Book Review: The Creation of Anne Boleyn

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo is one of my favourite books, and definitely my favourite historical book. For lack of a better description, I would call it a deconstruction of the historical character of Anne Boleyn and her many portrayals in history and media ever since her turbulent life.

Divided into three sections, the book outlines the historically known facts of Anne’s life, her depiction in history after her reign, and then her various portrayals in media (books, movies and tv shows) ever since.

The premise alone however can not capture the witty, intelligent and clever writing that makes this book so enjoyable. Susan Bordo doesn’t hold back in her critiques of historians, historical fiction authors or screenwriters, producers and directors. She brings a fresh gaze to the recent and not so recent tropes often repeated about Anne, and draws patterns and connections in a way only someone who has dedicated a far chunk of their life to studying Anne’s portrayals can.

Bordo does the hard, fatiguing work of digging through the historical record, and then manages to organize and present her findings in a way that is clear, concise and entertaining even to someone who hasn’t spent the last few years of their life buried in Anne Boleyn related texts.

In case this hasn’t already been made clear by my raving review, I would sincerely recommend this book to anyone – anyone. Interested in history, media, fiction, popular culture or even just how a figure like Anne Boleyn can develop and change over time? This book will not let you down.

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Book Review: The Blue Castle

I know, I know – I am incredibly late to the game in discovering this delightful story. Written by L. M. Montgomery (think Anne of Green Gables), set in the wild beauty of Canada and the odd societies people create, it’s possibly my new favourite. At the very least, I can envision it being one of stories you return to again and again.

All you need to know in terms of the ‘plot’ of this book, is that Valancy is 29, unmarried and unhappy. Events prompt her to drastically change her life, and this story is the result. Valancy grows in character and heart page by page, to the shock, amazement and slight dismay of her various family and friends.

Like with most of Montgomery’s work, there are detailed and captivating descriptions of the landscape and natural locations of the story. Even more captivating is her ability to describe people – physically and psychologically – in such a way that you immediately can picture them, mannerisms and all, in your mind.

If you haven’t read any of her work before, I’d highly recommend it. While the Anne sagas are understandably my favourites, I know they can be a bit overwhelming. Perhaps starting with The Blue Castle, this short, stand alone novel, is more manageable. If you are an Anne fan, but haven’t read any of Montgomery’s other work, I again highly recommend it. I especially enjoyed The Story Girl, but I think The Blue Castle has now overtaken it in my affections.

Do you have a favourite Montgomery book I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know. If you read The Blue Castle and enjoy, also let me know!

Book review: Literary Allusion in Harry Potter

For Christmas I was given Literary Allusion in Harry Potter by Beatrice Groves, which a) is the perfect present for me, and b) is one of the best books I’ve read recently. Here’s a brief review that tells you what I liked about it without giving away all the fun parts.

If you have any interest in Harry Potter or literary traditions ranging from Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Jane Austin, Tennyson, Homer, Plato, Ovid, and of course, the great literary work known as the Bible, then you will find something in this book to interest you. It takes the approach of analyzing both the works JK Rowling has explicitly referenced, the works she would have studied in her English Literature and Classics degree, and other works whose influence can be seen lurking beneath the surface of the Harry Potter text. It deconstructs major themes and plot devices, as well as character arcs, motivations and development and then builds up a picture of the rich literary text that is Harry Potter.

Reading this book has given me a deeper understanding of the story, themes and characters of Harry Potter, but it has also given me a greater appreciation for many of the literary works that inspired it. Links and connections that hadn’t been clear to me before now seem obvious (for example, Hermione’s parallels to Jane Austin’s Emma) (or her and Ron’s bickering relationship and it’s echo in Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing). Not surprisingly, I especially enjoyed the section on Harry Potter’s allusions to the biblical story, and how Milton’s work in Paradise Lost gives a clear blueprint of Voldemort’s character.

Despite the vast arrays of literature covered and referenced in this short volume, it is incredibly readable even if you’ve never encountered any of these works previously. It helpfully summarizes, translates and explains where needed to ensure the reader (you) gets the most out of what is being conveyed, without having to wade through dense text to get to it. Before reading, I was familiar with maybe 60% of the texts references, but found it easy to follow even those I’d never read or understood before. Reading this book has even inspired me to go back and read or re-read a number of texts.

The main thing that it has reinforced is that to be a lover of English literature is to be a lover of Harry Potter (and vice versa). For part of what appeals to me, and to so many others about these stories is the way it reflects back our shared consciousness and our shared stories. The stories Harry Potter tells are the stories we have always been telling – of good conquering evil, of friendship, loyalty, monsters and magic. Only Harry Potter manages to tell the familiar old stories in new and exciting ways, so different and fresh that it might take us a moment to realize that they are there at all.

Things I Liked In July

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. Here’s my list of what I liked in July. What have you liked this month?

15 Ways To Catch Up With Friends That Aren’t Grabbing A Coffee Or A Cocktail

Look I love coffee. But not all my friends do. Not all my friends are most comfortable and talkative sitting at a table surrounded by strangers. Here’s a list to jump-start some ideas about interesting things to do with friends.

Lifelong Vegan

Kamina, of Nina Kardia and We Write You has started a vegan coaching business. I did a session with her, and it was really helpful. You can read my testimonial here!

10 Famous Book Hoarders

I am a minimalist in every area of my life….except my book collection. Beautiful libraries are my jam. I loved this list of book collections.

5 Things To Love About Black Sheep

I’ve been going to Black Sheep at least once a week for almost a year now. It’s dog friendly and will give you delicious delicious coffee. Here’s some other things that are good about, as written by Milika.

Hogwarts School of Arts and Music

Twenty years of Harry Potter (see my reflection here) has brought the much loved book series back into the light of public view. I loved this piece which argues that most of the analogies people are making about the real world and the HP world get it all wrong. Have a read (please!).

Constraints Can Breed Creativity

I’m finding this more and more true – when I limit myself, I am freed to be more creative, happy and productive in the space I’ve made for myself, rather than being overwhelmed by the hugeness of the world and it’s options.

Sayable

This blog is rocking my world and my heart right now. The above post gave me life on a day when I was tired and sad. It reminded me of the contradictory wonderful nature of my God and my faith. Lord, I believe – help my unbelief. It is all Jesus, all the time – I bring nothing to the table.

Everything Sayable writes has me saying – yes, me too. Here’s a bonus post on how to pray when you don’t know how to pray and here’s another bonus post on our hiding places.

20 Years Of Harry Potter

It’s 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published. I’m re-reading the series again to celebrate. It occurs to me I have a lot to say about these books.

Often I don’t talk about Harry Potter and how big a part of my life it was because it is so inbuilt into me – of course Harry Potter was a huge part of my life. How could it not be?

Memories of the HP books are woven into all my childhood memories. Visiting my cousins and seeing the first HP book on his shelf and starting to read it. Having Mum read aloud the fourth book to us because we were still pretty young and it was too scary. Reading the sixth HP book in a day when it came out. Reading the books at the Sport Carnivals instead of, you know, doing the sports. Re-reading the books again and again, like coming back to an old friend.

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Hogwarts Express at the Warner Bros Studio

Then of course, there was all the extra stuff that came with the books. Going to see the movies as they came out. Thinking that the Harry Potter Puppet Pals was the funniest thing ever. Still knowing that A Very Potter Musical might be the funniest thing ever (or at least the funniest thing on YouTube). Watching as HP became the global phenomenon it deserves to be, as it got a theme park and a stage play and a spin off series of textbooks that somehow got turned into a movie with more to follow (hi Fantastic Beasts!). Being excited with the advent of Pottermore and finally being sorted into our own houses.

I visited the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio when I was in the UK last year, and it was magical in every way. Most of all, it brought home to me again that Harry Potter is not a just a magical world I can escape to – it is a shared love, a collectively adored series. There are strangers all over the world who love these characters and these books the same way I do – who know the feeling of escaping back to Hogwarts. Harry Potter makes me feel less alone.

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As the world celebrates 20 years of Harry, as I ponder again how seven books can make such an impact on the world and can produce so much more than just those seven books, I’m thankful again for imagination, for bravery, for stories and for the magic of reading.

I’m grateful for the world of Harry Potter. I’m grateful for the Harry, Ron and Hermione’s example of friendship, for the Weasleys’ example of family, for Dumbledore’s and McGonagall’s example of teachers who care, for Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, for Luna and Ginny and Neville, even sometimes for Draco (except not ever for Snape. Sorry guys).

I don’t think I would be the reader – or writer – I am today without HP. I don’t think I would have learnt to value the Hufflepuff qualities I have – of hard work and loyalty and compassion – without knowing that we are all talented differently and there is a place for each of us.

So, with 20 years done, it’s time to say thanks to JK Rowling and to Harry Potter. Let’s all agree the Cursed Child never happened and keep re-reading the books forever.

Animals Abound: The West Wing Characters As Dogs

This is a thing I do now apparently. I turn the cast of tv shows I like into….puppies.

Ever wondered what each character from the West Wing would look like if they were a dog? Wonder no longer. Here’s my list.

Jed Bartlett – Utonagan

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Leo McGarry – Bulldog

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Sam Seaborn – Labrador

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Josh Lyman – Russell Terrier

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Donnatella Moss – Golden Retriever

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CJ Cregg – Weimaraner

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Toby Ziegler – Basset Hound

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Charlie Young – Doberman

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Zoey Bartlett – Border Collie

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Will Bailey – Black Springer Spaniel

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Kate Harper – Border Collie

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Ainsley Hayes – Golden Cocker Spaniel

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Margaret Hooper – Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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Things I Liked In May

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. May is my birthday month so I’m extra happy to share this list with you. Here’s my list of what I liked in May. What have you liked this month?

33 Things to Do and Undo When Simplifying Your Wardrobe

Maybe the best thing I have read about minimalist wardrobes and decision making. This list is straightforward and simple. Just like I want my wardrobe to be.

Debunking The Myth Of Lady Jane Grey

This was fascinating – it tracks the development of the common image of the ‘Nine Days Queen’ – Jane as a weak and helpless victim and her mother as a domineering and awful manipulator. Even if you don’t know much about Jane Grey, you should read this article – there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there.

Uprooted

I read Uprooted, by Naomi Novik recently. It came highly recommended from a friend, and I absolutely loved it. It was the first fiction/fantasy book I have read in a long time that I simultaneously didn’t want to finish and couldn’t put down. I can’t emphasis enough how interesting and clever this story is – it hits all the conventions of the fantasy genre while still being fresh and new and surprising. Read it! (Link to a more indepth review is above).

Writing Retreat

I went on a writing retreat a few weeks ago, and it was the best. Mick and Kamina from We Write You have done up a ‘how to’ guide for your own retreat!

Historic Royal Palaces Podcasts

The Historic Royal Palaces Society are responsible for the upkeep of a number of palaces and castles in Britain. They also do a lot of work producing media to educate people about these buildings, their history and the people who lived there. I recently discovered their podcasts. They are very easy, interesting, informative listening – especially if you’re a history nerd like me!

The Intersection of Minimalism and Luxury

Been thinking a lot about why I like minimalism – and this article helped to resolve a few things. I like living simply where I can, where it makes things less stressful and less cluttered, but that doesn’t mean always denying myself things. It means being thoughtful and deliberate about what is important to me, what is truly most valuable to me, and using my resources on those things instead. For me, it’s not necessarily fancy airport lounge upgrades; but there are things I want to spend money on, and living simply might make those things more possible in the future.

What Reign Got Right

There is a show called Reign, which is ending it’s fourth and final season soon. It’s a loosely historical trashy Gothic drama romance (it’s a thing, okay) and while it has many, many absurd moments, characters, costumes and plotlines, it does get some things right. Namely, it’s portrayal of women. I don’t agree with everything in the above article, but it mostly hits on why Reign has such devoted fans. Also because Megan Follows is flawless as Catherine de Medici and is the real hero of the show.

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The real hero. Will do anything for her family and France (in that order unfortunately).
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Still not clear on why Mary likes wearing headbands and beads in her hair in this alternative historical reality…but I don’t judge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the ANOVA – a blog on education

This blog is a highly analytical and slightly cynical commentary on education. This post is my favourite – the Official Dogma of Education. Here’s a great excerpt:

10. Our educational policy succeeds when it improves the academic performance of all students, and when individual students rise above and leave their peers behind. The tensions between these goals are to remain unexamined.

But where is the green sheep? Old maps put the art in cartography

Beautiful and informative maps of Australia.

Sorry 

I say sorry too much. Way too much. So much it is annoying (sorry). Someone made a video about all the times they didn’t need to say sorry and I related a little too much.

Animals Abound: What Dogs Would The Characters From Friends Be?

Lucas and I had a conversation about what type of dog each character of Friends would be. Then this post happened. You’re welcome. 

Ross – Greyhound

Takes themselves way too seriously. Causes divided opinions. 

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Monica – German Shepherd

Hard working and loyal. A little intense sometimes. 

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Chandler –  Irish Setter

A bit ridiculous, but knows it. 

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Phoebe – Labradoodle

Adorable. Scruffy but has a big heart. 

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Joey – Dachshund

Loves food. Has no concept that anyone could be laughing at them, ever. 

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Rachel – Afghan Hound

Very pretty. A little confused how it got here.

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Things I Liked In April

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. April has been a bit of an upside down crazy month for me, so my list is not as extensive as it has been previously. But here’s my list of what I liked in April. What have you liked this month?

New Doctor Who 

Doctor Who season 10 has aired it’s first three episodes. I’m hesitant to comment on the overall quality of the season yet, but I am just enjoying watching something so familiar yet new. I like Bill, our new companion, and I’m not ready to say goodbye to Peter Capaldi as the Doctor yet. I have Opinions about the storytelling and themes but I’ll probably write a whole thing about that later on.

Break The Twitch

A site for all your minimalist needs. Lots of helpful thoughts on living simply and changing your habits of buying, spending and eating more than you really need.

Friends

My friend has written a post about deliberately cultivating friendships. I like her post and I like my friends who are intentional about doing things together. My weekly writing group just had a writing retreat, and it was refreshing, relaxing and totally achievable without too much stress.

Using Social Media Differently 

I’ve deactivated my Facebook, and don’t think I will be returning. I’ve also changed how I am using Instagram – I now have an account for my blog, searchingforgrace_blog and a separate account called animals_abound where I will be taking and posting pictures of all the animals. All of them.

Animals Abound – Part 5 – Animal Helpers

Today I’m talking about animals as trained helpers and assistants. I’ve already talked about why can be good for your mental health here, but now I’m covering more specific ways animals can be helpful to those who have barriers to overcome in participating in society or living independently. The range of ways animals can help are as varied as the animals themselves. I’ll quickly cover the main categories these helper animals fall into. Thanks to this site for their helpful information on this subject.

Guide dogs – Dogs who (usually) help the visually impaired, by identifying and avoiding potential obstacles as their owner moves around both the home and wider society. These dogs are trained to a high standard, and can often even navigate busy streets and shopping centres for their owner.

Hearing dogs – Dogs who alert their hearing impaired owner to events happening around them, such as a siren, a ringing phone or doorbell. Dogs are trained to then physically touch their owner in different ways to let them know the type of sound happening, often within seconds of the event happening.

Service dogs – This name is given to dogs that assist people with a physical disability, or a disability that doesn’t clearly fall under the visually impaired or hearing impaired category. As a result, this type of dog is the most common. They can pull wheelchairs, retrieved dropped objects, close and open doors and turn lights on and off. Skilled companion dogs are very similar, except that they worked under the supervision of a facilitator who is not their owner. This is usually a family member or caregiver.

Seizure response dogs – Some dogs can predict a seizure, but this is not the function of most seizure response dogs. These dogs can activate life-saving alert systems to summon medical help. The can also roll a person into a safe position or retrieve medication needed to halt a seizure.

Emotional Support/Therapy Animals – often, these animals aren’t dogs. They can be a cat, rabbit, horse etc. The main role of these animals is to assist people with mental health issues by providing a stable, comforting presence. A therapist may prescribe a therapy animal to help someone deal with panic attacks, PTSD, depression or a range of other issues.

Facility animals – are a type of therapy animal. Supervised by a facilitator, these animals (usually dogs or cats) work in healthcare or educational settings, to provide companionship, emotional connection and sometimes assistance during physical therapy sessions. These animals can be a coping mechanism for people facing serious medical challenges.

 

I also want to mention the use of animals in autism therapy, because I read some really interesting things about it here. Horses have been used to help non-verbal children contact to another living creature and begin communicating. The rhythm and balance needed to ride the horse can also help increase balance, which is a common issue for kids with ASD (autistic spectrum disorder). Dogs are also used with children with autism, as service dogs, by helping keep the child safe and alerting the parents of potential danger. Cats can also play this role, though this is less common.

The innovation used by people in training these animals impresses me. The dedication and emotional intelligence of these animals amazes me. As I talked about in this post, I think that including animals in more spheres of society will only make society richer and more empathetic, not only towards animals but also towards each other.

The doors, literal and figurative, that these animals can open from people who otherwise might be excluded from society, or have to live without independence and autonomy, is phenomenal. Can you imagine the freedom it must give a someone who is blind to know that they can get on a bus and do their grocery shopping independently like anyone else? Or the reassurance it gives a parent of a child with autism to know that they can leave their child playing in the next room, because their service dog will alert them if the child is in danger or needs help?

Just as I hope we will see more and more animals out and about in society just for the fun of it, I also hope it will become more and more normal to see students at university with their guide dogs, people in the workplace with their service animal and children at school with a therapy pet. I hope we can become more and more open to removing the barriers – whatever they are – to including people in all parts of society. I’m excited to see how animals can help us do that.

You can donate to Assistance Dogs Australia here or Guide Dogs Australia here. If you’ve heard other stories of animals helping people, please let me know – I’d be interested to hear about it.