Monday, 18 September 2017

Welcome to YC_Reading 2017 - the Yeovil College community for Library, Literacy and Literary Events!


Welcome to the YC Reading blog!

We have hosted a wide variety of literary events and competitions, and initiated literary initiatives at Yeovil College, and this academic year we'd like to invite you to join us in engaging with literature, fiction and creative writing. Because we know our students and staff are intelligent, passionate and focussed, we want to emphasise the sheer pleasure and escapism of reading. The joy of talking about books you love - or loathe - with fellow readers. Finding at least five minutes in your day to engage and escape into a compelling story is a welcome form of self-care, relaxation and peace.

Introducing #FictionFriday

Our Fiction Fridays have long been a staple of the @YC_Reading Twitter feed. Each Friday, our LRC staff would suggest a fiction book selection, or specific novel, that we recommended reading. These choices ranged in genre, complexity and subject - from sci-fi and fantasy to heartwarming memoirs and literary blockbusters. 
Each Friday, the Learning Centre will be tweeting our Fiction Friday choices. We’ll be using the hashtag “Fiction Friday” to promote this, and encouraging the college community to join in. What are you reading? What would you recommend? Tweet us, and we'll retweet your choices. 
(Positive interactions online are also a plus for your online identity)
We'll also be quizzing our staff in great depth (and with some great questions!) about their life in books. So each Fiction Friday, we'll be posting interviews with our Yeovil College staff members - with questions ranging from favourite adaptations and the first book they read to wildcard questions such as who would play them in a film of their life or which literary character they most resemble. And we'll be sharing their honest, hilarious, sometimes touching and occasionally quirky answers with you!
 Stay up-to-date by following us on Twitter or by visiting the Learning Centre page on Moodle and clicking on "Read and Explore".

Forthcoming Events

We'll also be posting about any literary events, literacy schemes and local events that may be of use or interest to the college community. Autumn is a great time for literary prizes, festivals, author tours and events. We're constantly looking for great reviews and opinion pieces about all things bookish - so whether it's your thoughts on a small screen adaptation (Game of Thrones, American Gods, Cuckoo's Calling or Outlander) or you have very strong opinions on certain characters/ storylines/ graphic novels/ etc - email us with your name, email address, tutor and the attached file (Word docs/PDFs preferred, links to Google Docs accepted) at: .
We're hoping to have more college based events coming up this autumn, and this is the best place to find out what's happening and when. In the meantime, please do scroll through our previous posts for a taste of what to expect.
Thanks for reading! And join us on Friday for our very first #FictionFriday interview.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Reasons To Stay Alive: Our Review of Matt Haig's Inspirational Memoir

There are many descriptive words we use to try and encapsulate the experience of reading a book that aligns almost magically with our own.

There are also not enough. We tend to read and re-read reviews and gushing adjectives so many times that we are almost numbed to their meaning. Honest, gripping, moving, hilarious, poignant, heartbreaking… We’re used to contemporary culture liberally sprinkling compliments as they bedeck their many artisan cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles.

There are, likewise, experiences which are hard to translate into words, and those where words elude us – they are too many, or too dangerous, or they escape expression, or maybe the same words repeat on a loop in our heads until we could scream.

There are books like “Reasons To Stay Alive” which manage to achieve this magical hat trick. Finding the right words, then describing the author’s experience of depression and panic disorder and anxiety in a compelling, emotionally resonant and achingly true account; and to do this in such a way that to read is to recognise parts of yourself that nobody else knows about and to be seen. To be understood.

The isolating nature of depression and anxiety is somehow alleviated through the recognition of experience and affinity with others who have the same or similar battles, and the same or similar battles scars. Matt Haig speaks openly and with raw candor about his experiences with depression and panic disorder, in short passages and sections that make them easy to read; a particular benefit that is instantly recognisable to anyone who experiences the pain and difficulty of being able to take in any information when dealing with severe depressive states. 

Haig focuses on describing and exploring his own experiences and feelings, and the lightness of touch and brevity of sections belies the stunning depths and sometimes darkness in what he so adroitly expresses. He makes it clear to the reader that this is his opinions, and the nature of his honest subjectivity is what allows us to connect and empathise so strongly with his story. He outlines what he personally has found useful in recovery and managing anxiety and depression, yet not in a prescriptive manner; rather, it allows us to see that tiny chinks of light within the darkness of chronic mental health conditions can slowly reemerge, providing hope and solace. 

Copies of "Reasons To Stay Alive" are currently available in the Learning Centre, along with a selection of resources about mental health, including selected "Reading Well" books. 

Monday, 7 March 2016

My Top Five... International Women's Day

This International Women's Day, we've chosen five excellent books written by women, focusing on specifically feminist themes and in keeping with the official theme for 2016's IWD - Pledge for Parity.  

A global day which focuses on celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, it also encourages everyone, of any and all genders, to pledge to help achieve gender parity and therefore true equality. Here in the Yeovil College Learning Resource Centre and Quiet Study Area, we've also prepared displays and resources to encourage and inspire our college community to further action and achievement.

Here are our Top Five reads for International Women's Day 2016 - all available to borrow from the Learning Centre today.

1) "I Am Malala" by Malala Yousafzai (Quick Reads edition)

This incredibly captivating and moving autobiography from a  truly inspirational young women is an absolute must read for International Women's Day. Malala is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and has valiantly fought for the rights of girls and young women to be educated, making her a target for the Taliban, who shot her in the head at point-blank range in 2012. This Quick reads edition is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to find out more about this incredible individual in her own words.

2)  "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.

This groundbreaking feminist dystopia remains startlingly horrific, relevant and thought-provoking. In a future where a fundamentalist religious and totalitarian elite rule over the United States, women are subjugated and tightly controlled by enforced conformity to Biblically precedented roles. Offred's one function in this society is to breed. Quietly she begins to resist and subvert her fate. A highly recommended read.

3) "The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou" by Maya Angelou

An emotionally honest, fiercely intelligent and tremendous writer, this collection of six autobiographies by the writer, poet, playwright and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is one of the most incredible books you'll ever read. Starting with her upbringing in the Deep South and dealing with extreme racism, violence, child abuse, and rape, her writing is searing, inspiring, harrowing and deeply moving.

4) "The World's Wife" by Carol Ann Duffy

This thoroughly enjoyable, subversive and poignant collection of poems reclaims and retells the tales of women excluded from myth, history and popular culture - from Mrs Aesop, Anne Hathaway and Delilah to Queen Kong and Elvis' sister. Its a great reminder of the importance of truly hearing and valuing women's myriad voices, experience and stories; something we, as a library, are passionate about.

5) "Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China" by Jung Chang

An autobiographical epic spanning three generations, "Wild Swans" focuses on the experiences and lives of three women during a time of turbulent change, war and political upheaval. From the story of her grandmother, concubine to a warlord, to her mother's Communist activism and eventual betrayal by the Party, to the author's own experiences as a Red Guard, a peasant, a barefoot doctor and journey to London to study, it's a fascinating and incredible book which is both a deeply involving, whole hearted memoir of impossible times, and an incisively intelligent and detailed social history.

What reads would you recommend this International Women's Day? Which female authors do you find inspirational? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet us @YC_Reading

Friday, 4 March 2016

Reclaiming Survivor Narratives Through Reframed Myths: Emma Donoghue's "Room"

(Possible spoilers and triggers ahead)

Emma Donoghue's innovative novel, "Room" is introduced with a quotation from the Greek myth of Perseus and Danae. Danae was a young woman imprisoned in a brass tomb deep below the ground, impregnated by Zeus then cast out to sea shut in a wooden box with her baby. The quote focuses on the purity and innocence of youth, amid horrors that the mother cannot escape nor ignore - indeed is compelled to bear, witness and ultimately survive.

That, ultimately, is what Room is about - told from the perspective of five year old Jack, whose entire life has been lived in one sealed room with his mother. Cleverly written and structured, the novel slowly unfolds its secrets at a compelling pace and depth, as both Jack, and the reader, come to realize the truth and urgency of the situation.

From the first paragraph, you're hooked.  Unsettling discord appears from the mention of" going to sleep in Wardrobe", and the reader is compelled to actively intuit and interpret the narrative whilst beguiled by its naivety and seeming simplicity. When Ma speaks of being pregnant "Through skylight", Donoghue instantly links her characters to the quoted myth of Danae, reclaimed and retold as a compelling survivor narrative and necessary unveiling of controversial truths for our time - when endemic violence against women is still an uncomfortable reality globally, and still specifically in the Western world. The almost mythic storytelling, through creating a different, reclaimed version of events provides a strong and compelling narrative. The mythic narrative, which prioritises and glosses over male appropriation, violence and privilege in Zeus- and the lack of consent and act of rape is now able to be challenged and made explicit.

However, the story unfolds through Jack's eyes, and this distancing therefore allows the co-existence of innocence and horror, a difficult and at times controversial juxtaposition, allowing for questions and examination of issues.

This narrative tour-de-force also allows the reader to truly appreciate the ingenuity and cleverness of Ma, whose supreme efforts in creating a safe world within a nightmare reality are truly amazing. Comforting rites of routine can also be read by the perceptive reader as testament to the will to escape and survive. Later on, when events reach crisis point, you truly appreciate how Ma has protected and trained her son.  We are shielded, along with Jack, during particularly disturbing scenes -but cannot avoid a harrowing understanding of events; although, again, we are brought to question whether this distancing, and the related proximity of childish innocence, makes what occurs more or less horrifying.

The action-packed middle of the novel is gripping and heart-in-mouth. The desperation of the mother is shown remarkably, harrowingly well through the son. Afterwards, the larger proportion  of the novel follows the aftermath of events. Whereas a more traditionally framed story would end here, at what may seem a triumphant ending, "Room" does not allow for easy answers. This divided opinion at the meeting - some readers in the club felt that the main action takes place in Room; that afterwards, the narrative momentum is essentially lost. Further debate led us to discuss how it could even be seen as a loss of innocence, or coming of age story - as Jack learns of the outside world, and begins to contextually frame his life so far in comparison to it.

Our book club choices this year have all dealt with children and the legacy of ill treatment, poor or absent parenting, trauma and war; all have explored, through a variety of genres and narrative techniques, the loss of innocence, and also its implications. It leads us to question whether, thematically, the artistic exploration of innocence and experience, the construction or destruction of families, and the role of the wider community is continually an ongoing human and mythic concern; or whether this speaks volumes about the specific concerns and preoccupations of modern society.

 Donoghue unsettles the reader's own assumptions or possible metaphorical reading. "Room" explores our need to make something meaningful out of horror and trauma to relieve it's otherwise meaningless burden.
It also asks about how we should narrate or tell traumatic experiences culturally - whose voice is speaking, how should they be told and who should be telling them? This is particularly pertinent, especially in a piece of imaginative fiction which uses real life stories in creating its vision, and which blurs the line between reality and fiction in doing so.

Perhaps this imaginative retelling - of both myth and true-life experiences - is the best use of fiction, allowing us to explore and examine atrocities and difficult questions through the safe realms and boundaries of the written.