Friday, 29 June 2012

Devouring Stephen King: The Dark Tower III The Wastelands

I'm having the trickiest time trying to figure out how to talk about The Wastelands without giving anything important away about the whole Dark Tower series, but I'm not sure I can, so just be slightly aware that, if you want to go into The Dark Tower books knowing literally nothing, you probably shouldn't read this. Otherwise keep going, because, to be honest, there's nothing that's really that earth-shattering that happens in this book that you need to not know about, if you know what I mean.

Which is not to say that this book isn't good. Oh no no no no no. The Wastelands is AWESOME. And I'll be honest- I've seen a few reviews of it before where people were like 'oh, it's my favourite book in The Dark Tower series' and I was kind of like 'really?' because apparently I didn't fully appreciate its spectacularity the last time I read it! Which isn't to say that it's instantly become my favourite of them all, BUT I definitely have a lot more love for it than I did before.

SO. The Wastelands starts where The Drawing of the Three left off, more or less, as Roland's teaching Eddie and Susannah how to be gunslingers, and musing on how they remind him so much of his old dead friends (it actually feels a little hinty, and book 4 is allll about Roland and his old friends. But having said that, I think King wrote it 6 years or so after this, and so maybe didn't even realise what he was hinting at in this. But I think he kind of did...) and they find their way to the path of the beam, and hence to the proper start of their journey. Only took two and  a bit books, but still- world building my friends, world building.

And so, they begin their quest, only Roland, their leader and their almost-kidnapper-only-they-like-being-kidnapped, is going crazy because of this thing he did at the end of the last book that I can't really talk about but that affected his memories of things that happened in the first book that I also could talk about but don't really want to and, well, it all leads, through linked dreams and awesome wanderings in New York, to something else that I can't really talk about because it's sort of unimaginable but really awesome at the same time, and it leads to things that not only cures Roland, but cures Eddie of his mean elder brother's influence, and ALSO marks the start of this storyline that's one of the weakest in all the books and ends up being not so important in the end. So that's not so good.

But seriously, it's amazing, and THEN the second half of the book happens, and it's all action, all the time. The band of travellers end up in this city that's kind of broken (fun fact: the city is called Lud, and its inhabitants are luddites, and they have no idea how the technology [that's broken] works. I feel like this is clever.) and, whilst this is the longest section page numbers-wise, it also feels the shortest AND the most exciting. Seriously- there's so much movement and action and everyone's split up and there's so much happening, and I swear that at one point I didn't take a breath for about 3 chapters because, like 'ohmygoshwhatsgoingtohappenIcan'tbearit!!!' aaaand breathe. So, yeah, that was fun, and also tense, and even though I knew it would all be ok because I've read them before (and because there are like 4  5 more books in the series, and come on, don't pretend this is a spoiler) I still sort of doubted it, which, let's be honest, is the absolute best quality a re-read book can have.

Similarly, the ending has left me all tense too, because I really can't remember how the situation that King cruelly leaves them in resolves itself, and so, again, I'm slightly on edge. Where, I should add, I'll be for 9 more books (and that's just Stephen King books!) because the silly man just abandoned these guys for that many books before he went back to them. Which, I can't really say I mind now, because characters and basically everything in them are remarkably consistent, but I can't even imagine how annoying it must have been to have to wait for the next one and the next one to come out in the 90s/00s. Because these books are the big awesome, and you should really read them so you know what I'm talking about next time! (Unless you already have, in which case, let's discuss! Roland: friend or foe?!)

Thursday, 28 June 2012

I Miss Project Runway, Even Though It's Apparently Still A Thing

I had literally erased all knowledge of Project Runway from my brain until I saw a tweet about the upcoming season from Jezebel the other day. Its content "Stressed-out contestant runs away from Project Runaway set, another suffers a breakdown" (cheery stuff, right?!) plunged me back into the crazy crazy wonderful land of budding fashion designers, because OH! The fun I had watching that programme!

I should explain something right off. There are basically only two seasons of Project Runway that I've seen in full, which is something I've only just realised- I stopped watching it when they went to L.A., partly because what's the point if they're not in New York, but mainly because nobody seemed that interesting, but that's ok because I'm fairly convinced that I watched it at its peak, and that there's nothing that could top Season 2, aka clearly the best season of Project Runway. (Feel free to contradict me. I will fight you to the DEATH.)

Because, really, let's consider this rationally. I mean, if you saw this season, I'm positive that you'll know exactly who I'm talking about (and if you didn't, I'm so sorry. There'll be something here for you tomorrow, promise!) because the personalities? Amazing. There was Santino who's such a fucking star and whose impressions of Tim Gunn were completely hilarious; there was Nick, who I still get excited about seeing in this one episode of The Hills he was in (he is/was a teacher at FIDM, where Lauren Conrad was a student) and who my mum, kind of misguidedly fancied; and, well, everyone else was clearly awesome too! There was this one episode where this designer called Andre (who was, obviously, really sweet and awesome too!) went missing, and Tim was worriedly going 'Where's Andre? Has anyone seen Andre?' and this is still a thing that you can say in my house, and everyone will know what you're talking about. And this was like 7 years ago! Season 2: clearly the best.

And it was also the best because, well, there was hardly any bitching. I don't know how true this is of later seasons, but I know for a fact that in Season 5, there was this one contestant (I don't remember her name, because I think this is a season that was on when I was at Uni/away from the satellite TV) who it seemed to me was getting horrendously bullied by the other contestants, which I was just not cool with at all. And this just wasn't something that happened back in the halcyon days of season 2- there was drama and tension, sure, but it wasn't dependent on people being mean to each other, but just on the contest itself. Unless, you know, I'm just romanticising it all in my brain and everyone was just mean to each other at all times...

Interestingly, (or not, depending on how you're finding this post... I already dismissed you if you didn't want to talk about Project Runway!) my favourite contestant wasn't in season 2, though: he appeared in Season 4, and as far as I can tell, he's really the most successful winner of Project Runway, or at least the only one whose name I've ever heard mentioned again. Christian Siriano was clearly the standout designer basically the whole way through the season, but he was also the cutest little ball of energy with a whole lot of confidence, very little modesty, but also not very much arrogance. He was just the awesomest awesome, and in the two seasons that I partially watched after his one, there were really no personalities to match up to his. EVERYONE WHO IS NOT CHRISTIAN SUCKS, OK?!
So. Basically, it's good to know that Project Runway is still around, and that there's the potential for such amazingness to happen again. Having now been reunited with my memories of it (that I have, as you can see, so kindly shared with you!) I feel like I might have a look out for it if/when it returns to British screens, and also when I figure out what channel it might possibly be on... This is definitely a plan, and one which is solidified by the fact that it went back to New York after just one season in L.A., which proves that they must know at least something about what they're doing still! So... yeah. Project Runway. It is/was good. Look into it.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Devouring Books: Skagboys by Irvine Welsh

"Thir just ordinary boys wha've drugged themselves intae nothingness tae avoid the shame ay daein nothing."

Oh boy. So, I'm quite a big fan of Trainspotting and Porno, so when I heard that Irvine Welsh had written a prequel I was super-duper excited because, well, I kind of love/hate a lot of the characters (Begbie I just hate, with a passion, I might add) AND then I was extra excited because I discovered that  it was being published in the UK before the US, which basically never happens, so I feel like I get to scoop everyone! Which, obviously is still true.

BUT. I've discovered that I've kind of forgotten everything about both Porno and Trainspotting (apart from, I guess, the characters, cause I seemed to pick up on their basic character traits pretty instantly) and that includes just how bloody depressing they are, or at least Trainspotting is (I seem to remember Porno being slightly cheerier/less heroin-y). I'm going to have to say that Skagboys blows the other two out of the water as far as dreariness is concerned, and there was definitely an element of 'I'm so not in the right mood to read this book' basically the whole way through it. Of course I could have left it for a little while, but did you not get the bit where I'm excited because I got to be ahead of the crowd for once? Exactly.

So, yeah, Skagboys is no cakewalk (can you imagine how awesome an actual cakewalk would be? Like, spectacular!) and nor is it supposed to be- these kids have kind of terrible lives, very few prospects (with one notable exception) and they live in Scotland, for fucks sake! (I'm so sorry, Scottish people. Really. Just bear with me). Their turning to drugs is terrible, and awful, and so depressing, but also, it feels like, it's sort of the only thing they can do- it's difficult to see what else is out there for them, and their addictions sort of feel justified. There but for the grace of God go I, is what I say... (actually, I've literally never said that before. But that doesn't make it untrue.)

I think it's tempting to think of Skagboys as being kind of an unnecessary book in the 'Trainspotting canon', if you will, and as just capitalising on the success of the other books. I immensely disagree with this, and, in fact, I feel like this is the perfect time for this book to be published- I think that, looking at the political situation in this country (and Scotland, obviously) right now, it's not massively different from the climate that Thatcher created in the 1980s, when this book is set. The conditions are so similar that there's a sense in which, not only does this book kind of capture social history (to a certain extent), but it also kind of serves as a stark warning that the same thing could happen again, any time now, because the prospects for young people, and in fact, just people in general, have been decreasing rapidly since the current government came into office. I wasn't kidding when I said there but for the grace of God go I...

Anyway! Let's ignore the fact that, if I lived in Scotland and had loads of unemployed friends I'd maybe be a heroin addict (I totally wouldn't because I'm not an idiot. But still, let's be grateful that my friends have jobs) and shall we talk about the book? Let's do that, let's!

So. There is, of course, the usual cast of (sometimes) loveable losers, aka Rent Boy, Sick Boy, Spud (I LOVE Spud!) Begbie, and some other guys that you may remember from Trainspotting or Porno, but which I do not. And, to be honest, their lives aren't fabulous- they have unsteady employment, sex addictions, dying mothers, dying brothers... And, of course, they still live in Scotland (Sorry! Again!). This living in Scotland is relevant though, because there's still the Scottish dialect which I find alternately gritty and realistic, and then annoying and irrelevant. Because, like, do you think in an accent? Because I'm pretty sure I don't, and yet, just to be all different, Welsh has most of his characters thinking in Scottish. I understand that this is a kind of trademark thing for him to do, but also... it hurts my brain, man! Please stop doing that! Or at least just do it in dialogue, yeah?

Anyway... The story. There are many stories and they all interlink, and they're mostly very gritty and depressing and some are just downright depraved (you don't want to know. Do you want to know? Let's just say... pimping out a teenager to get money for heroin and letting the guy who murdered her dad start having sex with her while she's still asleep because he knows she never would have agreed to it, and so is basically an accomplice to her rape. That bit literally made me feel sick...) and there's a lot of frustration and with the characters (especially Renton) because you're like 'STOP! Why are you doing that! Don't do heroin, it's stupid!' knowing, of course, the whole time that they're going to do it, and they're going to do it for longer than just this book. The end of this book (I guess this is a spoiler, so SPOILER) is so bittersweet, because Renton and Sick Boy can't get any heroin, and they're questioning all their decisions and it feels like they might be alright, as long as you entirely block out the fact that there's another book, all about their heroin use. It's a nice touch, and might even be my favourite bit of the book. Except maybe rehab... END SPOILER.

So. It's rarely easy to read, either in subject matter, or in literal reading terms (have I made that clear enough yet?!) but I mean, once you're invested in some characters, it's harder to not-read a book about them. And clearly these are some pretty terrible people, and yet... I can't help myself. So, obviously, if you've read Trainspotting and/or Porno, you're going to want to read this, and if you haven't, can I in good conscience recommend them at all? Well... Maybe. I was going to read all three in a fairly short period of time to let you decide if you wanted to get invested or not, but I just can't do it because ARGH depressing. So... maybe don't get into it. Or do. Or ask someone else because I JUST DON'T KNOW if it's worth it!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Devouring Films: Tiny Furniture

I have a long, long history with Tiny Furniture, in that, I think I read about it in this New Yorker profile of Lena Dunham, basically went 'you have NO idea how much I need to watch this film' and then proceeded to not see it for about two years. It was seriously getting so tragic that, on my little list of little goals for this year of life, I included 'watch Tiny Furniture, one way or another'. Fortunately for me, it was released on DVD not so long after that, and LO my life was complete.

Or was it..? Tiny Furniture was definitely not what I was expecting, but I don't mean that in a bad way at all. Here's the deal. Basically everything I read about Tiny Furniture was like 'it's a film about a young woman who's struggling to find her way after graduating from college and just doesn't really know what to do with herself', and so I went OMG it's my life! I mean, admittedly she gets to go and live in New York City after graduation in her mother's gorgeous loft (Her actual mother's actual loft) and she's got a lot of financial support and stuff, but other than that I was sure, positive that this film would be like validation, or at least comfort, for being in my twenties and not having a clue what the fuck I'm doing.

And, admittedly, there is an element of that. Aura (Dunham) is a very very lost soul, and really doesn't know what she's doing- her friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke, equally lost but in a different way) sets her up with a job that she's completely overqualified for, but she literally has no idea what else she should be doing, so she's content just to float along and grab onto whatever comes along. Which is true, not only of this terrible job, but of the men she encounters- she basically meets 2 different guys, and decides to take whatever she can from either of them. There's no thinking about what she wants from a relationship, or anything like that, it's just about clinging onto one or the other of them, at various times, and just seeing what happens. This is a girl without any kind of plan.

And, actually, now that I'm thinking about it like this, it feels like I can relate more to Aura: I've been thinking about Tiny Furniture more in terms of 'well, she got a job straight away, and she lives in NYC, and look at those boys she interacts with!' but really... she lives with her mum, and doesn't have a proper source of income, and, well, now that I think about it, I can relate to that. A lot. One of my favourite things about Tiny Furniture, actually, is the relationship between Aura and her mother (played by Laurie Simmons, Dunham's actual mother- I'm thinking she couldn't afford actual actors...) because, well, it feels really genuine (probably because it is) and you get the feeling that what Aura really wants is a kind of regression, where her mum tells her what she should be doing, and then she can just go and and do it already! Or is that just me...

There are just so so many things I haven't mentioned about this film yet (overachieving sister, left-behind college friends, her mother's own related experience of being in her 20s and not knowing what she's doing) but, you know, maybe I'll let you discover them for yourselves, since you're obviously going to watch it now that I've told you I love it! If you've seen Girls (and if you haven't, come on people! It's like the show of the year, seriously!) then I would say Tiny Furniture is not quite as good as that, but then they are quite different (although they do deal with some of the same themes, i.e. what the fuck do you do in your twenties?) so it's not really fair to compare. Even though I just did. Hm.

And, one final piece of advice to you- watch the short films on the DVD! Seriously- the first time I watched it I started watching them and then got distracted, but they're really really funny, and watching them shows quite a good progression from them to Tiny Furniture- in some ways, you're like 'wow, her filmmaking has progressed so much!' and in others you're just like, well, there was clearly something there from the very start! Basically, I love Lena and I want to marry her. That's a normal dream to have, right?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Devouring Books: Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel

You know when everyone warns you away from a book but you choose to ignore them because you already have that book reserved at the library, and have, in fact, already paid the 50p reservation fee? Yeah. You probably shouldn't ignore those people, especially when they're people you basically always agree with because they're going to be right. Which is such a shame.

So, earlier this month I raved about Fun Home, which I basically read because Bechdel had another book out (this book, in fact) and I wanted to read more graphic novel-memoir kind of things. And so, I read Are You My Mother. And... Well. It's not completely horrible, because I liked the ways in which Bechdel tried to 'adopt' certain mothers for herself, like Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, and, sort of oddly, DW Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst, whose ideas are discussed at length in this book. And... well, I like to look at the pictures and things. And stuff.

But. You know those psycho-analytical ideas that are discussed at length? I'm... I'm not entirely convinced that I even agree with a lot of them: there's a lot of talk about subconsciously remembering how you were treated as a baby, and how, since her mother got pregnant when she was about 3 months old, Bechdel felt displaced or something blah blah blah; and I'm just not sure how much I buy those kind of ideas. But I guess that what's important is that Bechdel believes that they're true, and that they help her to explore her relationship with her mother, and, well, that's fine. Except that Bechdel doesn't so much look at her relationship with her mother as looks deep inside herself, and at her ideas and how she feels about everything.

And I guess this is a memoir, so it feels like that should be fine too, except, I don't know, something about such a deep amount of self-absorption made me feel uncomfortable. There's a lot of blaming-the-mother that's so rife in psychoanalysis, and a lot of it feels unfair- from resenting her mother for having interests outside like, her and her brothers (which, I'm always going to argue, is something that a woman, looking back on it, should be able to get more of a positive message out of than still resenting it, if you know what I mean) to complaining that her and her mother don't end their phone conversations with 'I love you' at which I'm like 'Well why don't you?! You're a grown up now, you can tell your mum you love her!' A lot of it is just like, meanings she's added to things because of therapy, that might not have even bothered her without it.

I feel like, I didn't learn a lot more about Bechdel and her relationship with her mother that I didn't get from Fun Home, even though her mother's failings took a backseat to her father's in that book. If anything, she treats her mother more harshly than she treated her father, and I'm not sure how I feel about that either... It seems like her father is a lot more responsible for messing her up, and yet somehow it's her mother who gets the blame, and I don't really get it. And it's like, Bechdel relates her mother's depression after her parents died pretty soon after each other, but instead of going 'that must have been so terrible for her', she just relates it to herself and her feelings about it, and about this one time where her mum asked if she loved her and she didn't know what to say, and I'm just like dude! This wasn't about you! Stop making everything about you! Even if this is a memoir... I mean, who gets TWO memoirs?!

So, what I'm saying is, Are You My Mother made me kind of resent Bechdel even as I felt kind of sorry for her (but not sorry enough, you know?) and made me totally sceptical about psychoanalysis, especially as it doesn't really feel like it's done Bechdel much good. If she wants to see this book as expelling some of her demons and helping her to heal then, I guess that's all good, but I kind of wish I'd given it a miss. In my humble opinion, Fun Home is much better, much less irritating and distressing to read, so, you know, just go and read that and continue to like Bechdel. I'm going to block this one out and decide that I still do too.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Sunday Sundries: Tales From a 4 Month Old Vegetarian

Look, I'm a friend of the animals! Actually, this is a really rare sighting of me with a live animal. And I probably ate craploads of meat for dinner.

This week... I've still felt fairly lousy so I've really been taking it easy, combined with some gentle household tasks and whatnot. Mum was supposed to have chemo on Friday but her blood counts and stuff weren't good enough, so we're to go back next week instead. Which... is pretty annoying, cause it just makes the whole thing that much longer, but obviously I don't want her to be poisoned and all if her body can't take it. The plan for this week is to feel better- although I totally see a trip to the doctors in the cards if I don't.

So, that was the week. Now, allow me to talk about something more general/probably more interesting! I realised that around now-ish (I think technically Friday, actually, but whatever) I've not eaten meat for 4 months, and I know you've all just been thinking, 'hey! How's that going?' but you've just been to shy to ask... Ahem. But really, I have some observations on the subject, so I'm going to share them, whether you want to hear them or not.

Firstly, I would say that, if you go into non-meat eating expecting that you'll get crazy skinny, then dispel such illusions now! I wouldn't necessarily say that I've gained weight (I did that around Christmas time, and, bless it, it hasn't wanted to leave me, mainly cause I haven't encouraged it to do so in any way) except I probably have because learning to eat in a new way is HARD, and it's often just easier to fall back on carbs then to figure out how to make some kind of beanburger or something. I mean, I'm sure it's possible to lose weight whilst not eating meat (and actually, it's probably really easy) but I haven't really mastered that yet.

But how do I feel, I hear you cry? Well, pretty much the same. I mean, it's difficult to say, cause I've been feeling pretty rough for like two weeks now, but this isn't something that I attribute at all to not having meat in my diet, but more to being run down and kind of stressed and worried for, oh, I don't know, FOREVER? Or, like, 6 months or so... But before these two weeks? I don't know, I guess maybe slightly healthier? When I manage to actually avoid sugar like I try but inevitably fail to do? I definitely feel like sugar's a bigger factor in making me feel like crap than meat eating/non-eating, so, yeah, definitely need to work on that...

And here's a thing- I feel really uncomfortable referring to myself as a vegetarian. Like, I'm not sure it's a thing I've said out loud yet. I'm not sure if that's because I feel like I don't have the right to call myself that until I've been meat-sober for like a year or something, or for some other strange and surely justified by my brain reason, but it's really weird- has anyone else converted and had the same issue? It's not that I think I'm going to backslide and like stuff ALL THE ANIMALS into my face at some point, because I kind of don't even think of meat as food that I can eat anymore- it's sort of been consigned to the 'foods Laura doesn't like list' which, believe me, is MUCH longer than the foods Laura does like list. I'm not saying that I haven't been tempted by the ridiculously good aroma of cooking bacon; but also, little piggies! So yeah, I don't know why the reluctance to say 'I'm a vegetarian'. Maybe I just don't like labels...

So, basically, that's about all I know so far about being a vegetarian. I also know that it's very tricky eating out nowadays, but for a normal person who likes normal types of food, it totally wouldn't be (I've only had to order from the kids menu once, but what sort of restaurant offers more vegetarian options for kids than adults? Exactly). Oh, and also, I don't feel bad when I see the sheep that live right near my house anymore cause I wouldn't even dream of eating them (not that I ever really had that much lamb. But still) or like any animals ever, so that's good!

Basically, this is what I want to say- giving up meat isn't the easiest, but it is easier than I thought it would be, and I feel pretty good just like, morally, not eating it anymore. So what I'm saying is, if you want to not eat meat anymore but you still do because you think it'll be too hard not to, then hi me of 4 months ago! How are ya? Just know that you can do it (if you want to, I'm not really aiming to convert anyone here) and that it'll make you feel real good following through on what you believe in. Honestly, it will.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Devouring Stephen King: Four Past Midnight

I know that I'd read Four Past Midnight before this time round, but I had some real trouble remembering anything that happened in any of the stories, except for Secret Window, Secret Garden; clearly because I've seen the film based on it (Secret Window) more than once (Johnny Depp, people! Also, it is quite good.) In many ways this was awesome, because I really didn't know what was going to happen in any of the other stories, which is always an advantage when you're reading... unsettling stories, cause, you know, jumping about 10 feet if anyone tries to speak to you while you're reading? It's AWESOME.

I'm going to sort of mini-review each story, but before I do, a note about how they fit together. Because I think it would be really easy to read these and like them (or most of them... You'll see) but to be kind of like 'but... why aren't they all separate books?' I mean, firstly it's because they're not quite long enough to be full novels (except maybe The Langoliers) but on the front of my book, there's a little tagline: 'Right time, wrong place', which seems like a mostly nonsensical little statement BUT it actually ties all the stories together really well, in a way that's kind of difficult to explain. Maybe I can do it with each story individually, let's see!

The Langoliers
The problem in The Langoliers is that of being in the right place at entirely the wrong time, and looks, in a really interesting, and freaky, way, at what happens to the past when we're finished with it. Any elaboration on that is going to be a spoiler, I think, so let's just say that this starts off as a sort of mystery, 'why are we the only people left on this plane' story, and evolves into something that I was not at all expecting, even though I've apparently read it before! It's really tense and odd and interesting, if maybe a little bit over-long.

Secret Window, Secret Garden
As I've already said, this is the story in the collection I'm most familiar with, just because I've seen the movie quite a few times. And, as an added non-bonus, I saw the movie before I read the book, which is a real disadvantage because 1) they have the same twist at the end, and you can only really be shocked by it once, and 2) they have radically different endings (in spite of the same twist) and I happen to like the one in the film better because I think it's braver, although a totally non-Stephen King way to end proceedings. This has always been a problem for me with this story, BUT if you haven't seen or read either, then I'd definitely recommend doing so because it's a good story! I just... prefer the film. ALSO, having said all this, this story also operates along the same lines of The Dark Half, only in a much better way, so definitely read this rather than that, if that's a decision you're making.

The Library Policeman
Worryingly, I remembered the most disturbing aspect of this story (can't tell you what it is, because it's at the crux of the story) which I still don't know if it's because it's sort of hinted at quite a bit, or because I'm just creepy and gross. Jury's out on that one. But anyway, The Library Policeman is blooming terrifying, and there's this one chapter that's basically just a big description of THE library policeman that's about the scariest thing I've read for a while. I was slightly underwhelmed by the real identity of the real villain (mainly because she doesn't have a proper one) but still, this was really creepy, and probably had a couple of my favourite characters of all four stories in it. Also, this book very much comes into the 'right place, wrong time' category of stories.

The Sun Dog
Ugh, this story wasn't great. I could have really done without it, actually, because, whilst it started off with a mildly interesting premise (a camera that doesn't take photos of what's in front of it) I really got bored with nothing actually happening, and then by the time that the thing that was clearly going to happen happened, I was just like 'mehhhhh' and really couldn't be bothered with it anymore. So yeah. I would honestly advocate skipping this story, except that I think it might have something to do with Needful Things, which I haven't read yet, so... maybe not. But also, maybe. It wasn't very fun at all. Oh, except for this:
"'Why are they doing that, Mom?'
Mrs Delevan said, 'Because they have penises, dear. Go hang up your coat.'"
Made me laugh, anyway! This story very much goes along the right time, wrong place thing. So that's another thing going for it...

So yeah. Not a bad bunch of stories at all, although if there was something I was going to say about all of them, apart from the 'Right time, wrong place' thing, it would be that they're all slightly too long. Like, if they were any longer then they'd be waaay too long, but I think King really pushes the topic as far as it will go in each case, and juust manages to keep them readable (apart from, maybe, The Sun Dog, because ugh. Although it is the shortest story, I think!) But then I also don't think they should be short stories either, but... I don't know. I just think they all could have been slightly shorter, and in being so, slightly better. But only slightly, because really, they are pretty good. Except for The Sun Dog, because BORING. Yeah.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Devouring Films: Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation is one of those films that I'd always intended to watch, yet never quite got round to it for no good reason. Like, I felt like I should watch it, and hey, I love Scarlett Johansson, but I was still fairly meh about making an effort to actually watch it. And then, two things happened- it was one of the only films that I really really wanted to watch on Netflix (a lot of the films on there look like they suck, big time. I can't even tell you how many Stephen King films there are, so that should tell you a lot!) and there was a double bank holiday for the Jubilee and there was nothing to watch on the TV. It was time for Lost in Translation.

And WHAT a treat it was! Seriously- I was fully prepared for it to be kind of pretentious because, I'm sorry Oscar nominated films, but you usually are; but actually it was anything but. It was funny and warm and about so many different things, but at no point did it seem like it was a film that thought it was better than it was, because, well, it would be difficult to think of something that is better than Lost in Translation. There are a few films, I suppose, and there are definitely films that I like better, but not really that many. It's pretty special.

So you know about Lost in Translation, right? I'm pretty sure everyone's seen it except me by now, since I've been meaning to watch it for about 9 years, but just in case, it goes like this. Bill Murray is an actor (Bob) who goes to Tokyo to be paid a lot of money for making some Japanese whiskey adverts instead of doing a play or something at home, which would please him creatively, and you feel, please his wife emotionally. Scarlett Johansson is a recent college graduate who's in Tokyo with her husband, a famous photographer who has a lot of work to do which means leaving Johansson (Charlotte) alone in their hotel room a lot. Both Charlotte and Bob are feeling lost and displaced, and so when they find each other, it seems like something magical is bound to happen.

And what does happen is a solid friendship between the unlikely couple, conversations that they can't have with their significant others, and something that's so subtle that you could almost blink and miss it until it all comes to a head (you'll know what I'm talking about if you've seen it, I hope. And if not, then watch it!) and you're left going 'oh WOW. I really didn't see that coming.' And I didn't, and yet it still makes the most sense in the world, and I approve of it utterly, even if I don't necessarily think it's something that they would sustain in the real world. Have I just given things away? I hope not...

I think I was basically predisposed to like this film, and I was especially predisposed to like it because of my whole Murakami! Japan! thing that I've got going on right now. But as well as that, the concept of people being lost, not just in a strange country but in their own lives is something that I totally get right now, and it's tempting to believe that being lost, in Japan, would be better than being lost here; but it's probably about the same. So, even if subsequent viewings of this film make it feel like it's not as good as it was this time, I'll know that, at the point at which I watched it, it was perfect. Maybe I shouldn't ever watch it again so it remains like that! ("let's never come here again, because it would never be as much fun.")

And, oh look what I've forgotten to mention- it's actually really funny too! It's not always funny, but it's funny enough to watch with someone who doesn't necessarily like these sorts of films (good ones, that is) and for them to still be entertained, whilst you're going 'this is so amazing...' And that's probably how it avoids being pretentious, and just how it manages to be so awesome. I don't know how I always manage to forget the humour in films like this: it's probably something to do with going 'well, the mise en place was spectacular' (AS level Media Studies, baby!) but I always like the humour just as much as the beauty and poignancy. It's just... not as pretentious to talk about, I guess!

To sum up: Lost in Translation. It's beautiful, it's poignant, it's funny, it's anything and everything you want it to be. It will probably make you want to go to Japan, only with someone you really love so that, even if you're lost, you're lost together. Basically, you want to watch this film. You just might not know it yet. You're so lucky that I'm here to guide you.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Devouring Books: Armadale by Wilkie Collins

There are some books that you really really wish you'd read as part of a readalong with your blog friends because you KNOW there would have been so much drama to discuss. I don't know if Armadale feels that way to me because of the EPIC Woman in White readalong that went down in April, or just that Wilkie Collins is the kind of writer who requires a lot of attention, love and OMG you guys's. Or maybe it's just that a nearly 700 page book requires more than one blog post to be fully explored. Either way, this is going to be TOUGH to write.

But I shall persevere, for you guys, and I'll even avoid spoilers because it just wouldn't be fair to ruin Wilkie for anyone ever. That's just not cool.

So, Armadale begins with a SHOCKING confession, and from that moment just keeps on being mysterious and intriguing (and other words that sort of mean that same thing) and filled with AWESOME. The Armadale of the title is the name of not one, not two, but FOUR characters (only two of whom are really in the book) and although there are two Allan Armadales, the basis for great mystery in itself, only one of them goes by that name, and the other calls himself Ozias Midwinter (I know. I KNOW!) and they are a little team made in heaven. Because, although they're meant to be apart because of CIRCUMSTANCES that happened with their fathers (the other Armadales) these guys become friends and have a real bromance, that is, of course, upset by a woman.

And what a woman! Lydia Gwilt is described on the back of my copy as a 'flame-haired temptress' and, let's face it, I know we're all thinking of Red right now, but think that way no longer, for Lydia is also PURE EVIL. Well, she's addicted to her 'drops' (that's laudanum, to you and me) and she's probably done some things in her past that she's not too proud of, by which I of course mean murder (I'm not sure if that's a spoiler or not, since it's hinted at from early on, but, you know, too late now!). She's also stony broke, and her evil plan transpires to be one where she marries Armadale for his money, kills him, and then lives on £1200 a year. It's a pretty nifty plan to be honest, and once you know Armadale, it's not really one that you hate...

Because, Armadale, bless him, is kind of a moron. And by kind of a moron, I mean he's a posh idiot, in the vein of Hugh Laurie's character in Blackadder III, or basically anything other than House. It makes Lydia such a gratifying character, because until she comes along, everyone's like 'oh Allan, you're such a good guy', or 'he's soooo dreamy, and rich too!' but then she crops up and says things like "He's a rattle-pated young fool- one of those noisy, rosy, light-haired, good-tempered men, whom I particularly detest." and "to say that he was like a child is a libel on all children who are not born idiots". And I was just like, YOU CAN'T SAY THAT, IT'S THE VICTORIAN TIMES! And also, Miss Gwilt, I love you...

And, of course, Wilkie breaks all kinds of Victorian novel-y rules and preconceptions. There are letters, and diaries and accounts, and it begins with people who basically have nothing else to do with the story... Above all though, my favourite convention that he breaks is that of having some sympathy with the villain. And not just sympathy- whilst the first half of Armadale is pretty straightforward, two guys being friends, having freaky dreams (I wouldn't worry so much about the dream premonitions...) and meeting pretty ladies, the second half is devoted, almost entirely, to the inner workings of Miss Gwilt's mind. I'm not sure I've seen this before in a novel from the 1800s (not that I've read all that many, it's not really my time...) and I've definitely never seen a villain treated so sympathetically. I'm not sure if it's just because she's a woman villain, and hence must have some 'purity' or whatever in her, or because he really really dislikes Armadale (he does, it's fairly obvious), but Miss Gwilt? She's got layers.

Seriously, it's so interesting because, just at the point where everyone's going 'she's so evil, and I'll bet she's got a sordid past', Wilkie switches the narrative to her viewpoint, where we discover that she is basically up to no good, BUT that she's not totally beyond redemption. She is capable of love (and she didn't even think she was), and, most importantly, she's totally three dimensional, totally autonomous, and totally more interesting than the girl Armadale fancies. Remind you of anyone else? Clearly I sort of love Lydia, but I sort of hate her too, and I think that's entirely the point of her character. But really, listen to this:
"Why are we not perfectly reasonable in all that we do? Why am I not always on my guard and never inconsistent with myself, like a wicked character in a novel? Why? Why? Why?"
My answer is, of course, that Wilkie is a great writer, because LAYERS! That's what we want our villains to have! And that's why Wilkie is the best, The End.

P.S. There's a bit towards the end of the book in a mental hospital (OF COURSE) that brought up something very not related to the plot, but very relevant to an ongoing feud I have with Alice about the depressingness of Norwegian Wood (Hi Alice! Hope you read this or this could be really pointless!). And in said mental hospital, the doctor says that he only allows books that he's pre-screened, because "There may be plenty that is painful in life- but, for that very reason, we don't want it in books", which seems to me to be Alice's viewpoint in a sentence, whereas I'm more like the fictional pain helps us to get through real pain, either past or present. Who is right? Alice and the doctor, or me (and, I guess, Murakami?). Just a thought, and if you actually read this, good for you! You get 10 points!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sunday Sundries: Burnt Out on Challenges... So Here's Another Challenge!

So this past week I was totally ill (and, actually, so were my mum and dad, so... that was fun!) so I don't really have very much to report from a real life perspective- It was gross and there was some phlegm involved. That's about it. OH! Except that I did drag myself out to the shops one day (or... my cousin made me. Let's go with that) and I bought this awesome long skirt that I LOVE except that I sort of feel like I might fall over in it quite spectacularly one day, which will obviously be fun for everyone!

So, because of the lack of having anything to say, the sensible thing would be to not write a Sunday post AT ALL, I realise, but when have you really expected sensibleness from me? (Basically everyone I went to school with, I suspect, expects me to be sensible, but that was then and now I'm an idiot. Burst that bubble, huh!) ANYWAY, so instead of just stopping, I'm going to have a bit of a whinge and then go away. Sounds good, right?

SO. I signed up for a few challenges this year which felt like a good idea because I own so many books that I haven't read, and they need to be read, and so I thought I'd make a conscious effort to get them read. But, by the time of my mini-progress report at the end of March (quarterly, guys!) I was sorely disappointed in myself because, well, who only reads TWO out of thirty books in 3 months? Nobody does that badly at anything, ever! So I thought, hey, I'll step it up a bit, and I did and I'm doing pretty well thankyouverymuch (next progress report in 2 weeks, I know you're all excited!) BUT this comes with a downside too.

Cause, like, it's like, if I read a book that isn't something I can like 'tick off' any of my challenges (i.e. add a link to in some kind of category in the 'Current Challenges' section up there) I feel sort of disappointed about it, even though I probably really really enjoyed it (this was the case for, for example, Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal) and it's stupid and it SUCKS. And I realise it's just me and my brain being absolute idiots, but it's still what I do and I can't really help it. And thus I blame and resent the challenges, making me less likely to want to read a challenge book even though it brings me the gratification I desire in the end.

BASICALLY, I'm an utter moron.

So. I realise this is something that probably nobody else ever even has a problem with because they're normal and well-adjusted (hey, what's that like?!) and I also realise that I could just stop the challenges and just read whatever books I like (which I can do anyway. Because I'm in charge of my own reading and all) but, well, the whole point of the challenges was to like, shop my own bookshelves, which, to be fair, it has made me do. So actually what I need to do is to not be a crazy-daisy and just accept that the challenges are making me read more things and buy less (probably... I haven't been properly monitoring that, but I'm sure I've bought less books this year than I had at this time last year... maybe...) and that these are all good things, BUT if I need to read, say, War and Peace but I only got it this year, well, then, I need to read War and Peace (Note: I don't need to read War and Peace. Not yet. Crime and Punishment is going to be my Russian Literature for this year.)

So. I say all this, but who knows whether my mental brain can accept it or not? Let's just say that there will definitely be less challenges next year (maybe none) and that I still love my Stephen King 'challenge' beyond words (since the aim of that was basically to read all the Stephen Kings that I'd acquired and yet hadn't read yet. Totally working!) AND Let me also say that I'm taking part in another reading challenge!!

I know. Moron. Did we get that yet?

BUT listen up! Cause Frances alerted me on twitter to the fact that someone was doing a Fuck the Patriarchy Readathon, and hello, can I resist something with a title like that?! So, the readathon is not what we book bloggers would call a readathon, BUT it does involve reading 20 books that you haven't read before over July and August. Which I pretty much do every two months, only not quite, and so I've chosen short books to read and I should be fine! So basically, if you want to sponsor me then the justgiving page for the event is here and all the money goes to Rape Crisis, so, you know, that's a pretty great cause! Also, if you want to sign up to read 20 books in 2 months (go onnn, I know you can do it!) then you can do so here. AND, if you want to know what I think I'll be reading, here's my non-finalised but sort of accurate list (although, if you can think of any short-ish/easy books that are awesome, let me know them and I'll maybe substitute some of these. Maybe.)

1. Anthony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare (plays seriously take no time to read)
2. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
3. The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir (literally the only long book on this list. And it is about fucking the patriarchy...)
4. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
5. Once There Was A War by John Steinbeck
6. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
7. In Love and Trouble by Alice Walker
8. The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster
9. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (oh yeah, another long book... but Murakami!)
10. Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson
11. A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
12. The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell
13. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller
14. Beloved by Toni Morrison
15. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
16. Needful Things by Stephen King
17. Gerald's Game by Stephen King
18. The Reader by Bernard Schlink
19. Postcards by Annie Proulx
20. Mildred Pierce by James M Cain

And yeah, I'm going to read these and hopefully make some money and, well, fuck the patriarchy by having chosen some (mainly?) books by and/or about women. And also a couple of Stephen Kings and Murakamis, but hey, whatcha gonna do?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Devouring Books: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson

I have a bit of a fraught relationship with Jeanette Winterson, in that I really like Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, but I can't get into basically anything else she's ever written. I also find that some of the things she says shake my world and bring me to such realisations, whereas others make me go 'yeah... who doesn't know that?!' So in one way it's kind of weird that basically the first full price book I've bought in forever was this, Winterson's memoir, but since Oranges is part memoir and that's the one I like/love (I love parts of it, at least) it sort of makes sense too.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, is, of course, not a straightforward narrative about Winterson's life, because that's not really how she writes; but it is one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time that isn't, you know, hilarious (cause, obviously, Bossypants wins the best memoir of EVER award). And hilarious it is not: if you've read Oranges, you'll know that Winterson didn't have the best upbringing, but you won't know about the time she went mad and tried to kill herself, or the lingering inability to love that her upbringing inflicted on her. Her's is not the easiest story to read, and I doubt it's the easiest to tell, but she does it well and without much self pity- it's a lot more 'this is how things were and I'm still scarred by it but I'm trying to move on' than 'poor poor me- please pity me so I can feel better.' Because, you know, that would have been an unreadable book.

What I wasn't expecting from this book was a detailed discussion of what it's like to be adopted, but it's something that takes up a great deal of Winterson's thoughts and analyses of things. Winterson's general style, I find, is to tell something that happens, and then analyse it for a lot longer than the first thing took to tell. And, in her memoir, a lot of this analysis, especially of her 'going mad' hinges on the fact of her having been adopted, and having that first attachment that she ever made ripped away from her. Her difficulty in accepting this, as well as her eventual reconciliation with her birth mother (can you have spoilers with non fiction books? If you can then WHOOPS!) combine to make an interesting and compelling account of what it's like to have been adopted. And that's compelling just to me, a non-adopted person- to someone who's been adopted, it could well be something life changing, something that could make them think a lot more about their pasts and their futures.

But then again, most people were not adopted by Mrs Winterson.

I think the best thing about Why Be Happy (which sounds like the most miserable title ever now, but how else to shorten it?!) is that, as well as talking about bad things that happened to her, she also talks about the things that saved her, which just happen to be books. It's not that surprising that an author loves books, but it's still pleasing to know that when her mother constantly failed her, and she hated school and the way she lived and everything, there were always books to turn to, books that she had to hide from her mother (seriously, her mum was crazy) but which sustained and saved her. And then she went to Oxford and became an author and lived happily ever after (well, not really. But she does discuss how grateful she is that her life turned out as it did).

I'm not going to pretend that I now believe that Winterson is a perfect goddess or that this memoir is entirely perfect. There are still points where she makes really obvious assertions (like, at one point, saying that all time is not the same, which is just like DUH, I literally spent all evening reading your book and it felt like about 5 minutes) and sometimes she's self-referential, which generally bugs me, but also there's a whole chapter where she tries to justify voting for Thatcher, and I'm just not sure that I can forgive her for that. Except I think that maybe I can, because she says this:
"I did not realise that when money becomes the core value, then education drives towards utility or that the life of the mind will not be counted as good unless it produces measurable results. That public services will no longer be important. That an alternative life to getting and spending will become very difficult as cheap housing disappears. That when communities are destroyed, only misery and intolerance are left."
Fucking capitalism.

So, yeah, overall, this book was sort of amazing. It hasn't exactly put me into the Winterson-as-an-author ultimate fan club, but it has put me into the Winterson-as-a-person fan club. It was well worth the full price I paid for it, and yeah, basically just read it if you want to feel feelings for another human being that you don't actually know. Just skip over the voting for Thatcher stuff.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Devouring Films: Ghost World

I watched Ghost World for the second time this weekend, for no good reason because I didn't really like it the first time round, so let's just say it was the fever, ok? The thing is though, this time around I really liked it, and that seems to have been the case with quite a few films I've seen lately- I have to watch them more than once to get a better appreciation for them. Must be my age.

But with Ghost World, I think I know exactly what it was. See, I get these things called 'expectations' with films (I think a LOT more than I do with books) and when they're not met in their entirety I get a bit pissed off, plus I'm not really focusing on what's actually happening. It's kind of a huge problem, I'll admit, and I guess it should be enough of a reason for me to always be willing to watch a film more than once, since, once I've got the fact that it's a massive disappointment out of the way, I can see what it actually is, and appreciate it in itself.

And that's what happened with Ghost World, I think. Cause I had certain ideas about its quirkiness and overall applicability to my LIFE that I really didn't find in it the first time I saw it, but this time around, I just sat back and allowed myself to appreciate the story and stuff. And it's kind of awesome- Enid and Becky are sort of awesome/horrid outsider teenagers (of the kind that, you know, LOVE being outsiders) who have just graduated high school and, whilst Becky wants them to get on with their lives and live together, Enid's sort of stuck and doesn't really know what the hell she's doing. So, she tortures and then befriends Steve Buscemi because that's the only sane thing to do!

So the first time around I was really really put off by Enid, because yeah, she's kind of a lost soul, but ALSO she's kind of mean. Like, meaner than I could apparently cope with, and so I was sort of put off of her a bit (even though she's Thora Birch! Damn I love Thora) and, really, just wanted her to stop being stupid and doing stupid things. This time around though... I was a lot more sympathetic to her woes and her general lack of knowing what she wants to DO in the world, cause, well, I can relate. And it's like, this time, I could accept that I didn't have to be exactly the same as her to be able to relate to her character and some of her struggles and to be able to get something out of them (mainly, like, if there's nothing you want to do where you are, go somewhere else, which I think is a good thing to remember!)

The thing about Enid, though, is that her actions don't just affect her, they have a negative impact on the people around her; and it's like she's too self-absorbed to see that. So, whilst I really did have more empathy with her on this viewing, I still find her a frustrating character- she leaves Becky completely exasperated, and she's not so nice to Steve Buscemi, or her poor old dad. So, she's not exactly entirely likeable, but she's definitely intriguing, and the kind of character that you could spend years thinking about and analysing and never really get to the bottom of, because, I think, she doesn't even know who she is herself. And really, why should she? She's only 18, you know?

So, you could spend years analysing her, or just do it in a blog post. I choose to do the latter. This isn't even so much a review of Ghost World, as an encouragement to give things a second chance sometimes- maybe you weren't ready for them the first time round, or maybe your own brain was impacting on your enjoyment of it. Either way, a re-viewing of a film you didn't necessarily like the first time round, can be filled with unexpected wonders and depths. Or maybe I was just delirious, and I still don't like the film. Who can say?!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Devouring Stephen King: The Dark Half

Hmmm, The Dark Half. I finished this... I don't even know how long ago now (two weeks? Or three? Seriously, I don't know!) and I thought that maybe if I left it for a while then I'd have more to say about it than I did immediately afterwards (also, I left it because I'm lazy. Mostly that.) and that has proven not to be the case. Rather than leaving it EVEN longer and just entirely forgetting what happened in any shape or form, I'm just going to power through it now.

I bet that first paragraph there has left you filled with confidence at the brilliance this review is going to contain! Yeah, sorry about that, but really, what did you expect? (Rare Melancholia reference there, blink-and-you'll-miss-it style).

So. The Dark Half. It was better than The Tommyknockers, let's just say that for starters. Shorter, too. It's also a Castle Rock book, just like The Dark Half and Cujo (both of which are, OF COURSE, referenced in this book), which means that, as well as all being set in the Castle Rock area of Maine (which I only assume is a real place, it could be entirely fictional*) they all have a similar-ish tone, in that the supernatural is only partially involved, and if it is, it's normally connected to something else that's a lot more crime-ish. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about this- sure it's nice to have a break from having to jump every time something scary is about to happen, but also... I like the horror! AND I miss it, because, well, stupid aliens and a killer coke machine does not a horror story make.

Anyway, The Dark Half is basically all about alter egos coming to life and making one's actual life a living hell. It's also about parasitic twins in a really loose I-can't-be-bothered-to-properly-explain-this way,  so let's talk about the fact that this book is a reaction to Stephen King being 'outed' as Richard Bachman and how THAT is kind of the only way in which this is interesting. The moral of the story, if you look at it in that way, is almost 'be careful when you try to kill off a pseudonym, because that guy might not like it...' which, I think, would be a scarier prospect if you killed off Stephen King rather than Richard Bachman, but I guess that depends on whether you're more scared of supernatural clowns and shit, or just, like, people who basically snap one day. I know I should be more scared of the latter, but CLOWNS ARE SCARY, you guys!

I'm not really scared of either, anyway, because the catalyst for this whole 'pen name coming alive' thing is never really fully described, and while I guess I should be more like 'it's supernatural, there is no reason for it' because it IS a Castle Rock book, what I expect for them is a reason for things happening the way they do, and then for the supernatural to have a practical use (a la The Dead Zone). That really doesn't happen here, and so I was kind of uneasy the whole time I was reading just thinking 'well, yeah, but HOW did that happen?' It seems pretty stupid to expect a proper explanation for Stephen King things, BUT I've never really felt so uneasy accepting something (suspending my disbelief, if you will) as I did reading The Dark Half, which I guess is the majority of its problems.

So. In spite of all I've said it's really not a terrible book, and I got through it pretty breezily, without much worrying about the things that happened because I didn't fully accept them. I did like the thoughts about not really knowing where writing comes from (I only write blog posts, and I barely know) and the kind of insight into some of the anger that King had from Bachman being outed, but other than that... I'm not exactly rushing to read it again. But, it is still better than The Tommyknockers, so there is always that. As long as you can ignore the constant mention of birds.

*And hey, look who can't even be bothered to do Wikipedia research again. Shut up, I'm ill!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday Sundries: An odd week...

Hello hello fair readers! Do you know what this post is? It's a post that has nothing to do with Armchair BEA! Yay! (Apart from, I guess, that bit right there... Hmm.) Much as I enjoyed it, I'm glad to get back to normal posting with like reviews and things! It's going to be great! Apart from the fact that I'm in the same position I was in last week and there's no weeklong event to save me and I have like one book to review and, well... It could be a lean lean blog week, is what I'm saying. Prepare yourselves for the worst.

Ahem. Drama aside... As the title has probably told you, it's been a funny old week this week! For a few reasons, but a lot of it is to do with the fact that everyone had two days off for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee (I, obviously, didn't, but still, there were extra people around, and so that was just abnormal!) and then the week never really took off from there. It was kind of a write-off, is I guess what I'm saying. I did go and meet some people I used to work with and that was SUPER fun, and the highlight of the whole day was finding an American sweetshop in Guildford (which is where I went, obviously) which was clearly SO EXCITING. For me anyway, because, and I probably haven't mentioned this, but I'm a little bit obsessed with twizzlers which you basically can't get ANYWHERE over here, so, yeah, there was some excitement. Also I got some marshmallow fluff and vanilla coke zero, and other things and omg the EXCITEMENT. It was palpable.

So that was that... So yeah, the start of the week was fairly good, but then since Wednesday my mum's been feeling quite poorly so that's been a bit distressing/has involved doing some washing and washing up and a bit of cooking and things, which obviously I have no complaints about but which are things that I did this week so I'm including them here! I also baked some (on the same day that I posted about why I love baking, funnily enough) and then on Friday my nan had a hip replacement which totally felt really sudden, because it was something we hadn't all really talked about much because she was meant to have it done in February and it didn't happen, so we weren't sure it was going to go ahead. But it did, and she's pretty much ok, and, guess what? It means I get to go to the hospital EVEN MORE! The excitement! On the plus side, though, she could come out as early as tomorrow, and I think no later than Thursday, so, yay? Sort of...

The oddness of the week (and you know what, I think when I say odd, I really just mean 'it felt really long' in the sense that on Friday I remembered Monday and felt like it was about a month ago) has been compounded by the fact that I haven't been sleeping very well, because I keep going to bed late (like a moron) and waking up early (for no reason) and it's all just bad. Bad bad bad bad bad (I'm typing so much because I'm tired. When I'm tired my mouth just does all the work that my brain normally does, which should probably turn out worse than it does, but I don't know any juicy secrets about anybody).

So, unusually, I have some aims for this week. Namely, getting to bed at a reasonable time (at about 3pm, I'm all like, ugh, I'm going to go to bed SO early tonight, and when it actually comes down to it, I'm like, ooh, internet, which is like the solitary version of talking too much), finishing some books so I have something to blog about this week (I might have to resort to a post about TV, please be advised) and, I don't know, getting my hair cut or something? I was nearly sort of going to go this week, but then mum was ill and I didn't want to leave her for too long, so, yeah. I still have bad hair.

These are clearly the lamest ever goals, but really, I JUST WANT TO SLEEP MORE! Is that such a problem, stupid body? I'm going to make it not be a problem. And also I'm going to read more (especially if I sleep more. That's how it works). It's going to be good.

PS Just as an added weird thing, now (Saturday evening) I'm totally in bed with a fever and, quite frankly, I want to die a bit. So... yeah, a funny old week, once again!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Armchair BEA, Day 5: I Can See Into The Future...

Actually, no, I can't. I can see a future where I post things not on a preordained topic, but apart from that... Who knows?! Clearly I'm not very forward thinking, at least not about things like 'where is this blog going?' so... Sorry about that!

So today I'm supposed to ask some questions or give out some tips, huh? Well, I don't really have any questions, because the way I do this (reading whatever I want, writing stuff about it, and then having fun comment exchanges afterwards) works pretty well for me, thank you very much. I mean, not that I'm above taking good advice or anything (and seriously, I'm going to be reading everyone's tips today, you just see if I don't) but I just don't have any questions specifically because, you know what? I have fun and don't take things to seriously, other than reading challenges which I take totally seriously. Ok?

So, that just leaves my tips. I mean, I'm about the least qualified person to be giving out advice on how to blog ever because, well, did you just see my description of what I do? There was a Top Ten Tuesday topic a while ago that was for blogging tips, and I avoided it completely because, what the hell do I know?! However, since I haven't just written this post for no reason, here are my (very) few tips on how to let your blog make you happy:

  • Write your blog for you, and no one else: There are so so so many book blogs out there that seriously don't interest me (YA bloggers, I'm sorry) but that's completely irrelevant, because if you write it, they will come; 'they' being people who are like you, and who like the same things that you do. If you try to appeal to everyone, you're going to end up appealing to no one, and, well, then you'll just have no fun at all!
  • Don't forget where you came from: And I don't mean like, remember you're still Jenny from the Block, but what did you like to read before you started blogging? And what do you read now? What I'm getting at is, I've seen SO many people say this week that they used to read various genres, but now 'I mostly read YA'. And if that's what you really want to do then that's fine, and please refer back to point one, but are you really just reading YA books because those are the free ones? Cause, library books are still free, and a lot of those are still worth reading. Just sayin.
  • Find your blogging spirit animals and stick with them: Seriously, blogging has been so much more fun ever since I found my blogging tribe of awesomeness. I strongly advise you to seek out the people who will comment on your posts even when you have nothing particularly earth shattering to say, and who constantly make you laugh, because those are the ones to stick with.
  • Don't be afraid to write about things that aren't books: Because, like, those posts might get less comments, but if you've got something pressing to say about True Blood, or whatever movie you saw last night, or feminism or the state of the economy, guess what? There's totally a place you can do that? I mean, I'm not necessarily saying make a habit of it, but the chances are, if you think something's worth saying, other people will too.
  • Never pressure yourself: Never. Not ever. It's just not worth it for something that you created to talk about things you love, because it'll just make you resent your blog and maybe even hate books and stuff. If you don't want to blog for a while, then just DON'T. No one will mind! They'll miss you, sure, but they'll love you just as much when you come back. Honest.
Aaaand that's basically all I have. Oh, other than 'promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate', except that, well, negative book reviews can be SO fun to write... Just, don't get personal, don't be rude, and never EVER write an abusive comment/email/tweet to another blogger, or I will be very very cross. And it's basically as simple as that, if you want to have a blog you're proud of and that you enjoy posting things to. The end, thank you and g'night.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Armchair BEA, Day 4: Beyond the Blog...

See how I didn't even change the title for today's post? That's because I totally approve of it for some reason... It's nice and has alliteration and stuff, you know? Anyway, I'm totally going to "share a fun aspect about my blog or life that has nothing to do with books" in just a second, but can we talk about freelance writing first? Can we talk about how I'd LOVE to do freelance writing but have no idea how to go about it, and hey, do you do that and how do YOU go about it? And also yeah, do you make money doing this blogging thing, because let's talk about that too.

So, I of course do neither of these things because clearly, I think I'll be happier as a pauper. No but seriously, some one give me a job/send me some money please? But what do I do when I'm not reading or watching TV or whatever? I'll tell you: I'm probably baking. And you don't even have to tell me how much of a 50s housewife this makes me sound, and I also don't need anyone saying that doing it is an unfeminist thing to do. Baking has nothing to do with feminism, in my humble opinion, and a whole lot to do with making delicious treats that you can share with people you love. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout says that Atticus has two peculiarities: "one was that he never ate desserts; another was that he liked to walk." Well, Atticus clearly sounds like the paragon of fitness and virtue, but no desserts? Seriously? It's about the only thing I don't like about the character, and I'd like to think that I could turn him with a slice of red velvet cake...

I have ever so slightly integrated baking onto my blog (see the 'Devouring...' tab above) but I've literally only shared maybe 7 or 8 things I've baked, other than what I've shown in teeny instagram pictures in my weekly update posts. I'm not really sure why this is- I think it's partially that I read a LOT of food blogs and I definitely can't take pictures of food as well as those people so I don't really even try; partially that people never seem to read them (which isn't, in itself, something that normally stops me, but I don't want to bore people by making them look at my crappy pictures of cake!) and the last part is that I'm a bit wary of posting recipes on the internet, because they basically belong to other people, and it's not really up to me to share them, you know? So it's kind of like... here are crappy photos of cakes, that I'm not going to give you the recipe for and that you don't want to look at anyway. Lucky you!

So, yeah, baking is mainly a thing that stays offline for me, because of all those things, and also because, for me, the main point is in eating the darn things! Having said that, I do still photograph a lot of the cakes I make, (there's some evidence of that here) and I know that, if I'm ever stuck for a post, I can always do a nice baking one! But, as I've said, it's not something I tend to do a lot of, and I think I prefer it that way- I spend SO MUCH time online that it's nice to have a pursuit that literally forces me to unplug and turn basic ingredients into something delicious, if not always (ever) nourishing. Baking=a nice rest for my overstimulated internet brain.

Having said all that, I do have one baking post that I know I'm going to write in the future, because I think I've found the actual best recipe for brownies EVER, that's so easy to make and seems to be foolproof (I'm a brownie FOOL, in general, so this is why I know it is) so I just need to prepare myself for such an event, since I know that I'll just eat like all the brownies afterwards, like, within about 3 days. They're THAT good, you guys. I don't really know why I just told you that, other than the fact that it's on topic and well, you know you want to stick around to see it!

In conclusion, baking is fun, and, at least the way I do it, something that's better when it's left off the internet. If you ever need a break from, I don't know, real life, then baking is something that I can wholeheartedly recommend, especially since you get something pretty tasty out of it at the end. At least, that is, as long as you do it right...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Armchair BEA, Day 3: I Don't Know What I'm Doing...

So, here's the description of what I'm supposed to write for today's topic, and yes I realise that most of you will have read it already so just bear with me for a minute, mmmkay? So this is it:
Share a positive 'real life' experience with books- either by way of your own partnerships in your community, a book signing you went to or possibly even a get together with fellow book bloggers.
Erm... Let's see. Well, I don't have a book club or anything, and I don't, I don't know, get kids to read, I've never been to a book signing (do YOU see Stephen King doing many book signings in the UK? Neither do I...) and don't even talk to me about meeting fellow book bloggers because WAH, we are separated by a whole ocean and hence I am a sad sad blogger. Although I will meet them one day, and it will be MAGNIFICENT.

So. I'm a bit stumped really. I can offer you a tale of woe about how I nearly went to see Jeffrey Eugenides speak about stuff in London one time, but it was on the same night as a Red Hot Chili Peppers show I already had tickets to and so I couldn't go (which, I can't really complain about because OMFG RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS! But I'm still sad that it just had to be the same evening) but actually that's basically the whole story there. Soooo... yeah. *crickets, tumbleweed etc*.

Here's the thing, you see. Apart from reading and buying books, I don't really do anything in real life that's about books or reading. I'm too busy actually reading, and anyway, no authors that are good really do book signings in the UK. Or, at least, I don't know about them if they do. So I'm just going to have to share a fairly boring teeny anecdote that, if nothing else, made me super happy and is to do with books. Aaaaand, I can't see this post being super popular, but OH WELL.

So, a few weeks ago I was just generally going around the charity shops in one of the many roads paved with charity shop gold near me (seriously: without breaking a sweat I can go to at least 3 places that have 6 charity shops, and everywhere else has at least 3 or so... it's amazing. And also why I have a chronically large number of books) and I honestly nearly had a heart attack of joy. So here's what happened. I saw that they had a copy of 1Q84 Part 3, which in itself was really exciting because, whilst I had already read the whole thing, I had to get Part 3 from the library and, you know, you gots to own that kind of amazingness. So that was pretty cool.

But then. THEN! I looked down and nearly had a heart attack of pure JOY (that's a thing, right?) because on another shelf there were many, many Murakami books. MANY. How many? Well, this many, plus a copy of Norwegian Wood that I let them keep because I already have one of those:
Seriously? Like, the best book haul ever. And the best things? That they basically cost £5 all together, AND the shop assistant said that they'd only come in the day before. And I was basically like 'I WIN AT LIFE', and was gleeful for the rest of the day! 

So that's my tale. And it's not at all a networking tale, but it's a heartwarming one, I reckon, with a moral that, if you just wish for it hard enough, one day you'll find all the books you need at a price you can afford. And if it's still not a good enough tale for you, then consider that I've given a LOT of money to charity buying books over the years, and also saved myself a lot at the same time. Pretty magical, huh?

So tell me, gentlefolk- have you ever seen a haul like it? Or better, have you ever found one yourself? If you have, believe me, I'm jumping up and down and squealing a bit with you. Book love forever.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Armchair BEA, Day 2: The Two Men in My (Reading) Life This Year

So today is apparently giveaway day for Armchair BEA, but I don't know anything about that *looks away embarrassedly, shows you an empty purse* I mean, look, I do have a bag of books ready to go to a charity shop, but they're all books that I dislike. Why would I want to do that to you? Exactly, I wouldn't. So, let's move on from this whole shenanigan, shall we?

And, let's talk about books (obviously). The back up plan today for the tightarses (hiiii!) is to talk about your favourite books so far this year, or the books you're most anticipating that are being promoted at BEA. Do I have any clue about which books are being promoted at BEA? No. And do I much care, since I don't really like reading books that are super-duper new, because how do I know if they're any good and if I should spend time on them? Exactly. Tried and tested, people, tried and tested.

Anyway, so my reading life this year (so far) has been basically dominated by two authors (oooer, I'm being dominated...), who are in no way obscure, but who are Bill Bryson and Haruki Murakami. These are authors who I'd had no more than a passing acquaintance with before this year (I'd read 2 Bill Bryson books, out of the 8 or so I owned, and had only heard of Murakami) and yet, now I can't stop reading them, or, in the case of Murakami, thinking about their books.

Because here's the thing. I was trying to compile a list of some of my favourite books of the year, and it occurred to me that the two Murakami books I'd read were already my favourites, and not just of the year, but of all the books. And add to that the FOUR Bill Bryson books I've read this year, really no one else is getting a look-in with my reading! And part of the Bryson reading is tactical- I like to read one fiction and one non-fiction book together, but I've got plenty of other non-fiction books. Bryson's are just the greatest. A Short History of Nearly Everything is my favourite so far, but really? They're all so so so awesome.

So yeah. There's that, and then there's Norwegian Wood and 1Q84, and you've basically got a list of my favourite books of the year so far. But. But but but but but. I think I also have to honourably mention the following books too, because some of them have had quite the impact on me. Like:

  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer- I haven't eaten an animal since I read this book. And, whilst it would be unfair to say that it's the whole reason I haven't eaten meat since then (I totally wanted to stop eating meat but just haven't had enough motivation/support until now) it seriously helped. A lot. 
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen- Ok, this didn't exactly change my life, but it was sort of awesome, and a lot better than I was expecting it to be considering all the bad press that Franzen gets/invites by being a dick. So yeah, it was a nice surprise wrapped in believable and so so sad characters.
And then, also, I've been re-reading a fair bit this year, and the best of all of those?

  • It by Stephen King- My eternal love for King started with this book, and this year I finally got to re-read it as part of my own personal, let's read all the King challenge. I mean, there's nothing I can say about this book that I haven't already said a billion times, but can we all just read it already so that I can stop going on about it? 
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- Always amazing, I think I still managed to find new things when reading Jane Eyre this time around. Another one of my all time favourites that I was really happy to review and discuss with everyone else.
So, yeah. Reading-wise, it's been a pretty good year so far, and long may it continue! So... What else is good that y'all have read this year? Or, you know, ever...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Armchair BEA, Day 1: Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a (wo)man of wealth and taste...

I'm sort of just realising that I've just called myself the devil... Hmm, not the best introduction ever, but oh well, it's too late to change it now! (It's clearly not. But I like it!) Ahem, anyway! Here's what I look like sometimes:
And sometimes I find stuff funny and it looks like this:
And sometimes it's Christmas, and I look like this:
Annnd, sometimes I post three pictures of myself on my blog all at once, which is more than the total of pictures of myself there've been on here in the entire history of Devouring Texts. Go figure! Also, all of those pictures were taken at least a year ago, and I'm sorely in need if a haircut right now, so... you can probably just ignore them.

ANYWAY! There are questions that need to be answered, and dammit, I'm going to answer them. So here goes:

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?
Who am I? Please see above, I think that'll tell you everything you need to know! Also there's my About Me page which was excruciating to write, but which I did write so I never have to write one of these again. So there's that!
I've been blogging for about a year and a half now (WOAH) and I basically started it because the job situation after university didn't look good and, to be honest, I was pretty depressed and I needed something to do. And, since I'd already discovered book blogs about a year before, I wanted in! 

2. What are you currently reading, or what is your favourite book you've read so far in 2012?
OR?! Really? But seriously, at the moment I'm reading 3 books: Four Past Midnight by Stephen King, Armadale by Wilkie Collins (which I am LOVING, by the way) and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. Now tomorrow I'm totally going to post about my favourite books of 2012 (you know you don't want to miss that!) but I'm just going to say that by far my favourite reading discovery of this year is Haruki Murakami- his writing makes me so happy, whilst his stories make me so sad...

3. Where do you see your blog in 5 years?
Obviously I see it as a worldwide sensation, and the only place that people come to get advice about what to read. But really? I don't know... I want to still be doing it because I kind of see it as a lifelong reading journal that I share with other people, but also I still want everyone else (that I love!) to be blogging too, because it wouldn't be the same without them!

4. What is your favourite part of the book blogging community? Is there anything you'd like to see change in the coming years?
The thing I love most about the book blogging community is the fact that you can pretty much make your own community within it- give a lot of love to the blogs you like, and just ignore the ones you don't. There's nothing I'd like to see change per se (other than, I don't like to hear about people getting abusive comments, because how is that helpful, so they can go) but I'd like more bloggers to read books that haven't like just been released- I pretty much never read really new books, and it's a bit... trying when everyone's reading the same books all the time and there's not too much variety. But, obviously, this is a bit of a personal choice thing, and I can't exactly control what people choose to read and review!

5. Have your reading tastes changed since you started blogging? How?
So, I wouldn't necessarily say my reading tastes have changed since I started blogging (it's basically still just mainly classics and literary fiction, mixed with Stephen King) but I'd definitely say that other blogs have influenced some of my reading decisions- I may never have read Murakami, for example, if it hadn't been for Alice's readalong, and there are LOADS of books that I already owned but have been inspired to read by amazing reviews. The thing which has really changed though, is the way I read- I've always got two books on the go, more usually 3, and I choose them, at the moment, based on challenges I'm taking part in. Which, I realise, sounds restrictive, but is as good a way as any for choosing books to read, especially because I've got so much choice that I'm a bit overwhelmed by it at times. Also, it's totally stopping me reading like all 6 Murakami books I've got in one go, because I want some review variety, so that's definitely a good thing (delayed gratification and all that).

So! I hope that's given you a bit of an insight into my little bloggish world! If there's anything else you'd like to know, shoot me a question in the comments, and I'll be back to answer to them once I've gone and explored some other blogs.