Misfits: A Personal Manifesto by Michaela Coel

From the writer of ​​hit TV shows Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You, Misfits: A Personal Manifesto reads like an extension of Michaela Coel’s dramatic work. Stories, thoughts and ideas expressed through her dark comedy onscreen unfurl on the written page.

We follow her progress from the streets of Tower Hamlets onto the world stage. We watch her fear of moths turn into a tool for self-development, a love of everyone who doesn’t fit, who can challenge the strictures society puts on those who, for whatever reason, don’t sit neatly in the hegemony. These are the people who will bring new ideas and creativity, who will shake up the staid and unthinking herd, who will give voice to the silenced. 

It’s a fun, provocative and quick read. If you love her television work, you’ll love her manifesto. I’m reading Burntcoat by Sarah Hall next.

Why I review books

I’ve been blogging about books for a number of years now and at the moment I feel as if the ability to crush complex stories, to evaluate other people’s years of effort in shaping their thoughts into sentences and paragraphs, novels, essays, memoirs, arguments, is failing me, is something I should perhaps not even be undertaking. It feels important to stand back and ask myself why I do this and what it means to me to review a book and share it, even if that sharing reaches a very small number of readers.

At the heart of all of this is my love of reading and my love of stories. I enjoy hearing other people’s thoughts. I like seeing characters’ lives and choices take shape into a story that seems to make some sense out of the repetition, uncertainty and confusion of our lives. I want to know what other people think about those big questions we love so much as teenagers: what does it mean to be alive? To be human? Are we and our planet some big godly intention or a chaotic creation whose meaning exists only in its miraculous, fleeting existence and nothing more? Is there such a thing as morality, good and bad actions, and for whose good or bad should we act? You know the questions. 

Why turn to stories for these questions? Why not science or philosophy or religion? Because all of those also use stories, because it is a way for us to hold disparate events, ideas and people in some kind of broad comparative lens. Philosophy tends to forget the multiple layers of consciousness and unconsciousness that sit in our awareness of our beings as bodies. It forgets that a person thinking about how words shape meaning is also tired from an old, worn out mattress and the pressures of living with someone they no longer love and not having had breakfast yet. Science tries to pretend nothing exists that isn’t logical. We all experience that to not be true. Religion often has its own agenda that refuses to welcome ideas that don’t fit within the remit of its tenets of faith.

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A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

This is George Saunders’ master class on the short story, writing and reading, through the analysis of seven classic Russian short stories. The book is based on a class he teaches at Syracuse University and it offers writers and interested readers alike an unpretentious exploration of that beautiful and fascinating connection between the mind of the writer and the mind of the reader.

There is nothing particularly surprising about what George Saunders writes about the process, but it is delightful to explore these stories alongside an intelligent and attentive mind, encouraging the reader to pay as much attention as he does and showing how essential that meticulous attention really is to the process of writing, reading and generally existing in the world as a human striving to understand others and the world around us. 

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