‘Letters to a Young Poet’ by Rainer Maria Rilke (1929) – Book Review

By Ciéra Cree – It was during a radio production class one day that I found myself having a conversation about poetry with my lecturer somewhat out of nowhere…

By Ciéra Cree

It was during a radio production class one day that I found myself having a conversation about poetry with my lecturer somewhat out of nowhere. He recommended a book to me, titled Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, and when I got home, I had a quick browse online and found a copy.

Letters to a Young Poet isn’t like your typical novel. It’s a short read, consisting of 52 pages split into 10 letters written by the author – a poet born in Prague, 1875 – between the periods of 1903 and 1908. These letters were sent to Franz Kappus, a young aspiring poet, as a means to not only connect with him on a poet-to-poet basis, but also on one of friendship and a variety of other, deeper levels.

20200406_065835_1.jpg

Through the eyes and hearts of two people with a shared passion, these letters delve into many aspects of their lives and their philosophical thoughts. From love and self-doubt, to fear and sadness, and what it means to be solitary. Every letter in the book reveals something interesting and insightful.

I appreciate the structure of this book and how the letters are something that you can go back to again and again to reinterpret. The size of the book is something I like too, both in pagination and overall width and height. It’s an ideal little book to bring along with you on a commute or to enjoy elsewhere. It’s also easy to read it all in one go, as well.

20200406_065916

Regardless of whether you are a writer or not, Letters to a Young Poet is a collection I would recommend to anyone, especially to those of you who love to think, and to those who love to explore the mind of an artist. One of my favourite quotes from the letters is:

‘And your doubts can become a good quality if you school them. They must grow to be knowledgeable; they must learn to be critical’

I interpret this as a lesson about mental health. It’s often easy to let those feelings with negative connotations, such as doubt, spiral out of control and, in doing so, a person can temporarily lose sight of their rationality. As with any other emotion, when we feel them, it is a sign that our body is trying to tell us something; something important. If utilised, or schooled, correctly, doubt could have the ability to become a tool of empowerment and encouragement. We can confront our doubts, addressing them to ensure that they don’t become self-deprecating, and from there, we can act to transform them into constructive criticisms about ourselves.

How about you? What are your thoughts on this quote? Have you read this book?

‘My Mum, Tracy Beaker’ by Jacqueline Wilson – Book Review

By Lily Brown – I have loved Jacqueline Wilson’s books since I was a young child, first readings books like Cliffhanger and The Bed and Breakfast Star before moving on to Lola Rose and Clean Break. I would always be eagerly awaiting the publication of a new title…

By Lily Brown

I have loved Jacqueline Wilson’s books since I was a young child, first reading books like Cliffhanger and The Bed and Breakfast Star before moving on to Lola Rose and Clean Break. I would always be eagerly awaiting the publication of a new title and would look forward to the day my mum would present me with a new book. Jacqueline Wilson brought to my attention some issues which I had never come across before in an accessible way and helped me to understand some important issues other children might be facing.

I have kept coming back to Wilson’s titles throughout the years when working on children’s literature essays or just for fun so when I saw that she had revived one of my favourite characters I felt that I had to catch up with Tracy. I grew up reading the Tracy Beaker books and watching the adaptation on television so I thought that Wilson’s idea to write a book about Tracy as an adult was inspired. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Tracy and her daughter, Jess, and finding out about Tracy’s life after being fostered by Cam. A lot of the key characters from the original books make an appearance, including Justine Littlewood!

Although the book includes many funny and heart-warming moments there are moments which explore the struggle of having to adjust to a parent’s new partner, bullying and the pain of a relationship breakdown. Wilson also explores the nuances of family relationships as Tracy tries to maintain a relationship with her mother and with Cam.

I am sure both new and longstanding fans of Jacqueline Wilson will enjoy this book, whether it’s the first time you are meeting Tracy or whether you have been with her from the beginning. I think Wilson manages the balance between referencing the older books and introducing new characters and events perfectly. Tracy is a warm and feisty character and Wilson has ensured that these traits have followed her into motherhood as she is deeply protective of her daughter, prompting outbursts at school when Jess is being bullied. I think that Jess is a good counterpoint to Tracy as although they look very similar they are very different in personality. Jess’ calm, quiet demeanor is the perfect contrast to Tracy’s enthusiasm and there are some instances where we see Jess emulating her mother which has great impact in the novel.

The majority of the book focuses on Tracy’s relationship with Sean Gregory, an ex-footballer, and their new life living in his mansion, complete with swimming pool. However, when their relationship ends Tracy is forced to be resourceful in order to provide for her and Jess. The ending of the book is marvelous and includes another well-known character for old fans to enjoy. I thought the ending of the book was perhaps a little rushed but overall My Mum, Tracy Beaker was a lovely trip down memory lane with some great new characters including Jess’ beloved dog, Alfie!

Image: Sincerely Media on Unsplash

‘Everybody Died So I Got a Dog’ by Emily Dean – Book Review

By Lily Brown & Emily Dean – I have listened to Emily Dean on Frank Skinner’s Radio Show every Saturday morning for the past few years and I have really enjoyed hearing snippets of information about her eccentric upbringing and about her cute dog, Raymond…

By Lily Brown & Emily Dean

I have listened to Emily Dean on Frank Skinner’s Radio Show every Saturday morning for the past few years and I have really enjoyed hearing snippets of information about her eccentric upbringing and about her cute dog, Raymond. When I heard that she had written a book I decided to give it a try as a break from the books on the reading list for my PhD research. However, nothing prepared me for the rollercoaster of emotions I went through while reading it. The book is beautifully written and is extremely honest, Dean does not sugarcoat either her upbringing or the losses of her sister, mother and father in quick succession. The book strikes the perfect balance between exploring the sadness of grief and the humour which came with growing up with a mother who was an actress and a father who would quote poetry in response to almost every problem.  

I think being a fan of the Frank Skinner Show, on which Dean is co-host, meant that I appreciated the parts of the book which included Frank and the impact that he had on her life. I also recognised some of the stories she has told over the years about her parents and her childhood and I felt that I was in on some of the jokes. There are heartbreaking moments as she describes how she navigates the last days of her sister’s life and the pain of their father leaving the family, however these are interspersed with tales of parties in exotic locations and with funny moments from her childhood including her skirt being ripped off by a dog!

I devoured the book in a mere 48 hours, wanting to reach the section of the book where she meets Raymond, her long wished for canine companion. I think it is interesting how she uses pets, and dogs in particular, as a thread to mark the different stages of her story. She has avoided getting a dog herself, not seeing herself as part of a ‘dog family‘ but her realisation that this can come in many shapes and sizes means that by the end of the book she is part of her very own ‘dog family,’ a beautiful ending to the book and beginning to her life as a person who has gone through a lot but come out the other side.

“The book resonated with me on a number of levels as it not only deals with grief but with parental separation, family dynamics and with the expectations that people put on themselves to fit into certain roles within both their own family and in society.”

Dean speaks with candour about seeking therapy and attending a retreat to tackle her ongoing struggle with feeling ‘unlovable.’ She also acknowledges that recovering from grief and from other issues people face is an ongoing process, that it takes time and that it is alright to have setbacks on the journey. I think her approach to therapy and the way in which she normalises it is so important and may help others to seek out support. At times the book can be hard to read as she describes in detail the impacts of her losses and the raw emotions surrounding the deaths of all of her immediate family members within three years. However, overall the book strikes a positive note and you feel that the she must have felt a sense of catharsis in writing this book. I would definitely recommend reading Everybody Died, So I Got a Dog, although you may also want to buy some tissues!