I remember discovering meringues. They're soft and sticky but simultaneously hard. They stick to your tongue whilst breaking into a soft powder in your mouth. My mother told me how hard they are to bake: they require the perfect temperature for the perfect amount of time. If one of these elements goes off they burn or wilt. However, the thing about meringues is that after making them a couple times it becomes easy. Like learning a second language, similar to the paths we learn and walk on auto-pilot without even thinking.
Recently, I've been faced with moving for the sixth time in four and a half years in this city. I'm getting tired of cardboard boxes and filling in seven address boxes on official forms. I realised I've never made the choice to move, it's always been taken out of my hands: leases ending, abusive flatmates, circumstances changing (and the one time my flatmate moved in her aggressive Japanese grandmother without so much as a heads up).
Me and my partner currently live in an unusual flat. Our main attraction was the price tag: it was cheap but getting to the centre of town on foot was still manageable. It's near a bus stop, a supermarket and a train station. It's an odd layout: the bedroom is also the living room... which is also the dining room... which is also the only room with storage. The bed is a loft bed which is too small. It's dusty and damp and freezing in winter, but we couldn't afford the heating. The shower can manage about six minutes a day before giving up the ghost. Panelling and windows and the toilet are broken, things fall over all the time and people can peep in the window.
But it was still a home. I lived with all these things and was happy. It was only when I visited other people I realised our situation was unusual. This was our home: I decorated it our books and with free postcards and photographs of us at the museum. I went on a trip to IKEA and budgeted. We had weekly planners and laundry to do and fresh sheets. We made a more comfortable bed under the loft bed and put up animal shaped lamps. We were nesting.
I looked forward to coming back to a flat in the first time... ever. I used to stay out every night: at poetry slams, at the pub, at the cinema, in the library or the nightclub I never came home and just relaxed. I sofa (or more accurately: floor) surfed at least four nights a week. Now, I was becoming a homebody: looking forward to reading books in bed or clean the kitchen or watch films on the sofa under a blanket. I liked being in my space: I had a place where I could feel safe.
Enter stage left: our neighbour.
At first, it was just knocking on the door quite persistently. Then he caught me off-guard and verbally sexually harassed me. And just like that. The house had been thrown off the perfect language we'd made. We tried to fill it with double-checking the door lock, making sure we came home together, that I was never home alone. But it was downhill from there: he tried to break into the flat one night, throwing his entire body weight at the front door. Then he started playing music all night (literally, a few times it started at 10:30pm and finished twelve hours later).
When I go to flat viewings, I get the thrill of snooping through other people's houses: confirming what the boxes inside the buildings look like. I also, now, question what's the one odd part that could jeopardise the balance. The lack of washing machine? The broken shower? The slow internet? I always try to spot the one weird flaw that will make life slightly off, tallying in my head the difference between something unusual and something unlivable. I can't stand being picky; feel guilty too quickly for trying not to just make do.
In one night of disaster, out of hundreds of happiness, we decided we had to abandon ship. I've got friends who have lived in this city for 2 years, already snug in their homes. I've had friends stay in the same place for six years. I'd like to learn that language of spotting the perfect living home.
I walk into a flat. It's the top floor, away from the noise. It's light and has space and a separate bedroom that isn't the living room. It smells like meringue.
This year, I decided to record every book I read. As the end of April marks a third of the way through 2018, I thought I'd reflect on all the books I've read cover-to-cover so far this year.
The Running Order
For reference, those books are:
"Molly's Game" by Molly Bloom
"Grief is the Thing with Feathers" by Max Porter
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathon Safran-Foer
"Pure Toilet" by Sam Small
"Everyday" by David Leviathan
"The Keeper of Lost Things" by Ruth Hogan
"Room" by Emma Donoghue
"On Balance" by Sinead Morrissey
"The Dressmaker" by Rosalie Ham
"Milk and Vine" by Adam Gasiewski and Emily Beck
"The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx" by Tara Bergin
"How to Stop Time" by Matt Haig
"Carol" by Patricia Highsmith
"Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman
The Main Contenders
So far my favourite books have definitely been:
1. "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine"
3. "The Dressmaker"
All three of these books have somewhat similar themes. Honeyman's novel is an award-winning look at loneliness and isolation in modern Glasgow. "Room" is Donoghue's depiction of a young kidnapped boy, able only to explore one small "room". "The Dressmaker" is by Australian novel-writer Rosalie Haim, and follows outcast protagonist Tilly Dunnage as she returns to Dungatar, from which she was sent away at a young age for an unspeakable crime. Whilst all of these novels were unique, they each painted a picture of what it to feel on the outskirts, whether that is because of situation, mental health, class or literal imprisonment. I would strongly recommend all of these novels!
The Back-Up Dancers
The books I also really enjoyed were:
1. "Molly's Game"
2. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"
3. "On Balance"
These are three totally different books. "Molly's Game" follows the real life story of Molly Bloom, a self-made entrepreneur who made millions by running high class poker games for Hollywood A-listers. It's definitely an interesting read, which you almost won't believe is true - and will make you think totally differently about Tobey Maguire. However, it's ending was rather abrupt and, as was later revealed, a lot of the true story was left out so that Bloom would not damage certain individuals' reputations. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is a novel narrated by 9-year-old Oskar Schell, who navigates modern New York after his father is killed in 9/11. Whilst totally unique and bold in how it blends images with texts, it left me unsatisfied. It's hard to describe, but it felt as if there was a total lack of redemption - maybe this is apt for a novel dealing with the aftermath of such a famous tragedy, but it means the novel leaves you feeling hollow. "On Balance" is a collection of poetry from Sinead Morrissey which explores instances of balance: from flight, architecture and the circus to gender inequality. I really enjoyed this and thought the concept was incredibly strong - my favourite poem was definitely "My Life According to You". I was very close to putting this in the Main Contenders list, but it very closely missed out!
The Cutting Room Floor
Some books I didn't enjoy so much. They were as follows.
1. "The Keeper of Lost Things"
2. "Every Day"
I wanted to make this list 3 books long, but honestly, I don't really finish books unless I'm somewhat enjoying them. "The Keeper of Lost Things" was recommended to me both by my mother and by Waterstone's. It follows Laura, the assistant to an infamous short story writer, tasked with returning his collection of lost things to their original owners. I was excited for this book to follow Laura's quest and the backstories of these items - similar to a book I love: "Behind the Scenes at the Museum" by Kate Atkinson. Instead the novel focused on Laura moving into her boss's house, making friends, finding love and possibly seeing a ghost? I felt the blurb of this novel mis-sold itself and I kept wanting it to take off the ground, even as I reached the last few pages. "Every Day" by David Leviathan was a romp into the trashy teenage books I miss. It follows "A": a supernatural protagonist who wakes up everyday in a different teenagers' body but (shock horror!) he ends up falling in love with Rhiannon and the two try to navigate this unique relationship. I got what I paid for with this one and to a certain extent I knew what I was in for. However, this book contained some very very fatphobic passages, where "A" finds himself in the body of a fat teenager and is perpetually disgusted/horrified/ashamed and every negative verb under the sun. I wish Leviathan had considered his words and how damaging they'd be for the young readers picking up this book!
It's Gonna Be May!
Now that we're into May, I'm re-reading one of my favourite books: "The Trick is to Keep Breathing" by Janice Galloway. Also on my to-read list are:
"The Rental Heart" by Kirsty Logan
"Hera Lindsay Bird" by Hera Linday Bird
"The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate" by Rachel McCrum
"The History of Bees" by Maja Lunde
and "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder.
Some of these are because of the recommendations of friends (Logan, Lunde), others are poets I've been meaning to read for ages (McCrum, Bird) and "Sophie's World" is to try and re-step into my old philosophy degree.
Thanks for reading everyone, keep up to date with the books I read on my Instagram! And please tell me: what should I read next?