Some advice: Post-Christmas Blues

Getting the blues is almost inevitable after the decorations have come down and the lights have been turned off. January is probably the worst month of the year in that respect: Christmas is over, there is no excuse to eat your entire body weight in chocolate, it’s back to work and back to school and a bunch of extremely annoying people are telling you to start a health-kick.

To top that all off, I had to return to a cold, rainy, grey and sunless Northern France for the worst month of the year.

So, to make this month slightly more bearable for you (and for me!), I have a few important tips:

  • Don’t force yourself to stick to a punishing diet: a raw, gluten-free, vegan, carb-free salad diet might help you shed some pounds quickly in the height of summer, but it is a bad idea to do this in the middle of winter. For one thing, you might need that extra padding for warmth (student housing, I’m looking at you). For another, cooking warm, hearty meals can make any rainy January day feel so much better. The diet can wait until the sun appears.
  • Stock up on reading materials: classic novels, cheap beach-reads, trashy magazines – who cares? Gather all your old favourites and one or two new reads and indulge yourself – preferably in front of a fire, with a steaming mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows. Perfect.
  • Get a colouring book! I know, not the most original idea. But they are best-sellers for a reason. I have found that colouring in Johanna Basford’s beautiful Secret Garden is both relaxing and satisfying. You don’t have to think about what you’re doing and generally will produce something pretty, whichever colours you choose.
  • Stick the radio on: listening to the radio is such a great way to feel better, whether it’s music or chatting, because the presenters put in all the effort that you seem to lack this month. Also, you can listen to the radio wherever you are in the world, so it’s also a good way to make you feel connected with those at home.
  • Get on the phone: or Skype, FaceTime or whatever you use! I know some people say that when you’re abroad or away from home at university you should avoid relying too much on people at home, but I think that’s rubbish. Sometimes the one thing that can make you feel better is a call to your loved ones, so just do it. Plus, they will want to hear from you too.

Books are for girls…and boys!

If you’ve ever studied literature, you’ll know that feminism and gender equality are among the favourite topics of academics. 

Almost every assignment I’ve ever been set has included an option to discuss women and how they are portrayed in texts, and I have not let one slip. I’ve written about sexism and sexuality, power and patriarchy, and lots more contained inside book covers. But I’d never thought much about the covers themselves. 

So you can imagine my conflict when asked to arrange the books at work into ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ sections. While this may be an effective sales technique, it went against everything I’ve ever written to exclude children from certain books, experiences and ideas based on their gender. And don’t even get me started on the colour of the ‘Girls’ section. (Clue: it wasn’t imaginative.)

Gender-based marketing is happening all over, especially for children’s products. Dolls and beauty products are often labelled ‘Girls toys’, whereas boys are directed towards action figures and cars. All this does is reinforce gender stereotypes that are not helpful or progressive.

Unfortunately I was unable to change the display. However, I would always encourage any child to be curious about books, games or toys that are not marketed for their gender. Adult fiction is not separated into ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ and neither should children’s fiction be separated so. If I want to read a book covered with pictures of creepy-crawlies, computers, and cars, I jolly well will.

Struggling to find your next great read? Never fear, a list is here!

When times are tough, a good book always makes me feel better. So for anyone wishing to take a break from their worries and dive into a new novel, here is a list of my Top 20 Books So Far.

  1. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  2. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  3. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  4. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  6. The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
  7. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence
  8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
  9. I know why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  10. The Awakening, Kate Chopin
  11. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  12. Atonement, Ian McEwan
  13. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  14. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  15. Therese Raquin, Emile Zola
  16. Dangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
  17. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  18. A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
  19. The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin
  20. The Jiggy McCue series, Michael Lawrence

Which books would make your Top 20? I’d love to hear your suggestions below.

The Organized Mind

Today is a wonderful day. As an English student, most of the literature I read was written before my great-grandparents were born. And while I love reading stories from literary giants, such as, Dickens, Hardy and good old Bill Shakespeare; their work is somewhat struggling to keep up with my life.

So, quite wonderfully, I have discovered a new book, written this century, that has already convinced me to read it cover to cover. And shockingly, it’s non-fiction.

Enter: The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin.

This Sunday Times bestseller ‘will teach you to function better, go further and find more time to do the things you actually want to do.’ Levitin teaches us about organisational systems through time, how the brain organises and categorises information and how we can put these to our advantage. This is a book that is not only aware of, but actively engages with the Internet and social media – at one point it directs us to a YouTube video – for useful, scientific purposes.

So far, I haven’t finished reading. But Levitin tells us that in the late 1600s, I might have given up on books altogether. He says that just like warnings we received against TV and computers, ‘intellectuals warned that people would stop talking to each other, burying themselves in books, polluting their minds with useless, fatuous ideas.’ This seems unbelievable. To think, that at one point academics actually discouraged reading! Luckily for Levitin, their ideas don’t seem to have been very influential. 

There are many more gems like that one in The Organized Mind, but I won’t give them all away. Except, I can’t help revealing that I love Levitin’s use of the feminine pronoun ‘she’ as standard. So it’s a feminist book too. Perfect.