Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Revival


Blarrrrgh, I did not enjoy this book at all. I haven't said that for a LONG time about Stephen King, so I trust that you'll allow me to just not like this one. I'm not ok with it, and it's not an ok book. Is it as bad as, say, The Tommyknockers, or Dreamcatcher, or... (OK there must be some other bad ones, isn't there a stretch of bad 80s books?) Anyway, the point is, I don't really know the answer to that question, but the point is that I really didn't enjoy it, and it was kind of a bummer to get through.

But wait, I hear you cry. Don't you always find some good in Stephen King books, Laura? Well, maybe (except The Tommyknockers which is SO BAD you guys, don't even touch it, I swear- I've read it for you and that should be enough). I will say for Revival that it's consistent, it follows its main point through to the end, and the end itself, like when the book finally gets down to what it has to say (the main message being, 'Stephen King is afraid of death, or more specifically what the afterlife could be like') is wonderfully chilling and terrifying and omg please no. But also yes, can you go back and rewrite the book and make it more like this?!

Let's get a little more specific. The book starts with a promising sort of passage that suggests that sometimes the people who are important to your life are there the whole time, whereas other times they drop in and out of your life, sometimes at the most inopportune moments. This book describes the latter of these relationships where the main character* meets a priest at age 5 or 6, who then becomes integral to many parts of his life (and also, maybe a tiny spoiler, not a priest anymore). All of that is fine, and actually I pretty much liked the parts that involved the priest. These parts were all actiony, and you know they're building up to something, but just what that is is pretty obscure until the novel gets right down to it in the last, like, 50 pages or so.

So that's fine, but the problem is ALL OF THE REST OF THE BOOK. As I say, the whole point is that these meetings are infrequent but important, and that's how they feel in the narrative too. All of the rest of it is the story of the main character's life, and omg it is so boring. It's not that his life is boring necessarily, but it's more like 'so I grew up and discovered guitar and had sex with a woman and then was in some bands and then INTERESTING BIT and then I worked in the music business and played more guitar and ANOTHER INTERESTING BIT' and do you see what I mean? The actual action seems to happen way less frequently than all the bits in between, and although I normally like those bits (I really do!) I just really wasn't interested about them in this book. GIVE ME A BETTER NARRATOR NEXT TIME, KING!

So yeah, not one of his finest IMHO. I found it interesting to see where his mind was at (death death death is scary) and how (I think) it relates pretty much just to him aging, but other than that I can't see it being one I would ever want to read again. The fact that I haven't been able to say that for a long time I think reveals how excellent his work has been lately, so I'm willing to let him off with a warning for this slip up. D-, must do better.

*of course I can't remember his name

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Things I Read In July

July! You went so fast, and I shall miss you. This month I had to adjust to my fella's new working schedule which has essentially been working all the time, so I've been trying to squeeze in time with him whenever I can. Even though I've had a lot more time to read on the weekends I haven't so much done that, but I have done more traveling than usual which is optimum reading time. I have also been trying to get into some kind of exercise routine, by which I mean that I have a diary that I put a little yoga calendar in, and if I don't do yoga on any given day I have to put a cross in the box which is supposed to make me feel bad (it works like 2%, so not really at all). More importantly I have played tennis (I know!) which I am really bad at but which is also just really fun and good and I like it a lot so there.

But anyway, who cares about my health? We are all here for BOOKS, and oh my there were plenty this month. Behold!

Such a beautiful group of creatures, oh my.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
I started my month with one of my favourite reads of the year so far, and a book that I liked so much that I've even reviewed it already (I know!) Just read the review if you'd like to know more about it, but I found it very funny and annoying-in-a-good-way and just very insightful and excellent. I must read more of this Zadie Smith person, is she like famous or something *sarcasm font*

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
I don't know if I've said this before or not, but I really feel like King's short stories of late have really started to surpass themselves (and they've always been good). There were almost no stories in this book that I didn't think were excellent, but you'll have to wait for my whole review to find out which ones were actually terrible (spoiler: it was the poems)

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
This is a really early Atwood, and I just... ehhhhh, I don't know. I had a problem with it to begin with because it's written in the first person present tense (please, just don't) but it doesn't help that there isn't really a story to it (other than, some friends go to stay in the woods and one essentially has a really wordy and literary nervous breakdown [it's maybe only a nervous breakdown in my opinion]). I thought some of the sentences were beautiful and at a base language level it's a very good book- this just, for me, wasn't reflected at the story level. I can see how this would probably be some people's favourite book, but for me it was too much language masking too little story.

What I Loved by Siri Hudsvedt
I wanted to love this book so much. I can't really tell you why I thought I would, except for the tiny fact that Siri Hudsvedt is Paul Auster's partner (wife?) and shit I love Paul Auster and obviously the woman associated with him must be very interesting and also must write exactly like him because women are just extensions of men, right? Right. That much is obvious. 
Ahem. But for reals. I got a bit impatient with this book almost from the start because books that describe fictitious works of art in great detail kind of get on my nerves a bit. This is saved quite a lot by the story in general (to start) but as it goes on, it gets to a really frustrating point where all the grown ups seem to act like morons rather than like actual people (intellectuals, amiright?!) There's sort of a mystery plot, but that bit's rubbish, and the book is only really good when it's dealing with life and human experiences and when it doesn't get, to my mind, a bit silly. I didn't really care about anyone towards the end, and it's only now as I'm writing this that I realise I actually liked this book even less than I thought I did... who knew?!

A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ah, Ishiguro. This book made me realise the thing that all of his other stories (that I've read) have in common- What he really does, is tell the story around the main story and forces you to fill in the gaps and decide what the actual story really was. I can't even tell if this is a technique I like or not, but I certainly didn't hate reading this book, even if it wasn't the story I wanted to hear. The story is of a Japanese woman who moved to England many years ago, but she is reminiscing about her time in Japan and about a particular woman who was a pretty terrible mother, leaving her child to roam wild and placing her affection for an American man above the wellbeing of her child. The ACTUAL story of this book is of the narrator's daughter's suicide, and what the events could have been that led to it, but I guess her reminiscings are related- she remembers the woman who was a terrible mother because she feels that she too must have been a terrible mother for her daughter to want to die.
In the end, I always feel as though Ishiguro is a better writer to study than to casually read for funsies, but I like to flex my literary brain muscles every once in a while and this book gave me a good opportunity to do that. Thanks, Ishiguro!

Oracle Night by Paul Auster
I feel like in the back of my mind I have always compared Murakami to Auster, but the whole time I was reading this book I thought 'this is very Murakami-esque', which it is, but it's also quintessentially Auster, too. This teensy novel has it all- mixed and mixing narratives, a weird shop that disappears and then reappears again in a different location, imagined indiscretions and probably real ones too, and oh man. It was just so good (for me. I can imagine other people reading it and thinking it was a mess). When I started reading it, I was rolling my eyes at the footnotes (footnotes. In a novel. That are part of the novel. Kind of annoying, yeah), but they were actually super informative and even though I feel like they could have been slotted into the narrative, they didn't feel out of place as footnotes, if that makes sense. The only thing I didn't LOVE about this book was the ending which felt a little rushed and sort of random, but I think that was kind of the point- you can pontificate and write fiction all you like, but in the end, real life will find you and bite you in the ass. Or at least, that's the message I got from it, anyway.

Emerald City and Other Stories by Jennifer Egan
I don't think I've been consciously saving this book for any reason, but I do know that as soon as I read there was a new Jennifer Egan book out this year, I chose to read this one. Although I love A Visit from the Goon Squad, I never thought any of her other novels reached the heights of that, and I think I now know the reason- Egan is a short story writer, not a novelist. A Visit from the Goon Squad, I know, is a novel, but it's a novel where short stories interlink rather than following a strict narrative. This collection of short stories is excellent- tense and interesting and intriguing and filled with so much human nature that it's almost too much. It's super telling to me that this is the only one of her books, apart from Goon Squad, that I am choosing to keep for always, and yeah, you know what, it's just pretty great.

A Dance With Dragons I: Dreams and Dust by George R R Martin
I snuck this one in right at the end of the month because honestly I just want to get the Game of Thrones books away from me now- they're damn heavy, ok?! This was pretty engaging and thrilling, and I think I've finally reached the point where the books are really quite different to the TV series, which would be ok except that I go 'but... that's not what happens' rather than 'oh yeah, that makes sense' because as I believe I have made clear already, THAT TV SHOW IS KING, OK?! Still, the book was fun and exciting as always, and I'm onto the second part of it already, so... I guess I can't hate them that badly.

Books! Huzzah! Quite a big reading month even though I felt, as always, that I didn't really have much time to read. In August the trains are all going to be baaaaad for most of the month, which will involve me getting the bus in the mornings as well as the evenings which should give me many extra reading times but who knows if that will actually be the case!


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Mr Mercedes

I had a lot of fun reading Mr Mercedes. Even though I (naturally) relate King to alllll of the supernatural goodness that he brings to us all, when he writes a 'straight' novel (with the teeniest hint of a slightly above average intuition) he still kills it. Mr Mercedes is more along the lines of his True Crime books, in that it is about, well, a true crime, only it's fictional... Ok I'm rambling.

HERE'S HOW IT GOES: The story begins with a horrifying crime when a Mercedes plows into a group of people who have (wait for the heartbreak) been waiting outside all night for the possibility of getting jobs. Many people are killed and the killer gets away scot free. Flash forward a few years later (don't ask me how many because I read this quite a while ago now) and the detective who worked on the case is retired and watches a lot of tv and is getting a little too friendly with his father's gun, if you know what I mean. He gets sucked out of his retirement blues by receiving a letter from the Mercedes killer, which drags him back onto a case and out of retirement, which is really exactly what he needed.

Here's a thing that I think is special about this book- we, the reader, knows who the killer is almost from the beginning. This is not a whodunnit, there's no straining the brain to try and figure out which minor character is a big murderer, because we already know that. The question with this book is really, 'what is he going to do next'? I really enjoyed this, because firstly, I find it really stressful to try and work out whodunnit, and it really makes me question my, like, intelligence skills, and secondly, doing it this way meant that we got to see into the fucked up brain of someone who murders for no reason. It was really a wild ride though the head of the murderer (I'm not being coy, I just genuinely can't remember his name...) and although the novel provides some tentative evidence for the growth of his psychopathy, it also doesn't use those reasons to let him off the hook, which I enjoy.

Let's also talk about the detective because he was pretty great. I'm sure the novel says how old he is, but I totally can't remember, so let's say... 60? And for a 60 year old, let me tell you, he's pretty foxy in my head. I'm not sure how, cause the book also says that he's totally gotten fat, but I guess his seeking out of justice just makes me super into him. Attractiveness aside, he's just a pretty good character- reckless and impulsive but generally good meaning, and with a couple of mismatched sidekicks who end up being very excellent. I think the novel holds back on explaining too much about any of the main three 'good' characters because- wait for it- there are two more books in this little series and I am VERY EXCITED about that (especially cause my next two King reads are those too books and yes I am behind in reviewing and yes those are basically the last two books omg I know right?)

But anyway. Yes. Mr Mercedes gets two thumbs up, I am a fan. I totally give you my permission to read it, and it'll even work for you if you get scared by horror, just not if you're scared of being senselessly and randomly murdered one day... And if you're not, then WHY not?! A topic for another time, I guess.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Devouring Books: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

What is this madness?! A book review that isn't Stephen King related? What a rare phenomenon!

I know I've kind of been doing the bare minimum of book reviewing lately (I only do every Stephen King because why break a 6 1/2 year habit?) but just as a quick example of how busy I am, I pay for a Japanese lesson every week that I have absolutely no time to study for because I have NO TIME hardly at all really. This isn't a complaint about my life, far from it, but more of an illustration of the busies that I have going on.

Having said that, Japanese class ends for the summer tomorrow, and I don't think I'll be doing year 2. Time regained? Perhaps.

Anyway. I guess I was here to talk about a book? Let's see... Yes. I have had On Beauty on my shelves for approximately eleventy billion years, which is slightly fewer years than I've had White Teeth on my shelf. I own 3 out of Smith's 5 novels, and yet, until this month, I have never been really inclined to pick one up. I can give you no rational reason for this, and now I am filled with regret that I didn't bring On Beauty into my life sooner.

This book is GREAT.  In many ways, it's the perfect book for English students, in that Smith gives you just enough information for you to fill in the gaps around what we actually see. The parts in between that I imagine may be completely different from the parts in between that someone else would imagine, but that's one of my favourite things about reading, about interpretation, and about fiction in general. Whilst this style also means that there are things you WISH were expanded on (I wanted to know more about this budding rap artist/poet, Carl, for instance), the fact that you are given such scope to explore it yourself feels kind of like a priceless gift.*

There is so much in this book that I'm slightly stuck about how to begin explaining it to you. It's sort of about this one family, the Belseys, who have a wonderful black mother and a terrible white father (their respective races are not what make them wonderful and terrible, but I'm sure it's related) but it's also about art and education and adolescence and making horrible decisions and having to live with them, and having to, or deciding to, live with the horrible decisions of others. I say it's about the Belseys, but it's also about their 'rival'** family, the Kippses, and it's about the college town they live in and also, sometimes its about facing ones own mortality.

I mean, seriously, this book gets through a lot in 443 pages!

There are some pretty deplorable characters in this book, and hardly anyone that I liked uncomplicatedly. My greatest hatred, however, was reserved for Howard Belsey, the patriarch of the Belsey family and also a pretty terrible human. The book makes it pretty clear that he's going through a midlife crisis (almost the very beginning reveals that he has cheated on his wife which NO YOU DO NOT KIKI IS AWESOME) but for me that wasn't even what made him the most deplorable so much as his style of teaching. Here's a thing about me: when I went to do my MA in Shakespeare, I figured that my return to academia was probably/hopefully a permanent one and one day I'd have that elusive PhD. When I got there, however, I remembered all the things I don't like about it- the fact that, to get the highest grades, you have to go for the most obscure part of a text and tease out something that you want to be there because it sounds cool. Belsey's teaching style reminds me of this- he is an Art History professor, and instead of encouraging his students to talk about a painting, he more or less encourages them to talk around it, never really getting to anything like (what I consider) interesting discussion. Also, he's a pretty routinely terrible human, I don't really wanna talk about it.

Basically, to sum it up, this book was awesome enough for me to actually write a review of it. I KNOW, what more do you need to know?! I am filled with regret for leaving Zadie on my shelves for so many years, and I suspect I shall very shortly be reading (and also acquiring) her other books. I really can't recommend this enough, so if you get the chance to read this, you totally should. Also HAVE you read it? DID you like it? Please say yes.


*Interestingly, a priceless gift is also sort-of given in this novel. And also MANY OTHER THINGS HAPPEN.
**Meaning that the patriarchs are rivals. Because of course they are.


Sunday, 2 July 2017

Things I Read In June

Ohhh boy, June was a tough month for me, you guys. Two of my housemates left (trust me, this was not a bad thing) which meant that, because apparently everyone else I live with is incapable, I had to find two new housemates, one which I had a month to find and one I had to find in TWO WEEKS because, again, everyone else is FUCKING INCAPABLE. On top of that, I applied for the job that's the stage up from my job and had to deal with the stress of that and the interview and everything (AGH!) and I had no bathroom for the last week of the month. To say it was just one thing after another would be quite the understatement.

But there were some good things too! I celebrated 6 months with my fella and we went to the zoo which was GREAT and in general weekends have been a pleasure whilst the weeks have been eh. I also worked about 12 hours more than I needed to which doesn't sound like a good thing because work but is actually excellent because I get to play with those extra hours by having flexi days off and just generally shorter hours on some days, which I will sorely need this month when my boyfriend starts working all the weekends (seriously, like all the weekends...) but has days off, so yes. Forward planning, folks.

Anyway. Somehow, through all the stress and horrors, I managed to read SO MUCH in June. I got through 9 books, and even though two were comic books, that still makes 7 novels devoured in June. I guess we should put it down to extra daylight hours or something? Definitely or something...

Anyway, look at them!
The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
I went through a phase of buying Alice Munro books whenever I saw them and never actually reading any of them. I figured it was a good time to figure out if I actually liked her writing style or not (cause, you know, if not I could get rid of some books!) but it turns out, yep, she's pretty great. This collection of short stories was grittier than I expected, which also made them more interesting than I expected, and even though I couldn't tell you what happened in most of the stories (I read NINE books this month, guys) I know there are parts that will stay with me for a while, which is all I can really ask for at my advanced age.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
This was good, but maybe not as good as I was expecting. A really long time ago I read an extract from this in The New Yorker and I thought it was super interesting so I bought the book when I saw it. A million and one years later I actually read it, and it's a pretty good dystopia set in the not too distant future where the dollar is worthless and young people literally can't connect with anyone and can only consume and consume and consume because that is what technology does to us if you're a total pessimist. This was a decent dystopia, but for me not such a great love story because I just didn't get it... The guy is literally THE WORST and the girl is kind of great but also kind of not, but shallow  enough that she would never go out with this guy so in that sense I just didn't really believe it. But still, it was decent enough to keep me entertained and to prevent me from having to watch cricket so what more can you ask for?

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
It's a Stephen King so OBVIOUSLY I'm going to review this in long form, but let's just say I enjoyed this a lot and I'm really glad that it's part of a series and I get to hear more from these characters. It's twisted and upsetting and so good I can't even.

Torch by Cheryl Strayed
I bought this book a long time ago but about a month afterwards my nan died and the thought of reading a book that is centred around the death of a mother was too upsetting and I put it back down every time I picked it up. I'm glad I finally read it because this book was actually excellent- I'm not sure I even cried at it because it doesn't go straight for the emotions but tries to seriously and insightfully look at all the different ways of grieving- it's not always about sadness, but about resentment and guilt and, especially in this book, doing whatever you want because nothing seems to matter any more. This book has done nothing to damage my love of Strayed's writing, and really just makes me want more fiction from her, please please please.

The Age of License by Lucy Knisley
Ah, Lucy Knisley. I bought this and the next book as treats for myself for being a brave girl when I had to have a medical thing done last month, and although I tried to save at least one of them for later, I just... can't do such things. This one is a chronicle of a month Knisley spent travelling through Europe and having a beautiful love affair and I enjoyed it ever so much- especially her reunion with French milk because damn that girl loves the milk in France. It is, as ever, excellent work and you should almost definitely read this.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley
Similarly... Displacement was actually a little harder to read than The Age of License, in that it's about a cruise Knisley took with her elderly grandparents, and how difficult it was to deal with their various ailments and whatnot, and it hit me right in the feels. It's still excellent, but it's more like a harsh reality check when compared to the dreaminess of An Age of License.

Revival by Stephen King
After a really good run of Stephen Kings I've loved, I've finally come to one that just kind of bored me. Full review to come, but this one had a good (horrifying) ending but that was kind of it, in my opinion. Mehhhhhh so hard.

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis 
I bought this because it's been everywhere this year as some kind of fortune telling book about the Trump presidency. Although there are some similarities between the moron President/dictator Buzz Windrip in this book and the moron President currently running America, this book was slightly more terrifying since a dictatorship is declared literally just after inauguration, concentration camps are established and basically this is Lewis's answer to people saying that America could never become like Nazi Germany (it was written in 1936). I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from this book, and although I found it hard to become motivated to read it, once I was into it I couldn't put it down. It helps that it was told from the perspective of a member of the resistance (viva la resistance!) and that it is essentially a dystopian novel, and yeah, it's pretty good, if not as prophetic as, say, Waterstones, would have you believe.

Miss Buncle's Book by D E Stevenson
Another month, another Persephone novel. This book was adorable- sharp and witty and romantic and lovey and I am running out of adjectives but basically it was just GREAT! Miss Buncle writes a book about her neighbours and the worst of them hate it (because it shows them as they are) and try to out the writer as the writer (Miss Buncle) is busy writing another book about how ridiculous they all are. I can't even express the pure joy this book brought me (especially after It Can't Happen Here) and you should definitely read it if you can get your hands on a copy.

June! Reading really did its job of taking me away from real, horrible life, so nice job books. I'm hoping for a July that's much less stressful, but with just as much book joy.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Devouring Books: Dietland by Sarai Walker

I read Dietland in great big gulps. If the main character has a dysfunctional relationship with food (which, not even a spoiler, she doesssss) then reading this was like me having a dysfunctional relationship with reading. Binge reading, if you like. The kind of reading where you don't want to do anything else (even stuff you need to do) except read this book.

I liked it a lot, is what I'm saying.

The story is Plum's. She is a woman, living in Brooklyn, working for an evil media conglomerate where she tries to respond to the problems of teenage girls, who believe they are writing to the editor of the magazine (who is a real dick, btdubs). Plum also weighs 300lb, barely leaves the house except to write at her (only) friend's cafe, is on a low dose of anti-depressants and also hates herself so desperately that it hurts. Well, it hurt me, anyway.

One of the soundbites on the back of the book calls it 'a manifesto disguised as a beach read' and I think that's just such a spot on description of it that I'm totally stealing it. This book is very well written, and so easy to just fly through, but once you get to the end, you have read a book where (finally!) a fat woman has learnt to love herself without losing weight. I know, I know, the concept is completely unthinkable (*eyeroll*) except I honestly believe (or maybe just hope) that as a society we're getting to a stage where people are learning to love and embrace what makes them different rather than literally hurting themselves trying to fit into some mould that the media has told them to fit into so that they can make a shit-ton of money. What I'm saying is, I think this book is very timely indeed.

Even though I flew through it, in one sense Dietland was hard to read in places. It became incredibly frustrating to hear Plum's thought cycle of 'once I'm thin I'll do this' 'I can't do that cause I'm still fat' and essentially stopping herself from participating in the world because of her physical appearance. I understood it, and I know that it happens with real people, it was just so upsetting and frustrating to be a part of via Plum as proxy. I guess for me, this is mainly because I am already a pretty comfortable chubby person- in fact, I recently lost weight because my doctor told me to and I'm pretty obedient/don't want to get cancer, and it made me more uncomfortable that people were commenting on how good I looked than I felt uncomfortable being that bit fatter, as if I was somehow worth more because I now have a slightly smaller BMI. I guess what this means is, although I loved this book, I didn't exactly need it, whereas I think there are probably women out there who desperately need a book like this- they just don't know it yet.

And so, feminism. This book is so feminist it's unreal- Plum learns that, by not buying into the idea she has to be thin, she sidesteps so many uncomfortable realities that women who do buy into that are really buying into- the idea that women should take up less space than men, the idea that 'fuckability' is the most important aspect to a woman, the idea that looking like what a man wants you to look like (and again, this is only the media's idea of a man who only wants the media's idea of a woman!) is the only thing that matters. This book manages to explore many important and uncomfortable issues with the lightest of touches. There is also a subplot that involves what is essentially a group of feminist guerillas, and whilst I didn't necessarily agree with their methods, I couldn't argue with their results- half naked women on buses are replaced with half naked men, The Sun has male Page 3 models instead of female ones, the world becomes, just for a little bit, not all about the fucking male gaze.

So yeah, seriously, this book is so great.

So, do it. Buy it. It might change your whole worldview, or it might be the book about your whole worldview that you've been waiting for for so long. Both options are pretty great, don't you think?

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Devouring Books: If This Is A Woman by Sarah Helm

When I think about things I've read about the Holocaust, I come up with Maus, The Diary of Anne Frank, and that's kind of it. I honestly couldn't tell you if I've been intentionally trying to shield myself from reading about horrible things, or if I've just been a lazy scholar in this area. I learnt about the Holocaust at Secondary School (but that's it) and I've also been to a Concentration Camp and even the place where the final solution (uck) was decided upon*, but I've still remained pretty ignorant about most of the horrifying things that happened in the camps during the war.

Fittingly, If This Is A Woman is a really comprehensive book about the activities of the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, a camp that nobody ever really knows or talks about. I can't tell if this is because 1) it wasn't a death camp (as in it didn't have gas chambers until right at the end of the war, not that many many didn't die there because of the awful conditions) 2) it wasn't strictly a Jewish camp because the agenda for Jews was obviously death and so they didn't tend to stay at Ravensbruck long, or 3) because it was a camp, in fact the only camp, that was exclusively for women. I don't want to be cynical and say that because women are the only ones that suffered and died there it has been viewed as less important and not as worthy to discuss, but I guess I am saying that so please have some of my cynicism, it's free!

Ok, so. As I've already said, I have nothing really to compare this book to, but in my opinion, it was a really really good chronicles of the experiences of women in the camp. I can't say that I exactly enjoyed reading it because, come on, but there were times when I couldn't quite put it down just because I was filled with horror, and, quite frankly, I wanted to get to the end where, at least, some of the women would survive.** This book, however, is packed with information and research, and although there were points where I just wanted to not know anymore, I also felt like reading it was an important thing to do- not even for me, really, but for everyone to know how horrifying things were so that we don't let this shit happen again.

I think for me, the best thing about this book is that it's all about the women's stories. I think Helm interjects as the narrator only in the introduction and epilogue, and only to describe her feelings upon visiting the camp and also explaining how she tracked down some of the survivors. Other than that, it is only the women's voices we hear, describing the things they lived through and also describing the women they loved who didn't live through them. I still don't know if I've remained ignorant through choice or because, y'know, I've been reading other things, but I know for a fact that I've always tried to not hear about the medical experiments Nazis carried out on prisoners (if I go through my whole life not knowing what they were doing with twins, for example, I think I'll be good). This book, however, did not allow me to look away, and now I know about some horrifying experiments that I suspect don't even scratch the surface of the evil shit the Nazis were doing to people. It's not like I didn't know they were bad, but shit, dude. They were doubleplus bad, you know?

I think this review has mostly revealed my ignorance of the Holocaust before reading this book, but i guess that's ok. I read to entertain myself, mostly, but this was absolutely an instance of reading to educate myself. I feel as though it has opened a door to probably more Holocaust reading, but in a little while so that I have a chance to recover somewhat (I realise this makes me a total pansy compared to people who fought, hard, for their lives every single day, but hey, I gotta do self care). In my completely uninformed opinion, this is a really good example of a Holocaust chronicle, and if you want to look specifically at the women who suffered, then this is, I think, a really good place to start.




*It's this gorgeous house in the Berlin suburbs and it just does not deserve to be that beautiful. But it is. Sorry.
**Alas, the end is pretty grim- many women were killed in air raids just outside Ravensbruck after they'd been freed, and many many more were raped by soviet soldiers who were there to liberate them. Yay, men!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Doctor Sleep

Of all the King books that have been released after starting my long voyage, Doctor Sleep is the one I was most apprehensive about. The Shining is a pretty iconic book (don't talk to me about the movie, but the book, yes) and if there was something I didn't think I needed, it was a sequel to it. I'm not sure that this book exactly convinced me that I needed a sequel, but I still really enjoyed it all the same.

Let's see. This book starts by taking us to Danny about 3 years after the events in The Overlook, where he is being haunted again by some of the gross things he saw there. Dick Halloran tells him how to get rid of them, and we are then transported through time (that happens a lot in this book which is one of its strengths- we'll get onto that later) to see Danny- now Dan- as an adult alcoholic, drinking almost all the time to try and dull the memories and the shining- less intense as an adult than as a child, but still irreducibly there. We actually get to see him hit rock bottom, stealing from a woman who quite clearly has nothing, and leaving a child in a dangerous situation.

It was at this point that I was worried about this book. I didn't want to see the destruction of Danny from The Shining, and I didn't know enough about the book to be sure that he wasn't going to go down a Jack Torrence path of destruction rather than going to AA. Spoiler, but reassurance- he goes to AA rather than on a killing spree so you are totally going to be able to read this book, don't panic.

Danny (Dan) is not even really the main point of this book, however. This is his story, but it's also the story of a long-living group of almost vampires, who live not off blood but off of whatever is produced by children who shine. It's also also the story of Abra, a little girl who does shine, and who shines extremely bright. These three elements combine together over time gaps and physical distances to make a story that's really intriguing and exciting and oddly road trip-ish, but you know. In a bad way.

In a lot of ways, I think the best thing about this book is the time gaps. What it allows is for us to see large cross sections of Danny's life, from rock bottom, to finally finding help, to then being able to help others. As much as The Shining was incredibly insular and takes place over a few weeks/months, Doctor Sleep takes place over decades, making it much more roaming and a whole overview of a person's life, rather than giving us a small snapshot of what Dan's life is like afterwards. King pretty much says that he wrote this book cause people always asked him what happened to the kid from The Shining, and so he got to wondering that himself. Here he answers the question not with a single event but with many, and you know what? It ain't such a bad life at all.

And so. The completely unnecessary sequel turned out to be pretty great, and definitely worth your time and attention. I like and root for Dan as much as I liked and rooted for him as a child, and I'm really glad that this book didn't do anything bad to the legacy of The Shining, even though I feared it would. It's good book, people. Good book indeed.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Joyland

Joyland was, quite genuinely, a joy to read (groaaaaaan). It's another one of King's Hard Case Crime books (the last being The Colorado Kid) and it's just so great. Although, because it's King, there are a couple of supernatural elements to proceedings (a fortune teller! A psychic child! A ghost!) at it's core this is really just a good old fashioned whodunnit and, well, I can hardly resist one of those.

I'm finding it hard to think coherently about Joyland, because my brain just keeps going 'God, that book was GREAT!' and that's about all I can handle. So let's try and do some plot. Devin is a college student who has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has found a summer job at a carnival. Firstly, the carnival seems like an awesome place to work, and don't think for one second that I didn't want to run off and be a carny for most of this book because shit, those parts seemed like so much fun. This particular theme park, however, has a grisly past as a woman was murdered in (of course) the haunted house a number of years before, and it is solving this crime that is the basis of the book.

Except that, it also kind of isn't. I know I said this is a good old fashioned whodunnit, and certainly I got that rush of satisfaction when I found out who the killer was because, you know, it's very pleasing to have solved the mystery.* In many ways though, the mystery, just like the supernatural elements, are secondary to the main story, which is basically just the story of Devin himself. That's right, King has done it again, and made you believe you're reading a scary book, when actually you're really just reading a character piece. This book is all about getting over heartbreak, making grown up choices, and finding out who you are and who you want to be in life. All of these things are things I can get behind, and shit, I really loved this book.

Don't get me wrong though, it is still pretty scary. There were definite moments of peril where I couldn't quite breathe right, and I was also so engrossed by it that I made my boyfriend and I miss a train because shit, I just wanted to finish it, ok?! I gulped this book down in a couple of days, not only because it's short and I had some travelling time to read (both true) but also because, fuck, I really did  not want to put it down (see above re: missing train).

So to conclude. This book was aces and frankly I could read it again right now without any complaints. I don't even just recommend this book to you, I URGE you to read it, especially if you like crime fiction in any sense. I don't know what it is about these later King books, but to me it seems like he's gotten really really good over the last few I've read. All killer, no filler, all that kind of stuff. This makes me really excited for whatever comes next, and also slightly mournful that in just a few books, I'll have to wait for the next King book to be published like a total sucker. Alas, alas, woe is me etc. But also, not really cause I get to read more Stephen King!

*For the record, I did not solve the mystery, and definitely allowed myself to be led down the wrong path just as King intended. I like detective/crime stories, I would just be really bad if I lived in one.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Things I Read In May

May was a preeeetty good reading month, mainly because I had so many sick days off work for various reasons (5 in total, which feels so naughty to write down, but... sick is sick!) I finished 6 books, which actually I don't think is a giant amount, BUT a couple of them were giant and so, you know, I read a lot of book last month.

JUST LOOK!

Amazingly, I have reviewed most of these books already (coming soon!) so this monthly wrap up will be mercifully short for once, don't say I never do anything for you.

Joyland by Stephen King
I had so much pure, unadulterated fun reading this one. It's a crime King, which is always excellent, mainly because there's not just a crime to solve but also some supernatural elements thrown in and just a lot of good, clean fun. You'll like it, I swear.

If This Is A Woman by Sarah Helm
This book looks at Ravensbruck, the only Nazi Concentration Camp that was exclusively for women, and it was hard to read. Not hard because the writing was bad (it wasn't) but because the subject matter is especially difficult and it's hard to reconcile humans treating other humans in such a way. I have already written a review for this, but rest assured it is worth your time and (I think) a good place to start if you want to learn more about the Holocaust.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
It's the sequel I didn't think I needed, but it turned out that I liked it quite a lot. Doctor Sleep follows Danny from The Shining (premise of the book: whatever happened to the kid from The Shining?) through alcoholism but then glory and even though I was worried about the legacy of The Shining I really shouldn't have been cause this was great.

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
I think what I'm about to say might shock you, but I wasn't over enamoured with this book. It's an early Murakami, so it seems to me that, although it still contains many of his usual hallmarks (ears, foods, REALLY WEIRD SHIT) he hadn't quite worked out how to fit them all together yet to make a cohesive story. If his stories can ever be cohesive, I suppose... Anyway, it wasn't terrible because Murakami, but still was not at all my favourite.

A Feast For Crows by George R R Martin 
It's Game of Thrones. You know what you're getting. For me the real excitement with this book came from trying to work out where things came in the tv show, and also trying to work out what had been substituted for what because there are some real differences that are starting to emerge (although many of the essential plot points remain the same). I did enjoy this book a lot and it helped me while I was recovering from a medical thing, but I STILL LIKE THE TV SHOW BETTER I AM SORRY.

 Dietland by Sarai Walker
I finished this book in basically a day, which should tell you both that it was super easy to read and also excellent. I have written a full review of this one too (I KNOW) so I shan't say too much, but let's just say that the fact that it is easy to read is deceptive because it is feeding you so many important things you need to know about the diet industry and accepting oneself and ugh it's just so great. I can't recommend it enough, really.

And that was May! It's only the second of June and I've already finished one book, so I'm super optimistic about this next month already, I have to say. How is your reading going for the year?

Monday, 29 May 2017

Not-Quite-Sunday Sundries: Here Is A Pile Of Books

Bank Holiday greetings, friends and (hopefully not) foes! I'm definitely trying to cover for my lack of a Sunday post right now, but since today is a Bank Holiday it's basically still Sunday, amiright? I probably am not.

My bank holiday weekend weirdly kind of started on Thursday, but only because I had to go to the hospital and have a... thing done*, Friday I was all sore still so gave myself the day off and I've just spent a lovely weekend with my gentleman caller. So Monday it is!

Back to Thursday though: I woke up early because I always wake up early now (case in point: it's a bank holiday and I woke up at 6:45am! Woo! Not) and to prevent myself from stressing too intensely, I decided to tidy my room and watch Gilmore Girls because I find both of these things curiously relaxing. When I was tidying, I decided to put away the new books I have bought/received this year (aka the pile of shame) for the sake of having more floor space, and as I did so I kept seeing books I really wanted to read, and so a new pile was formed.

Behold!
Since I am me, this pile isn't really definitive and I will probably hate the idea of all of these books in a few weeks, but for now, these are the books I intend to read soonly. They are:

  • The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro- cause I have somehow accrued quite a lot of Munro books and managed to read exactly zero of them. This is the first one  bought, so seems like a good starting point.
  • Postcards by Annie Proulx- cause it's one of the only Proulx books I haven't read, and I find that she goes so well with summer.
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson- cause I remembered that I had this the other day, and I really liked the preceding book to it. This one's time has come.
  • Torch by Cheryl Strayed- cause I love Cheryl Strayed and it seems ridiculous that I haven't read this yet.
  • Dietland by Sarai Walker- cause I really really wanted to read it (note: I have done now and it exceeded all my expectations)
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith- cause like with Munro, I have many of her books and have not yet read any. Must do better!
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart- cause I read a part of this in The New Yorker a long long time ago and I really want to get on it.
  • It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis- cause the world is a scary place right now and I need to read the worst case scenario to... I don't know, make myself feel better? Or something.
  • Mr Mercedes by Stephen King- cause the long journey continues, and also draws to a close. I'm also planning to read all his other books soon, but omitted them from the pile cause, you know, I know where they are if I need them.
  • Miss Buncle's Book by De Stevenson- cause it's my earliest Persephone buy and I still haven't read it. I'm getting on it.
  • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson- cause it's the bloggess and her other book made me lol the most. Loling is super important.
And that is the pile of books! There are so many women on it, mostly because these are genuinely the books I saw that I wanted to read imminently, but also because I have been reading so much Stephen King this year that I don't want my reading stats to completely go to shit. At this moment, I'm pretty excited to read all the things, so we'll see how long that lasts.


Have an excellent second Sunday, if you get a second Sunday! Otherwise, just try to not hate your Monday, I guess.

*It's not a serious thing so don't worry, I just have to be kept an eye on because of reasons so I had to have a series of uncomfortable and slightly painful things done to me

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Devouring Stephen King: The Wind Through The Keyhole

I don't think it's any secret that I'm a big fan of Stephen King's Dark Tower Series. I can't get enough of his ka-tet's noble journey throughout different landscapes and worlds to try and save the very fabric of reality itself, and I'm also super excited for the upcoming movie (mainly cause, have you SEEN Idris Elba?!) However. I also don't think it's any secret that the parts of these novels that are pure fantasy, sans savvy New Yorkers and trips to somewhere resembling our own world, are not exactly my favourite parts. Wizard and Glass is my least favourite of the series, for example, purely because it's a story about Roland's past, set entirely in Roland's world and ugh please just no.

It's really unsurprising to me, though, that The Wind Through The Keyhole, King's addendum to his Dark Tower series (published last, but set between books 4 and 5), delves deeper into the mythology of Roland's world. It's clearly a place that King loves exploring and creating in, even if I find it kind of tiresome, so let us all praise him for doing a thing that he loves. For my part, I'm still a little sore at the events of the 7th book, so the way this book teases us with a glimpse of the main characters at the beginning on the end, but otherwise focuses on two other stories felt like a little bit of an insult, at least to my Eddie, Susannah and Jake loving heart.

To it's credit, this book is structured really interestingly. Roland begins by telling one story, and then tells a story from his childhood within that story. I actually found the folk tale the more interesting one, because it felt to me like a pure fairy tale- a genre that King doesn't tackle very often (if ever...) but here is very good at. I know what you're thinking though (or actually, what I'm thinking)- if I don't like fantasy (mostly), then why do I like the tale that is fictional, even within the fiction?

I don't really have an answer, except to say that I guess I kind of like fairy tales, but also this one was REALLY COOL. There's a tiger and some murder and a quest, and yeah, I just really liked it. Roland's additional backstory in this book really didn't measure up to this secondary tale, and even felt like a plot device in order to just get to this piece of folklore. I didn't like the Roland stuff so much, but it was at least shorter, and who am I to chastise King for wanting to return to his happy place in such a way?

Besides, at least it wasn't as long as Wizard and Glass.

As always, you should probably take everything negative I've said about this book with a pinch of salt, since I finished it in a giant gulp and wasn't even mad about it. Because, you know, it's Stephen King. Even when he's not at his best, he's still kind of the best.

ONWARDS to the next one.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Films I Watched In April

Greetings, and welcome to a brand new blog part of my blog and whatnot. The function of this monthly post is threefold: firstly, to talk about films in general because I haven't done that for so long and I really like to do it, secondly, I have a limitless movie pass now which means I'm seeing more films than ever before (in theory) and thirdly, my friend who I basically just see movies with does a thing where she records all the films she's seen in a year, and you know, I wanna too.

Thus here beginnith all the films watched in my 29th year.

Raw
I feel like I must have known once upon a time that Raw was a french (actually belgian, but french language) film, but I managed to forget that before I saw it and so was faced with subtitles after a 9 hour day at work. No matter, because Raw was excellent- I was concerned before I saw it because I had heard horror stories of people throwing up in cinemas because of it, and because I'm really not good with scary movies, but this was not exactly what I would describe as a horror movie. The story follows Justine, a young girl who is a vegetarian and is just starting at vet school. Both of these things are relevant as the culture of hazing at the school leads to Justine's consumption of a raw rabbit kidney (a vegetarian! Eating a raw rabbit kidney!) after which point, things get WEIRD. Rather than a horror movie though, this is really just a coming of age drama with just the tiniest bit of cannibalism thrown in for funsies and also for some kind of symbolism that I'm sure I'd be able to decipher if I was a smarter person. Regardless, this film was excellent, and well worth the subtitle reading that it entailed. The general thing I learnt from the movie: Give a vegetarian meat, and it's just a matter of time until she's chowing down on some tasty tasty human flesh.

Monty Python and the Life of Brian
I shouldn't really count this cause I fell asleep abouuuut half an hour into this and only woke up for 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' (for similar reasons, I'm not counting Boys Don't Cry) BUT it's my Good Friday film, I'm trying to start a tradition where I watch it every year, and it is great.

Get Out

Get Out, however, I saw twice last month (and once the month before that, YES IT IS THAT GOOD and yes I really do have that cinema pass thing). You really need to see it to understand how good it is, but as well as exploring race relations and other big important issues, it's just genuinely an excellent story, thrilling and disturbing and omg how evil are white people? Sooooo evil, you guys. You really really have to see it thought because honestly, I just can't do it justice.

The Theory of Everything

Ah, The Theory of Everything is a sad one. Basically Stephen Hawking's life story, from his time at Cambridge/diagnosis of MND, it comes as no surprise to me that Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for this role, even if I didn't think the film itself was perfect. It's a little oddly paced, and some of the events are not really fully explored, but this makes sense when one considers that the source material is from Hawking's ex-wife's memoir rather than his own words. Stunning performances, and well worth a watch, just not a perfect film (like, you know, Get Out is, for instance).

Bowling for Columbine

I have seen this film many many times, but I needed my boyfriend to see it and Netflix has it and everything. I haven't seen it for a while, so I was expecting it to be dated, but if anything its ideas about gun control and why Americans are so damn trigger happy are more relevant now than when it was first released. Always worth a watch, if only for the cartoon history of America (WHITE PEOPLE ARE TERRIBLE).

Beauty and the Beast

I mean. We all know the deal with Beauty and the Beast right? It's beautiful and magical and yes I am of course talking about the cartoon and not the live action version that I can't quite bring myself to go and see. White men are particularly terrible in this, but I sure had a fine time watching it and I'm still singing all the songs from it, tbh.

So. There we have April.
Films for the year so far: 6
Onwards we shall march!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Sunday Sundries

Oh heyyyy, haven't done this in a while! I wanted to get back to writing a Sunday post each week, mostly because yay habit forming and yay writing about things that aren't necessarily books but also might be about books idk.

This week we had a bank holiday on Monday, then I was off work sick for three days because ugh throat and SO TIRED and there was snot and you probably didn't want to know that much, so basically yes, I did work for a grand total of one day. It's the thought that counts, right? From work on Friday I went down to my boyfriend's for the weekend where we managed to tire ourselves out going to Southampton IKEA without even buying any of the things*, which I'm putting down to ill tireds rather than, you know, being unfit and stuff.

This writing about stuff is harder than I remember, so here's a form thingy to get back into the swing of things!

Lately I have been...

Writing: Literally just blog posts (and shopping lists), but I'm pretty happy to be doing that with some kind of regularity again- it feels gooooood. I have also been learning to write Japanese, by which I mean that I sort-of know about 30 Kanji now and also the two other alphabets and also this week I learnt some new verbs so that's great and also I definitely can't write much in Japanese yet so please don't ask me to!

Reading: I spent quite a bit of my ill time reading this week and I am reading If This Is A Woman which is about a Nazi Concentration Camp, Ravensbruck, which was only for women (and so of course no one has heard of it). It did not make me feel any better to say the least, but it is excellently written and seems important to be fully aware of considering the right wing turn that the entire planet seems to be taking at the moment. I'm going to be pretty relieved to be done with it, I think, but I'm kind of glad I'm reading it.

Oh and also, all the Stephen King. Just so much. I'm so into him right now, and can't believe it's nearly over!

Listening: I have been in a fight with my phone ever since it kept shuffling all my songs even when that was a REALLY ANNOYING thing to do, especially when listening to the Hamilton soundtrack because DAMMIT those songs are in order for a REASON. Anyway, the other week I was complaining to my housemate about this, and he suggested there was probably a really easy solution and a quick google search revealed that he was in fact correct and I am reasonably ashamed of myself but also super happy because I can listen to the Hamilton Soundtrack properly again, which I am doing to a pretty excessive extent. It's awesome.

Watching: Again, ill from work so I've watched a few things- I finally saw the movie version of Room, which again did not make me feel better, and I finished season 3 of Transparent, got pretty bored by the first of the new episodes of Better Call Saul (do I even like that programme or do I just watch it because Breaking Bad? I'm really not sure) and finally watched some Gilmore Girls to try and cheer myself up (it worked pretty well, if I'm honest). My boyfriend and I are also making our way through all of Futurama cause, you know, its the best. We're currently on Season 4 and I'm starting to think it might be my favourite season because IT IS SO GOOD. Quality entertainment, you guys.

Looking: forward to Angels in America which I am seeing IN A MERE 6 DAYS, I actually can't cope with the fact that this is happening and sort of won't believe it until I'm sitting in the theatre, I think. So many excites!

Learning: a lot about the Holocaust from my depressing ass book, and, as also previously mentioned, Japanese. Confession: I am terrible at learning Japanese because I have basically no free time to commit to actually learning the things I am taught in the lessons, so my pattern of life basically involves going to the lesson, hearing things, forgetting everything progressively over the next week and frantically doing my homework in the time I have between work and my lesson on Thursdays. I don't really have a solution for this, because I like doing all the things I do that aren't learning Japanese, it's just a general comment on how shitty a learner I am.

Feeling: Tired as helllllll but pretty happy with life in general. Also pretty grateful that I have never experienced anything like conditions in a concentration camp, so generally happy with life in that sense (seriously this book has gotten under my skin).

Anticipating: See above, re Angels in America. Also hopefully, and FINALLY maybe possibly meeting Alice from the internets who is in England this week!!!!!!

Wishing: That time could just speed up a little tiny bit. And also that I had just a little bit more monies to do the things I really want to do. And also for more time so I can learn that goddamn Japanese goddammit.

Loving: It's gross to say my boyfriend, isn't it? But, you know that, and also having a job which pays me for sick days which is genuinely such a privilege for me that I still don't quite believe it.

And that is me at the moment. How about you?

*ok we bought a few of the things. But basically none!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Devouring Stephen King: 11/22/63

People have been telling me for the longest time that 11.22.63 is the best. Whether it's their favourite Stephen King book, or merely the one they've just read and LOVED, it's maybe the book I've heard about most during my long, long King pilgrimage. 'I'm reading all of Stephen King's books!' 'OMG have you read 11/22/63?' 'No, but I've heard it's GREAT! I can't wait!'

But oh man, have I waited. 11/22/63 was published in the November of the same year I started reading all of the Stephen King in, I think, March. While I was back in his works of the 70s and early 80s, everyone was reading this book and LOVING it, while I tried not to whimper too hard or think about how long it would be before I could read this book. About 5 and a half years later, here we are, and guess what?

I LOVED it.

If I'm going to be entirely honest, I thought the start was slightly slow (and that is, quite literally, my only criticism of this whole damn book) and at that point I'll admit I panicked slightly. Not so much because I was worried that I was about to be crushed by the weight of my own expectations (always a concern, admittedly) but more because it is such a long book not to love, and I have imposed a weirdly strict deadline on myself for finishing all of the King and I'm just. So. Close. you guys. But as you can probably tell, I FINISHED THE BOOK cause, you know, review and everything. If this ever turns into anything resembling a review, that is. Ahem.

So. The plot of this book goes as follows: a man is called by his favourite diner owner one day who is mysteriously dying of lung cancer when he was fine the day before. It emerges that said diner owner has discovered a portal to 1958 in his stockroom and, having lived in the past for 4 years has contracted the terminal cancer now killing him. He asks Jake, our hero, to go back into the past for him (where, interestingly, every visit is a reset) and to wait from September 1958 until (amazingly) 11/22/63 (22nd November 1963 for, y'know, British people) to save JFK from assassination. It is an awesome premise, but where it goes from there is just so much better.

Because it's not really about JFK. It's not even really about time travel, even though I think King has a really interesting version of time travel that I don't think I've ever seen before, and that I would have liked teased out a little bit more. What it's really about is Jake, about overcoming impossible circumstances, about finding love in the weirdest places (and, let's face it, times), about heartbreaking decisions and impossible consequences and so many more things that you're really going to have to read to find out about. I have to give a bonus shout out to Jake's 1960's girlfriend Sadie, who honestly is one of my favourite King women now- so well fleshed out and interesting and feisty and oh god I loved her so much can I just read this book again right now?

I think this book gets extra points with me purely because it returns to Derry and It remains my favourite Stephen King book. King returns to so many places and scenarios in his books, and although Derry is mentioned fairly often, I believe this is the only time it has been returned to in a significant way. Jake visits just after the events of It, meets Beverly and Richie, and just generally describes the atmosphere of the place from an outsider's perspective that couldn't really be done in It (where everyone is inside). I ate it right up, and it tasted great. It turned out to not even be my favourite part of the book (ok, all the parts are my favourite) but it gave me certain excited thrills that's really all I look for when I'm reading, you know, anything.

So here it is. I can confirm, once and for all, that 11/22/63 is exactly as good as everyone has been saying it is. I would read it again in a heartbeat (if I didn't have so damn many other books to read, dammit), and I really just can't get over how good it was. There are no scary monsters, except for the past itself, (and of course the usual human ones) but that doesn't stop it from being one of King's finest.

In my most humble opinion, of course. Ahem.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Things I Read In April

Aprilllllllll! I love April, not least because it's my birthday month, but this year I really loved it because I had the first 10 days off work, and then we had easter, and ok yes basically I only worked one full week all month. This meant I had so much time for reading (and, I hope you've noticed, blogging!) and honestly, it has been fucking joyful, I've loved it.

As well as all the reading, I have: been to Kew Gardens, been to Brighton, been to London Zoo, eaten a LOT of sugar (working on that), spent many many hours and days with that boyfriend type person of mine, restarted Japanese lessons after a looooooong break, went to a Beauty and the Beast themed afternoon tea and (AND) managed to get tickets to Angels in America which I will be seeing merely a week from Saturday *dies of excitement*.

It's been a good month, is what I'm trying to say.

I'm also fairly resolved (although I hesitate to say it cause, y'know, it's me) to bringing back Sunday Sundries posts starting this month, so expect to hear a lot from me that you probably didn't even want to hear. Is that cool, ok good.

BOOKS THO (with bonus chocolate frog!)


The Music of Chance by Paul Auster
This book was weeeeeird. I think I'm pretty used to Auster books being weird at this point, but this seemed especially random and strange but I think that was kind of the point. A man is left some money by a dead relative which he uses to literally drive around America for a couple of years and abdicate all adult responsibility (he has a daughter who lives with his sister, for instance). Just as the money is about to run out, he almost literally runs into a poker genius who he decides to fund in a game against two REALLY rich weirdos, and things go very much awry. I'm slightly ashamed to say that I don't even remember the end of this book now (it's only been a month, I need to step it up) but I do remember liking it at the time even if I can't remember it now. I'm usually guaranteed to like an Auster book, and this one did nothing to break that rule, even if it was, I shall say it again, pretty weird.

Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble by Nora Ephron
This was originally two books that were combined into one after her death, I'm going to assume so that poor people like me could have easier and more affordable access to some of her earlier writing. Thanks, publishers! This was obviously great because Nora is the bestest, and I could read her writing on anything, anytime, forever. Crazy Salad is a collection of her essays about women, and they are especially excellent because they were written literally as second wave feminism was hitting its peak. There's stuff about Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan (sort of nuts, apparently), but there's also stuff that isn't about prominent feminists but is tied into the entire movement anyway, including a stunning takedown of what I can only describe as vagina deodorant (Nora describes it better, of course). Scribble Scribble is a collection of essays about the media and, whilst Crazy Salad was my favourite because, you know, feminism, her takedowns of the media are pretty much as excellent as her takedowns of the patriarchy. Whilst there is an element of datedness to the articles (they are very much of their time) please see above re: reading anything by Nora ever. I believe I am rapidly running out of new-to-me Nora stuff to read, at which point I will simply be forced to re-read everything again because she is a complete and utter gem.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Hey, I already reviewed this! But if reviews are a bit much for you, I shall summarise: four novellas, extremely dark stories (hence the title) read only when you're prepared for some very deep and dark stuff.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July
Let me preface this by saying that I think Miranda July is excellent. Her writing is great and her stories and subject matter don't shy away from difficult issues, and also issues that basically no one else writes about. I like her a lot but my god I found this book so stressful, essentially because you're trapped in the head of a character who quite clearly has a lot of mental problems. Her way of seeing the world is kind of warped, and being dragged into it as an outsider means that you both feel sorry for her and exasperated by her. The times that she has been isolated but can't quite, or chooses not to, see it are kind of upsetting, but the times she does really questionable things but can't predict the reaction of the person they relate to can be kind of disturbing. IT IS VERY STRESSFUL, and I probably wouldn't read it again, but I also wouldn't rescind reading it for the first time. It's a confusing mix of feelings, and allow me to conclude by saying, once again, that I really do think Miranda July is excellent.

Confusing.

11/22/63 by Stephen King
Oh hey, I've reviewed this too, and you'll be able to read it on Wednesday! EXCITING! Here's a spoiler: I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. Just in case you were worried.

Something New by Lucy Knisley
I have only read this once before, and it was when I was recovering from my operation last October. I liked it at the time, but only to the extent that I could like anything at that point, which is to say not very much. I reread it last weekend and ohhhh I love it. Knisley is basically my permanent favourite anyway, but her take on matrimony and weddings and cutting through all the bullshit that surrounds them to get to something beautiful and something she really wanted. I happen to know from instagram that she's currently inking a new book about babies and motherhood, and I can't wait to read her take on that, either.

The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King
I managed to sneak this one in on the very last day in April, so I was pretty happy with that. I will be reviewing it because King, but let's just say that I feel very meh about The Dark Tower books that involve Roland's past, and this was one of those so sort of meh? But then also sort of not. You'll see (at some point, you know how it goes)

And that was April! TA DA! I'm pretty happy with my readings, and as I have literally no days off booked in May I don't at all expect to achieve anything like this this month. But we. Shall. See.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars

I usually find with Stephen King that, even though there are scary things going on and things are kind of terrible, there are moments of brevity and lightness that give you some kind of hope about the world. Full Dark, No Stars does not offer this kind of relief to its reader. It really lives up to its title in that, in each of the four stories that comprise it, the characters really put themselves or find themselves in situations where not even the smallest bit of light shines through.

It's a bit much, is what I'm trying to say, but it's also a bit excellent.

There are essentially 4 novellas in this book, although I would argue that the third story is really just a short story at about 30 pages. Still, let's call it a novella for the sake of ease, and go through each story one by one, shall we?

1922- A man wants to keep his farm and his general way of life. His wife wants to sell the farm and move to the big city (pretty sure the big city here is Nebraska, but there you go). In order to get what he wants, man convinces his son that the best thing to do is to kill his wife, and from there everything turns (quite predictably) to shit. This was definitely not my favourite story in the collection because mehhhhh historical fiction can you just not, but it was extremely dark- there are no moments of light (as discussed) even before he murders his wife, but its after that that everything becomes fully terrible. It's maybe the most graphic of the novellas, and it's also very good.

Big Driver- This maybe was my favourite story in the book, even though it was incredibly difficult to read at times. A semi-famous novelist takes a shortcut home after a reading and ends up being subjected to a horrifying rape and being left for dead. I did not so much enjoy reading her anguish (like I say, so. Much. Darkness.) but everything that happens after this is jaw dropping and exciting and kind of made me want to punch the air with righteous retribution (cause that's a thing...) This is, in a way, a detective story as the novelist explores her own attack, and is so twisty and turny that I think I genuinely gasped at points. It's all very good, and very disturbing stuff, so obviously I highly recommend it.

Fair Extension- In many ways I feel as though this was the story that I found the darkest, or maybe just the one which upset me the most. A man who is dying of cancer essentially makes a deal with the devil (-ish) to take the bad stuff away from him and give it to someone he hates- and the person he names is literally his best friend. This deal being established, the rest of the story is essentially a recitation of all the good things that happen to the man who made the deal, and all the bad things that happen to his best friend in return. It's not so much the things that happen that disturb me (although they are genuinely horrible) but more that the man who made the deal feels no remorse. He doesn't try to take it back, he doesn't care that his (supposed best friend) has all these troubles, and at the end of the story, he basically has everything but is still quite literally wishing for more. It was just a way of thinking that I found really disturbing, and even though this book deals with SO MANY upsetting things (see the next story for evidence) it was this that really struck me, I guess because it's kind of how I believe a lot of people view the world. Disturbingly human, and also just plain disturbing.

A Good Marriage- A Good Marriage is, probably unsurprisingly, a really very dark story. It's essentially based around the idea that you can live with someone, marry someone, believe you know someone and then realise that, actually, you kind of don't and can't. Tale as old as time, I hear you cry, but in this instance, it involves a wife's discovery that her husband is actually a terrible, and terrifying criminal. The real strength in this story lies in the struggle of the wife between discovering these terrible things about her husband and trying to reconcile them with the man she (thinks she) knows. This is done so well, for instance, when she has just found out the terrible thing and her husband phones and she kind of hates him and is disgusted by him but he is also just the sweet guy who cares about her. It forces you to face the uncomfortable truth that, if you found out something similar about someone you loved, they would remain the person you loved AND the person who did the bad thing, and how does a person reconcile that? This story doesn't necessarily have an answer, just an exploration.

Just to reiterate, this story collection is not for the sad or pessimistic reader. I consider myself a fairly optimistic person and by the end of these I pretty much needed a giant hug and a drink. This doesn't mean that they're not worth reading and actually I feel like I've come to a really good patch of King-writing, it's just a bit intense and sometimes a bit much. Maybe don't read them all in one day like me, and break them up with some happy reading, but please definitely read them.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Devouring Books: Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class by Owen Jones

I come to my review of Chavs with a bit of a disclaimer- this book was, politically and socially and everything-ly, exactly what I wanted to read regarding Thatcherite politics and what they have done to the UK as a country and as a society. I have a hard time imagining that this is going to be interesting to anyone who doesn't care about politics, or doesn't know much about the ways that Thatcher has basically decimated the working class, or kind of doesn't care so much about UK politics and sociology, but then. This book is so well written that, even with no background, I think you could still be outraged, and horrified, and all of the other things that Jones wants you to feel over the course of this book.

Chav, for anyone who doesn't know, is a term used for an image of the kind of person that society doesn't like. Chavs are lazy, live off benefits, don't want to work, have loads of children to try and take advantage of the system, and essentially steal the money of hard working people to fund their self-indulgent lifestyles. Chav is a term often just applied to the working class en masse, so that people who are poor but work (i.e. the working class), terrified of being classified as chavs, move away from the identification of being this shitty person and, in turn, sell themselves short and allow for the problems of working class people to be ignored by the media and the government, and allow for the constant vilification of people on benefits.

Owen Jones really tries to dispel all of the current popular ideas about chavs, and he really does a stellar job. I can't get over how much I loved this book, and how insightful and straightforward it was, but I say this as a total leftie who pretty much think that the state owes its people the service of helping them out when they fall upon hard times. I'm sure someone with more right wing views reading this book would just roll their eyes and say 'well sure, but what about the chavs? They're an actual problem and they're terrible'. So said the man in Oxfordshire, who has never really met anyone from the working class, you know, ever.

Jones forms an argument in this book that traces a time line from Thatcher's destruction of all the manufacturing jobs in Britain and her selling of all the council housing in the 80s, to the state that the country now finds itself in. Combined with Thatcher's policies is the idea that is still current which suggests that people who fall upon hard times are entirely responsible for their own fates. Never mind that there are quite literally no jobs for people who are out of work, and never mind that there is quite literally no affordable housing anymore, people who are jobless and/or can't afford to pay their rent or mortgage are now considered to have failed somehow, rather than the government being considered as having failed them.

There's so much to talk about with this book that I definitely can't fit it all into this review, because for starters, you're all going to get bored. Fortunately, I've already ranted about this quite a lot with both my boyfriend and my best friend, so I guess I can trim the fat a little. One of the most interesting parts of this book to me was the role of the media in perpetuating the idea that working class people and people on benefits are terrible and lazy. It makes complete sense that politicians portray the working class as terrible because it serves their interests in being able to make crushing cuts to the welfare state (instead of, you know, TAXING THE RICH), but the media seems to willingly accept this too, for the pure reason that they literally don't know anyone who is working class. In order to work in the media, you need to both go to university and be able to afford to work for free for quite a while, and usually either one or both of these options simply aren't open to people whose parents aren't, well, if not rich then comfortable. The government and the media have become one circle of fear, telling working class people that they aren't good enough, and making everyone else believe it too.

It fucking sucks, is what it does.

Lest this become an unwelcome political rant, Imma stop right here. I will say that I think Chavs is a really important and eye-opening book, and I'm really glad I read it if only for some excellent statistics (did you know that Tax evasion costs the country 70x more than benefit fraud? Nope, and neither did I because members of the government and the media are much more likely to be doing the former than the latter so much better to focus on the poor, don't you think?) This book was originally published in 2012 and is only becoming more relevant as the current Conservative government continues to strip away the welfare state, replacing it with precisely nothing and, most recently, cutting £4 billion of welfare spending that's expected to put about 200,000 children under the poverty line.

But that's ok. They're only chavs, after all.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

28 Before 29

Oh hey, so I guess I had a birthday recently* which obviously means it's time for a list that nobody asked to see and that I actually kind of struggled to make this year, cause 28 is many many things. Before I show you this years list though, shall we quickly review last year's and see what I actually got done?

Don't care, we're doing it anyway. I shall cross out the ones I've done, italicise the ones I've at least partially done, and laugh at the ones I haven't even nearly done...

27 before 28

1. Give blood regularly
2. Go to the dentist
3. Keep saving monies
4. Learn the Japanese
5. Do the Race for Life
6. Redo couch to 5k- I started but my womb wouldn't really let meeee
7. Surpass 500km in Nike Running
8. Don't buy ANY new books (kind of)
9. Continue being less sentimental about books

10. Read War and Peace
11. Read all the Stephen King- I made a REALLY big dent in it.
12. Blog at least twice a week
13. Do NaNoWriMo again

14. Make at least 10 beautiful things
15. Try one new Lush bath bomb a month
16. Have a Hummingbird Bakery Afternoon Tea
17. Go to Bristol Zoo- But I did go to London Zoo!
18. Go to the beach this summer 
19. Have many picnics this summer
20. Go somewhere new
21. Explore the Natural History Museum
22. Go to a Butterfly House
23. Go to the Shakespeare Exhibition at the British Library
24. See Titus Andronicus somewhere
25. Make Frances see Les Mis with me- tickets are booked for October, so kinda!
26. Go Vegan for a Month
27. Harbour Positivity and Expel Negativity- I mean, it's a work in progress but my main point was to not complain anymore that I don't have a boyfriend and I literally can't even do that anymore, so yeah.

So I completed 11/27, and half completed 3 more... I guess that puts me at about 50%? And I'm ok with that.

As I mentioned, I kind of struggled making a list this year, and it wasn't just because 28 things is a lot of things, but also because, not to sound smug or annoying or anything like that, but I feel like my life is in a place that I'm actually really happy with, so I'm slightly loathe to change it. 28 things IS a lot of things though, and I think next year's list (29 before 30!!!) is probably going to be my last one, both because 30 things will really be many many things, but also because I'm not sure how useful these lists are to my life now. They once used to be a sort of lifeline for me, making sure that I at least achieved some things, and even just had things to do, but I can really do that for myself in my everyday life now, and so yeah.

That being said, I kind of just enjoy these lists, and also I have made one and I will bloody share it with you YES I WILL. This year is all about me trying to form good habits, even though I am already  6 days into being 28 and I haven't reaaaally done any of the good habits... But there's still time! There's still hope! *dramatic arms*

28 Before 29

1. Read 75 books (that I already own)
2. Finish all the Stephen King (preferably by 21/9, aka his birthdayyyy)
3. Read (at least) 5 classics
4. Give blood
5. Get another tattoo
6. Leave the country
7. Blog (at least) once a week
8. Study Japanese at least one (extra) evening a week
9. Stop drinking Diet Coke for a month
10. Do some kind of exercise (at least) twice a week
11. Aim for 10,000 steps (at least) five times a week
12. Do the Race for Life again
13. Start saving monies again
14. Have a proper skincare routine
15. Read outside A LOT this summer
16. Don't buy ANY books (except on super special occasions, e.g. bookshop crawls)
17. Go to Marwell Zoo
18. Do a 24 Hour Readalong
19. Wear my unicorn shoes more (at all)
20. Go to Southampton IKEA
21. Go to the London Aquarium
22. Do a monthly blog post about movies
23. Go to Kew Gardens this summer
24. Dye my hair a ridiculous colour
25. Try to write letters to people in a more timely manner!
26. Actually read some Kindle books/start thinking of them as real books
27. Cook more and eat out less
28. Always be looking for ways to minimise my possessions

And there you have it! I am pleasantly surprised by this list (yes, I know I wrote it...) in that when I wrote it I thought that a lot of the things on there were kind of lame, but actually now that I have typed it I realise that these are all things I genuinely want to try and do, and so I shall! Self improvement, wut wuttttttt!

*It was the warmest day of the year so far, I had a beautiful picnic with my family and boyfriend, and I alternately wore a flower crown and a unicorn horn on my head. It was a good, good birthday.