Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Devouring Books: The Outsiders by S E Hinton


I always thought of The Outsiders as a book I knew a lot about but had just never gotten around to reading yet. I know it is referenced in Fangirl, I thought it was referenced in Donnie Darko (it is not) and I know Rob Lowe was in the film version because I read his (actually surprisingly good) memoir. From this really sketchy evidence,, I thought I had a super clear idea about the storyline of The Outsiders, but as the structure of this sentence suggests I actually had no idea.

In its most basic details, The Outsiders was the book I expected. Ponyboy Curtis (the actual name of our narrator) is one of a gang of Greasers, sworn enemies of the Sons, and in a really simplistic sense, this sets up tension and danger and badness between poor and rich, and have-nots  and haves (respectively). It's what Hinton does from this jumping off point though, that keeps The Outsiders from being cliched and dull, and makes it a novel that deserves attention and analysis.

Here's a thing, for instance: Ponyboy is a reader. This makes him so much more interesting than a general hoodlum, because it means that he things about the world around him in a different way to his brothers and his buddies and makes him a really engaging character to hang out with. Although Ponyboy has come to see being tough and fighting as a part of life that he has to deal with, it is made clear that really he prefers reading and art and watching sunsets to fighting and violence and being shitty to people. He's really a pretty great kid.

As a result of Ponyboy being a great kid, the novel gains the majority of its depth. My very favourite thing about The Outsiders is that, as a result of Ponyboy seeing the world differently, he starts to see that everyone thinks of themselves as outsiders, and that everyone has a hard time, regardless of social class. As a result of this, Ponyboy begins to see people as individuals rather than as a part of their group, and so he begins to understand that 'socs' are actually individual people, as diverse in character as all the members of his own friendship group. THIS is my actual favourite thing for people to start to understand about the world, because I think that basically all problems arise from seeing entire groups of people as sharing the exact same beliefs and lifestyles and using that as a way to subjugate that whole group and just aghhhhh no. Ponyboy comes to understand that people are individuals, and should be treated as such, rather than immediately dismissed because of (in the case of this book) their social class.

That's really the good stuff in this book, and even though the storyline is also pretty engaging and exciting and kept me entertained on a train journey, I'm really all about the understanding that literally everyone has individual experiences and ideas and can't be treated as a mass idea. So, come for the cult novel, stay for the engaging story, appreciate the awesome world view and be grateful that I told you it's totally ok to read The Outsiders. You're so very welcome.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Things I Read in January

Diiiiid I fail at blogging in January? Of course I did. But did I read some things? Well sure, a few. I actually only finished three books all month, about which I will only say that getting a boyfriend is really really good for happiness, but pretty terrible for reading. Actually, I'm going to say more things because he can't be held fully responsible- I have also had a terrible cold/flu type thing that meant I had to have all of last week off work, and just, you know, life things and stuff.

I also may only have finished three books, but I also read the majority of my next Stephen King, I just couldn't quite finish the last story in it, so that totally counts, right? Of course it does.

Anyway. The books!
Such a tiny pile... But anyway! Reading yay! Have some descriptions:

Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa

Sara Benincasa is really just such a delight, and I asked for this book for Christmas immediately after finishing Agorafabulous. I got it on Christmas day and started reading it not long after, and it is pretty great. It's essentially 52 essays about being an artist, and life, and ways you can live well and think about yourself and your actions and basically just generally ways to be a better human, or to deal with other humans better. It's Benincasa so there is of course some autobiographical stuff, but it's mostly all good life advice from someone who definitely sounds like she knows what she's talking about. I wouldn't say that every single essay was a killer but there's a lot more good than bad, and I really want to give this book to everyone I know to make them feel better about the world and life and stuff.

Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss

I think Nicole Krauss is a beautiful writer, but I also have a thing where I remember enjoying her books as I consume them, but can't remember much about them if I try to think back. This is pretty ironic considering the narrative of this novel, which involves a man who has complete memory loss post age 12. It's an interesting book because it's told entirely from the amnesiac's perspective, so there's no sense of his wife's loss and sadness, and that means the novel can really focus on the nature of memory, and what it means for a person's place in the world and sense of context about the world. Very interesting stuff that is already fading in my memory I AM SORRY NICOLE.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

This book is great. This is a Japanese love story, which to me essentially means that two fairly lonely and sort of strange people work through their feelings and manage to somehow get it together, all whilst eating amazing sounding food and going to markets and mushroom hunting and just generally having a fairly whimsical time. I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that I like Japanese literature, and this was no exception- it's much weirder than it needs to be, and as a result is much more interesting. I would say short and sweet, but it's much more odd than it is sweet, and that is probably why I liked it so much.

So yeah. It wasn't a huge reading month, but I enjoyed all the things I read AND I have a 100% female reading record so far this year which, for me, is obviously a giant win. Onwards through the year, my friends.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Whose Birthday? My Birthday

Or, to be more precise, my blog birthday!
Yeah, that's right, I've been blogging with various degrees of, you know, effort, for SIX WHOLE YEARS now. Even I'm pretty impressed with myself, even if the way I blog has changed so drastically over the last six years. For instance, I'm writing this in literally a stolen 15 minutes before work at 6:45am, whereas for my first blog birthdays I baked actual treats for an inanimate internet thing.

I would say oh how the mighty have fallen, but really I think it's probably a good thing that I didn't at all have time to make the above cake. But shit, I wish I had made it, because it looks freaking delicious...

Anyway. I probably say it every year (I definitely do) but there are so many wonderful things in my life that just wouldn't have happened without blogging. I had so many wonderful experiences last year, which were topped by going to Haworth with Nahree and Bex (ultimate readers trip!) but also included two bookshop crawls, an actually really important heart to heart with Katie, and one little night where I was in a hospital and pretty freaked out and couldn't sleep even the tiniest bit but I had friends on both other sides of the world to comfort and distract me, and really who could ask for more than that?

And this year is bringing even more blogging goodness, with another bookshop crawl in mere weeks and I believe some more foreign visitors at some point of the year, and oh man, who knew being depressed and aimless and wanting to write about how bad the last season of Brothers and Sisters was (so bad I didn't even finish it, and I realise I have not even thought about that programme for YEARS other than to mention it every year on this day) could lead to such wonderful, off internet things? Definitely not me.

In summary (because, you know, work and stuff)- if you have been here, in any capacity whatsoever, then thank you. I love you and I kiss you and Imma try to write about books for as long as it's fun, which, no matter how infrequently I do it, it does continue to be. Y'all are fabulous, keep being you.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Things I Read in December

Oy vey is this late or what..? Something something life and trying to catch up on stuff and also other stuff going on and ok look at the time, let's talk about the things I read in December!

(text only because seriously, look at the time!)

Agorafabulous by Sara Benincasa

I loved Agorafabulous so much that immediately after finishing it I requested another of her books (Real Artists Have Day Jobs) for Christmas, and it looks set to be the first book I finish in 2017. Agorafabulous actually is fabulous in many ways, not least because it gives Benincasa a platform to look at herself and her past and her struggles with mental illness in a funny but frank way. The entire book, even though it covers the lowest points of Benincasa's life, is hopeful in tone in a kind of 'I got through this, so can you get through anything' kind of way, and it's also really well written. Did I mention yet that I really liked it? Ok, good.

Wallflower at the Orgy by Nora Ephron

Oh, Nora. Is there anyone more wonderful? Probably not. This is a collection of articles and whatnot that Ephron wrote in the sixties, and even if some (ok all) of the subject matter is somewhat outdated now, Ephron's writing definitely isn't. I would literally read anything the woman wrote, and I'm really trying to read all of it. This is a pretty good place to start, especially if you're interested in Helen Gurley-Brown, Ayn Rand, the celebrity chef culture of the 60s (including a Julia Child mention, sooo many years before Julie and Julia!) or the work of Mike Nichols, and a must read if you care about Nora like I do.

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

After I read Never Let Me Go, I started collected Ishiguro books that I ended up never reading. This is a pretty common theme for me with most authors, but I'm pretty sure I have owned When We Were Orphans for about 10 years now and still haven't touched it. I did read Nocturnes though, and it's a pretty charming set of short stories, all based around music in very different ways, and all kind of excellent. It was the perfect thing to read in a ridiculously hectic December, and brightened up many a dull bus ride through Christmas shopping traffic.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Before this December, I had only read Landline in the middle of summer, outside in my back garden. I always meant to read it at Christmas, and this one finally seemed like the right time. This reading reminded me why I've only read it once before, not because it's not good (as if Rainbow could write a bad book) but because it's really kind of stressful. It's stressful not knowing what's going on with the main character's marriage, or her TV show, or the fact that she has a magic phone, and I felt kind of frustrated throughout the book, and not in a good way. Having said all of that, reading the end (the end is SO good) on Christmas morning before everyone was up was pretty excellent and magical itself, so there's that.

And that was December! I had limited time to read things, but I think I still did pretty well! Of course, it's practically February so who can care what I read in December, but you know what? I CARE SO THERE.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

End of Year Wrap Up and Whatnot

Oh well, hey. Look who's come to show her dumb face on the very last day of the year, as if she's anything like a real blogger anymore.

Well I AM SORRY, but look! Here I am to sum up all the reading I've done this year, cool thing to do, huh? I turned my computer on all ready to do Jamie's end of year survey (which is an excellent thing to do if you need, like, inspiration for talking about books) but then realised that so many of the questions don't really relate to how I read anymore so Imma just do my own thing, that cool?

But first, life.

2016 has been a shitty one for the world, almost universally, and whilst it's hard to not get bogged down in all the shit that's happening on a wider scale (and indeed, getting bogged down in all that shit is important and the only way to even begin to take steps to try and make things better), I can at least recognise that on a personal level, 2016 sucks less than 2015 cause I haven't lost any of my most beloved people. I probably shouldn't have just said that considering that I'm writing this on Boxing Day and there are still 6 days of this terrible fucking year left, but fingerscrossedtouchwoodalltheluckythings that is going to remain a fact.

But things! They happened this year! Let's see... I got a new job! Which has been, and remains, an adjustment in thinking and managing tiredness and actually working full time like a real human for the first time in my life. It has been a long time coming, and I'm actually more or less usually enjoying myself, so I'm pretty glad for this change (and like, I have a pension, and sick pay, and much more holiday and basically everything is the best). I also had some fairly crippling pain for a vast majority of the year, which I got magically fixed by modern medicine in October, and even if I now only have a partial left ovary, I do have a fair superior life, so that is pretty nifty.

If anything, I think this year has mostly been about friends. It freaks me out that practically every weekend I have had things to do and people to see, but only in the very best way. This has been exacerbated by having left my old job but actually having made real, true, and lasting friends there, and just by generally saying yes to many and most things where old Laura might have said 'nah, I want to stay home and not do anything'. This is not to say that there isn't joy in staying home and (obviously) reading, but I have been finding so much joy in people this year that I just feel really pleased to have collected such an excellent group of folk into my life. 
So really, 2016 hasn't been so bad in that sense. It's also been half a year of Pokemon Go, a couple of months of trying to eat well and move more (literally for my health) and of trying to be less dumb about boys, the last of which I think I'm finally starting to succeed at. It has, I think pretty obviously, not been a stellar year for blogging, and I'm just about fine with basically being an occasional blogger at this point. I'm not going to make any promises or plans about any kind of blogging schedule, but I will just say that 1) I really enjoy writing monthly wrap ups of things I've read so I'm pretty sure that will continue, and 2) Basically my only New Year's Resolution is to write more. I don't know whether to call that writing something every day, or just more than basically nothing, but more in a manageable, life-fitting-in way. Since this right here is a blog which, y'know, is made up of words, there's a good chance I could write more things here, but mostly my plan involves having a notebook with me at all times and generally trying to chase some of the vaguely interesting ideas that go through my head sometimes. 

But enough about me. Books, innit! I have read some this year and they have been great (the end.) But hey, let's start with this thing: remember how way back at the start of the year I decided to do Read My Own Damn Books? (no, of course you don't) Well fortunately, I DID remember, and I have been reasonably successful. Let's talk about this: 
Because I knew I was consciously concentrating on reading the books I already owned, I actually did really really well with this. Let's look at this stat: I read 75 books this year (wut wut!), and a whopping 50 of them (yeah that's right, FIFTY, bitches) were books I already owned. Of these, only 8 were re-reads, meaning I read 42 books I had previously owned but hadn't read before. Pretty proud, you guys. 

Along with this, I got rid of a fair few books that I just wasn't interested in anymore, and in terms of removing books from my house, I've done a pretty good job. However. I've also done a pretty good job of acquiring more, so the number of books I still haven't read is still not pretty. I'm slightly annoyed with myself for not writing the literal exact number of unread books I owned at the start of this year, but I said 360-ish so let's go with that. At this moment, I have 332 (which, actually, doesn't include Christmas presents... edit: 338 with Christmas books)- not an insignificant reduction, but not nearly enough of one to have made a real difference to the state of my bedroom, and also slightly disappointing in terms of haivng made a real effort to read my own damn books this year.

I think, then, this is it. This is the thing. The thing that I am very much not going to do this year is buy new books, EXCEPT at bookshop crawls, and y'know, I'm probably going to get some for my birthday, let's be real. I have actually managed to pretty much break my bad charity shop habit which is excellent, so I think this is a pretty achievable goal, and I'm pretty much trying to think of the money I'll save just by 'buying' off my own shelves. The especially excellent thing about this is that all the books I've just gotten for Christmas and some of the books I've put off reading this year because I acquired them, y'know, this year, are now fair game, and I am all about that. 

I'm realising that this post is obnoxiously long already (this is what happens when you don't talk to your friends for ages, GOD Laura) so let's do some stats and stuff and try to wrap it up (y'know, maybe)

2016 Book Stats

Books Read: 75
Pages Read: 20,900
First Reads vs Re-Reads: 67/8
Fiction vs Non-Fiction: 59/16
Women vs Men: 34/41 (dammit, Stephen King)
White vs Non-White: 60/15 (ugh, embarrassing af)
Translated vs Not: 9/66
Digital vs Physical: 3/72 (lol why do I even buy kindle books?)

I am, if I'm honest, not too terribly upset with those stats. Sure I want to read more women and men, and definitely less white people, but in terms of having read the books I already own, those are probably fairly representative of the books that were on my shelves. I also read 17 comic books out of all those books (thanks, Scott Pilgrim!) which has been a bit of a change for me (over the past few years so not really...) but omgggg I love them. 

I don't really want to go through favourite characters and favourite books of the year, because I think that's basically what I talk about in my monthly posts now. Just going through the spreadsheet of books I've read this year, it's interesting to see books I've pretty much forgotten and books which have become a part of me now, plus all the stuff in between. For instance, I read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant way back in January, and now I think incredibly fondly of Anne Tyler, whereas I barely even remember reading Armada. The one Emma Donoghue book I read this year (Landing) still feels so vivid I can't believe I read it in May, whereas The Heart Goes Last (finished last month) was basically instantly forgettable (sorry, Margaret). Time is a funny old thing, I guess.

I do have a favourite book for this year, now I come to think of it, and that is Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. These teeny essays literally touched all my buttons in terms of abstract thinking and lessons about humanity and really of truth within fiction, and this was an all round pretty excellent book that I'm still trying my mostest to get everyone to read. This has also been the year I started Game of Thrones, the year I recommitted to Stephen King (damn man stats...) and the year my commute gave me so much more time to read, for which I am oh so very grateful.

So yeah. In those ways, it's been a pretty good year, all things considered. I hope 2017 is even better for you and yours. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Devouring Stephen King: Duma Key

"Give me a choice and I'll take A Midsummer Night's Dream over Hamlet every time. any fool with steady hands and a working set of lungs can build up a house of cards and then blow it down, but it takes a genius to make people laugh."

Ohhhh dear. It has been such a significant amount of time since I read Duma Key that I can't remember anything about it which is worth talking about. Does this mean there wasn't anything worth talking about? Maybe so, but let's not jump to such conclusions just because we've all read The Tommyknockers. 

Ok, let's see. Duma Key was pretty weird, but a fairly decent read. I started it not long after I had my operation and still had a shit-ton of anaesthetic in my body, so clearly I needed something light and gentle to read, and to be honest this book kind of provided that. It's not a stressful King book to read with loads of shocks and little horrors, but more of a slow burner, that constantly hints at there being something vaguely wrong with the situation, and builds to a dramatic, and actually pretty traumatic conclusion. And ok, yeah, as I'm remembering it, I'm realising that I totally liked this book, I can hide it no longer!

Let's try and do some story, maybe. Let's see, the main character is... some guy, who is super rich but also troubled because he was just horribly injured at work and has lost an arm. This becomes vaguely important later, I think, so keep it in mind. He also has brain injuries which mean that sometimes he can't find the right words, and that he is filled with unbearable rage that leads his wife to leave him (nice lady), and after his near death experience he decides that the thing to do is go away to Florida to rest and recuperate. And, as it turns out, to paint.

The good stuff in this book really, I think, comes with the transformative power of art. It's true that in this book, there is a lot of supernatural stuff tied up with the paintings (paintings that make you murder! The whole island is cursed or haunted or something!) but there is also the part where art heals the main character who probably once had a name, both in a physical and mental sense. Even though his zoning out is part of a larger plan of, like, island spirits (or something), it's still the same kind of feeling that comes with all kinds of creation, and, for reals, art heals.

That's not really the resounding message to take away from this book (that one would be, 'art kills!') but it's apparently what I took from it anyway.

So. Yes. Duma Key was essentially not terrible, which is a really good thing for a Stephen King. It's not my absolute most favourite, nor is it my absolute most least favourite, but I enjoyed the ride and would not be mad if someone made me read it again. Onwards!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Things I Read in November

*Removes the sheets covering the furniture*
*Dusts everything down*
*Lets some air in*

Well hello, young readers and friends! Did I forget, for the whole month of November that I even have a blog? I didn't, but I was really very busy making up for the things I missed recovering from my operation, and enjoying my now relatively pain-free life for about the first time this year. This is not to say that writing blog posts isn't enjoyable, but it perhaps doesn't bring me quite as much joy as things like eating food with friends, or going on walks with myself (why yes, I am still playing Pokemon Go, why do you ask?) and generally just doing all those living-ish things that are all lovely and good.

But more about that (tentative promise) tomorrow. First, let's do books. Because of all the aforementioned living I've been doing, it took until the middle of the month for me to even finish a book. Surprisingly, despite a slow start I managed to read 4 whole books this month, which I'm gonna take as a win, even though this is in no way a competition (except maybe with myself)

Books though:

A Storm of Swords II: Blood and Gold by George R R Martin
Lookit, I read another Game of Thrones book! I've been pretty much trying to spread these out because I don't want all I'm reading to be Game of Thrones, although that's kind of a throwback decision based on the way I used to blog than the shoddy job I'm doing now. Let's just say that I'm rationing them out because I don't want to carry the damn things around with me all the time (which is also completely true). Anyway. This was good! Like, really good. Pretty much all of the exciting things from seasons 3 & 4 happen in this book (or in this half of the third book, I guess) so it gets like 10 thumbs up. I still have literally no urge to keep or reread these books probably ever, which feels weird but also feels amazing to get rid of them straight away, so there's that.

Patience by Daniel Clowes
I'm never exactly sure how I feel about Ghost World, which is Clowes' most famous comic, but I don't have any similar doubts about Patience. I loved this comic, to the extent that I sat down with it and just didn't move until I was done with it. It's kind of a gritty, time-travel drama that gets super tense and horrible as Jack waits practically his whole life to go back in time to try and prevent the murder of his wife Patience. If Ghost World makes me kind of grumpy because nothing really matters in it, then the stakes (and emotions) are super high in Patience. Also the art is pretty ace, so there's that too. Read itttttttt.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
I think we all know that I love a good work of dystopian fiction, and that I also love Margaret Atwood, but I did not love The Heart Goes Last. I didn't hate it either, and got through it in a couple of days, but this was a lot more focused on relationships and resentments and human oddity than it is on the REALLY weird society at large. Whilst you get to know the main characters pretty well (and my god, there are more than enough problems there to be going on with), I felt like the world itself could have been explored more deeply because there is some really fucked up shit going on within it. Like I say, I enjoyed it well enough, but it's not the kind of dystopia that will stay with me with crushing fear and horror (oh hai, Brave New World).

Daddy's Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer
Daddy's Gone A-Hunting is not, as my brain wants it to be, about a psycho-killer husband so much as its about the position of women in 1950s society. This, of course, makes it much better than the plotline I really wanted. Essentially focused on a woman and her teenage daughter, this book makes clear the struggles of women in the ridiculously unequal society of this time, starting with the ennui and depression of the mother and wife who only married her husband because she was pregnant, to the slightly wild teenage daughter who makes a mistake that she refuses to let her life be defined by in the same way. Whilst I read this getting upset about the hypocrisy of the dickhead husband who said that he'd turn his daughter out if she got pregnant out of wedlock when he literally had to marry his wife for that reason, I also came away kind of loving everyone and scared for them in equal measure. This was my second Persephone book, and it was every bit as good as I expected it to be (No book cover cause the internet is letting me down over here).

So that was November! Like I say, I don't think I had a whole weekend to myself for the entire month and I did so many things that I'm impressed with 4 books, even if one of them was a comic book. But enough about me, what did you read last month? Prizes for the best recommendation.