Instagram – for better or for worse?

instagram feedI remember when Instagram hit the world in 2011. It was this shiny new app that no-one really knew much about, but changed everything about the way people posted on social media. Instead of forming words to describe your feelings or your life in one moment, now your photographs were front stage and centre, which is pretty incredible really thinking about it as, now, I no longer had to download my images onto my laptop from my Samsung flip phone and then post them on Facebook even though they definitely weren’t in focus. It’s amazing to think how easy it became to post photos of ourselves online within seconds of taking it, even in 2011.

Since then, Instagram has been developed from a personal social network amongst friends to a marketing tool for brands to a place for bloggers and vloggers to thrive behind the scenes. In recent months, I’ve heard increasingly about people proving accounts have been photo shopped, buying followers or Instagram being used by brands to advertise next to your best friend’s selfie. However, most of all, I’ve heard more and more about people’s sudden realisation about how augmented, how unrealistic and how constructed Instagram has become as a medium. On one Instagram feed, you can see posts of your friends and family interlaced with celebrities’, bloggers and brands’ photos – all ranging in quality of their images and the quality of the lives perceived online.

For some, this is a surprise. For me, in all honesty, it’s not. Most of all, it’s not a surprise because I did my dissertation looking at the representation of women on Instagram. I chose to tackle gender representation originally because it’s a cause I’m passionate about, while I chose Instagram as both something different to talk about and because it was – and still is – the social network I use the most.  Throughout the many months and tears shed over my dissertation, I learnt a number of things, but nothing quite as clear as truly what Instagram is and what is represents. I had case studies like Kim Kardashian’s naked selfie; parody account Sociality Barbie; Instagrammer Essena O’Neill; Taylor Swift’s Instagram account and finally, many self-harm and anorexic Instagram accounts, which, for some people, becomes the result of all that pressure and perfectibility filling our heads.

It wasn’t a positive conclusion for my dissertation by all means. My overall research and analysis came to the conclusion that Instagram is a trick. While this is just a short summary of what my conclusion actually said, it’s important to remember that while we all have the accessibility and choice to post what we want, the majority of pictures of our lives and of ourselves essentially showing off without consciously doing it. The constant perfection of Instagram accounts, like celebrities or bloggers or brands, means it brings about this constant self-assessment – “How do I look?”, “Do I look successful, pretty, thin etc?” – as well as this constant higher set of standards to live up to. We literally don’t think about it and even if we do, the majority of us move on and keep posting those Boomerangs. It is accounts like Socality Barbie that really put into perspective what we’re posting.

louise delage

Considering this however, I was incredibly enlightened and interested when I heard recently at work about Louise Delage. She was a French Instagrammer that gained thousands of followers and links within a few weeks. Her Instagram was full of her travels, her social events and showing what most of us would perceive as a good life. However, because we were so used to seeing these photos of a ‘good life’ – selfies, laughter, friends, trendy clothes – a lot of people missed one important similarity to all her photos…an alcoholic beverage.

It wasn’t until the last Instagram video posted that it became clear that Louise Delage did not exist. Instead, she was a character made up to show the subtle signs of alcoholism for a charity, Addict Aide, in France. While I have some issues with perpetuating the Instagram lifestyle for marketing, I was impressed by their intuitive thinking of using Instagram for what it is and what it represents now as well as a marketing tool. This begs the question – can Instagram actually have a positive effect? Can it actually be a place for people to share their woes, get it out on paper [or a screen] or carry positive, important messages from person to person? 

Who knows – I’m not a professional Instagrammer or a doctor of Instagram. Neither do I have the answers to everything, but it’s a topic I find incredibly interesting. I love Instagram even now, but sometimes it’s easy to lose yourself in the world it creates, the perfect lifestyle of even your best friends that it creates. It’s definitely important to take a step back sometimes and see the real world for what it is with #nofilter. 

5 Great Graphic Novels

 

Over the last few years, I’ve got more and more into graphic novels, mostly I think because it combines my appreciation for beautiful design and my love of reading into one. Graphic novels is honestly one of the most diverse and interesting genres of literature, as many authors and artists use the format to explore a number of social issues, personal stories and debates that can’t be explored in the same way with purely words.

Here are just some of my favourite graphic novels:

Soppy by Philippa Rice

This is one of the cutest books I have ever had the fortune to read!

If you’ve ever been in a serious relationship, had an awkward first date or ever purely appreciated just being in the company of someone else, this is the perfect book to reminisce with, bring a smile to your face and give you an appreciation of the small things in life we miss.

Take It As a Compliment by Maria Stoian

A beautiful mix of an incredible and stunning changing art style with distressing yet powerful real stories of sexual abuse victims and survivors. This graphic novel blew me away in the 15-20 minutes it took me to read it and so quickly resonated with me in such a permanent way. Maria Stoian displays so much respect for the stories of these victims – I highly recommend this to everyone!

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Saga is simultaneously amazing and incredibly frustrating a series to read. On one hand this book holds such a great narrative set in this futuristic world. It has some diverse, amazing characters, particularly the family at the focus of its narrative. However, the narrative is so well planned and so absorbing that each of these books are almost too short, you finish one and already want the next one. I’ve so far read the first three books and already ready/saving up money to buy the rest.

Brian K. Vaughan also writes the Paper Girls series with Cliff Chiang which has a great Back to the Future meets Stranger Things meets 10 Things I Hate About You vibe. Image Comics are one of my favourite graphic novel publishers for sure.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman recalls his conversations with his father, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. This adds something special and unique to literature about the Holocaust, depicting WWII as literally a game of cat and mouse – the mice are the Jews, the fat cats are the Nazis.

I remember reading this around Christmas time and staying awake until the early hours of the morning over the week leading up to Christmas because I was so absorbed in this book. This is a powerful and heartbreaking read both about a personal account of the Holocaust, but also about the relationship between father and son. If you have any interest in reading a graphic novel, I urge you to make sure you read this one.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This is the first graphic novel I read a couple of years ago. It is completely different to anything I had ever read before and I loved the mixture of history interwoven in this book with simply the story of a girl growing up and trying to navigate both adolescence and then adulthood.

This has since been turned into a film – all animated in the same art style as the graphic novel. On the first day I celebrated International Women’s Day a few years ago, I went to a local coffee shop to catch the film with my boyfriend who had lent me the book. He was one of the only men there, but absolutely loved the atmosphere and the film.

Holiday Reads

I love summer, don’t you? One of my favourite things about the summer is going on holiday and finally having more time to finally read all day everyday on holiday. It’s the perfect time to get through that long book that’s scared you all year or just relax after a stressful few months in the sun and your favourite author. I’m going on a few trips this summer and these are the books I’m planning on devouring.

Holiday Reads 1

Once And For All – Sarah Dessen

There is always that author that feels a little bit like home when you go back to one of their books. For me, that is Sarah Dessen and I was so delighted to hear that she was bringing out Once And For All this summer. I love her summery settings, her great characters and writing that is witty and makes the best easy read in the sunshine. I’d also recommend The Truth About Forever and Just Listen.

IMG_5701The Mandibles – Lionel Shriver

When I go on holiday, it is the perfect time to read without having to fit reading in amongst working and other errands. The ideal book for these long periods of sitting and relaxing in the sun or for a plane or car journey is a longish one to get stuck into. I’ve wanted to read The Mandibles for about a year now since I saw it in hardback and heard about it in Rosianna Halse Rojas’ video.

The novel is set in 2029 and the dollar is practically worthless. The rich Mandible family cannot count on their inheritance any longer and their normal life existence disintegrates and changes completely. I’m so looking forward to getting stuck into this book and interested to see where this book goes.

IMG_5700

Stars Above – Marissa Meyer

I finished the epic final book in the Lunar Chronicles, Winter, last summer within three days and bought Stars Above and Fairest (two mini novels set in the same world) pretty soon after. I love this series and I think it’s a great read for sci-fi and dystopian fans as it has a little bit of everything within this interesting, magical and intriguing world.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

I successfully predicted from the longlist that The Power would win the Bailey’s Women Prize for Fiction, especially with Margaret Atwood’s backing behind it. The Power tells the story of what happens when young women are able to shoot electricity from their fingertips and cause the gender balance within society to shift.

This sounds like such an interesting and potentially powerful concept. I’ve purposefully not found out much about its plot so I’m interested to see how it is structured and the way the narrative unfolds throughout this book. I’m also reading The Handmaid’s Tale at the moment, so I’m interested to see how this compares also.

 

Carve the Mark – Veronica Roth

30117284.jpgTo some extent I did really enjoy this book, but also I felt pretty ‘meh’ too.

When I think back to everything I’ve heard about this book, the majority of the stuff that comes to mind is pretty negative. I remember having a debate about the controversial issues that arose when Carve the Mark was released with two other colleagues when I worked at Foyles. One of which had already read an advanced review copy and was surprised to hear the allegations, the other had not and took the decision not to read the book. On the other hand, I decided to give it a go, despite the controversies around its narrative and marketing, for three reasons: 1) I was intrigued to find out for myself, 2) It felt important to me to make my own opinion and 3) Before I heard about the controversy, I was genuinely excited for this book from an author who wrote a dystopian series I loved.

There was a lot of potential for this book, especially with Veronica Roth as its writer, which was perhaps part of the problem considering everyone expects something of the calibre of the Divergent series. I wanted the thrilling action, the political background and the overarching love story that I liked about her previous books.

In Carve the Mark, while there was plenty of politics, a vague love story as well as some great action, thrills and surprises at certain points, the ability to hook from the very beginning until the end  – as Divergent did – just never happened for me.

I felt a lot was explained in the first couple of chapters leaving very little backstory or detail to be discovered later on (particularly in terms of Cyra), therefore the book fell flat in the middle section and took a while to pick up again. It meant that after knowing everything about the world and the characters, there was nothing intriguing to get me through the book until the final conclusion. I feel a lot of the problems with this book – both with its controversy and my enjoyment of this book – comes from its structure and the sequence of events Roth has chosen.

However, at a lot of moments I did enjoy the book, largely at the beginning and particularly the end few chapters – which were incredible and the kind of writing I wanted the whole way through. I liked the characters, the world building was interesting (I loved the idea of the current) and the plot could have been decent – it was the writing that largely let this book down for me.

I’m disappointed by Carve the Mark in terms of my expectations for the book, for the author and for its marketing, but it did have a couple of glimmers of brilliance showing what this book could have been.

Will I read its sequel? I’m not sure, I don’t feel too invested in this book because the book felt somewhat quite final until the last page, but to some extent I am intrigued by some of the few seeds left unanswered in Carve the Mark.

I give it a 3 out of 5

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

Wow.

I’m currently sitting in my armchair, previously staring at the blank wall ahead of me, trying to come to terms with the last 100 or so pages I have just finished. Everything about this book was so different and so unexpected to what I thought, yet exactly the kind of Donna Tartt book I love.

With The Goldfinch being one of my favourite books, a colleague of mine recommended this. It was always a book I heard a lot about but never picked it up.

Its beginning is a slow-burner, quietly easing you into the world of the rich, privileged students of Hampden and entering the world of a group of students solely studying the even more exclusive Greek class. While The Goldfinch caught my attention from the beginning and held onto it, it took me a while to really appreciate The Secret History as I was reading.

However, the vital part of my enjoyment from this book was its structure. From the prologue, you are fully aware of what is about to happen in the book, therefore, adding an intensity to the book’s atmosphere as you wait patiently for that event to actually happen and see its aftereffects. And boy, is it tense. The last hundred pages suddenly rank this pressure up, making it both enjoyable and sometimes uncomfortable to read as you watch for the pressure to built up and up.

The book reminded me a lot of The Great Gatsby (my all-time favourite book) – Richard is very much like Nick Carraway, observing and largely idolising and admiring those around him. Tartt’s vivid writing also adds that romantic, immersive touch that I always appreciate from Fitzgerald’s writing too. It was nice to read a similar kind of novel that felt like it wasn’t trying to be like The Great Gatsby either.

The writing is incredible (I kept reading passages out to my boyfriend because I thought they were to great) and the characters are purposefully bittersweet, manipulating your emotions and opinions about them throughout.

I loved this book a lot. I think I still prefer The Goldfinch, but Donna Tartt is now firmly one of my favourite authors. What an incredible book…

I give it a 5 out of 5

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

Originally published on previous blog (the post has been edited for mistakes/clarity)

When Clay comes home from school, he finds a shoebox full of thirteen audiotapes on his front step. Thinking nothing of it, he gets them out and starts to listen, soon finding out that they are audiotapes made by his first love, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide two weeks earlier. As Clay listens to the tapes throughout the night, he discovers the thirteen reasons why Hannah killed herself.

This book has a lot of potential to be excellent and to some extent, it lived up to my expectations. I liked the way we heard from both Hannah and Clay, giving voice to the victim as well as the narrator. However, I only got into the story once it became clear how Clay came into the order of events that led to Hannah’s death, I felt he was irrelevant and didn’t care too much about him as a narrator until this point.

My problem with this book at the time was that it was a hard read and maybe if I read it again a little bit older, I would have a different reaction, but I remember finding it a hard read to pick up every day. It was a powerful and hard hitting book that I believe shines light on topics that need to be talked about, but I felt that it didn’t quite stay with me as much as I wanted it to. I felt it didn’t quite hit home in all the right ways. While there were some powerful moments in it, there are also a lot of problems with this book both from a literary perspective that either don’t make sense or just – for me – aren’t done right.

I think my main problem was the fact this book is supposed to be about Hannah and the actions and events that led her to this moment of suicide, however, in the book, I felt like the narrative was based too much around Clay (who I don’t find an interesting character) and his dealings with Hannah’s suicide.

I’m sure we can all understand what its like to uphold a certain reputation as a teenager. The stark light it sheds on the conditions of some schools and experiences teenagers can have growing up was so realistic and great to read for someone going through similar.

I recently watched the new Netflix series (my thoughts on it are probably for a whole OTHER blog post) and all my thoughts I had for my original reading of the book came flooding back. Ultimately, for the book and the series, I think it is so great these topics are being dealt with in these settings for this audience, but I’m not sure if they quite do the topics justice in my opinion.

My ultimate conclusion for this book is that it was good, but it wasn’t a book I loved or stayed with me in the long run. I’m so glad these topics are written about (especially in 2007!), but I think they could have been dealt with better.

I give it a 3 out of 5

The Circle – Dave Eggers

The_Circle_(Dave_Eggers_novel_-_cover_art)The Circle is an imaginative, almost dystopian (and almost contemporary too) book that provides an intriguing yet scary perspective of where the future of our technology industry could go in the not-too-distant future. It is a future that seems far off with some of its technology, apart from the subtle mention of recent events and the Circle’s concepts that are strangely familiar, like a FitBit like device and technology resembling VR.

The Circle starts off incredibly positively, sucking myself – and the main character, Mae – into the work and lifestyle of the Circle. The atmosphere of its campus, its positive belief in technology and its charismatic staff makes the Circle on the surface an attractive utopia to read about and for the character of Mae to be involved in.

It is in the middle of the book, however, that the subplots simmering previously come to the forefront of the narrative. I felt they lacked development up to that point to really make me care about reading about them. This period lasted briefly on the other hand, passing swiftly and catching my attention once again to take me through the escalating developments in the narrative to a point where you’re on the point of discovering how far this institution will go.

At the peak of this, waiting for this final big moment, another moment happens where the ending inherently depends on a character’s action. You’re waiting, on tender hooks, wondering what might happen, it’s tense…and then it ends. I sat there in shock flicking through the pages checking I didn’t miss anything. A sense of feeling cheated arises in me when I think back to reading it – it felt like a whole final scene was taken out the book and replace with a single ‘oh this happened by the way’ sentence. The ending itself left me conflicted, I was both simultaneously satisfied and dismayed by the ending, which I think is a place its supposed to leave you.

Overall, this book had so many brilliant 5 star moments, but the pace and the quality of writing didn’t quite last throughout its nearly 500 pages. However, this book was enjoyable and is certainly a modern Brave New World or 1984, which I think in itself should be appreciated. It looks at a lot of modern, scarily familiar issues with a magnifying glass without being too preachy. It’s important I think to remember this in the modern age with massive corporations, like Google and Amazon.

How familiar is this future? Who knows, but as I write this on Google Chrome using Windows operating software on a website owned by Amazon with an Apple phone next to me, it’s not hard to see what might happen if these massive, influential technological companies fused together. This is a novel I think that will stay with me as I grow up with the developments in technology and remind me how important it is to remember to be an individual.

(A great review which also summed up my thoughts perfectly is here, but does contain some spoilers: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…)

I give it 4 out of 5