Thursday, 14 September 2017

My Favourite Photography Books, and the Joy of Capturing Memories

It's no secret that I love taking photos. Up until a couple of years ago, I would photograph practically everything... and online it would go, regardless of whether it was good, bad, or part of a series of identical photos for no apparent reason. They'd all be uploaded. These days, I'm more selective with what makes the cut, and I no longer photograph everything. That doesn't mean I'm no longer into photography, but rather the opposite: I've actually fallen in love with it even more.

I like to be behind the camera and in front of it, and I love the process of setting up a flat-lay or composing a shot, editing photos so they look their very best, and looking at these captured memories years later. Even the anticipation that comes with developing a photo if I'm using my old Polaroid Supercolor, aka the best charity shop find ever. Taking photos is a bit like blogging, I suppose, isn't it? It's all a form of documenting something. I don't think I'm amazing at it - far from it, and I would love the opportunity to improve, somehow - but I'd like to showcase some of my favourite photos here on the blog at some point. I'll have to ask my friends, first, as they're in some of the photos. We'll see!

I love looking at other people's photos, too - even more if they're in a book. Who wouldn't want their main hobbies combined into one? My favourites are photographers that tell a story, for example Brandon Stanton, the creator of the Humans of New York series, and Cathy Teesdale, creator of Humans of London. Ordinary people become momentary models, and we hear the stories of people we'd probably never meet. I also love Alexandra Cameron, one of the most popular and sought-after photographers in the blogosphere. She doesn't have a book out, but I reckon there's definitely demand!

Every single one of my photography books, you might have noticed, revolves around a place. Because that's another thing: I love travel. And if you can't actually go to a place (ahem, New York) then looking at photos is the next best thing.

Though I haven't used them for this purpose, photos of people like the ones you see in any Humans of... books would make great writing prompts. I was recently sent New York in Colour (are you seeing a theme here?) which is a collection of photographs by Nichole Robertson. It's said to capture the city as never before, and I can definitely see that. Organised by colour, it gives a glimpse of the tiny details you might not notice whilst being a visitor in a huge and overwhelming city. After all, in a place where noisy, bustling crowds and glaring billboards dominate, who's going to notice the beauty of a stack of golden pretzels, the primary colours of the seats on the subway, or bright yellow bananas sold on the side of the street? Robertson also created Paris in Colour which I need to get my hands on, although I'm starting to run out of space for books... she says, as if space for books didn't become limited the moment she learned to read...

I rarely use my camera on a manual setting, and if you wanted to know what aperture was, you wouldn't ask me because I don't have a clue. Nonetheless, I love all aspects of photography, from the joy of finding what I know will be a good shot to flicking through the work of others, and I'd definitely like to broaden my collection of books on photography. Might need to move somewhere bigger first, though, preferably with its own library. One day.

Do you have any photography book recommendations?

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Girl's Guide to Summer by Sarah Mlynowski

Title: The Girl's Guide to Summer
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Published by: Orchard Books
Publication date: 15th June 2017
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance/Travel
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Sydney Aarons is leaving her Manhattan townhouse for a summer backpacking around Europe with her best friend, Leela. They're visiting London, France, Italy, Switzerland and everywhere in between - it's going to be the trip of a lifetime.

BUT... The trip gets off to a bad start when Leela's ex-boyfriend shows up on their flight out of JFK. When they touch down in London, Leela Instagrams their every move in the hope Matt will come and find them... Which he does, along with the most gorgeous guy Sydney has ever seen.

Will Sydney's summer fling last the distance? And what will happen when they all head home?

Much earlier this year, lusting after a new book or two, I came across I See London, I See France - Sarah Mlynowski's latest YA novel. Her debut, many books ago now, was one of the first books I ever reviewed, and it had been far too long since I'd had a good dose of her writing. Unfortunately, this new one wasn't publishing here across the pond, and after tweeting the publisher to check only to get no response (le cry) I kind of gave up on it. Then I saw a tweet in my timeline which included a photo of a Sarah Mlynowski proof... called The Girl's Guide to Summer. And lo and behold, it was the same book! Cue happy Amber.

If you know me at all, you'll know that I love to travel vicariously through the books I read, hence why the original title grabbed me in the first place. A book about a summer spent backpacking around Europe? Get on my shelf immediately, please. I really liked that aspect - it was fun, summery, and everything you might expect from two American teens taking on Europe. Hostels; making three outfits last several weeks; awkward flings; making new friends; accidentally going way over budget, and making memories to last a lifetime. In that respect, it was what I wanted and what I had expected.

However, some of it felt rushed and unfinished, including the ending which was pretty anti-climactic. As well as that, I had no idea until I started reading that Sydney's mum was agoraphobic and suffered with panic attacks. Some of you will know that I have experience of this myself, and I always appreciate literary representation when done well. But I wasn't 100% sure about this one. It seemed to me that she was treated like a burden a lot of the time, and I get that many kids probably do feel like that towards their ill parents if they're having to look after them all the time - not all of them, of course, but it's no easy achievement. However, the constant sense of the mother being a burden jarred. I'm not saying that it shouldn't have been written like that, because that would erase the experiences of a whole group of young people who struggle with caring for their parents, but I think it could have been handled slightly better. It read like the mother was pathetic and weak, and... I don't think people who are inwardly battling demons whilst outwardly smiling and trying to look okay for the sake of others are weak. Maybe that's the problem - that there wasn't much strength placed on the mother, if at all; the focus was always on what she couldn't do, not on what she could. And plot-wise, there didn't seem to be much need for it - or much room. It always felt like an add-on. Instead of a lacking sub-plot which in hindsight detracted from the main chunk of the novel, we could've had a strong, focused, steady plot, done well with no distractions. Like I said, I appreciate mental health representation in books - but please either do it well, or not at all.

I liked the idea of The Girl's Guide to Summer, and most of it I genuinely enjoyed... but it could have been so much better, too. It's an entertaining read full of travel, drama, and adventure, but as much as I love Mlynowski's previous work, don't expect this one to be your new favourite read.

Monday, 4 September 2017

On Bloggers and Authors Being Seen as Public Property

A couple of months ago, there was discussion in the YA community about privacy. Specifically, the private lives of authors. The discussion highlighted that many book reviews, especially for books about personal topics such as sexuality or mental health, would talk about the book and then lead on to speculate about the author's private life. Do they share the same sexuality as their protagonist? They wrote it so well, they must do! Does the author suffer from this mental illness, too? Has the author had this happen to them? Has the author had that happen to them? Overwhelmingly, the discussion concluded in this: an author's life is not public property to be speculated about whenever you feel like it.

I fully agree. An author's private life is totally irrelevant to their work of fiction. It's a complicated topic, because I can see why it might be relevant if they've written a problematic representation of something, but discussing an author's private life can also be dangerous. What if they do share the sexuality of their protagonist, but they're not open about it because of things we don't know about (and shouldn't have to know about)? What if they have experience of a mental illness they've written about but simply don't want to go into detail about their trauma? An author shouldn't have to publicly go into their history for the sake of a reader's curiosity. And speculating about it on the Internet... I mean, this stuff's here forever even if you delete it. And that author has a whole life ahead of them, in which what you've speculated about could crop up again, and again, and again. Because you were curious.

Having written over 300 book reviews, I'm no angel - I've probably speculated about an author's private life too. It's easily done. You see how well they've written about a topic, how detailed it is, and you think: they must have experienced this in real life, surely. You have good intentions - you're praising them on their writing - but intention doesn't mean anything when you're throwing someone under the bus. Whether I've already done it or not, I don't know, but as soon as I saw that thread on my Twitter feed I pledged never to delve into an author's private life in a review. I might mention it or allude to it, like if it's being used by them and their publisher to sell their book/s, but I will never, ever speculate or dig anywhere below the surface.

The point of this post, however - because this wasn't just me repeating what's already been said - is that all of this applies to writing about bloggers, too. I've just read an article about me by a brand which shall remain unnamed, which started off really nicely and full of praise. And then... it descended into speculation. Actually, it wasn't speculation but more stating something personal about me as fact when not only is it not a fact, but something I've literally never said in my life. It's the opposite of something I strongly believe.

Can you imagine how I felt when I read that? I was hurt and angry. I was also shocked, because all I do is blog and vlog about books - I'm not exactly an 'interest' to be written about. On top of that, I was worried. There, on the Internet for all to see, was a piece written as if it was factual - lying and saying that my belief about something is the opposite to what it really is. Their intention was good, it was a nice piece, and it had links to my blog and YouTube... but it also threw me under the bus, made up lies about me, and presented these lies as fact to their massive audience which may never find out the truth.

I don't mind people writing about things I've dealt with in my personal life. I'm an open book. But when you speculate, present fiction as fact, and quite literally make things up about a real-life person... no, I'm not happy about that. Authors, bloggers, and literally all other human beings are not public property. You don't get to make stuff up about them. If you want to make things up and mould someone so they fit your agenda: write a book.

Or maybe don't.

Click here to follow me on Twitter.