Richard Scott’s ‘Soho’ Will Make You Sob and Want to Do Better

TW/CW: Mentions of homophobia

A vividly written and heart-wrenching poetry debut, Richard Scott’s Soho hits home, painting a sickening picture of the internalised (and very much externalised) homophobia still present in society. While condemning the discrimination he has had to face, the male, gay voice of the book shares sob-worthy experiences of love, lust, parenthood, and friendship, in the painful context of alienation for something he cannot control.

The book starts with Public Library, 1998, a poem about the lack of representation in any kind of media — here disguised under the metaphor of library books, as an encapsulation of widely available entertainment — of gay experiences and narratives. The poem ends with an observation about people’s ignorance or choice to overlook the existing representation, hidden and scarce as it may be, with the lyrical voice borderline defacing public books in an act of rebellion against the fact that he himself is never seen or willfully ignored.

my pen becomes an indigo highlighter inking/up what /the editor could not, would not — the violet hour of /these /men hidden deep within verse. I underline those that nature,/ not the printer, had prick’d out; rimming each delicate/ stanza in cerulean, illuminating the readers-to-come …

Richard Scott. Soho (p. 8). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

The book becomes more and more intense as it continues to condemn discrimination, culminating with a final ode addressed to Soho, where the lyrical voice has lived his entire life. The entire collection is, sometimes subtly, and sometimes overtly, an act of protest, rubbing ‘obscenities’ in the faces of those who refuse to accept others’ sexualities.

The most emotional poem for me was [people say shit like it gets better], a powerful and heartbreaking account of the never-ending discrimination gay men (in this context, a metaphor for any marginalised group) have to face for the rest of their lives. The title in itself is a spiteful sarcastic comment dismissing the hollow and useless attempts at comforting victims of discrimination with empty words like “it gets better”, when in fact, it never does.

you are twenty-seven when your father says/ gay people die of terrible diseases/ you are twenty-eight when a poet says/ makes for uncomfortable reading/ you are thirty-one when your father says/ don’t tell anyone you’re my son

Richard Scott. Soho (p. 60). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

A particularly difficult-to-digest poem is crocodile, a harrowing image of our society, where the majority who fits the stereotypical mold is a predator, while the minority is the prey. The poem opens with the lyrical voice visualising being eaten alive by crocodiles, a graphic and gruesome scene that ends on a twist, as he survives the attack and carries on living in expectancy of future attacks. The eating-alive scene is a tragic account of being judged, rejected, and discriminated against, a slow and cruel fate that just keeps repeating itself. The second half of the poem shows how, although he never heals, the victim takes pride in his wounds and wears them arrogantly, almost trying to provoke the ‘crocodile’ and prove it hasn’t won.

I have died already and somehow/ survived/ and didn’t I wear those wounds/ well pity me the boy who cried/ crocodile I have these moments when I/ know I wanted it asked for it even/ nothing ever really heals he can/ smell the red meat of me/ bait lighting up the river

Richard Scott. Soho (pp. 11–12). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

A recurring theme is ‘shame’, a feeling Scott describes in vivid, original, and unexpected ways, ranging from revolting against it, to owning it, to being one with it, to being embarrassed by it. Shame, it appears, has been projected upon the lyrical voice from a young age, as throughout the book there are numerous descriptions of subtle homophobia and toxic masculinity displayed by the father figure, who simply cannot accept his son. From dismissing his son’s sexuality to rejecting him entirely, the father figure gains the weight of betrayal and discrimination his son has been facing from the entire world. A lot of blame is placed on the father, who becomes almost the desired recipient of the book — the ultimate promoter and pioneer of discrimination.

The collection ends with a long ode to Soho, described as a two-sided space, that on the one hand perpetuates hetero-normative standards while having secretly embraced a queer culture that thrives in secret in the same place. The author’s voice is pejorative, but the poem is rich in details of the queer life going on almost behind Soho’s back, as the neighbourhood becomes a live character condemned for its choice to turn its head away. The poem includes Roman mythology and history motives, weaving the present with the past in an attempt to condemn history’s ignorance of queer narratives and bring them back to life.

To better experience the beauty, sadness, and impact of Oh my Soho! here’s a video of Richard Scott reciting it:

Soho is a rich, heartbreaking, vivid poetry collection about representation, discrimination, sexuality, and what society can do to fix its repeated attacks on marginalised groups. In my commitment to research and understand how I can do better by anyone who has ever faced discrimination, Soho was an essential and eye-opening read, and I recommend it to everyone with all my heart. I promise it will make you reconsider everything you’ve ever said, done, or witnessed, and you will be left with a sense of frustration and guilt, and a desire to do better.

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The Vengeful and the Depraved in ‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed’

Let me begin by sharing the ways in which I tried to describe the feelings that came to my mind, as I read this collection of short stories. There were a lot of horrified oh-my-gods, and quite a few disgusted oh-my-gods; I thought they were compelling, some scary, some sobering, some that made me very very uncomfortable, and some that just confused me. But was it a powerhouse? Hell yes.

Argentine author Mariana Enriquez, who has been compared to Shirley Jackson and Jorge Luis Borge, brings to us a compelling collection of stories that suck you in and yet, at the same time, really repel you. Each of these stories is unconventional and is a horror-take on some issues, which, at the core, are often socio-political in nature. Perhaps ‘macabre’ is the right word to use for her works. According to Goodreads, the author’s stories are:

Populated by unruly teenagers, crooked witches, homeless ghosts, and hungry women, walk the uneasy line between urban realism and horror. The stories are as terrifying as they are socially conscious and press into being the unspoken — fetish, illness, the female body, the darkness of human history — with unsettling urgency. A woman is sexually obsessed with the human heart; a lost, rotting baby crawls out of a backyard and into a bedroom; a pair of teenage girls can’t let go of their idol; an entire neighborhood is cursed to death by a question of morality they fail to answer correctly.

Written against the backdrop of contemporary Argentina, and with resounding tenderness towards those in pain, in fear, and in limbo, this new collection from one of Argentina’s most exciting writers finds Enriquez at her most sophisticated, and most chilling.

My Thoughts and Why You Need to Read It ASAP

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed was truly a book unlike any other. At first glance at the synopsis, one might think that the stories are gross and disgusting and that would be reason enough to rate it really low. But on the contrary, I have quite possibly never read anything like this. I loved it, yes, with all its weirdness, its fetishes, and all its horror. I read it and I loved it and I rated it 5 stars.

We both knew what the ending might be, and we didn’t care.

I went in knowing that I might have to face the dark at night. And that was indeed saying a lot because I am generally not a scaredy-cat. I can watch a ghost/demon/horror movie at 3 am when it’s pitch black and fear can come in the shape of a headless man standing in the corner of your room when it is just your jacket hung up on the hook. And so, to say that I was spooked might not be an understatement.

One of my top 5 favorite stories in this collection has to be Our Lady of the Quarry. It’s got the usual teenage drama, jealousy, and parties and boys. But it also has a gruesome revenge plot that I was taken aback by. But that is not all. I faced my own depravity when I felt my righteous anger at the two characters who, I ended up believing deserved what came for them. It was an unsettling end but what was more unsettling was my own reaction to it and how my dark side came out so easily. Perhaps, our dark sides are ultimately not that deeply embedded in us, and are just lurking around under the skin?

Perhaps, our dark sides are ultimately not that deeply embedded in us, and are just lurking around under the skin?

Some might say that Where Are You, Dear Heart? was the goriest of them all. Was it? Yes, most possibly. But Enriquez’s writing is a mirror and my disgust was mixed with a sense of curiosity which slowly began to turn into a sickening fetish to keep on reading the story.

Kids Who Came Back was another unsettling story, one that shook me to my core. I still don’t know what I exactly feel about it. What did it make me feel, I wonder? Thrill, as the story began with a mysterious vibe? Dread, as I knew the twist was just around the corner, as was classic of all the other stories? Satisfaction, when the horror finally began? (And at this I again questioned my depraved mind) Sadness, at the somehow befitting end? I still don’t know.

Back When We Talked To The Dead birthed an urge in me — to try and summon spirits using an Ouija board, despite the many warnings my Aunt, a spirit medium herself, has repeatedly given me. I was compelled, just as the girls in the story, but the ending with madness and horror was the final warning for me.

I have three memories of him, one of them may be false

What was it about this author’s power that pulled me in? That made me understand my boundaries more and made my depravities and my fetishes more recognizable? What made me deny my denial of this knowledge? Should I now create an altar and worship this goddess writer? Or would that make me weird enough to be clubbed together with these characters in the stories?

What was it about this writing, these stories, and the characters’ unreliability that made this such a mind-blowing read for me? Was it because I was forced to face the basic and the basest of human desires and capabilities? Was it because I was forced to face my own humanity (or its lack thereof)?

The Unavoidable Discourse and Disappointments

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed has some unavoidable socio-political and cultural themes that are underlying the horror and the grime but may perhaps be the core of it all. From stories of people being ‘taken away’, to people being ‘trapped’, it is full of such subtle jabs and hints of a cultural and political makeup of a people, of a country.

There were also a couple of stories that seemed a bit mild to me and therefore not very memorable. But that is to say, perhaps I have already been influenced, corrupted, and debauched enough to find them mild. It certainly is a dark ride, one that makes you question your own morality, your own humanity. Proceed with caution!

Final Thoughts

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is not an easy read. It is certainly not a comforting read either. But if you are one among those who revel in the macabre and the horror and the freakishness, this might be for you. If you want to expand your senses and dabble with that which is outside your box and makes you uncomfortable, this is for you. Go for it.

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‘M Is For Mother’ Is a Powerful Account of Women’s Relationship With Motherhood

Disclaimer: Please note I was approached by the author asking me to review this book, which I accessed through Kindle Unlimited.

M Is For Mother seriously challenged my comfort zone when it comes to my reading choices, and that’s simply because I’m not planning to become a mother any time soon, if ever. So, naturally, reading a memoir about motherhood felt a little strange, but in the end, I found many aspects of the book I could either relate to or learn from. 

Alexandra Antipa’s memoir is all the more moving when you learn about her struggles with infertility and how strongly she held on to her hopes once she became pregnant with her daughter. The book covers aspects of the author’s life pre-pregnancy, during, and then after pregnancy, leading to bringing up her daughter to her toddler years. But it’s not a parenting book, necessarily. It’s a realistic and well-documented account of one woman’s experience and profound love for her child, a child she desired for years.

The most relatable and touching elements for me had little to do with the motherhood topic of the book, but either with Alexandra’s nationality, as we are both Romanians. There are subtle and not-so-subtle moments in the book where I knew exactly what she was expressing and what she was talking about when sharing aspects of her childhood in Romania, or how her mother used to advise her with regards to having and raising children. 

I could relate to her hospital anxiety after she witnessed her sister giving birth in Romania, under unimaginable conditions to those in the West. I also witnessed my mother giving birth to my brother in not exactly adequate conditions, a day that marked me and made me wary of hospitals. Even if I don’t plan to have children in the near future, the first thought that comes to mind when I think about children is the hospital anxiety. I imagine those who grew up in the West would find it difficult to imagine this specific feeling.

Another great side of the book was the conflict between being a career woman and a mother, a conflict I could, again, relate to, although in my case it’s mostly a conflict between being a boss woman and a house woman. I like responding to my motherly and housewife-y (for lack of a better word) instincts every now and again. I love cooking for my boyfriend when he has a hard day at work. I love looking after him and after other people in my life, like my brothers and friends. I enjoy mundane chores and I like embracing my femininity. On this level, M Is For Mother truly spoke to me, as it subtly spoke about the pressures society places on women nowadays to be somewhat disconnected from some of our specific instincts and embrace the bossy, independent, modern female form that’s now more acceptable.

But possibly the most heart-warming and most enjoyable aspect of Alexandra Antipa’s memoir was that it helped me understand some of my own mother’s feelings and behaviours towards us. My mum also dealt with infertility before she had me and that’s why she was able to have my brother only 13 years later — a pregnancy she was strongly advised against at the time. As I read, I felt like connecting to my mother on another level and learning about her possible emotions, which I could never understand, not being a mother myself. Alexandra’s love for her daughter, so eloquently, so candidly explained even through the simplest gestures reiterated in the book deeply reminded me of my mother’s behaviour towards me growing up. 

I don’t know if chance made it that I found my mum so similar to Alexandra, that they’re both Romanian and were brought up under the same culture and values, or that I chose to associate the two, but it felt comforting and eye-opening to find out about the reasoning behind a mother’s (sometimes unexplainable) attitudes towards their children.

Final Thoughts

Regardless if you’re a mother, planning to become one, or motherhood is not in the cards for you at all, I strongly recommend M Is For Mother, if only just to connect to your own mothers, to find out more about women’s hidden struggles with society’s standards, or just because you enjoy a good, moving memoir. Thank you Alexandra for reaching out and pointing me to your story.

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Why ‘Places of Poetry: Mapping the Nation in Verse’ Is a Must-Read This Summer

Places of Poetry: Mapping the Nation in Verse is a collection of poems, taken from the Places of Poetry project, recording how people have engaged with the many parts of the UK. The scope of the poems is refreshing with recent poems written by schoolchildren sitting fittingly beside work written by revered poets from 200 years ago. For many of the poets, this collection is their first publication, and so it is heartening to see a place for new poets, rather than staid collections that merely rearrange already published works.

The mix of places and poets is mirrored by the range of poetic styles present. It would be an exaggeration to suggest every English language poetic form is represented here, but only a slight one. This range of styles helps to provide a clear voice to each work, and avoids it becoming a monotonous series of similar treatments of different places.

It is structured by regions and follows a spiral, like the perfect inward curve of a snail’s shell, from the South West up to Scotland and back down to the South East and up again to the North West. This structure provides a framework that is fleshed out by the myriad of places mentioned, from the famous to those known only for a moment. You can almost imagine setting out using this collection as a guide, with the confidence that you will finish your trip with a keen sense of the UK.

To give context to the collection there is a comprehensive introduction by Paul Farley, which covers the idea behind the project and how the poems were chosen for the book. It also touches on the ways in which poetry has been tightly connected with the landscape and places of the UK. Part of this includes the history of such poetry, linking into the 17th century Epic Poly-Olbion, by Michael Drayton.

The book itself is a rather elegant yellow affair, and before each section, there is a map showing which places inspired, or are addressed by, each poem. I only wish that it were a slimmer book more suited to a coat pocket so it could be carried easily, and dipped into in relevant places.

As a collection, Places of Poetry is perfect for dipping into, and I am sure it will end up kept in easy reach for me to consult at leisure. Yet it has a sense of flow so that each poem complements the others. The reader is given a feel for the totality of the UK and how interlinked and yet distinct different areas are. Of course, it is not encyclopaedic and so I am sure that almost every reader will wish, like me, that it might just cover this or that specific place.

Many such collections would focus just on the ‘natural’ world. Here no such artificial distinction is made and so the collection accurately gives a snapshot of the UK from wild seas, to well-managed fields, even to specific shops on a street.

This is a rather refreshing change to so much nature writing which focuses only on those places typically seen as natural, and to the idea that places befitting poetry have to be beautiful or sublime. Writing about place only works because it links into other things. This collection touches on issues from religion to gentrification.

I particularly liked A Costa in Deptford by John Davison. The mundanity of a new chain café gives a sense of universalism to the poem, but the personal response to it relies on very specific context. The same poem would be meaningless if discussing a new Costa in most of London. Poetic skill comes in knowing which details play best against each other to highlight an issue, feeling, or concern.

Although the poem covers a very individual experience, focused in one place, it feels applicable to so much else and speaks of all our concerns for the places we live in. It is this personal sense that makes the collection work, for in many ways it is more a collection exploring the people of the UK rather than simple geography. This in turn lends a timely nature to the collection.

As the COVID-19 pandemic eases in the UK, and summer makes itself apparent, people are increasing their travel and are starting to experience different parts of the country. In doing so many people are altering how they interact and understand their landscapes, be it gaining familiarity with a local park, reassessing the limitations of so much public infrastructure, or igniting a desire to visit parts of the country previous overlooked in favour of typical holiday destinations.

Poetry has a peculiar effectiveness when it comes to capturing the imagination. In particular, imagination linked to memory. This is so much more potent now, with restrictions still limiting most people’s lives. Many of these poems capture the mind by linking into the pleasures we had before the pandemic and those that we hope to have again.

I find myself drawn, again and ageing, to one poem in particular, Borderline, by Anthony Wilson. It is focused on the Exe estuary, which I know to the point that I can picture every turn of the route that runs along its western bank. It is not just that I enjoyed that place and wish to be back there. It is that the poem taps into my personal sense of the place.

So, for me, that poem will always be read with a slightly nostalgic sense of possibility, and freedom. Reminding me not just of those cycles I used to go on just before the pandemic, but the few escapes I made by bike from the enforced isolation of lockdown to enjoy the isolation of an empty field looking out over the estuary “with flanks of weeping slip / which shimmer mother of pearl, / silver, molten”.

And like that estuarine silt, poetry (such as this collection) can one moment look like simple words upon a page, but in the right moment with eyes glossed with emotions, it can appear like quicksilver: beautiful, changeable, potent, and transformative.

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How ‘Disability Visibility’ Empowered Me to Change My Narrative

(TW: This piece mentions ableism throughout)


It’s not a bad word. But the negative images it conjures have always made me shudder. Growing up South Asian and able-bodied, I was conditioned to view those with disabilities as inferior. And not just inferior, but cursed, or to blame in some way for their fate. I lived in an ignorant haze of privilege.

Unbeknownst to me, I’d one day become one of the 61 million disabled Americans. In 2018, at 24, my health took a turn. A series of unexpected diagnoses were added to my previously blank medical record in the next two and a half years. I’d always thought I was in the driver’s seat of my life trajectory. But I begrudgingly handed over the keys to my chronic pain conditions, as well as a yet-to-be-understood GI issue. A couple of family friends suggested that I apply for disability benefits, as I’d had to leave my job, which was too physically demanding. But I scoffed, berating them in my mind for associating me with that word.

I lived in denial. Accepting my disability, to me, meant admitting weakness, admitting a lack of worth. The fear of what others would think of me if I came out as disabled prevented me from adapting to my new identity.

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century challenged the faulty thoughts I clung to for so long. This collection of personal essays validates the struggles that an intersectional array of disabled, neurodivergent, chronically ill, and deafblind individuals encounter on a daily basis.

The book opens with a piece from the late lawyer Harriet McBryde Johnson. She recalls her experience debating Princeton Professor Peter Singer, who believes that the law should allow for the killing of those with cognitive impairments, at any age. What she found most difficult to grapple with was the level of respect he showed toward her, despite his deep-seated prejudice. Her exchanges with him led her to examine her own moral values. I clung to each word of her passion-filled piece with wide eyes and boiling rage. How could this highly educated and respected man be so inhumane?

McBryde tries to see things from his perspective, with no minor amount of anger of her own. Singer’s view is hardly unique. He sees disabled folx — particularly those lacking a certain level of consciousness — as deemed to a life of misery and suffering. But McBryde remains firm in her conviction that disabled lives aren’t devoid of joy and value. Her piece raises an important ethical question. It also highlights the role that she played as a lawyer in speaking out against selective infanticide and similar ableist practices.

As I read on further, I realized just how warped my view of disability was. A common thread of frustration, over constantly being subjected to biases — both explicit and implicit — was present in each essay. And the nuances of disability were laid forth. Diana Cejas recounted her experience of recovering from cancer and a stroke while training to be a physician herself. Haben Girma, the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law, shared her account of becoming in tune with her guide dogs when wandering across the world. Jamison Hill candidly opened up about his Lyme Disease, which leaves him bedbound and unable to speak. Despite his struggles, he finds love.

Someone had also mentioned a poor representation of disabled folx in the media. This made me more cognizant of the messages we are given in movies and books. Disabled characters are always portrayed as needing rescuing or pitying. Often, they’re merely background players in the main characters’ lives. Even more so, they aren’t included in mainstream books and media at all.

The essayists, though differing in their backgrounds and calls to action, shared a common thread. Society has cast a thick veil between disabled individuals and the rest of the world. Ableism perpetuates our physical and emotional struggles, invalidates our concerns, and often, our very existence. Whether it’s through infantilization, inspiration porn, or the denial of accessibility, the message is this: “You don’t deserve to live the same way we do. Your life is inherently less.”

This book left me with a large sense of cognitive dissonance. The internalized ableism within me felt attacked. All of a sudden, I had compelling reasons to shed it. Disability didn’t mean being a burden or being incapable of living a full and meaningful life. Disability wasn’t a bad word. In fact, it was comprised of these strong and change-making voices.

Each of the contributors hailed from a diverse range of backgrounds — from astronomy to law to fashion design to dance. There’s a space for disabled folx in every niche and professional sphere when society makes room for them.

Next month is Disability Pride Month. Though the term “pride” may be too all-encompassing (many individuals may just as well not feel proud of their disabilities), it is still important to recognize. Figures from the World Health Organization indicate that 1 billion — or 15% of the global population — individuals live with some type of disability. And this number is only expected to increase.

Chances are that we all know at least one person with a disability, whether it’s ourselves or a loved one. And realistically, the majority of us will experience disability throughout our lifetimes. That’s why it’s so important to make accessibility a priority, not only in physical spaces but in the virtual domain. Educators, mental health specialists, medical personnel, and others who spend time working with disabled folx should receive proper training on how to be more inclusive.

Disability Visibility cast a much-needed spotlight on disabled folx. These thirty-seven individuals shared their realities, unfiltered and unapologetic, on living in an ableist world.

This book helped me to accept disability as a part of life and the human experience. I felt less alone, less victimized, by my experience. Ultimately, without challenging my own biases, I’m only perpetuating the unjust messages of ableism, both internally and systemically.

I want to be a better advocate — both for myself and for disability as a whole. And without validating my own experiences, I can’t expect anyone else to do so. Here’s to embracing my own narrative, and to choosing the path of change.

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3 Fictional Queer Couples to Root For

The best thing about queer romance books is they’re not stereotypical. There’s always a fascinating narrative, or much deeper challenges than, say, arguing over who gets to move in with whom, which makes these protagonists more believable and easier to root for. It might be that straight romance has simply had its time and is now a little obsolete. Or it might be that we need more representation in literature. But regardless of the cause, straight fictional couples almost always make me roll my eyes at least once throughout the book. 

I’ve always enjoyed the power dynamics in queer romance novels too, much more than in straight romances. Everything feels much safer and more balanced, and often none of the partners feels undermined by the other. There are challenges, which keep the tension of the story going, but those challenges have nothing to do with one of the partners overpowering the other, which is always refreshing and much more enjoyable to read.

Many excellent queer romances have been released in recent years, some of them dropping the most absurdly romantic tropes that warm your heart and make you believe there are still good love stories to tell. All the queer couples I’ve ever read about deserve a mention in this piece, but we’d be reading an entire novel if I were to list them all. So I chose some more underrated stories whose couples are unbreakable in the most realistic ways, who struggle and fight together, who seem like nothing can stand in their way, although sometimes, everything does.

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Benji and Calliel: ‘Into This River I Drown’, by TJ Klune

The unlikeliness of this couple is apparent from the blurb, given that Calliel has, supposedly, fallen from the sky, but somehow the two of them make a powerful pair. Into This River I Drown made me sob in anticipation, cry with profound grief, and every time all forces of nature stood between Benji and Calliel, my heart squeezed thinking they might not make it. 

TJ Klune does an excellent job at creating a story of recovery and learning to live again, placing the two protagonists’ love as the core of Benji’s getting over his father’s tragic death. The fantastical element of the book did not stand in the way of it being a believable, heart-breaking story of faith, bereavement, love, and acceptance, as both Benji and Calliel learn to live under unusual circumstances. Every time the book raises your hopes, you can’t help but expect a disaster to come crashing down and the allusion of a sad ending looms at every stage.

Yet, through masterful storytelling, Klune still manages not to make you lose all faith in his two protagonists until the very end.

Tara and Darcy: ‘Heartstopper’, by Alice Oseman

Tara and Darcy are not the protagonists of Oseman’s acclaimed webcomic and graphic novel series Heartstopper. But for the purposes of this piece, they had to take centre-stage. Although there is not much detail around Tara and Darcy’s relationship, as the books focus on the gay-bi main couple, Charlie and Nick, the two girls are wonderful supporting characters, particularly when it comes to Nick’s confusion around his sexuality and the challenges of coming out.

All we know about Tara and Darcy is that it took Darcy’s confidence to make Tara comfortable in a lesbian relationship and accept herself, while Tara is always there to support her girlfriend, who often deals with homophobia in her immediate family. Their relationship is strong, despite their young age (they’re both in high school), which makes you want to know more about how they fell in love and what they get up to as a couple on a daily basis. All I know is, I’m holding my fingers tightly crossed for them to go to university together.

Luc and Oliver: ‘Boyfriend Material’, by Alexis Hall

Maybe the most complex couple on this list, Luc O’Donnell and Oliver Blackwood are the sweetest, most messed-up in a relatable way, protagonists, who find a lot of solace in each other. Boyfriend Material explores the fake-dating trope which I normally avoid, but for the sake of these two incredible men, I found it worked well in the story.

The contrasting dynamics of this couple make their story very engaging, as you never know where Luc’s chaotic life will perfectly fit Oliver’s methodically controlled routine next. The two men’s chemistry is addicting, as you watch them defeat disaster after impending disaster in an attempt to stick together, first out of interest, and later out of love. I could relate a lot to Oliver, who seems to have everything figured out yet is still struggling to keep anyone close, and someone as hurricane-like as Luc is the last person you’d think might stick around. 

The love story is refreshing in a very realistic way, exposing the most fragile, most difficult aspects of a relationship between two polar opposites who still fight for each other.

These exceptional relationships make for great reads when you feel fed up with stereotypical tropes and overused narratives. Each of these characters is lively, complicated, and outstanding in their own ways, which shine through even more in rapport with their partners. 

The Story of an Unforgettable Bisexual Icon

Who is Evelyn Hugo, you ask?

Why, only the greatest star the world has ever seen!

But seriously, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an unforgettable read with an equally unforgettable bisexual heroine, the likes of whom we haven’t seen much in the contemporary bookish sphere.

What is ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ About?

According to Goodreads:

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Thoughts on This Book

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a book that left an imprint on me. For the longest time, we women have been told to be kind and demure, and polite, even as we try to make our way through the workforce, towards the pinnacle. We have been set some very strict rules as to how we should be, and there are so many ways we can be brought down if we do not restrict ourselves or define ourselves according to the rules the society and the patriarchy sets down for us. And Even Evelyn tell us,

My mother raised me to be polite, to be demure. I have long operated under the idea that civility is subservience. But it hasn’t gotten me very far, that type of kindness. The world respects people who think they should be running it.

But can you imagine what it must be like to be The Man? Evelyn Hugo tells Monique to be enterprising, to “grab life by the balls” and to make them pay her for her work, what they would pay a white man. That’s some true but powerful shit, don’t you think?

You wonder what it must be like to be a man, to be so confident that the final say is yours.

This is where the book breaks all expectations. We get to see a flawed, ruthless, selfish, kind, ambitious, sexual woman who knows what she wants and is willing to work her ass off for it. Evelyn Hugo is a woman who we can admire and at the same time, also dislike or even hate. As the character Monique puts it,

Some days I find myself convinced that I admire her more than anyone I’ve ever met, and other days I think of her as a liar and a cheat.

Even though a fictional character, Evelyn Hugo has become the ideal for so many women. Yes, she had some qualities which I won’t say are worth emulating, but what a firehouse and supporter of the women’s cause. When her story begins, she is young and often makes mistakes. But we see her grow and through her character arc, we also learn.

With some iconic lines, Evelyn Hugo is truly a worthy icon. She is a breathing, fully fleshed-out person by Taylor Jenkins Reid and I am here to tell you to read her story. And my new mantra, as put by Evelyn Hugo, goes as,

Never let anyone make you feel ordinary.

Why You Need to Read it Now

But the reason why I am telling you about it today is that it is the first book I have come across that places a bisexual character on the forefront. For the longest time, sexuality has been considered a binary — you are either a heterosexual or a homosexual. But I ask, what about the Pansexuals? The Asexuals? The Bisexuals? And mind you, there are a number of sexualities across the spectrum today.

Evelyn Hugo has had seven husbands. But none compared to the greatest love of her life — a woman, a co-actress — who is just as flawed and real as Evelyn. With Taylor Jenkins Reid’s striking writing, we get to see their emotional turmoil and dilemmas. We get to see the fear that Evelyn lives with — because, in her times, people were EITHER gay/lesbian or straight. And she was someone who fit neither into those categories.

I’m bisexual. Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.

I believe this is where the book becomes so important, with its representation of bisexuals — what it feels like to be unsure, and then when you are sure, to not belong into the appointed boxes that you have to tick. It also subtly (or not) shows how this fear can rage and rage on in a person afraid of the implications of coming out as bisexual in a world that only believes in a binary. For instance, Evelyn has practically lived her whole life as a ‘closeted’ person. And it is only in the end that she reveals her greatest and most forbidden love.

Final Thoughts

Even apart from the representation in this book, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has been really well crafted. Although it has a basic plotline, it is a very character-driven book, because we see Evelyn take the decisions she does to start on her journey. Most importantly, she is unapologetic about it. And it is going to make you feel like it is a real person whose life story you are reading — such vivid are the words.

And of course, since this book revolves so much around Evelyn Hugo as a star, we get to read all the gossips and just life in general, in Hollywood. As a person who is definitely not in Hollywood, let me tell you, it is oh-so-juicy!

The representation is actually on point — you have a bisexual icon, there are some amazing secondary characters who are also homosexuals; and there are people of color (biracial, Latinx, black). All of them, even apart from the protagonist, are rounded characters, well-formed and it is such a delight reading about them.

So during this year’s Pride Month, if you are still unsure of which book to pick up, pick up this one. It will remain with you forever.

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How ‘Notes on Grief’ Made Me Face My Greatest Fear

What is mourning, and what is grief?

The loss of a loved one is perhaps something no one will ever be fully able to perfectly transcribe into words. If the one who is left behind feels bereft, how can some other such person’s words provide solace? Or can it?

Grief is multifaceted, just as much as mourning is. We all mourn differently. I for one have a really bad habit of repressing my memories. I know of a friend who became cruel to well-wishers who had gone to offer condolences. There’s a distant relative who laughed and laughed when they got the news. There’s an ancestor who went mute.

Who feels their grief the most? Who wears it proudly as a shroud, as armour to establish a barrier between acceptance and denial? Who is graceful in the face of loss? And can there be grace in someone’s denial of the loss of a loved one?

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from HarperCollins India in exchange for my honest views.

I recently read Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an essay written in the aftermath of her father’s death. Aftermath. That is a heavy word indeed. As though all the ravage that is left behind after something, or in this case someone, passes away, is grave and vicious. And indeed, isn’t that’s what’s left behind? The ravages of their love? Their memory? It all eats away at the soul and makes the pain a physical entity. How do you suddenly start talking about someone in the past tense? How do you write ‘was’ from what was once ‘is’?

But what’s more striking is that Adichie’s essay picks apart this aftermath from experience. It is more touching precisely because of this experiential aspect that the author writes with. As is her effect in other works too, Adichie’s voice cannot be suppressed. And this time around, her words will provide solace to the sons and daughters and spouses and friends and relatives who have been left bereft by the innumerable deaths.

It is impossible to not be teary-eyed at reading this essay, written by a daughter to her lovely father, who is unfortunately no more. Here, Adichie is more a daughter and less an author. And you know what? With the quivering emotions that jump right out at the reader, it is more than enough.

Rather than succor, my memories bring eloquent stabs of pain that say, “This is what you will never again have.

Written in bite-sized chapters, Adichie’s work includes a range — from memories of funny incidents of her father to the way she teased the coming together of her parents, the essay packs a punch. So much of it also gives us a glimpse of what the author herself went through, miles away from her hometown in Nigeria, surviving in grief and the hope that the flight restrictions would lessen and she could go home.

We text “my condolences”, “RIP”, “may their soul be at peace” when we hear of people dying. It has become more common in today’s scenario when death is so near us, living amongst us. It has become so common that my phone’s keyboard prompts these words while I type as if this lifeless thing too, knows of the inevitable loss of a life of someone I perhaps know. But do we really mean any of those words?

Maybe we feel the prick of shock or a tinge of sadness to know of how so and so lost a family member. But then, what? We go on, boats against the tide, pushing forward relentlessly because even though we are in the work-from-home mode, we still have to hustle, right?

I regret my past certainties… The smug certainties of a person yet unacquainted with grief. I have mourned in the past, but only now have I touched grief’s core.

In today’s Covid wrecked world, this loss has become so common. We have been desensitized to death. In India, the iron grills on the cremation grounds have melted down due to overuse. In a video shot by a drone camera, hundreds and maybe thousands of dead bodies are dots on the grey sands on the Ganga riverbanks.

So many families do not get to see the bodies of their loved ones. I try to shrug my shoulders and move away from the TV screen in my parents’ bedroom, which shows men and women crying and sobbing, their voices rending the air and shaking me, thousands of miles away, safe in my home.

Until now, grief belonged to other people… Does love bring, even if unconsciously, the delusional arrogance of expecting never to be touched by grief?

Perhaps we only really feel it in our bones when we lose our own person. Perhaps it is only then that it becomes real for us — how flimsy life is. When I read Notes on Grief, it led to a visceral reaction in me maybe because I was, I am, a daddy’s girl. For girls like us, the loss of a father is unimaginable. I read Adichie’s words and for a second my mind tried to imagine what it would have been like, had it been me writing those words and feeling first-hand all those emotions. Had it been me who had lost a father.

I will never see my father again. Never again.

It was my greatest fear as a melodramatic child — what if something happened to my parents while I was in school and I got to know of my loss from the nuns at my convent. It was and still is my greatest fear. And so, this book devastated me. I cried reading it because the pain that the author felt was so reflective of my deep-rooted fears as a daughter, as a child to my parents.

And I thought, how can these words by a foreign author touch me so deeply? How can a woman I don’t know, write so poignantly, in such a bittersweet manner? How can a woman whose ideologies I do not agree with, make me relate so much with her in this loss?

But then, I see it. Adichie writes of something inherent in human beings. And yet, when affronted with it, we become irrevocably afraid, angry, sad. Human mortality, loss of a loved one, and death are some things that we are still unable to grasp. We love and therefore and unable to accept death.

Attempting to write a ‘review’ feels like an insult to this loss. I couldn’t really dare. So I tried to write down what it made me feel and think — in as much as I was able to face my own fears. Loss is never really definable. So how could I go ahead and try to pick apart the words and critique this beautiful but raw and powerful homage to a loving father by a bereft daughter?

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‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ Is A Masterclass In Nature Writing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is making an impact in the book community. The book has over 100,000 reviews on Goodreads and has spent over two years on the New York Times bestseller list. After finishing this book, I’m not surprised to hear about this success, as the protagonist’s drive and the author’s lyrical prose drew me in.

The book focuses on a North Carolinian named Catherine Danielle Clark, nicknamed Kya. As a child, Kya witnesses her mother leaving the family. Kya’s father, an alcoholic, has a short temper and verbally harasses his children. Kya’s four older siblings leave too. One day, Kya’s father leaves the marsh and never returns.

Kya is a resourceful character, as she learns how to shuck oysters and find mussels. Tate Walker, an aspiring biologist who gets accepted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaches her how to read and supports her interest in art by giving her a watercolor set. When Chase Andrews, a talented football player, and Barkley Cove local, is found dead, the townspeople think Kya is the murderer because she was in a relationship with him.

Kya’s growth is one of the reasons why this book is unforgettable. She attends school once, and the other children make fun of her because she spells a word incorrectly. She doesn’t let this experience define her, as she listens carefully later when Tate teaches her how to write. Kya has an appreciation for storytelling, as evident in the following quote:

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”

Kya writes books, finds an agent at a publishing company, and paints. She evolves into a curious, determined, and creative woman. It’s an admirable progression, and this book broadcasts the message that readers should not let their past affect them. It’s never too late to pursue a goal and every day is a chance to improve oneself. Kya is an inspiring reminder that one can change their life trajectory and that the future is filled with opportunities.

Owens further examines an important theme. Isolation is prevalent throughout the entire story, as Kya lives in a shack and Barkley Cove locals call her “The Marsh Girl.” She is treated poorly and faces hostility: No one greets her when she goes to the town grocery store, and a woman tells her child not to approach Kya because Kya is “dirty.” Yet Kya refuses to let these displays of intolerance influence her, an indicator that she is a strong woman.

Kya’s note-worthy character development and a heart-breaking theme are powerful components of the story, but the atmospheric writing in Where the Crawdads Sing had the biggest impact on me. The author’s writing is meant to be savoured because the descriptions of nature and people are poetic.

Before writing this book, Owens studied animals in Africa and graduated with a Ph.D. in Animal Behaviour. Where the Crawdads Sing is a testament to her appreciation for nature and her talent in the writing field: She describes sea foam as saliva and compares Tate’s blue veins on his hands to a dragonfly’s nimble feet and blue patches.

The phenomenal nature writing brings a well-deserved spotlight on North Carolina. The book mentions Greenville, a vibrant place in eastern North Carolina, and Asheville, a scenic city in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Kya’s home is one of the many marshlands on the North Carolina coast.

It’s no secret that this Southern state is a popular spot for travelers, as there are over 300 miles of shoreline. If readers can’t make it to a coastal city and long to be near water, reading this fiction book satisfies wanderlust and is the perfect antidote for cabin fever.

The description of the coastline makes the reader feel as if they live in Barkley Cove. This made me happy, as I read this book last year when New York was in the first stage of reopening. The first stage meant that manufacturing and fishing businesses can open. Renowned cultural institutions like the Met and MoMA, along with my favorite stores, remained closed. Travel restrictions meant that I looked forward to reading Where the Crawdads Sing, as I escaped to the American South and its endless stretch of coastline through a book.

Summer 2021 is almost here, as temperatures are increasing and the days are getting longer. The evocative portrayal of water makes Where the Crawdads Sing an ideal book to read during the summer months.

I took my time reading this book last summer, and my favorite habit was to sit on a chair outside and tan while reading it. Reading about the North Carolina coastline while feeling the sun on my skin was a perfect combination. Since last summer was different and less lively than previous summers, I loved forming a peaceful habit like sitting outside and reading.

I’m still interested in maintaining this habit in summer 2021, and I know fellow bibliophiles will love reading Where the Crawdads Sing this season. A cold glass of lemonade or a scoop of ice cream would be the perfect companions to this book featuring undaunted characters.

Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, is making a movie version. Daisy-Edgar Jones, the actress acclaimed for her role in Normal People, stars as Kya and is filming in Louisiana. Where the Crawdads SingNormal People, and Outer Banks defined my lockdown last year, and it’s thrilling to hear how two worlds are colliding. The upcoming movie release is your incentive to read the book before you enjoy the movie.

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‘Hot British Boyfriend’ Made Me Relive My Teenage Years

I first heard about Kristy Boyce’s Hot British Boyfriend when one of the social media pages for Harlaxton College, where I studied abroad, posted a photo of the cover art.

The cover features a teacup with the outline of a British manor house on it… the British manor house where, approximately one lifetime ago, I lived for four months.

Naturally, I added the book to my TBR faster than you can say “hot British boyfriend.” Relive my study abroad experience through the pages of a book? Yes, please.

(Disclaimer: book links that follow are affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission should you choose to purchase).

Sometimes, you read a book that is a bit too familiar. In encountering Ellie, an awkward nerdy high school student far more interested in boys and all things British than in planning for her future, I saw someone I haven’t seen in a while.

I saw myself — little, teenage me, with her daydreams about spending the four months abroad finding her very own hot British boyfriend.

Unlike Ellie, though, I did not encounter said hot British boy on my first trip to town. Or ever.

Ellie initially decides to spend a semester abroad after a humiliating viral video showing her public rejection by a guy she assumed was asking her out. Except that he was actually talking to her friend, who happened to be sitting behind her.

Rather than live through the next semester with her peers, she takes her friend’s recently vacated spot on the study abroad trip. That way, she can distract herself with fantasies of finding a hot British boyfriend to erase the rejection and show Instagram that she isn’t pining.

This college-in-high school study abroad experience is usually reserved for honors students, but she and her mom pull together the tuition and convince the school to make an exception. Naturally, Ellie doesn’t really think about the fact that these college-level courses will be a challenge, and is more excited about the travel potential.

For all that I was a dedicated student throughout my high school and college years, I can relate to Ellie’s fantasies about the study abroad experience. My college self wasn’t exactly heading to England as a resume builder or for more challenging courses, like Ellie’s motivated peers.

But I did not slack off my studies for a boy, as Ellie does. Is that largely because of a lack of opportunity? We will never know.

Anyway, on her first trip to the nearby town, Ellie meets Willoughby, a wealthy British guy who takes it upon himself to become her local tour guide. From there, she gets herself enmeshed in a series of tiny white lies because she’s afraid that rich, cool Will won’t like the real her. To him, she is Ellie, American college student with an interest in rugby.

To her friends, she’s Ellie, a high school girl who loves fairy gardens and unicorns and teasing her new friend Dev about secretly playing Quidditch on the weekends.

This is the central tension of Hot British Boyfriend, as Ellie tries to transform herself into someone cool and different so that Will will continue to shower her with gifts and compliments. She asks Dev to tutor her in rugby and makes sure not to mention her real-life hobbies in front of Will, opting to feign interest in his, instead.

Meanwhile, she is perfectly herself around her newfound Honors friends, and one of these friends, in particular, seems to like that version of Ellie/Elle.

I struggled so much with this aspect of the book. Not because it’s unrealistic to what a lot of teenage girls (ahem, me) are like, but rather because it was terribly painful to watch Ellie make the same kinds of mistakes I made at that age.

Rather than realize she should spend her time with the people she’s comfortable around, Ellie keeps trying to force herself to fit the relationship she’s imagined.

Also, Will just kind of… sucks? He’s whiny and self-centered, super judgmental any time Ellie half-reveals a truth about herself. It’s clear to see why she quickly becomes convinced she has to hide her true self to retain his affections.

As her friend Sage puts it at one point, Ellie is “intentionally naïve” about her relationship with Will… and with Dev.

In spite of this discomfort, I enjoyed reliving my four months abroad through Ellie’s eyes, remembering how it felt to live in a manor house and take weekend trips to places like London and Venice.

The descriptions of traveling abroad for the first time are spot-on, and the details are vivid enough to take me back to my own experiences in those countries and in the manor itself.

Reliving my boy-obsessed, trying-to-be-someone-else years, though? That was… not so much fun.

In allHot British Boyfriend was a cute, lighthearted read with a nice core message of embracing your true self and finding the people who let you be that version of yourself. It also has a nicely diverse cast, with LGBTQ+ and racially diverse characters who are well-developed and nuanced.

I probably would’ve enjoyed the book more if it didn’t remind me so painfully of myself, making me want to shake Ellie and impart the wisdom I’ve acquired through hard-earned years of being too interested in whether I could keep someone liking me to consider whether or not actually like them.

If you’re a big fan of Great British Bake Off and/or BBC adaptations of Jane Austen novels, or you like reading about people traveling abroad, and don’t mind watching someone learn lessons the hard — and infuriatingly slow — way, I recommend this book.

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