Reading Project: #BookEnds2021

In 2021, I’ll be doing a wee project I’m calling #BookEnds where I try to finish all the unfinished books around my flat.

There’s a few reasons I’ve acquired so many unread or unfinished books. Some were given as gifts, or are second hand – quite a few are from family or ex-flatmates having a clear out. Some have been found in community bookboxes or were something I picked up for university.

Then sometimes there are books that were bought but fell between the cracks and were left as ones to get back to.

Well, 2020 is their year!

A small taster of what’s waiting for me…

The goal is to finish as many as I can and either keep or pass them along. Being honest, there are some books that I’ve had for years, and attempted so many times I’ve lost count. This project might be the time to admit I might never finish them and give them to someone who will!

That being said, I have sketched out two rough rules:

  1. I’m still allowed to buy the book for my monthly book group
  2. When buying books, I’ve got to try and keep it to one at a time
I can never resist the opportunity to quote Barbossa.

I’m probably not going to manage to read all 88 of them – unless someone pays me to do that full-time in the name of “science”, I will accept any and all applications for this role.

But I think all books deserve a chance and if I don’t love them, it’s time to be honest and give them to someone else.

You can follow my progress on my Twitter account, where I’ll be using #BookEnds2021 for everything.

Here is the full list for those of you who are interested (in alphabetical order) as of the 2nd January 2021:

Fiction

Fiction

  • The Dirk Gently Omnibus, Douglas Adams
  • The Power, Naomi Alderman
  • Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
  • One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson
  • Not the End of the World, Kate Atkinson
  • Ordinary Thunderstorms, William Boyd
  • Waiting for Sunrise, William Boyd
  • Any Human Heart, Wiliam Boyd
  • Restless, William Boyd
  • His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet
  • Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey
  • The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton
  • Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon
  • Arrival, Ted Chiang
  • Undermajordomo Minor, Patrick deWitt
  • Akin, Emma Donoghue
  • Alone in Berlin, Hans Fallada
  • Welcome to Nightvale, Joseph Fink
  • Here I Am, Jonathon Safran Foer
  • Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder
  • Clara, Janice Galloway
  • Jellyfish, Janice Galloway
  • Less, Andrew Sean Greer
  • City of Jasmine, Olga Grjasnowa
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Peter Høeg
  • The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide
  • The Bone People, Keri Hulme
  • Avenue of Mysteries, John Irving
  • The Invisible Child and The Fir Tree, Tove Jansson
  • Fin Family Moomintroll, Tove Jansson
  • Comet in Moominland, Tove Jansson
  • The Summer Book, Tove Jansson
  • Wait For Me, Jack, Addison Jones
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service, Eiko Kadono
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo, Hiromi Kawakami
  • The Shining, Stephen King
  • The History of Bees, Maja Lunde
  • Blue Ticket, Sophie Mackintosh
  • The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
  • The Hound of the D’Urbervilles, Kim Newman
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
  • Damned, Chuck Palahnuick
  • The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney
  • After Me Comes the Flood, Sarah Perry
  • The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry
  • My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok
  • The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
  • Orkney, Amy Sackville
  • Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple
  • The Rosie Result, Graeme Simison
  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
  • The Little Friend, Donna Tartt
  • Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Yoko Tawada
  • The Bricks that Built the Houses, Kae Tempest
  • Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín
  • Pine, Francine Toon
  • The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
  • Blackout, Connie Willis
  • Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
  • All Clear, Connie Willis
  • The Powerbook, Jeanette Winterson
  • The Fifth Head of Cerebus, Gene Wolfe

Classics

  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
  • The Professor and Emma, A Fragment, Charlotte Brontë
  • Vilette, Charlotte Brontë
  • Murder is Easy, Agatha Christie
  • My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin
  • Lanark, Alasdair Gray
  • Brighton Rock, Graham Greene
  • The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall
  • Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
  • The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré 
  • Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
  • Love In Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
  • Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  • The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein

Non-Fiction:

  • Writing Home, Alan Bennett
  • Superstition, Sally Coulthard
  • A Sting In the Tale, Dave Goulson
  • Pandora’s Jar, Natalie Haynes
  • Censored, Matthew Fellion and Katherine Inglis
  • Girl in the Dark, Anna Lyndsey
  • Mantel Pieces, Hilary Mantel
  • There are Two Errors in the Title of this Book, Robert M. Martin
  • Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks
  • Awakenings, Oliver Sacks
  • The Art of Flight, Fredrik Sjoberg
  • Rasputin and Other Ironies, Teffi
  • Into The Woods, John Yorke

Poetry

  • Miss New Zealand, Jenny Bornholdt
  • Summer, Jenny Bornholdt
  • The Cinnamon Peeler, Michael Ondaatje
  • It’s About Time, Lesley Storm

Graphic Novels

  • Paper Girls Vol. 1, Vaughan and Chaing
  • The Thrilling Adventuers of Lovelace and Babbage, Sydney Padua
  • Nimona, Noelle Stevenson

Books: Favourites of 2020!

Before we move into a much more optimistic year (hopefully – I trust nothing) I thought I would reflect on the books I loved that helped me through it.

Reading has always been a big part of my life, but this year I realised there was more to it. I need to read. It gives me a break from my own brain, and the world around me.

I learned a bit about the concept of “creative flow” which, very roughly, is the idea that engaging in creative, expressive experiences is akin to a form of meditation – one that doesn’t require you to sit still and be alone with your thoughts. It’s not a perfect explanation for why I need to read, but there is some overlap – the act of making space to listen, imagine and engage can let your brain take a little bit of a holiday.

So, without further ado, here are the books that let me take the best “brain vacations”:

The Chonky Reads
Sometimes you just want a huge book that will grab you and not let go of you for a couple of weeks. For me this included The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichiro Tanazaki (trans. Edward Seidensticker). Originally published serially, the story follows four sisters between Osaka, Ashiya and Tokyo in the lead up to World War II. It was a totally immersive world filled with rich descriptions of the family houses, intricate relationships and I also learned a lot about early 20th century Japanese etiquette – an unexpected but fascinating bonus.

I also seriously enjoyed Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (trans. Anthea Bell) which was so much better than the Brendan Fraser film would have you believe (sorry Brendan). It’s a nice balance of being written for a younger audience – and so, not overly complex – whilst still having rich settings and lots of twists and turns. It’s also an amazing love letter to reading.

Character Rich Stories
I was recommended The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell a few years ago, but my copy was stuck in my parent’s attic. Luckily for me (and them) they moved this year! I won’t lie, I found the first hundred pages or so a little tricky to get into – it was heavy with Dutch trading rules – however, it really did make sense once I got to later aspects of the story which I could not put down. I also cried so heavily at the ending that I couldn’t go to sleep for over an hour afterwards and my partner had to calm me down. Sorry Doug. I owe you one!

On a more experimental note, I picked Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami after hearing people mention it when talking about translated fiction. I’m glad I went in knowing nearly nothing – it’s a very unique book, originally two novellas that have been put together in a way that totally works. It’s a very honest examination of being a woman and motherhood. I think I’ll want to re-read it soon, even if it’s just for the atmosphere of a hot summer’s day in Tokyo.

Fast-Paced Plots
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha follows four women, all living in the same block of flats, in modern day Korea. It’s a ruthless examination of sexism, body image, plastic surgery, motherhood and how women shape themselves to fit in. My only critique is it ended before I was ready to let it go!

To Leave with the Reindeer by Olivia Rosenthal (trans. Sophie Lewis) is one of the weirdest books I have possibly ever read, but one of the hardest ones to get out of my head. The narrative is split between the voice of a young woman, dealing with a fractured relationship with her parents, and interviews with butchers, zoo-keepers, dog trainers. The uniting theme is animals in all their forms. It’s very odd and unpleasant to read at times, but captivating and an interesting examination of how fiction can be written.

It’s hardly news that I am recommending Becky Chambers – I love every single one of her books and am incredibly excited for both the end of her Wayfarers series and her new Monk and Robot series coming 2021. Nevertheless, I have to talk about To Be Taught, If Fortunate. It’s a gorgeous short meditation on space, and humanity’s place in it.

Non-Fiction
I usually listen to my non-fiction instead of reading it, but this year I finally found and snapped up a copy of The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein. It follows the true story of Sandra Pankhurst who now runs her own business cleaning crime scenes and abandoned homes, but who was at one time, a drag queen, a father and a husband who lived through extreme transphobia in 1950s Australia. She has an amazing story to tell, and I think Krasnostein tells it with grace. I am gutted I gave my copy of this one away!

Poetry
The Air Year by Caroline Bird has already had a lot said about it by far more eloquent people than me, but I just wanted to say I think everyone should read some of the poems in this collection. At once hilarious, astute and bizarre.

Similarly, I think Roger Robinson’s A Portable Paradise is the collection we need right now. He writes unflinchingly about the realities of racism in England and Grenfell Tower. It won the T.S. Eliot 2020 prize and I cannot think of a better recepient.

Saffron Jack is a long, experimental poem – riffing off Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Man Who Would Be King”. I read the Kipling story before diving into this piece, but I don’t think it’s neccesary. Dastidar has created something with heartbreaking naivete that takes turns making your stomach drop and bringing a smile to your face.

Poetry is at its most skilled when its evocative but there’s still some room for interpretation. The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate by Rachel McCrum was actually a re-read but it felt like I got to experience it for the first time all over again. There are gentle poems which tell clear stories, but then there are also clever lyrical pieces which force you to stop and think. They grow and chance as you do – the best thing a piece of literature can do!

12 books for you – one for each month! If you’re interested in everything I read (not including cereal boxes and road signs) here is the full list:

Fiction:

  • “Out”, Natsuo Kirino
  • “A Severed Head”, Iris Murdoch
  • “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”, Muriel Barbery (trans. Alison Anderson)
  • “Tangerine”, Christine Mangan
  • “The Corrections”, Jonathon Franzen
  • “Kim Jeyoung, Born 1982”, Cho Nam-Joo (trans. Jamie Chang)
  • “The Discomfort of Evening”, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (trans. Michele Hutchinson)
  • “The Makioka Sisters”, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki (trans. Edward Seidensticker)
  • “The House with the Stained-Glass Windows”, Zanna Sloniowska (trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones)
  • “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”, Grady Hendrix
  • “To Leave with the Reindeer”, Olivia Rosenthal (trans. Sophie Lewis)
  • “The Sellout”, Paul Beatty
  • “The Wandering”, Intan Paramaditha (trans. Stephen J. Epstein)
  • “The Wind that Lays Waste”, Selva Almada (trans. Chris Andrews)
  • “If I Had Your Face”, Frances Cha
  • “Little Fires Everywhere”, Celeste Ng
  • “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”, Iain Reid
  • “Arid Dreams”, Duanwad Pimwana (trans. Mui Poopoksakul)
  • “Attachments”, Rainbow Rowell
  • “To Be Taught, If Fortunate”, Becky Chambers
  • “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”, David Mitchell
  • “The Memory Police”, Yoko Ogawa (trans. Stephen Snyder)
  • “If Cats Disappeared from the World”, Genki Kawamura (trans. Eric Selland)
  • “Daughters”, Lucy Fricke (trans. Sinead Crowe)
  • “Breasts and Eggs”, Mieko Kawakami (trans. Sam Bett and David Boyd)
  • “Sense and Sensibility”, Jane Austen
  • “May We Be Forgiven”, A.M. Homes
  • “Scabby Queen”, Kirstin Innes

Non-Fiction and Memoirs:

  • “Tiny Beautiful Things”, Cheryl Strayed
  • “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?”, Jeanette Winterson
  • “The Trauma Cleaner”, Sarah Krasnostein
  • “Tiny Moons”, Nina Mingya Powles
  • “The Comfort Food Diaries”, Emily Nunn
  • “Wow, No Thank You”, Samantha Irby

Young Adult

  • “Inkheart”, Cornelia Funke (trans. Anthea Bell)
  • “Evermore”, Alyson Noel
  • “One of Us is Lying”, Karen McManus
  • “The Fault in Our Stars”, John Green
  • “Turtles All the Way Down”, John Green

Poetry:

  • “Selected Poems”, T.S. Eliot
  • “The Republic of Motherhood”, Liz Berry
  • “Blackish”, Tyrone Lewis
  • “Quines”, Gerda Stevenson
  • “Night Sky with Exit Wounds”, Ocean Vuong
  • “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much”, Hanif Abdurraqib
  • “The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx”, Tara Bergin
  • “On Balance”, Sinead Morrissey
  • “Conquest”, Zoe Brigley
  • “In the Pockets of Small Gods”, Anis Mojgani
  • “Magnolia, 木蘭”, Nina Mingya Powles
  • “The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate”, Rachel McCrum
  • “My Darling from the Lions”, Rachel Long
  • “The New Testament”, Jericho Brown
  • “Ariel”, Sylvia Plath
  • “Black Country”, Liz Berry
  • “A Portable Paradise”, Roger Robinson
  • “Wain”, Rachel Plummer
  • “Saffron Jack”, Rishi Dastidar
  • “Running Upon the Wires”, Kae Tempest
  • “Wristwatch”, Jay Whittaker
  • “Still Falling”, Sara Hirsch
  • “Let Me Tell You This”, Nadine Aisha Jassat
  • “Like”, A.E. Stallings
  • “In These Days of Prohibition”, Caroline Bird
  • “Songs from Under the River”, Anis Mojgani
  • “Plum”, Hollie McNish
  • “Our Numbered Days”, Neil Hilborn
  • “Finding Sea Glass”, Hannah Lavery
  • “The Air Year”, Caroline Bird
  • “Iona Lee”, Iona Lee
  • “Blue Horses”, Oliver Mary
  • “Unexpected Vanilla”, Hyemi Lee (trans. So J. Lee)

Children’s Books

  • “Peas!”, Andrew Cullen and Simon Rickerty
  • “Mopoke”, Philip Bunting
  • “Here Comes Frankie”, Tim Hopgood
  • “The Dot”, Peter H. Reynolds
  • “This Is Not a Book”, Jean Jullien
  • “My Big Shouting Day”, Rebecca Patterson
  • “It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny”, Marilyn Sandler and Roger Bollen
  • “In the Swamp by the Light of the Moon”, Frann Preston-Gannon
  • “There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie”, Rebecca Colby and Kate McLelland
  • “We’re All Works of Art”, Rose Blake and Mark Sperring
  • “This Is Not My Hat”, Jon Klassen
  • “Moomin”, Tove Jansson

In 2021, I am trying to tackle all the unfinished books in my flat and will be tweeting my progress with #BookEnds2021. I hope to see you there!

Books: What I Read in 2019

Hello all! It’s been a hot minute since I wrote a blog post. So to ease into 2020 I thought I’d do a list of all the books I read in 2019.

For those of you who don’t know me, I love lists almost as much as I love books. Apps like Goodreads, Letterboxd and threads on Twitter satisfy some part of my brain that nothing else can. So, naturally, I keep a record of everything I read.

Fiction:

  • “All the Hidden Truths”, Claire Askew
  • “The Muse”, Jessie Burton
  • “Hings”, Chris McQueer
  • “The Chemist”, Stephanie Meyer
  • “Normal People”, Sally Rooney
  • “The Lottery and Other Stories”, Shirley Jackson
  • “Alias Grace”, Margaret Atwood
  • “The Sisters Brothers”, Patrick deWitt
  • “The Gloaming”, Kirsty Logan
  • “Vox”, Christina Dalcher
  • “The Mars Room”, Rachel Kushner
  • “Big Little Lies”, Liane Moriarty
  • “Faking Friends”, Jane Fallon
  • “Oryx and Crake”, Margaret Atwood
  • “Daisy Jones and the Six”, Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • “Our Endless Numbered Days”, Claire Fuller
  • “Conversations with Friends”, Sally Rooney
  • “Disobedience”, Naomi Alderman
  • “Invitation to a Bonfire”, Adrienne Cult
  • “The Happiness Machine”, Katie Williams
  • “Convenience Store Woman”, Sakuya Murata (trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori)
  • “Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle”, Luke Jennings
  • “Killing Eve: No Tomorrow”, Luke Jennings
  • “Crimson”, Niviaq Korneliussen
  • “Oranges are Not the Only Fruit”, Jeanette Winterson
  • “Crazy Rich Asians”, Kevin Kwan
  • “Northern Lights”, Philip Pullman
  • “The Road Through the Wall”, Shirley Jackson
  • “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”, Aimee Bender
  • “Supper Club”, Lara Williams
  • “The Farm”, Joanne Ramos
  • “Animals Eat Each Other”, Elle Nash
  • “My Name is Monster”, Katie Hale
  • “The Gracekeepers”, Kirsty Logan
  • “The Goldfinch”, Donna Tartt
  • “Fangirl”, Rainbow Rowell
  • “The New Me”, Halle Butler
  • “Queenie”, Candice Carty-Williams
  • “Things We Say in the Dark”, Kirsty Logan
  • “The Secret History”, Donna Tartt
  • “The Panopticon”, Jenni Fagan
  • “Lives of the Monster Dogs”, Kirsten Bakis
  • “Water Shall Refuse Them”, Lucie McKnight Hardy
  • “My Sister, The Serial Killer”, Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • “A Closed and Common Orbit”, Becky Chambers
  • “Record of a Spaceborn Few”, Becky Chambers
  • “Pachinko”, Min Jin Lee
  • “Red, White and Royal Blue”, Casey McQuiston

Non-Fiction:

  • “Nasty Women”, Various Authors ed. 404 Ink
  • “We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Words Anthology”, Various, ed. Michael Lee Richardson and Ryan Vance
  • “This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor”, Adam Kay
  • “Planning in the Moment with Young Children: A Practical Guide for Early Years Practitioners and Parents”, Anna Ephgrave
  • “Eat, Pray, Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert
  • “Orange is the New Black”, Piper Kerman
  • “Building the Ambition: National Practice on Early Learning and Childcare”, the Scottish Government
  • “Birth to Three: Supporting Our Youngest Children”, Learning and Teaching Scotland
  • “Cultivating Creativity in Babies, Toddlers and Young Children”, Tina Bruce
  • “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”, Renni Eddo-Lodge
  • “I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death”, Maggie O’Farrell
  • “Everything I Know about Love”, Dolly Alderton
  • “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone”, Olivia Laing
  • “Happy Fat: Taking Up Space in a World That Wants to Shrink You”, Sofie Hagen
  • “Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found”, Cheryl Strayed

Graphic Novels and Comic Books:

  • “Sword Daughter” Volume 1, Brian Wood
  • “The Realm”, Volume 1, Seth Peck, Tony Moore and Jeremy Haun
  • “Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitty Holy”, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Faith Hicks
  • “Blacksad: Amarillo”, Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
  • “The Electric State”, Simon Stålenhag
  • “On a Sunbeam”, Tillie Walden
  • “Fusigi Yugi”, Volume 1-13, Yuu Watase
  • “Spinning”, Tillie Walden
  • “Escape from Bitch Mountain”, Hannah Chapman
  • “Man-Eaters”, Volume 1&2, Chelsea Cain
  • “The Black Bull of Norroway”, Volume 1, Cat and Kit Seaton
  • “Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max”, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters
  • “I Love this Part”, Tillie Walden
  • “The Motherless Oven”, Rob Davis
  • “The Can Opener’s Daughter”, Rob Davis
  • “The Book of Forks”, Rob Davis

Poetry:

  • “Milk and Vine”, Volume 2, Emily Beck and Adam Gasiewski
  • “Hera Lindsay Bird”, Hera Lindsay Bird
  • “Brand New Ancients”, Kate Tempest
  • “Helium”, Rudy Francisco
  • “No Matter the Wreckage”, Sarah Kay
  • “Following a Lark: Poems”, George Mackay Brown
  • “Void Studies”, Rachel Boast
  • “Plum”, Hollie McNish
  • “Hydra’s Heads”, Norma Gormringer (trans. Annie Rutherford)
  • “Like”, A.E. Stallings
  • “The Republic of Motherhood”, Liz Berry
  • “In These Days of Prohibition”, Caroline Bird
  • “Watering Can”, Caroline Bird
  • “Black Country”, Liz Berry
  • “Let Me Tell You This”, Nadine Aisha Jassat
  • “Wain”, Rachel Plummer
  • “This Script”, Jenny Lindsay

Children’s Books

  • “Smelly Louie”, Catherine Rayner
  • “The Book with No Pictures”, B.J. Novak
  • “What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?”, Debi Gliori
  • “I Want my Hat Back”, Jon Klassen
  • “We Found a Hat”, Jon Klassen
  • “Hare and Tortoise”, Alison Murray
  • “Silence”, Lemniscates
  • “Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar”, Emily MacKenzie
  • “Woke Baby”, Mahogany L. Brown, Theodore Taylor III
  • “Dream Big, Little Leader”, Vashti Harrison
  • “Maisy Goes to the Library”, Lucy Cousins
  • “Goodnight Moon”, Margaret Wise Brown
  • “That’s Not My Tiger”, Usborne Touchy-Feely Books

Spooky Bookys

Tonight, instead of fleeing home to blankets and re-watching old episodes of The Simpsons, I’m heading out to the launch of Kirsty Logan‘s new book: “Things We Say in the Dark”. Its a collection of feminist horror short stories and it says a lot about what I’m going to be reading this month.

In case you haven’t noticed it’s officially autumn. The scarves are out, everyone in my office is having soup for lunch and I refuse to read a book unless it has some kind of mysterious death in it. It’s October after all! So here is the list of books I plan to read this month (or, at least, try!)

Published Alfred A. Knopf, 1992

“The Secret History”, Donna Tartt

Slow building, uncomfortable thriller: This one is kind of cheating because I’ve actually read it before. I recently finished Tartt’s third novel (“The Goldfinch”) and felt like dipping into this world again. In case you haven’t read or heard of it – it’s a whydunnit murder mystery set against the backdrop of an American college in New England. It’s perfect for autumn: lots of scenes of a tree covered campus with cold bedrooms and roaring fires, a murder played in reverse and a warning about why you shouldn’t stay out after dark. It practically screams things are brown and everything is dying! What is more autumnal than that?

Published Penguin Books, 2019

“Things We Say in the Dark”, Kirsty Logan

Fast-paced stories reworking horror conventions: As I mentioned above, it’s a new book of feminist horror stories. At this point I’ve read all of Logan’s other books which can best be summed up as reworked fairytale concepts which shine a light on universal experiences. Her novel “The Gloaming” for example (which I highly recommend listening to on audiobook!) is about an island where people turn to stone, but it’s also a raw articulation of the real fear of never leaving rural upbringing. Logan’s previous collection of short stories “The Rental Heart” was one of my favourite reads in 2018, so I’m definitely excited for this one!

Published Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997

“The Lives of the Monster Dogs”, Kirsten Bakis

Monsters in form and humanity: I was actually given this book two years ago by my Mum who uses Christmas as an opportunity to track down some out-of-print novel she read years ago and bestow a second hand copy on me. The dogs of the title refer to anthropomorphic dogs, the result of an experiment, who have been given hands and the ability to speak. The dogs have been kept trapped in a secluded village which shut itself off from society and still operates under the ideas and customs of the 19th century. The novel begins when the dogs arrive in 2008 New York.

Published Dead Ink Books, 2019

“Water Shall Refuse Them”, Lucy McKnight Hardy

Witches and weird women: I found out about this novel in a fantastic article by the Guardian on ‘witcherature’. The novel follows a teenage girl, Nif, whose sister has accidentally drowned. Nif copes with the grief, and her families subsequent move, by practicing her own form of witchcraft. I was first drawn to this novel because it was compared to the writing of Shirley Jackson (one of my favourite authors) whose novel “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is my favourite witch book of all time. On top of this, the McKnight Hardy’s book is supposedly inspired by real witches living in Wales in the 1970s. As she said in an interview about the book: ‘we don’t often think of witchcraft as being something of the present day – we tend to consign it to history’. An alternative witch story is exactly what I need to bring in the darker nights!

Published Random House, 2014

“The Panopticon”, Jenni Fagan

Societal fear: Hitting stages with an adaptation by the National Theatre later this month, “The Panopticon” isn’t ‘spooky’ in the same way as the other books on this list. It follows Anais Hendricks, fifteen and headed for a prison for chronic young offenders. Its name takes inspiration from a Greek form of prison constructed so that all the prisoners can be watched all the time – it feels claustrophobic just from the blurb. I’m a sucker for reading before seeing so I can unpick on the walk home – so I’ve got to hurry up with this one so I’m ready before it gets to the Traverse!

Traverse Theatre, 2019

Bonus round: what I’m seeing!

As well as seeing “The Panopticon” at the Traverse, I’m also seeing Oliver Emmanuel’s “The Monstrous Heart” which features a mother/daughter re-connection story, a secluded cabin and a massive dead bear. Surely nothing spooky there?

I’m also seeing Hannah Lavery’s “The Drift” and Hannah Gadsby’s “Douglas” neither of which are really Halloweeny but one is an examination of racism in modern Scotland and another a take down of the patriarchy that would definitely frighten most white men.

So that’s it! October is shaping up to be a month jam-packed with female narratives of fear in all its forms: from chilling short stories, fear of the other in witches and talking dogs to the fear of living in systems that control us: prisons, racism, sexism.

Books: What I’ve Read in Two Line Pitches

Hello! This is something completely different from normal – not a single Moomin in sight! – but a lot of people have mentioned that they like my book reviews on Instagram, or following the thread of all the books I read on my Twitter. So I thought I’d make a list of some of the books I’ve read this year and pitch them to you in two lines or less.

For clarity, I’ve left out any books that are part of series. If you want to see the full list and keep up to date, head to my Goodreads page!

To those of you who hate Moomins: welcome (and how dare you!). To those of you who hate books: see you at the next Moomin post.

Here we go!

All these photos are from my Instagram… just in case you were wondering!

Book 3: “Nasty Women“, 404 Ink (Various Contributors)
Essays from woman examining where we are now, and what it means to be a woman in a world where Trump is president.

Book 10: “Hings“, Chris McQueer
Short stories from Glasgow to the galactic. Like meeting your dead surreal friend of some drinks in the park – but with the best stories ever.

Book 23: “Normal People“, Sally Rooney
Two people grow up and together through secondary school and university in Ireland. You’ll suffer but you’ll love it.

Book 25: “This is Going to Hurt“, Adam Kay
A junior doctor’s diaries that charts his decision to leave his job. It’s hilarious, deeply depressing and a rallying cry of why we need to fight for the NHS.

Book 30: “The Gloaming“, Kirsty Logan
The fear of never progressing and leaving where you grew up, but turned into a fairytale with mermaids, boxers and ballerinas. Each chapter is based upon a Scottish word.

Book 32: “The Republic of Motherhood“, Liz Berry
Poems that ask: what is motherhood was a physical location? How would we map it, let alone live in it?

This book is just so pretty. Do yourself a favour!

Book 44: “On a Sunbeam“, Tillie Walden
A graphic novel about queer architects in space who repurpose broken buildings into banks and hotels. At the same time, a reflection on growing up queer in an all-girls boarding school (also in space).

Book 61: “Wain“, Rachel Plummer
A poetry book where Scottish folklore is reimagined through queer re-tellings and beautiful watercolours.

Book 64: “Spinning“, Tillie Walden
How do you grow as a teenager knowing your life will disappoint your parents? A graphic novel that talks about growing up queer in Texas and professional ice-skating.

Books about death are best enjoyed in the Meadows with a cheap iced coffee (in my humble opinion).

Book 73: “I Am, I Am, I Am“, Maggie O’Farrell
A memoir told entirely through the authors real brushes with death: from childhood illness and near car crashes to attempted murder and medical misogyny.

Book 76: “The Happiness Machine“, Katie Williams
What if a machine told you what could make you happy? Worse, what if what it told you was illegal?

Book 77: “Convenience Store Woman” by Sakaya Murata
An isolated woman who has found joy in a convenience store job is ripped away from the one thing she loves. She’ll do anything to get it back…

Book 85: “Everything I Know About Love“, Dolly Alderton
A memoir that charts one woman’s journey through MSN messenger, parties, all-nighters, jobs, dating and best friends to discover love. It’s the book equivalent of watching “Bridget Jones Diary” with a bar of Galaxy after a break up.

Book 87: “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone“, Olivia Lang
Part memoir about feeling isolated in Manhatten, part deep-dive into the history of art and how it depicts loneliness. Warhol, Hopper and more get a full examination between anecdotes of isolation.

Book 91: “Supper Club“, Lara Williams
Fed up of not being allowed taking up space, a group of women band together to create a supper club where they binge on good food, alcohol and drugs all night. It’s a feminist punch of a book about sisterhood, fatness, permission and reclamation.

The best way to photograph your books is on top of clean bedsheets.

Book 99: “My Name is Monster“, Katie Hale
One woman survives the apocalypse – or so she believes. A reimagining of Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe that challenges our gendered believes about survival and relationships.

Book 100: “Happy Fat: Taking Up Space in a World that Wants to Shrink You“, Sofie Hagen
Danish comedian Hagen examines fatphobia in all its guises throughout society, from her earliest childhood memories, to medical inaccuracies, plane seats and toilets. Everyone should have to read this book.

So. If you’re not sure what to read next: you have 17 new recommendations.

Until next time: happy reading!

So I went to Moominworld… (Part 2)

The post you’ve all been waiting for. A deep dive into the wonder of Moominworld.

Before that: I accidentally went a bit viral on Twitter for saying happy birthday to Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins. The tweet spoke about things I’ve touched on in this blog – her queer identity, the fact she protested Hitler during WWII. So, if you’re here because of that tweet – hello! Thanks for stopping by.

Signs throughout Naantali point you towards Moominworld.

On with Moominworld!

WHAT ON EARTH IS A MOOMINWORLD?
Moominworld is a visitor attraction for those who love the Moomins whether they be adults or children. It’s built on an island and contains several small parks, a restaurant, several hot food stalls, cafes, and ice cream shops, a post office, a shop, a beach, a play-park, three theatres, and interactive recreations of the houses and places found in Moominvalley including Moominhouse, Sniff’s house, Mr. Hemulen’s house, the Groke’s cave and Snufkin’s campsite.

WHERE ON EARTH IS A MOOMINWORLD?
It’s on a tiny island near Naantali Finland. It’s accessible by boat or a bus then a short walk. We stayed in Turku, Finland (2 hours from Helsinki), then took a bus for an hour and walked for twenty minutes.

When I say it’s on an island… I mean literally.

We arrived at 12pm. I felt that was pretty good seeing as our flight landed in Turku around 1am the night before. We walked through the marina and onto the island. The very first thing we did was catch a show at the Theatre Emma starring Stinky, Snork and Little My. All the shows were in Finnish (except one a day in Swedish) and have English and Chinese subtitles.

When I say theatre… I mean THEATRE!

After that we swung by Moominmamma’s buffet restaurant because I hadn’t yet eaten that day and was (a) hangry and (b) still recovering from food poisoning (more on that in the last blog…)

After rejuvenating myself with meatballs, mash and a lot of water, we hit up Sniff’s shop next door. Imagine an item, any item, with a Moomin on it. They probably definitely have it. Some notable items: Moomin chocolate, Moomin wine, Moomin coffee, Moomin tupperware, Moomin bedsheets, Moomin wallets, Moomin rain-jackets and a pair of boxers with Stinky on them.

We then wandered through all the promenade games, much like a wee beach front on some postcard, and the post-office: where you can send letters straight from Moominland.

We then trekked uphill to Snufkin’s camp. And there he was.

Reader, it was love at first sight.

Snufkin hangs out in a wee tent all day telling stories to any kids who sit down and listen. I wanted to sit down and listen but my boyfriend looked a little jealous. And I don’t speak any Finnish (…sadly).

Wandering around the periphery of the park was actually really nice. It was mostly wooded, with lovely views out onto the sea. Aside from being somewhere to meet the Moomins, it was actually just a nice space to be in – away from the city in fresh air and sunshine.

Nice wee trip to the rapids.

After an hour or so of wandering and checking out some of the beach and smaller attractions, we headed to the main event: Moominhouse. You can go inside but also: meet the Moomins.

There’s also another wee stage beside it with smaller shows during the day. Mainly starring Mrs. Fllyjonk (who we haven’t yet spoken about on this blog, but when we do it will be very exciting).

Inside are several rooms and a wee jam cellar.

And then. It happened.

The moment songs are written about, people give their lives away for and babies cry for. A life-changing moment. A moment that shapes us and makes us smile for many years later, with a single poetic tear rolling down our face. Earth-shattering, heart-thundering, hair-tearing, agonisingly beautiful moment.

I met Moomintroll.

Hey now, hey now. This is what dreams are made of.

I know. I know. Don’t all get too jealous now.

After this we did some more wandering: Groke’s cave, Hattifatteners, a maze for children I got lost in, another show at Theatre Emma (this time about Little My and the witch).

We wrapped up the day relaxing in a wee park eating chips which we had to hide from the seagulls. Just before closing time, everyone gathered outside Moominhouse where we all sang the Moomins theme tune whilst Moominmamma and Pappa danced together on the porch and the sun began to set.

We made our way back, tired and content. I honestly didn’t want to leave.

I don’t know what it is about the Moomins. Even after all this time re-watching, reading, writing and even visiting them. There’s something to be said about their innate comfort. Large and soft and cuddly with a spare room and cup of coffee available to any visitor who needs it. They promote the idea that any problem can be solved when we all speak and work together.

Beyond that, I have a love of children’s characters. Miffy, Paddington (after I watched “Paddington 2” at the cinema last year), Totoro, Gigi from “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. Maybe growing up with cats made me love anything cute and cuddly.

Maybe something in my brain just has that inexplicable need to protect because LOOK AT HOW LITTLE HE IS!

But maybe, more importantly, I love these things because their main message is safety. It’s good to spend some time in a world created for children; it’s relaxing, comforting and full of wisdom that makes your problems seem more manageable. It’s good to revisit these things knowing, whatever you’re dealing with, this too shall pass.

The Moomins promote this message above all: there’s nothing Moominmamma can’t solve by digging into her handbag. Moomintroll treats everyone he meets with kindness. So much time is spent playing, exploring, giving and looking after one another.

It’s the kind of world I want to live in.

And maybe that, above all, is the true charm and magic of Moominworld – it lets you do exactly that.

So I went to Moominworld… (Part 1)

So I went to Moominworld in Naantali, Finland!

Maybe that explains the break between blog posts? (Sorry!)

Before I get to the magic, I have to post about the journey to Moominworld and explain just how chaotic this holiday was (and how much sweeter it made the Moomins!).

On our journey to Moominworld, we actually had a full trip planned through Denmark. This was due to my inability to pick one place for a holiday and just stay there and not do things and partly due to my boyfriend’s love of all things Viking.

We landed in Esbjerg – the littlest airport I’ve ever seen. Seriously. It was just a room. There were thirteen of us on the plane (including the staff).

This is how small the plane was…

I then promptly directed us onto a bus going the wrong direction. An hour into what should have been a thirty minute journey I realised something was up. Long story short, we arrived at our hostel 10 minutes before we would have been locked out.

The next day we walked the forty minutes to Ribe Viking Centre – a live Viking Centre was with actors who run shows, including falconry, archery and axe-throwing-general-coolness. The whole walk was along the side of the road but we knew it’d be worth it!

As soon as we arrived it started raining. But not the “light showers” the forecast promised – Noah-like, fat-dropped, the-pavements-are-flooding rain.

I should mention I was wearing: one skirt, one t-shirt, one denim jacket (no hood), one pair of canvas trainers (not waterproof). Around us were Viking actors in felt really trying to keep up the bravado, five sad sheep and soaked Danish children.

At this point we realised our bags weren’t waterproof and my boyfriend’s books were looking decidedly damp.

It was so wet that we made our way back to the hostel to shield from the rain. After an hour we thought we’d catch an earlier train to Odense where it wasn’t raining. There was one hitch: we got to the train station and there was a wee old man in the room which connected the section of the train station to the platform. He had locked the doors and wouldn’t let me pass.

Maybe the old man was jealous of our fantastic plastic wrap rain ponchos.

In a last ditch attempt to get out this town in my soaked clothes and failed rain poncho (now resembling a butcher’s apron) I found another door, pushed on it very hard and accidentally (!) broke into the train master’s house which was inside the station. At least that’s what I think it was. There was a fridge, some books and a lot of sad train station dust. Who lives there? Why is his house so dusty? Mysteries we will never know.

Long story short, we missed the earlier train. I think Ribe, some small Danish town, really had a vendetta.

Drying off we arrived in Odense. The sun was shining and we sat in the park with København Stang slushies (slushies based on the “Copenhagen Pole” ice lollies: best taste description is they’re like pineapple lemonade).

Odense was awesome – a wee town nice for a wee wander – and also the home of Hans Christian Anderson which meant plenty of bizarre fairytale pop-up plays. We got some fantastic street food in a large warehouse, relaxed in the fantastic parks and indulged in my love of weird old dollhouses.

At this point, my phone broke.

More accurately my phone charger broke and I did buy a new one (for roughly £25… get it together Denmark!) but the new one took a while to work. So for a whole day I was wondering around Esgeskov Castle facing the possibility of not being able to take pictures at Moominworld. A true tragedy.

Vikings!

But! We got it fixed and travelled onwards to Trelleborg Viking festival where there was a hundred pop-up tents with people travelling across the world to live as Vikings did. Well. They did sneak into the cafe toilets and some of the kids had ice creams. A real highlight was seeing big scary Scandi men in full Viking regalia having to take their – decidedly modern – lapdogs for a pee (there’s something very funny about seeing a Viking hang out with a bichon frise).

From there we went to Copenhagen. We had a full day at the Danish National Museum followed by the best vegetarian buffet meal I have ever had, and a more relaxed day that involved swimming in Copenhagen harbour, walking to Nyhaven and giggling the at the overly keen tourists photographing the Little Mermaid. It was bliss! And I was so thankful to have moved past the broken phones and rainy days into exploring such a wonderful city.

And then… the trouble hit.

The next day I had the worst food poisoning known to humanity. I have never been so ill in all my adult years. I spent all day between a bathroom and the hotel bed feeling sorry for myself and watching episodes of “Glee” on Netflix. Douglas saved my life by buying two bottles of blue raspberry flavoured sports drink – and reader, I have never loved him more. He went to three shops to find it and it was worth it. Even if he spent the rest of the holiday money on it, it restored me to being a human instead of a stinking and withered creature.

The day after we had to check out the hotel. I was still a bit rubbish, but was restored with a walk around Tivoli Gardens and Copenhagen Aquarium. Guys – they have beanbags in the aquarium. Nothing cures food poisoning like lying on a beanbag watching a tank full of hammerhead sharks and sea pancakes.

A rather sad Moomin (his body is so long?) greets us as soon as we arrive at Turku airport. Wish I could have said the same for our luggage…

Before long it was time for us to catch our flight to Turku. We arrived in Finland on our (delayed) flight at 1am and were taken to our hotel by a taxi driver who blasted heavy metal the whole way.

The next morning we woke up and travelled to Moominworld… but more on that in the next post. 

Until then – blue Gatorade, I owe you my life.

Spotlight: The End of the World

It’s been a funny couple of weeks for me and, sadly, somewhat absent from Moomins. I really really could have done with them to be honest.

Today’s blog is a bit of a deviation from the norm – but I felt I had to open up about this somewhere and, I promise, I will tie it into the Moomins for those of you only here for the Jansson content.

My week has had it’s real highs: I’ve been cycling to and from work on a beautiful bicycle my Dad got me (thank you Dad!) and swimming lots. I’ve enjoyed both – cycling makes me feel better about not using fossil fuels and swimming kind of just forces me to chill out and focus on moving my body in a nice wee half hour burst (I can’t promise my mind doesn’t wander, but I do get a nice dose of bliss every time I get a lane to myself).

My bike. It has earned the nickname “The Duchess” and “The Dashing White Sergeant”.

Other than that – and work of course – I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the planet. For a while I was very guilty of dodging as much news as I could about climate change because it gave me The Fear. I define The Fear as: heart beating too quickly, shaking hands, panic, tearfulness and not being able to sleep. I don’t even really watch apocalyptic films or TV shows (except, recently, “Years and Years” because Russell T. Davies is a genius).

Well, I decided I had to face everything on and get as informed as I can because it was still going to be scary if I didn’t do anything about it. I was already fairly green: I don’t drive, I use Bulb for my energy (they only use sustainable and renewal energy for all their electricity and gas), I recycle, I don’t buy plastic cups, bottles or those straws we’re all supposed to hate so vehemently (sidenote: climate change is not just straws people!).

I eat vegetarian a few evenings and lunches a week and every breakfast. I do fly fairly once or twice a year for holidays, work trips or visiting family – probably my main contributor – but I helped set up a Green Team at my job and have been looking into offsetting my flights through donations.

But recently, I’ve doubled down. I’ve become a paying member of Greenpeace and volunteer for them political lobbyists (basically a lot of writing letters and meeting MPs!). I’ve signed countless petitions against pollution, plastic, oil, fracking and shared them on social media with (begging) posts as much as I think my friends can bear.

I’ve calculated my carbon footprint and have made myself a wee chart of everything I need to work on to make sure I’m minimising it as much as physically possible.

I’ve spent my spare moments researching what I, as an individual, can do to cause systematic change and lean on governments and large organisations. I feel I have nearly no time and have dropped to do so much to do this but yet:

The Fear.

I’m not sleeping well guys.

And here, zooming in on a fabulous segway, is where the Moomins come in.

“Moomintroll and the End of the World”, 1947-1948

As you’ve gathered from the existence of this blog, I think no matter what quandary I’m struggling with the Moomins can normally enlighten me and point me in the right direction. When I couldn’t sleep at night, I wondered what the Moomins could teach me about climate change…

In 1939, Tove Jansson began work on the Moomin novels, beginning with “The Moomins and the Great Flood” and “Comet in Moominland” (published 1945-1946). Jansson later recreated this in 1947-1948 as her first comic strip, “Moomintroll and the End of the World”, as a present for a close friend.

‘Tove’s anxiety and grief are embedded in the first two books – she was depressed during the war.’

Boel Westin, Stockholm University (qtd. “Love, War and the Moomins“, Mark Bosworth, BBC News 2014)

As you may have guessed, both face worldwide disasters of apocalyptic consequences. Both have also been read as Jansson’s way of coping with World War II. As a bit of background: for three months from the 30th November 1939 until the 13th March 1940, the Winter War took place in Eastern Finland after the USSR invaded.

The cover of a first edition.

Tove Jansson was incredibly critical of war and especially Hitler and Stalin. She worked for some time as a satirical cartoonist “Garm”, where she famously depicted Hitler as a baby. This was during a time where Finland cooperated with Nazi Germany.

‘Her illustrations for the covers of the wartime Garm magazine were courageous for the time in which they appeared – she wasn’t to know how the world would turn out. Hitler and Stalin appear as preposterous little figures, self-important and comic. She was proud to lampoon them both.

Melanie McDonagh, “A Chance to See the Moomins’ Creator for the Genius She Really Was“, The Spectator 2017

This is important to know because in “Comet in Moominland”, the comet – from which the Moomins all hide away – has been seen as an allegory for living under the threat of nuclear weapons. The Moomins abandoning their home mirrored people leaving their homes for fear of those bombs.

Whilst the Moomins are fantastical and unique little creatures, it’s important to remember how closely they mirrored Jansson’s own life and experiences. As her own niece Sophie said:

‘…if you read the Moomin books there are many things that are, to me, completely normal and to other people are completely fantastical. But in Finland that’s what you do when you are on the islands. That’s what they did and it’s what we’ve always done.’

Sophia Jansson

Tove Jansson took that age-old advice to write what you know, and out of it turned the terror of World War II into a reflection on the apocalyptic fear we still feel. What I am now calling: The Fear. The thing keeping me up at night.

The conclusion of “Comet in Moominland” is that the characters all hide in the cave from the comet, waking in the morning to discover they’ve been lucky enough for the comet to have missed earth.

I can only wish the same for us – but, honestly, I don’t know. In the mean-time. To stave off The Fear, here’s some small things for you to try:

  1. Look into renewable energy for your home (it’s often cheaper too!)
  2. Cycle, walk or take the bus to work.
  3. Wash your clothes in colder water and only use a tumble dryer when you have to.
  4. Try eating more meat-free meals (inspiration awaits…)
  5. Learn more about upcycling and remaking (link for my Edinburgh pals!)
  6. Whilst we’re on that note… recycle! Especially your food waste.
  7. Look into local groups: Greenpeace or Extinction Rebellion are a great place to start if you’re looking to get involved in non-violent protesting.
  8. Ask your MP to support the campaign for Plastic Free Rivers!
  9. If you fly – offset your flights by donating to carbon neutral projects.
  10. TELL YOUR STORY!

Tell your story through art, music, song, dance, a chat around the water cooler or a blog about the Moomins. Simply talking to other people about climate change and what you’re doing helps encourage other people to get involved and do what they can to stop it (if you want some inspiring stories about the big and small acts we can all do – check out “CliMates” podcast).

Patrons at a US cafe who were told that 30% of Americans had started eating less meat were twice as likely to order a meatless lunch.

An online survey showed that of the respondents who know someone who had given up flying because of climate change, half of them said they flew less as a result.

Community organisers trying to get people to install solar panels were 62% more successful in their efforts if they had panels in their house too.

Ten Simple Ways to Act on Climate Change“, Diego Arguedas Ortiz (BBC)

So there’s your homework! Go forth and do what you can to save the world. Until then, sending you all the love and rage I can muster.

Diary of a Ninny Kid (Episodes 8-10)

Hello again and thank you for joining me! This week’s blog is about wishes, courage and the healing power of anger. It might get a wee bit emotional, but we’ll weather it together. The episodes we’ll look at are:

  • “The Hobgoblin’s Magic” (episode 8)
  • “An Invisible Friend” (episode 9)
  • “The Invisible Child” (episode 10)

Episode 8 is probably the most insane episode of the Moomins so far. Seriously. I watched it just before going to sleep in bed with my (long suffering) boyfriend.

Remember how Thingumy and Bob showed up with a massive suitcase? Well they finally decide to show Moomin what is inside: a massive ruby!

Also remember the hobgoblin we met in the second episode? The one who flew across the sky on a magic panther? And was looking for a ruby? The one with the magic hat that turned Moomin into a terrifying creature? Yes that one.

This guy!
(Credit: Moomin Wiki)

The hobgoblin shows up (on said magic flying panther) in the middle of massive party with all the characters in town partying at Moominhouse. He asks Thingumy and Bob to give him the ruby. Surely the stars are all aligning!

However, they won’t give it back because they love it. Fair enough.

That’s one big rock.

So the hobgoblin grants people wishes. Here’s a summary of the wishes:

  • a spade (Mr. Hemulen)
  • big eyelashes (Snorkmaiden who hates them)
  • no big eyelashes (Moomin who is helping out Snorkmaiden)
  • another ruby (Thingumy and Bob who are helping out the hobgoblin)

300 years riding across the sky and all it took to solve the hobgoblin’s problem was for something to wish for another ruby.

Also – the characters of Moominvalley had the infinite cosmic power of a wish and what they end up getting is a spade, mascara and not-mascara. Douglas (my boyfriend) is close to a breakdown at this point. Sniff says he’d use a wish to get some gold and Doug says “get a bag and pick it yourself from the garden you lazy arse”. His tone is threatening giving he’s watching a twenty-year-old TV show for children.

I attended a show recently called “I Wish I Was a Mountain” at Imaginate Festival (an arts festival in Edinburgh with theatre and dance for young audiences). The children were asked to think what it would be like to not wish for anything – to be content with life as it is. I guess that’s what these wishes show with the inhabitants of Moominvalley – their wishes are simple because their lives are, they don’t want much because they don’t need much.

We end the episode with a massive firework display and all is well in Moominvalley. Hoo-flipping-ray you wish wasters – hope you enjoy your spade and default eyes.

Sandi Toksvig is that you?

The next episode opens with (another!) new character: Too-Ticky. Too-Ticky is a wise, sweet, soft-spoken women with Wolverine hair. She is based on Tove Jansson’s real-life partner, Tuulikki Pietilä, a graphic designer.

Too-Ticky asks the Moomins to look after her friend Ninny. Ninny has been living her aunt, who has been so cruel to her she has turned invisible.

‘Suppose you tripped and fell over, what would Moominmamma say? […] Now this nasty old lady would say, “that may be your idea of dancing but try not to do it when people are eating please”.’

Too-Ticky, “The Moomins”, Episode 9

Over the course of the next two episodes the gang try to lure Ninny out of her shell and make her visible again. Moominmamma tucks her into bed, gives her plenty of cuddles and sweet words, and makes her a new outfit. Moomin takes her out to play with him, Sniff and Snorkmaiden.

There are set backs along the way in the form of Stinky, who tries to scare Ninny with the hopes of keeping her invisible so he can use her to rob banks (there are banks in Moominvalley apparently?)

Panel from “Snurken i Muminhuest” (“An Unwanted Guest”), 1980

Slowly, her feet appear, and then a little section of her dress – but her head is still missing.

Her face and head only reappear when she gets incredibly angry at Moominpappa who is about to play a cruel joke on Moominmamma (namely, pushing her in the sea).

‘All she needed was to get angry – and she did.’

Moominmamma, “The Moomins”, Episode 10

I find it really emotional that the key to Ninny becoming a visible and confident person again is to get angry. After last week’s blog on how gender appears in the Moomins, you might have had a rather depressing view of the show as antiquated when it comes to feminism. Yet this episode boldly claims that Ninny’s anger is a positive – and necessary – force. This is not just astonishing for a sweet children’s TV show like the Moomins, but as a new view on the importance of anger as an emotion.

I think back on how anger has been healing (and not) for me. My mother and I had overlapping periods of being angry – long story short, we both based bullying and poor workplace situations in 2017-18.

It was a real blow to both of us: work (and its routine) has been a huge support in our life helping prop up our social lives, sense of community, accomplishment and happiness. It may sound really bad to say work is that important to us both, but we’ve always worked on projects that really meant a lot to us and made us see our impact in the world. I remember my mother calling me and saying how she still felt anger, even six months later – and probably even today as I still do.

Anger is so often seen as purely a negative emotion linked to violence, irrationality and doing things we later regret when we’ve calmed down. I, however, truly believe it’s a crucial part of processing the hurt in our life. If we rush over from being sad to trying to accept what happened or been done to us I think we miss out.

Fundamentally, anger shows you were hurt – and even more so – it shows how deeply you care.

Copyright: Arabia

I find it fascinating, too, that given our perceptions of anger being so contrary to levelled thought that Ninny gains her head after getting angry. She has regained her own thoughts in her brain, her own (loud voice) in her mouth and her ability to express these in her face. Anger did that, not love.

The issue with anger, I believe, is when we hold onto it. If the feeling comes, we should feel it, but when we get to the point of stoking it – finding ourselves thinking “oh and another thing!” – that’s when we need to close our eyes, think of something else, and walk away.

The episode ends with Too-Ticky taking Ninny away. We are told:

‘Now that Ninny was completely visible and far from timid, she was ready for anything. Except seeing her aunt, she said.’

Narrator, “The Moomins”, Episode 10

I want to highlight the importance of this last line. Even though Ninny has recovered her confidence, visibility and bravery she is not willing to visit her aunt. The show does not adopt a “get over it” stance but, validly, points out that once we have healed we are allowed (encouraged!) to not go back to what (or who) has hurt it.

In other words, it’s okay not to get over it. It’s okay to still be hurt and need to stay away from what hurt us. Typing this I almost tear up thinking about how emotionally intelligent that sentiment is and how the world would work so much better for those traumatised, bullied or hurt if we accepted their process of recovery, boundaries and need to move away and not move “on” from their anger.

And with that, I’ll (tearily) sign off (I really shouldn’t listen to the Amelie soundtrack when I write). Let yourself be angry this week if you need to, and if you don’t – look out for those who do.

Toxic Moomilinity (Episodes 3-7)

I’m really sorry. But I had to do it. We’re doing a deep dive into Moomin masculinity, as well as a little taste of queer history.

Before we jump into it, this week’s blog focuses on the following episodes:

  • “The Discovery of a Wrecked Ship” (episode 3)
  • “The Moomins Discover the Island” (episode 4)
  • “The Secret of the Hattifatteners” (episode 5)
  • “Tiny Guests” (episode 6)
  • “The Suitcase” (episode 7)

In the opening of episode 4, me meet Snork for the second time. Snork is Snorkmaiden’s brother, bespectacled and with low self-esteem. He’s trying to build an aviation machine and keeps failing. Snorkmaiden tells him he believes in her and he says “fat lot of good that does me.” Rude!

Maybe I’m just annoyed because I know with his self-doubt and big glasses, Snork is the character I’m probably most like in real life.

Similarly, Moominpappa can also be found in a torrid of self doubt about his writing: “I have absolutely no literary talent!” he grumbles to himself before pretending to be writing when Moomin comes in (so relatable).

Snufkin has made a leaf boat. Of course he has. What a cool guy. He just flippantly suggests they go to a foreign land – like a maverick. So they all go on another adventure.

During which, Moomin falls into a cave straight on top of Mr. Hemulen.

Ouch.

Mr. Hemulen is an odd character – looks like a Moomin but not quite. He’s an older man and obsessed with rules and order. He was napping in the cave because he’s depressed because he has finished his stamp collection (what a concept). Finishing his stamp collection means he is no longer a collector – he has literally lost a facet of his identity. It feels as if it could be a metaphor for some struggling with a sense of self in the face of retirement. Heavy stuff.

Shortly after this the gang find a ship and decide to repair it so they can go on even more adventures!

Suddenly Moominpappa, Snork and Hemulen are much happier – they have found a new purpose separate from the pursuits they feel they have failed. Whilst characters like Moominmamma and Snorkmaiden are happy to make sandwiches, lend a hand and have some fun, the older male characters seem positively depressed and anxious if they don’t have some grander purpose to define themselves with.

The phrase “toxic masculinity” originates from psychology and gender studies and refers to accepted norms in masculine behaviour, normally from the west, which serve to harm those who have them as well as society in general. These include: repressing emotions, bullying, aggression, sexual assault and phrases like “boys will be boys”.

It’s a double-edged sword: men hurt themselves (and the people they love) by behaving in these ways, but can feel terrified of social prosecution for not “manning up” or being manly enough.

I don’t think the Moomins are toxically masculine (far from it), but I am fascinated by the ways in which gendered behaviour is represented. These older male characters feel the need to be successful, in control and hands-on to feel content, whereas the women take on more supportive, caring or emotional roles.

Honestly, I relate more with the men. Not to sound overly pathetic, but I’ve always struggled with the concept of “time off” (I’m currently squeezing writing this into my one break of the day…) and have found myself aimless and low when I don’t have a society set purpose (i.e. a job to do).

This could be called a result of capitalism (yes, we’re throwing this in the blog too) where we can often report feeling incredibly guilty or ashamed if we don’t see our societal output (normally through work!). I think it’s important to note, however, that this particular guilt and loss of identity is particularly felt by the older male characters in these episodes. In short, Snorkmaiden says “I think boys are hard to understand.”. How right she is.

The only male character not caught up in this display is Sniff who often offers to “stay and look after the girls” (who don’t need to be looked after – and anyway he does a terrible job). When the ship itself sails, Sniff decides he wants to stay on land (Moominmamma has predicted this and left a pancake out for him. What a gem).

I’m interested in this emotional insightfulness that runs throughout her character. At one point she tells Moominpappa he should pick where they travel to: “You’re the captain, dear. It’s up to you.” I can’t help but think this is because she sees Moominpappa needs some element of control – having felt like he has lost that in his writing.

In our next episode the Moomins discover a new island and discover another new character: the Hattinfatteners!

Spooky light up boys

The Hattifatteners are silent creatures that wander around in packs. They don’t hear, speak, sleep, eat but tremble together in herds and gather power from electricity – which is when they become dangerous!

Thinking of the Hattifatteners makes me think of the feeling of hairs rising on your arm before a thunderstorm.

During said thunderstorm, which hits the island in the middle of the night, Snufkin tells Moomin that he loves storms because they are uncontrollable and he has no form of power over them. He, therefore, is a direct contrast to Mr. Hemulen (who creates order and control through his collection, ordering nature into set categories), Moominpappa (who controls how his narrative is told through writing) and Snork (who ultimately wishes to control the skies through flying in them).

Whilst exploring the beach in episode 5 various treasures are found washed up on the sand – a large wooden figurehead from a ship in the shape of a woman (which Moomin falls in love with?). Snufkin finds gold in a cave and the Moomins decide to decorate their garden with it – because what else would they do?!

After everyone is back and settled, the postman arrives. The Moomin police (yup… that’s a thing) tells us that he has fallen in love with Mymble (Little My’s older sister). Moominmamma replies: “Ah, but the question is, has she fallen for him?”

Two new guests also arrive: Thingumy and Bob. These characters are based on Tove Jansson and her girlfriend Vivicia Bandler, their names coming from nicknames Jansson and Bandler used for one another.

Homosexuality was illegal in Finland until 1971, so Jansson’s relationships with women were secret (her lifelong partner, Tuulikki Pietilä and her used to use a secret passageway to see each other).

Couple goals.

It makes it even more desperately sad to watch these episodes knowing the inspiration behind these characters. Thingumy and Bob are constantly afraid of being found (which turns out to be because of a stolen jewel… but more on that later). You don’t have to look to hard to see this as a fear of prosecution. Similarly, Tove Jansson referred to dating women as “[going] over to the spook side”. This may be a tongue-in-cheek joke, but it’s so sad to see Thingumy and Bob’s storyline so dominated by fear.

What they are afraid of is – another new character – the Groke who appears in episode 6 and 7.

Spoopy!

The Groke is another silent creature, but far more ominous than the Hattifatteners, who shows up and silently threatens the Moomins by hanging around for too long. It’s revealed she wants something from Thingumy and Bob which they took from her.

A chilly aura surrounds the Groke and the ground freezes beneath her […] Although the Moomins fear the Groke, they also pity her desperate loneliness.

Moomin.com

The Groke has been seen as a metaphor for depression, loneliness and the inability to accept love. It is fitting, then, that the way Moominmamma convinces her to leave is by giving her a heart shaped shell.

Similarly, in the aftermath of the Groke’s visit, Thingumy and Bob are comforted and brought out of their shell by Snorkmaiden taking them on a walk.

‘The Moomin books are survival stories: no problem is so great it can’t be made better by a cup of coffee and a cuddle.’

Lisa Allardice, “It is a religion: how the world went mad for Moomins”, 2019

It brings us full circle, in a way, that our male characters started this blog desperately needing purpose in material goods and physical work – whereas Snorkmaiden and Moominmamma find their purpose in healing and helping others.

Yes, this show may adhere to some rocky gender rules (so does nearly everything!). But it also stresses, constantly, how universal love and support is and how crucial they are as healing forces across the world. Moomin, despite being a male, is incredibly loving and giving and often talks to people about their feelings.

I’m left thinking that whilst it’s okay to find personal purpose in buildings or objects, our relationships and care we give to others is really what makes the world sing.

And on that note, see you next week. Hope you find the love and care in your life that you need! (What a cheesy send-off… but I promise I mean it!)