Sunday, 27 September 2015

September Reads

You can tell the school term started this month because I read a lot of YA novels, a staple for when I can't get my head around complicated non-fiction and want to be able to start and finish a book in the same weekend.

1. In What We Left Behind*, we meet Gretchen and Toni, who fell in love the first time they saw each other at a high school dance. So going to college in different cities presents a challenge for their relationship; Toni's gradual coming to terms with her trans identity an even bigger one. A valuable story for teens, whether they are trans themselves or not.

2. I raced through Everything Everythingin the space of an evening, powered along by the strong narrative voice provided by Madeline. Seventeen years old and confined to her house by a life-threatening allergy to the outside world, Madeline is perfectly happy studying, reading, and hanging out with her beloved mother. But everything changes when Olly moves in next door, together with his troubled family. Although I found the 'twist' in Everything Everything easy to guess, the characters of Olly and Madeline, and their sweet love story, made it a more than worthwhile read.

3. I'm not the first, and I won't be the last, to compare Only Ever Yours to Mean Girls crossed with Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. In a future dystopia, a class of thirty 16-year-old's - designed, created and hatched - are preparing for a future either as wives and mothers of sons, or as concubines. A scathing indictment of the cult of celebrity and beauty, a terrifying vision of misogyny, and a pitch-perfect evocation of teenage girlhood all in one, Only Ever Yours will stay with me for a long time.

4. High school senior Mercedes has an absent father, an emotionally absent mother, a Christian best friend who she joins for regular prayer circles, and a big secret: she's the go-to girl for losing your virginity. Firstsread to me a little like the movie, Easy A, but if Olive actually had slept with all the guys (that, by the way, is a compliment: I love Easy A), and I especially loved the characters of Zach, Mercedes' chemistry lab partner and Wednesday lunchtime shag buddy, and Faye, the new girl in school. The novel has a weirdly ambivalent attitude to rape, however: several scenes clearly describe non-consensual sex, or the attempt thereof, yet the term 'rape' is never used once.

5. I found myself feeling rather disquieted in Waterstones recently when I realised just how many YA novels there are about suicide. In I Was Here Forman (author of If I Stay) again demonstrates her talent for tackling the complex issues of grief and loss. Narrator Cody has lost her best friend - bright, beautiful Meg - to suicide, and we follow her as she struggles to make sense of Meg's actions.

6. An outcast and oddball at school, Francis's life becomes a lot more complicated with a diagnosis of leukemia. In Bloom grabbed my attention from the first page; Francis is an engaging and entertaining narrator, with shades of Adrian Mole, even if he does sometimes sound a bit too articulate and contrived to be a modern teenager.

7. After reading Sarah's thoughts on Furiously Happy* I hotfooted my way over to NetGalley to snag my own review copy, and I'm glad I did. Furiosly Happy is best described as a memoir of mental health; I didn't think tales of mental breakdown, depression, anxiety and mania could be this funny. Jenny Lawson's writing has been compared to David Sedaris and there are hints of Tama Janowitz and Sloane Crossley, too.

8. Not being a particular fan of Girls, I was pleasantly surprised by Lena Dunham's memoir/confessional Not That Kind Of Girl. The chapters on falling in love with jerks and choosing better for yourself would have been helpful to me at the age of twenty (and twenty two, and twinty five...), and she writes with a light wit and self-deprecation that is immensely likable.

9. I wanted something quick, formulaic and comforting to read in front of the fire on my day off, and Murder On The Orient Express fulfilled that nicely. One of my favourite Poirot's, both for its ingenious ending and for the wonderful period detail: it'll make you want to jump on a long-distance train.

10. Prior to winning plaudits for Room, Emma Donoghue tended to write lesbian romance novels; not of the Mills & Boon ilk, but quiet domestic relationship dramas, of which Landing is one. Following museum curator Jude in Ireland, Ontario and flight attendant Sile in Dublin, Ireland, who meet by chance when Jude is on one of Sile's flights, this is the story of their courtship by letter and email and subsequent long distance relationship. There's a sense of roman a clef about Landing once you know that Donoghue moved from Dublin to live with her now-wife in Ontario, and I suppose it's this that imbues all the drama of the novel with a sense of real emotion.

11. I really wanted to love The Versions Of Us, and not just because it's one of the most beautifully designed books of recent years. But sadly, I just wasn't feeling it and in fact didn't manage to finish it before it was due back at the library. The story of Eva and Jim, whose paths cross in 1958 in Cambridge, we are then presented with three differing versions of their lives based on how said meeting pans out. I think my problem was that three versions was one too many for me to keep up with; I kept having to turn back and check which was which. More importantly, I just didn't care enough about either Eva nor Jim, leaving me feeling pretty "meh" about the outcome of all the versions.

* An e-pub of these books were kindly provided to me by the publishers, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Big News!

I think it's obvious to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on social media that I've not been too happy in my job for a while now. As I explained last week, I love a lot about teaching, but at the moment there's far more I dislike.

So I'm super excited to share the news that I have a new job! Starting in October, I'll be the new Book Selections Manager for the Willoughby Book Club, a really wonderful local business that pioneered the 'books by post' subscription model. Yes, you read that right: my job will basically be choosing books. Doesn't that sound perfect?!

At least to begin with I'll be continuing my job at school, too, so I have to warn you that my already sporadic blogging schedule will no doubt become even more so. I'm feeling somewhat daunted by the thought of working two jobs at once, fitting my WBC hours around my time off from school (thank god for my Tuesday's off!). But I'm incredibly excited to be working for a small business I feel passionately about, and to experience life outside the classroom for the first time in over a decade.

And just in case that wasn't enough change and excitement in our house, Thomas has only gone and got himself employed as a Teaching Fellow! Considering the post-PhD job market for academics is pretty dire, to find a job that begins the day after he submits his thesis - and at the university here in Leicester too - is an absolute result.

Our new roles are both part-time, so once I reduce my hours at school (or leave entirely, as a hideous day today has made me very tempted to do) our finances are going to be really stretched. After the luxury of not really having to worry about money for the past few years it's this challenge that I'm most apprehensive about. I really believe, though, that this is for the best when it comes to my quality of life.

Change is scary, and I'm definitely daunted by what lies ahead of us. But, far more than that, I'm thrilled and excited that things have fallen into place so nicely. Thank you all so much for your kind comments here, and to everyone who's provided me with advice via Twitter or email, too. Here's to the future!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

What I Wore: Nautical Stripes

After an autumnal few weeks, today was just about warm enough to bare my legs for what is almost certainly the last time this year (that being said, I only lasted until the early afternoon, when the clouds moved in and I scampered to put on jeans and a jumper).

This dress was a bargain find back in June, setting me back the princely sum of £3. It's been a central part of my wardrobe this summer, being made of stretch jersey cotton and therefore a great dress to throw in a bag whenever we went away (it got a lot of wear in Canada, for instance).

And when I'm wearing nautical navy and white stripes, what better accessory than a swallow necklace, which harks back to sailors' tattoos? 

* Dress: New Look via charity shop * Cardigan: H&M * Belt: Peacocks *
* Necklace: Online purchase years ago * Sandals: Marks & Spencer *  

Monday, 14 September 2015

I Teach Therefore I Am?

I've been a teacher for ten years. A decade - half my adult life - spent working in the same school. And despite the challenges, despite the derision in the media, I love teaching and I'm proud of being a teacher.

When I first entered the profession I doubt anyone expected me to stick at it. I was renowned amongst friends and family for my mercurial nature, changing jobs, flats, and hair colours almost as often as I changed my clothes. It was therefore a surprise to everyone, myself included, that I didn't just stick to teaching: I excelled at it.

Whilst I roll my eyes at the concept of "a respectable member of society," teaching gave me the chance to become exactly that. After spending my early twenties going down some pretty bad paths, to find myself commanding the respect of a classroom full of teenagers, instead of in hospital or rehab, felt good. Teaching changed my life immeasurably for the better, giving me the resources to buy a house and travel, but also giving me the self-worth I'd been searching for, giving me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. In short, it made me grow up. 

So why, then, am I considering leaving the teaching profession?

I'm an excellent teacher, and in fact I've done the most effective work of my career in the past twelve months or so. But I'm not happy.

Why not? Well, there's the obvious answer - workload and stress - and that's a large part of it. You'll notice that I said in my opening paragraph that I love teaching and it's true: I love being in a classroom with a bunch of teenagers and leading them through the knotty problems of literature. However. I do not love the stuff that comes with being a teacher: the paperwork, the endless targets,  the constant pressure of Ofsted, the responsive marking (this is where the student writes a piece, I mark it, they reply to my marking, then I reply to their improvements. Brilliant idea, but imagine doing that every single week for every single student I teach). More than that, I detest being complicit in an education system that I believe actively damages young people.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to quality of life. I just don't have the energy anymore to give my all, day in day out, in the classroom. To psyche myself up to perform for five lessons, then complete all the planning and marking on top of that. At the moment I come home from work and all I'm capable of is sleep. I'm only 37, I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be feeling this exhausted all the time.

But right now I'm terrified. If I'm not a teacher, I don't know who I am. And I don't think I want to be a teacher anymore.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

What I Wore: Vintage 80s Style

Although the sun has deigned to show its face today, overall the summer's been pretty rubbish, weather-wise. However, here's evidence that we did have some nice weather this summer. I wore this outfit in the school holidays for a sunny Saturday bike ride followed by a picnic. I can't say a pair of wood-heeled sandals were ideal bike-riding attire, especially considering we returned home via the pub (where I had one too many ciders), but they look pretty so *shrugs*.

There's a story behind my purchase of this vintage madras-check skirt, though. When I was a kid, my family was friends with a couple called David and Sue and I basically idolised Sue. She was our piano teacher, and the leader of the choir at church in which I sang, and they lived in the most beautiful cottage with a huge garden, while we lived in a standard semi-detached on an estate. Sue wore fashionable clothes, things that had clearly been bought brand new, while ours - my mum's included - were cobbled together from jumble sale finds and hand-me-downs (of course, now I know that jumble sale finds are the best thing ever, but when you're 10 it's hard to understand that line of thinking). And I very clearly remember Sue wearing a madras check skirt exactly like this one, and thinking she was the coolest person ever.

So of course, when I was browsing in a vintage store a few months ago, it was a given that the madras check midi skirt would be coming home with me. My attempt at shortening it perhaps took a tad too much off - I don't think the new length is exactly right on my proportions - but it's otherwise really comfortable and fun to wear. And look, pockets!

* Skirt: Vintage * T-shirt: H&M * Tote bag: Ella Masters Studio *
* Belt: Peacocks (old) * Clog sandals: TK Maxx *

Monday, 7 September 2015

A Day Out In Haworth

Growing up in Bradford, Haworth - far up on the moors, away from the travel-clogged roads and council estates of the city - was a regular destination for weekend wanderings. Famously home to the Bronte sisters, who lived in the Parsonage for most of their lives, Haworth has become a site of literary pilgrimage for book lovers worldwide.

When I visited last weekend with my mum we didn't make the pilgrimage to the Parsonage Museum (although it's well worth a trip, it being fairly mind-boggling to see the rooms in which were written some of the best novels of the 19th century, and to read about the appalling living conditions in Haworth at the time). Instead, we spent a few happy hours strolling the cobbled streets, popping in and out of independent shops, and eating a delicious lunch.

Does Beavis & Butthead laugh at 'Penistone'

Those views! Almost twenty years living away from Yorkshire, and I still miss it so; Leicestershire just doesn't have anything to compare to the majesty of the Pennines.

Haworth is home to many a brilliant independent store, from antiquarian booksellers to old-fashioned apothecaries. My find of the day was the wonderful Hawksbys, the most incredible gallery space stuffed full of ceramics, paintings, prints, stationery and jewellry. I honestly could have bought half the shop, but went home with just a print and a necklace (for now - I'm sure I'll be back again soon to pick up more treasures).

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Buyer's Archive: August

Earlier this year Elise started a series called The Buyer's Archive as a way to track her purchases from year to year and figure out which items had been worth it, and which had already found their way to the charity bag (Donna and Steff are also now taking part in the series). As reducing my spending is always a goal, I decided to give it a go too. But let's not mention the fact that I don't seem to have reduced my spending at all since I started and move onto the purchases....

Salt Water sandals, Office £41.25 with 25% off voucher
I've wanted a pair of these since last summer and finally decided to take the plunge after finding a 25% off code. Of course, since I bought them the weather's been shocking, but fingers crossed I'll get plenty of wear out of them next summer if not this.

Flower necklace, Layla Amber via Hawksbys £19.50
Because how on earth could I not buy such a beautiful piece?!

Striped chambray dress, Gap £22.99
This purchase was entirely the fault of Jo (of Oh Hello Jo), who featured it in a post. Yep, entirely her fault, not my decision at all. I've already worn it quite a lot (in the brief moments when the weather hasn't been freezing, anyway) so I reckon it will turn out to be a good investment.

Ok, so let's talk addiction. My name is Janet and I have a problem: I cannot stop buying navy blue clothes. And if the item in question has polka dots or stripes (or perhaps a twee print)? No chance I can resist. Seriously, take a look at my last few buyer's archive posts: navy blue after navy blue, with the occasional pop of black (can one have a 'pop' of black?). I'm willing to admit that I have a real wardrobe obsession.

Bird print skirt, H&M £10 (not online) and Striped jersey dress, Gap £25 (both bought in Canada)
I was a little bored of my clothes when we were in Montreal so picked this skirt up to wear while sight-seeing. The dress was an impulse purchase on our last day in Toronto, as I wanted something comfortable to travel in. This fit the bill nicely and should get lots of wear with tights this autumn.

Emily & Fin cloud print dress, via eBay £30
I'd been stalking this dress for ages on various websites but could never convince myself to splash out the £70 price tag. So I was thrilled to find this brand new for a fraction of that price on eBay.

Striped tee, Gap £10 (with 20% off) and black linen tee, Gap £9.99 in the sale
I ended up having to return the striped top I featured in last month's archive, as it had a hole in it, so this striped t-shirt makes a decent replacement. Meanwhile, I was in need of a good quality, oversized black t-shirt to team with skinny jeans, so I was pleased to find this one in the sale while I was picking up the striped top.

Polka dot dress, Florence & Fred via a charity shop £2.25
Bargain of the month goes to this dress, which hits all three of my obsessions: Peter Pan collars, navy blue, and polka dots. It needs a good wash and I'll probably shorten it, but I reckon this will become a regular feature of my autumn wardrobe.

Burgundy cardigan, H&M £8.99 with 10% discount code
Finally - something that's not blue or black! I've been looking for a short burgundy cardi since last winter so when this new colour was introduced to H&M's Basics range, I pounced.

Striped top, H&M £11.79 with 10% discount code
I wasn't sure whether to include this here, as I'm still umming and ahhing about whether to keep it. Do I need another striped long-sleeved top? No. Do I want this one? Yes.

Polka dot jumper, H&M £14.99 (not pictured)
I needed new jumpers because my house is colder than the grave in autumn and winter. And can you believe that I didn't actually own a polka dot jumper until now? I know, weird right.

And so my total spend for August is £206.75 for twelve items, which is a stupid amount of money but, for the amount I got, perhaps not too bad. I also made full use of discount codes this month, with very little being bought for full price. That being said, I'm definitely not proud of the fact that my spending seems to be getting worse, not better, since I started this series! I really, truly am going to stop buying so many clothes this month. Honest guv.