Sometimes the Right Choice Isn’t The Expected Choice

Hi there! I am sitting here, on my sofa, three days into a three week break I didn’t have planned until the 22nd June. What for, you didn’t ask? I have finally, finally quit my pandemic job. The 16-hour contract that was closer to full time working than part time, for not enough pay, in a retail environment that I hated.

The reason it took me a whole 14 months to go from initial temporary contract, to permanent contract, to quitting, is pretty simple – I needed another job to go to first. I spent most of the pandemic not applying for jobs because a) I remember all the replies I received in early April 2020 saying: “Unfortunately, due to unprecedented circumstances, we have paused hiring across the company. We look forward to hearing from you again in due course”; but also b) I was thoroughly sick of it. For the time being, it was enough to simply have an income. Between exhaustion from all the job applications I’d done not only in the few months since I’d graduated, but in the previous 5 years while in education, and the stress of the burgeoning pandemic, I gave myself a break. After all, it wasn’t just my life on hold, it was everyone’s. An odd comfort, but I took it.

Besides, it’s not like nothing happened in the last 14 months. I moved from the south east of England to the south west. I bought my first car. Both of those are quite big life moments.

But over the last couple of months it began to feel harder and harder to show up at work. My patience was gone, both with certain colleagues, work practices, and with the sheer amount of customers who felt it was completely appropriate to harass me. (No, alcohol intoxication does not excuse your behaviour.) I ended up sort of rage-applying to a job that seemed completely left field for me – nothing to do with my career aspirations whatsoever, in fact, but somewhere that promised a fresh start, more money, a culture that invests in its employees, and the end of my time working late into the night all weekend, every weekend.

And then I immediately forgot about it.

I received an email some days later asking me to fill in a form so the company could know some more about me, which I opened with some vague remembrance of my application. Filled it out. Sent it back. Forgot about it again.

Then I was asked to be available for a call early in the morning. Initially I thought it was inconvenient, considering my usual night’s sleep was between 2am and 9-10am because of my late working hours, but was going to say yes. But then I paused and thought about it. If I was to seriously consider putting myself in the ring for this position, shouldn’t I stand up for myself and the things that I need in order to do my best? So I emailed back shortly after midnight after I got home, telling them I was sorry, but I would not be available at that time due to my current working pattern. I outlined my availability, stressed that I could be flexible, and told them I hoped we could find an alternative time that would suit us both. Then I nervously pressed send.

Somewhat to my surprise, this was well received. I was offered an alternative time that worked for me. The resultant call went well. I was offered a virtual interview. I took up the offer, and on the day I asked the plumbers we had working downstairs in the house to be quiet for up to an hour, which amused them, but they did as I asked. Then the virtual interview went well. Finally, I was asked to attend a two-hour in-person session at a branch, to see them at work, and have a final interview.

At this point I had a minor panic about my wardrobe. This would require smart clothes, which I owned next to none of. I wanted to make a good impression with my outfit, one that said I was confident, but one that reflected my personality. I went online, bought a couple of new shirts and blazers, and settled on an ever-so-slightly oversized light grey blazer with scrunched up sleeves, a pink button up shirt, black legging-style trousers and chelsea boots. Smart, but not your plain black and white.

Whether it was the outfit, the fact I wasn’t hugely invested in the industry on a personal level, the many interviews I’ve sat through before, or a combination of all three, I was nowhere near as nervous as I thought I’d be. I made what I felt was a good first impression with the staff, enjoyed talking to somebody working on the same scheme I was applying for, answered every question I was asked in the interview without hesitation, and made sure to ask my own questions.

And what do you know?

I got the job. I start in three weeks. And I am taking those three weeks for myself.

The thing that spurred me to write about this was the fact that this is still not something that entirely aligns with my life and career goals, but it’s an opportunity I am taking despite all that. Rather than thinking of what this job isn’t, I’m choosing to take it for what it is: it gets me out of a job I hate, it will increase my income, I will receive training in skills that are transferable, I will have opportunities for promotion and progression, and one day it might make it easier for me to get a job in the area I truly want. I know this is the right decision because when I picked up the phone and heard that I had got the job, I started crying with relief. Literally crying. I had to hold it together for the length of the call, but as soon as I hung up, the tears fell. I know it’s the right decision because sure, it’s a little intimidating, but when I handed in my notice and put an end date in my diary for my old job, I felt nothing but joy.

Now I have three weeks to alter my sleep schedule, buy some more clothes, get myself ready, and I have booked a weekend to spend with my friends – whom I haven’t seen in nine months. And I have set myself a new goal: reach my first promotion within a year, and use that opportunity to take up a transfer to move to another area of the country – one where I’m nearer to the people who are important in my life. With any luck and a lot of work, hopefully that’ll happen.

Every Book I Want to Read in 2021

Off the back of my last post (every book I read in 2020), I thought I’d make a post about every book I’m hoping to read in 2021! A mix of old and new, a variety of absolute CHUNKS, and many genres. Like last year, I’ve made a list for myself of 20 books I know I want to read. Here goes!

  1. A Promised Land, Barack Obama

I had just started this at the end of 2020, and I’m sure most of you are familiar with it: Barack Obama’s post-White House autobiography, volume one. I don’t know how far through his presidency this book goes, and as of the 02/01/2021 I am less than 60 pages in. It’s nearly 800 pages long so this’ll take a bit of time!

2. Britain’s Trees, Jo Woolf

Again I also started this one in December but have yet to complete it. Sorry to those of you purists who only read one book at a time; I used to be one of you, but not for a few years now! Britain’s Trees is a book I found in a National Trust shop, which takes you through each species of tree found in Britain, its part in the British landscape, any notable legends about the trees, notable medical purposes (whether imagined in the past or backed up by scientific evidence). Possibly not up everybody’s alley, but definitely a book for me.

3. The Witches: Salem, 1692, Stacy Schiff

You can guess what type of book this is from the title. I would love to know more of ‘witch history’ and Salem seems a good place to start. History books can go one of two ways usually; either they’re stuffy and you really have to work at it, or they are works of art. Let’s hope it’s the latter because I’m really looking forward to it!

4. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, Hallie Rubenhold

All I know about Jack the Ripper at this point, ahead of reading this book, is that he was a serial killer in 19th century London. I couldn’t tell you any further details. I look forward to learning.

5. The Art of Dying, Ambrose Parry

This is a recent purchase, set in Edinburgh in 1850, where doctors are baffled by people dying across the city. One doctor is made the scapegoat as two characters uncover the truth. A bit of a historical mystery, so high hopes for this one.

6. Regeneration, Pat Barker

Did someone say long overdue?? I’ve genuinely been meaning to read this book for about nine years now. Nine. Years. So yes, it’s on the list. It deserves to be, at long, long last. It’s a World War fiction, the first of a trilogy. A teacher recommended it back when I was starting my GCSEs, but I never got round to it.

7. Eve of Man, Tom and Giovanna Fletcher

One of only two rereads on my list of books I definitely want to read this year, and primarily it’s there because of the next book I want to read…

8. The Eve Illusion, Tom and Giovanna Fletcher

This is the next along in the series, but it’s been a while since I read the first so I’m going to attempt to read them together so I don’t feel like I’m out of the loop. It’s a sort of dystopian-type trilogy where, until Eve comes along, there has been a strange anomaly in the human populous: no girls have been born. Only boys.

9. The Sisters Grimm, Menna Van Prang

I picked this book up while browsing a Waterstones due to its beautiful cover, and the intriguing title. I know little about it, but it’s a fantasy, and I hope one with a lot of promise.

10. Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow

The book that inspired the musical! In 2020 I read the US Constitution, prompted by my watching (and much subsequent listening) the musical by Lin Manuel Miranda. The more I listened to the soundtrack on my drives to and from work, the more I felt I wanted to read about the man. And as the book credited with the inspiration that sparked Miranda’s genius, this seems a solid choice.

11. The Room Where it Happened, John Bolton

Whether the title was intentionally a lyric lifted from Hamilton or not, I don’t yet know, but this is a book about Trump’s presidency from a man who was fired from Trump’s White House. I don’t know what to expect, I’m just intrigued. Trump is a despicable man, so I feel like this could be interesting.

12. Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

The second reread on the list; for Christmas I received a rather lovely copy of this book, which I only read once back in sixth form, when I didn’t get to appreciate it fully, so I think it’s high time I give it a second go.

13. Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano

I won’t lie, don’t really know what it’s about, but I have a copy and it looks quite short and I know it had a fair bit of good press. I heard it described as the type of book you wouldn’t necessarily think to read, but wouldn’t regret reading.

14. Voyager (Outlander #3), Diana Gabaldon

I have already read books 1 and 2 of the series, but as they’re so long I’m spacing them out so I don’t exhaust myself. I know roughly what’ll happen in this book, because I’ve seen the TV series, but I always have fun seeing differences between source material and screen adaptations.

15. Legends of Devonshire, Cecily M. Rutley

This looks to be a treasure of a little book I picked up, it’s a copy from the 1930s, short and sweet looking.

16. Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell

I know the basic premise – it’s Shakespeare’s son, I think? I see this book everywhere I go so I’ve pre-ordered the paperback which is coming in 2021 and see if it lives up to its hype.

17. Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum

Whether I actually read this or not is yet to be seen; it’s not really the type of book I lean towards ordinarily (I don’t like overly political, theoretical sorts of things), but it was on Barack Obama’s list of books he enjoyed in 2020 and, I don’t know, it caught my eye.

18. The Woods Are Always Watching, Stephenie Perkins

I’m looking at this book on my list and I know I’ve pre-ordered it while browsing on Waterstones, but I don’t remember what it’s about. I could Google it, but I’m not going to. It’ll be a nice surprise when it arrives in the post!

19. Malory’s Complete Works

I won’t lie, I put this on my 2020 list but didn’t muster the courage. I know I’ll enjoy it, as I read sections of it during my degree, but it’s written in small font over nearly 800 pages and it’s all in Middle English (it is a real skill to read Middle English, especially as it changes so much depending on the period you’re reading). If I’m feeling particularly brave I’ll pick it up.

20. The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri

We’ve probably all heard of it, I know I’ve read a snippet, and I’ve wanted to read this since I was researching for an essay during my degree – I believe it might have been an essay on centaurs. Strange times.

So there we have it – 20 books I’m aiming to read in 2021. I could have made it a list of 21 just to be fun, but I didn’t. I just happen to have 20 books I want to read. As with last year I’m sure I’ll find others along the way! What are you looking forward to reading this year?

My 2020 in Books

In 2020 I wanted to get back into reading after 7 straight months of reading exactly ~nothing~ in 2019, and I thought I’d do so by starting with a list of books I’d wanted to read throughout my degree (and before) but didn’t get a chance to. So, I made a list, and started there. In the end I completed 31 books in the year, so here they are, in the order I read them. 📚

  1. Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup

Admittedly, I started this in December 2019, having decided one day to finally watch the film everyone had raved so much about a few years earlier. I didn’t know much about the story, just the title and that the film had, according to my mother, been ‘quite graphic’. However, I did study various elements of slavery while at university, including a lot of primary sources, so I thought it unlikely anything would come as a particular shock to me, even if it would be uncomfortable to encounter. At the end of the book, Northup comments on how, if anything, his account of time in slavery has been too optimistic, and I’d say I agree. It’s a brilliant, touching, educational, frightening narration of something that ought never be repeated, and to those who know little to nothing of slavery across Europe and America, it would indeed be shocking. As strange as it sounds I enjoyed this book – in that I truly appreciate that Northup was brave enough to share it, especially as such a measured and well written account.

2. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

Again, I took the prompt to read this book from having seen the screen adaptation (remember, I was trying to restart my love for reading, so an easy-in seemed a good start). The TV series Outlander is brilliant, though I appreciate people have differing views on the sex portrayed in it. I was not quite expecting the length of Gabaldon’s works, as each Outlander book is around the 900-page mark. This is one I read on my Kindle, which I do find can help with exceptionally long books like this, because not only do you not have to suffer the actual weight of the books, but you can avoid the rather daunting aspect of a very thick book in which you have made little progress so far. But, as far as the book itself went, I found it as entertaining as the series. I was surprised by how faithful the TV adaptation of the first book had been, as relatively little differed from book to screen, and Gabaldon’s narrative is easy to process – a strong positive for books of such scope.

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling

Prisoner of Azkaban has long been my favourite of the HP series, in both book and film form, and the series is so well known there’s little I need to say here. I absolutely adore the relationship between Harry and Sirius, and this is the first book of the series where things really start to turn dark. This book also has one of the best plot twists I’ve ever come across, when we discover Sirius is not the baddie he’s made out to be. I felt I deserved this short, nostalgic read after finishing Outlander!

4. The Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon

This was my first venture into Shannon’s works, having followed her on Twitter for quite some time – for most of the time, in fact, that she had been working on this book. So it’s safe to say I was eager to read the book I’d been seeing her work on for so long, and I pre-ordered the book long before it finally arrived in shops, but never got round to actually picking it up. The hardback is a beautiful, impressive, and very heavy thing, and I really like reading lying down in bed, so after a couple of chapters I actually bought it on Kindle as well, and continued from there. I did enjoy the book, but I think it deserves a re-read for me to appreciate it fully as it was quite removed from what I’d been reading for so many years (it’s an epic fantasy with incredibly crafted worldbuilding and impressive dragons, and most of what I’d read for 3 years had been non-fiction/middle English/less fantastic). However I do now also wish to read The Bone Season series of hers, so I’m definitely going to try to get hold of those in future.

5. The Hormone Diaries, Hannah Witton

I’ve been subscribed to Hannah Witton for a while, so when she came out with this book I thought I’d see what she had to say. She actually has many voices in the book from her subscribers who submitted their own experiences with bodily-related issues, including endometriosis and more. I can’t say I found anything particularly new in there, but it was an easy read.

6. Becoming, Michelle Obama

Becoming is an account of Michelle Obama from her Chicago roots to now, post-White House. It was interesting to me to hear her thoughts on the Black American experience and how race and wealth played into her life, and also how she felt she progressed into the person she is now – having gone from complete reluctance to step into the public eye to embracing the opportunity for change that it brings. I admire how she mentions all the people who helped her along the way, and she comes across as quite a genuine person.

7. When the Curtain Falls, Carrie Hope Fletcher

To be honest, this book could easily have ended up on the DNF list. I thought the premise was great, but the delivery lacked. There wasn’t much depth to any of the characters, it felt rushed in places, and I felt it lacked eloquence. I gave it a go as I like Carrie Hope Fletcher as a person, influencer, performer, but here I felt she let herself down.

8. Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (& Other Lies), Scarlett Curtis

A book everyone should read! This book came out in 2018 while I was in my third year of university and I lacked the time to read it then, but a copy ended up in my hands at the end of February 2020 so I was eager to get started. I listened to the podcast of the same name Curtis released shortly after the book, on which a variety of guests who had contributed to the book came on to discuss their essays, so I did it in a bit of a backwards order, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Some contributions were short, some long, but I liked reading about various women’s experiences with feminism and womanhood. I’m a firm, lifelong feminist, so this was definitely up my alley.

9. Doing It!, Hannah Witton

I had this on my Kindle, though I don’t particularly remember buying it, so I gave it a quick read – I say ‘quick’ because I don’t think I was the target audience for this one, but I appreciate what Whitton was aiming for, and for the right audience it probably is a valuable book to have.

10. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

Whatever you may think about the series, this was a comfort reread, pure and simple. I wasn’t on the initial Twilight bandwagon until the last book came out, and I was never a fanatic, but I like the story. No, I don’t think the relationship is healthy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the narrative.

11. Downton Abbey: The Official Film Companion, Emma Marriott

A friend gave me this book as a present in 2019, knowing both my love for Downton Abbey and my interest in filmmaking. It’s full of interviews with the cast and little facts and tidbits, many photos, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

12. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, Greta Thunberg

Short and sweet, this is Thunberg’s plea for change to save the planet. It consists of a variety of her speeches, including her address to the United Nations. I listened to this on Audible, so it was narrated by Thunberg herself. I can’t say I was persuaded by it, because I already agree with her, but I have great respect for Thunberg and for using the platform she’s managed to obtain, while retaining a sense of humour for those who seem remarkably determined to criticise her.

13. New Moon, Stephenie Meyer

Yup, another comfort reread. Trying to stave off the return of the reading slump.

14. Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag

This was an essay on how the depictions of pain affect people, whether it deters, incites, or desensitises us. I’ll admit I got a little lost by it and I think Sontag could have kept a more linear narrative.

15. The Princess Bride, William Goldman

I saw this film loads growing up; it’s one of the best films ever made, if you ask me. I thought it was high time I read the book, and it did not disappoint. It’s funny, it’s easy to read, it’s clever – everything you could ask of a light-hearted piece of fiction. The premise is rather confusing to explain, but Goldman claims to be retelling a ‘highlights only’ version of a tale his father used to read him, cutting out long and arduous passages. It’s utterly ridiculous and I couldn’t wish for more.

16. The Pale Dreamer, Samantha Shannon

I believe this is sort of a ‘0.5’ in the Shannon’s The Bone Season which I purchased while it was on offer. Shannon says it’s the best introduction to the world the series takes place in, and it served its purpose – I’ll be purchasing the series in time to come.

17. Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer

Are you getting the gist yet?

18. Skincare, Caroline Hirons

I’ve followed various UK beauty bloggers for a long time now, and all seem united in their respect for Hirons and her advice. She’s a qualified beautician with a bunch of certifications, and this book is the holy grail of ‘what on earth is my skin doing?’ I read this very quickly, made many a note, and have since implemented things she recommends in the book. And lo and behold, they actually work!

19. Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon

At this point in the year it felt like time for Book Two of the Outlander series. This one differed from what I remembered of the TV series a little more than the first, but was still highly enjoyable. If you’re interested in historical fiction, or Scottish highlander culture, or romance, or any combination thereof, this is a series you should check out. Just don’t be put off by the length!

20. Mumlife, Louise Pentland

I’m not a mum, but I have loosely followed Louise online for a number of years, and I knew this book included some detail of her life, including her rather difficult childhood. I have great sympathy for what Louise went through, and even greater respect for her support for child services now; all profits from this book went to the NSPCC.

21. How Do You Like Me Now? Holly Bourne

Not the best book I’ve ever read, but I recall the ending being better than the beginning. It’s the type of relatively relatable, relatively predictable, easy to digest book you’d read in a couple of days on holiday somewhere.

22. Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer

… You know the drill. But at this point I was also in possession of Midnight Sun, so I felt I may as well finish what I’d started before diving in.

23. Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer

Surprise! Bet you never guessed this book was next in line. This is the ‘Edward’ version of the Twilight series, though I did think it would cover the entire span of the series – that was just the impression I got from the publicity around it, so I was somewhat surprised that it only covers the first instalment of the series. Is she releasing more? I don’t actually know. I know it got a lot of mixed reviews, but I thought it was kind of fun.

24. Pretending, Holly Bourne

I spent a lot of time thinking the first half of this book was essentially the same as How Do You Like Me Now?. The characters could have been the same exact people and I wouldn’t have been surprised. It picked up towards the second half, but if there had been more character development and depth I would have enjoyed it more.

25. The Constitution of the United States, Founding Fathers

As a person with half a degree in history, this isn’t a surprising choice of reading. I was also eager to read this after seeing Hamilton on Disney+ (thank goodness the performance was recorded), because I recognised that some of the lyrics were directly lifted from the Constitution. Another reason I wanted to read this is because of my interest in the general American political landscape – you know, the whole second amendment dramatics and the modern argument that the Constitution can’t be changed (I have no idea what those particular Americans think the word ‘amendment’ means but they certainly can’t realise its actual definition).

26. A Life on Our Planet, David Attenborough

If I could make any person I meet read one book on the whole of this list, it’s this one. It says everything we’re doing wrong for the planet, but most importantly – and this is the bit I want to scream from the rooftops, broadcast on every TV and radio channel, make into pop-ups on every website available, brand onto clothing, and paint across the roads – it also lists all the solutions. Attenborough seems like this is his final plea, his “this is everything I have” speech, and he’s asking us all to listen. Nothing that is done on an individual level to combat climate change will matter unless the majority of those with influence, in power, with the wealth and say-so to make large alterations, actually make the necessary choices. And they’re all listed right here!

27. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins

I felt like we were all taking a trip back to 2012 when I realised both Midnight Sun and this book were being released in 2020, both revisiting worlds that absolutely dominated pop culture in my teen years. There was a fair bit of dismissal online when people realised this book was about the formative years of the life of President Snow, enemy #1 of the Hunger Games trilogy, but I can’t say I was deterred. There’s something tantalisingly interesting about a villain backstory – it doesn’t need to make you agree with them, doesn’t mean anything is justified, but it does provide a fascinating insight. And that’s what I felt this book provided. I enjoyed how the song The Hanging Tree became a part of this book, how we see President Snow and his early moral dilemmas. I do actually hope we get a follow up to this book, though I’m not sure we will.

28. The Magpie Society, Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch

I first subscribed to Zoe Sugg’s YouTube channels back around the time she first reached 1 million subscribers, which was some considerable time ago now. She of course is the author/part-author (she used a ghostwriter) for the Girl Online series, but when she announced this shared project, exploring a thriller-type teen narrative with a darker side, my interest was piqued. Girl Online wasn’t really for me, and while I would typically now choose something a little more mature than The Magpie Society turned out to be, it was still a good read. Nothing exceptional, but a solid choice.

29. The Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates

I chose to purchase this book after watching her interview on David Letterman’s ‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction’ show on Netflix. I’ve never known too much about the Gates’ philanthropic enterprises but I was impressed by what I heard on the interview and she mentioned her book, so here we are. I don’t know quite what I wanted out of it, but I think I expected more than I got. She focuses a little too much for my taste on spirituality and her own experience, where I was hoping for more statistics and philanthropic narrative.

30. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

What can I say, it was December and the film was on TV.

31. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling

See above!

So there it is, all 31 books I completed in 2020, together with my thoughts on them. This post has been quite long enough so I think I’ll leave it there!