Beyond the Bell Jar: ✿ Join the Doll Hospital Book Club ✿
As our first issue begins to fall together, our heart fills up, burst balloon style, for all the love and support we’ve been given from you lovely people! ♥ ♥ ♥
As it’s September now, we’re feeling a back to school, earnest education vibes, sort of post. What do you think? Going back to classes can be an overwhelming time, teachers and classmates can be cruel, deadlines can swallow you. (This piece by Arabelle on common college nightmares is a wonderful resource if you ever need it.) So we wanted to create something that draws a bridge between the hopeful autumnal outlook of Rory Gilmore, hardback book and backpack in hand, and a soothing safe space, just for you.
Which is where our little book club comes in! Who says we cannot heal our hearts and broaden our minds at the same time? And when did reading books, watching movies, all that fun stuff become so stressful? An endless cultural checklist of boring white dudes that you feel morally obligated to go though! Ick! An especially powerful guilt trip for those of us who aren’t neurotypical, who are dealing with ADHD or have learning difficulties. Like we feel bad enough already, we don’t need you to shame us for not reading an 1,000 page long historical drama in our spare time y’kno?!
As a result, we have prioritised books that are accessible and not like ridiculously long! Doll Hospital is a lot of things, but it certainly isn’t homework!
So without further ado, here is a selection of our fave books right now, if they are not already stocked in your local library why not have a chat to your librarian and see if they can order you in a copy? Or ask our very own Eline who has a secret superpower for finding books online. And hey, if you have a bit of spare cash, why not buy two copies? One for you, and one for a friend and start a little reading group of your own? That would be awesome! But yay! Let’s get to it! ^___^
The Red Tree, Shaun Tan
[Image description: an illustration of a young girl in bed, leaves blow around her bedroom, as she stares emptily into the distance.]
Okay, so Shaun Tan is everything. He’s previously created a graphic novel epic on migrant identity and a brutal take down of colonisation told through the metaphor of bunny rabbits. Obviously he has a picture book on mental health. And obviously it is amazing. In bold pencil lines and paintbrush streaks, Tan explores the struggles of chronic depression, disassociation and overwhelming hopelessness. It is cathartic and comforting and real. Whilst this book may have been created for a younger audience, we’re not about bordering who should read what when, as that has gross ableist implications. If it brings you comfort it is meant for you. Simple as that.
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
[Image description: a young black girl holds a white, blonde hair doll, a single tear falls down the girl’s face]
We’ve previously talked about our interest in deconstructing archetypes of white girlhood, and when it comes to learning about how damaging, how alienating, this construct is we couldn’t think of a better place to start than The Bluest Eye. At around 150 pages long it is perfectly contained, the sort of book you could read in one sitting.
Drawing invisible threads between the ugly consequences of white beauty, the stolen innocence of black girls, and the alienating constructs of white vulnerability, of white suffering, constructs that are built to keep black bodies, black stories, out, it is actually one of the # 1 inspirations behind Doll Hospital. We think this extract on dolls, on Shirley Temple, is a perfect introduction:
“I hated Shirley. Not because she was cute, but because she danced with Bojangles, who was my friend, my uncle, my Daddy, and who ought to have been soft-shoeing it and chuckling with me, instead he was enjoying, sharing, giving a lovely dance thing with one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heels.
Younger than both Frieda and Pecola, I had not yet arrived at the turning point in the development of my psyche which would allow me to love her. What I felt at that time was unsullied hatred. But before that I had felt a stranger, more frightening thing than hatred for all the Shirley Temples of the world.
It had begun with Christmas and the gift of dolls. The big, the special, the loving gift was always a big, blue-eyed Baby Doll. ….Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs-all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured. “Here,” they said, “this is beautiful, and if you are on this day ‘worthy’ you may have it.” I fingered the face, wondering at the single-stroke eyebrows; picked at the pearly teeth stuck like two piano keys between red bowline lips. Traced the turned-up nose, poked the glassy blue eyeballs, twisted the yellow hair. I could not love it. But I could examine it to see what it was that all the world said was lovable.”
The Last of The Really Great Whangdoodles, Julie Edwards
[Image description: three children and an older man run down a path surrounded by vividly coloured trees and plants, they are smiling]
Let me tell you something very important: Maria “Victor” Poppins-Renaldi (aka Dame Julie Andrews) knows the inside of our brain. Yeah! Did you know that yr fave angel-voiced nanny also wrote children’s books (multiple!) and also that they’re really good?! The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles is, basically, a whimsical fairytale epic all about the ultimate sovereignty of the imagination, starring three intrepid siblings, a whole host of silly mythical creatures, and (to our recollection) one totally non-creepy eccentric old man/mentor. It’s about the flexibility and freedom of the minds of children. It’s about the magic of noticing, of bearing witness to the small tendernesses of life and letting them transport you. Whangdoodleland is a wonderful place to adventure in when you and the “real world” need to forget each other for a little while, imbued with gentle wonder (its ruler’s motto is Pax amor et lepos in iocando, or, “Peace, love, and a sense of fun”), and you need only your imagination and your scrappy caps to get there.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Hayao Miyazaki
[Image description: Nausicaä with her pet, Teto, on her shoulder fastening her helmet while her text bubble says: “If I stop moving, I’ll drown in grief. I have to keep moving forward…”]
When dealing with a bout of depression, lots of stress, or just generally feeling overwhelmed, it can be hard focussing on big blocks of text. That’s kind of a shitty thing, considering reading is a #1 method of calming down. So, reading lots of mangas, comix, graphic novels, comics, or whatever you want to name your genre of illustrated stories, is a great choice. Not only because there’s a lot less text but the visual narrative helps with following the story too. One of our absolute favourites this past year was Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki! It’s also an amazing anime, a Doll Hospital favourite, but we think we might love the manga even more.
We love it so much because it’s an awesome sci-fi story about a girl that has a beautiful bond with nature and animals, a bond built up by mutual trust, interest and lots of time investment. Nausicaä has a connection with the insects (giant insects!) and nature of her world that is really soothing. There is something very calming in connecting to nature; taking care of plants, watching bugs crawl around, it’s slow and without weird and unexpected roundabouts that slap you in your face when you least expect it, like life can do sometimes. Miyazaki transferred this feeling perfectly in Nausicaä’s story, supported by its beautiful drawn world, filled with weird looking plants that border on looking poisonous and parasitic but truly wonderful and fantastic, gigantic insects with thousands of eyes; a world that draws you in its own fantasy.
In the beginning you can read it as a pessimistic story about humans not caring for nature, but by the end it’s a positive tale about saving humanity via a love and understanding of nature, the latter is the bit that we loved so much and that gave us new air to breathe when in a depressive slump. The above image sums up this entire vibe perfectly.
Short and Sweet, Dan Lepard
[Image description: two inside pages of the book ‘Short and Sweet’, the pages are decorated in pink and yellow polkadots and the text read ‘Doughnuts, batters & babas’]
Baking can be a great part of your self-care routine; there’s a quiet luxury in setting aside the best part of a day to spend time in your own company (especially if you’re a bit of an introvert) and it works out to be quite cheap if you have a few bits in the cupboard.
Although it’s magical when you finally pull that tray of biscuits out of the oven, the rest of the ritual can be just as comforting, the simple act of putting on a tatty old apron and pulling down a favorite cookery book. For us it’s Short & Sweet, a collection of Dan Lepard’s recipes. His writing is down to earth and homely, from the story of the first cake he ever dreamed about to the serving suggestion for his honey loaf (“[eat] hungrily: thickly sliced and toasted in the morning”). He clearly loves baking and gets why we do too, so a lot of the recipes are speedy and/or very satisfying to make. It’s a pleasure to leaf through too; you don’t even have to make anything, you can just enjoy the book.
If you are in the baking mood we recommend the cherry and oatmeal cookies, which take almost no time to make, or the lemon poppy seed cake.
FRUiTS, Shoichi Aoki
[Image description: photograph of the books FRUiTS and Fresh FRUiTS laid on a table, each of the cover images show street fashion photos of teenagers dressed in colourful, multi-patterned clothes.]
Image by Audio Helkuik
FRUiTS (2001) and Fresh FRUiTS (2005) collect images from the legendary Japanese street style magazine’s first 8 years. We’ve owned these books forever and never tire from flipping through and noticing new things. Based primarily in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, FRUiTS captures the creative and rebellious style of the city’s teenagers, and the ingenious ways they work with their clothes. Goths, lolitas, punks, brightly-coloured Hello Kitty fans, and everyone else in-between and beyond pop up to pose for the camera.
Each revisit provides new things to notice about people’s outfits (these books are seriously great if you’re a fan of accessorising). What is so soothing about FRUiTS goes beyond style inspiration though, as the richness of each image becomes more apparent each time you look at them. If you look beyond the subject of the photo you can lose yourself getting a glimpse into shops and buildings, or looking at the people in the background of each shot, imagining their lives in one of the world’s most dynamic cities.
Okies, so these are the books we are into but what about you? What passages do you find yourself returning to, quotes you can’t help but reblog, books you reread each year? Whether its specifically on mental health (we’re always looking for new mental health books to read!) or just something cute or silly (you know how much we love cute things!) we’d love to hear from you