and on about my university days when I read Romantic poetry all the frigging time but I’m 30 now. As much as I don’t want to admit it, it’s been a while since I finished my degree and I’ve kind of lost my way with poetry. So, I’m always trying to get back into it. Obviously, I have my favourite Romantic poets and have a certain fondness for the greats. I’m talking Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Yeats, TS Eliot etc. TS Eliot’s Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock is one of my favourite ever works of poetry. It shares the top spot with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner but I’ve discussed this before. My issue is contemporary poetry. I guess the closest I get to really loving contemporary poetry is the work of First World War poets. So, you know, not at all contemporary. It’s not that I hate it; I just don’t have the same love for it. Recently I’ve been trying to push myself to read more. It was this quest that got me to pick up Rupi Kaur’s collection Milk and Honey and Amanda Lovelace’s the princess saves herself in this one. Both collections were ones I’d seen praised all over social media and the internet as a whole. I expected to be blown away. I wasn’t.
As I started typing this last night I’d literally just finished watching the second season of the Netflix original show 13 Reasons Why. The first series was based on the popular YA novel by Jay Asher. It showed us the aftermath of a teenage girls suicide and the discover of thirteen tapes she recorded before she died. On them, Hannah outlined all of the reasons she had for killing herself and demanded that they be passed between all of the people mentioned on the tapes. I wasn’t a fan of the first season but mostly because i thought it was just badly made. It was way too long and self-indulgent. On top of that, I think it failed to do what it was trying to. The message it was trying to tell got lost because it was too quick to make entertainment out of sexual assault and suicide. There were far too many depictions of rape on-screen especially considering the audience it was targeted for. It seemed more interested in making headlines than in actually helping people. But mostly it was just boring and bad. Everything was dragged out way too long. What it did have was a complete story. We had reached the end of Hannah’s story
Anyone out there who is a fan of Harry Potter, so most of the reading population of planet Earth, will know that today marks the fictional anniversary of the fictional Battle of Hogwarts. On this day of fictional commemoration, the real author J K Rowling takes to Twitter to apologise to her fans for killing one of their favourite characters. This year she said sorry to her social media followers for the death of fan favourite Dobby, Harry Potter’s faithful House Elf-friend. In the past, she has made similar public apologies for killing characters such as Severus Snape, Remus Lupin, and Fred Weasley. And, as I sit here desperately wanting to go to bed but needing to write something for today’s post, I can’t but wonder why the fuck she bothers. I mean if it bothers her that much why kill them in the first place? It’s just more of her pathetic pandering to her fans to ensure that the Harry Potter gravy train she’s riding for the rest of her life never stops. And, really, every year I lose a little more respect for her as a writer.
So it’s been quite a while since I had a good old-fashioned rant about JK Rowling, hasn’t it. But now, only a few weeks after JK Rowling and David Yates caused a stir by brushing off the controversy surrounding Johnny Depp’s continued presence in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, the Harry Potter author is pissing off her fans once again. Over recent years, I’ve sort of become disillusioned with Rowling. Yes, she does a lot of great things and has used her money to aid some fantastic causes. That doesn’t mean she can get away with anything, though. Whether she means to or not, she has allowed herself to gain a certain sense of entitlement that only goes with becoming the world’s richest author. Just look back on the moment when she acted like a victim when it was revealed she had written The Cuckoo’s Calling.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan then I’m sure you, like me, grew up dreaming of going to Hogwarts. As a kid there was nothing that seemed as exciting as being packed off to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn how to perform magic. Being stuck in school being taught how to do maths or learning about geography was nothing compared to being in a transfiguration or potions lesson. The teachers all seemed so much more interesting than my own and the headteacher was a sparkly blue-eyed old man with a love of traditional sweets. It sounded perfect for a child of 10. I’m kind of a grown adult now and can see that the whole school is just a joke. Every single year the headteacher cancels final exams. How the hell do the students get their qualifications? What kind of school system just gives students a free pass every year? In my first year of uni, my friend collapsed and had a fit on the way to our English Literature exam. I had to stop her from hurting herself while my other friends ran around campus to find a porter to ring an ambulance (because, stupidly, that’s how you had to do it). Did we get let off the exam and given a passing grade? Did we fuck? We sat that exam despite having no idea how our friend was. Because that’s life. If you go to Hogwarts and break a nail before an exam Albus would probably have let you skip it on emotional grounds.
I know it’s a children’s book but the education system of the wizarding world is a bit of shoddy. At the age of 11, all magical children in the UK are packed off, on a steam train, to the Highlands of Scotland to live in an old castle potentially full of terrible things. Then they are expected to follow a curriculum of solely magical learning, which, considering it’s a school of magic, is fine but surely it misses out some essential points. I mean, muggle children will no doubt have a background in the basics of Maths, Science and English but what of the wizarding kids? And do we really think that, at 11, they have got a good enough grasp of these subjects to survive? It means your only education is learning spells or potions and nothing else unless Muggle Studies covers literally everything outside of the wizarding world. Of course, that seems both unlikely and really stupid considering you can’t take it until your third year. Where are the basics of every person’s education? History of magic is fine but surely it’s still useful to know about the history of the muggle world. Wouldn’t they both be linked? Or are we expected to believe that those pesky World Wars just didn’t affect any magical person?
So, take a moment and imagine you’re a muggle who finds out their son/daughter is being accepted into Hogwarts. Currently, they’re in a primary school that you’ve handpicked to offer them the best start in life. You’ve gone over Ofsted reports and considered exam results. Then you find out they’re going to a school where they ignore that side of their education to focus on something extremely specific that holds no place in your world. Wouldn’t you be a bit worried? I mean you wouldn’t know anything of the wizarding world or the potential career path your child could follow. All you would know is that they wouldn’t be prepared for any kind of job you’d secretly been hoping they’d enter. It just seems like education at Hogwarts isn’t really taking the practicalities into account. Even specialist schools in the real world offer a subsequent education in the key subject matter alongside. It’s super important to give a well-rounded education; shame Hogwarts doesn’t support this.
What it does support though? Taking new kids and dividing them into houses based on certain personality traits and then promoting competition between the students. For a while now I’ve had a massive problem with the way JK Rowling uses the house system in Hogwarts. Throughout my education, we were split into groups to streamline the whole system but it was random chance or based on skill level. It certainly wasn’t based on who was the bravest, the kindest or the most suspicious. The books are terrible when it comes to describing the different houses and, thanks to the perspective of the narrative, completely biased towards Gryffindor. It’s no wonder that, as a kid, I would have been desperate to be in Gryffindor. As I grew up I saw that, really, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Gryffindors may be brave but they have no respect for rules or putting people in harms way. They’re basically the jocks in every teen movie. You know the ones that get by on their popularity but are eventually overthrown by the geeks.
Also, what is this opposition to Slytherin? There’s a girl I work with who always throws around the “Slytherin’ remark as an insult and it’s just stupid. Slytherins, as we are told, are loyal, ambitious, cunning and adventurous. If I wasn’t a Ravenclaw I’d rather be a Slytherin that a fucking Gryffindor. The books tell us that “there’s not a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin” but what kind of message is this? Not only is it not true (Peter Pettigrew) but what about the members of Slytherin that didn’t go bad? Unless, they actually all do but that prompts further questions. If you have a house that you know is full of future evil doers then either don’t allow them in the school or educate them into being good instead. This is a flawed system that should have been removed from the school once the founders had snuffed it. It’s a crazy system.
Still, it might just seem that way because the books don’t go too deep into it. I guess they are for kids. Although, even then the school doesn’t seem like the best place to live. For one thing, you have to get to grips with the fucking moving staircases so you’ll never be able to find your way around. How many first-year students get lost in that place every year? And, I can’t remember if this is just a movie thing or a book thing but teachers see to be getting pissed off when they’re late. How the hell is it their fault when the stairs have a mind of their own? Then there are the ghosts just hanging around and flying through kids. The talking portraits who just shout shit at the children walking past just seem like a weird addition to the mix. And Peeves? Heck, I love the guy but you’d have got rid of him centuries ago. He’s a menace to the teaching process.
Then you have the fact that there are plenty of ways for the students to get killed. For one thing, your school bullies have access to magic that can maim or, potentially, kill you. Then there’s the fact that Dumbledore hides philosopher’s stone in the castle by employing the services of a vicious three-headed dog and his only warning is exactly the kind of thing that would make children want to explore the third-floor corridor. Tell someone not to do something and that’s exactly what they’re going to want to do. Finally, there’s the Forbidden Forest, which is full of crazy killer spiders and god knows what else. Of course, this also doubles up as a potential place for detention. What kind of headteacher forces students to keep out of the forest only to allow Filch to send people in there as a cruel and unnecessary punishment?
Actually, why does Hogwarts even employ Filch anyway? The guy is clearly just an embittered and angry Squibb who hates the magical kids whose vomit he has to mop up. Filch is always on the verge of a mental breakdown that would very clearly include the death of most of the student body and probably some of the staff too. And it’s not the first weird hiring mistake that Dumbledore has made. He hired Quirrell as DADA teacher despite the fact that Voldemort was living in his fucking head. The following year he went and hired the most incompetent man in the world. Plus, let’s not forget that he was completely fooled by, or at least didn’t seem to care that Mad-Eye was actually Barty Crouch Jr. in disguise. How did he not realise that? The man’s supposed to be super intelligent and, it’s always suggested, that he can read people’s thoughts. I highly doubt that the insane Crouch was good enough at occlumency to stop the most powerful wizard of all time from hearing his desire to kill Harry Potter. Then you have the fact that Snape straight-up bullies like 3/4 of the school without repercussion.
And let’s talk about teachers for a moment; JK Rowling has said there are about 1000 students in the school and, from what we are told, there is one teacher for each subject. One teacher? 1000 students. How the hell do they get their marking done? How the hell do they work out the fucking schedule? My family contains a lot of teachers so I know how hard they have to work but this is a ridiculous situation. Even if they all had a time turner they’d be working nearly ever hour of the day. And yes, they probably have an enchanted quill to mark things and take notes and shit. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t loads to do still. When they aren’t teaching they’d be setting lesson plans, organising homework tasks and holding office hours in case 1 of their 1000 students needed help. It’s crazy. Hogwarts teachers need a fucking union. Also, before I forget, 1000 students and 1 medical professional? What the fuck?!?!
Now, it’s got to the point where I’ve ranted for far too long but you get the idea. Hogwarts is a fucked up school that expects parents to be happy sending their kids there. I wouldn’t be happy. Want your kid to get into Quidditch? Good luck. They only hold trials when one of the existing team leaves so, even if your kid if the best player around, they might never get a chance to play. Seems fair. And, on a final note, imagine being in the same year as Harry but not being one his friends. Wouldn’t you get tired of being overlooked because of the boy wizard? Wouldn’t it piss you off that you were slaving away in the library whilst he was copying off Hermione and getting away with it? Harry ignores the rules regularly and is rarely punished because he’s Dumbledore’s favourite. He’s not that great a wizard and actually learns very little but he’s always winning house points. There’s so much bias in that school that it’s ridiculous. Hogwarts always seemed like the most respected wizarding school but, now I’m older, I’m assuming that’s mainly due to the fact that it’s one of the few that exist in Europe.