Sunday, 20 April 2014

Feeling Grateful After Reading Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

Gratitude in the movie adaptation of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Image source.
"I was down here in the supermarket, and this old woman comes around the corner [...] – obviously one of the kind of women who says whatever is on her brain. She said, 'I know who you are, you are the horror writer. I don’t read anything that you do, but I respect your right to do it. I just like things more genuine, like that Shawshank Redemption.'

'And I said, 'I wrote that'. And she said, 'No you didn’t'. And she walked off and went on her way.'" An interview of Stephen King by Neil Gaiman for the Sunday Times.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most-watched films in my house. I'd say it was the natural transition after watching the 2002 film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo an unfeasible amount for years beforehand, really.

Both films deal with wrongly-accused crimes, inhumane prison sentences and testing the balance between revenge and justice in one way or another. Also, both films are the result of two very good books.

Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo was a book I immensely enjoyed reading a few years ago, and I knew I had to try Stephen King's original short story, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, for myself.

At 132 pages long, Shawshank is not quite the tome that Monte Cristo is. However, there's so much in it. If you're looking for a short but compelling read, I'd by all means tell you to give it a go. After all, you may come away with a few life lessons and a reinforced sense of gratitude.

Here are a few things Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption can teach us:

Having a hobby can keep you (relatively) hopeful and sane

I think the strongest characters in the story are ones who find activities that they're interested in, even when in prison. The narrator, Red, tells us,
"Oh, there are all sorts of ways to divert yourself, even in prison; it seems like the human mind is full of an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to diversion." 
We also hear the following about Andy, the prisoner at the centre of Red's story:
"Geology had, in fact, become his chief hobby. I imagined it appealed to his patient, meticulous nature. A ten-thousand-year ice age here. A million years of mountain-building there. Tectonic plates grinding against each other deep under the earth's skin over the millennia. Pressure. Andy told me once that all of geology is the study of pressure."

Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs

We soon understand that Andy isn't the standard Shawshank prisoner. For one, the fear of being 'institutionalised' doesn't seem to concern him as much as it does the other characters.

While Red often worries that he couldn't last outside the prison confines, Andy works hard to stop this happening to himself. Twenty-seven years later, he does falter slightly, but he perseveres.

Red observes that, "some birds are not meant to be caged", but perhaps it's more a case of some birds not accepting being caged, even after so long.

Imagine the Pacific when you're stuck in a cell

Many of the conditions described at Shawkshank prison are far beyond anything that we've experienced in our own lives or could even imagine. To stay psychologically strong, stoically distancing your mind from external circumstances seems to be the best option. By no means is that easy, but Andy tries his best:
"'He spoke with such calm assurance you would have thought he had only a month or so left to serve. 'You know where I'm goin', Red?'


'Zihuatanejo,' he said, rolling the word softly from his tongue like music. 'Down in Mexico. It's a little place maybe twenty miles from Playa Azul and Mexico Highway 37. It's a hundred miles north-east of Acapulco on the Pacific Ocean. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?'
I told him I didn't. 
'They say The Pacific has no memory. That's where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.'

"It always comes down to just two choices. Get busy living, or get busy dying"

Probably the most famous line of both story and film, this quote is more than a little cheesy. However, I know I should remember it, and remember it well.

"Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." 1745 Anson Map of Zihuatanejo Harbor, Mexico. The destination of hope and direction in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

Have you read Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption? Perhaps you've watched the film - if so, why not give the story a go too?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

How Reading A Game of Thrones Can Help Us to Cultivate Courage

I've written before about how brilliant I think George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is. The series begins with A Game of Thrones, the book that most of us are used to hearing about, and with each book I want to write more about it.

Read Game of Thrones and have more courage
The first cover of the stunning new Harper Voyager
, which I'm making my way through.
The twists and turns of the series are superb, but what really gets my attention is the way the series affects the reader's own life, particularly when it comes to cultivating courage.

How A Song of Ice and Fire has given me courage

I'm just coming to the end of A Storm of Swords (Part II), which must be my favourite book of the series so far. Also, it's definitely having an impact on my own courage and psychological resilience.

I've had some job interviews that didn't go the way I hoped, but this isn't getting me down at all. I'm not viewing temporary setbacks as failures, and I'm certainly not viewing myself as a failure.

Instead, I'm feeling resilient and keen to keep going and not let the small stuff get me down. Perhaps this is because I've been exposing myself to more challenges, but I think my reading material comes into it too.

How could A Game of Thrones and the A Song of Ice and Fire have possibly helped me to build courage?

We look up to the courageous characters

If you know the book or watch the show, think of Arya, Daenerys and Catelyn stark: female characters who strive towards what's best for them and their families and don't shy away from danger or challenges.

Also, there's Eddard Stark standing up for what he believes in, and - from A Clash of Kings onwards - Brienne of Tarth completely subverting the 'fair maiden' stereotype (to very good effect). These are all characters I want to act like in my own life, at least when it comes to finding courage.

Courage can be cultivated, even in the most unlikely characters

Samwell Tarly enters A Song of Ice and Fire as the least likely candidate for courageous behaviour. His lord father has given up on him, he sobs, and he doesn't seem to have an inch of muscle. However, things change, and we realise that courage isn't fixed in the slightest.

Rather, sometimes the most unlikely characters can display the most courage in the world of Westeros. Physical problems and a difficult past rarely stop a character from cultivating courage when it's required of them.

Similarly, Jon Snow is a bastard by birth, but he doesn't let this affect his morality or his courage, despite the taunts and exclusion he often faces. I've found myself looking up to him at many points in the series, even after he's made some questionable decisions, and find the way he motivates other characters to be particularly admirable.

George R.R. Martin helps us realise when we're being craven

'Craven' is a word that must appear in at least every chapter. Characters dread being called craven, but even the men and women we class as the strongest get accused of it.

When reading A Song of Ice and Fire, I think the fear of 'being craven' seeps into the reader's way of thinking in some way. For instance, when I find myself dreading or fearing something (be it tackling a difficult task or simply getting out the house), I tell myself not to be craven and get on with it.

George R.R. Martin draws us into his writing, and even gets us thinking like his characters. Such is the magic of well-written fiction.

Effect of Game of Thrones on our own lives
"Winter is coming..." Can A Game of Thrones help us to be more courageous in our own lives? Image source.

Have you found courage and greater resilience after reading a great book? Also, if you've read A Game of Thrones, has it had a similar effect on you?

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Solve Your Problems With Sherlock Holmes (And Overcome Workaholism with Watson)

My Penguin English Library edition of "The
Five Orange Pips and Other Cases"
The BBC Sherlock Holmes series has been a big thing in my house. Our sheepdogs are compared - and contrasted - with Sherlock and Mycroft, and the end of Series 2 cliffhanger provided lots of ground for healthy debate.

I knew that I'd love the Arthur Conan Doyle original stories, and The Five Orange Pips and Other Cases has been one of my best literary purchases of the year. The writing is top-quality, the plots tend to be impeccable, and the art of deduction has given me so much to apply to my own life and problem solving.

The Adventure of the Devil's Foot

My favourite story from my Penguin English Library edition of The Five Orange Pips and Other Cases must be "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot".

It's 1897. Sherlock's nerves have had too much and his doctor has told him he's in desperate need of a time out. So, Holmes and Watson head for Cornwall for the former's health, but, as can be imagined, they run into a crime before too long.

Mr. Mortimer Tregennis, a local gentleman, and Mr. Roundhay, the local vicar, come to Holmes to report that Tregennis’s two brothers have gone insane, and his sister has died. Tregennis had gone to visit them in their village (Tredannick Wollas), played whist with them, and then left. When he came back in the morning, he found them still sitting in their places at the table, the brothers, George and Owen, laughing and singing, and the sister, Brenda, dead. Over to you, Sherlock Holmes.

Solve your own problems with Sherlock

Reading - and watching - Sherlock Holmes's adventures has ended up being more than just relaxing. Seeing the famous detective at work has helped me approach some tricky situations in my own life in a much more precise and mindful way than I normally would, and seeing Watson's own pitfalls in my own thinking has stopped me once or twice (for reading on the side, try Maria Konnikova's Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes).

The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact -- of absolute undeniable fact -- from the embellishments of theorists and reporters. Then, having established ourselves upon this sound basis, it is our duty to see what inferences may be drawn and what are the special points upon which the whole mystery turns.
― Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze 
I knew that seclusion and solitude were very necessary for my friend in those hours of intense mental concentration during which he weighed every particle of evidence, constructed alternative theories, balanced one against the other, and made up his mind as to which points were essential and which immaterial.
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

Recover from workaholism with Watson's help

In "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot", we realise that Sherlock isn't superhuman. He's very intelligent, but he can't keep up his extraordinary high level of thinking all the time. Exhausted, he's forced to get some rest in the countryside "if he wished to avert an absolute breakdown". 

Reading and walking dictate his routine, and in a way it's a success.

"The glamour and mystery of the place, with its sinister atmosphere of forgotten nations, appealed to the imagination of my friend, and he spent much of his time in long walks and solitary meditations upon the moor. The ancient Cornish language had also arrested his attention, and he had, I remember, conceived the idea that it was akin to the Chaldean [...]" 
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Devil's Foot 
Poldhu Bay, close to where Holmes and Watson recuperate in "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot". Image source.

Holmes is very much human, after all. It becomes Watson's mission to nurse him back to health once more, and at the first signs of a case, he is forced to hold up a 'warning finger'. Couldn't we all do with our own Watson?

"I held up a warning finger" - Watson acting against Sherlock Holmes's workaholic tendencies. 

Also, Sherlock Holmes can teach us to never stop learning

“Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow

The LitTherapy Project: Thank You For All the Support!

My LitTherapy crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo has come to an end, and I'm very grateful to the supporters, link-sharers and contributors! As I opted for flexible funding, I aimed high and was able to keep for the project any amount I made.

The money that I've raised is so useful for the site's development, as are all the connections that I've made during the campaign. I've got in touch with so many great people, and I'm so excited to work on building a community around the site with you all.

I'm currently working on:

  • Content for each book listed on the site
  • A bibliotherapy forum
  • A bibliotherapy blog for the website, on which bloggers on readers would be invited to contribute content
  • Thinking through social features and a ranking system.

If you're a blogger

You're invited to contribute short summaries of your favourite books, ideally focused on bibliotherapy and with a mention of who you'd recommend the book for. This would be followed by your name and a link to your blog, to help you gain exposure for your writing.

You're also invited to be listed as a contributor on the About Us page which is in progress! On this page you could list your blog, a few favourite posts, and a bit about you and your favourite books.

If you're a reader

I'd also love for you to write summaries of your favourite books!

Other roles

There will also be Librarian roles - one for each genre - which will involve expanding the books listed on the site, alongside Site and Community Manager roles.

Interested in getting involved, or have any ideas for the site? Send an email to!

And, once again, thank you so much for all of your support!

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Book for Life: Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Penguin edition of Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Behind all seen things lies something vaster; everything is but a path, a portal or a window opening on something other than itself. ” Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry some years ago, but I'd never looked into the author's life or other works. This recently changed, however, thanks to the wonderful intertextuality of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. After Wind, Sand and Stars was shared between friends in the novel, I visited my local bookshop as soon as I returned from Barcelona to pick up the copy that I hoped was still on the classics shelf.

Thankfully it was, alongside two copies of Tartt's The Secret History which I'd been unable to get in Waterstones's (all hail independent bookshops). The bookshop owner, who I know well, told me that he always has a copy of Wind, Sand and Stars in stock, and was surprised that I hadn't read it before.

Off I went after making use of my student discount (somewhat reluctantly, as I knew that buying two £8.99 books for £13 wasn't going to help the shop's livelihood), and I read the book during several recent train journeys I've had.

Wind, Sand and Stars: a guide to life and deathWind, Sand and Stars is a remarkable non-fiction tale of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's life as a pilot, featuring encounters with nomadic Arabs and the 1936 crash in the Libyan Desert that he miraculously survived. Perhaps this near-miss is why Saint-Exupéry writes about life and death with such skill and insight; a talent that reminds me of León Felipe's poetry from around the same time.

“The squall has ceased to be a cause of my complaint. The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when the night has fallen, I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars.”

What is more, I couldn't have read Wind, Sand and Stars at a more poignant time considering the recent disappearance of flight MH370. Saint-Exupéry's narrative of searching for missing co-pilots (and being lost himself) was quite difficult to read considering this present backdrop, especially as, judging by news headlines, it seems to have come to a sombre close this afternoon.

Also unfortunately fitting is Saint-Exupéry's cause of death at the controls of his plane in 1944, something that I only learned about upon picking up this book.

I think that there are many other elements of life that Wind, Sand and Stars could apply to, not just those related to air travel. In The Goldfinch, protagonist Theo Decker reads the autobiographical narrative during a time of closure on the bus from Los Angeles to return home. I also read it while travelling, foremost on a trip to Google London last Wednesday that required more than a little courage.

Have you read Wind, Sand and Stars? I'll choose it as my bibliotherapy recommendation for this month, particularly suited for anyone with changes going on who could do with stepping back to see the bigger picture. It's an incredible book that demands much more than one reading.

“It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery's life and death
An introduction to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his autobiographical Wind, Sand and Stars

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Year Abroad in Books (Alongside Homesickness and Coming Home)

Some of you may know that from August 2013 I was in Spain, working in Barcelona for the year abroad of my degree.

Well, time has flown by and I'm now back in England, surrounded by the familiar comforts of home. Am I happy to be back? I can't lie. I'm so, so glad to be back. Living in Barcelona was great, but I was definitely ready to come home.

Now that life is pretty much to normal, I think a quick overview of my time in Barcelona is due.

Why don't I tell you about my year abroad through the books I read?

La Setmana del Llibre en Català
La Setmana del Llibre en Català, September 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

I read The Cuckoo's Calling on the journey over to Barcelona and when I was settling in, and it was the perfect choice. Reading about a character coming to terms with his own life really got me thinking about my own, and it was easily one of my favourite reads of 2013. There's something very fitting about reading a detective novel when you're solving problems and dealing with change in your own life.

The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment - Isabel Losada

Thanks to Angeliki's consistently brilliant recommendations, I came across The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment. Documenting the author's journey of self-discovery, the memoir was a welcome retreat from the anxiety of setting up bank accounts and struggling to get the ever elusive NIE - an identity number for foreigners - in my hands.

Sant Jeroni peak, Montserrat, September 2013

NW - Zadie Smith

NW was an extremely slow read for me, and a potentially risky one considering my English home isn't far from the English capital. However, homesickness wasn't yet due, and I was inspired by the themes of education and reinvention that Zadie Smith so cleverly weaves together.

The End of Your Life Book Club - Will Schwalbe

A real testament to the power of books, I can't recommend The End of Your Life Book Club enough. It reminded me why I should be working on my bibliotherapy projects, and provided me with the inspiration to do something meaningful with my life (or at least give it a shot).

The Gifts of Imperfection - Brené Brown

I can be so afraid of failing and making a fool of myself that I shelter myself from anything remotely scary and challenging. If you can relate to this, you really need to discover Brené Brown. Check out Daring Greatly and her teachings on the power of vulnerability right now!

La Diada, or The National Day of Catalonia, and 'The Catalan Way' September 2013. Photo credit: Chris Jones.

The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer

Winner of the Costa Prize for the best first novel, The Shock of the Fall was a firm reminder of the potential of fiction to help us come to terms with our own mental health and that of others.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? - Maria Semple

I read this in December, when homesickness was just starting to kick in. If you've read Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, you'd probably agree that this was the perfect antidote. Uplifting, inspirational and extremely funny, this was the ideal book to read!

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland - Sarah Moss

Names for the Sea tells the experience of another British woman abroad, in my favourite country in the world: Iceland. What better book to read when I was feeling like an out-of-place foreigner?

Two Lucys at the CosmoCaixa Science Museum, February 2014

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

I loved Bernadette, and I absolutely adored The Rosie Project. My main advice for anyone living abroad? Read feel-good novels. They're the ultimate first aid for homesickness! Also, the protagonist of The Rosie Project, Don, can't but help inspire you to get out your comfort zone and open your mind as he does.

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

Just incredible. I needed a story of beauty, courage and growing up to get me through the last stages of my time abroad, and I couldn't have chosen a better book.

The Fry Chronicles - Stephen Fry

As the second part of Stephen Fry's autobiography that focuses on his years as a student (and his brief spell in prison before that), I listened to this coming-of-age tale as an audiobook and loved it. It was the perfect end to my year abroad, and Fry (with his ever so recognisable voice) was the perfect companion on my trip to visit my sister in Andorra.

Casa Sayrach, Barcelona
Casa Sayrach, just around the corner from my Barcelona flat in the Eixample region. March 2014

Now that I'm in England, I'm so eager to get back into a reading and blogging routine. What more can I say? It's good to be back!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The LitTherapy Campaign is Live on Indiegogo!

Yesterday I launched my new bibliotherapy site, LitTherapy, and now I've started my Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. It's been a busy weekend!

If you're new to the concept, crowdfunding is a way to get all sorts of projects backed online. Kickstarter is a really excellent way to raise money for creative projects that you may not otherwise be able to fund (e.g. art projects, CDs or books), but as I'm creating a new web application I've chosen to use Indiegogo.

I think crowdfunding is one of the most exciting opportunities for all us entrepreneurial and creative types, and I'd love to hear if you have experience of it. Alternatively, if my own mission is successful, maybe I could help you out with your own pursuits!

The more the project is shared socially, the more chance it has of reaching the Indiegogo front page and reaching even more people. Therefore, it would be great if you could manage a retweet or Facebook like if you have a spare minute before March 28th (in 33 days!)

Like I said in my introduction post to LitTherapy, I really do think that a free bibliotherapy resource is something that we could all benefit from having access to.

Here's the video about the LitTherapy project:

It would be amazing if any of you could contribute, but I'd also be incredibly grateful if you could manage any of the following:

How LitTherapy could work for bloggers

If the campaign is successful, I'd like to get bloggers involved and help you promote your writing through it. Whether it's by linking to your reviews, featuring your thoughts on specific books, or even by you helping me with the running of LitTherapy, there will be plenty of opportunities!

Also, if you follow my blog but don't have one yourself, I'd still love for you to get involved!

Got any questions? Comment below or send me an email at and we can chat!