Monday, 31 December 2012

End of Year Book Survey

I takes the 'end of year' part of an end of year survey really seriously, so this will be going up on New Years Eve, even though I'm writing this before Christmas (and also, actually, after Christmas. So sue me.) I could probably have left it for the dead time between Christmas and New Year (which we've just had, I guess... wasn't it dreadful?) but hey, I'm being all preparey. And possibly procrastinatey.

Anyway. The survey!

Best in Books 2012

1. Best book you read in 2012?
Ohhhh, silly question. Let's see...

Best Classic: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. So so so much funnier and more cynical than I was expecting. Honourable mention goes to Crime and Punishment though.

Best Shakespeare: This is allowed because I read like 6 or 7 of his plays this year like a nutter. And I'm going to say my favourite was As You Like It.

Best Memoir: I'm actually going to say Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela, but before I read that it would have been Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Which was definitely shorter.

Best Readalong: The Woman in White. Always. 

Books that are so good I can't even categorise them: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson AND The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

If I absolutely HAD to pick an overall favourite though? *mumbles* TheWomanInWhiteTheSistersBrothersNorwegianWoodAShortHistoryofNearlyEverything *mumblemumble*

Stay tuned for more favouritey favouriteness at the end of the post...

2. A Book you were excited and thought you were going to love more but didn't?
I thought We Need to Talk About Kevin was going to be a lot more awesome than it was, but I was kind of addicted to reading it for a while there, so... maybe it did everything it was trying to. But I didn't really like it.

3. Most Surprising (in a good way!) Book of 2012?
Ok, so The Sisters Brothers was continually recommended to me this year and YET I didn't believe that I would like it because 'ew, a Western?' but as it turns out, it's AWESOME. So, yeah, that.
ALSO Freedom by Jonathan Franzen was surprising in that I kind of think the dude is a douche BUT he kind of showed some remarkable insight in that book. Which was good.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
I think it was actually It by Stephen King, in that there was this whole readalong of it going on in October and I just went round going 'IT IS SO AMAZING! OMG!' etc. 
Although, obviously, I recommended The Grapes of Wrath a lot too, in that I MADE people read it. Which was fun.

5. Best Series you discovered in 2012?
Ok, I don't really read series, BUT I do believe the one I read this year was Margaret Atwood's series thing that I'm not even sure has a name but consists of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. It was good!

6. Favourite New Authors you discovered in 2012?
Well. *cracks knuckles* Even though I can hardly believe it, I only discovered Haruki Murakami in 2012, AND WILKIE COLLINS first came into my life this year. They win everything hands down. 

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or a new genre for you?
Um. Let's say MetaMaus, in that there was a lot in it about the technical side of drawing comic books, and it was basically just a giant interview but I kind of really liked it? But then Maus is TOTALLY in my comfort zone, so maybe this doesn't count...

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
Well, I stayed up really late reading 1Q84 quite a lot, and The Haunting of Hill House was difficult to let go of, but I really struggled putting down Let's Pretend This Never Happened. Because, you know, it was hilarious rather than thrilling. But still.

9. Book you read in 2012 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
Yeah, I'm definitely not going to do that. But if I was... I dunno, probably Bossypants or Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me. Something funny like that. Or Let's Pretend This Never Happened.

10. Favourite Cover of  a Book you read in 2012?
Guys, I read like... at least 4 Penguin Clothbound Classics this year. And you want me to choose the best one? Ok, this is it:
Adds: Favourite gif of the year?
Ok, yeah, I have like 3? And actually I had about 10. I LOVE GIFS DAMMIT.
Tell me they're not appropriate for almost all situations. They totally are.

11. Most memorable character in 2012?
Eli Sisters. Easy. Next!

12. The Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
I kind of want to say 'anything by Murakami', but he sort of talks about penises too much for me to be completely *sigh* ish over it. So I'm just going to go ahead and say The Sisters Brothers, because it's beautiful in that it can switch from being funny to deep in about 3 seconds. Which is pretty awesome.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?
Eating Animals. Mostly because I read it at entirely the right time, but still, totally impactful. In that I haven't eaten an animal since I read it. Yeah.

14. Book you can't believe you waited until 2012 to finally read?
Crime and Punishment- I've known about it for what seems like forever, but actually I kind of knew nothing about it. So I'm really glad I do now.
A Short History of Nearly Everything- It literally BLEW. MY. MIND. For some reason before this year I had some kind of 'Bill Bryson is olllld so it's going to be boring' (I KNOW, I'm an idiot) mental block, but that book really cleared it, let me tell you!

15. Favourite passage/quote from a book you read in 2012?
Really? You want to get me started on this? Alright, hang on a minute...
"Drive away and try to keep smiling. Get a little rock and roll on the radio, and go toward all the life there is with all the courage you can find and all the belief you can muster. Be true, be brave, stand. 
All the rest is darkness." (It, Stephen King)
"So that's how we live our lives. No matter how deep and fatal the loss, no matter how important the thing that's stolen from us- that's snatched right out of our hands- even if we are left completely changed people with only the outer layer of skin from before, we continue to play out our lives this way, in silence. We draw ever nearer to our alotted span of time, bidding it farewell as it trails off behind. Repeating, often adroitly, the endless deeds of the everyday. Leaving behind a feeling of immeasurable emptiness." (Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami)
"I followed her through the beaded curtain and into her private world. The beads felt lovely and tickling on my face, and I experienced a shudder of happiness at this. It is true, I thought. I am living a life." (The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt)
"We never see ourselves at all; we have no clear idea of ourselves; our mirror reflections reflect only what we wish to see, or can bear to see, or punish ourselves by seeing. Nor can we trust others to see us either. For they too see what they wish to see, with their imperfect eyes." (I'll Take You There, Joyce Carol Oates)
"I know you don't believe this- but don't philosophise too subtly; plunge straight into life without deliberation; don't be uneasy- it will carry you straight to shore and land you on your feet." (Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky)
16. Shortest and Longest books read in 2012?
I don't keep track of page numbers (although I kind of really really want to now...) But I think the longest book I read was It by Stephen King, which has about 1100 pages, and I think the shortest was probably Night by Elie Wiesel, which I'm pretty sure had less than 100. But considering the subject matter and density of Night, compared to It, they probably meet in the middle on ease of reading.

17. Book that had a scene in it that left you reeling and DYING to talk to somebody about it?
Shit, I don't know! The Woman in White and The Moonstone? Or maybe I was just dying to talk about them because doing so was SO MUCH FUN.

18. Favourite relationship from a book you read in 2012?
Oooh, ok, Jennifer and Beth in Attachments? And by favourite relationship, I obviously mean the group (pair) of friends I'd most like to be a part of. Because those girls are AWESOME.

19. Favourite book you read in 2012 from an author you'd read previously?
I've just realised that I've read SO many new authors this year, so I'm going to just have to pat myself on the back for that for a minute. So, I guess I'm going to say A Short History of Nearly Everything, ostensibly because Bill Bryson and Stephen King seem to have been practically the only authors I revisited this year, and of the books by the latter I hadn't read... none of them were that great. So yeah, that.

20. Best book that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else?
Have I mentioned The Sisters Brothers a lot yet?

Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2012

1. New favourite book blog you discovered in 2012?
Ok, so I've really poorly kept track (i.e. haven't kept track at all) of new book blogs I found in 2012, but I know I found Bex this year and so that's a good enough answer for me! Also, Mandy's blog isn't strictly book-limited, but nor is mine, and so I get to plug her's too! (and TIKA! Who is new. And I love her.)

2. Favourite review that you wrote in 2012?
Hmm, shameless plugging, eh? Would you believe me if I tell you that I can hardly remember a LOT of the reviews I wrote? Because you should. Let's see...

3. Best discussion you had on your blog?
So, I really liked ALL the readalong discussions I had ever, which was, let's face it, a lot. And by a lot I mean there were 4 readalongs, but each of those had 4 posts, so... you see where I'm going with this? In terms of just a normal review though, I was really pleased with the discussion that went on with We Need To Talk About Kevin, because when everyone's read something... you can really get some good discussions cooking!

4. Most thought provoking review/discussion you read on someone else's blog?
Duuuude, there were probably loads of them but am I likely to remember them? I can't even remember the things I've written myself! But let's just say that Alice's place is always the best for discussion, so go there all the time.

5. Best Event you participated in?
Hey, so remember when I met Caitlin Moran and it was the BEST. EVER? That was clearly it. Total bookish event.
Honourable mention goes to the trans-atlantic Clueless watching that Alice, Alley, Megs and I did in July which was so weird but also too awesome and was just basically the greatest. And I've just realised that that didn't involve books, but it involved Book BLOGGERS, which is obviously better.

6. Best moment of book blogging in 2012?
Did I mention the above Clueless-watching? That was pretty best-y. I feel like the best bits are like all the things that keep arising from book blogging- I have new blogging friends (some of them are even English! Which is totally a thing I moaned about not having last year) and sometimes we send each other post and it's the best and everything is just awesome. Basically.

7. Most popular post this year on your blog?
I don't know man, how do you get a yearly breakdown on stats? The most popular post that I wrote this year was The Taming of the Shrew (presumably if you google 'The Taming of the Shrew' and 'sexist filth' you get to my post) but my post about how much I love Dolly Parton has gained remarkable speed considering that it's not very old! (*checks why* Ok, it's because there's a picture of young Dolly Parton on it. Ok, this makes sense.)

8. Post you wished got a little more love?
Ehrm... Whenever I write about films, I get less comments, but I'm ok with it because I get that like, everyone who comes here is about the books. But still... COMMENT ON MY FILM POSTS, YEAH?

9. Best bookish discovery?
Ok, I didn't understand this question really, but I'm just going to say that I found Foyles in London and it's an awesome bookshop and everyone should go there, ok good.

10. Did you complete any reading challenges/goals you had set for yourself at the beginning of the year?

Looking Ahead

1. One book you didn't get to in 2012 that will be your top priority in 2013?
Ok, I think this is going to be Ready Player One, just because I feel really excited about it, but I also feel like that excitement could easily fade? So I want to get there before it does! And also I want to finish The Blind Assassin because I love it and was so excited to start it, but it's kind of gone off my radar a bit...

So that's January sorted...

2. Book you are most anticipating in 2013?
Don't be silly, I don't know any books that are coming out in 2013! Let's just say I just reserved Quiet by Susan Cain at the library, and I really really really want to read it. So, that.

Oh! I just remembered the third part of Margaret Atwood's Maddadam trilogy is coming out next year. Let that be my most anticipated book!

3. One thing you hope to do or accomplish in reading/blogging in 2013?
I kind of think I might start tracking page numbers now! But I don't know... I want to learn how to properly fit it in to having a job now, and not just rush off posts whenever I can because I think I don't have enough time. Because I do. I just have to arrange it better.

Just for Meeeeee

Please watch as I perform the amazing feat of working out some stats because I just super want to and it's fun for me.

Books read: 91
Fiction/Non Fiction Books read: 67/24
Male/Female Authors read: 61/30 (actually pretty ashamed of this one...) 
Rereads/New reads: 10/81 (yessssss! I win at reading new stuffs)
Books of the year, by month: (totally stolen from Sam, cheers love!)

January: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

February: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (technically I reviewed this in March. But I read it in Feb!)

March: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

April: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

May: Bossypants by Tina Fey

June: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

July: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt AND Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray 

August: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (duh)

September: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

October: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

November: Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

December: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Sunday Sundries: It was CHRISTMAS and now it isn't

Hey, so, does everyone remember CHRISTMAS?! That was good, wasn't it? And now we're in that weird time between Christmas and New Year where it feels wrong to actually do anything, but not doing anything after THE MOST EXCITEMENT (I mean, not as much excitement as I had when I was a kid, but still- I was pretty excited!) feels kind of dismal, so basically, since Thursday, I've just been eating.

I'll be wearing dresses until this whole eating thing blows over.

Do you want to see the books I got for Christmas though? I know you do!
Isn't that basically the blurriest picture you've ever seen?! It got dark really early on Thursday (the day after Boxing Day, OR the present sorting out day, if you live in my house) and I wanted to get the books put away, so this is the photo I got. At least the Christmas tree is in the background, right?! Anyway... Allow me to list them for you too!
Set of Moomin books by Tove Jansson
On Writing by Stephen King (I finally own it, Alley!)
Sunset Park by Paul Auster
The Melancholy Tale of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Back Story by David Mitchell
And then also at the bottom are a couple of cookbooks and a crafty book about making animal hats, about which I am disturbingly excited.

BOOKS! And I also got a sewing machine that I'm scared of, and some other stuff and things too. And about a million pairs of socks, as always. Could have stacked them in a pile and taken a picture too, but, you know, we all have our limits.

SO. That was Christmas and it was nice. And now, as I guess we all are, I'm looking ahead to the new year and just thinking about what I'd like to be different, what I'd like to change; which is a state of mind that, I think, leads to dissatisfaction with one's current life. Which is something I try to avoid, because if I look too closely at my life (living with my parents, sharing a freaking bedroom, not having a full time job, no money... and so on) I'm bound to see the things that are wrong with it rather than the things that are good, and the things that I've done this year in particular.

Like, you know, looking after my mum when she needed me too, like I did for the majority of this year, that wasn't nothing. And finally, finally stopping eating meat after sort-of-kind-of trying to do it for so long. And getting a job, even though it is a part time one. All of these things are actual things, and not nothing, and I need to remember that, rather than going 'well, this is wrong and I hate this and everything is awful.' Because it isn't. Apart from sometimes.

This is the bit where I suppose I should do some resolutions or something, but I don't really wanna because hello, setting oneself up for a fall! Plus, I still have ongoing goals or whatever that I set on my birthday and I'm doing pretty well with them, so... Might as well just keep going! But I sort of have two resolutions that I really... not even want, but need to do, and those are

  • To walk to work- I want to basically do this every day because, firstly, I could use the exercise, and secondly, it's kind of douchey to make my mum take me every day. And by 'make', I mean 'she totally didn't expect that anything else would be happening', but still. I want to do it.
  • To not buy any books for 100 days (at least)- I say 100 days because that takes me up to my birthday (don't ask me why I worked out how many days into the year my birthday is. I like numbers, ok? And actually, that's only on leap years, technically. So, 99 days) I don't know that I've ever 'officially' done a book buying ban before, but oh MAN, do I need one! So this is happening. I'm going to read the books I own, the books that were so important to me that I had to BUY THEM ALL this year and all the previous years. This shit must stop.
And that's about it, really. Or at least those are the achievable things that I want to do, as opposed to the things that I would like to happen but completely don't have enough money for. Do you have any resolutions? And hey- Happy nearly new year to you!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Devouring Films: Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids wins the award of the film I have watched most whilst blogging and yet have never actually talked about it here. I realise that's a really long name for an award, and yet it is the truth. The thing is, I LOVE Bridesmaids so much, and also it makes me kind of sad (I kind of AM Annie in a lot of ways, only I never had the success to begin with) and ALSO I find much of it hilarious, but it's almost like... I didn't really have an angle to write about it from, and frankly I'm a little bit tired of just going 'OMG this is so amazing I love it!' about things I love, because, even though it's true, it's also kind of boring. Like, really boring.

But. Now I finally have an angle! I was watching it last week, thoroughly enjoying myself/feeling a little uneasy as always with it, when I realised exactly what I wanted to talk about in it. And that's about girls, and friends, and the ways that girls are friends with each other. The thing is this. Annie and Lilian have been best friends forever, and Lilian announces that she's getting married and wants Annie to be her chief bridesmaid- so far, so good. At the same time, Annie's life is imploding, and has been for a while, but still she's determined to be a good bridesmaid for Lilian and make things really nice for her because she's a good friend. At Lilian's engagement party, Annie discovers that Lilian has a new friend,  Helen, and that she's rich and poised and a lot of other things that Annie isn't. Mayhem ensues.

So my thing is this. I'm kind of wondering who the worse friend is, Annie or Lilian? There are two really really good cases for each of them, to be fair. It seems like the film wants to set Annie up as the bad friend- she gives the whole wedding party food poisoning, gets them kicked off a plane so they never make it to Vegas, and has a complete freak out at the wedding shower thing, all of which are really very funny incidents and necessary to make the film what it is. So Annie accidentally, and then on purpose, ruins a few things about Lilian's wedding, and that is not very good friend behaviour.

But the things that Lilian does, or rather doesn't do? I mean, she's getting married and everything so obviously she has a lot on her plate, and I don't expect her to like babysit Annie through every disheartening experience she's having, but the thing is? Annie's life is pretty rough, and Lilian's too busy hanging out with her new friend who can afford to do a lot more fun things with her, and it does very much seem like she kind of forgets Annie in the shuffle, and it feels kind of unforgivable. The thing is, hilarious as they are, the things that Annie does to ruin things are basically entirely accidental (she didn't cook the food that poisoned them, and it was freaking Helen who like drugged her on the plane!) whereas Lilian's neglect feels a lot more purposeful and vindictive. Annie really needs her, and all she can do is complain that her wedding things aren't going perfectly. Which just really sucks.

I don't know, maybe I just sympathise with Annie more because I am her (minus the sex with Jon Hamm which, frankly, would make me feel better, I think) but it really does seem to me that Lilian is guilty of real friend neglect, whilst Annie is just guilty of... choosing bad restaurants and listening to Helen that one time on the plane. But how about YOU? Have you seen Bridesmaids? (of course you have). Do you have feelings about who is the worse friend? I really really want to hear them!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Devouring Books: The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

What's this? A strange apparition on Christmas Eve, come to bring glad tidings of a nice book or something? Yes. That is exactly what this is.

So I've been reading The Christmas Mystery this month since, guess what, Christmas is TOMORROW! and I have to say it's been a really nice experience. I've had this book for so very long that I can't remember when or how I got it, and apart from a few half-hearted attempts to pick it up maybe a couple of Christmases, this is the first time I've actually read it. It's basically split into 24 chapters, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas, just like an advent calendar, and I believe that you're supposed to read it accordingly- a little bit of a story each day, leading up to Christmas.

So, of course, I started it on the 13th. Because I didn't know this beforehand! But you do now, so pay attention.

Much as the book is like an advent calendar itself, it's also about an advent calendar that has a story contained within it, and then (just one more, I promise) inside that story there's also a teeny advent calendar. This is all par for the Gaarder course, I have to say, but it's not made that much of a big deal of, and honestly, if you don't think about it too much, it won't bug you. Probably. The story that we're reading is about Joachim, the boy to whom the advent calendar belongs, and who eagerly awaits opening it every morning to read the story, which in turn is about this girl who follows a sheep all the way from 1940s Norway to the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. That story is sort of kind of a history of the spreading of Christianity, whereas the original story is more one of the anticipation of Christmas and all the wonderful things there are leading up to it.

I really like it, is what I'm saying. And it's not even that I think the story is that amazing, and I definitely like the one of Joachim and his parents and the acquisition of the advent calendar better than the one inside that, but I like that there are any layers at all, but mostly? I just like the ritual of reading a chapter a day and thinking about what might happen next, just as Joachim does with his story that is also a story that I don't know the end of. Apart from the whole birth of Jesus thing that I totally assume is coming. Obviously.

So, as you may have just guessed, I haven't actually finished this one yet (since I'm writing this on the 23rd and all). But I don't so much think the end is important as the ritual of reading it is- like so many things at Christmas, doing a little bit of it each day builds up the excitement of the story, and makes it feel like a long-standing tradition, even though it isn't. At least not yet. And even though I expect the mystery to be solved tomorrow, and everything to be nicely tied up, in a way, the story doesn't matter so much as the act of reading it. Which is actually something I'm going to miss, almost as much as that teeny piece of chocolate I've been having every morning. Because I have my priorities.

So, if you see a copy of this hanging round anywhere, I can't but recommend buying it and saving it for next Christmas. Because a book that's also an advent calendar and also about an advent calendar? To me, that's like the perfect Christmas book!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Sunday Sundries: Let's talk about these bloody challenges then, and also CHRISTMAS!

It is done. I can hardly believe it, but the challenges are OVER. As I've been saying all year, I've decided to do NO MORE challenges possibly ever again, for the simple reason that I can't take them- for me they're a bad idea because the second I decide to read a book for a challenge, I lose all enthusiasm for that book, and it might as well be laced with poison and filled with pages that guarantee papercuts.

Shall I just do some linky list type things for the edification of adjudicators everywhere? Hey, why don't I? So basically I participated in 3 challenges this year, all of which STOLE MY SOUL and sucked some of the fun out of reading sometimes. Turns out, I don't like to schedule my reading/read things that are on lists that I HAVE WRITTEN MYSELF. Because I'm an idiot. Anyway.

Firstly, the Back To The Classics Challenge:

A Nineteenth Century Classic: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
A Twentieth Century Classic: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Re-read a Classic: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction: Armadale by Wilkie Collins
Classic Set in a Country You Won't Visit: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Lookit all those books I read! Aren't I a clever. And don't even tell me that Antony and Cleopatra doesn't count as a classic romance, because I was not AT ALL interested in the Roman/Egyptian politics in that play. So there. 

Moving swiftly on, the TBR Challenge turned out to be my least favourite because, it turns out, there was a reason that I hadn't read all these books I was hoarding, and that reason was apparently because I didn't really want to. Still, it's called a challenge because it's meant to be challenging, and challenging it was:
2. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
And, two reserves:
13. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

All I can say about this one is, at least it made me get rid of, ooh... 5 books, and it finally made me read Long Walk To Freedom which actually I'm really happy about. ALSO it started off that whole Bill Bryson thing I was having at the start of the year, so that was fun! But still. No. Bad challenges.

And then, finally, there was the Off the Shelf Challenge, which shouldn't have been at all difficult, but turned out to be extremely so. All I had to do was read 30 books that I owned before 2012, and... I just about did that. BUT NEW BOOKS AND LIBRARIES ARE SO TEMPTING DAMMIT!

Mind you, this challenge also meant that I got rid of another 5 books, and this is not a bad thing at all. And why am I talking up challenges to you, when OMG no I can't do anymore ever again! I was slightly wavering on whether to just do this challenge again next year, but I think I might just track the books that I do read off the shelf in 2013, just as a little record for myself with no pressure! (I understand that all of this pressure is internal rather than external. Just so you know.)

So. CHALLENGES OVER FOREVER! The end. Shall I talk about myself for a tiny bit now? This week has been all about getting better- I finished my antibiotics, and, wonder of wonders, I kind of feel... ok? I mean, I don't feel the BEST EVER because I've basically not been well for the WHOLE OF DECEMBER, but I feel ok! *crosses fingers, hopes she doesn't wake up in the morning with some new ailment* I have been doing some Christmas baking this week so there are plenty of yummy things around to eat, but foolishly I agreed a while ago to work on Christmas Eve and the day after Boxing Day, so this whole Christmas thing isn't going to be able to go on FOREVER like it normally does. Which is maybe an ok thing, because I'm better with a routine, but still... it kind of sucks in that it's the first year EVER that Christmas has been like this for me.

But anyway. It's called being an adult, I guess, and there's no shame in it. Probably. The only other important thing that has happened in my life is that Frances and I had our annual Christmas watching of Gone With the Wind yesterday (if you follow me on twitter, you probably know all about it... SORRY for all the twitter spam!) and it was magical as always and oh my GOSH you really need to try this watching things simultaneously with people on the internet because it is the BEST. Or at least the best solution to certain difficulties. Oh, and ALSO I may be the only person in the history of ever who has now read A Christmas Carol (it was good, but needed more Muppets) and isn't going to review it before Christmas. Or maybe not until next Christmas. What can I say, I have a whole other thing planned for tomorrow! You'll love it!

Anyway. That's enough from me. I hope you all have a truly magical Christmas, if I don't 'see' you again before I go to lands where there is barely any internet (my respective grandmothers') and if I do... I'll probably say it again. Yay Christmas! 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Devouring Books: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

"I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system with my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise."

Before I started reading Long Walk to Freedom, I was kicking myself ever so slightly for leaving this book, the very last of my challenge books for the year (eeee!) until last. The reasons for my doing so were fairly obvious- who ever finds a 'good time' in the year for reading a 750 page long autobiography of a politician?- but this also meant that I actually had to read the thing, in December, when obviously I should have been reading A Christmas Carol or something. I'd thrown away that option to read a book about a man who, although I really admired him, and thought he was the cutest old man, I rather feared my love of him was based on that same feeling I used to have for John Major- that of some sort of attachment formed from seeing him on the telly when I was little.

All that was before I read the book.

Because honestly? I didn't realise that 750 pages could go by so quickly. And I definitely didn't think this would be the book to make that happen, because, as much as I assumed I liked Nelson Mandela (and I mean, don't get me wrong, I was pretty sure I did, but I didn't actually know all that much about him and feared that he might have done some really bad things to go to prison: SPOILER He totally didn't) nothing I knew about him exactly SCREAMED interesting and engaging writer. So there's another thing I didn't know about Nelson Mandela.

So. Obviously this is a book about Mandela's life and struggles and his political life inside and out of prison, and of course he's had a much more interesting life than most and that's one reason why this was so readable. It literally goes right from his early days of living with his tribe and being trained up as an advisor to kings, to running away to the Big City (Johannesburg) where he became a lawyer and where he learnt how to be interested in politics, and all the way to his being put in prison pretty much for his beliefs, but also for provisionally planning some acts of sabotage against the government, as one is wont to do in such a deplorable system as apartheid. It's interesting from a historical point of view, but it's also interesting, because it's interesting. Mandela, it seems, could probably have been a writer if the whole politics thing hadn't worked out for him (which arguably it didn't, or at least didn't pay off for a long while) since this is maybe the best written memoir I've read that's actually written by its subject.

Seriously, there's not a single moment where I was bored, and I don't know why that is- maybe because of the writing, maybe because of the story, maybe because the things that Mandela spent his whole life fighting for are things I passionately believe in and I wanted to be there alongside him, living through it with him. This book is good at that because it doesn't really hold back- Mandela is as comfortable talking about his political beliefs as he is about that time he got ritually circumcised (actually, I was less comfortable with that) and he doesn't really hold back on talking about his family, only he does enough for it not to be invasive. 

One of my very favourite things about the book, and about the man himself, is that he's so extremely humble when really nobody needs him to be. I mean, he's Nelson Mandela, and if he wanted to be like 'Yeah, I was kind of awesome and here I was right' etc then nobody's going to have a problem with that! Instead, he points out all the times when he was wrong- when he foolishly believed something that someone else showed him was wrong, when he went ahead with something when he should have been restrained like this other person suggested. It's like... It feels like most politicians will never, ever admit to being wrong, whereas Mandela is willing to admit it, because he can show that he's learned from it, and not just stubbornly believed in the same things forever. And that's the kind of person who should be in charge of things, if you ask me.

So. I really liked Long Walk to Freedom, and it's really fortunate that I did, challenge-wise, or I would have FAILED and been sad. But more importantly than that, I learnt a lot and now I know more about Nelson Mandela than just 'doesn't he have a nice face!' and 'I want to hold his hand!' and 'aw, he reminds me of my childhood', and now that I know more, I actually like him more, not less, and still think all of these other things about him. So that's pretty cool.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Devouring Films: 50/50

I realised that I probably shouldn't be watching 50/50 about 15 minutes in, when JGL's character got diagnosed with spinal cancer and I started crying. I realised I should probably turn it off when, having cried intermittently for the next hour, I started sobbing like I was crying over something that was actually happening. When actually, I suppose, I was crying about things that had already happened.

It wasn't pretty, either way.

But that's me. And I'm not saying that anyone else would just be fine with JGL pretending to have cancer, because really, it's harrowing, but I think it's that extra special bit more upsetting for anyone who has either a) had cancer themselves, or b) been a second party to the whole cancer experience. And that's because it's all so realistic- from diagnosis, to treatment, to JGL's feeling ill all. The. Time, it just really related to my second-party experience of it this year. And I don't know if it would have been any easier if I'd watched it in a few years, when it wasn't all so fresh, but... I doubt it.

But enough of my psychological scars (for now)! I think it's going to be hard for me to say anything objective about 50/50, but I will say that I think it's a pretty good film that I will probably never watch again. Which is a rare thing- usually when I think a film is good, I want to watch it more than once, but... Not this one. But this doesn't mean that I don't think anyone should watch it, just that I can't again. But you should. Probably. (See? Tricky.) A film about a 27 year old who is diagnosed with a fairly severe form of cancer is obviously (obviously!) never going to be a barrel of laughs, so I think you need to be in the right frame of mind to watch it, but not watching it isn't going to stop 27 year olds getting cancer in real life, whereas watching it might just give you a teensy idea of what that might be like. And an understanding of other people's viewpoints and experiences- isn't that exactly what books and films should strive to do? Exactly.

As for the actors, frankly I could have done without Seth Rogen's presence* (but then, I nearly always could) because this was never going to be a 'buddy comedy' and falls flat in the places where it most tries to be. JGL is, of course, magnificent, and I realise that I say this all the time, but seriously- if he hadn't been so convincing, I wouldn't have cried half as much, and he does it in a way that isn't horrible and obvious- it's like, because his character is fairly shut off from his emotions anyway, when they finally do break through it's heartbreaking. Which is, of course down to the writing as well as the acting, but... JGL does it well. Of course. Anna Kendrick is also good, and I found her really convincing as the slightly doe-eyed therapist who JGL really needs.

And I don't really think there's much more I can say. I was left completely drained by this film, and I still don't know if that's in a good way or a bad way, but I just know that I think it's pretty good/completely traumatising. And yet I still want you to watch it? I do. I think catharsis is important, I think it would be a shame to miss JGL's performance just because it might be upsetting (it's supposed to be) and apparently it's a dramadey, so... you might get some more humour out of it than I did. But either way, you will probably weep, and you know what? Maybe that's ok.

*Note: I just read about how this film came about, and... now I feel bad for saying that I could do without him in it. Since the dude who wrote the film and actually had cancer was actually his friend.... Hmm.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sunday Sundries: The Best Ever Week of Post

Well happy Sunday folks! As is my usual battle cry, I'm illllll again, only this time I have no voice and I haven't had much sleep this weekend, so... just be glad you're only reading this from afar and not in the same room as me, where I am, in fact, intermittently moaning and also bitching. I actually feel so ill now that I almost want to go back and amend all the other times I've said I'm ill on here and just be like 'oh HELL no I wasn't' because EURGH OMG. And yet, still I am blogging, and yesterday I made a birthday cake of awesomeness that was all fine but still had me sitting on the stairs crying and eating doritos because I didn't feel well.

Don't ask me to explain that, because I don't know either.

Still, life has been happening, and please allow me to spotlight Friday, which saw the dual excitements of my cousin's little boy Jacob's third birthday (THIRD?! You probably know what this is like if you have kids/are around them ever, but oh my gosh I feel so old! And it's like it's gone SO quickly, but also I can't really remember a time when he wasn't around either? It's pretty weird and nice all at the same time) and my work Christmas dinner thing, at which I sat around coughing and croaking out words and drinking water and diet coke. Because I know how to have a good time. Anyway, so because of the work things, I only got to see Jacob for about an hour on his actual birthday, so today we're having a little family lunchy thing, hence the cake. I will be prostrate in a bean bag, but that's beside the point.

Oh, and I also got another haircut this week, and here's what that looks like, with some added pants in the background, for artiness:
I should probably add that it doesn't look anything like this now, because apart from the cake making I basically just laid down yesterday as an activity, but yeah! It looked nice on Thursday!

Anyway, shall we talk about my post? Before I actually do, I just want to add that ALSO, along with all this post, I found basically a brand new copy of The Sisters Brothers in a charity shop this week, so let this be full disclosure of the number of new books in my house. And more evidence of why my mum hates me.

Anyway. So last Saturday I got my secret santa book thingy (I didn't do the Broke and Bookish one, but I can't remember which one I actually did, so... I can't link you to that shit!) and it was exciting and lovely and I am happy:
AND LOOKIT THE BOOKMARK! Perfectness. Also I kept forgetting to thank the person who sent it to me, and now I've lost the bit of paper that says who it was, and basically I should probably be put down, but if you're reading this then THANK YOU and also I will find the paper and thank you properly! Probably. Hopefully.

Anyway. And then there was no post until Tuesday, and Tuesday. Was. Epic. You see, Penguin UK had this 50% of sale thing the previous Friday, and I got really really excited and sort of ordered like, ahem, 7 books, and on Tuesday THEY CAME!

Aren't they just so beautiful?! I actually would have gone crazier, but I couldn't remember which books I had asked for for Christmas, so... Yeah. Never mind. Also I've just realised that you can't really see what they are, so let me clear that up for you! From left to right: Oliver Twist, Shakespeare's Sonnets, Les Miserables, The Portrait of a Lady, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The House of Mirth, and What Maisie Knew. Which is more Henry James than I would have thought I needed, but it turns out that I do! So there. And THEN on that exact same day I also got a card exchange card thing, and ALSO the lovely Ellie sent me some books! That I wanted! Because she's awesome like that!
Lookit! Penguin English Library and everything! And I totally didn't expect it or anything so it was awesome! (I hope you've been keeping count, because that makes 9 books in one day. In about 5 minutes, actually. It was pretty awesome.)

And then the post quieted down until Friday when everything was AMAZING again:
LOOK AT ALL THE STUFF! Ok, so the magnificent Jenn was the kind benefactor of the TWIZZLERS (which are the absolute greatest. Just so you know.) and also the doggy card that's a little bit hidden, and then the books I bought from Bex who, by the way, is selling books for charity so you might want to get on that and she added the card with the little houses on, and then the other card is another blogger exchange one which, by the way, is the best christmas blogging thing in my humble opinion. OH and right at the back I also got a Lovefilm DVD on Friday (which, you know, I pay for, but still) which I'm way excited about because it's Manic which is a film that I think basically no one has seen, but which stars both JGL and Zooey Deschanel. So you know it has to be good.

Aaaaand, I'm done bragging about my post. But still, I know I say this all the time, but I've been doing this whole blogging thing for 2 years now and I didn't really expect to get anything out of it other than a writing outlet, and as well as that, I got friends, and, more importantly, stuff. (I kid, I kid! But, TWIZZLERS!) So that's pretty special and yay blogging and yay Christmas and YAY post!

I have a lot more energy in this post than I have in real life. I just want you to know that.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Devouring Books: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

"In spite of his recent momentary wish for contact, of whatever kind, with other people, no sooner was a word actually spoken to him than he experienced the old unpleasant feeling of exasperated dislike for any person who violated, or even seemed desirous of disturbing, his privacy."

I have this long-standing theory that you can tell whether you like John Lennon or Paul McCartney better as a songwriter by whether you prefer Nowhere Man or Fool on the Hill. They're sort of the same song, content-wise, but they sound totally different. In terms of Russian Literature, I'd imagine that you can read Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment which are completely different but both, you know, Russian, and figure out if you're a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky person. For your information, I'm a Lennon and Tolstoy girl, but this doesn't really mean I didn't like Crime and Punishment.

So all of that was kind of a bit pointless, then. Ahem.

I think I had all these ideas about Crime and Punishment before I read Crime and Punishment, as one is wont to do with Works of Great Literature, and I believe that about 90% of them were wrong. I didn't exactly expect that the vast majority of the book was going to happen solely in Raskolnikov's mind, in a narrative style that seemed way way way ahead of its time, and I didn't know how... Uncomfortable it would be being in there for long stretches of time. Seriously- the dude has a lot of issues, most of which could probably be solved with regular meals and a purpose to his life, and I feel like he sees himself both as nothing AND everything, which seems like a very perplexing state to be in.

And if this sounds bad, then I think I'm explaining it wrong, because it's sort of... different to anything I've read before, and it feels like a lot of authors have tried to imitate it but haven't really come close to anything like the sensation of being inside Raskolnikov's head. And it's not just that- there are moments where things are getting so intense and you're sort of freaking out inside your head and then something funny happens and it's so unexpected and jarring that you laugh out loud and it is genuinely funny. And then there were just moments where I completely and utterly agreed with this Russian dude who's been dead for 30 years, and I realised that I was reading one of those novels that really do relate to the human condition, not just at one specific point in time, but for all times.
"I know you don't believe this- but don't philosophise too subtly; plunge straight into life, without deliberation; don't be uneasy- it will carry you straight to shore and land you on your feet."
The thing is, even though I say I prefer Anna Karenina (although, really, they're not at all comparable and it's really unfair to do so just because they're both Russian) I feel like Crime and Punishment is a book that I might like more and more as the years go by. As I said, there's quite a lot of anticipation upon reading a classic that it seems like you've always known existed, and so that's in the back of your mind the first time you read it, and this post  has definitely made me think that yeah- when I go back to it, I really think I am going to get a lot more from it. Even more than I have already, which isn't nothing. And I think about Anna Karenina and wonder if I can really say the same about it, and I'm not so sure.

So basically what I'm saying is, ask me in about 20 years which out of the two I prefer, and maybe things will have changed.

I know you're all dying to read Crime and Punishment now, so here's a teeny little tip- since this is Russian literature we're talking about, each character has about 5 different names, so even though you think there are about 50 characters in this, really there are about 10. If that. Alarmingly, whilst there were SO many characters in Anna Karenina, I managed to keep them straight a lot more than the characters in Crime and Punishment, probably because Tolstoy wasn't a prick and didn't call basically his two main characters Raskolnikov and Razumikhin, which may not seem that similar but it totally is when you're reading at a certain pace and have to stop to figure out which one he's talking about. That prick.

But don't let that put you off, because really? I totally understand why this is a classic, I kind of firmly believe that everyone should read it, and it's done nothing to dampen my love of Russian literature. Nice work Dostoevsky. You prick.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Sex and the City Fatigue

Before I write about my Sex and the City fatigue, you have to understand what a big deal (no pun intended. Unlike EVERY line in that fucking second movie) it used to be for me. For every situation in life, I believed, there was a line or a situation from either Sex and the City or Friends that was appropriate, and I used to know the order of every episode, from every season. I liked it a lot, you could say, and you could also probably say it was my favourite and not be far from the truth. I've probably watched it the whole way through about six or seven times, and never tired of it.

So, when I got a part time job and found myself with the majority of my mornings free (both a blessing and a curse; blessing: no getting up early, curse: HOW DO YOU USE UP MORNING TIME EFFECTIVELY?) I thought hey, you know what'd be nice? Watching a couple of episodes of Sex and the City a day, either to wake me up, or to eat lunch in front of, whatever strikes my fancy. I do this now, as I think everyone does: I just go through boxsets instead of mixing up my viewing, and it just so happens that I was between TV series when I got all employed and stuff, hence, Sex and the City time.

But. I've had to stop. And it's not just because I signed up to Netflix again and, hello, they have Modern Family on there, and it's not just because the movies have changed how I feel about the TV series SO much (which they have), but it's because... You know when you're obsessed with something when you're young and then you go back to it and it's really disappointing and you're somehow disappointed with yourself for liking it? It's a bit like that, only I think it's just that I've changed SO much since even the last time I watched it the whole way through that maybe it's just not relevant to me anymore.

Or maybe it just sucks.

These women literally talk about nothing but men. It's something that Miranda (who is clearly the best character, at all times, ever. And right now she's the only one I can stand) brings up in one episode that I would have been able to tell you about once but now can't so much, and the fact that she only complains about it once shows some remarkable patience on her part, considering that it's all they ever talk about. I don't know why it didn't annoy me before, but apparently it does now. It really does.

Charlotte is incredibly irritating with her whole 'I just want to get married' shit, because hello girl? You've got this awesome job, you live in NEW YORK CITY and you are rich as fuck. Get some hobbies! Do things with your life instead of just waiting around for some guy to take care of you! I mean, I'm not saying that marriage is bad or that you know, people shouldn't want boyfriends, BUT I feel like one shouldn't just wait around for these things to happen, or worse try and FORCE them to (*ahem* Trey *ahem*) but just live their lives and then if they meet a nice dude they want to spend time with then GREAT but if not then their life will have still been worth it, you know?

Samantha's just kind of this ridiculous caricature, which is fine because it means it's difficult to get really annoyed with her, but on the other hand... Nice writing, people. I know this is something that does get better as the series progresses (and, in fact, I've always liked the later seasons better than the earlier ones, so I might just be being a little unfair here, but I can rant, yes? It's the internet, of course I can!) but it's definitely a major annoying factor in stopping me from watching more, because I just CAN'T.

And then there's Carrie. Oh Carrie, Carrie, Carrie. I used to think you were so cool, with your writing and your living exactly how you wanted, but it turns out? You're just a fucking idiot. I totally used to be on her side with the whole Big thing, but the more I age, the more I'm just like... TELL HIM HOW YOU FEEL AND NOT YOUR FRIENDS! And also STOP DOING THAT YOU ARE ACTING LIKE A CHILD! And WELL I WOULDN'T WANT TO FUCKING MARRY YOU EITHER! And I think it's a shame because her character is clearly created so that women can relate to her and feel good about the relationships they left that made them feel like shit, and that's all well and good, but... If their relationships were anything like Carrie's? And if they acted like her at all? Then they're fucking idiots too.

The main problem though, isn't that they're terrible characters, it's that their lives are empty and meaningless and shallow. And I realise this makes me sound like a dick, so allow me to elaborate. Not only do they only talk about men, they genuinely don't talk about anything that has any interest for me at all. I feel like I am a bit spoilt in that I can just spout things out about books and people respond to them, because the internet is the greatest thing ever, but it's like... There is one conversation about politics, ever, in SATC, and it's about the comparative hotness of various politicians. In spite of being a writer, Carrie basically never reads, unless the person she is dating happens to be a writer and then she's all over it. It's like their entire lives, all their actions have to have something to do with a man in some way, and it completely sucks to watch. Or at least it does to me, now.

Sex and the City, I don't know if it's you or if it's me, but I think we have to break up for a while. I'm sure you'll understand- you still have a tiny slot left in my heart, but I just don't think you're The One. I think I'm just going to go and watch Girls for a bit, because Lena Dunham? She really just gets me more, you know?