MATILDA as a Feminist Text | Discussion

While reading Matilda for the first time ever recently (gasp!), I loved how Roald Dahl places such an emphasis on gender equality in the story. If we consider feminism to be defined as equality between all genders, I would argue that this lovely children’s book is a strong example of a feminist text. Here are 5 quotes that help illustrate this point:

“Matilda said, “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”

This quote depicts girls as active agents in their own lives rather than the passive, conforming subjects that they are often portrayed as in literature.

“A girl should think about making herself look attractive so she can get a good husband later on. Looks is more important than books, Miss Hunky…”
“The name is Honey,” Miss Honey said.
“Now look at me,” Mrs Wormwood said. “Then look at you. You chose books. I chose looks.”

Here Roald Dahl takes a feminist stance by making Matilda’s awful mother possess a misogynistic mindset. This obviously shines a negative light on such prejudice against women by showing how ridiculous it sounds, especially coming from Mrs. Wormwood. By this point in the story, the reader knows that Miss Honey is a kind, smart, lovely individual who is both beautiful and intelligent. In other words, there’s no such thing as having to choose between “looks” and “books”!!

“I’m afraid men are not always quite as clever as they think they are. You will learn that when you get a bit older, my girl.”

I think the message is pretty clear with this one: men are not the only clever ones!

“Being very small and very young, the only power Matilda had over anyone in her family was brain-power.”

Probably my favorite thing about Matilda as a character is that she is a role model for everyone who feels ostracized by a desire to learn and be smart. Here Roald Dahl asserts that intelligence is power– just because one is disadvantaged in other ways doesn’t mean you can’t fight back with words and ideas and wit. Taken even further, one could argue that this also applies to feminism: just because someone is viewed as inferior for being a woman doesn’t mean they can’t challenge this adversity with brain-power. 

“All the reading she had done had given her a view of life they had never seen.”

This might be my favorite quote of the entire book. When I came across it while reading I literally stopped and reread the same line five or six times because I think it perfectly encapsulates one of the most important values of reading. Reading teaches us empathy, something imperative to understanding and accepting everyone around us. If more people read and had empathy, then perhaps feminism would be embodied by everyone.

The fact that this children’s book has such a strong, smart, independent female protagonist is so important for all readers, but especially younger ones. Characters like bookish Hermione Granger and clever Nancy Drew had such a huge impact on me when I was younger and I know that Matilda would have done the same if I had read this book as child. This is just one of the many reasons why Matilda is truly an incredible book!

Would you consider Matilda to be a feminist text? What are your thoughts on what constitutes a “feminist text” in general? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Are Book Hauls “Meaningless” Content? | Discussion

When I saw that Ariel Bissett made a video titled “Why Do Booktubers Make Book Hauls?” I was immediately intrigued. To tell you the truth, I had been asking myself the same question for quite some time. Book hauls have sort of been a controversial topic in the online bookish community as of late. Some people claim that they are “meaningless” content because the person talking about the books likely hasn’t even read them yet– what could they possibly have to say about it that is substantial or thought-provoking? Another common argument against book hauls is that they are “filler” content  solely used to generate large numbers of views, since these kinds of videos and posts tend to be really popular. There’s also the idea that book hauls are just a way for bloggers and booktubers to boast about how many books they accumulate on a regular basis, which can lead to the notion that in order to be successful in the online bookish community one has to have the privilege of being able to purchase and own all of the books you read.

There are clearly a lot of issues that need to be unpacked, here; fortunately, Ariel does a lot of that unpacking in her video. She counters many of these negative arguments by emphasizing that book hauls essentially do what most bloggers and booktubers endeavor to achieve with their posts and videos: spread a love of books and have FUN. Ariel also points out that book hauls allow us to keep up to date with what people are really excited about reading in general compared to the smaller number of books that they may actually be able to read in a given year. I highly recommend watching her video for a more accurate and detailed explanation of why book hauls can be really valuable and important.

Personally, I agree with a lot of Ariel’s arguments in support of books hauls. Yet I think an important point is missing: people find “meaning” in all kinds of content. Just because a book haul might not be discussing literature from a critical perspective in terms of having already read the books does not mean that it cannot offer interesting ideas for a thought-provoking discussion. Readers of posts and watchers of videos add their own meaning to the original content of the blogger or booktuber by sharing thoughts and opinions in the comments. A similar argument could be made regarding memes, tags, etc.; in other words, a book review or discussion is not the only kind of “meaningful” content. 

I think the most interesting aspect of this controversy over book hauls is the question it raises about bookish content in general: Who is to say what kind of content bloggers and booktubers should be sharing? My answer: NO ONE besides the bloggers and booktubers themselves. Create what makes you happy, what gets your message across, what shares the ideas and opinions and feelings that you want to express.

I haven’t posted a book haul in a while, mostly because I’ve been trying to buy fewer books and read the ones I already own. However, recently I’ve been thinking about maybe posting one in the near future.

Scratch that. I will post one in the near future.

What are your thoughts on Ariel’s video and book hauls in general? Do you post book hauls? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Why I’m No Longer Rating Books | Discussion

A book blogger who doesn’t rate books? *gasp!* What is this madness? Allow me to explain.

Lately rating books has felt more and more difficult. I’ve always used the usual 5-star (or smiley, in my case) system, with 1 being horrible and 5 being fantastic. In the past, this has generally been a reflection of my emotional response to a book. Did I like the characters? Did I agree with the characters’ decisions? Was I happy with the ending? Interestingly enough, these questions don’t feel as important to me as they used to. Of course, it’s always nice to have a story end in the way you would like it to end in an ideal world; however, I now feel as though there are more important things to consider when reading. Maybe this is a reflection of my growth as a reader or the fact that studying English literature in college has made me accustomed to thinking about literature more critically. Whatever the case may be, I no longer prioritize my emotional reaction to a book when I form an opinion about it. The emotional response is certainly still a component of that opinion, but it doesn’t solely make up the entire opinion.

At this point, rating books seems rather arbitrary to me. Trying to assign a number that accurately conveys my thoughts on a book has begun to feel like trying to paint a landscape with a single color. So much more influences my opinion of a book besides whether or not I simply enjoyed it. What does enjoying a book really even mean? There are plenty of books that I’ve “enjoyed” that are terribly sad or unsettling or creepy– that doesn’t mean I like feeling those emotions, but I appreciate the fact that the writing was able to evoke those emotions in me. So should we use the word appreciate instead of enjoy? 

(Sorry. I went on a bit of a tangent there.)

In short, I would much rather my book reviews be a sort of discussion of a book rather than a mere justification of why I settled on a certain number rating. I’ll probably still rate some books on Goodreads, but not necessarily if it doesn’t feel like I can easily do so.

I made this post not as a sort of announcement or declaration of this change, but rather as a way to spark discussion about this topic. So please, comment away!! How do you feel about rating books? Is there a certain rating system that you’ve found works best for you? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

5 Reasons Why Molly Weasley is the Ultimate Mom

Happy Mother’s Day!! When I thought about making a Mother’s Day post about fictional moms, one woman immediately popped into my head: Molly Weasley. Every year this red-headed witch tops countless lists of fictional mothers… but why? In an attempt to answer this age-old question, here are 5 reasons why Mrs. Weasley is the ultimate fictional mom:

1. She does it all.

My jaw basically drops any time there’s a scene with Mrs. Weasley doing housework. She’s the master of multi-tasking, even if she does have the help of magic on her side.

2. She doesn’t take any $h!t.

Exhibit A: the Howler. Don’t mess with Molly Weasley, folks!

3. She gives the best Christmas presents.

My goal in life is to receive one of Mrs. Weasley’s knitted jumpers for Christmas. A girl can dream, right?

4. She’s incredibly strong and independent.

I think my favorite scenes of Molly Weasley are in the epic battle at Hogwarts in the final book. Not only does she shout her famously bad@$$ line, but she also demonstrates that mothers (and people in general!) cannot be categorized in a single box. Mothers can be both sweet and strong, feminine and fighting experts.

5. You won’t find a more caring and loving witch.

Above all else, Mrs. Weasley is the ultimate fictional mom because she is endlessly caring, kind, thoughtful, and giving. She loves Harry as though he were her own son and always welcomes people into her home on holidays and when danger arises. She stands up for what she believes in and will stop at nothing to protect those she loves. ❤

Do you think Molly Weasley is the ultimate fictional mom? What are your favorite mothers in fiction? Let me know in the comments section below!

Happy Mother Day!!

Yours,

HOLLY

How Shakespeare Redefined Beauty (Sort Of) | Discussion

This semester I’m taking a Renaissance Poetry class, which can basically be summed up in two words: Shakespeare’s sonnets. We’ve read much more than solely sonnets by Shakespeare, of course; however, he had such a remarkable influence on this poetic form that many of our class discussions of other poems ultimately circle back to the Bard at some point. It wasn’t until was in the process of writing an essay about his “Sonnet 2” that I realized the magnitude of his role in redefining the traditional Petrarchan idea of beauty. Contrary to popular belief, Shakespeare does not simply praise the idealized beauty of women; rather, he also lauds the physical appearance of one of his close male friends.

“Sonnet 2” explains the toll that age can take on the body over time, particularly in regard to one’s outward beauty. According to Shakespeare, time is the destructive enemy of beauty, causing it to gradually fade and crumble with the passing years. He uses the detrimental effect of time as part of his argument to convince his attractive male friend to have children. The Bard believes that the only way to truly preserve the beauty of one’s physical features is to pass them along through children like a sort of biological inheritance.

Due to the overall argument of “Sonnet 2,” a significant portion of the poem is spent highlighting the attractiveness of Shakespeare’s male friend. Shakespeare directly states the word “beauty” a total of four times throughout the poem; however, the word is not used in the conventional way of the time period. According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online, the earliest definition of beauty is “that quality of a person (esp. a woman) which is highly pleasing to the sight.” This definition places a noticeable emphasis on gender, implying that beauty was a quality strongly associated with femininity rather than masculinity. We see this in the traditional Petrarchan sonnet in which Petrarch praises a seemingly flawless woman for her stunning looks (and virtue, always added like an afterthought).

This gendered notion of beauty was the relatively unchallenged norm– until Shakespeare came along, at least. Shakespeare chose to break away from the conventions of the Petrarchan sonnet and instead created a new tradition of his own. For instance, a great number of his sonnets are addressed to a male friend rather than to a female lover. This difference was clearly an unexpected development in the world of poetry at the time and still comes as a surprise to many modern readers. Simply by speaking about a man’s beauty in a sonnet addressed to a man, Shakespeare twisted the Petrarchan ideal of beauty and demonstrated that the intended audience for sonnets need not only be female. 

Shakespeare also defied that confines of the Petrarchan sonnet by creating the English sonnet. Petrarchan sonnets generally have an abba rhyme scheme and are divided by a volta between the octet and the sestet. On the other hand, English sonnets are divided into three quatrains with an alternating rhyme scheme and a rhyming couplet at the end. There is usually a volta or heavy emphasis in the rhyming couplet, as opposed to the volta that divides the Petrarchan sonnet into two distinct parts.

By rebelling against traditions of gender and poetic form, Shakespeare separates himself from the Petrarchan sonnet, forges a new path for future poets, and redefines the old gendered definition of beauty. No longer must beauty solely be a female characteristic; instead, the appearances of men can be extolled in poetic verse alongside that of women.

Does the traditional, idealized, gendered notion of beauty still exist? Of course it does. (Unfortunately, Shakespeare only managed to slightly alter it, not get rid of it.) I don’t mean to argue that Shakespeare is some sort of flawless feminist sonnet writer because it’s clear that his views of men and women were far from equal. Instead, I hope I have simply highlighted the Bard’s important and influential role in changing how beauty was discussed in poetry as well as the poetic form of sonnets as a whole.

What are your thoughts on Shakespeare’s sonnets? Do you think his sonnets are to be celebrated or criticized (or both) in regard to how they speak of beauty? Do you have a favorite Shakespeare sonnet? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

People IRL Read This Blog?!?! | Discussion

Today I’m here to discuss a dilemma that nearly every blogger must confront at one point or another: the collision between “real life” and the blogging world.

In high school I was very secretive about my book blogging escapades. I never told anyone at school about it and no one ever randomly asked, “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to run a book blog by any chance, would you?” so I never had to actually say, “Why yes, I’ve run a book blog for years that no one knows about except people online and my parents. And my dogs.” I was perfectly content with the fact that no one else knew, happy to keep clacking away at my keyboard with my nerdy little secret tucked safely between the pages of whatever I happened to be reading that day.

And then I went to college.

Here’s the thing about college: it’s a lot more difficult to hide things from people when you basically live with them 24/7. It’s not like blogging is anything that I had to hide in a bad way– I’m proud of my blog and the hard work I put into it– but I’ve always had mixed feelings about telling people about it. Part of my hesitancy is that I don’t feel like many of the people I know personally would necessarily enjoy reading a blog dedicated to overly enthusiastic ramblings about books and bookish things. I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is a relatively niche subject area, or at least it seems to be when the majority of my college-age peers are more concerned with partying and watching Netflix than anything else. (Shout out to my nerdy friends, though– you’re all gems! <3)

I quickly realized that it would be nearly impossible to keep my blog a complete secret from my friends, especially if I wanted to keep updating it and replying to comments throughout the semester. Gradually I plucked up the courage to gradually mention it to more and more of my small circle of friends. I was taken aback by their genuine enthusiasm, interest, and support. People I knew IRL being interested in my quirky little blog about books? This was a feeling I had never felt before– to be honest, it was a huge relief. 

Then I started a bookstagram account last summer.

Here’s the thing about Instagram: it shows you what other people have recently “liked.” So when my close friends from college started “liking” my bookish photos, more and more people from school began to see my account pop up on their screens. Little by little I watched in simultaneous horror and bewilderment as people I had never intended to know about my blog suddenly began to know about my blog. (I had foolishly put a link to my actual book blog in my Instagram bio.) When I got back to campus in the fall and continued to post photos on my bookstagram, I was shocked to find that so many people actually enjoyed scrolling through my carefully posed pictures of books that I had taken in my front yard and stockpiled on my phone like some sort of weird preparation ritual for an illiterate apocalypse. It was strange to talk about my book blog to peers in person. Suddenly it was no longer a platform leading directly into the Internet void; rather, my voice was being heard by people I came into contact with every day. 

I don’t mean to make it sound like my book blog is some popular site visited by the majority of my college campus. In the grand scheme of things, relatively few people even know about my blog to begin with. What I do mean to emphasis is how my attitude towards people know about my blog has changed. In high school I likely would have cowered away from the mere thought of people from school reading Nut Free Nerd; now, I almost welcome it. I still get flutters of nervous butterflies whenever someone mentions it to me in person, but I’m getting there.

To those of you reading this who I actually do know in person: Thank you bunches!!! *hugs*

If you’re a blogger, how do you deal with the crossover between “real life” and the blogging world? Do you actively spread the word about your blog or do you sit back and wait for people to find out about it naturally? Any advice? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

How fast do I read? | Discussion

Usually when people realize how many books I read in an average week/month/year, their immediate response is to exclaim: “WOW. You must read really fast.” This remark has always struck me as rather odd because I don’t picture myself as a very fast reader; rather, I’ve always though that the reason I read so much is that I simply spend a lot of time reading. However, recently I watched a video by Ariel Bissett called “Can You Read Faster?” that made me ask myself: How fast do I actually read?

In this video, Ariel embarks on a mini challenge of sorts to increase how many words per minute (wpm) she reads, aided by assorted video tutorials giving tips on how to speed read. Though the prospect of speed reading sounds pretty enticing at times, I’ve always been a bit wary of its impact on how much someone comprehends while reading. Apparently there are ways of improving comprehension levels alongside increasing one’s wpm, which I’m sure involve a great deal of forcing yourself to focus solely on the words on the page rather than thinking of that delicious piece of cake waiting for you at the end of your reading assignment.

(Focus, Holly.)

Anyways, after watching Ariel’s video I decided to try a little experiment of my own. A quick Google search brought me to dozens of websites dedicated to calculating one’s reading speed. I tried the first three that popped up and ended up with 472513, and 507 wpm, which averages out to a solid 497 wpm.  This is obviously just a rough estimate, but considering that the average adult reads around 300 wpm and the average college student reads about 450 wpm, I would say this is a fairly accurate result. A little faster than the average college student, but nothing extraordinary.

So, am I a speed reader like people generally seem to assume that I am? My verdict: nope. Again, I think the reason I’m able to read so many books is that I simply spend more time reading on a regular basis than the average person normally would.

Perhaps I’ll try learning how to speed read in the future (summer break?) but for now I’m happy with my current reading speed. I feel like I strike a good balance between reading briskly enough to make quick progress and reading slowly enough to comprehend the maximum amount of information that I can. Still, there’s no denying that speed reading would be an incredibly valuable skill to have, especially as a college English major.

Do you consider yourself a slow, average, or fast reader? Have you ever tried speed reading before? How many wpm do you read? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Do we prioritize “shareable” reading? | Discussion

As you can probably tell from some of my previous discussion posts, I get a lot of my inspiration from Rosianna Halse Rojas, one of my favorite Youtubers. Early in March she posted a video called “The Currency of Sharing” in which she discusses our frequent desire to share everything we do online. Even more interestingly, she talks about how sometimes we may or may not do things based on whether or not they can be shared. The example she uses is going for a walk. Normally she would use it as an excuse to take a selfie outside, showcasing that she was doing something more adventurous than her average day job; however, on this particular day she decides to take a walk simply for the sake of being outside and getting some exercise.

Her video made me think about our desire to share what we read. This desire is incredibly evident when looking at things like Goodreads and #bookstagram (and even blogs like the one you’re reading right now). Us bibliophiles are constantly sharing what we read with others through quick Twitter updates, Goodreads statuses, longer reviews, etc. I’ve been blogging and using these sites for so long that it’s hard to remember what it was like to not keep others in the loop with what I’m reading.

Sharing what we read certainly has many benefits: it helps build book-loving communities, spreads awareness of great books, and can connect people with new friends, ideas, and perspectives. However, one can’t help but wonder if it also influences and sets limitations on what we read. For example, I’ve found that it’s surprisingly difficult to share the fact that I’ve read certain short stories and poems. There’s no Goodreads entry for individual Shakespeare sonnets or short stories by Kate Chopin.

Does this stop me from reading works that aren’t novels? Do I prioritize “shareable” reading? The unfortunate answer is: yes, occasionally.

Sometimes I feel trapped by the need to write weekly book reviews for my blog, convinced that I can only write reviews of full length novels instead of particular poems and stories. Of course, there’s nothing actually stopping me from reviewing or discussing these shorter works, but something about it just feels strange. Nontraditional. Different. It’s a mindset I hope to change in the near future, starting with a greater variety of reviews and bookish discussions.

What are your thoughts on the way we share what we read? Do you prioritize “shareable” reading? Do you review shorter works like poems and stories? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

How Do You Prevent Blogging Burnout? | Discussion

wilberry-15A few months ago Rosianna Halse Rojas created a video called Knowing When To Stop in which she discusses the feeling of not knowing when to stop working and striving to be as productive as possible. As someone who has been thought of as an “overachiever” throughout her entire life, she explains how challenging it can be to hold yourself back from constantly being in overdrive. This inner source of motivation is certainly valuable in terms of work ethic and accomplishing goals; however, there is danger in not knowing when to stop and give yourself a break.

I relate to this video on a personal level in my everyday life so much that it almost feels as though Rosianna has peered through a tiny window into my mind. As a perfectionist, I’m constantly in competition with myself to do more and be better, but eventually this becomes too big a burden to bear. The pressure I place on myself to be as productive as possible and meet my impossibly high standards can be overwhelming at times. There’s this feeling of needing to always live up to incredibly high expectations lest someone expose one’s true identity: that of a normal, average, flawed human being. It’s a vicious cycle that can never be won, for no matter how hard we try it’s obvious that we can never escape the reality that no one is flawless. Still, that truth clearly doesn’t keep us from trying.

It’s no surprise that this mindset has trickled into my blogging life as well. For a while I endeavored to post every single day, which ultimately made blogging feel more like a chore than simply a fun hobby. However, like Rosianna I had a hard time admitting and acknowledging to myself that it was time to scale back and reassess my goals to make them more realistic.

Finding a schedule that works for me (around three posts a week) has been incredibly helpful in reeling in my do-it-all tendencies. Not only does limiting my posts each week ensure that what I’m posting is actually quality content (or at least better than it would be if I was rushing to create seven posts each week), but it also prevents me from developing the dreaded blogger burnout. In high school when I had more time to blog I would frequently feel as though I needed to take breaks or a hiatus and return when blogging no longer felt like a chore. Fortunately, the way my life is now structured in college forces me to step away from blogging each semester due to a lack of free time. As a result, I enter each vacation period feeling refreshed and ready to blog because I haven’t been able to dedicate any significant time to it in months.

Rosianna’s video really resonated with me as it likely does with many other people as well. It’s an important discussion to have, not only with others but also with ourselves. Recognizing and accepting when we need to step back and take some time to relax is a valuable step towards feeling less stressed, more creative, and happier overall.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you also struggle with knowing when to take a break? What are your tips for setting goals that are both challenging and realistic? Have any recommendations of other videos or books about this topic? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

The Dreaded Bookish Mind Blank | Discussion

wilberry-14

I have a bookish dilemma, my friends.

I think about books a lot. In any given moment, chances are that I’ve either thought about reading or will be thinking about reading within five or ten minutes. I’m a bookworm through and through.

However, I’ve noticed that I often experience what I’m going to call “bookish mind blanks.” Whenever I walk into a bookstore, it’s as if I’ve forgotten every book on my TBR that I would have liked to purchased. Similarly, the titles of all of the books I’ve ever loved and enjoyed suddenly vacate my brain whenever someone asks me for a recommendation. It’s kind of like writer’s block or blanking out when taking an exam. For some reason, my mind just cannot get hold of any of my bibliophile knowledge.

In short: when called upon, my bookishness often fails me.

Does anyone else experience these weird blanks? Do you struggle to give recommendations on the spot because you can’t think of certain book titles or authors? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY