Saturday, 31 December 2011

End of Year Book Survey 2011

So, I've been looking around at everyone doing end of year stuff, and while I roll my eyes at thinking that a new year changes anything (other than, possibly, your blood alcohol level) I do enjoy taking stock and talking shit about books (no, really?!) so I'm going to do Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner's End of Year Survey, for which the only day for posting is clearly today because it's the actual end of the year. So there, everyone who's been doing stuff throughout the whole of December- shame on you! But not really. But still. Yeah.

Anyway, on with the survey!! (Actually, I've been basing this on O at Delaisse's survey, which is slightly different to Jamie's... but I've answered all the questions now so I'm not deleting them!)

How many books read in 2011?
96 (at least that I reviewed, I read a few more before I started my blog)

How many fiction/non-fiction books read?
Fiction: 68, Non-Fiction: 28

How many male/female authors?
Male: 61, Female: 34, 1 Abstaining (this is slightly skewed by all the Stephen King and George Orwell... Must read all the works of a woman next year!)

Oldest Book Read?
Hmmm... I think Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (published in 1811)

Newest Book Read?
Either The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides or The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (both published in 2011)

Longest Book Read?
The Stand by Stephen King (Over 1400 pages)

Shortest Book Read?
Probably A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde (about 90, teeny pages)

Any in translation?
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, and as far as I know that's it. Which is pretty lame, I'll admit.

Best Book Read in 2011?
ARGH! Don't make me choose! Or let me refer you to this list. But if I really had to choose, it's probably between The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Anna Karenina, Middlesex, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (This is not including re-reads, because if it was, To Kill A Mockingbird would probably win everything...)

Most Disappointing Book in 2011?
Probably An Education by Lynn Barber, just because I really loved the film, but then absolutely hated the actual woman... And also The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake which was just awful. (Honourable mention for The Help, but I never expected much from that to begin with!)

Most beautifully written book read in 2011?
And this is not the same as my favourite book? I'd probably say The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or possibly The Marriage Plot or Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?
I was surprised at how much I loved Julie and Julia, to the extent that I loved it even more than the film (which I love A LOT).

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?
Hmm... well, it wasn't exactly thrilling in a conventional way, but I really really couldn't put down How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran, and I had other stuff to do that day! Seriously good.

Book that had the greatest impact on me in 2011?
Erm... all of my top ten? But I think the greatest was probably The Perks of Being a Wallflower (have I mentioned that enough yet?) or probably, How To Be A Woman, again.

Book that had a scene in it that had me reeling?
I guess The Hunger Games Trilogy- most of it, most of the time, like one big reeling after another... It's so awesome!

Book I most anticipated in 2011?
Probably The Marriage Plot, because after I read Middlesex, I was all about having more Eugenides in my life! I was also excited about 11/22/63, even though I'm probably not going to read it for about a zillion years... but still, more Stephen King= yay!

Most memorable character in 2011?
Hmm... It seems kind of obvious to say Katniss from The Hunger Games, but, you know, her, and I would say Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower too. Honourable mention to Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Levin from Anna Karenina (LOVE HIM!)

How many re-reads in 2011?
22? Which actually, for me, is not so bad, since I normally just read the same things (the best things) over and over again. Although it is still bad considering the around 300 books I have that I haven't read yet...

Book I read in 2011 that I'd be most likely to read in 2012?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and How To Be A Woman. Also The Marriage Plot, because I was so excited about it I just wolfed it down, so hopefully I can take it slower when I get the paperback...

Book I recommended to people most in 2011?
Well, I bought The Hunger Games for two people for Christmas... But I guess probably Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, just by going on about it the absolute mostest!

A book I read this year that was recommended by a blogger.
Oh my gosh, so many! My favourites of which were The Perks of Being A Wallflower, continually recommended by Adam at Roof Beam Reader (which I love him for, a lot!) and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, although I still can't remember who recommended it (But I love them too, whoever they are!)

Favourite New Authors I discovered this year.
Clearly Jeffrey Eugenides! But also, Emma Donoghue, and Nora Ephron (I already knew who she was, of course, but I hadn't read any of her books!) Oh, and I also like Tom Perotta a fair bit now.

Most books read by one author this year?
Stephen King! Of course. Although George Orwell comes in at a close second.

Favourite cover of a book I read this year?

Favourite passage/quote from a book I read in 2011?
Oh GOD! Too hard. But I like this:

From A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:
"'Dear God,' [Francie] prayed, 'let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay, let me be sad, let me be cold, let me be hungry... have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere- be deceitful. Let me be truthful, let me be a liar. Let me be honourable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.'"

and this, from Oranges are not the Only Fruit:
"Going back after a long time will make you mad, because the people you left behind do not like to think of you as changed, will treat you as they always did, accuse you of being indifferent, when you are only different."

and SO much from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but especially:
"Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living." And
"You cannot protect yourself from unhappiness without protecting yourself from happiness."

and this, from The Perks of Being a Wallflower:
"I really think everyone should have watercolours, magnetic poetry, and a harmonica."

And really truly finally, this, also from Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, has honestly been the most helpful quote for getting me through this year:
"that no emotion is the final one."

Oh, and also, basically the entirety of To Kill A Mockingbird. Seriously.

Did I complete any reading challenges or goals that I set for myself at the beginning of the year?
Hells yes! See: the completed challenges tab. I also got a pretty good start on my Stephen King challenge thingy, and since I didn't at all intend to read all of his books in one year, I'm happy with that.

Book I can't believe I waited until 2011 to read?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Middlesex, and especially Dracula (which I've had the longest and thought I'd probably never read!)

Blogging in Review

New Favourite Book Blog I discovered in 2011?
Oh my gawd, don't even get me started! But, since you insist, I'm going to say What Red Read, Reading Rambo, Nylon Admiral, BooksessedLiterary Musings, and Books Are My Boyfriends. And many many many more, I love everyone I follow!

Favourite Review I wrote in 2011:
I don't know! But I did enjoy fully taking the piss out of The Help, and I also enjoyed being angry about An Education by Lynn Barber.

Best discussion on my blog:
I find that the best discussions happen on Alice's blog, but the discussion on my last post on The Help was pretty freaking hilarious and amazing.

Most thought provoking review or discussion on someone else's blog:
Honestly? This discussion on the things that are wrong with Beauty and the Beast on What Red Red (don't say I'm not highbrow!)

Best event I participated in:
Clearly the Readalong of The Help, but also Dewey's Readathon was pretty freaking epic.

Best moment of book blogging in 2011:
Getting my 100th follower was pretty wonderful, as was every big milestone of visitors (1000, 5000, 10000...)

The most popular post this year on my blog:
Other than blog hops and stuff, it was actually this film review of Stand By Me. I literally have no idea why...

My biggest shortcoming as a book blogger:
Being a total stats whore. I'm getting better now, but I still get a kick out of counting visitors...

Blog Posts that I am most likely to read by other bloggers:
The funny ones! And general miscellany (see: the Beauty and the Beast post, above). AND reviews of books that I love to make sure they're being treated with the proper respect.

Looking Ahead to 2012

One book I didn't get to in 2011 that will be a priority in 2012:
Hmmm... I don't really have one, I don't think. I really want to read Great House by Nicole Kraus in the New Year though (I already have it out of the library) and I really want to read more Sarah Waters next year.

Book I'm most anticipating in 2012:
I of course don't know any books that are being released next year, but I'm excited/scared to read Crime and Punishment and Dangerous Liasons for the Back to the Classics challenge.

One thing I hope to accomplish or do in reading/blogging in 2012:
Is this trying to make me make a New Years Resolution..? I sure hope not! I am going to say that my main ambition is to finish my challenges and maybe (maybe) host a readalong. Maybe. Now would be a good time to comment and promise me that you'd take part in my readalong, because if no one did I would CRY.

If you made it through all that, you're a fucking trooper. Now go and drink yourself stupid, or read yourself into oblivion. Whatever your poison is.

Oh yeah. And, *big, reluctant sigh* Happy New Year.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Devouring Films: Blue Valentine

I adore indie films almost universally, possibly because I'm a big poser, but maybe, just maybe, because they're as close as any films come to being like the experience of reading a book. They always seem to make you work harder to come to the conclusions that you do, and they're so much more subjective than practically every Hollywood blockbuster (in which everything you're supposed to think is very clear: this is the good guy [always a guy], this is the bad guy, and if the good guy kills the bad guy, then that's a good thing, and the only way things are supposed to be). In other words, indie films reflect life so much more effectively than (most) big studio films, and to me that makes them much more effective pieces of art.

Blue Valentine is amazing. I mean, I knew it had gotten all those Oscar nominations, and people seemed to like it and stuff, but it took me literally a year, and a reminder from Frances (as in, she mentioned watching it, and I remembered that I had wanted to watch it and yes I am a tiny bit memory impaired), to actually watch it. And daaaaamn, why did I wait so long?! It's kind of lyrical and beautiful and painful and difficult, and above all these things it's real. And there's a really good reason for this- the writer/director met with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams separately about the film for literally years (I think about 5 or 6) and, without either of them having any contact with each other, developed these two characters over this time with them, so that they had entire histories and back stories that were utterly airtight. Added to this the fact that they were then more or less told to improvise what happened when the cameras were actually rolling, and what you get are two perfectly formed characters, meeting for the first time onscreen, and doing exactly what those characters would do to make the other fall in love with them. The effect of this is astonishing, and its most of what makes this film so great.

I didn't actually know any of this while I was watching the film, so I was mostly just going 'woah... how are they... but this seems so...' and so on, and that's because what I was watching was the genuine reactions of Gosling and Williams (obviously in character) to whatever the other had to throw at them. And please, allow me a brief interlude of adoration here: Before I watched Blue Valentine, I wasn't really into the whole Ryan Gosling thing (mainly because everyone else was) but oh my, I so get it now. It's not that the guy is even that good looking, but man, does he have charisma! Ridiculously charming and sweet and funny, and this is why basically every woman on earth right now wants to marry him and have sweet, charming Goslings (CUTE!) with him! This could, of course, just be me...

So, the story of the movie? It basically cuts between the disintegration of a relationship, and their meeting about 6 years earlier; and the disparity of the two states is outrageously stark (the different times are also shot in different ways, which helps add to the distance between them). The bits set in the past are somewhat bittersweet, since you see what the relationship has done to each of them, and the present is extremely uncomfortable at times to watch. I also found that I was on one character's side and then the other's almost constantly- I was on Gosling's side because Williams had changed so much and lost all sense of fun; then I was on Williams' side because Gosling hadn't changed at all, in spite of all their shared experiences. In the end though, there's no point in taking sides because, although we're granted a front row seat to the breakdown of their relationship, the only opinions that matter are those of the people actually in it.

I feel like this film could easily be criticised for not showing anything that happens in the six years between their meeting and the state we first find them in. I get that- it would have been nice for there to be some major events that we could pinpoint and say 'there. That's where everything went wrong, and nothing was the same since.' But here's the thing- how many times can we ever say that, about anything that happens in life? Sure, as we get older, we try and find things from our past that have made us the way we are, but just as often as not, there's nothing, or rather everything to point at. The fact that the film gives us no point where everything was bound to go wrong, only adds to its beautiful realism, and makes it that much more convincing.

So, you could say I liked Blue Valentine. You could also say I cried at the end because these characters are basically fully formed humans, and because I just wanted them both to be happy, and I wanted them to be happy together (whether they are or not, I'm not going to tell you- you seriously have to see this movie!) I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's basically the best movie I've seen all year (that I hadn't seen before, I have, after all, watched Gone With The Wind this year) and if that's not reason enough to see it then I must bribe you with Ryan Gosling, plus, you know, heartbreak and heart soarings. And amazingness.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Devouring Books: I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron

I'm going to keep this review short (and I've probably said this before, but this time I really really mean it!) because there's not a lot I can say about Ephron that I haven't said already (in my reviews for I Feel Bad About My Neck and Heartburn, respectively) and in I Remember Nothing it's basically more of the same. I mean this, not in a derogatory way at all, but more in a 'thank GOD' way, because, to be honest, if she was any less hilarious or wonderful than she is in those books, I would have been sorely disappointed!

The only difference in my feelings about I Remember Nothing and the other Ephron books I've read is that I liked this one even more! I don't know if its because of the gap in my reading of the others so that I forgot how awesome she is or what, but I definitely had a giant grin on my face for basically the entire time I was reading this book. The only thing about this that slightly concerns me is that, I recently read someone's review of I Feel Bad About My Neck (I can't remember whose... but if it was you let me know!) and in it they said that while they found Ephron funny and everything, they couldn't exactly relate to a lot of what she was saying because it was about getting older and what that's like and everything. And that kind of made me think- should I relate to Ephron less because I'm all young and stuff, and if I kind of think she's amazing and want her to be my best friend, does that make me an old lady?! On reflection, I'd say no- Ephron is the least old lady-ish of all old ladies, and I feel like, actually, she really forgets just how old she is. And I think that's wonderful- there's no reason for age to hold anyone back from doing exactly what they want, and Ephron seems to truly understand that.

I realise that last sentence just made me sound like a middle-aged woman trying to seize her own power... See the problems I have with being an old lady?! Anyway, I've decided not to care about this, and to just generally assert the fact that Ephron is hilarious and I'd still love her to be my best friend. I don't really know how to review this (and I've already promised to keep this brief!) because normally I'd say that 'well, I liked this essay, but this one wasn't too great', but honestly, I loved them all. And yes, many of them were about ageing, and what that's like, but there were also plenty about her past- what it was like being a journalist when that wasn't something women did, how she almost didn't write When Harry Met Sally; and a whole host of other interesting essays about an extraordinarily interesting woman.

You might not want to read this because you might not be a prematurely old woman like me; but I still honestly think that it's suitable for everyone, and of nothing else should convince you that, just because you are going to age, it doesn't mean that you will lose anything but your memory, and you can still remain as awesome as you've always been. At least, that's true in Nora Ephron's case, and she remains as hilarious as ever.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

It's the last Top Ten Tuesday of the yeaaaar (sing that to yourself in your head. It's fun.) And, fittingly, it's a wrap up of the bestest books of the year. I've seen many many bloggers doing this already (too early, guys!) and every time I've been thinking 'why don't they wait for the top ten Tuesday?!' But anyway. Here goes:

Top Ten Favourite Books I Read in 2011

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky- I read this alllll the way back in March, but it's still resonating with me and I still love it as much as I did them. It's pretty wonderful.

2. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides- So amazing it made me forgive Eugenides for The Virgin Suicides, and for me, that was forgiving him for A LOT. Almost indescribable, but you just have to read it to appreciate it (which you will).

3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy- It's the kind of book that you should read, just because it's a classic, but also, you should read it because it's so great. Like, slightly life alteringly great.

4. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates- Probably my favourite fictional biography of a real person ever (ok, it's the only one I've read...) but honestly, I read it over a week, and for that week I could barely think about anything else. Seriously.

5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- Ever so lovely, and probably the heroine I could most relate to in any book this year.

6. How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran- I can't even tell you how much I love this, or how sad I am to have to give this back to Frances sometime (I can probably buy my own copy... maybe). Should be required reading for every feminist, and basically everyone, ever.

7. Hood by Emma Donoghue- I literally enjoyed all of the Donoghue books I read this year, but this was probably my favourite- about the death of a partner, without sentimentality, but still with a great deal of emotion. Very very well done.

8. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss- The memory of this book is a little bit blurry in my head, but what I do remember is that it was beautiful. So we should all probably read this one!

9. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell- I seriously fucking love this book. And Julie would love me for that kind of language. For reals.

10. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides- So, I was going to just include one book by each author, but, thinking about it, I really can't think of another book that deserves a place on this list as much as The Marriage Plot. So, here it shall stay!

I've obviously omitted books I've re-read in 2011, otherwise this list would look a whole lot different and To Kill A Mockingbird would take up the top three spaces, probably. But, all of the books on this list are now firm favourites, and I'm so glad that I read them instead of reading the same old stuff I always do! So yay! It's been a good year for reading.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Advent With Austen: Sense and Sensibility Chapters 37-50

Sense and Sensibility! It's over! And now I have to wait a whole (*counts furiously*) 9 days 'til my next readalong (Norwegian Wood with Alice over at Reading Rambo? Look into it.) Anyway, I really enjoyed reading Sense and Sensibility in 4 parts, and I've pretty much decided that that's what I need to do with all Austens/classics/books so I can fully appreciate them, and go on about them a lot and just generally bug everyone with them. That's what we all want, right?

So, the last part of Sense and Sensibility! Boo Lucy! Yay Elinor and Marianne (especially Marianne)! And, you know, weddings! And lots and lots of indirection, first with Mrs Jennings thinking that Elinor is about to marry Colonel Brandon, when in fact he's actually just offered Edward a job, and then with Elinor thinking that Lucy has married Edward, rather than Robert Ferrars, an episode which really just shows the importance of communicating effectively with your servants! That Lucy is a piece of work though- upon discovering that Edward wasn't at all going to be rich, she didn't hesitate in getting her claws into Robert, and Austen isn't at all quiet in revealing how she feels about that:
"The whole of Lucy's behaviour in the affair, and the propensity which crowned it, therefore, may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune."
In other word, Lucy, you're a gold-digging bitch. But, we're left with the assurance that she, as well as all the other odious characters, are left to their life of horribleness, while all our favourite characters just hang out together and are generally happier! Yay!

But enough about these lame characters we don't really care about. What about Elinor and Marianne? Did Willoughby get his butt kicked? Does Colonel Brandon win Marianne's heart? Well, yes, obviously. But let's start with Willoughby. Because that conversation he had with Elinor was intense and deep, and even made Elinor, who, let's face it, kind of hated him, feel all sorts of pangs for him! And, whilst he didn't get punched in the face (which would really have been well within Colonel Brandon's rights to do, considering what he did to his kind-of-daughter) we can at least be safe in the knowledge that, his wife "was likely to prove a source of unhappiness to himself of a far more incurable nature." The most interesting thing I found about their whole conversation though, was the discussion of the girl who Willoughby wronged. About this, Willoughby says the following:
"I acknowledge that her situation and her character ought to have been respected by me. I do not mean to justify myself, but at the same time I cannot leave you to suppose that I have nothing to urge- that, because she was injured she was irreproachable, and because I was a libertine, she must be a saint."
I found this so interesting because, yes, the poor girl has all the consequences on her shoulders, and Willoughby is free to do whatever he wants, at the same time, she still knew what she was doing, and did it anyway. I still feel all sorry for her, but I also feel like Austen has enacted some kind of equal rights clause here, making it clear that the blame must be shared, rather than lumped on one or the other, according to your views, and their gender. It's kind of great.

The main point of Willoughby's visit, though, is in discerning that he actually was in love with Marianne, and that his entire behaviour towards her wasn't all just an act. This is clear enough by the fact that he comes because he thinks she's dying (she is not- and by the way, when I first read this, I was pretty sure that her illness lasted FOREVER, but actually it wasn't really that long! Which was good), but he also spells it out well enough, so that we're satisfied that yep, he regrets everything he's done since leaving Devon, and that he's completely miserable now (YES!) The fact that he confesses all this to Elinor is awesome, because when all Marianne wants to know (and needs to know to recover) is whether or not Willoughby ever cared for her at all, and hey! Elinor totally has that information. Very fortunate. I also wholly warmed up to Marianne in this section, because hey, "Marianne, who had the knack of finding her way in every house to the library, however it may be avoided by the library in general, soon procured herself a book." Hello, my life. She also just generally becomes a lot more reasonable and generally lust for life-y after she nearly dies, which is very very pleasing.

And then, oh, Elinor. She's been such a trooper throughout the entire book, always doing and saying the right things, being sensible but not too sensible, polite but not too polite, and I think we all love and adore her. So, because of this, this section is both upsetting and massively pleasing, one after the other. When Elinor thinks that Edward has married Lucy, it's too upsetting- we know that she deserves the man she loves, so when we think that she isn't going to get him, it's almost too much! And then, when she finds out that they're not married, it's almost too much the other way:
"Elinor could sit it no longer. She almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease."
Sigh. And the image of Edward, Marianne and Mrs Dashwood just sitting in the other room, generally awkwardly staring at each other while this is going down is kind of hilarious. And yeah, this part isn't perfect- I could have done with more Colonel Brandon-Marianne action, and an actual marriage proposal, and the ending was sort of rushed, but but but it was still pretty darn great!

So, basically, Sense and Sensibility is fabulous. I wasn't too sure about that until this reading of it, but now I'm assured that it's pretty great, and I already knew that Austen was wonderful, but, you know, I've just kind of re-affirmed that fact. Much as I now have the urge to read ALL THE AUSTEN again, I'll try and restrain myself and look out for more readalongs so I can read them, appreciate them, and review them properly. And, also, kind of swoon over all the awesome.

Here endeth Advent with Austen (for me, anyway). I had a lot of fun, and I hope you all did too! And thanks to Reading Fuelled by Tea, for hosting this readalong!

Thursday, 22 December 2011


I've done things! Big things! Wholly exciting things that you'll definitely care about, trust me. I've finally (finally) written a proper About page, even though I can't actually talk about myself so I just wrote a whole big list of things I like (not on the list: I like lists) which will hopefully be all interesting and stuff. But probably not.

Anyway, that's there, and then I've also found all the things I've baked and given them their own section! So if you ever want to look at slightly dodgy cake photos, now's your chance! And the other little thing that's changed is that I now have a Completed Challenges page, because I've completed challenges! Go me! (Am I using too many exclamation points? Maybe.) But anyway, yes, I've completed both the GLBT Challenge and the Two Bibliomaniacs Books to Movies challenge, which means I'm awesome. Probably. And the old Challenges page? Well, that's become the Current Challenges page, where I've already (check out the preparedness!) entered in the books I'm a gonna read for my 2012 Challenges!

I've tried to make all this general admin work I've been doing sound as exciting as possible, did it work? I can feel you nodding, so good. Have good Thursdays everyone!

Revisiting Books AND Films: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

I've literally never seen a book and film with such disparity as there is between the film and book versions of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. What I mean by this is obviously that the play is amazing, and the film is awful; since, as I think I've already mentioned, I have a deep and abiding love for Tennessee Williams. But that film... Well, we'll get to that. I want to give you a summary of the story, really I do, but the film ruins it so effectively that the original power, themes, and meanings of the play are almost entirely erased. It seems to me that it should be pretty difficult for a filmmaker to ruin a play for goodness sake, since its main function is to be performed rather than read, but this one manages to do it quite effectively and efficiently. For shame!

The play is so amazing- carefully nuanced and subtle, never giving too much away, but really making you wonder about these characters- what they've been through, why they're in the position they're in now, and just why everything is so fucked up. The film doesn't do this in the slightest- it just bulldozes through its own agenda, creating caricatures  of some of its characters (I'm thinking Mae and Gooper) and ignoring some very pertinent motives of others (Brick). About the only thing the film doesn't ruin is the character of Maggie, which is mainly because Elizabeth Taylor is pretty great, but also because most of what she says actually sticks pretty closely to the original, rather than the new lines given to most of the other characters, most of the time.

Here's what mainly bugged me. The entire background thing that isn't massively talked about in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is the nature of the relationship between Brick and his recently deceased best friend Skipper, which, it is made clear, wasn't an active sexual or any kind of romantic relationship, but which definitely gave rise to some feelings in Brick that he is ashamed of, and even unable to fully accept in himself. What is clear is that, while Skipper was on the slippery slope into death from alcoholism, he called Brick, told him that he loved him, and Brick couldn't handle such a thought, hence his own descent into the bottle. What I find most interesting about this whole thing, is the conversation Big Daddy has with Brick about it, in which he indicates that, if this is the way that Brick is, he's willing and able to accept it (this is aided by the fact that the plantation they live on was formerly owned by a gay couple, who Big Daddy worked for his entire life) and this is a big part of what makes Big Daddy a remarkable character: "One thing you can grow on a big place more important than cotton - is tolerance! - I grown it."

So here's the deal with the movie- this entire thing? Completely ignored, unmentioned, expunged. No homosexuality, no way. Big Daddy is not at all likely to be tolerant of that kind of thing, but it's fine because he doesn't have to be. Here's the story the film give us- Skipper was sad because he played badly in a football game, he felt like he'd disappointed Brick, then Maggie tried to seduce him (they actually did sleep together in the play) so Brick wouldn't want to be his friend anymore, but couldn't go through with it; then Skipper felt even more guilty, phoned Brick and asked for his help (and told him he had slept with Maggie) and then jumped out of the hotel window. This literally doesn't make ANY sense. Skipper seems to have very little motive for wanting to die, and what this story does is make it seem like the only reason Brick is angry with Maggie is because she had sex with his friend. It's a disservice to the play, to Williams, and to the actors in the film. And the WORLD!

The film also suffers with a lack of proper focus. Because of the lack of homosexual undertones, whilst the film begins with a focus on Brick and Maggie and their relationship (as does the play) the focus soon shifts to making it all about Big Daddy, his wealth, emotional coldness, and the fact that he is dying. Whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing, since I really do love Big Daddy, in all honesty, his storyline is, in the play, very secondary to everything that is happening between Maggie and Brick, and he's really important only in getting Brick to talk about what he's been feeling and what's going on between him and Maggie. I don't object to Big Daddy being of greater importance, but I do when 1) that's not what the beginning of the film suggests, and 2) it's at the expense of removing most of what's great and important about the play.

Further investigation (i.e. looking on Wikipedia) about the film reveals that the film had to be wildly changed from the play because of the Hays Code, which apparently meant that nothing at all interesting or revealing could be portrayed through film, and that Paul Newman was disappointed with the adaptation, which I could have guessed because he strikes me as having been so unbelievably awesome. And, something which I already knew (I studied Cat On A Hot Tin Roof twice at various educational facilities) is that Tennessee Williams told people queueing to see the film "This movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!" I mean, when the original writer of something doesn't like the adaptation, you know that can't be good!

I could say so much more about both the play and the film, but I should probably stop before you get bored and want to punch me in the face to shut me up (if you don't want to already). Suffice to say, there's practically no point in seeing the film, although I suppose if you watched it before reading the play, you wouldn't know what you were missing in terms of greatness. In my opinion, skip the film and just read the play instead- it won't disappoint like only Hollywood can.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Advent With Austen: Lady Susan/ The Watsons/ Sanditon

I have issues with this book. Not really with the content, which is interesting at worst and hilarious at best; but more with the fact that it has been published at all. I've already expressed my displeasure at the publication of private journals after an author's death, and although this is a slightly different matter, it still makes me mildly uncomfortable. I'm good with Lady Susan, since it's basically a completed novel (short story? Novella?) that never got published, but I have issues with Sanditon, the novel Austen was writing when she died; and The Watsons, which was abandoned where it stands today. The issue I have is, that I doubt there's a single writer who would want their work published until they were wholly satisfied with it, and Austen was clearly not happy with The Watsons, since she abandoned it, and surely wouldn't have been happy with Sanditon being published without having the opportunity to finish it.

Having said all that, I obviously read all three stories/fragments, and enjoyed them as far as I could- that is, since I knew The Watsons and Sanditon were going to be unfinished, my experience of reading them was kind of marred because I couldn't be bothered to fully engage with them. My other, non-moral, dilemma with this book arises now in the form of the 'short story dilemma' in blogging- which ones to talk about, and how? Quiet consultation with myself suggests that I briefly talk about each of them in turn, so that's what I shall do!

Lady Susan
I was initially alarmed by Lady Susan because it's an epistolatory novel, which immediately reminds me of Pamela, which brings me out in a cold sweat. Fortunately for me, it was a LOT better (and shorter) than Pamela, and didn't make me want to stab myself in the face! Go Jane! What it is though, is kind of risque, and clearly inspired by many novels of the 18th Century (literally the only good thing that has come out of the module I did at University on the 18th Century novel is that I can say Lady Susan is like some of those novels. Time well spent I'd say!) Anyway, Lady Susan is fun, and the character of Lady Susan is terrible, but also fun, AND there's a character called Sir James Martin, which makes me giggle because this is James Martin, and he's an English TV chef who I have genuinely been in love with for about 10 years:

The Watsons
I quite like The Watsons, and I'm kind of sad that it was abandoned by Austen, because I think it could really have gone somewhere. I'm not entirely sure when it was written, because I couldn't be bothered to read the introduction and I can't even be bothered now to look on Wikipedia, but in it I could see foreshadowing/echoes of both Pride and Prejudice, in that this is a relatively poor family with quite a few female members; and of Mansfield Park, if Fanny had gone back to her poor, actual family (and was more interesting... you know it's true!) There's also a totally rake-ish character who could have gone somewhere, and broken some hearts, and it's just, in general, a relatively good, albeit unedited, beginning of a potential novel, and it's so frustrating that we don't get to see it in a finished form. Also fun- the main character is called Emma Watson, which is such a familiar sounding name...

I'm kind of alarmed that I didn't get on with Sanditon, but I think I actually liked it least of the three. It really just feels very un-Austen-like to me, lacking in her spot-on observations of human behaviour, and of society of the time. I did enjoy the whole 'the Parkers are crazy hypochondriacs' thing, because that seemed to be in the style of her gently-mocking-people thing, but on the whole, I was mostly thinking, 'was this really going to be Jane's next novel..?' And the thing is, the answer to that is basically no- It's likely that, any version of Sanditon that was actually finished would be wildly different to this, which is presumably a first draft, and it's even possible that, like The Watsons, she could have scrapped it altogether. And this is the problem with this set of stories, that, even though you can continue the stories in your brain by yourself, we can never know how Austen would have finished them, and that's the kind of information that we all really crave.

So, I wouldn't say I at all hated these stories, but I do kind of think that the world could do without them- giant Austen cravings as we all may have, I don't really think these do much to satisfy even the most desperate Austen junkie. I wouldn't say don't read them, because I think in terms of the development of her writing they are interesting, but basically they're not going to go on my favourite books list (which doesn't actually exist...) or anything like that.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

I think the fact that I skipped last week's Top Ten Tuesday (books I'd buy others) and have a whole giant list for this week (books I want for myself) says quite a lot about my lust for presents and apparent disregard for other people! (But but but I have basically just bought books as presents for people this year! I just didn't exactly want to blurt out what they were on the internet because, whoops, surprise over!) Anywho, I don't at all mind telling you the books I want for Christmas, and just one thing to explain before I begin- I mainly ask for biiiig, expensive, hardback style books for Christmas, because I can't afford to buy them for myself, and so there's not all that much general fiction here. But there's still a whole load of great books (hopefully!). Anyway, here are the:

Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

1. The BUST DIY Guide To Life- I have been so so excited about this book ever since I learned of its existence, and I'm pretty sure that my Christmas day will basically involve reading it. All day. And ignoring all other things. It's going to be awesome (if I get it)!

2. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters- I love books of letters. I love the Beat Generation. This book is my dream, basically.

3. Vegan Pie in the Sky by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero- I'm not a vegan, but these guys write the best cookbooks and nothing I've made from one of them has ever failed. Hence, this recipe book. Expect many pie posts in the new year!

4. Pretty much any Penguin Clothbound book- I think I've asked for Wuthering Heights, but genuinely these books are all so beautiful that I want them all! For this lust, I blame Allie over at A Literary Odyssey, for alerting me to their existence. But I'll forgive her once I have some in my life!

5. Moomins Volume 2 by Tove Jansson- Love moomins. Got the first one for my birthday. Will squeal  if I get this one for Christmas (probably).

6. This is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl by Paul Brannigan- I may already have two Dave Grohl biographies, but can I get enough of this man? Definitely not. Also, this is only out in hardback at the moment, hence the not having it in my hands already!

7. Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore- Another one of those (auto)biography type things that I know they release at Christmas so people buy them for presents, but this somehow doesn't stop me wanting them...

8. Thinner by Richard Bachman- Almost the next book I need for my whole Stephen King experience thing. Pretty much a practical book choice there, I have to say!

9. The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster- This is basically a general Auster pick for Christmas, but I'm thinking that Brenna over at Literary Musings likes it, so maybe that's where that choice came from... who really knows anymore?

10. MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman- I'm not even sure exactly what this book entails, but I'm assuming it's kind of 'The Making of Maus' in cartoon form and that means that it must be awesome. Since I'm basically obsessed with Maus, I seriously need this book. Desperately.

So these are some books I hope will be under my tree on Sunday! How about you? What do you want Santa to bring you?

Monday, 19 December 2011

Advent With Austen: Clueless

Ah, Clueless. You've probably seen it (and if not, then why not?!) but you might not have known that it's a modern re-telling of Emma, which is actually the first Austen novel I read and liked (having held a grudge against Pride and Prejudice because I read it when I was too immature to appreciate it). And it is awesome. Whoever thought that the modern day Emma would be a spoilt rich girl (with a heart of gold) living in Beverley Hills was an absolute genius. I also appreciate it because it's about the only Austen adaptation I can bear to watch because my brain can't cope with costume dramas, but mainly because it's the aptest translation of anything, ever. Like, duh!

Before I even talk about Clueless though, may I just say that, in my opinion, the only way teen movies are ever good is if they're based on classic literature (OR written by Tina Fey, obviously. Mean Girls? Hell YES). I mean, look at it objectively- apart from Clueless, there's 10 Things I Hate About You (based on The Taming of the Shrew, and probably my absolute favourite teen movie [HEATH!]) and Cruel Intentions (based on Dangerous Liasons) and I suspect that Easy A, based on The Scarlet Letter, is a cut above your average teen movie, but I haven't actually seen it yet. I guess this should be kind of obvious- that a film is basically going to be good if there's an awesome writer behind it (does it get much more awesome than Shakespeare and Austen?) but I think it's good to remember that we basically owe all of our good teen movies to our very best writers.

Anyway, Clueless. It's so much fun. Alicia Silverstone plays Cher, our Emma for all intents and purposes, and she is perfect. A good mix of superficiality but also some kind of inner goodness, so that, even while you're rolling your eyes at her airheadedness, you can't hate her at all because she knows not what she does, but also because, she does what she thinks is best. I get my kicks from this film by fully comparing it to Emma though, and I really love the adjustments that have been made from the book to make it relevant and applicable to the modern day. For example: Frank Churchill has become Christian, who is unattainable to Cher not because of his prior engagement to another woman (Jane Fairfax fails to show in this version, probably because someone so meek and sweet possibly doesn't exist in Beverley Hills in the 90s) but because he's gay. Well done modern twist! And then, instead of giving Cher a brother-in-law, because, let's face it, she makes so much more sense as an only child; she has an ex-stepbrother to capture her heart. Amazing!

Tai is also the perfect Harriet for this setting- seemingly poorer than the other students, and if not that, then at least far less refined (but also a lot more honest- I like her character a lot) and yet again Cher ruins her romantic chances by pushing her away from a guy who's perfect for her, into the arms of a dickhead (Elton- who's played by that guy who was the evil husband in Waitress who I HATE FOREVER!) And then there's all the little things that are different that I seriously enjoy- like, how Elton keeps a photo of Tai in his locker, because Cher took it (remember the painting of Harriet Elton displays because Emma painted it?) and the fact that Cher's mother died when she was a baby 'during a routine liposuction'. Amazing (I'm assuming here that Emma's mother died in childbirth, but I'm not actually sure about that... do we ever find out?) And, I enjoy that we get to see Cher matchmaking two of her teachers, which I assume parallels the relationship with Mr and Mrs Weston that we actually never get to see happen in the book, so yay for that, even if Cher is acting totally selfishly!

Basically, Clueless is awesome, for both its parallels with Emma and apart from that. This obviously applies only to the film because the TV series, although I used to watch it quite a lot, really wasn't as good as this great homage to Emma, and the critique of LA any time, ever. Watch it if you haven't already, and if you have then watch it again. And also relive the fabulousity of the theme tune to the TV show:

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Devouring: Candy Cane Cupcakes

You may or may not be aware that a little event that I call Christmas is less than a week away, and what that means is that I have urges to bake masses of things that no one wants to eat but which make me happy to make. Hence, the candy cane cupcakes. (This also means that I have less time to read things, which, you know, sad, but cake is so my Christmas priority!) These basically originated from some really crap attempts at candy cane cupcakes on Cupcake Wars, at which point I went, 'well, I can do better than that', so I did!

Yummmm, right? I mean, obviously you can't answer that. So I will for you. They're amazing! This is ostensibly because they're made with a mix of red velvet cake and Magnolia Bakery's vanilla cake, and then topped with cream cheese frosting, which can never be bad. It's definitely not because it's so so pretty, because I literally piped about 12 (of 36, see what I mean about the overbaking!) of these and then gave up and started just smearing the icing on top, leaving me with a load of lovely, mismatched cupcakes. Observe:

Lazy lazy me. BUT I had already mixed the two different kinds of cake in each cupcake case which took about ten thousand hours and didn't exactly turn out like I'd thought it would, but I liked the effect anyway, even if I did just kind of cover it up with frosting straight away (didn't think this one through...)

See what I was trying to do there? Not entirely candy cane like, but wholly delicious, and, I think, great for Christmas. Or, I don't know, a Tuesday. YUM.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christmas Swag!

So, you obviously all read Nylon Admiral already, right? If you don't you really should, because Kayleigh is awesome, and Australian, and she's one of the few book bloggers (that I've found anyway) who also reads Stephen King books, AND reviews films sometimes too. Basically she rocks.

AND the fact that I'm saying all this has almost nothing to do with the fact that she sent me the most exciting Christmassy prize EVER, other than that I probably wouldn't say it in a blog post because it would be a little bit mushy and fangirly. But, behold the presents!

Amazing right?! All I knew I was getting was Norwegian Wood, which was totally fab in itself because Alice is hosting a readalong of it in January, which = big fun, AND that I'll actually read it! Woo! Anyway, so I didn't know about the other stuff, and it was fully exciting, AND I actually adore Penguin classics stuff and I can't understand why everyone doesn't buy me it all the time! Also, CANDY CANE! And can we please just appreciate this bookmark for a minute:

I can't even tell you how much it excites me, but let's just say The Wizard of Oz is kind of the greatest thing ever and I'm totally impressed by this bookmark. That Kayleigh's a crafty one!

So this post was basically just a giant thank you, and also an imploring thing to make you go to Kayleigh's blog and tell her she's fab, just, you know in general. So off you go! Go on now! Shoo!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Advent With Austen: Sense and Sensibility, Chapters 23-36

Oh dear. This part of Sense and Sensibility (the whole of Part Two in my copy) is rather filled with doom and gloom for our two heroines. I almost don't want to talk about it because I'm too depressed for both of them (also, you know, lazy) but talk about it I shall so that next week I can rejoice for their happy endings! (Probably. It is Austen, after all.)

In summary, this part basically goes: Marianne is all depressed in Devonshire, Elinor is not, even though she's in pretty much the same situation, and we are all in awe of her extreme pragmatism (although I'm a little disappointed in her mean thoughts about Lucy, who is clearly dumb and a bit annoying, but altogether not that bad- but then she is trying to marry Elinor's beloved). The girls are persuaded to go to London with Mrs Jennings (Marianne because Willoughby might be there, Elinor because Edward won't), and they both find out things they don't want to and generally have a rotten old time, compounded by the fact that Fanny and John are in London too, and they also have to be tolerated.

The big news in this part, though, is clearly the whole scandalous, and, let's face it, exciting story that Colonel Brandon has to share about Willoughby. Bearing in mind that we already HATE Willoughby at this point for rejecting Marianne and marrying the richest woman in town (and we all thought he was so romantic...), it's the perfect anti-Willoughby and pro-Brandon moment. So, it turns out that Colonel Brandon once loved a girl, and was all set to elope with her, until they got caught and she was forced to marry his brother, which set her on a downward spiral that meant she died with an illegitimate daughter. And because Colonel Brandon's so romantic and wonderful, he still supports said daughter, even though she isn't actually his. And can't we all now see how perfect he'd be for Marianne?!

Anyway, so the Willoughby part of this story is that this child Colonel Brandon supports went missing, ooh, nine months ago, and, wouldn't you just know it, bloody Willoughby took her to London, impregnated her, and then left her there, without telling her that he wasn't coming back. And, oh, by the way, this girl is FOURTEEN YEARS OLD! So, basically, we now all want to murder Willoughby for ruining this poor girl's life (because, let's face it, it's the early nineteenth century and this is definitely all her fault: except, did I mention, she's FOURTEEN!) and we also want to shake Marianne a bit because she knows all this, and yet still weeps because Willoughby doesn't love her.

Oh, Marianne. She's such a conundrum in this part, because on the one hand, you want to slap her and tell her that Willoughby's not worth it (and clearly he isn't) but it's obviously not that easy to deal with her, and if it was, she wouldn't be nearly as interesting. And then, another issue is the whole 'Elinor's going through the exact same thing (almost), but she's not making anywhere near as much of a fuss' thing, which is valid, except that 1) Marianne doesn't actually know about this because Elinor's too 'sensible' to talk to her about it, and 2) even if she did know it, it would probably only make her feel worse rather than better, since she basically loves Elinor more than anyone on earth- after all, she has "the affectionate heart which could not bear to see a sister slighted in the smallest point", and that's just sweet!

Elinor does kind of frustrate me in this section because she's almost too sensible, and by sensible I of course mean emotionally detached. She shows almost no outward signs of desperately wanting to marry Edward, and much as it is clear to the reader that she does actually love him, is it as clear to Edward? I guess that the situation she's in isn't exactly as dire as Marianne's, but there are now two other woman vying for Edward's love/money, and a few tears? Really wouldn't have been inappropriate under the circumstances. I have to wonder whether there isn't some happy medium between the two sisters' reactions to life, in not being so willing to be overcome by emotion that you 'lost the bloom of youth', but also in not being so outwardly unemotional that you seem not to care, and (probably) end up having a nervous breakdown later in life. Which, possibly, is the whole point Austen is trying to make with these two characters. But then again, they are basically both better than all the other characters. Observe:
"Lady Middleton was equally pleased with Mrs Dashwood. There was a kind of cold-hearted selfishness on both sides, which mutually attracted them, and they sympathised with each other in an insipid propriety of demeanour, and general want of understanding."
Ouch! But also, you know, fair.

So, these chapters=gloomy. I would make predictions for the last part, only I kind of remember the important things about the end (who marries who) so that would be ever so slightly cheating. But let's just say, I think it gets worse before it gets better, and I would seriously love for there to be some kind of confrontation with Willoughby (preferably where he gets punched in the face, although that's unlikely because this is still Austen). And that his wife is a DICK, a la Mrs Elton from Emma, and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice. But it's all ok anyway, because I know it'll be alright in the end, at least for everyone that matters! Phew!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Devouring Books: Invisible by Paul Auster

I am a big lover of the Auster, but prior to reading Invisible, I hadn't read anything by him for a year, so I was completely out of touch with his (very distinctive) style. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but it meant that, while I was reading the first part, which is basically a story in the first person that anyone could have written, I was kind of disappointed. It wasn't that it was bad, at all, but it just didn't seem as Auster-y as I'd become accustomed to, even though I couldn't exactly remember what that meant.

I shouldn't have worried. Even though I wasn't sure exactly what was missing, as soon as I started reading Part 2, I kind of went 'ah, this is a Paul Auster book!' and relaxed into it and could properly enjoy it. I don't know if you've ever read one of Auster's books, but what he does is create an entire fictional universe within which his story revolves, and when you think you're at the heart of the narrative, you're actually on its first layer, and then the whole thing turns around, goes deeper, and gets more interesting. He's so different from any other author I've read, and also his style is clearly, really difficult to describe! Needless to say though, I find it sort of intoxicating, and also, you know, awesome.

Since I like Auster's style so much, the actual story is always kind of secondary to me and, and I pretty much believe that he could make a trip to the shops sound intriguing and exciting, with many hidden secrets, and so much background to that one trip. Nonetheless, Invisible does happen to have a good story too- it sort of explores the most significant year (in three parts) of one man's life, told in the first, second, and then third person, and then verified and further investigated by another character, who is wholly secondary to Adam, the main character's, story (see what I mean about Auster's style?!) It's interesting because, it kind of seems like everything interesting and significant that happened to him happened in these three events, in this one year, and from them, his entire life direction is decided. Interesting concept, no?

The thing with the story in Invisible is, even though it doesn't all quite mesh together perfectly, in a way that makes it almost more convincing and lifelike. Allow me to explain- the first and third parts of Adam's story both relate to the same story, contains the same cast of characters and the third finishes off the first part pretty neatly, but the second part is... different. And not only a little bit different, but an entirely different story, in an entirely different part of his life (although it happens just after the end of the first section) and it seems mildly random, and a whole lot... incesty. Mutually agreed incest, but still! I was kind of disarmed entirely by this change in direction, and considering the subject matter, I didn't really know what to think about it! The point is though, that while this part seemingly had nothing to do with the other two parts (and it really didn't, other than giving us a greater insight into Adam) it's kind of reflective of real life- it doesn't follow a pretty narrative where everything is wrapped up neatly just when you want it to be, but is much more random than that. Albeit with slightly less/no incest.

Basically, I was always going to like this book because I really like Auster's style, but if you put that aside for a minute (which is pretty impossible to do) then I think the story stands up as a good one (the style, in my opinion, makes it, and all of Auster's novels, great ones). So basically, if you've read Auster before and have already vetoed him, avoid; if you love him then obviously read it; and if you're a first timer then I think this is a pretty good one to start with, to ease yourself into the Auster way of writing, and work your way up to the amazingness that is The New York Trilogy. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Devouring Books: Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda

My resounding feeling about this book, if I had to sum it up in one word, is meh.

Wait, I actually have to write a review? Using more words than just meh? (Actually, I technically don't. No one pays me for this shit. But I'm going to anyway, haha!) I really wanted to like Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself, because I had it out of the library for about a zillion years (since September, I think... September a ZILLION YEARS ago) until I decided enough was enough, and issued myself an ultimatum- no more renewals, it's now or never, all that kind of stuff.

And then it was so... lacking! I read Never Have Your Dog Stuffed earlier this year, and I thought it was great- Alda was able to look back on his life candidly and with a great sense of humour (obviously!) and just generally has a really good attitude about everything. In this book, while that attitude still prevails, I was still kind of like 'mleuuuurgh I'm borrrrrred', the whole way through.

To be honest, it's not the book's fault, or even Alan Alda's fault- it's me, not them. What I didn't realise when I started reading it was that Things I Overheard While Taking To Myself is basically a book of speeches (which, now I think about it, is totally what the title implies) that Alda has made throughout his life- at graduation ceremonies, funerals, to distinguished psychiatrists- all that kind of thing. And I am so not a fan of reading speeches, because that really goes against the point of speeches, you know? To be fair to Alda (which I always want to do!) the bits where he explains why he was giving each speech (like when he gave a speech to graduating medical students, literally because he played a doctor on TV, to which we all, including Alda himself, go, 'huh?!') were really well written, and I'm pretty positive that the speeches were awesome when he delivered them, I just CAN'T READ SPEECHES. With my eyes and stuff, it's just TOO HARD! (I also can't really do speeches in front of audiences and things. But that's a whole other issue).

So basically, a combination of my dislike of speeches that aren't being spoken, rushing through it to get it back to the library, and a general lack of interest means that this book didn't really stand a chance with me. Alda, I still love you, but I just can't read your damn speeches. I'm sorry. I guess I should have got the audiobook...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Literary Locations: Chawton

I went to University in Southampton (the English one), which is in Hampshire, the same county where Jane Austen lived for a pretty hefty period of her life, in a house that's been preserved to a similar state as whens he lived in it. Chawton is a really beautiful little village, straw roofs and all (basically the kind of village that people expect all of England to look like) and, in spite of doing an English degree, and being an avid Jane Austen fan, I didn't actually go there until I'd, ahem, finished my degree.

Well, that's not technically true. I had been to the big manor house (Chawton House, where Jane's brother Edward, who essentially moved Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother into the house he owned, lived) which is now a library to research this research project thing (and oh man, it was such a kick just going in there where Jane undoubtedly went to dinners and things) but this trip essentially went: coach-car park-Chawton House-car park-coach. And, dammit, I wanted to go into Jane's house! So, once we'd done with the daily grind of learning shit, Frances and I planned our glorious trip to Chawton.

Well. I say glorious. Here's the thing. Neither of us drive, and to get to Chawton is an entirely tricky business which required getting a train to Winchester (we also went to Winchester Cathedral to see where Jane's buried, which was nice... morbid ish. But look at how nice the Cathedral is!
Pretty, huh? And then that day, after that, we went to a gay club. Nobody ever said we don't know how to mix things up!)
Anyway, so we got the train to Winchester, then had to locate the bus station and get the world's least frequent bus, that in fact dropped us off on the side of a motorway (maybe not a motorway, but a really fast road!) and then we had to walk to actually find Chawton. Accompanying us on the final lap of this journey were two nice American girls, and I kind of felt upstaged by them- I mean, they'd travelled thousands of miles to get to Chawton, and I hadn't even bothered to travel the 25 miles or so before then? Those bitches making me feel bad!

Fun fact about Chawton- there isn't really anywhere to eat. There's a tearoom (Cassandra's Cup!) and a pub and... that's pretty much it. I heartily recommend bringing a picnic, although the pub is alright to eat in. But anyway, that's not what we were there for. We were there for this:

Jane's house! The place where she wrote things, and where, so Wikipedia tells me, she had 4 of her novels published, and by one of the downstairs windows, there's a little writing desk where you can totally imagine her writing. It's really a pretty exciting place to be, and even though it's just an old house, it's so much more than an old house as well. And, while I can but assume that her garden is wildly different to the way it was when she lived there, it's still pretty lovely:
It's prettty, and we sat in it for a bit. We also, (and if you're extremely lucky when you go there you might get to do this too!) got to sit in a room with many many old people, and watch a nice educational film about the life of Jane Austen. And while I mock it mildly, I did learn a few things, and it was nice! We also, after the house, walked up the road to Chawton House so I could take a picture of it because I FOOLISHLY didn't when we'd been there before, and it mainly looks like it's made of trees:
But rest assured, it's really big and pretty, and OMG it's basically a library for rare books now, AND I think you can get married there! You just can't really go right up to it unless you're there for an event or something. Sorry. After our walk up to the house, we went to Cassandra's Cup, where Frances had a lovely traditional English Cream Tea, and I did not because ew, scones, ew cream, and ew tea; but I'm assured that she enjoyed it! Then, we schlepped ourselves back to the side of the road where we waited, ooh, about 45 minutes for what was possibly the last bus (at around 5pm) and made the backward journey away from fairytale England and towards the heaving metropolis that is Southampton.

And it. Was. Great. Wildly recommended for all the literary history, just as long as you remember to take a picnic.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Revisiting Books: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Angels in America might be my favourite play, but my favourite playwright has to be Tennessee Williams. So exceedingly better than basically any of his peers, if I had to see plays by only one playwright for the rest of my life, he'd definitely be the winner. (I've just realised this all rules out Shakespeare. Um... my favourite 20th Century American playwright? Whatever, he's just fantastic, ok?) A Streetcar Named Desire is widely held to be his greatest play, I'd pit Cat on a Hot Tin Roof against it and let them fight it out to the death, but Streetcar is, at any rate, his most well known play, not least because of the movie version starring Vivian Leigh as Blanche Dubois, and Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski.

And oh MY, what great casting that is. I mean, consider this, as a description of Stanley:
"He is of medium height, about five feet eight or nine, and strongly, compactly built. Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements and attitudes. Since earliest manhood the centre of his life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependently, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens... He sizes women up at a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them."
I mean, I can literally think of no one better suited to play such a brute of a man as a young Marlon Brando. Just... *sigh*. And, I think this description is also a very attractive one in pure sexuality, and is pretty well known to be the definition of what Williams found attractive in a man himself. (Also, I think either his friends, or on the set of Streetcar they used to call him Blanche... and possibly he was in love with Marlon Brando too. But then, who isn't?!) Anyway, Vivian Leigh is also perfect as the fading Southern belle that Blanche is- she's almost like an older Scarlett O'Hara, if Scarlett hadn't figured out how to be self-sufficient and all (which, excuse me, would have made Gone With The Wind SUCK).

Let's talk about Blanche, while we're on the subject. I have such issues with her because, much as you're meant to feel sorry for her by the end, it's so difficult to see anything that's good in her. She's damaged, from the loss of her fortunes as well as her possibly homosexual husband (I'm not entirely clear what went down there, needless to say it was all bad for Blanche) but at the same time, she's really... irritating. She expects to constantly be accommodated, she demeans the man who's putting her up (not that he's exactly a saint either) and generally, she's annoying. She's also practically the anti-feminist- completely obsessed with the way she looks, and is trying to find a husband so she doesn't have to look after herself anymore. Consider this:
"Blanche: I want to deceive him enough to make him - want me...
Stella: Blanche, do you want him?
Blanche: I want to rest! I want to breathe quietly again! Yes - I want Mitch... very badly! Just think! If it happens! I can leave here and not be anyone's problem..."
Ah, Blanche- down with your sisters, I see.

Speaking of sisters, Stella is Blanche's, and she's a much more sympathetic character. She's gotten away from the old Southern world, and into the newness and excitement of New Orleans, and to be honest, Blanche just seems like one big interruption in her brand new life, and in the way she wants to be living. It's clear that Stella is kind of smothered by Blanche's personality, and while I'm not condoning Stanley's violence towards Stella (which is, to be fair, pretty much brought on by Blanche's presence, and I KNOW, not her fault either. But still), it kind of seems like Blanche is walking into a marriage that she doesn't understand, and with almost half a mind to drag Stella back to their old lives, as a last resort if she can't get a man to take care of her. What Blanche misses is the animalistic nature of their marriage, something which she's far too genteel to ever find desirable, but which Stella clearly finds intoxicating:
"They stare at each other. Then they come together with low, animal moans... Her eyes go blind with tenderness as she catches his head and raises him level with her. He snatches the screen door open and lifts her off her feet and bears her into the dark flat."
*SPOILER PARAGRAPH* I think the fact that Blanche can't understand their kind of marriage is because of the implication that Blanche's husband was a latent homosexual, and killed himself because of it (a bit of a violent end for him that maybe implies some kind of self-hatred on Williams' part...) although it also seems like she's not averse to having sex in order to try and obtain a man to look after her. I feel like this confusion on her part, and in herself, means that she underestimates the effect that her flirting and just her general attitude is going to have on Stanley, and while, let me be completely clear about this, I DON'T CONDONE THE RAPE, it's clear to see where it came from and how it came about. Which is a pretty great way for a play to progress, and one of the reasons that this one is so powerful. *SPOILERS OVER*

So basically, this play is incredible, far better than I've probably made it sound because, since I've read it a whole load of times, I've mainly highlighted the things that most bother me about Blanche, which, let's face it, are a lot of things. The thing is though, A Streetcar Named Desire basically has everything you could want from a play, and is pretty much better written than a lot of novels as well. If you really can't stomach reading plays then the movie version is a good alternative, but really, really, make an exception to your play non-reading and read this one.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Devouring: Rainbow Cake

I don't have a Bucket List because 1) morbid, and 2) I'm really lazy. If I did have one though, pretty high up on it would have been making a Rainbow Cake, because there's literally nothing in the world that I've wanted to bake more, ever since Whisk Kid made one well, ages ago now. So, with my cousin's birthday on the horizon, and me being the premier baker in the family, I couldn't think of a better opportunity to try out a Rainbow Cake.
So this is what it looked like on the outside, and yes, it is the girliest cake ever, and yes, that is much hot pink edible glitter you're seeing, and yes, my cousin likes butterflies. I'd like to tell you that the rainbow candles were a clue to its rather more exciting innards, but that would be a lie- they were basically the only candles in my nan's house. After the grand ceremonial blowing out of the candles, I tried to get my cousin to cut the cake numerous times, stopping just short of yelling at her to 'CUT THE FUCKING CAKE', but I did eventually just have to cut it myself, to gasps of admiration and joy from all (most of all me, I suspect). Because, just LOOK!
Rainbow Cake! Glorious, glorious, rainbow cake! It's literally the greatest thing I've ever done, and I'm including getting a degree in the lists of things I've ever done. If I ever have children, they probably won't be as good as this cake. Do you want to see more of it? Of course you do! Here are some construction-y pictures:
To me, they look like giant versions of those round blocks of paint we used to have at school...
Just before it got pinkified...
And, actually, it took less work than you'd probably think- I just made a basic vanilla cake recipe, separated the batter into 6 bowls, and added gel food colouring (the liquid stuff just really isn't good enough). And then baked it and iced it, and, well... Made everyone have rainbow coloured stomachs, probably! Wanna see another slice?! OK!
Just, mmmm. Yes. Perfect. Well, not exactly perfect because if I did it again (which I probably will because, hello, exciting!) I'd add more icing between the layers because I was really sparing because I wasn't sure I'd have enough icing to cover it as well. Moral of that story- always make more icing than you think you'll need. But still. Best. Cake. Ever. (Made by me...)

Advent With Austen: Sense and Sensibility, Chapters 10-22

Before I start talking about the second part of Sense and Sensibility (which, just so you know, is all SHOCKING and EMOTIONAL and so so good) I just want to draw your attention to the blurb on the back of my copy, which is just so... you'll see. Observe:
"Why are the most irresistible men always the most unsuitable?Sisters Marianne and Elinor couldn't be more different. Marianne is desperately romantic and longing to meet the man of her dreams, while Elinor takes a far more cautious approach to love.
When the two of them move to the country with their family, miles away from London, there is little prospect of finding anyone at all. But then they meet their new neighbours- including kind Edward Ferrers [sic] and the good looking, dangerous Willoughby- and it seems happiness may be just around the corner after all.
Things aren't always as they appear to be, though. Soon both sisters will need to decide who to trust in their search for love: their family, their new friends, their heads- Or their hearts?"
I mean, where do I even begin with the things that are wrong with this blurb?! I mean, firstly, way to make one of the greatest novelists, probably ever, sound like some second rate Chick Lit author. And, seriously, Edward Ferrers?! And this same Edward Ferrers (whoever he is) is apparently 'kind'. I've literally seen NO evidence of him being especially kind, and I'm like 150 pages in. The blurb writer, who is apparently some kind of moron, has also apparently not even read the book, since 1) They move to Devonshire (the 'country' apparently) from Sussex, NOT from London, Sussex also being miles away from London, 2) Edward Ferrars lives in Sussex and they move away from him, they don't meet him after they move, and 3) it doesn't suck. Unlike this blurb. Eurgh.

Anyway, I'm going to move on from the terrible blurb and not let it bother me anymore. Probably. Because, in this second section of Sense and Sensibility, there's so much drama and trauma, so many entrances and exits, and Elinor remains incredibly awesome (example: in response to Willoughby's waxing lyrical about their cottage "were I rich enough, I would instantly pull Combe down, and build it up again in the exact plan of this cottage." She responds "with dark narrow stairs, and a kitchen that smokes, I suppose?" God, I love that woman.) Surprisingly (sort of) Marianne is kind of awesome too! I mean, there was all that silliness over the horse ('Willoughby's giving me a horse!' 'Well obviously we can't keep it.' *pouts and looks a bit grumpy*) and she totally wallowed for pages when Willoughby went away (entirely mysteriously- as was Colonel Brandon's exit to London, all of which makes me go 'hmmmm...') but then she also does things like this:
"[Edward] was the only person in the world who could at that moment be forgiven for not being Willoughby; the only one who could have gained a smile from her; but she dispersed her tears to smile on him, and in her sister's happiness forgot for a time her own disappointment."
Awwww, Marianne! I love you now. Even though Edward turned out to be all annoying and wearing THE HAIR OF ANOTHER WOMAN in a ring. Which, I don't know if it's just me, but I find really creepy. I mean, I know photography hadn't exactly been invented yet (hence why we don't really know what Jane Austen looked like) but hair in a ring? Very strange!

We met some new characters in this part of the novel, and my absolute favourite of all of these was Mr Palmer, the insipid Lady Middleton's brother-in-law. Now, I don't normally take in a lot of the secondary characters in Austen novels because I like her heroines so much, and so kind of only see secondary characters in terms of their relation to said heroines. So, if they're not that important to the heroine, they're not too important to me either. In Elinor's eyes, Mr Palmer's general grouchiness in public is a result of having a wife who is so silly (although I did appreciate the discussion of her pregnancy because, in Emma, I didn't get that Mrs Weston was pregnant until she actually had the baby!) and Elinor disapproves of it as an affectation. In my eyes though, this:
"Lady Middleton... exerted herself to ask Mr Palmer if there was any news in the paper.
''No, none at all,' he replied, and read on."
I approve of sarcasm as a lifestyle choice, and I always will!

So, basically, at the end of this section, there are so many questions to be answered. Will Elinor have a nervous breakdown because Edward belongs to another? What have Willoughby and Colonel Brandon been doing, and will they ever come back? Will Mr Palmer come back and be all grouchy and sarcastic again? And can I even remember the other (unimportant) sister's name? (Margaret?) Such questions I have, hopefully some of which will be answered in next week's installment!