My top 10 Academic Reads

“So, you’re at uni. What are you studying?”

“I study English Literature and Creative Writing”

        […]

Awkward pause (If I had named a Science/Engineering/Business degree, the pause would have been replaced with exclamations of ‘wow’, ‘that’s cool’ or ‘you’re so smart’ etc.)

Instead I continue with: “It’s great, lots of reading though! But I love it….”

The conversation of course doesn’t always go like that – just most of the time. But the funny thing is, I’m not lying when I say English Literature is lots of reading and I love it. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so, that when I finished my last academic set-text two weeks ago, I didn’t throw a party and swear to never pick up another book again. Instead I turned to the long list of books I’ve accumulated on my wish list over the years and hit the library and book shops.

Studying English Literature hasn’t made me hate reading, instead, it’s only served to invigorate my love for books and I will continue to be the girl who has more books than anything in her room, who spends hours browsing in Waterstones, or Foyles. Of course, I won’t miss the heavy, rambling theory, essay deadlines and exams as much. Or the books I was assigned that I didn’t enjoy (trying to get through Lolita and Heart of Darkness to name a few were excruciating) thankfully the nature of my degree meant that I could skip most of those ones…

Instead here’s a list of my favourite set-text books over the past four years:

 

  1. The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin 

An ambitious novel of anarchist utopia, The Dispossessed is my favourite assigned text I’ve read for my degree. It was on the list of one of my favourite modules – Alternative Lifeworlds Fiction (Science Fiction and the Weird). Sci-fi and dystopian narratives are my favourite genre to read as well as write in, and Ursula K. Le Guin being the Queen of sci-fi, I’m surprised it took me this long to discover this novel!

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

I had already read this novel for my Extended Essay when doing the International Baccalaureate. Returning to it in my second year at uni, for my 19th century literature module only confirmed the text as one of my favourites. Oscar Wilde is famous for his personality and witticisms as well as his writing. With many interesting theories about art and life, I think the final line of the preface to A Picture of Dorian Gray, ‘All art is quite useless’ – is a challenge to the reader. For studies or just for a good read, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading The Picture of Dorian Gray.

  1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

This novel is the heart-breaking story of Oscar, who lives with his Dominican family in New Jersey. The novel is humorous, sad, moving and deeply poignant for our time, raising important questions about the tenuous historical relationship between the Dominican Republic and North America and the life of the Dominican diaspora in America. I quickly read Diaz’ other published works, his short story collections, Drown, and This is how you lose her – both of which I’d highly recommend.

  1. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

Similar to the previous title, I recently read A Fine Balance for a new module about Global cities. Mistry’s novel is set in an ‘unidentified city’ with many hints that it’s Mumbai. The long epic novel, is about how various characters from very different backgrounds come together in a turbulent time in history. A Fine Balance takes you on an emotional rollercoaster engaging you so deeply in the characters’ struggles its hard to put down, even through their most devastating moments.

  1. Accelerando, Charles Stross 

Accelerando is unlike any other science fiction novel I have ever read. It’s title refers to the speeding up of time and development of humanity as the novel charts three generations of a family into the future. Despite the complex themes and concepts the novel handles, I found it a mind-blowing enlightening read and will definitely have to revisit it at some point as there’s so much to get out of Stross’ complex, world.

  1. The Female Man, Joanna Russ

The Female Man is a  radical feminist, science fiction. It cleverly  deconstructs many myths concerning gender. The novel follows four different women living in parallel worlds. The contrasts between the worlds and the way the women’s lives intersect not only made it a dream to analyse but also a great read.

  1. Midnight Robber, Nalo Hopkinson

One of the great things about the Science-Fiction module I studied, is that it interested me to Afro-Futurism. In the future, seven-year-old Tan-Tan Habib finds herself travelling through time to an alternate universe version of her city called New Half-Way Tree. Recently I read this great article that says: “In order to find purpose and affirmation, a Black artist must undermine time and space as we know it to find a place for his or herself.” It’s novels like Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, that achieves this and more.

8. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

I don’t normally read comics and yet I thoroughly enjoyed Satrapi’s graphic autobiography. Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s early adult and years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. The comic is not only educational but it’s very clever in how it draws the reader in through the images to engage with the author’s emotional journey growing up in a world of revolution.

  1. Ilustrado, Miguel Syjuco

I tend to get frustrated with unreliable narrators, however the narrator in Ilustrado leads the reader deep into the lives of the two protagonists, Miguel Syjuco and his dead mentor. On the surface Ilustrado is a mystery, focused on Miguel’s search for his dead mentor’s missing manuscript, however this search becomes about so much more.  

  1. Bleak House, Charles Dickens

With over 800 pages, Bleak House is a trek of a novel, and yet it’s completely worth the read. It’s often described as the first murder-mystery novel. But what really sells the novel for me is Dicken’s unforgettable, hilarious and well-developed characters.

 

Some honourable mentions that almost most the list, and I would definitely recommend to others are – My Brilliant Friend by Ella Ferrante and Ursula K. le Guin’s short story, “Those Who Walk Away from Omeleas”.

My favourite discovery on my course was the incredible poet and activist Audre Lorde. While her collection “The Black Unicorn” wasn’t assigned to me, I thoroughly enjoyed writing about her and soon went on to read her alternative ‘biomythography’ – Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.

Being assigned books has meant that I’ve of course had to study books I didn’t enjoy but it has also forced me to read outside my comfort zone and there’s nothing like enjoying a book you wouldn’t have come across of your own volition.

What books have you studied or that were recommended to you and you ended up liking?

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Goodbye Paris, Goodbye EU

Two weeks ago my parents drove to Paris to take me home. We had chosen the worst day and worst hour to move out as France were playing against the Republic of Ireland and the fan zone in the Eiffel Tower Park was crowded with hundreds of football fans. Nevertheless, we eventually finished carrying all of my boxes and bags down the seven flights of stairs, I said goodbye to my lovely landlords and to the small chambre de bonne in which I had been staying in for the past nine months and finally, goodbye to Paris.

I’ve had an amazing year. Paris is expensive and working part time as an au pair and having the Erasmus grant gave me some breathing space. It’s also meant that I’ve had privilege to travel to Ireland, Bordeaux, Valencia, Brussels, Germany and Italy from Paris.

IWP_20160207_21_00_22_Rich‘m going to miss a lot of things; seeing Parisians carrying and already eating their baguettes on the streets (back home they call them French sticks…?), the fresh bread, pain au chocolat, art museums, sitting by the Seine, the French brasseries, the crêperies, the tiny, but very chic Parisian bars where my and friends and I often ended up drinking over-expensive glasses of wine on the terrasse, being in the fan zone for the free David Guetta and Zara Larsson concert, the two girls I looked after, the Versailles gardens… even just having to constantly try to speak French. I think my brain will miss the extra challenge! But most of all I’m going to miss, walking down Avenue de Suffren in the evening, after a long day and seeing the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle on the hour.

It was strange seeing many of my friends who chose not to do a year abroad post on Facebook results of their degrees and how they are relieved their dissertations are over. I still have to go back to Warwick for my final year and yet I know choosing to do a year abroad was the right decision for me. It wasn’t always easy, being in Paris when the attacks happened and my friends and I have had our fair share of disagreements with how some of the ways things are done at Paris-Sorbonne. But it has always been a learning experience, through the highs and lows.

For anyone considering doing an Erasmus year; if you’re looking for a bit of an adventure, a time when for once your studies do not have to be your priority, the chance to travel, to experience a new culture and meet people all over the world then I cannot recommend this experience enough.

We live in an increasingly globalised world where unlike hundreds of years ago, it is much easier for some people to jump on a plane and cross continents in a matter of hours instead of months. Growing up in an international school at Eindhoven has definitely shaped my perspective on how I view the world, but I think it was the first time that I travelled without my parents to Spain, for a volunteering camp where I helped Spanish students with English, that I first really caught the travelling bug.

I was devastated to find out on the morning of 24th June that the UK had voted to leave the EU. Two days before officially ending my Erasmus year it was very sad to know that in the future, other UK students may not have the chance to be part of the Erasmus programme anymore. In such an increasingly globalised world it seemed shocking that the UK were taking steps away from unifying with other European countries in terms of valuable trade and services, instead it feels like we are taking fatal steps back into our past stances of isolationism.

I don’t want to go on a political rant, however I felt that I could not write my goodbye post to Paris without mentioning the referendum. I of course voted Remain, and it seemed that most people in my social circle, young people, students and English expats voted the same.

Because I am:

  • An ex-English expat,
  • A student at Warwick University where a large portion of the students and staff are EU and international students,
  • An Erasmus student
  • And the grandchild of grandparents who moved from Jamaica to London in the ’60s in the hopes of a better life,

I voted Remain. I stand by that vote after Boris and Farage suddenly left their posts as head leaders of the leave campaign and several of their promises have revealed to be lies. I stand by that vote after hate crimes against immigrants have been seen to be on the rise in the UK.

I don’t think the EU is perfect and I’m aware that serious changes need to be made in the EU and in the UK; with the NHS and poorer areas of our country where unemployment is leading people to desperation.

I don’t think that leaving the EU was the right change we needed to make. And so I will head back to the UK in October, slightly scared and worried about the divided country I will return to. Hopefully we are only going through the worst of it now, and things will pick up politically and economically for the UK. Now that the deciding vote has been cast we can only wait and see. I am just thankful that I will have my many, warm memories of ‘Pah-ree’ to look back on when I return.

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One Month in and I’m Learning

It is 14:20 on a Friday, the last of my first week of classes and we’re starting late because half of the class struggled to find the room in the Latin area of Paris-Sorbonne University. Nevertheless it’s a beautiful room and a reminder that we’re in a university that is hundreds of years old. The back wall is made up almost entirely of large square windows that look out to the rooftops of the Sorbonne and central Paris. It’s a warm day so the classroom is filled with bright sunlight that filters in through the windows. The tutor begins the session with a hopeful smile on her face but is quickly interrupted by a loud SKREEEECCH that goes on and on. All of the students’ head swivel to the windows that once seemed so great as windows of light that have now become windows of noise to some building works that is going on nearby.

I start with this story because I think it pretty much sums up how my first two weeks at the Sorbonne have gone. This Monday marks my first month in Paris and while I continue to settle into my new home there have been many obstacles and challenges. And when I say obstacles and challenges I mean dealing with French administrative matters!

I knew it was going to be difficult leaving one university in one country and transferring temporarily to another in France and I had heard the stories about French bureaucracy. Nevertheless after having two weeks of practically a mini extra holiday in Paris, the first week of classes was a sharp contrast of intense paper-work drama.

Some things that I have learnt:

  • The French love their queues.
  • Check and check again forms that you send off because when filling in pages of paperwork you’re apparently almost always guaranteed to miss a section or two and have to start again.
  • If there’s something you want to get straight in French, numbers is definitely a good way to start so as to avoid any mistakes when making appointments.
  • While the Sorbonne is a beautiful building it is a MAZE inside.
  • No matter how much you try and prepare for things sometimes the best thing you can prepare for is to expect for things to go wrong.

Looking back on the ups and downs I know that no difficulty was really worth stressing over and when I say that sometimes you have to prepare for things to go wrong, I mean it in the best way. Saying goodbye to my average six hour schedule at home to change it for the 20 hour schedule I have in Paris has been hard but also an opportunity to try out new academic experiences which I’m already beginning to enjoy.

I like the French system of having the choice to be graded for sports. I love LOVE being able to stop at a boulangerie in between classes and pick up a croissant or baguette for later. I love walking through the streets and goggling the beautiful Parisian apartment buildings. In addition, while I spend much more of my time travelling on the metro than I’m used to, I love the fact that every arrondissement in Paris is different. There is almost always something going on and twice now I have stumbled out of the metro to find myself in the midst of some exuberant parade.

When I was younger the image I had of Paris was of city full of romantic, chic people and painters wearing berets and black and white striped shirts or musicians playing melancholy tunes on the corner of every boulevard. In some ways it is like that. My friends and I can’t help but comment on Top Ten Things you’ll never see Parisian Girls Doing, and walking down Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore in the 8th quarter with all of the high end fashion shops does make me feel a bit like I’m in one of the later episodes of ‘Sex and the City’. However for the most part Paris is a city just like any other with its grit and noise and angry drivers.

The most ‘real’ experience I’ve had so far was when attending a party for a new-born baby in Vincenne. In one of my first weeks I found myself in a house, (which was strange as Paris seems to be full of apartment buildings) amongst many French people. We drank champagne and ate some strong cheese that I wasn’t sure if I was in love with or if it was going to make me sick. It was intimidating but for some strange reason it made me feel more settled and less of an outsider/tourist than when my friends and I had taken selfies eating macarons in front of the Eiffel Tower. Instead it was being surrounded by French people and understanding only around fifty percent of what was going on, but in knowing that one day I might be just as fluent and chic, made me think; yes, I can do this!

 

*Site à voir: Mussée de L’Orangerie*

Famous for showcasing Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’, which are amazing. What I didn’t expect was the other numerous collection of paintings from other French impressionists such as Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir and Marie Laurencin downstairs! Definitely a great art museum.

Impressionists

Pictures: ‘Nympheas’, Claude Monet; ‘Femmes au chien’, Marie Laurencin; ‘Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota’, Amedeo Modigliani