Thursday, 29 March 2012

Devouring Films: The Hunger Games

I slightly quibbled with myself over writing a review of The Hunger Games movie, mainly because everyone's doing it and, well, that's never my favourite thing. But then I figured that everyone's entering on my turf and I was reviewing films before it was even cool to review films and so there *sticks out tongue, receives slaps round the face*. But anyway. I do realise that everyone's reviewing it, so I'll try to keep what I thought about it brief. Maybe.

Let's see. Well, firstly I went to see the movie with my sister who had just finished re-reading the book, which was really annoying because any tiny little detail that wasn't right she kept going 'well, that didn't happen there', 'he's not Peeta', 'Effie's eyelashes are the wrong colour', shit like that. I had apparently forgotten all the book, which is why you shouldn't read things at about 4am during Dewey's Readathon, or if you do, you shouldn't expect to remember them. The details that bugged me the most were: that the Mockingjay pin lost almost all of its meaning, because Katniss got it for her sister and then her sister gave it back to her like 5 minutes later? What?! And also that the muttations were really just big dogs, because what happened to the most horrifying thing about them? I guess that was maybe a step too far for it to still be a 12A (or PG-13 or whatever it was in the US) but still, I didn't really find them as scary and twisted as they were in the book because of that.

But, aside from that, and the fact that the action in the arena happened maybe a little bit too fast for me (I get that it's an action film, and a pretty actiony book, but in the book there was definitely more breathing time in between events- but I guess that most of that breathing time happened in Katniss's head and that's much harder to show on film) I did really enjoy the film. I liked the fact that it was fairly bleak from the beginning, as it should be, and I was nearly crying so close to the beginning- during the reaping, in fact, just because I was like 'Katniss! You're kind of wonderful!' And I, of course, definitely cried when Rue died because UGH! Heartwrenching. What I think was best about the film though was the way that it really made it clear how The Hunger Games work from a TV perspective and behind the scenes, because you don't really get a clear impression of this just from being in Katniss's head. This way, it was almost more twisted because you could see how excited all the people of the Capitol were about these children who were about to die, and exactly how messed up the entire thing is. I mean, obviously you get that from the books too, but it's more about Katniss's will to survive rather than taking a wider look at the society within which it's set.

And, a quick note on the performances: Jennifer Lawrence was amazing as Katniss, Rue was completely adorable (don't even get me started on the racist reactions to her, I can't even..) Peeta was ok, and it didn't really matter how Gale was because he was hardly in it, as it should be! But he was ok too. I was utterly distracted whenever Seneca Crane was on the screen though, because I knew I knew him, and yet I couldn't place him, but a quick IMDb search when I came home revealed that he also played Ricky Fitz in American Beauty, to which I went DUH, as well as thinking that maybe people in your favourite movies maybe shouldn't be allowed to be in other things because it's too confusing (as in, I think he's only Ricky Fitz, he can't be anyone else!). I liked Effie a lot less in the film, not really because of her performance, but because she's part of the whole system that does this to children; but then again, so is everyone, so I can't really blame her. But I sort of did, and so I liked her a lot less.

So yeah. Overall, I was pretty impressed, and I think that, even though I bitch about people who haven't read the book before seeing the movie (most of the time) I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn't known what was going to happen. But I did, and it was still fine, so that's all good! The most enlightening moment of the evening was when I asked my (older) sister if she'd volunteer for me if The Hunger Games were a real thing. After hesitating for ages, she said that she wouldn't because she thought I'd have more chance of surviving than her, to which I say HA, and errr no. But still, I guess I'd be in them on my own then! I'm trading my sister in for Katniss any day now...

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Devouring Books: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I like Bill Bryson. I like Bill Bryson so much, that if he wrote a book about cultural variations of vomit, I'd probably read it AND, more disturbingly, enjoy it. I don't know how he writes so well, but oh boy does he write well- or at least in a style that appeals very strongly to me. Whatever he's writing about, he takes the subject seriously but not too seriously, and always manages to find and mildly mock the absurd. But, and I think I've said this before, his slight mocking is never cruel, because it's but far displaced by the amount of reverence, respect and even love that he has for whatever subject he's chosen to write about this time. Basically, he's just amazing, and if you haven't read anything he's written, then you probably want to get onto that, pronto.

Anyway. A Short History of Nearly Everything. I put this on my TBR Pile Challenge list because I figured, hey, it's Bill Bryson, I'll definitely be able to read it! And then about a page in, I realised it was going to be all about science and, well, I freaked out a little bit. Because science... well, I was fairly good at science at school (we had these prize giving assembly things and I won the science prize like 2 years in a row, to which I say NERD) but I was only sort of functionally good- I was never passionate about science like I was about books, and hence I probably put more effort into learning the stuff because it could be learnt, as opposed to English where I more or less just read and had opinions and things- and liked it a lot better. But, when I was 16, I had never read Bill Bryson explaining science before.

Because, oh my goodness. Does he explain things well! I think a lot of it has to do with not being a scientist himself, so that he is basically on the same level as his readers when it comes to science (or at least, I'm thinking, he was when he started writing his book) and so he goes into subjects with just the right amount of depth- deep enough so they remain interesting and you really feel like you're learning things, but not so deep that you feel lost in a sea of scientific terms and lingo. Honestly I'm impressed with the style over anything about this book (and I was impressed with A LOT of things about this book) and I really feel like anyone could read it and gain a deep enough overview of the history of the universe, and probably even a lifelong love and appreciation of science. I really feel like I can- in the days since I finished it, I've been a lot more interested in the science stories in the paper, and I've been like 'oh, that must be to do with the structure of the earth' or something like that. It's really weird, but it also makes me feel really good!

So let's talk about the content shall we? A Short History of Nearly Everything, is, literally, a short history of nearly everything, or, more specifically, a short history of science as a discipline, combined with the things that this scientific explanation has more or less probably found out for kind of sure. Because, as the book goes on, you come to see that there has been so much dispute over various things (the age of the earth, how long humans have been around, how the earth formed, how the universe began etc etc) that the information we have now is really just the best guess anyone can have about any of these things. Bryson also manages to succinctly and sometimes hilariously profile prominent and important scientists, in revealing what they have discovered, and while I enjoyed the human side of things, I definitely enjoyed the wonders of the universe more- thinking about how massive the universe really is, and on a smaller scale, how wonderous humans are, and how amazing it is that we're here at all.

Because it really is. And here's the thing- when I was younger, I used to overthink things a lot (actually I still do, but mostly I just tell myself to shut up, and that helps) but I used to lay awake at night thinking about how massive the universe is, and how tiny earth is in comparison, and if a massive asteroid hit the earth then everything would just be wiped out in an instant and no one would have really mattered because everything would just be gone and so no one can do anything that's really important, and if it was important it's only important on earth and that's just the tiniest thing in the universe and so on, ad infinitum. (Does it kind of go without saying that I was basically an atheist child? Because I think believing heaven was an actual thing would have been very comforting at these times!) And I never really found a solution to this problem and just generally kept on living because, you know, what else can you do, but this book kind of made me rethink things. Because, the fact that we're here at all is sort of a miracle, and being important or not isn't the point- we just have to take all of our trillions upon trillions of atoms and do with them what we will for as long as we've got them, and, you know, enjoy it!

A note on religion- A Short History of Nearly Everything massively seems like the kind of book that would be banned in some of those insane deep south high schools you hear about because it basically doesn't even mention any kind of creationism or anything like that as a theory- everything about it is purely scientific. I can't find any evidence that it ever has been banned though, to which I say 1) good! and 2) this is surely evidence that Bryson is universally loved?! I don't know though, maybe the fact that Bryson never says 'the atoms that make up everything were definitely not created by God' is enough to make sure that no one can really object to it. Either way, yay science!

So clearly A Short History of Nearly Everything is kind of a miracle in itself. I mean, it just made me say 'yay, science!' which is fairly unlike me! What I'm gearing up to here is that basically everyone ever should read this- I thought I had no further interest in science, but it turns out that I do, and I don't think it can hurt anyone to know where we came from (probably) or to think seriously about where we may be heading. There's even a tiny bit of the book where Bryson criticises the fact that 70% of antibiotics produced are used on factory farmed animals, which, considering my recent interest in such things, made me whoop a little bit! And if the sciency things aren't enough to make you read it, then how about the funnies? Observe:
"You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average sized adult, you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7x10[to the power of]18 joules of potential energy- enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point."
"The Romans also flavoured their wine with lead, which may be part of the reason they are not the force they used to be"
I literally only wrote down these two hilarities (there are lots more, but that first one really really made me laugh) because I was too engrossed in the wonders of the universe to stop reading- I barely even came up for air for the whole few days I was reading it. So yes. It's fairly amazing. Now go and read and learn and laugh and make that your life's mission forever.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Devouring Stephen King: Misery

Oh man. Misery is so so so good. I mean, it's so good, I can't even think of a better word to describe it, because I'm too busy thinking about how so so so good it really is! I had read it once before, and I know I liked it, but I don't think I necessarily appreciated it as much as I do now. It's just so... there's so much tension and drama, and so many things are explored that are really interesting, and intriguing, and I just think reveal a lot about King himself. And then, combined with all of that is, you know, torture and horror and disgustingness, in a relatively controlled but still sort of thrilling way. Basically, it's awesome (not torture. Torture is bad.)

So. The story is that there's this author, Paul Sheldon, and he's been in a fairly serious car accident where his legs have been crushed badly, and unfortunately for him, he was pulled from the wreckage by a woman with severe mental illness (bipolar and schizophrenia are both hinted at, but basically Annie's crazy) who also happened to be his 'number one fan'. All this has happened before the novel even begins though, and so we come in, if not in the middle, then at a point where it's become impossible for Paul to escape Annie- not only does he have the whole crushed leg issue, but he's also become addicted to the painkillers she's been feeding him, and dependent on her for everything, especially his own survival. Plus, he's just killed off her favourite character, ending the series she loves the most, and so she wants him to write her the comeback book, OR ELSE. We're left to pretty much imagine what 'what else' would mean, but let's just say that death is probably the best case scenario...

And it's just so GOOD! There's so much that King says about writing that seems to relate directly to him (the disparity between writing things that are popular vs things you actually want to write and think that are worthy), and all the references to drug addiction seem to really be about his own addictions- it's no coincidence that this book and The Drawing of the Three, which also had an addict as a main character, were written around the same time as each other. But the thing is, as well as going on this whole 'journey of self discovery', King manages to still write something that's a completely tense and taut story, that leaves you barely able to breathe. Part of this has to do with the fact that there are basically only two characters, and we're only given privileged access into one of them, so that, in between the horrors of Annie, it's easy enough to believe that these are the things that Paul would be thinking of- there's only so long you can think about the hopelessness of your situation before you go crazy, and this is something Paul wants to avoid completely.

An interesting thing I just learned from Wikipedia is that King actually intended for Misery to be released as a Bachman book, rather than under his own name. I found this SO interesting- firstly because I associate this story so strongly with Stephen King, and I feel like everyone who has seen the movie does too (not that I've actually seen the movie, but it's on my list) BUT also because it makes so much sense to me. What the Bachman books tend to do is remove the supernatural from the equation and just deal with horrors that could actually happen, which in turn makes them quite a lot scarier than, you know, monsters and vampires and things (not that I'm saying that I'm not scared by It anymore, but, you know, Annie could come and find me and kidnap me and do bad things and ARGH!) So, yeah, Misery is just like a Bachman book, only like a hundred times better than the ones I've read, and scarier, to boot. I do so love it when King deals with the horrors inside of people, and I can't actually think of an example better than Misery.

So, Misery. It's short, compact, tense, terrifying, gross, heart-pounding and you should probably definitely read it. There's basically nothing about it that I don't like, and you know me- I can always find things I don't like. Right now I'm regretting not having read it more, but at the same time I'm not sure I could have handled many re-readings of it, so that's probably a good thing! According to all sources, the movie adaptation is pretty special too, so I'm going to have to watch that/be too scared to watch it. We'll see. What I really want to happen though, is for all of you to read Misery! Unless, obviously, you've got Annie Wilkes tendencies, and then you should probably steer clear because it'll just give you ideas...

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sunday Sundries

This week, I: Read outside in front of this weeping willow... Watched my sister in these two dances (amongst others)... Had bare legs outside- in MARCH!... Saw the London Eye and took a really blurry, mostly reflected train photo of it... Made big plans for many dates with this tree when it gets a bit warmer- perfect reading location!

It really wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that this week was a million times better than last week. Like, really. The sun was shining, there were trips and dancing shows and lunches out PLUS, and this is the best bit, only one hospital visit! Yes! Next week is not looking like that, BUT we're talking about this week. And it was lovely.

So, let's see. I read outside twice for like full afternoons, and although it was perhaps a teeny bit chilly to do it, I couldn't resist anyway! I'm hoping for more of the same this week, although I'm having a bit of a reading crisis at the moment- I'm in love with 1Q84, but it's massive, and I have to walk a little way to get to a suitable reading spot and really don't want to carry it... But really, I can barely put it down! The tree that I want to read under that I've taken a picture of above (isn't it lovely! It's on this bit of grass next to Shepperton Studios, and if Johnny Depp happens to be there this summer, he's totally invited to come and read next to me) is nearer than where I normally read, so maybe I'll just suck it up and carry the heavy book with me. Of course, it'll probably rain all week now that I've said that, so I probably won't even have to think about it!

I had a really nice family lunch out on Thursday, and it felt like the olden days, in the school holidays when we used to go to garden centres and I used to complain- I'm concerned about the fact that I like them now, but we did go to a really nice one and I got some fudge that I'm still working my way through! I also had a little picnic on Friday with my auntie while we were waiting for my mum to have this scan- and obviously both lunches out involved cheese because everywhere lacks any imagination for vegetarian lunches, to which I say grrrr. Grrr indeed.

Friday night was a bit of a rarity for me- I left the house! And went to London! My friend knows this guy who's in a band (which probably sounds cooler than it actually is- she does know him from church) and they were playing in this little pub near Kings Cross, so that's where we went, and that was really fun! It was good to see my friend too- I haven't seen her for a while, and had to cancel on her when my mum was ill and I didn't want to leave her; and we had a really fun night! And it's always nice to be in London, which is why I'm going there tomorrow too to meet the lovely Frances! Which is extremely exciting because I haven't seen her since... October? And not at all this year, which is insane! So, yes, I'm very excited about this!

Saturday was also a bit of an event because I actually went out again! Oh man, the amount of leaving the house I did this week was insane! Anyway, I went to watch my sister dance in this dancing show, in which she was great, and the rest was... well, mixed. It's really weird because she goes to the same dancing classes that we and our cousins went to when we were younger, so it's weird to watch the dances and know exactly what each of the dancers are feeling, and also to know that I could do all the steps they were doing, only better (well, better than like the little ones who didn't know what they were doing, anyway!) I really do have to say that if you've never watched like 2-4/5 year olds dance before, you're really missing a treat- they really have no idea what they're doing, bless them, but they're so teeny and cute and had the entire audience in stitches because they were so hilarious! It's a very endearing thing to watch, I have to say.

And that was pretty much my week! I didn't do much cooking because I feel like I should let my mum do some stuff before she starts her chemo (which is also next week, on Friday) so that, when she doesn't feel so hot, she feels like she can let me do stuff because I've had a little break. I mean, that's probably not what she's even been thinking, but she's been getting to the kitchen before me in the evenings and then makes me go away when I try to help because 'there isn't enough room for two people in the kitchen' (actually, that's true) so, what can I do?! I think that this week I am going to make her these peanut butter cookies I was going to make her for mother's day but then ran out of time for, because apparently chemo can make some foods taste gross and stuff so I want her to have them while she can still enjoy them. Because I'm nice like that.

Reading wise, I'll be powering through 1Q84 and will have Bill Bryson's Notes on a Small Island as my portable book for train journeys and the like. In other book news, did you know that sign ups for Dewey's Readathon are up?! Very exciting stuff, and there's less than a month to go! I'm not sure if I'm going to read for the whole 24 hours this time, but I might start earlier than I did before (waiting around til 1pm was a pain in the bum) and just read until I fall asleep. I'll see. Either way, I'm very very excited, and I want to make a stack of books RIGHT NOW but I'm restraining myself. *pats self on head and gives self a sticker*. So yes. Good. I hope y'all had fine fine weeks too, and you have another great one this week. Just think, we're inching closer and closer to my birthday, which I know has some kind of international holiday status now. I think...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Devouring Books: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I'm going to be totally honest here (as I obviously always am!) and tell you that I was fully expecting not to like Freedom. I thought it would be completely pretentious and like over written (you know- too many words to express something really simple) and, having been exposed to all of Franzen's tiny meltdowns over the last few months, I just thought it wasn't going to be very good. Combined with the gross, gushing praise on the front and back and inside covers of the book (oh my!) I was expecting... well, I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but something really different to what I got.

Because I really really really liked Freedom. I mean, I'm not sure if it's as 'important' and 'life changing' and 'earth shattering' as some reviewers seem to claim it is, but it is one hell of a good read! It's something that's pretty rare- a page turner that you don't really feel guilty about reading because it kind of feels like you might be learning things about yourself as you read, and if not then it definitely feels like you're learning things about other people. The characters could be anybody, and in case you're prone to forgetting, they reinforce that everybody has their story, everybody has their issues, and that we have to navigate these issues so that we can live in the best way we can, and with others in a way that is mutually beneficial.

And then there's all the stuff about freedom. And really this book is very well named, because if it wasn't called Freedom, every time they'd mentioned it (which is quite a lot) I would have just been like 'oh that's cool' and moved on, but because it was, I was like 'aahh, that's probably something I'm meant to think about' and so I did. I mean it could have been called many things, there's loads to do with family and harbouring hopes that become meaningless, and the title could have been about any of those things, but instead it's Freedom (obviously, you all saw the title of this post, right?) and so when freedom comes up as a subject, naturally one pays attention. And so, there are lots of thoughts about freedom- wanting to be free from a marriage so that one can pursue their newfound desires, wanting to be free from one's parents so that you can do whatever you feel like, and how freedom sometimes fails us- that in being free to do anything, we end up doing nothing, or worse, things that are harmful. Basically, it gives you a lot to think about!

I do have one complaint about the book, which is that there are areas in which it lacks a bit of subtlety. Specifically, there's this guy, Walter, and he's all about protecting these birds (giving them the freedom to follow their natural patterns) and also about population control, in that he essentially thinks people shouldn't have any/many children, even though he has two himself and so is slightly hypocritical (I don't know why I'm being mean about Walter because actually I liked him- the thing is, I liked him more when other characters were describing him than when I was actually observing him, which might mean something but then again might not). But anyway, Walter has all these views, that I can't help but think of as Franzen's own views, just because of their inelegant insertion into the text. I mean, Franzen may well think there are too many people on the planet (I do too, as it happens, but that's not the point) but he doesn't really tell this in an elegant way within the story, but slightly makes a manifesto of it. So, I didn't necessarily disagree with what he was saying, but just with the way he was saying it.

But. That was a pretty small thing in a novel that really impressed me, and more importantly gripped me, and pretty much didn't let me go once I got past the first little section (which I didn't like that much). It's honest, sometimes funny, and accurate, and manages to talk about life without being pretentious, either in style or in subject matter. I still don't know if it's an important book, but more importantly than that, I liked it, I immersed myself in it, and I didn't want to leave when it was done. If that's not the mark of a good book, then I don't know what is.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Devouring Films: Food, Inc.

I watched Food Inc as part of a continuing effort to just disgust myself out of eating meat, but also to make full use of my Netflix subscription now that I haven't cancelled it so am still paying for it because I'm lazy. Having said that, I think Twin Peaks is pretty much worth Netflix for however long I have it so... yeah, mainly just the first thing! Anyway, it didn't so much turn out to be an anti-meat film so much as an anti- all the foods we eat film which just piled masses of unwanted guilt on top of me, just when I was feeling good about not eating animals! Damn...

The most eye-opening thing I learnt from this film was that human beings are biologically predisposed to crave sugar, salt and fat; because these are foods that aren't really available in nature. So, obviously in the olden days, finding a bit of sugar or fat or anything in the wild was a real real treat and people were all over it, but then when it was gone, they went back to their berries and occasional animals and stuff. Only now, we have foods with sugar and salt and fat in them, and they're readily available all the time, and yeah, they taste great and eating them is really nice, but also they're kind of killing us. And I heard this, and I essentially went 'Oh FUCK!' and swore off all processed foods forever (not really. But still, very very bad!)

So yeah, there was that. And there was some documented chicken torture that was mildly alarming, but the most alarming part of that whole thing was that the farmer to whom the chickens belonged had become allergic to ALL antibiotics, because of her close proximity to all of the antibiotics given to the chicken. And here's the thing with that- if chickens are being pumped full of all the antibiotics there are, because the way they live is so disgusting that they'd just be fully diseased ridden if they didn't have them; then that means that antibiotics become less effective as viruses and whatnot mutate to defeat them. You know what that means? We will all be very ill, and probably die. This isn't the first time I've said this recently, but chicken is disgusting. Seriously.

Anyway, as I said, Food Inc's main aim isn't to stop people eating meat, but I think to just give us more information about what's on our plates, and, more importantly, what happened to it before it got there. So, we have information ranging from the heartbreaking (a mother whose child died from E-Coli poisoning from a burger) to the ethically horrible and also heartbreaking (the man who is being bankrupted by Monsanto for daring to suggest that farmers shouldn't, or don't have to use Monsanto's genetically modified soy beans) and essentially, you don't walk away from the film feeling good about anything you eat unless you basically grow everything you eat yourself. And if you do, I'm pretty sure I want to know you, because that is awesome! Having said that, I don't think this is a reason for anyone not to watch Food Inc- I think it's important to have all the facts about exactly what you're putting in your body, so you can make an informed decision about whether to keep putting it in there or not (double entendre totally intended. *snigger* But seriously.)

So, anyway, Food Inc is pretty much the perfect documentary to shock me, at least, into questioning my eating habits, because of my massive mistrust of giant corporations in general, and especially when it comes to what we eat. There's no incentive for them to treat their consumers well, and so they don't, unless not doing so is going to lose them money. Their bottom line is always their profits, and so what is best for the general population (let alone animals) doesn't even come into it. I think it's worth watching so that people can make informed choices at the supermarket, and really think about what they're eating.

This is probably my last food preaching for a while. Be thankful for that, until I can find something else to read or watch and then preach about! And just be thankful you don't live with me- There was a thing on the news the other day about the price of eggs rising because it costs more to treat the hens slightly better, and I was like 'GOOD! THEY SHOULD BE MORE EXPENSIVE' and my mum looked a bit scared. Ahem.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday! I am back in your comforting and warm bosom. It's pretty nice. Anyway... Hosted as ever by the Broke and the Bookish, I'm going to take the opportunity to tell you all what books I'm possibly reading this spring (but more than likely not reading because I've said I will, and oh it's very complicated in my head.) Anyway! Here are, maybe,

Top Ten Books on my TBR for Spring

1. Watership Down by Richard Adams- So, here's how I feel about Watership Down- bunnies=spring appropriate, right? I realise that there may well be some bunny death, which feels less spring appropriate, but still. BUNNIES!

2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami- Just because, I have it out of the library, and I hate returning library books unread, therefore I should probably read this. Plus, Murakami rocks.

3. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins- I can't even tell you how excited I am for another of Alice's readalongs. But it's a lot. This is literally the only book on the list that's guaranteed to be read this spring.

4. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson- I've already started this one, so there's a fairly good chance I'll finish it in spring. Yay?

5. This is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl by Paul Brannigan- I got this for Christmas and it's not so long until my birthday. I'm thinking I should maybe read it. Maybe.

6. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan- I keep looking at this and thinking that I'll read it next. And I never do. So now my thinking is, if I put it on this list, I'll read it soon! Could work, right?

7. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell- For some reason, clouds made me think spring, and I thought I should maybe read this. I don't know. But I hear it's good, and it is a challenge book, so maybe I'll read it. In one of the seasons this year, anyway.

8. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray- I have no idea why this book says it should be read in spring to me. But it does, and maybe it shall be. This is about the 80th time I've said maybe in this post...

9. The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue- Another library book. Plus I do bloody love Emma Donoghue, so I probably will actually read this one, with great pleasure.

10. The Hours by Michael Cunningham- This is one of my favourite books, and I feel that I should read it as a little birthday treat for myself. I'm not sure why I think of re-reads as being treats since 1) I do it all the time, and 2) I'm doing it right now, but hey. I want to read The Hours, and so I will, dammit!

So, yeah. These are the ten books that I'm maybe going to read this spring. Maybe. Until I get a whole load of new ones for my birthday and then just read them and ignore all other books. Definitely going to happen.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Devouring Stephen King: The Dark Tower II The Drawing of the Three

I'm having a difficult time figuring out how to review The Drawing of the Three, because how I feel about it is inextricably linked to how I feel about the entire Dark Tower series, and I haven't reviewed (most of) those yet. Just to give you an overview, I freaking LOVE The Dark Tower series, I think Roland is awesome, and I've been coming to realise more and more that what I love most about the series is the intermingling of worlds, and the convergence of characters from different worlds and times, who don't understand each other at all, and yet still make the best of things and try to live harmoniously together. It's because this is what I most like about them that The Gunslinger, and book 4, Wizard and Glass, are my least favourites of the series, because they're so completely fantasy based that I get a little bored.

The Drawing of the Three, on the other hand, is one of my favourite books in the series, and considering the series, that's saying a lot. There's basically nothing I don't like about it- King manages to create tension that lasts throughout, it's continually twisting and turning, and even though I'd read it before, I wasn't even sure what was going to happen! And that's not because I wasn't paying attention the first time, but just because there's so much happening at all times that you can't be sure where things will end up, and it's so early on in the series that you can't be sure who's important and who's expendable as a character. And even though I knew (knew!) the exact lifespan of each and every character in this book, I still found myself feeling a little bit terrified for Roland, and then Eddie, and, well, you catch my drift.

I feel like there's a limit to how much I can say, mostly because I don't want to ruin the story/entire series for you, but also because I shouldn't be allowed to gush! It's not healthy, nor, I'm sure, very interesting! So I'll just get it out of the way now that you should obviously, obviously read this series. I mean, it goes without saying, right? Roland is so incredibly strong and yet vulnerable, Eddie is my absolute favourite (more on him in a bit), and, well, Susannah? In this book, at least, she's very... interesting, but later on I know I love her too! And then there are all the other characters who I know that I haven't even met yet this time around, and really, I'm kind of impatient for them to appear! Damn, I love these books!

Anyway, so Eddie. I love him. Even though actually, in this book, he has the least to do with the ultimate story (after he's been 'drawn', the story draws really tightly together, and is really smart and intricate and has you going 'oooh!' at all the coincidence type-things) but at the same time, Roland, and by extension  the reader, spends the most time in Eddie's head and so I think we start feeling like we know him the best, and I definitely feel like I love him the best. And really, there's a lot about Eddie that isn't so loveable- he's a heroin addict with a nasty brother, and when we first meet him, he's smuggling 2 pounds of cocaine on a flight to New York. Nice. But, the more we learn about him, the more we're able to see how he operates, and most importantly, how much more open his heart is than Roland's. He's like the anti-Roland, which is such a good thing for the series because hey, sometimes you need a little less monomania. My favourite thing about Eddie is the way that, even though he's a heroin addict, the thing he most needs is to look after other people- he's not happy unless he can take care of someone, and he's presented with ample opportunities to do so, especially in this book. I just think it's really masterful, and also wonderful, how King can take a character who, at first doesn't seem to be massively likeable, but once his insides are explored, he becomes someone we (or at least I) can really love.

So, I've essentially revealed nothing about the story, other than that there's a guy called Eddie who I love. And that's probably ok- I feel like this is one of those things that you need to know nothing about before going into it, so that once you're reading it you can be constantly surprised and amazed and sometimes even heartbroken and you haven't really been expecting it. At least, that's how I read these books the first time around, and oh, how I loved them! I'll just say this: The Drawing of the Three is masterful in plot and character development, and it's an amazing second part of an amazing series. Sound good enough for you?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Sunday Sundries

I didn't have enough instagram pictures to do a little montage this week, so instead here's a young Johnny Depp! This has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but it sure puts a cherry on my Sunday...

So, this hasn't been my favourite week ever. Which means that this post is probably going to be pretty short! (Cue cheers and applause from the masses) In spite of involving way less hospital time than last week, (my dad came out on Wednesday, and proceeded to be really really whiny) I just haven't had a massively happy week. Most of it is down to feeling massively unappreciated, a bit is down to neither of my parents being able to hear because they WON'T GO AND GET THEIR HEARING TESTED AND GET FREAKING HEARING AIDS, and goddammit, I really hate repeating myself; and a bit is probably just the fact that it isn't spring yet, and oh LORD has it been dull here! All of this has basically equalled a lot of self-pity and whinging all round (and by all round I mean, in my brain) and so, really, I can't wait for this week to be over.

Lets see... things that are good that happened this week. Well, I finally found out who killed Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks! Yesterday afternoon, I literally just went to bed (I've got a cold and a cough at the moment, so I think that's ok...) knitted my mum a hat because today's Mother's day in the UK, and watched Twin Peaks for about 4 hours. I really didn't mean to do it though! It was just getting more and more intriguing, and then I, as the audience found out who the killer was, but I had to wait for Agent Cooper to figure it out, and, well, it was somehow evening and I hadn't moved for hours! It was pretty amazing. It was also pretty scary, and made me a little bit scared walking up the stairs in the dark, and also I had a moment where I was in the kitchen making the dinner and facing away from the door, and my mum came in behind me and, well, I screamed a little bit when she spoke. I realise this isn't that remarkable a story, but I'm normally relatively calm and unflappable so, yeah, I was a little flapped!

What else happened this week that was good? Well, I went shopping and bought some of my own birthday presents (joys of being older and having ill parents- having said that, at least I won't have things I don't want!), mainly from Lush- I am a complete Lush-aholic, and if you've never tried anything of theirs, please allow me to recommend The Comforter Bubble Bar, which smells like blackcurrant and just makes the most delicious baths EVER. So yeah, definitely got one of those... And a few (a lot) of other things too!

So, yeah, a few bright spots in a week that was mainly miserable. Not so shabby, I guess. My aims for the coming week are to be not so miserable, and to do many enjoyable things! I've heard whispers of a lunch outing, and my sister's dancing and things on Saturday and I'm going to see that, which should be fun/ possibly funny if anyone falls over or something! This is fairly cruel of me, I realise. I've also got a few things to sew that I'm going to get right onto (HA) and I'll probably finish watching Twin Peaks because, hey, that's my favourite thing to do at the moment! Reading-wise, I've finally got it down to just one book (Little Women) although since that's a Penguin Clothbound copy and I clearly can't take it anywhere OR in the bath, I'm going to have to start another one too. I'm thinking a Bill Bryson right now, but I'll let you know. Or I won't. Whatever.

I hope you all had much nicer weeks than me, and enjoy the beginning of Spring! (That's Tuesday, in case you didn't know). And because it's definitely not obnoxious to go on about ones own birthday all the time, there are a mere three weeks and a day until mine! Oh lord, the excitement; which is mainly tempered by the pile of presents that are still on the table downstairs because my mum can't be bothered to out away somewhere, and which I ordered myself anyway... DAMN this getting older thing (again).

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Devouring Books: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

So, we're all aware that today is the Ides of March, yes? Obviously I couldn't just let this day go past (again... I definitely did last year, but only because I thought it was the Ides of May, and the less said about that the better, really) without reading, and now reviewing Julius Caesar (Caesar being the hardest ever word to spell, by the way). Obviously Julius Caesar is great because it's Shakespeare, and is not The Taming of the Shrew, but I was feeling fairly subdued about it until I read the introduction to it (I have the RSC complete Shakespeare, and the introductions are just the right length, and give you the perfect amount of context so as not to overshadow the play or bore you) and then I felt all righteous and smart, which is always a good feeling!

So here's how it went down. I read the play, and liked it and all, and I was fairly sure I understood most of it, but I wasn't sure how I felt about all the stuff that happened. Like... there wasn't really enough Caesar-ness to feel really sad about his death, and so I wasn't sure if I was meant to be on the side of Brutus et al, but I felt bad about being on their side because they were all betraying and... stabby. So after the whole dramatic ending (which I won't tell you about, except to say that this is a Shakespearean tragedy, so what do you think the end is like?!) I was like 'woah', but also like 'but was that good or bad?' So, in all my unsureness, I read the introduction, and it said this:
"Julius Caesar doesn't give us any easy answers about the relationship of public duty to private will. Shakespeare was content to dramatise the problem and leave the rest to the audience."
And so, upon knowing that I wasn't supposed to draw any conclusions from the play itself, I decided that I thought Caesar was a fairly good guy after all, and I was basically on his side. Yay for personal decision making!

So, now you know about my personal dilemma, shall I actually talk about the play properly? Yeah, how about that! So basically, Caesar's just been all amazing and won battles and things, and the people of Rome are fairly sure they want him to be like the Roman equivalent of a King, which Cassius and some friends think will be a big problem and will be the end of Rome as they know it. Or do they..? Because the other side of this is that, actually, Cassius is just wildly ambitious, and wants to be in a position of greater power than the one he's currently in, and that means getting rid of poor old Caesar. The most betraying betrayal of all though is that of Brutus, one of Caesar's most trusted friends and advisors, and it's his role that is under the most doubt. Because, like, he thinks long and hard about the right thing to do, and decides that the right thing to do is to kill Caesar ('et tu, Brutus?' HEARTBREAKING) and everyone's like 'oh, well he thought it over and wanted to do what was best for Rome', and I'm like, yeah, but did he? Because the way I see it is, the person who has the most to gain from Rome's leadership being up for grabs is Brutus, since the second Caesar's dead, everyone's all like 'Brutus! What do we do now?!' So, yeah, noble Brutus? Not really.

The only part of Julius Caesar I'd read before this reading is (predictably) Mark Antony's 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen' speech, which I really do think is sublime. It's just so... bitter and kind of sarcastic, and at the same time so persuasive! So, when the nasty men were plotting and Cassius was all like 'maybe we should kill Antony too', and Brutus said 'nah, he's just Caesar's arm, and the arm can't operate without the head' or something good like that, I was just rolling my eyes and thinking, 'well, clearly they've never heard him be a public speaker before!' Because that guy's good! He manages to rile the Romans up into a frenzy, so that they don't even care who they're killing! Sample:
"Cinna: Truly, my name is Cinna
Plebian: Tear him to pieces, he's a conspirator.
Cinna: I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet!
Plebian: Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses!"
It just made me laugh! The mob madness that just wants to see blood, no matter whose it is. Actually, now that I've put it like that, it doesn't sound so funny...

So. I should probably leave things here because I'm definitely going to bore you with Shakespeare worship. And yet I haven't even mentioned the possible romantic relationship between Brutus and Cassius... (The evidence: Brutus is definitely more upset SPOILER about Cassius' death than his own wife's END SPOILER and there's definitely some old married couple-ish bickering between them- I'm tempted to ascribe a Brokeback Mountain style love-that-can-never-be on them, but didn't the Romans just all have sex with each other anyway? Or was that just the Greeks?) But anyway. Julius Caesar is pretty great, and please, Beware the Ides of March! As in, you know, watch out for any daggers coming towards you, held by people that you previously trusted and stuff...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Devouring Films: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

I feel relatively indifferent about this movie, I think mainly because I'm jealous that I didn't get to gallivant around New York City on a Friday night and have the opportunity to fall in love with Michael Cera. But also because, there were things I liked about it, and things I didn't. Let's look at those, shall we?

Stuff I Liked:

  • Kat Dennings and her amazing boobs: I like many things about Kat Dennings other than her boobs (desperately trying to defend my objectifying of women) but they do provide a sort of plot point in the movie. So it's valid to mention them, and the fact that they're amazing.
  • Michael Cera being that guy: Cause we all know he plays the same guy in every movie, and yet it doesn't matter because we all love him, right? Whatever, he's adorable.
  • Norah is awesome: Quite aside from being played by Kat Dennings and so automatically being awesome; I really like Norah because she's comfortable with being who she is, and also kind of proud of it- she's decided not to drink, and really owns that decision, when she could really just as easily be bullied into drinking at any time. Is that a good teenage role model I see?!
  • The randomness: I didn't like all of the randomness, but I liked the running around Manhattan in a crazy rush and the idea of a night where literally anything could happen. Basically, random=fun!
Stuff I Didn't Like:
  • The drunk friend: Norah has this completely annoying friend who gets disgustingly drunk, and then just spends the rest of the movie stumbling around, being all annoying and drunk. I don't find drunk people very funny, unless they're people I'm already know and so it's hilarious seeing them being all different. She wasn't only annoying for being drunk though, she was also the worst possible friend, and it made me wonder why Norah had kept wanting to be her friend for so long. It just bugged me.
  • The horrid ex-girlfriend: A lot of the story, for Nick, involved getting over his ex-girlfriend, so she's an important fixture in the film. The only thing is, you have to wonder what Nick ever saw in her- she's petty, irritating, and, you know, essentially a giant bitch. But then, this is what Nick comes to realise, so I guess it's pretty important that she is. I just didn't like her (as I was supposed not to. Hmm...)
  • The mayhem: There are a lot of random occurances, so it sometimes just all seems a bit much. And, you know unlikely. In other words, I really can't decide whether I like the randomness or not. 
Now that I've been properly thinking about it, I think I like this film more than I dislike it. So that's good! I think, in the end, Norah's awesomeness really cancels out all of the things I didn't like so much about the film, and wanting her to be happy in the end made all of the insanity worth it. I didn't realise this was also a book until Alice was talking about it (ages ago, it took me a looong time to be bothered to write this review) so I kind of want to read it and see how it compares. AND I now want to find my musical soulmate because, well, that would be completely awesome...

Monday, 12 March 2012

Devouring Stephen King: The Eyes of the Dragon

Ah. This book. It would be slightly dramatic to say that the best thing about this book is that it's over and I never have to read it again, but that's not far off how I feel about it either. It's not terrible, but it's far from what I have come to expect from King, so it was probably more disappointing for me to read than it would be for a only a vaguely interested reader. It would be easy to say that I didn't like it because it's pretty much a fantasy book rather than horror, but then, some of my favourites of his books are The Dark Tower series, which is predominantly fantasy. So it wasn't just that.

I had two main problems with the book, and one of them had a massive effect on the other. The narrative voice is mostly detached from the story, offering the narrator's own thoughts and shielding some of the thoughts of the characters from the reader. This in itself isn't really a bad thing, although I definitely prefer books not having a narrator who isn't also a character in the story, except when that voice is, say, Jane Austen's because hey, she's awesome! The main problem with the way it's written, though, is that, as well as having this narrator, everything that happens is looked at from the angle of what seems like every character. I don't necessarily mind this either, but when a story is literally (slight spoiler, but don't even bother reading this book, please) 'Boy is born. Boy is accused of killing his father. Boy is locked up. Boy escapes. Boy's brother kills evil magician who has masterminded it all. Boy takes up crown, brother goes on a quest,' I honestly don't appreciate it being 470 pages long. I genuinely think it could have been about 100 pages long, and it would have been fine.

So, yeah. The story's not too bad in itself, and if it was shorter, I would have appreciated it much more. Having said that, I didn't really have a problem ploughing through it, because, come in, it's still Stephen King's writing, even if the narrator is detached from the story. The thing about this book is, it could have been so much more... interesting. The evil villain of the piece is Randall Flagg, who I know we all remember from The Stand, and he also makes a later appearance in The Dark Tower series. I find this so intriguing, and there are lots of things I want to know about this- is this set before or after The Stand, how does Flagg have the ability to go between worlds, is he some kind of ultimate evil, can he ever be killed? Nothing even close to this is covered, and so the villain might as well be basically anyone else. Yeah, it's pretty annoying.

The thing I like best about The Eyes of the Dragon is the knowledge that he essentially wrote it for his daughter who wasn't a fan of horror stories. Which just makes me all mushy and awwwww-ish, and makes me like the book in spite of not really liking it! (Thanks to Matthew for pointing me in the direction of the link) So, by all means read this if you're not a fan of horror stories either, but I doubt it's one that I'll be revisiting.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sunday Sundries

 This Week I:

Took many many pictures of blossom... Caught up with some old magazines (the Rob Lowe Vanity Fair is from May 2011)... Went to this hospital many, MANY times... Passed notes in the hospital waiting room with my mum and auntie like we were all school girls.

So, yes. Not the most exciting of weeks, but I haven't had too many of those lately anyway! Let's see, I'll get the medical stuff out of the way first, shall I? Dad went into hospital on Tuesday to have his procedure done, it didn't go spectacularly and he got an infection but he does seem to be on the mend now, and hopefully he'll be home early this week (no one's said he will be, but I've decided it will be so in my brain). So, I've been to the hospital every day this week apart from Monday (I miss Monday!) and on Friday I got to go twice! To different hospitals! The excitement was palpable, I have to say. So, my mum had a consultation with a consultant, wherein she got her chemo start date (30th March) and we were told there were 'grey areas' on her CT scan, which sound kind of worrying, but which also we don't know enough about to go jumping to any conclusions. The doctor we saw was really nice and reassuring anyway, so it wasn't too horrible an appointment. 

In other news, I've been inordinately excited by all the blossom that's been happening, especially because last week I was worried that all the horrible rain and wind had blown it away! I went on two fairly long walks yesterday and today, and on both of them I took waaay too many pictures of blossom. What can I say- I really really like spring! Probably mainly because hey, my birthday's soon (4 weeks tomorrow, oh LORD the excitement) but also because it's warm but not too warm, and oh! The pretty plants and the baby animals! So obviously, needless to say, I've mostly just been sitting inside, reading old magazines (I'm up to October in last years New Yorkers, and let's just ignore the super old Vanity Fair and pretend I didn't buy this month's even though I HAVE NO MONEY and STILL HAVEN'T READ THE ONE FROM MAY) and watching Twin Peaks, which is the BEST/most eighties thing ever, and will probably be the subject of about 20 blog posts when I'm finally done with it. So anyway, yeah- definitely making the most of the season...

So, blah blah blah, boring life, did some shopping, saw my nan a few times, saw my mum all the time, neglected my household duties so that tomorrow I need to do washing and hoovering, and I need to change my bed and make a costume for my sister's dancing shows, which start on Saturday... All the exciting things, all the time, basically! The really exciting stuff was all on here though- I posted like three book reviews and a movie review this week! And joined the Classics Club, because it is AWESOME and I have many many classics on my shelves that I haven't read yet. But anyway, much blogging was done, and it made me happy. On Thursday afternoon/evening, I actually sat down and wrote like 5 posts one after the other, which was like the most productive I've ever been, and means that I've already got a book and movie review to post this week, which is so exciting for all of you, I'm sure! (Don't lie, you know it is.)

Other than that, the week's looking like this: more hospital visits until they release papa, a shopping trip to procure mothers day presents and my birthday presents from Lush (SO exciting...), and I've got three eggs that go out of date on Thursday, so I'm thinking that something must be baked. As for reading: I really really really want to read Julius Caesar before Thursday so I can post a review on Thursday (look it up if you don't know why) and I'm also reading three books for which I have very specific reasons- A Stephen King for hospital visits because it's hard to focus on other things, Little Women for most of the rest of the time, and then Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which is basically just my bath book at the moment- I can't read Little Women in the bath because it's a Penguin Clothbound so I don't want to get it even the teeniest bit wet! I realise this is way too many books, so I'm thinking I might have a little Stephen King rest after dad comes home and then I'll only be reading two books at once! Yay?

So, that was the week. I hope you had a more interesting one than me! Any exciting things to tell the girl with the boring life?

Friday, 9 March 2012

Not So Much Devouring Books: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

So, I didn't finish this book. This might not sound like a big deal to you, but to me that's MASSIVE. I think the last time I didn't finish a book, it was Tristram Shandy, and I had a very good reason for that: it's the most terrible thing I've ever read in my life, and I wanted to cry on every new page because there were just all these WORDS that were horrible and I was like 'mleurrrgh!' But anyway, the point is that, even though it was AWFUL, I felt really guilty about not having finished it, and more importantly, I felt like it had beaten me. Even though I wanted to beat it. Preferable with something sharp and tear-y.

So, I think the fact that I was able to just put this book aside, without guilt or shame, was a fairly big achievement. That it wasn't a book that I had to read helped (Tristram Shandy was a book I was meant to read for Uni) but I feel like I'm growing, and being able to make the decision not to waste my time on a book that I can barely be bothered to force myself to read. Having said that, I don't just want to give books up for no good reason, and for not reading The Finkler Question I did have (what I thought) were very good reasons!

So, my expectations for this book were raised to impossibly high levels just by glancing at the front and back covers. For starters, it won the Booker prize, which I hear is a pretty big deal (plus I know that Salman Rushdie won it at least twice, and hey, I love him, so I trusted the judgement of whoever judges such things) and, well, someone from The Guardian said this: "Like Shakespeare, only more so." At which I raised an eyebrow and said nothing, but to which I now, having read a whole, ooh, 90 pages, say PAHAHAHA, are you kidding me?! What does that even mean?! That this is the novel Shakespeare would have written if he had written novels? Firstly, er no; and secondly, don't book reviewers get silly when confronted with Booker prize winners!

They do. And here's the thing with this book. I know it's a comic novel, and so you can't take the characters too seriously and blah blah blah, but does that mean that you're meant to actively hate the characters? Because I really did- or at least I hated Julian, the main and possibly most annoying character you've ever met. And I realise that he's meant to be annoying- he's all sentimental and ridiculous about everything, but what this essentially added up to, for me, was that he's basically a giant sexist. Because Julian gets mugged by *GASP* a woman, and rather than just being upset, or annoyed, that he has been mugged, he's more upset that he's been mugged by a woman- NOT because he feels emasculated (that would be sort of understandableish, albeit still annoying) but that a woman could do such a thing. That kind of assumption, that all women have to be of one type and it's unthinkable that they could do anything else really really bugs me (although I'm not condoning mugging. Obviously.)

So anyway. There's also the fact that there are no female characters (and I'm not exaggerating here) in the 90 pages I read, other than the mugger, and memories of Julian's two friends' wives, who are both dead. I didn't see this changing anytime soon, and while I'm not incapable of reading a book with no female characters (or no interesting ones, anyway) this didn't help when combined with the other problems I had with the book. And here's another one: I feel like maybe if I was a recently widowed 50 year old man, I'd feel inspired to read on and, you know, learn the lessons that this book wanted to teach me (and hey, maybe even find those 'laughs' that it also promises) BUT really great literature should appeal universally, and not just to a niche group of readers. I just really couldn't connect with any of the characters, and sure, that's because basically everything about them was different to me, but surely Jacobson should have created the connection to them, because, you know, that's what great writers are supposed to do. I couldn't laugh at them, nor could I connect to them, and as a result I was utterly bored by them.

I can't really say anything else about it because the one disadvantage of not finishing books is that you just don't know- if they get better, what develops, if an awesome female character comes along and slaps some sense into them... So, yeah, there's that, but honestly, I'd rather spend my time reading something else, that I'm actually going to enjoy. And that, my friends, is what's known as growing. My only dilemma now is whether or not to count it in my Off the Shelf challenge because it was, you know, off the shelf, and now is permanently. Thoughts? And hey, have you read this book and want to defend it/tell me it gets way better? Please feel free to, you know where!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Classics Club

So, Jillian from A Room of One's Own has been a bit fabulous and smart and come up with The Classics Club, a long term challenge wherein we choose at least 50 classics that we want to read over the next 5 years, and then, you know, we do it! I've actually managed to come up with 100, almost all of which I own and haven't read (although there are quite a few re-reads too) which is sort of frightening! Because I'm cool, I'm going to lay them out like Alice and Adam did, so, yeah- get ready for many books!

Pre-1700 (6)
The Odyssey by Homer
Utopia by Thomas More
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
King Lear by William Shakespeare
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

1700s (4)
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
Evelina by Fanny Burney
The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
Les Liasons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

1800s (24)
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Armadale by Wilkie Collins
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
The Bostonians by Henry James
Walden by H D Thoreau
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
De Profundis by Oscar Wilde
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

1900s (26)
The Plumed Serpent by D H Lawrence
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
A Passage to India by E M Forster
The Bell by Iris Murdoch
Once There Was A War by John Steinbeck
Sophie's Choice by William Styron
Rabbit, Run by John Updike
In Love and Trouble by Alice Walker
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Sons and Lovers by D H Lawrence
The Reader by Bernard Schlink
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

2000s (3)
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Re-Reads (37)
The Republic by Plato (pre-1700)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1800s)
Persuasion by Jane Austen (1800s)
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1800s)
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1800s)
Emma by Jane Austen (1800s)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1800s)
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (1800s)
Vilette by Charlotte Bronte (1800s)
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1800s)
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (1800s)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1800s)
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1800s)
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1800s)
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (1900s)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1900s)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1900s)
The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck (1900s)
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1900s)
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1900s)
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1900s)
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1900s)
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1900s)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1900s)
The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein (1900s)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1900s)
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1900s)
Perfume by Patrick Suskind (1900s)
The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1900s)
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1900s)
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1900s)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1900s)
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (1900s)
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (1900s)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1900s)
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (1900s)
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1900s)

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, 'hey Laura, why all the re-reads?' And I'll tell you, oh fair blog reader- some of them are books I can hardly remember (Villette and Shirley, for example, as well as Catch 22 and a few others) but most of them are just books that I loved so much that I just want to share my joy about them with you! (hence all the Austen on the list) I'm just that kind of loving and giving person. I was quite impressed by my almost equal spread between 19th and 20th century classics, although I am already regretting the inclusion of the two Dickens books up there (I'm scared of Dickens...) The main consolation of Great Expectations, though, is this little beauty:
which is actually my favourite of all the Penguin Clothbound editions! All will be well as long as I have this book... Anyway, that's a hella lot of books, even to read in 5 years, so we'll see how I get on... Maybe I'll get the classics bug and read nothing else and be finished in a year! This is extremely unlikely, I'll admit, but stranger things have (probably) happened... Oh yeah, and I'll be transferring this giant list to my current challenges tab, so if you want to see how I'm getting on, then that'll be the place to go.

Literary Blog Hop, March 8-11

Literary Blog Hop
The Literary Blog Hop! She is back. I am happy. And this month, there are three questions to answer. THREE! So let's get to it.

How do you find the time to read, what's your reading style and where do you think reading literature should rank in society's priorities?

As an unemployed person I have almost unlimited time to read (this is, I have to say, about the only positive thing about unemployment) so finding the time lately hasn't been an issue. Except that, well, because of all the housewifely/nursing duties I've been doing at the moment, actually finding the motivation to read has been more of an issue than actually having the time. But, when I do feel like reading, I really go for it- and most days I read in bed in the morning (not at night because I still share a bedroom with my sister and she goes to bed stupidly early) and in the bath (my absolute favourite place to read) if at no other times.

My reading style? I, well, I don't write in the books, but if I see things I particularly like, I write them down in a separate notebook, which isn't something I generally used to do before I started blogging (although I did do it for Uni books, of course) but which I like to do because I like to collect lovely words. Other than that, I don't know- I guess I partially read from a feministic viewpoint because hey, I am one, but not in an overly conscious way, and the angry feminist only comes out when there aren't any interesting women in the book I'm reading, which doesn't really happen very often. So, yeah. I read the words and think about them and stuff.

Society. They should read more books! And I don't necessarily think that governments should like enforce some kind of compulsory reading thing on people (because I'm not MENTAL) but I resent funding being cut for something like a library, when no money's being cut from, say defence. Because like, if everyone in the world read certain books, then maybe we wouldn't even have any wars because people literally wouldn't be able to kill another beautiful and unique and wonderful human being (I realise I'm being overly simplistic and naive here. But really, I'd like to teach the world to sing and so on! And read!) So, yeah. Libraries should stay open, and people should probably take the time out of their busy tv watching schedules to have a bit of a read every now and again. That would be pretty good.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Devouring Books: Palo Alto by James Franco

Let me just begin by saying that I really like James Franco. I mean, I fancy the pants off him, I really really loved him in Milk (he's Sean Penn's adorable boyfriend and he's just so... I mean, the kid's got charisma!) and he was even in this movie Howl, where he played Allen Ginsberg perfectly, and even if I wasn't entirely on board with the movie, I kind of did appreciate that it existed at all, and it's almost an audio version of Howl which is, let's face it, an amazing poem that's even better when performed. Anyway, I also like hearing about his manic life, his PhD in English at Yale, and then flying to LA to do filming, doing another degree at NYU, essentially, you have to assume, never sleeping; and I like to imagine him zooming around like a cartoon character to all his different commitments. Not that I do that very often... Really!

Anyway, so in the middle of all that chaos, he found time to write a book, or rather, a collection of short stories that all centre round an extended group of friends in Palo Alto (obviously) and that he probably could have got away with calling a novel if he'd wanted to (but I respect that he didn't). Anyway, for some reason, in spite of the PhD course at Yale and probably because of the pretty face and the whole acting thing, I wasn't really expecting much from 'Franco the author', and I have to say that I was left pleasantly surprised, and a little bit ashamed of my lack of faith. Because I really enjoyed Palo Alto, which was a sometimes disturbing, but never judgemental view of adolescence in the suburbs. I thought the characters were really well captured, their stories unique but overlapping, and I always always love the whole characters from other stories popping up in other ones. It's just a thing that I love (The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is a book that also does this, and does it AMAZINGLY).

I was a little apprehensive when starting Palo Alto, because it starts with a quote from Proust. You can imagine the eye rolling that went on in my face, because come on! You can't just quote Proust without looking like a pretentious idiot, unless, I'd say, it fits in very very well with what your book is all about. Fortunately for Franco, this quote did. Here it is:
"There is hardly a single action that we perform in that phase which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able to annul. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no longer possess the spontaneity which made us perform them. In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but adolescence is the only period in which we learn anything."
I mean, I don't know if Franco's characters learn anything at all, but we see them go through things that you have to assume will affect the things they think and feel later on, and they, pretty much universally, do things that, later on, they're going to want to pretend didn't happen. So, I'm going to say that I have to forgive him for quoting Proust (just, don't do it again, yeah?)

So, the stories in Palo Alto are similar but distinct, but there were a few that really stood out to me. I really enjoyed 'April (In Three Parts)' I think because the narrator was a lot less of an asshole than in a lot of the other stories (not necessarily in an inaccurate way, teenagers are supposed to be assholes, right?) and he's fixated on this one girl that he really really likes (April, actually) but then in the third part of the story it gets flipped around and you see things from April's perspective, and you see her as an actual fully formed character, rather than 'the girl that Teddy likes'. And, as you can imagine, I like that a lot! The other story I really liked was 'Yosemite', which was actually the very last story in the book. The thing about it was, the main character seemed to be just about to enter adolescence (say, 11 or 12) and I felt like it represented a calm before the storm of adolescence, when a trip to Yosemite with one's father was enough entertainment, before the smoking and drinking and bad decisions all take place. So it was a really soothing story to end with, and also a very good one.

So yeah, Palo Alto. It's good! Even if you don't usually go for short stories, it could be worth giving this a go, because it really feels like one extended story of troubled adolescence in general. And I realise that by typing 'troubled adolescence', I've just gone and made it sound pretentious again, but it really isn't! It's entertaining, well executed, and well written, and what more can you ask for from a book really?! Answer: Not a lot.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Problem I Have With Mad Men

There are a lot of things I like about Mad Men. It's so pretty to look at, 1960s gender politics are closely studied, you get to think about the origins of advertising and all of it's evils... I simultaneously like and dislike the female characters- I feel for Betty's hopeless desperation, and her memories of all the things she could have had, whilst also being disgusted with her for the way she treats her children; I love Peggy's work ethic, constant advancement in the workplace, but wish she would stand up for herself a bit more; and I love Joan's... well, I more or less just fancy Joan, but that's fairly par for the course. I like to watch it, but I don't think of it, in any way, as a guide for how to live your life.

So, there's one fairly important element of Mad Men that I deliberately haven't mentioned, and that's, obviously, Don Draper. I mean, what can you say about him? I've honestly spent the last four seasons (all watched over summer 2010, hence why I am gagging for the new season to start later on this month) being confused about whether I'm supposed to love him or hate him, want to slap him for feel sorry for him. He's far too complex a character to say that he's wholly evil, but there's very little confusion over the way he treats women- he has no respect for his wife, he's interested only in affairs with 'the smart ones', and when it comes time to marry again, well, rather than asking the woman he's actually been seeing for almost a whole series, he's basically going to ask a secretary. Who he doesn't know. Who we don't know. I can't lie, it was an interesting (although not, I suppose, wholly unexpected) plot twist, but it spoke volumes about the way Don Draper lives his life. Undemanding women are the only ones he'll make a commitment to, and that commitment won't really mean much anyway.

So here's the thing. I think Don Draper can just go about and do his own thing, and I'll watch it and roll my eyes and dream of much better men that probably exist in the world somewhere (it not being the sixties anymore, I have to hope there are more men that aren't like Don Draper than that are). But here's the other thing. In this month's Cosmo (why I'm reading Cosmo again even though I hate it is a whole other issue, but let's just say that my sister bought it, and I was bored for like the ten minutes it took to read it...) there was a little section about TV shows that are coming back and what they thought might happen in them (Cosmo: bringing you the really important information) and for Mad Men, it said 'Don Draper comes to London and goes out with us. In our dreams!' or some words to that effect. And I realise that this is Cosmo saying these things and not really any publication I have to worry about, but still, I was like 'HUH?!'

Because really? Do you really want to go out with someone who basically hates women? I mean, it's like he likes them, but to be honest, the way he treats them is not something that anyone should look for in a relationship. If you're smart and interesting and amazing, he'll sleep with you, obviously, but when it comes to actually having a relationship with you, he'll run away back to some really really boring girl. And hey, boring girls! Even if he asks you to marry him (which he will, because you're unthreatening to his disgusting masculinity) it's not like that actually means anything, because as soon as the opportunity presents itself, he'll be between the legs of another interesting woman. God, what a dreamboat! Sure, he's really really really good looking (and actually I have a lot of time for Jon Hamm, and he seems like a really nice guy in real life, who isn't afraid to take the piss out of himself) and you know, he has money and status and all, but is it really worth living a life of quiet desperation in the suburbs; or being used and abused by, basically, a giant dirtbag?

I realise that I'm definitely taking this too seriously, and this is, after all, just a tv programme, but it just worries me that there are women who might think that Don Draper would be a good person to have a relationship with. In the whole of tv, I can hardly think of a character who would be a worse partner, other than, possibly, Tony Soprano; but he's essentially a sociopath- what's Don's excuse? Maybe he's too drunk and smoke filled all the time to think clearly about what he wants, or maybe he's just a prick- who can say? All I can say is, I doubt that a relationship with him could ever be fulfilling in the way anyone would want a relationship to be, and so, can we please all stop fancying Don Draper?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Devouring Books: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Eating Animals is genuinely one of the most eye-opening books I've ever read, as well as making the best case for vegetarianism I've ever encountered. This is mainly because Foer, as he says many times throughout the book, isn't trying to make a case for vegetarianism, but rather trying to weigh up all the evidence and decide what the best eating choices are for himself and his young family. Obviously I'm in a place at the moment where I don't really want to eat animals anyway (see: giving up meat for Lent) so in a lot of ways this was the best possible book to read at the best possible time. But also, as well as that, it's amazing.

Firstly, there's the writing. I've read both of Foer's novels, and while I thought the writing itself was AMAZING, I always felt like something about the story was lacking (form, or structure, or something). In non-fiction, where there is still a story to tell but it's form is less clearly defined, good writing is a complete bonus, and the one thing that is guaranteed to keep me reading non-fiction (Naomi Klein and Bill Bryson, whilst wildly different non-fiction writers are both amazing). Eating Animals, then, quite aside from the issues it raises, is a really well set out, clearly thought out argument; and it is, of course amazingly written. All of this, then, contributes to the effectiveness of the argument (or, as he claims, not an argument, but merely a lot of statements) that Foer has set out in this book.

And oh, the argument. The dizzying, sickening, stench filled world of factory farming, carefully described (without, I would say, a lot of sentiment) and torn down logically, carefully, and in the way a good philosophy graduate knows how. I realise that might sound like an insult depending on how you feel about philosophy majors (I feel great about them, considering my degree is a joint honours English and Philosophy one) but I mean it in the best possible way- Foer lays out all these facts about factory farming, and then lays into them, with the resulting conclusion being that he doesn't really understand how, knowing this, anyone could still eat meat from factory farms.

Except, he kind of does know how this happens, because it's something that he describes early on in the book. On relaying his previous experience of vegetarianism (which sounded fairly similar to my own- on and off, until he remembered how good bacon, or whatever, was, and started eating meat again) he describes how people have a certain mechanism that means they can forget exactly what they're eating, or at least remember something that seems more important to them, like how good having turkey on Thanksgiving makes them feel. And this made so much sense to me, because meat has been a massive part of my eating life, especially since I'm not a fan of many foods, and so the fact that it makes me feel good and tastes nice is something that mostly overrides all other thoughts when making food choices. But when that lovely experience comes out of something horrible, and I actually know about it (and believe me, I really do know about it now) do I have the right to enjoy it any more? The philosopher in me says no, as does the animal lover, but the vicious carnivore? Well, she's just going to have to shut up.

If I was going to criticise Eating Animals (the book rather than the practice) in any way, I would just have to say that Foer doesn't really go into mass cow-factory farming, which I have to assume is because he has made the decision to carry on eating dairy products. Which is his prerogative, obviously, but it feels a bit like getting fobbed off- he says that he thinks that cattle farming is the most ethical of all factory farming, but since this is like getting the best bed in Auschwitz (I'm not comparing this to the Holocaust. At all. Seriously. I just can't think of another analogy), I would have appreciated a little more investigation there. Also, some of the arguments he makes are a little bit Philosophy 101, i.e. I have heard them before, but I fully understand that most (i.e. normal) people aren't philosophy scholars so I appreciate that he had to kind of start with the basics and then move on to his own thing. He does adopt my favourite ever argument though- if people say 'well, animals are born to be farmed and to be meat for us, and they don't know any other way of life', then you say 'so if human babies were born to be farmed and make meat for us, it would be ok to eat them?' and then wait to see all the people faint. Logically, it's  a top notch argument!

But anyway, in spite of those few niggles, I'm in absolute awe of Eating Animals. I would honestly recommend it to anyone, even if you feel like you'd just shrug your shoulders at the end and continue gnawing on your chicken drumstick, just because it's really so well written. For me, I'm utterly convinced about the inherent and disgusting cruelty of factory farming, and I'm fairly sure I'm off pork products for life (I did make a sausage sandwich for my dad today and was kind of drooling, but that's just learned behaviour, right?) but the important thing for me is to keep remembering the things I've learned- that the chicken on my plate lived its life in a tiny cage, was pumped full of antibiotics and basically couldn't walk, that the bacon in my sandwich was once a piglet that was stacked in a cage on top of rows of other piglets, and that factory farming is the biggest cause of greenhouse gases in the world. By far. If I can just remember all of this, and that there are things that are more important that what I feel like, I think I can really do this not eating meat thing. I really really want to.

And now, some words from our author:
"A British reader who cares about the issues raised in this book should not find any peace in being British." (Damn...)

"For thousands of years, farmers took their cues from natural processes. Factory farming considers nature as an obstacle to be overcome."

"I felt shame for living in a nation of unprecedented prosperity- a nation that spends a smaller percentage of income on food than any other civilisation has in human history- but in the name of affordability treats the animals it eats with cruelty so extreme that it would be illegal if inflicted on a dog."

"Two friends are ordering lunch. One says 'I'm in the mood for a burger' and orders it. The other says 'I'm in the mood for a burger,' but remembers that there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment, and orders something else. Who is the sentimentalist?"

"From 1935 to 1995, the average weight of 'broilers' [chickens we eat] increased by 65%, while their time-to-market dropped 60% and their feed requirements dropped 57%. To gain a sense of the radicalness of this change, imagine human children growing to be three hundred pounds in ten years, while eating only granola bars and Flintstones vitamins" (This is SO disturbing! Also, completely random aside, I'm really sad that we never had Flintstones vitamins in England! They would have been so cool...)

"It's possible that you can't afford to care, but it's certain that you can't afford not to care."

"Whether we're talking about fish species, pigs, or some other eaten animal, is such suffering the most important thing in the world? Obviously not. But that's not the question. Is it more important than sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets? That's the question."