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.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Things I Read In October

Please try to ignore the fact that it's already the 5th of November (remember remember!) and act like I'm more up to date with books and life and all of that good stuff. I have essentially spent the whole month so far trying, in my little pockets of free time, to finish building the furniture I foolishly had delivered on a Sunday and so didn't have time to build before the whole damn work week. However, it's Saturday lunchtime and I'm typing this at my brand new shiny desk (sitting on my brand new shiny chair) so everything's coming up Milhouse, really. 

Before I even get to books, allow me to just recommend a podcast. I have, for so long, been incapable of listening to shit- I think maybe because my old job literally just involved listening to shit- but now. A podcast for the ages. I needed something to listen to whilst trying to sort out the complete mess that is my life (room) and The Babysitters Club Club podcast was that thing. I'm in no way original in my recommendation cause Book Riot already wrote a thing about it, but it is so funny and silly and at this point I feel like I'm listening to a couple of my friends talk about something I REALLY love, which is excellent. Interesting fact: I literally discovered book blogs through a couple of Babysitters Club blogs I used to read (totally snarky but affectionate ones) and now I'm kind of like, have I discovered podcasts through the same route? Spoooooky. 

But anyway. That's quite enough of shit I've been listening to, what did I read last month? Well:

Audition by Ryu Murakami 
Ah, the other Murakami. Not my favourite Murakami, of course, but he has his charms. Audition focuses on a guy (definitely can't remember his name) who, with his friend, decides it's a good idea to set up auditions for an imaginary film, through which he hopes to find a lovely new wife. Because it's (this) Murakami, you know things aren't going to go well, and the end is fairly predictably horrible and violent. I had quite a few problems with this book, namely that nothing really happens until the end (that the blurb handily hints at so it's not even really a twist), and all the things that do relate to it are kind of laughably heavy handed. It's all like "and in that moment I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN" "EVERYTHING WAS WEIRD AND WRONG but I didn't care because my girlfriend was pretty" and it not only made me sigh at a lack of subtlety but also (horribly) made me think that the guy kind of deserved his fate if he wasn't willing to be at least a little bit smart about, you know, life. 

Definitely not my favourite read of the month, let's just say.

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

From my not-favourite read of the month to what I can only describe as my favourite read of the year (so far... c'mon November and December!) I have reviewed this already, but to summarise, it's essentially 40 2-ish page musings on potential afterlives and it is too awesome for words. It's kind of philosophy and kind of fiction but it's all just excellent excellent stuff.

Horns by Joe Hill
Another one I've reviewed already (what even?!) and it has become my favourite Joe Hill, out of the three very good books of his I have read. If that isn't enough incentive, then it's also a little bit funny and heartbreaking and truly truly gripping and I read it in basically a day because I had to. Exactly.

Something New by Lucy Knisley
Ellie, aka the bestest person, sent me this as a pre-operation good luck/read this to recover please present because she knew that, essentially, I wanted it more than any other book at that moment. She is an excellent excellent person and I believe also she bought me Horns which is a weird and cool coincidence. I read Something New the day after I came home from hospital when I was in a fair bit of pain, really sleepy and headachey from anaesthetic, and feeling sick from the painkillers (I don't really get on with codeine, who knew?) and it made me forget about all these things for good ten minute stretches at a time! I do wish I'd saved it until I felt a little better cause I think I was not in a good place for reading at that point, but I still really enjoyed Knisley's take on being a kind-of reluctant (plus surprised!) bride. Her love story is so cute and weirdly exciting, and her viewpoint on weddings, traditions, and, of course, the food, is well thought out and interesting and, obviously, adorably and excellently drawn. I doubt I'm ever going to find a way to criticise any of her books, but this really was great, and I can't to read it again as a well person!

The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
One of my recovery days literally consisted solely of reading this book. It took a whole day to read because it's HUGE, but I was slightly miffed to realise when I was done that there's also a Complete Dykes To Watch Out For. I'm trying to take solace in the idea that the Complete version just has the strips Bechdel created on weeks where she had less time and put less effort in (i.e. the crappy ones), but damn I want to read them all! Which, really, should tell you something about how much I enjoyed this book. I liked it so much. Read all together, it's a pretty spectacular feat of, not only a 20 year chronicle of engaging characters and their relationships and lives (I genuinely kind of believe basically all of them exist in real lifenow? Because they should) but also a chronicle of the history of the end of the 20th and start of the 21st Century, told through an essentially left-wing, (mostly) lesbian perspective.

I realise that last bit sounds a bit overblown, but I genuinely believe that Dykes To Watch Out For is a piece of cultural history, and it deals with literally everything. Politics and cancer and GLBTQ rights and academia and underachievement and promotions and job losses and friendships and relationships and essentially all of the things that comprise lives? It's especially cool in that it tracks the recent developments in GLBTQ rights, so you have things like characters going to Vermont to get married (remember when that was a thing?) and then getting married again when it becomes legal in their own state, and other stuff that, reading it now, seems so outdated and such a weird thing to deny people. Set up against this, which I found really interesting, is one character in particular who essentially doesn't really want any of these rights, not because she doesn't think gay people aren't people, but almost because she thinks that having these rights means giving into a system that's corrupt and broken and that she doesn't want to be a part of. I found this a really interesting point of view (one I think I have heard before, but haven't seen such an extended expression of) and really the book itself, whilst tracking the growing rights of its GLBTQ community also shows a decrease in its radicalism- for example, the one year where none of the characters show up for Pride because it doesn't really feel like it means that much to them anymore. 

I think the length of this mini review proves that I should probably have written a full review of it, and maybe one day I will because I had a lot of thoughts but also too much pains to do anything about it. One day, though.

Duma Key by Stephen King 
I'm definitely going to review Duma Key because Stephen King books, you know how it goes. To be extremely brief about it though, I think I overall enjoyed it but it's kind of a strange book, in that it feels like it's telling two different stories at times- it's telling a family saga sometimes, and others it's going straight for the supernatural, and it feels like they don't always mesh well? But I'll (try to) unpick it in longer form. You know, maybe.

A Storm of Swords: I: Steel and Snow by George R R Martin
I finally got round to the third book in the Game of Thrones series (yes that's what we're calling it), except actually I guess it's part one of the third book and is this just one book in America? Enquiring minds want to know! (I think you can get it all as one book over here, but it's more commonly found in two) I don't have all that much to say about the story itself cause, y'know, I've seen all of this in the TV show, just saying. It's as readable as ever, as non-portable as ever, and AND here is where I saw its first real deviation from the TV show, in terms of pacing. To me, a veteran of the TV show, this book has unbelievable (in  bad way) pacing, and let me explain why. In just this half of a book, Jon Snow's story covers what takes two seasons of the TV show to cover, whilst Daenery's entire chapters are covered in literally the first episode of season 3. Maybe that's why Jon Snow's story in the show can sometimes feel dull as shit whilst Daenerys is always a fucking Queen, but even in the book it does feel as though Daenerys is getting nowhere whilst the other characters' narratives do actually progress. 

Of course, I do perhaps come to these books from the unfair angle of the TV series, but dammit this is my reaction to them so I get to say what I want, correct? Yes, good. IN SPITE OF THIS weirdness, I still had a pretty good time reading this so can I really criticise? Not so much. It's all good stuff.

And that was my October! I am already failing at reading this November in that I have basically read nothing except two copies of The New Yorker (a true commitment in itself, to be fair) but remember way back at the beginning of this post with the furniture building? Exactly. I'm only one woman dammit!

But tell me, I'm desperate to know. What did YOU read last month? Anything I should know about?


Thursday, 27 October 2016

RIP XI Book V: Horns by Joe Hill

Joe Hill remains a constant happy surprise for me. It would be ridiculous for me (especially me) to claim that I didn't start reading his books because, y'know, he's Stephen King's son and all, but he has in his own right paved a little pathway in my brain of happy-thoughts-about-Joe-Hill. Because his books are good- good for scary stories and good writing and good ideas and just generally goodly good good. Horns is the third of his books I've read, and it might just be my favourite so far.

Horns opens by introducing us to Ig Perrish, son of a famous musician, miserable and hungover, and newly sporting horns growing out of his forehead. As the story goes on, Ig learns that he can hear people's innermost thoughts and can make them do things- as long as he suggests things that they kind of wanted to do already- essentially the devil on your shoulder, only without a counterpart angel. Whilst we don't know why Ig has these horns, we do know that he is one sorry individual because his girlfriend was murdered a year ago and although he was never formally charged, everyone in the small town he comes from and lives in believes he did it anyway. It's not a very nice scenario to be in.

That's pretty much the gist of the first section of the book (Ig's visit to his family and hearing their innermost thoughts about him being a particular lowlight) and if the book had been so unrelentingly bleak throughout then I'm not sure I would have liked it nearly as much. The second section, however, goes back to Ig's teen years, and it's here the book really comes into its own. Ig's teenage memories are kind of lovely. HE'S kind of lovely, and you're left with the impression of a life that's strayed so horribly far from where it was supposed to be that it's pretty bewildering. If you get to see Ig at his worst in the rest of the book, then this is him at his best- innocent and kind but not perfect, because let's face it, that would be boring. This was pretty much my favourite part, and it makes the whole rest of the book worth it because Ig is so damn loveable that you somehow manage to excuse his devilish behaviour (which is still so much better than that of characters in the book who haven't been supernaturally endowed with horns).

I'm not going to say Horns is a perfect book, and even I got a little bit tired of Ig being made out to be a perfect sinless person even though he constantly proves himself to be anything but, but it was pretty much everything I wanted from a book when I read it. It's interesting and gripping and kind of scary, and there's a really cool bit in a treehouse that I think rivals anything King has written about creepy centres of mystical energy (I know). Horns may be even more interesting to anyone who knows anything about the Old Testament beyond, like, Adam and Eve existed; although on the flip side someone who actually knows the Bible might find it kind of trite and silly- I don't know because I am in the latter group and went 'oh sure, the devil and snakes- cool!' Either way, I liked the idea that the book was underlaid by some kind of Biblical precedent, even if that's not necessarily the case. More than that though, I just really fucking enjoyed the book- I read about half of the first section on a Friday, and by Saturday evening I had eaten up the whole damn thing.

Like I said, everything I wanted from a book when I read it.

If you want a kind of detective story with some biblical undertones and excellent childhood flashbacks, then this is the book for you. If you want to be kinda scared and kinda disgusted, this is also the book for you, and if you just want a really bloody good read, then, you've guessed it, you're gonna want to read this. It's my favourite book of Hill's so far, and the first one that I'm actually really excited to re-read at some point. Now you go.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Devouring Books: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

It's been a few weeks since I finished Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and I still can't get over how much I just resoundingly, consistently, so-many-other-adverbs-ly enjoyed the crap out of it. I think it might just be one of those books that is so entirely my thing that it's almost too much, but also that I don't know is my thing until I'm actually reading it, when it becomes the best thing ever.

I think (know) I might be rambling, so let me start again.

Sum is a really difficult book to categorise because it doesn't quite fit into anything I've read before. It's fiction, but there aren't any set characters. Each chapter (or essay. Or scenario. Or, or, or) is only a couple of pages long, but it doesn't really fit the title of short stories either. To call the tales philosophical essays isn't strictly true because Eagleman isn't exactly trying to prove or argue anything, although maybe each one is a teeny thought experiment. Maybe it's best to just let the subtitle speak for itself- Sum is a book containing Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and that's what it delivers- forty different ideas of what the afterlife could possibly look and feel like, a topic which has as many possibilities as there are people on earth, and then some.

I didn't know I wanted forty different ideas of the afterlife until I read this book. My own assumption is that death is pretty much the end of consciousness, and since that's kind of depressing, I try not to think about it and just get on with my life. This book has left me far more open to the thought that, although I still don't really believe that there is anything more, just thinking about what there could be is an incredibly rich and interesting topic that I definitely haven't paid enough mind to. This collection of what-ifs manages to be thoughtful and funny and interesting, and strangely it's a lot more about how we choose to live and think than it is about death. For instance, there's the musing that the afterlife only exists for sinners and it's kind of a dull suburban nightmare because God (or whoever you like) knows how fucking boring eternity is and doesn't want to subject those who lived good lives to have to suffer it forever.

SO COOL, RIGHT?

Whilst I was reading, and upon finishing this book, I pretty much spent all my days talking about it to people, relaying scenarios and saying 'wouldn't that be COOL' or 'isn't that SO WEIRD' or 'That would be so sad'. I could genuinely feel my brain expanding with this whole new way of thinking that I was absorbing, and brain expansion is pretty much my favourite feeling in the world. I'm sure there is a flip side of readers who would find this book maybe offensive (since it rarely sticks to any religious ideas of the afterlife- and if it does then it's still not what people expect) or not that interesting to them, but for me, it was everything. And kind of still is.

I think I've written this review in my head a hundred times better than it has actually come out, but I hope it still does justice to how much I FREAKING loved this book. If you're even a little bit interested in thinking differently and being entertained and just... interested about something, then this is the book you have to go for. It's basically the best thing I've read this year, even if it is so freaking hard to categorise and write about. Go. And. Read. It.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Sunday Sundries: Back from the Not-Quite Dead

Well hello there, and thank you for joining me today! I'm baaaaaack and ready to grouch.

Did you miss me? You probably didn't miss me, but interestingly enough I missed me. Which is to say this: when I was considering my operation and the two weeks off work it would allow me, I thought great! I'm going to have this thing fixed which should also rid me of actual pain in my everyday life, PLUS I can read all the things and watch all the movies and generally have a great time with all these days all to myself!

As I'm sure you can probably tell, it didn't quite work out that way.
The only surgery I'd had before this was removal of my wisdom teeth, and after that I felt a bit sore in the mouth (obviously...) and kind of sleepy for a while, but mostly I remember watching a lot of Netflix guilt-free and being brought strawberry milkshakes and generally having a gay old time (ish). This was not like that. This was like... I felt so tired constantly, I was in a lot of pain and the painkillers made me feel sick, I had to stay in hospital overnight which FREAKED ME OUT (and all I can say about it is, thank god for internet friends in different time zones because if you think you're going to be able to sleep in a hospital then you are kidding yourself) and generally I did not have a gay old time at all.

But anyway. I don't really mean to dwell on the unpleasantness of it, and I really do feel a lot better now (although, because I am me, I have now somehow picked up a cold and I can't really breathe out of my nose at all. But I'm not in operation-related pain anymore!) I guess I've just been thinking about how weird it is that I thought that recovery would involve a lot of reading and Gilmore Girls and movies when in reality I couldn't concentrate on books OR EVEN Gilmore Girls (I know) and it was kind of a struggle staying upright for any prolonged period of time for a while there. I'm also the worst because when I feel ill like that I feel like it's never going to get any better ever, even though DUH that's what recovery is all about.

Like honestly, I need help.

But anyway! From about Thursday I started to feel more like myself again, which actually did mean binge watching Gilmore Girls, reading most of a Stephen King book in a day, watching the whole new series of Black Mirror over two evenings (have you seen it? I have THOUGHTS) and yesterday going to see Aladdin onstage which is actually even better than a normal day out that normal me would normally have (say normal again). Things are looking up, is what I'm saying.

I hope your Sunday is improved with the amazing discovery that recovering from surgery is not really very easy. I am signed off for another couple of days this week, then I'm back to work trying to figure out if I remember how to do this whole life thing (let's hope so, cause I gotta). I've had so many lovely texts and messages from people while I've been recovering and it's been important to me to ask the people who care about how I'm doing how they're doing to. So tell me, how have you been?

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Devouring Stephen King (As Richard Bachman): Blaze

Oh, Blaze. I could cry just thinking about it and maybe I'm gonna. Who can say.

I don't always read introductions to books (because more often than not they are riddled with spoilers), but the introduction King has written for Blaze was pretty much crucial to my enjoyment of the book. From it, I learned that Blaze is essentially the fifth of the four early Bachman books, never published but written even before Carrie. This meant that any instances of clunky writing (and there were a few) and anything I didn't really like I could essentially overlook because, hey, the kid was young, give him a break! He ALSO, however, says that the story is a kind of homage to Of Mice and Men, and even though I might not have made that connection myself, I fully read it with that in mind which made every single page of it fully poignant and just sobbbbsiiiiiigh.

So, the book. King's Bachman books tend to be more psychological than his horror ones, so even though they can still be horrible, there's not really anything supernatural going on in them (think Misery, not The Shining). They also tend to be a little bit social justice-y something which King, again in the introduction, sounds a little bit ashamed of, but there's no need to be. Rarely when he gets up on his high horse does he overdo it, and in my opinion he doesn't overdo it in Blaze either.

Now, the story I guess? We are introduced to Blaze as he's in the process of stealing a car, a thing which you think would make him a bad guy but in fact, as we are to discover through the whole book, he's really just a kinda nice guy who does bad things because he's not too bright. We also discover that he's not too bright because his dad threw him down the stairs a few times when he was little, and this is just the first of many things that make Blaze's actions not really his own fault.

Blaze is the kind of guy who is easily coerced into things, but also the kind of guy who really should be being taken care of by the state. He's not smart enough to remember to change his underwear, and he's not smart enough to not hold up the same gas station two nights in a row. His closest friend George has recently been killed in some crime related drama (if you're thinking I can't remember exactly why, you would be 100% correct) and Blaze is completely alone, reliant on the life of crime that he's learnt to be reliant on to get by.

Like genuinely, it's really fucking sad.

The story is pretty much told both through Blaze's present actions of his one big score, and his past upbringing that explains exactly how he's got into such a position in the first place. This means that, even as Blaze is doing very morally questionable things (and, rest assured, he does quite a lot of that) there's always an overriding feeling of sympathy for him because the odds seem as stacked against him as they have for all the rest of his life. The thing you come away from this book with, is that Blaze is essentially a good guy, it's just the world that has been so consistently shitty for him because (and here's the Bachman book part) the world is basically just a pile of shit.

So yes. This is maybe not the best book to read if you're feeling kind of shitty about the world, but regardless it is a pretty good one. I'm tempted to call it my favourite Bachman book but I don't think that would be fair considering I read the other 5 literally 5 years ago (yeah. Wow.) and can hardly remember them. So let's just say, I liked this book and will allow you to read it.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Master and Margarita-along, Weeks 1 & 2


GUYYYYYYYYS! So I definitely dropped the ball last week, but I am here now to join in the readalong-goodness with a vengeance (except not a vengeance, something much nicer, like... glitter? Let's go with that)

Glittery cat for literally no reason

Anyway... As well as failing to post last week, I also read, like, two of the readalong posts (I know, I'm the worst, let it go) so I have to ask DOES LITERALLY ANYONE KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING? I mean, genuinely, I've read some strange books in my time but all I can fathom from this one is that the devil's in town and everyone's going crazy (or, I guess, seems to be going crazy when in fact actual weird things are genuinely happening to them) and, like, people are being teleported thousands of miles away in seconds for some unknowable reason?

So no, it's not confusing at all

Having said that, the devil has a vodka-drinking cat so I guess that in that case everything is fine and, I mean,

I can have the kitty that understands my soul? No?

*Puts on actual analysis pants* I suspect I don't really know enough about either communism OR religion to understand a lot of what The Master and Margarita is trying to say, but I imagine the kind of whiplash I'm getting from the story throwing me ALL OVER THE PLACE has something of the feel of living in a country where, just as you think you're learning the rules, new ones overtake them immediately and you're right back to where you started. ALSO I guess that in a country where atheism is the state religion (religion being the opiate of the masses and all, at least before TV was invented, sorry Karl) it would be pretty easy for a theoretical devil to run riot because literally no one is going to believe you've seen the devil. Like, at all. 
AND THAT IS HOW HE WINS.

And so. We've met the Master now, every minor character seems to be being institutionalised, and the devil and his buddies are... Putting on shows and pranking everyone so that they find themselves outside naked? THAT'S NOT VERY NICE, DEVIL. We ended this section on another trip back to Jerusalem and that's a Jesus thing, right? Like Yeshua is kind of Jesus and we're all ok with that? (I'm genuinely asking here, people, because I have close to no idea what's going on omg)

So yeah. In case any of that sounded like I'm not enjoying the book, I kind of really am, I just have no idea what's going on or where anything's headed, just like MY WHOLE FREAKING LIFE. It's a feeling I'm comfortable with, is what I'm saying, and I'm cool with finding out wth is actually happening here (even if I suspect we may not, which I guess I'm also ok with).