“There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.”
Stephen Chbosky wrote a simple masterpiece, perfect for surviving souls out there. Set in the nineties, this novel is written with a schoolboy innocence as the main character Charlie, writes diary like letters to a anonymous friend, chronicling his lonely high school debut and the demons that haunt his mind. He begins revealing truths about his friend whose recently died, recounting his shock and dismay at everyone’s continuance of their lives ever since.
With a genuine innocence about him, Charlie begins high school and meets a girl, Sam and a guy, Patrick. These smoking buddies welcome him in spite of his age, accepting each other despite all their flaws and secrets. Charlie falls in love with Sam, though she is uninterested and already in a relationship. His innocence is further highlighted as he promises that he loves Sam – so much, that he feels a gripping horror at even thinking about her in any bad way ever. Charlie is dramatic and timid, constantly crying about his life, but in that, there’s something so pure and endearing about him that you will fold to his woes.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist. Or something like that. I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this. That’s why I’m trying not to think. I just want it all to stop spinning.”
It’s clear that Charlie loves his family dearly. He misses his brother who’s away at college playing football. He has a close relationship with his loving mother who understands his ways wholeheartedly. She also the only one skilled in knowing how to deal with him when he’s in a very dark place. But most of all, he misses his Aunt who died in a terrible accident. This is revealed in a interesting way.
Charlie’s friends become his life so much so that, when they’re not around, he finds it hard to breathe. When they argue, he falls apart and will do anything to go back to how they were. Charlie also experiences drugs, music, girls and books. His English teacher becomes inspirational as he realizes Charlie’s potential in writing and provides him with advanced books to read.
The simplicity of this book reveals Charlies state of mind and how he deals with his feelings in a childlike manner. With many turns of events and life changing moments, this is a book which can be read over and over again. Chbosky’s writing is enticing and somewhat addictive, in that he sets the scene as if you were present in the nineties. If anything, you won’t feel like a wallflower. You will feel like you’re driving fast, listening to cassette tapes and feeling infinite.
The Grownup (2014) is an epic short story in the form of a classic Gillian Flynn mystery, with a twist. The story was first found and read in George R R Martins anthology Rogues, and in it was titled “What do you do?” It’s funny, and slightly naughty at the start, an odd blend of hysteria running through the whole thing, but isn’t that what Flynn does? She makes you laugh while you’re scared and uncomfortable. Laugh in a way that scares you, as in, why the hell am I laughing? Dark is an understatement here as is usual with Flynn’s work like, “Gone Girl” (2012) , “Dark Places”(2009) and “Sharp Objects” (2006).
The narrator is a con artist, unreliable and struggling to survive financially. She reads auras at a place called Spiritual Palms where she does more than her job description projects. She deals heavily in doing favours for married men and feels no remorse. Rich, housewife Susan Burke walks in one day, catching her attention with talks of a haunted house that she immediately needs spiritual help for. To make her green, the unnamed narrator decides to up her fake spiritual healing antics and equipped with herbs, she visits Susan’s grand Victorian home, only to realise that the job is bigger than fake clairvoyance. It’s much bigger than she thought.
“But she did invite me to her house, and women like that don’t invite over women like me unless they want something.”
This novella is a classic take on the haunted house, ghost story and I guarantee it will creep you out before it ends quickly. Flynn has now sold the rights to Universal for a “high six figures” and it will be produced by Michael De Luca, with a script adaptation by Natalie Krinsky. //pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js
I began writing this post even before I’d finished this book simply out of excitement that I’d found her! I’d found the essayist who reminded me of myself, the one who I viewed like that friend. The one with tunnel vision, the one who notices every teeny tiny detail turning them into words that puncture my soul in the best way, cupping my entire mind. Afterwards, in my head, she invites me to have food.
”I counted them and double-checked because extra-small things bring out the extra-small person in me who sometimes even triple-checks things; who still chances certainty might exist in asking, “Promise me?”
Named after a Virgina Wolf diary entry, ‘Too Much and Not the Mood’ is a book of essays channeling Chew-Bose’s most inner thoughts and home to her insightful critique of ”what it means to be a brown girl in a white world” and ”the beautiful dilemma of being first-generation Canadian.” Too Much and Not the Mood is fresh, insightful and unbelievably true to our lives. It brings to mind the noises at dinner, the safety of your parents’ house, the quiet of living alone or the experience of cinema – this is how vast her scope is. Chew Bose writes earnestly about the things we neglect as things frankly; things we don’t acknowledge as important to the bigger picture, but they are just that, important.
“Because writing is a grunt, and when it’s good, writing is body language. It’s a woman narrowing her eyes to express incredulity.”
Who knew taking everyday tangible moments and heightening them to mean so much more, could make us think of things like the meaning of comfort, the psychology of Build-A-Bear Workshop or of fishing as a child in such a profound way. Chew Bose is the queen of weaving neatly through her thoughts, explaining and analyzing but always concluding with bite.
“It’s an elbow propped on the edge of a table when you’re wrapping up an argument, or to signify you’re just getting started. An elbow propped on the edge of a table is an adverb.”
This book will make you go back, go back and finite the things in your life you have taken for granted, make you want to tell your family you love them, maybe even make you want to understand how your family thinks you view them. Ask how they view you? It will make you remember, remember smells and trips, remember what you have done, little things you do all the time. She calls to mind movies and love, perspective, and understanding. This book also chronicles Chew-Bose’s critical feelings of displacement being Indian and Canadian and living in Montreal and New York. This book creates a sense of solitude, and as Chew-bose remarks ”that life that you’re living alongside your life.” She initiates a voice, so true and real, it may wake up the person you know you are, the one you are meant to be or simply, the unheard voice inside of you. Her power is in her prose, but best of all, her power is coated in her questions.
“Isn’t it fun to read a sentence that races ahead of itself?”
Chew-Bose’s observational skills may distract slightly, but whenever she goes slightly off-kilter, she returns with gusto. She opens up, lets us in her ‘heart museum’ to start and then frolics to pronunciations of her name, her parent’s divorce, skin tone and high school memories. Her thoughts are intellectual and her nostalgia is rich with character and sentiment, reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s essays where she wavers always returning with an objective or even Joan Didion’s haunting style of shock. As much can be said for her chapter titles, her stories drift, possibly delayed even but pertaining to a celestial style that she owns authentically.
I first heard of Joshua Bennett on a YouTube crawl at what feels like a very long time ago now. It was a typical night; bedtime routine, candles and some light reading then, Def Jam Poetry before sleep came. He appeared on my feed as a recommendation, and I first encountered a young man from Yonkers, NY reading a spoken word poem called ”10 Things I Want To Say To A Black Woman.” He called out to the female viewer, ”I’ve seen you crucified too, spread out on billboards to be spiritually impaled by millions of men with eyes like nails.” I’ve been preoccupied with his words ever since.
Next, Russell Simmons’ Brave New Voices based in Philadelphia where a nineteen-year-old Bennett performed ‘Adam and Eve’ so passionately, how were we ever to forget him? They called him the grand slam champion and he went on to prove why. “It’s no longer physical chains that bind. It’s this mindset that forces me to TEVO rap videos and press rewind.” Weeks later, and I was still hooked. I listened faithfully to ‘Balaenoptera’ on a loop, whilst working at a job I hated, memorizing the sweetness of this narrative he pieced together so beautifully. ‘Darling. Did you know, that a blue whale has a heart the size of a car?” Then ‘Transatlantic Love Manifesto’ revealed his tenderness, his patience, and his delicate need and want for love. He asks his woman “how about we write a joint letter to the Department of Age and ask for a refund?” His poetry was fresh, daring and exceptionally memorable, his words making fans identify with his predicaments, groan in approval of his stanzas, and click, click, click at the live shows in awe of his talent.
To me, Joshua is king of spoken word. He’s elevated the craft; the distinguishing feature always being that he expresses knowledge and sense through his own eyes. He understands and absorbs his craft, pulling at readers/listeners heart-strings by way of language. This is the making of a great poet.
We were introduced to his family through ‘Levi’ and ‘Tamara’s Opus’, both wonderful and sentimental visions of his siblings.
”I waited was patient numberless years anticipating the second her ears would open like lotuses and allow my sunlight sentences to seep into her insides make her remember all those conversations we must have had in Heaven back when God hand-picked us to be sibling souls centuries ago.”
Levi’s story is revisited in ‘The Sobbing School’ through ‘Still Life with Little Brother’ and Bennett’s take on understanding autism and it’s place in the world. His angle both times on his brother Levi is beautiful and will for sure stir your insides.
”Levi is my brother’s name & I wrote a poem about him once & it wasn’t about him as much as how fear stalks me like an inheritance, how I fear for him with all of my love, how I know the world like I know the names of famous poets & the world has claws, Levi.”
Still Life with Little Brother
Bennett’s parents play a vital role in his writing, starring roles even. He dedicates his published book to his loving mother and father ‘who dreamt of other worlds.’ Their influence on him is rich, resulting in some wonderful poems emerging in ‘The Sobbing School’ centered on family relationships. Bennett revisits his past with his mother and father often but also recalls his parents historical telling of their own upbringing and surroundings. Here, Bennett creates a captivating narrative where his poems reference ”back in the day” or ”my mother claims”, as well as his own memories of his parents like ”I knew Mama was nothing to be fooled with” and ”my father showed up that day dressed up as a man with a son with a rage problem.” His family life is reflected in an open and honest fashion, Bennett giving a true insight into his surroundings growing up in a Latino neighborhood and attending a predominately white private school. His world is vibrant and his probing and examining of it is sensational.
Joshua Bennett was once a member of spoken word group, ‘The Strivers Row.’ He introduced the world to such pieces as “Praise Him”, “In case of an emergency: Letter to my nephew”, “Still life with Black Death” and “16 Bars for Kendrick Lamar.” Even amongst a very talented group of six poets, (including Miles Hodges, Alyssa Harris, Jasmine Mans, Zora Howard and Carvens Lissaint) Bennett stood out for me. It was his importance, the urgency to hear his poetic voice. On stage, he is a force. His readings are bound to give you chills; his passion and emotion lingering through his words like electric currents, never seizing to impress and educate. Most importantly, the subject matter is always significant and didactic. Bennett’s poetry has always been alive with current American culture, and a fascinating perceptive understanding of the world. This is also reflected beautifully in his published work.
What makes Bennett so remarkable is that he is unafraid to question American society, white or black. He is at his most impressive and true when discussing race, and his tumblr account “square dancing with giants” is a good place to feel this. His poignant interest in race is clear as the theme of blackness is explored through images and quotes.
To put it simply, Dr Joshua Bennett’s voices resonates. As an admirer of his poetry, my admiration for spoken word poetry has been heightened and has allowed me to invoke a poetic voice within myself, I never knew existed. ‘Algorithm & Blues’ and ‘The Sobbing School’ have become my most treasured collections of poetry. Through these racially charged anthologies, Joshua reflects the youth and their challenges at school and the workplace in light of being black in America. His delivery not only echoes the astonishing beauty of language, but he is also able to convey clarity, personality and powerful messages in his words. Many can strongly identify with his working-class family background but also his passionate voice, his intriguing stories, and his New York vision. As a black African, I feel his work is notable and current in light of police brutality, but also culturally I feel his work is able to respond to other types of discrimination.
To say I am an admirer of Dr Joshua Bennett, would be an understatement. In my eyes, he is crucial to poetry and vital to young black readers. He is most definitely notable and a force to be reckoned with. His work thus far has changed me; influencing my daily writing and moving me beyond words. Dr Bennett has affected me greatly since that first night I watched his spoken word poetry online. Due to his inspiration, I went on to study a masters in English and Creative Writing and write poetry of my own. In my personal statement when applying, I wrote with his work and voice in mind.
”I’d like to take my writing to a critical place; a place where through honoring myself, I’m able to create work with the potential to change the perceptions of every form of me. Be that for women, Somalis, Black and African people, Muslims and twenty-somethings. I write for my love of the process, the craft and the contentment it brings me. My great joy derives from reading the work of writers who rouse something in me, the ones whose names I can never forget. Staying true to my childhood self (who was a dreamer), I intend to make myself proud by creating work others can love just as I have. My primary responsibility is to write with a sense of vulnerability and at times a reckless imagination so that I may make my work, to a stranger, worth remembering.”
Joshua Bennett greatly opened my eyes to the use of language. Through his work, I’ve been washed over with the creativity of poetry, viewing blackness as a study and of believing in my own vision, my words and life events now becoming art. He has the power to show young black people, wherever they reside, that they too can become a doctor. They too can choose to not be a stereotype or a statistic and are able to use their life experience on the page. Through his inspiration, they can excel, educate themselves and dream big.
I’m sure there are people out there with their own stories on how they discovered Joshua Bennett’s greatness. Comments on countless videos begging for written lyrics of his poems, requesting for more or simply showing him love. I’m the most intrigued by his mind. I’d like to read what he reads, understand his vision even more and watch his career soar to whichever plateau it takes him.
If you ever read this Dr Bennett, I’d like you to know you are one of my heroes and you have made a change in someone. You are so important not only to me, but to poetry.
It was the first summer lecture on the Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck University 2017. We were discussing how a writer finds and defines their voice and their territory. The set reading was Zadie Smith’s 2007 essay, ‘Fail Better’. The essay eloquently discussed failing honourably in literature and the responsibility of a writer. It seemed to resonate deeply with the entire lecture hall. It was compelling and utterly honest, sending me into a frenzy. I wanted to know who Zadie Smith was.
Turns out Zadie was born in Brent and her first novel White Teeth (1999) was set in Willesden. Smith nurses an intricate kaleidoscope view of London, whereby she embraces and celebrates London’s melting pot of cultures, embodying the city as a ‘state of mind.’ After reading Zadie’s books, one may observe Smith’s storytelling gives special attention to areas reflective of her humble beginning, places that ring the north circular like Wembley, Neasden, Kilburn, Harlesden and her beloved Willesden. Zadie still lives in Brent for half the year and resides in New York for the other. Zadie is often praised for her realism in her writing, much of that stemming from her use of slang or of her realistic portrayal of London through mirroring the streets of Brent. She is clear in her understanding of the needs of her local community, and the characters dwelling through these parts and their potential. Multiculturalism is a solid theme throughout her work, alongside her character as a writer who clearly holds Brent dear.
Pop culture podcast SRSLY by the New Statesman discussed the television adaptation of her popular novel NW. The reworking of the 2012 novel was reviewed in link to social mobility, a theme ever present in Brent. The podcast discussed Zadie’s relatability to her characters struggles of ‘getting out’ of social housing, an ideology she to this day feels associated with, but also described as blurred. As an accomplished writer, Zadie may have ‘escaped’ her humble beginnings, yet currently lives in America in what she describes as a place that looks, and feels like a tower block. On the contrary, it lacks the community she once had. The television adaptation was beautifully shot in Kilburn, reflecting the themes of change and movement effectively.
Zadie’s contribution to literature and Brent’s legacy have come hand in hand throughout her career. She steadily employs her fame to shine light on the potential of the area. Her adoration of Kilburn high road is reflected in NW, as well as through her voluntary contributions to the borough. In 2016, Zadie campaigned for children centres in Kilburn, Granville and Carlton. To support the cause, she read extracts from an essay concerning the importance of local services.
Zadie discussed the ‘Brent Youth Orchestra’ in her 2011 short story ‘Sweet Charity’ for the New Yorker and reminisces on the Willesden Green bookshop which she strongly believes shaped her writing in The Guardian. She’s also spoke candidly defending Brent Libraries on how they were essential to her growth as a writer and places weight on Willesden libraries importance to her acceptance into the pearly gates of Cambridge University.
Smith is a force to be reckoned with amongst mainstream writers and additionally is a great candidate to reflect the borough of Brent in the mayor Sadiq Khan’s London borough of culture 2020 bid.