Thursday 31 March 2011

Literary Blog Hop March 31- April 2

I completely forgot it was time for this lovely once fortnightly feature from The Blue Bookcase, probably because I've spent the last 2 days doing team building exercises that mostly involved me getting very muddy and pissed off with the world so that I've been unable to think of anything else, apart from how much I ache! But anyway- I'm totally on this now!

So, this week's question is:
Do you find yourself predisposed to like (or dislike) books that are generally accepted as great books and have been incorporated into the literary canon? Discuss the effect you believe a book's 'status' has on your opinion of it.

I'm not really sure what I think about this one. My family all seem to assume that, whenever I read a book that is a) thick, b) more than 100 years old, c) a classic, I am reading it only because I am 'supposed' to, and not because I actually want to, and therefore I can't really be enjoying them. This is really not the case, but this doesn't mean that I don't have a certain way of thinking about classic books.

The way I feel is basically this- if a book is a classic (an old classic) then there must be some reason that it has endured, and that is hopefully that it's amazing. And modern classics, they must have done something right too, to have gained that distinction. I am probably quite likely to consider them to be good, and to want to read them for myself, to get some kind of idea why they are classics. So I suppose I sort of 'like' them before I begin, as much as I possibly can.

This, of course, all dissolves when I actually read the books. My opinion of them is in no way blunted or exacerbated by the fact that they are classics, and I form it in spite of this fact about them. In a way, I suppose, I am more disappointed by classics when they are awful as opposed to just 'regular' books, but that's only because I can't really understand what it is about them that has made them endure for so long (Dickens is my prime example here) and I have to wonder whether anyone actually likes them, or is just reading them because they 'should'. I, for one, try to make sure that this is something that I never do.

How about you? Do you have any special feelings about classics, even if it's just avoiding them like the plague? Let me know below!

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Ooooh yeah! My favourite meme of the week, hosted as always by the wonderful The Broke and the Bookish, and this week it's authors that we think deserve more recognition. This one was especially tricky for me, because I tend to basically read books that are only by extremely esteemed authors- case in point, Wuthering Heights, and Anna Karenina, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest... you get the general idea. Add to that the fact that basically my favourite author in the world is John Steinbeck, and I was basically screwed! But, I rallied myself and managed to think up 10 authors (some of non-fiction) who I think deserve more credit than they get- even if they do already get a fair bit of credit! And then I really easily thought up 5 authors who deserve less recognition, a list which, to be honest, makes me look like a bit of lazy reader- which I am not! But anyway, I hope you enjoy!

Top Ten Authors who deserve more recognition

1. Stephen King- I know. I've made it fully obvious that I love him (just check out the challenges tab for information about my labour of love for him) and I realise that he gets plenty of recognition for being such an entertaining and imaginative author. It's just that I would defend to the death his literary merits too, and I think he's a really important part of literary history (something which he probably wouldn't even agree with himself. Which is another reason to love him!) Basically, everyone should just read them some Stephen King!

2. Tony Kushner- I seriously don't even know how well regarded Tony Kushner is in the outside world, but in my brain he is honestly the greatest writer, and therefore deserves all the recognition that can be bestowed on one. I'm going to make a guess and say that he's pretty well regarded in the theatre world, but less so in the reading world- which is a MISTAKE! Read my review of Angels in America for more evidence of my Kushner-mania...

3. Joyce Carol Oates- I think Oates may be recognised to a greater extent in America, because I have basically never really seen her mentioned in the British press at all (I could of course be wrong about this, because I pretty much just stick to reading the books and that's it). The first book I read of hers was 'We Were the Mulvaneys', and after that I was hooked- it was so good, it actually made me forget that I had an exam the day after I was reading it, and made me stay up waaay too late before that one... But it was totally worth it.

4. Richard Yates- It's probably not that fair of me to assert that Yates deserves more recognition, having only read one of his books that was also turned into a movie (Revolutionary Road). Nonetheless, I went from not at all knowing who he was, to being pretty blown away by this book he had written, which was far far better than the movie, although that was ok too. But I should probably read some more of his books to back this one up!

5. T C Boyle- Again, I've only read one of his books, but it was awesome enough to make me go out and buy another. The Tortilla Curtain is a kind of satire on people who consider themselves 'enlightened', but are actually pretty racist, and also deals with the heartbreaking conditions faced by illegal Mexican immigrants in the US, and it definitely deserves more publicity and praise than I've really read about it (having written an essay on it, I happen to know there's not a whole lot of things written about it) and the same could be said for the author. Also, his full name, Tom Coraghessan Boyle, really is pretty spectacular enough in itself to warrant him more attention!

6. Michael Cunningham- The author of basically one of my very favourite books, The Hours, this is yet again the only book that I have read by him, but oh my what a book! I don't know if having read only one of the books of all these authors is a symptom of the rest of their writing being awful, or just the lack of recognition that they get on the whole. I'm more inclined to go with the latter, especially in Cunningham's case, because The Hours is honestly one of the best things I have ever read ever (did I mention that already? Because it's definitely true!) and he deserves all the recognition in the world for that book alone, if you ask me.

7. Daniel Keyes- Flowers for Algernon is about the most moving piece of science fiction ever written. Enough said.

8. Arundhati Roy- Her novel, The God of Small Things, has remained with me in a way that very few books have done- it's moving, strange, unjust, tumultous, and I couldn't put it down. Having just extensively researched her (i.e. looked her up on Wikipedia) I see that The God of Small Things is basically her only novel, her main focus being on social and political issues, and her politics seem to be pretty similar to my own... if this is part of why I love her novel then so be it, but it is pretty amazing in spite of this, rather than because of it (although I totally want to be her friend now). So, she deserves a greater recognition for her artistic qualities, rather than her politics, although these are, of course, equally important!

9. Michael Moore- Love him or loathe him (I tend to do the former, because I basically continually agree with him), you'd still pretty much have to admit that he's a pretty great writer. He always presents his arguments in a coherent and logical way (something I appreciate as a philosopher) and above all manages to keep you entertained, even in political matters that can be pretty boring. I think that even the staunchest right winger could appreciate his books at a superficial level, while completely hating everything he stands for. So, more recognition for his writing rather than his rabid left wing politics? Yes  please.

10. Barack Obama- Oh yes, you voted for him (or, I hope you did at least!) but you may not know that your President can write. (I just realised that I completely wrote that for American readers only, but really- I would love it if Obama was my President. Or that we had a President. *Sigh*). But anyway, Dreams From My Father is one of the best memoirs I've probably ever read, and however many Nobel Peace Prizes the guy gets, I think we should all still remember that he also has the soul of an artist; and how is that not better than being the most powerful man in the world?!

And now, just for my peace of mind, the five authors who deserve less recognition:

1. Daniel Defoe- I don't know if you've ever tried to read Robinson Crusoe, but OH my God, it's just horrible- a whole load of list making, and then enlistment of a man who he makes do everything for him and justifies it because he has taught him Christianity, and so that's ok! I guess this makes me less of a fan of 18th century values, than Defoe himself, but trust me, it's also appallingly written too (I like to refer to the time he was writing as 'the time before people knew how to write novels properly') Just, avoid at all costs please?

2. Samuel Richardson- A similar problem to Defoe, in that the dude can't actually write, but it's almost even more insulting that the piece of trash he produced (Pamela) spawned a cultural craze in the style of Harry Potter, for a book that is not even 1% as good as Harry Potter is! Also, reading Pamela made me want to kill myself quite a bit, so it's probably best to avoid it as much as you can.

3. Charles Dickens- Yeah, I just can't. I hate him, I really do. I also hate that people expect me to be well versed in Dickens because I have an English degree. I'm not, because he sucks! And I can't get past all the words that are there for no reason! Just, no.

4. James Joyce- This list is making me look more and more like a pleb. But, I'm sorry, reading is there to, not necessarily be easy, but at least to be comprehensible, and to not make me feel like I'm sinking into quicksand while I'm reading it. I'm sure there are people out there who genuinely do enjoy Joyce, and good for them. I just really can't relate.

5. Bret Easton Ellis- I kind of swing both ways on Ellis, because he certainly knows how to disgust and create vivid pictures for his readers (I actually blocked out parts of American Psycho, and if I say the bit with the mouse/rat was one of these than I think you might understand why) but then his books also have no cohesion, no story, and are essentially empty. Which, I'm pretty sure, is the effect he is trying to create, but at the same time it leaves me cold and feeling no connection for his writing, which is something I always want to have. However, having read basically everything he's ever written meant that I could fully enjoy this hilarious mash-up of Ellis and the Babysitters Club, so maybe he's not all bad after all.

So, that's my top 10 and bottom 5! How about you? Any authors you think should get bucketloads more attention than they do already? Or conversely, ones you think are awful and everyone should just shut up about (because clearly that's what I'm really interested in!)? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday 27 March 2011

Devouring Books: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Wow. Just wow. It took me about a million years to read (actual time: about the whole month of March, and maybe a little bit more too), a lot of moany tweets, and weeks of aspiring to finish this behemoth of a novel, and I finally did, by powering through for my whole Saturday afternoon (I couldn't actually think of a better way to spend it!)

So, in spite of all this moaning and sighing and negative "I'll never finish it ever because it's just too long!" thoughts, I really and truly loved Anna Karenina. Tolstoy has reaffirmed my love for Russian authors that Nabokov awoke with Lolita, and that I'm totally going to have to continue with Crime and Punishment (having not got my hands on a copy of War and Peace yet). Anna Karenina is huge, but within it's hugeness, it just says so much- about society, about the peasants, education, Russian law, attitudes, lifestyle; and all of this is just seamlessly integrated into a plot that always keeps you interested and engaged, and most of all caring about what happens to the characters.

So, let's talk about the characters, shall we? I had heard a lot of really negative things about Anna before I started reading, and at first I didn't really see anything to complain about with her- she's pretty nice and lovely looking (apparently an important trait to have in Russian Society in the 19th century) and everyone seems to adore her, until she has the misfortune to fall in love. With someone who isn't her husband. And with someone who her new best friend has set her heart on (poor Kitty!) My feelings about her pretty much go downhill from here, and while I sympathise with the familiar literary theme of forbidden love and loveless marriages, I still can't really support Anna because she is being completely and utterly selfish, and after all that isn't even happy. Vronsky (the man she falls in love with) is less blameless in the whole scenario, being a bachelor, and not having to return Kitty's love for him; but I almost like him less- he really is very selfish, and hardly thinks of Anna at all, even when he is loving her. I also just generally find him boring, the kind of man who doesn't really understand politics or anything important, and more pertinently, doesn't care that he lacks these interests. His main interest, I found, was himself.

If you think I'm being too harsh on Vronsky than you may be right, but this is only because I am genuinely in love with Levin, about as much as I have ever been with any fictional character. (he's just pipped Luke from the Gilmore Girls on my fictional men to marry list- yes, that is an actual list I have made) He is honestly so perfect- shy, unsure of himself, a deep thinker, a worrier, and reading his thoughts at times felt very familiar to me- not that I consider myself as awesome as Levin, of course, but just that some of the things he thinks deeply about have also concerned not just me but, I'm sure, everyone who isn't just wondering when the next episode of Jersey Shore is on (or whatever the kids watch these days, I don't know!) Religion, the meaning of life, the right way to work, the right way to live- all of these things occupy Levin, and I completely and utterly love him for it. The description Tolstoy has of Levin while he is awaiting the birth of his child seemed to be so true and likely to me that I was grinning the whole way through- his anxiety, and then a bit of normalcy, and then back to worry and pacing again- it was pretty much genius, and one of the realest things I can remember reading.

Another thing that struck me with Anna Karenina is how much I kind of really like, but then also dislike Russia. Let me explain. I love how completely educated everyone seems to be, how everyone can speak Russian, French and English, and converse sensibly on practically all matters. It seems like a really amazing culture to be in. But then, there are the things that really annoy me. The fact that Society (that's with a capital 'S') depends on being seen with the right people at the right time in the right places, and that everyone just flits around everywhere, without actually achieving, or really even doing anything. At one point, I did begin thinking, 'No wonder they had a revolution! The peasants got sick of the rich people having everything and doing nothing with it, and decided that enough was enough!' Mind you, life for the peasants pretty much sucked with Communism as much as without it, so Russia has apparently just never had a fair class system- there is very much a separation between the haves and the have-nots.

But anyway, back to the story. So, another reason to love Levin is that he more or less shuns Society, preferring to stay in the country and actually work (there is a section where he finds actual labour pretty much the most satisfying thing he's ever done), and even when he is in Society, he never feels fully comfortable there. This is in stark contrast to Anna, who is necessarily shunned from Society (for leaving her husband and taking up with Vronsky, although interestingly not for having a very well known about affair with him) and this, at least partially, leads to her rather unpleasant breakdown- being unable to occupy herself with petty society matters, she spends the entirety of her time questioning how much Vronsky loves her, or whether he does actually love her at all, irrationally ignoring all the signs that he does and twisting everything to convince herself that she is unloved. It was really very taxing being in Anna's head through all this, because you just want to shake her and go 'Stop being such a fucking idiot!' but alas, you can't, and her ending is inevitable, although still fabulously tragic!

The supporting cast of characters in Anna Karenina is one of it's biggest strengths- apart from the two main couples, there is a whole host of family members, servants and other people in Society that mean something interesting is always happening. Even the minor characters are still extremely interesting- I still vividly remember a lawyer that Karenin (Anna's husband) has a one-chapter interaction with, because I found him pretty hilarious! Of all the 'supporting' characters though, my favourites have to be Oblonsky (Anna's brother) and Dolly (Kitty's sister and Oblonsky's wife). Obonsky is just a ridiculously happy person- he seems to generally go through life not really worrying about what he does and who it might hurt, as long as the things he does make him happy. This means that, quite a lot of the time, he does things that cause Dolly a great deal of hurt, and she is under quite a lot of emotional distress for quite a lot of the novel, loving a man who should never have married, and unable to stop doing so even though he is the greatest cause of her sorrows. There is a quite wonderful chapter where Dolly, able for the first time to escape being a mere wife and mother, thinks about her life and how it could be so different, and so much better than it is. I find it so wonderful that Tolstoy, in the time this was written, was able to appreciate that women don't just get married and are happy forever, but that we are in fact a great deal more complex than this- for a male author to recognise this in the 1860s suggests to me just how extremely extraordinary he really is.

All I really want you to take away from this review is this- 1) Russian literature is really great, 2) You should absolutely read Anna Karenina, not just because it's an 'important' book (although it really is), but because it is wonderfully written, the characters are so well drawn that I talk about them as if they are real people, and it is just one of the greatest things I've ever read. Please don't let its size intimidate you either- even if it takes you a whole month to read (ahem), it will still be as potent and amazing as if you read in mere days. And who knows, Levin might even allow you to have a revelation about the meaning of life or something like that- and wouldn't that be wonderful?

Mailbox Monday/ In My Mailbox

Hey, it's that time again, where I express to you how naughty I've been, buying books with my no money, and then you comfort me and tell me they're great! No visits to the library this week (I'm saving that for tomorrow, before I properly start my new job on Tuesday, scary stuff!) but I did buy two new books, whoopsie! And they are:

Room by Emma Donoghue
I have only ever read or seen good things about this book, so I thought the time had come to buy it. It sounds heartbreaking but cute, and something that I should definitely be reading, plus I've had it on my amazon wishlist ever since it came out in hardback/I read the New York Times review of it. When I saw it had come out in paperback, well, I knew I had to buy it! In my defence, I bought it with a mother's day present, and it is less than 2 weeks until my birthday- what if no one else buys me a present at all?! Then I at least won't be sad because I can read my book! Betcha never thought of that! Also, this recommendation by Audrey Niffenegger makes it sound pretty spectacular too: "Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it's over, you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days." Yeah, I think I might be reading this book pretty soon...

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Continuing on my quest for a full reading of the works of the great Stephen King, I found a pristine copy of his latest book for £1 in a charity shop. And when I say pristine, I mean pristine- I'm pretty sure that nobody's read it before, which means a score for me! I am actually feeling little pangs of sadness around this purchase though, because I basically can't read it for another 56 books (and that's just King books!) but maybe I should just read it whenever I want and re-read it when I get to the end of my challenge... That sounds like the best way to me!

So anyway, yes, this is what I bought. How about you? Any exciting new books making their way into your household this week? Let me know below!

IMM is hosted by The Story Sirenevery Sunday.
Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed PageIt is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. You can view the touring blog list at the Mailbox Monday blog for the upcoming months.

Friday 25 March 2011

Hop Hop Hippity Hop

Oh my God, I'm actually participating in the Friday blog hops. Go me! Even though, I'm really only doing it because I feel like I haven't blogged enough this week, mainly because Anna Karenina and The Stand are taking up about 900% of my concentration, and I haven't read a nice little book in between to review for you. I'm so sorry! But not really hehe. Also, I really like the questions on this weeks hops! So, without any ado at all, here they are...

If you could physically put yourself into a book or series, which one would it be and why?
I've seen a few people answer Harry Potter, and that did pretty much occur to me straight away, BUT I've already been there! Like, seriously, you read the books and you are just unquestionably there, and it's difficult to drag yourself back into the real world at all! So, I'd probably have to go for On the Road- not because I think it's the best written book ever or anything like that (although I did enjoy it) but because of the sense of freedom that is continually there in the book- the way you can throw aside your obligations and just be free and travel anywhere and everywhere, and the entire world is open to you. The same pretty much goes for Travels With Charley, or any kind of road trip across America kind of book... In case you can't tell, that's kind of a big thing that I want to do at some point in my life!

Inspired by the inane twitter trend #100factsaboutme, give us five book related silly facts about you.
How fun! So, just off the top of my head...
1. I read classics when I was far too young to understand them, so I hated them all for a really long time (Pride and Prejudice is my prime example)- now I adore them (in general)

2. My favourite place to read is on a blanket in my back garden in the sunshine... Bliss :)

3. I used to get book recommendations from Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club books (Seriously... Lila once did a book report on The Great Gatsby, so I decided I had to read it!)

4. I love Stephen King basically better than any other author (except possibly Steinbeck), and I would defend his literary merits to the death.

5. When I read The Bell Jar, I honestly thought for a pretty long time afterwards that I was also crazy- that's one helleuva good book!

Thanks to Crazy for Books and Parajunkee's View for hosting these hops! Let me know your answers to either/both of the questions below!

Thursday 24 March 2011

Revisiting Films... The Brave

I have now watched The Brave three times in my life, and each time it seems more and more hopeless, and to have so fewer redeeming features than ever before. This is not to say it is a bad film- on the contrary it's a pretty good film, especially from a first time director (Johnny Depp, who also stars), but it is also incredibly difficult to watch at times.

It is especially difficult for me, a fully paid up Depp Devotee (if you don't believe me, check out this guest post I did where I fully confess the depths of my obsession) to watch his character continue living, knowing that his time on earth is limited to one more week. This is actually a fact that remains pretty obscure throughout most of the film- when Raphael (Depp) meets with McCarthy (Marlon Brando), the man who makes snuff movies, there is not really any mention of his death, per se, although you do get an eerie sensation from the scene, but unless you were listening very closely, you may have missed the whole 'I'll pay you for killing you' part of the exchange, and will have to wait until Raphael spells out exactly what is going on to a priest, very near the end of the movie. And what is going on is really horrible.

It seems almost impossible to understand why someone would sell themselves, their entire life, for $50,000, until we follow Raphael home, and understand exactly what he is dealing with. He lives adjacent to a rubbish dump, his family essentially has nothing, and there is nothing he can do to help them. All he has to offer them, or so he thinks, is the money that his death will bring, so that they can move onto a better life somewhere else. The tragedy of this though, is that throughout the film, in his last week, Raphael proves to the audience just how indispensable he really is to his family, and even to the community at large- we never get to see how they would get on without him, but in my mind it wouldn't be very well- he has so much heart and soul that he would be missed a whole lot more than he could possibly imagine.

So, brave? Unbelievably so, yes. But what could be even braver is sticking around for his family, and keeping on trying, because knowing that he died so that they might have a better life is not something that his family should be expected to have to live with. I mean, how could they? Taking the money and knowing it is a replacement for her husband, and her children's father, is something that his wife shouldn't have to deal with, especially since she tells Raphael earlier in the film that she wants him to spend more time with his children, not none at all. In the book, or so I have read being unable to find a copy of it anywhere at all, Raphael has signed a meaningless contract and his family are not entitled to any money at all. The film thankfully doesn't allude that this is the case, especially since Marlon Brando's character is made to seem like a friendly murderer! But that ending is an especially horrific one, making Raphael's sacrifice for absolutely nothing. The film at least grants him a slightly more dignified end.

There is actually quite a bit more to the film than what Raphael has agreed to, and considerations of his mortality, but it is really hard to focus on all of these things without also thinking 'Oh nooo, he's going to die soon' *sad face*, or at least it is for me. I happen to know that this film has never been released in the US, I think because some people didn't like the way it portrayed the failures of the government to protect Native Americans (or something like that, as you can tell, I'm a little shady on the details) but if you've been able to see it, then I'd love to know what you think of it. Did it just put you in a deep and unabating depression for the duration of the film, or were you able to appreciate Raphael's final days the way you have to hope he did too? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Fifty Books A Year

The English government has announced that it wants children in education to be reading 50 books a year, prompted by the fact that most kids only read 2 books for the entire 2 years they are taking their GCSEs (taken when we're about 15/16, to my lovely readers from further afield, i.e. most of you). Being a general armchair agitator, I find it really really hard to agree with this rich tory moron (Education Secretary, Michael Gove) but I can't disagree with something that would open up so many worlds to so many more children. Personally, when I was that age, I read way more than 50 books a year, so I think it's a completely achievable thing to ask, but not when the government is also closing libraries at an alarming rate. Being a poor child, I completely relied on libraries to fuel my reading habit, and literally the most exciting weekends of my childhood were when they had new Babysitters Club books, and I could take them home and read at least two before school on Monday! (Yes, I was a deprived child.)

So, yes, my point. Reading is a wonderful and amazing thing, and something that I would love all children to appreciate and adore as much as I do. But the way to do this is not to expect parents to fuel a reading addiction with the tiny bit of money that they have now that VAT is so high, but to keep all libraries open, and to even open a few more for good measure. If the government doesn't respect the importance of reading by carrying out this one action, then how can children be expected to find reading important at all? And the worst part of it is, the children who need to have access to the other worlds that reading opens up for us all the most, are the ones least likely to get it, because libraries in the least affluent places are the first ones to go. How does this make any sense? It really doesn't.

Hey, I got my government bashing in there anyway! Now go and read this article, by the man I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to marry one of these days- he says that everyone, not just children should be encouraged to read at least twenty books a year... 20? I'm pretty sure I've done that in just a month before, am I right?! Good God, how I do love reading...

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Hosted by the wonderful The Broke and the Bookish.
I didn't think I'd really be able to participate in this week's top ten because I didn't think I had any pet peeves when it came to books. Sure, I get annoyed/angry at politics, sexism, racism, Fox News, Johnny Depp haters, polluters, and all things like that- but books? Not so much. Then I read a few other lists, and all these feelings that I never knew I had came rushing out and before I knew it, I had my top ten!

My list doesn't really have anything to do with book quality, since I will pretty much buy books in any condition at all, as long as they have the words in them that I want to read. My sister, however, has a serious problem in that she can't have the spines of her books bent. To achieve this, she basically has to barely open a book to read it, which I'm pretty sure means she must miss about 20% of the story through not being able to see the words in the very middle of the book. Yeah, she's pretty odd. I also don't really have any peeves relating to stories, because, essentially I either like a book or not, and this rarely has anything to do with recurring annoyances in books. Maybe the books I read are all just too different to each other, I don't know.

So, what does this leave? Well, all will be revealed below! Please, make yourself comfortable, attain suitable levels of annoyance, and I'll tell you all about the bookish things that annoy me...

Top Ten Bookish Pet Peeves

1. Spelling/grammatical errors- I just can't stand them! It's especially annoying considering that I would love to be a book editor (or, whoever it is whose job is to check for mistakes), so if someone has the job who isn't doing it properly, that doesn't really seem fair. I also always seem to find these, no matter how small, which kind of annoys me even more with myself because I'm so horribly anal. Or maybe just observant...

2. Blurbs that do not at all reflect content- I can't remember the really good (or bad) example of this that I found, but it does happen a fair bit- the blurb tries to make it sound like a fun holiday read, or a laugh-a-minute tome, and then you read it and want to kill yourself! I always seem to see this on books I've already read, and I just feel like sticking my own, far more accurate, blurb over the top of it, like 'this will not relax you on a beach. But it is much better than something that will', something like that.

3. Comparing everything to The Catcher in the Rye- Look, it's probably not going to be that much like The Catcher in the Rye, ok? Just because there are depressed teenagers in it, does not mean that they are at all like the supremely irritating Holden Caulfield, ok? This is not at all a bad thing, but if I believed that all these books were like The Catcher in the Rye, then I'd hardly ever read anything, not even The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I love love loved! But yes, please stop doing this publishers, because it really puts me off your books- The Catcher in the Rye is not that good, so please stop comparing things to it!

4. Really Bad Biographies- Seriously. I didn't even know I had this problem until I read What's Eating Johnny Depp, but I really do demand something more from my biographies of famous figures than a rehashing of a relationship that happened 18 years ago, and which surely can't have had as much an effect on their life as this author suggests it did. But in general, unless you've properly researched a person's entire life, and preferably talked to said person about whether or not what you're going to write is total bullshit, then you probably shouldn't be writing their biography. Just sayin'...

5. Movie Covers- I've seen this come up a few times already today, but it is something that really bugs me, especially when there are far nicer covers to be found. I even took this problem as far as avoiding the movie cover of Revolutionary Road, in favour of the far more expensive but nicer Vintage edition of it... and this is when I had no money! I would, I suppose, under duress buy a book with a movie cover if it was about 50p, but on the whole I try to avoid them like the plague.

6. Not living near The Strand Bookstore- This goes hand in hand with my general life peeve of not living in New York City, but I am so uninspired by the basically one bookstore that we have in England (Waterstones, one day you will be destroyed!) that I yearn and pine for The Strand to come to my town and make my life complete! If you've never been there, go immediately (it's on 8th and Broadway)- this can wait until you get back.

7. Putting all minorities into one character- I've only ever found one example of this, and I did eventually get over it, but at first it really pissed me off and made it hard for me to be friends with this series of books (but boy, did I manage!) But, in The Dark Tower series of books, there is essentially a group of people that includes three white men, and then a disabled, black woman. I mean, I would never diss Stephen King without good reason (because I do love him so) but this seemed a bit ridiculous-he just kept disadvantaging a character (societywise) further and further, whilst covering all his bases so that everyone could find someone to connect with, or something. Of course, Susannah's gender and disability become very important later on in the story, and there is a reason for it all, so I kind of got over it, but it threw me for a good while there!

8. Books that make you look stupid- I guess with this, I don't necessarily mean stupid, but less bookish than you actually are- books that make it look like you read things only because you saw them in a movie rather than because you actually want to read them. My biggest example is Love Letters of Great Men, which came with this horrible cardboard banner that said 'recommended for Sex and the City fans' or something like that- I'm not sure because I threw it away in disgust. But anyway, I resented that implication because, while I am a Sex and the City fan (although my love teetered after the last film, what the hell was that all about?!) this was still exactly the kind of book I would adore- I love reading people's letters, and famous people's love, and it was just perfect for me, movie or no movie. But no, the stupid cardboard banner ruined it for me!

9. Inappropriate Covers/Titles- This Christmas I got two books on feminism- One of them, Living Dolls, had a rather dodgy cover (naked legs and torso and a barbie doll where one's bits should be) and the other was Female Chauvinist Pigs, which is not that nice a title to have to read out to your 81 year old grandmother! I mean, I love both the books, but that was really not a good experience for me. Perhaps the lesson I should learn is that I shouldn't ask for such books for Christmas, and I should buy them myself...

10. Kindles, Ebooks, Ipads (for reading) etc.- I'm sorry. I know how practical they are, I know how much paper they'll save, I just really can't get on board with books that don't come on paper. I love turning pages, counting how many pages I have left until the end of a chapter, even the comforting weight of a book in my bag that reassures me that I'll never be bored! I'm sure that all these electronic devices are very good, but I just can't be their friend. I think they understand, especially when they saw my reaction to finding a book on amazon yesterday that amazon itself was only selling as a digital copy (I'll give you a hint, the word 'fuck' was involved. A lot.) Give me paper or give me death, as far as I'm concerned.

So that's my top ten, how about you? Any little annoyances related to books that you want to share with me? Have a proper think about it now, because I can almost guarantee you that you will have at least one- I didn't think I did, and look at me now, all crazy and angry!

Sunday 20 March 2011

Mailbox Monday/ In My Mailbox

Sunday is, as always, a day for reflecting on the naughty books I've bought over the past week. This week I've been exceptionally good, even after 3 trips to places where there are shops, and I only bought two books, both from a library so that's even better! I have also, in addition to these books, acquired a cold this week, potentially an allergic reaction to the work I'm going to have to do this coming week and the many weeks afterwards (I got a job! So, yay! But also, boo, less time for blogging! But then again, yay, more money to buy books! There's two sides to everything...)
My favourite thing this week, though, was doubtless seeing my lovely amazing Uni friend Frances. Since we stopped living with each other (waaaah!) we don't get to see each other very much at all, so it's always a properly nice treat to see her lovely face! Go and see her blog, it is lovely and she says clever feministy and political things all the time. Also, just go and see it because I love her!
If you haven't become bored of my narrative voice yet, you might like to go over to Christina's blog, Reading Thru The Night, where I have presented a defence for Johnny Depp that nobody asked for, but that they got anyway. I also believe that it proves my far deeper love for him than Christina's, but she would tell you otherwise- I'm not sure this one's going to be settled until one of us is dead. Which can be arranged...

But anyway... I'll shut up with my self/others-promotion and actually do what we came here to do shall I?

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King
I mean, obviously I needed this book for my Stephen King Challenge! The fact that it's book number 53 on a list of 62, and I don't even have book number 9 is completely irrelevant- I mean, imagine if I didn't have it in about 2030 when I really really needed it and it was out of print and I could never find it ever again? Exactly. It would be terrible, and now I don't even have to worry and I can sleep at night again!

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
I read Klein's No Logo over the summer and I was completely blown away by it. It was just a complete fight back against everything that is wrong with our world (slave labour so that we can have nice things, the labels you wear being more important than who you are, companies making mega bucks off of all the rest of us, all kinds of shit like that) and if you haven't read it yet I am personally recommending it to you as being more important than anything I've reviewed on here before, seriously. Anyway, I figured that The Shock Doctrine would be just as important and groundbreaking and hard hitting as No Logo, especially considering that it covers the fact that the people in power are able to cash in on natural disasters, wars, and things like that, so that while people are busy suffering and dying, they are getting richer. Expect me to read this in about a day, and write a completely ranting review, horrified at the actions of such people (as is my usual response).

So, that's the books I got this week! Since I've just finished Clark Gable: A Biography, I'll finally be able to take a book back to the library too! At last, my time has come! Or something...

Imm is hosted by The Story Siren, every Sunday.
 Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page. It is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. You can view the touring blog list at Mailbox Monday blog for the upcoming months.

Devouring Books: Clark Gable: A Biography by Warren G Harris

This is actually a first for me- the first time I've finished a book that was in a Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox post! Since I've been doing Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox for, oh, let's see, one month exactly today, that's probably not that good... But hey, I've still consistently given you great entertainment for free people! Nothing wrong with that! Update: I've just realised that this is a complete lie- I also read The Perks of Being a Wallflower! But it's the first library book I've read.... Oh, never mind!

But anyway. I really really enjoyed this biography, not least because the last one I read (What's Eating Johnny Depp) contained about the worst writing of anything that's ever existed; and also because, you know, it's Clark Gable! But apart from that, it was also well-written, well-researched, and didn't overly explain the plots of Gable's films to the detriment of all other facts about his life- a lengthy paragraph for each sufficed. I also learnt a LOT about Clark Gable, which is only to be expected having gone in basically knowing only that he was the man who was Rhett Butler, and that's about it. I was, in fact, a little bit disappointed that not all that much was said about Gone With the Wind, and that he and Vivien Leigh weren't best friends or lovers or anything like that- shatter all my illusions, why don't you?!

So, instead of being one long celebration of Gone With the Wind (which, honestly, I really wasn't expecting from this book, regardless of what I say) this biography really goes into every facet of Clark Gable's life, without being too intrusive or overly personal (I'm not sure that you can intrude on someone who has been dead for 50 years, but you can still get overly personal with a dead subject- see: Heavier than Heaven, the Kurt Cobain biography that very helpfully/ridiculously imagines his final moments for us all). His childhood is, as is pretty common, a short part of the book, and the bulk of it is concerned with his Hollywood working years, which spans from the late 1920s up until his death in 1960. In this time frame, as well as making 67 films, he had 5 wives, countless lovers (basically every woman he ever starred with) and a secret child, who, the biography makes it seem, was pretty messed up from finding out Gable was her father. I find it kind of sad that, in comparison to the amount of sex he got, Gable never had the opportunity to be a father (his son was born 5 months after he died), something which it seems he didn't necessarily want very badly, but also something that he would have excelled at.

Quite a large chunk of the book is taken up by his marriage to, and relationship with Carole Lombard, the woman who it seems was the love of his life. Now, I am deeply in love with Clark Gable, so I wouldn't ever emotionally betray him like this, but honestly, I kind of want Carole Lombard to be my wife! I mean, seriously, these are just a few of her absolute charms, and I swear I actually laughed out loud at them while I was reading:
"Sid Grauman invited Gable to officially become a Hollywood immortal by leaving his footprints in a block of concrete in the forecourt of the world-famous Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard... Carole Lombard later joked that he should have left a 'cockprint' as well."
"On the first day of production, Gable received a surprise package from Carole Lombard with a label marked 'Too Hot to Handle.' Inside were a pair of asbestos gloves and a large envelope filled with graphic photos of sex orgies."
I mean, honestly, does she not just sound completely hilarious?! I think yes! Added to that the fact that she was also perfect for Clark Gable, and that they had this perfect little life together, I was pretty distraught when she died, far too young, and too far from the end of Gable's life too. After she died, it seemed that a part of him died too- he started drinking heavily, and joined the airforce, apparently saying that he didn't care if he came back from the war or not. This didn't, however, stop him from still having sex with an immense and impressive amount of women.

When I was reading all about Lombard and Gable's romance, though, it all felt very familiar and nice, but I wasn't quite sure why. When it came to them driving away somewhere secluded to get married in peace, though, it suddenly struck me why all of the book had felt so vivid- it's almost exactly like A Star is Born, which, since it's set in Hollywood in a similar kind of time, shouldn't be that much of a surprise! Now, A Star is Born is definitely a little snapshot of Hollywood life in the golden days of Hollywood, and it struck me that this book does much the same- while it is obviously based around Clark Gable, there are also stories about many other actors, directors, producers and so on that are all connected to Gable in various ways. So, with this biography, you get not only the story of one man's life, but also the more general story of how truly awesome Hollywood used to be- not a bad deal if you ask me!

And then there were parts of the biography that disappointed me, not because they weren't well written or anything like that, but more because they made Gable seem like so much less of an idol than I had made him out to be in my mind. There were, of course, the many many women, not necessarily such a bad thing, but having sex with them while he was married, even to Lombard, makes him seem like less than the perfect man to me. Far worse than that, though, was the fact that he really, openly hated gay men- to the extent of being disgusted by them, and just completely shunning them, something which he did to so few people, it seems. Coupled together, if I didn't know better, I'd have to say that Gable was a self-hating gay man, but considering that he basically just did what/whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted, he probably wouldn't have denied himself those pleasures if they were what he really wanted. So, I guess, he was kind of just a bit of a bigot! Not cool, Clark. At all.

If I may just excuse Clark a tiny bit by saying that it was the thirties, and his father was a big strong tough guy who would have probably murdered Clark had he turned out to be gay, not that this makes his homophobia ok, but it does explain it at least a bit; then, overall, I pretty much liked the Clark Gable presented to us by the means of this book. It is, of course, impossible to know him, even with such books, but I guess you have to go with the information you've got. This assures me that we pretty much would have liked each other (him liking me because I am a woman, rather than a gay man) although I would have had to change his prejudices (well, gotten rid of them rather than just swapped them somewhere else!) for us to get along well. If you're at all interested in Clark Gable (like, if you lusted after him entirely in Gone With the Wind but know nothing else about him) then I would definitely recommend this biography that is far reaching and very revealing about, not just Gable, but all of Hollywood from the 1930s to 1960.

Don't forget to check out my guest post over at Reading Thru The Night! It deals with another Hollywood legend, and basically my favourite actor ever, the incomparable Johnny Depp- I really hope you'll go and look at it if you've got the time!

Saturday 19 March 2011

Devouring Stephen King: Night Shift

Picture via Amazon
I am cheating just the tiniest bit with this challenge, because I read Night Shift pretty recently (but before I started my li'l Stephen King challenge) and I really can't be bothered to read it again. Not because it isn't good, because it is (for the most part) but I really really want to get stuck into The Stand, which I haven't read for about 5 years (SO excited!)

Night Shift, then, is essentially a whole load of collected Stephen King short stories, a lot of which were published even before Carrie was written, and for the most part they're really pretty spine-chilling, although they're not all strictly horrorful, some are more on the thriller side of things (not the Michael Jackson song, although that would be cool too!) There are, as I think applies to any short story collection, a few duds, but mostly I was impressed by the broad scope of horrors that King covers in the 20 stories contained in this book. Since I literally have no idea how to review short stories, I guess I'm just going to point out my favourites, and the ones you should avoid if you're in a big hurry to finish the book (because I would never otherwise advocate skipping a short story, even if it is bad!) So, here I go!

I'll start with the least good (because doesn't that sound so much better than bad?!) stories, or at least the ones I enjoyed the least. I found that 'Jerusalem's Lot' a kind of pre-cursor to 'Salem's Lot, was overlong and really irritating to read, but at the same time I did appreciate (in a kind of grudging way) the gothic conventions that King stuck to in this story. It's just, I don't really love gothic novels, so this one was never really going to work for me! 'Trucks' and 'The Mangler' I also found a little bit annoying, because they basically make machines the enemy, which for some reason I find a little bit silly (Christine is not exactly my favourite Stephen King novel) and much less scary than evil clowns or diseases or vampires.... That's just me though! And then there was this one story called 'The Lawnmower Man', which I don't even know how to describe- lets just say that it was kind of mental, and not at all scary... unless weird people who eat grass scare you, which I suppose they might, in real life. Or maybe not...

Then there are some really really good stories. In fact, most of the ones I liked the best were not the traditionally 'scary' ones, but more the thrillers that just gave me little shocks of excitement. 'Night Surf' I liked as a kind of celebration of youth, and also a tiny little glimpse into what would later be The Stand, as a group of teenagers act exactly like teenagers in the face of their almost certain deaths from this superbug. This was a kind of bittersweet story, and left quite a big impression on me afterwards (also, I really like The Stand, have I mentioned that yet?) I also really liked 'The Boogeyman' because it was just perfect- playing on childhood fears, but making the boogeyman actually real, even though no one will believe the narrator (and I guess it's your choice whether you do or not too). 'One for the Road' was also pretty pleasing, as a post-'Salem's Lot story, of this poor man who has come across some very scary things in his travels out into Maine... And then there was also 'Children of the Corn', which I really enjoyed because apparently weird corn-god worshipping children really float my horror boat (they're actually pretty freaky, I wish I could explain to you how... let's just say, in their town, you'd be dead already...)

So, these were the relatively traditional horror stories that I enjoyed a fair bit. But then there were also the thrillers, that made me feel far less uneasy, but which I also enjoyed thinking about a fair bit. Top of probably all of these was 'Quitters Inc.' a creepy little tale of a revolutionary way to stop people smoking that I'm pretty sure should be implemented everywhere (except it really shouldn't, because it's really horrible and scary!) I just loved the way it all unfolded, and I'm pretty sure you would too! I also liked 'Battleground', a story about a toy that comes alive and attacks this man in his own home (I know, I don't like machinery being scary, but this was different somehow) which I also really enjoyed. There was also 'The Ledge', where this man has to walk around the edge of a building, a lot of stories up, on a tiny ledge, but then turns things around on his tormentor. This wasn't a horror story, but it definitely scared the crap out of me because that really is the kind of stuff nightmares are made of. Undoubtedly the saddest story in the book was 'The Woman in the Room', where a man makes the decision to euthanise his mother (the woman in the room of the title, signifying that she has become something unrecognisable to her son), which I actually find even sadder now having seen You Don't Know Jack, and considering a lot more than I have for a long time the ethics of euthanasia. Left in an impossible situation, should this man help put his mother out of her misery, or keep her in a position of unendurable suffering? I think the answer to this is pretty obvious, but that's just me.

So, Night Shift is a bit of a mixed bag, really. The emotional, mixed with the scary, mixed with the stories that make your heart beat a little bit faster, and they all combine to make a pretty good set of short stories. Hopefully when I get to the next collection on the list (Which I think is Skeleton Crew) I will be a much more adept and amazing reviewer of them for you. But I wouldn't hold your breath! The Stand next- expect a review in about a month guys (it's almost double the size of Anna Karenina! But probably a lot easier to read...)

Update: Oooh, almost forgot to let you all know that I've done a guest post for Christina over at Reading Thru The Night, which she assures me will be up tomorrow, so go over and check it out if you want to read my opinions on Johnny Depp! (hint: They are very positive) I hope you all enjoy!

Thursday 17 March 2011

Literary Blog Hop March 17-20

Yessss, it's time for another Blog Hop. Hosted, as always, by the excellent The Blue Bookcase, the question at hand this fortnight is:

What one literary work must you read before you die?

This is such a hard question! Over at the Blue Bookcase, they've answered it in 2 different ways, which is something I'm going to do too, because it means I can advise not only myself, but you guys as well (don't you just love me advising you? The answer you're looking for is yes.)

So, the book I think everyone should read before they die has to be To Kill A Mockingbird- there just aren't word invented to deal with how much I love this book, or how important it is to me. It just is to do with everything- growing up, dealing with disappointment, dealing with other people's prejudices, and gives you the ultimate role model in life in Atticus Finch. There are so many other amazing books that I also adore and would have everyone read (almost everything by Steinbeck, The Bell Jar, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, all of Jane Austen etc.) but To kill a Mockingbird is possibly the most accessible of these, and possibly the one that has taught me the most. And, I just generally adore it, so you will too (obviously...)

And then there's the book I must read before I die. At this point I kind of want to say Anna Karenina, since I've been reading it for weeks already and haven't even gotten to the midway point yet, even though I already know it's amazing- so hopefully I will finish it before I die! But really. I'm quite tempted also to say The Complete works of Shakespeare, because he is, in my opinion, indispensable to literature, influencing basically everything that has been written after him, but that feels a little bit like cheating because it is just so many different works, rather than just one. The right thing to say next would probably be Ulysses by James Joyce because it's meant to be pretty important, but I just can't face it! I read about 5 pages of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and I just couldn't deal with it, so I now have a Joyce phobia, and I don't really want the one book that I must read before death to be the thing that kills me!
So, I'm a little stuck. If I died tomorrow, I would be immensely sad that I hadn't finished Anna Karenina, but at the same time I'm not sure if that's the ultimate book for me to read before I die. Maybe you guys can help- what can I absolutely not go through life without reading? I genuinely need your help on this! Note: Anyone recommending James Joyce to me will be hunted down and gagged...

Devouring Stephen King (as Richard Bachman): Rage

Rage is the first of the books published by King under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman, and, while I was kind of dubious about it because, comparatively, The Regulators, also released under the Bachman name, was definitely not as good as Desperation, the King book it closely parallels; it actually turned out to be better than I had expected. I think that the Bachman name was essentially brought into play by King so that he could write things that weren't necessarily out and out horror, but still retain his own reputation as the king of horror. Having said that, Rage is pretty scary, in a far more realistic way than a lot of King's other books- with supernatural horror, you can brush off a lot of the fear by being assured that it isn't real and can't really hurt you, whereas the plot of Rage is something that could really happen, and so is, in a lot of ways, a fair bit scarier than many of King's monsters.

So, the main character of Rage is essentially this 18 year old kid who has, ever so slowly, lost his mind. It's a terrifying admission for him to make, and I found it especially concerning because what if you did just wake up one day and realise that, after all the crap that's happened in your life, you have just given in and lost the plot? Scarier than that, though, is the idea that someone like Charlie could be lurking near you at any given time, just ready to give in and admit defeat to his own mind. This is a particularly worrying thought because, in the book, Charlie kills two people and takes a whole classroom hostage, something which has happened before, and will surely happen again. Creepy haunted hotels don't seem so scary now, huh?

I was really impressed with the psychological investigations that King imposed on his narrator, and how the entire book was really just a study of all the things in Charlie's life that had led him to this point, just over the edge of sanity, holding a class hostage with a gun. It is interesting that, rather than just stating that all these things caused Charlie to lose his mind, there is also an aspect that suggests that none of these things were wholly to blame, making his insanity almost scarier because it could then happen to any of us. And then, there is the class. They are at first terrified (understandably) but this then changes to something a lot weirder- they can almost identify with Charlie and what he is doing, which leaves us with the implication that all teenagers are just a little bit insane. Having been a teenager not so long ago, I can affirm that this is absolutely the case!

There is one exception to this rule, and this comes in the form of Ted, the only student who stands up to Charlie, and who ends up being the only student that the others come to hate. It is a very odd situation- he is trying to get them out of the room, but they almost don't want to leave- like this is something very important that they have to go through in order to learn important things about themselves. What is very interesting here is that, up until this point, Ted has been basically the most popular boy in school, almost the antithesis of Charlie's high school experience. While this is still the case, their roles are almost reversed when Charlie is holding the gun, as he becomes the most popular boy in the room. It's very strange, and I can only put it down to one thing- in his position, Charlie starts to tell the truth about himself, which is something that so few of the students have ever been able to do, and Ted has never been able to do (which is probably why he remains popular). It's a very interesting reversal, and it especially proves that people are capable of anything (something supported by the very end of the book, which makes even Charlie sick... But you'll have to read for yourself to find out what that is!)

So, Rage is a book about a lot of different things, far beyond just one boy's downfall into mental illness. It's a lot more about the things that teenagers face, and the fact that what they feel often goes a lot deeper than adults give them credit for. I think it brings up a lot of interesting thoughts (or at least it did for me) and is well worth a read as one of Stephen King's less read books. I have just realised that I have possibly given this book a better review than any of the other Stephen King books I've read so far, and so I want to clarify something- this is not as good as they are. Don't get me wrong, I do think it is a good book, but it doesn't give me the heebie-jeebies in the way a lot of other Stephen King books do. I think that, because I love those books more, I criticise them more also, whereas, although I liked this book I didn't love it, so I didn't feel the need to offer it any criticisms at all. Which is something I do with people too. So anyway, just ignore my biased style of reviewing and read this book anyway! Just... read 'Salem's Lot straight afterwards or something, ok?

Next up I'll review Night Shift, which I've already read this year, and don't really feel inclined to read again, so I'll be reading The Stand next, which I've only read once and not for a really long time- I'm pretty excited about it!

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Devouring Books: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Wow. I haven't felt quite the way I do about this book for an extremely long time, perhaps even since I read The Bell Jar, at a very impressionable age so that it has reverberated around my head ever since. I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower is going to do much the same.

The recommendation on the front of my copy of the book compares it to The Catcher in the Rye. This made me a little apprehensive, because I am definitely not Holden's biggest fan, but I needn't have worried. I felt so much closer to Charlie, Perks' protagonist, and could definitely identify with a lot of the things that he said, definitely in a better way than I can with Holden. I think there are many reasons for this, especially generational ones (I relate better to a Generation X sense of not belonging than to a 1950s one), but also that Charlie is just so passive and shy that I can see a lot of myself in him. I'm not trying to confess a mental illness to you or anything like that, but lets just say I can understand a lot of the things that Charlie says, and a lot of the sadness that he feels.

Mostly, though, I just love the little things about this book. The way that Charlie regards every new book he reads as his favourite book, something which I can't say I've never done; the way he feels music with all his senses and it really means something to him, rather than it just being background noise around him. The way he is never quite in sync with everyone else, but that's somehow ok because there are people who will accept him. I also love that, his mark of a great film is one that makes you feel different in some way after you've seen it- something which I'd never really considered before, but makes so much sense to me that I want to tell everyone about it, all the time.

There is so much about the book that I love that I can't even express because it is more about the way it made me feel rather than anything about the actual story. I could barely feel time passing as I read this book, and two train journeys passed by in seconds. If I'd been at home, I know I wouldn't have been able to move for the entire duration of the book. That's how good, but what is so good about it is pretty indescribable- I think you either have to feel it or you don't, and I definitely did.

I'm going to try and talk about it in a more rational way now, without sounding like a floaty hippy (which I do happen to be, but never mind that!) Apart from our narrator, who is so lovely, and yet so distanced, there is a supporting cast of characters that are almost equally as damaged as Charlie, but just in completely different ways. There is Sam, who he is in love with, but who doesn't feel she can love him back; Patrick, a gay senior who has had to put up with a closeted boyfriend (making this book part of my GLBT fiction challenge, oh yes!) and who goes off the rails slightly in the book; his sister who is having boyfriend trouble; and just so many more characters, none of whom are precisely happy or precisely sad- they just do the best they can, and this is perhaps no truer of anyone than it is of Charlie.

There is just so much in this relatively short book that I wouldn't want to give away too much about it, or take away the opportunity to discover your own favourite things about it. Just believe me when I tell you it is completely wonderful, and that I have probably never wanted to have written a book more than I do this one. I'll just give you one example of something that struck me really deeply, right in the heart. When all of Charlie's friends are getting ready to leave for college, he tells us this: "nobody felt sad as long as we could postpone tomorrow with more nostalgia." Isn't this just what people do? We avoid thinking or talking about future things that scare us, for the sake of past things that made us feel so good, because it's easier than admitting just how scared we are. I know that I do this all the time, and whilst it's not necessarily the healthiest thing to do, it is necessary so that we don't all go completely mad. At least, that's what I think, whereas someone else might have far different feelings about it, which is one of the greatest things about reading anything, but especially this book.

So, this book has just about gone to the top of my list of things people are never allowed to say bad things about ever (just above American Beauty and To Kill A Mockingbird). So, please think carefully before you comment and tell me what you thought about the book! (I am kidding, because I really don't think there's much anyone could say that could make me love this book less. Just sayin'.)

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

It's that time again guys! My favourite blog day of the week, hosted, as always, by the incomparable The Broke and the Bookish. I've posted a little later this week, because I actually went out into the world and did things with my lovely friend Frances, which was really quite exciting! But, I am back now to tell you very important things, like the top ten for this week, which just happens to be:

Top Ten Characters I Would Want As Family Members

1. Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird- Because, who wouldn't want him as their father? I literally can't think of a better fictional father to have, and while living up to him is basically impossible, I think it is something that every father should attempt to do!

2. Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice- She is so the greatest sister ever! She roams across fields to a house where she knows a man she hates is going to be just to check that her sister's cold isn't too bad. Her relationship with Jane is definitely my second favourite in the novel!

3. McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest- I'm not really sure where I would want him in my family, but just to be around such a personality all the time would be so energising! Also, he seems to really really need a sensible family member around him to protect him from the evil Nurse Ratched.

4. Ben Hanscom from It- I can't really explain it, but I love him so so much- I would love him to be my son because he's just so adorable and lovely, and my very favourite character in my very favourite Stephen King novel. just lovely!

5. Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean- Come on. He's amazing (at least before he becomes actually insane from being dead and all). Would be wonderful to have around at christmas as your bonkers uncle, telling you amazing stories about piracy and drinking all the rum!

6. Beth from Little Women- I love all the sisters in Little Women (except Amy. Stupid Amy) but I really have always adored Beth. If you want to be cynical it's because she wouldn't demand any attention away from me, but I honestly just have a pure and honest love for Beth's quiet ways and sweet shyness, and I think she has a lot to offer, in her own way, and I would love her to be my sister!

7. Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath- I really wouldn't want to replace my mother, but Ma Joad would definitely be a good choice as a mother- she always manages to stay positive, and tries to keep the  family together no matter what. If anyone could ever be described as a pillar of strength, it's Ma Joad.

8. Cassandra from I Capture the Castle- One of my favourite narrators ever, I'd love love love to have her as my sister- I'd also be a much better sister to her than stupid Rose. I think Cassandra and I are both just odd enough to get along.

9. Melanie Hamilton from Gone With The Wind- I LOVE Melanie so very much, and everyone who has ever called her a drip can just stop doing so now because she is absolutely incredible- completely wonderful, and strong in her own quiet way, she always knows exactly what to say and do to make everyone comfortable and happy. Just as she becomes Scarlett's sister by the end of the novel, I would love for her to be my sister also.

10. Sam from Benny and Joon- Sam is so adorable, and if you haven't seen Benny and Joon already then I would implore you to do so immediately! He is so wonderfully understanding and innocent, and I would love to be his slightly protecting but loving and understanding cousin, very unlike his own cousin in the film!

I would love to have this little extended family so much! Except, I'm obviously lying when I say that I would want the two Johnny Depp characters in my family, because, you know, then things that we might want to do would probably be illegal... Which characters would you like to have in your family?

Sunday 13 March 2011

Devouring Stephen King: The Shining

Well, I'm still trucking through with Anna Karenina, but Stephen King books just seem to be so much more alluring... I'm very very bad, but I don't even care- I will defend Stephen King and his artistic/literary merits to the very death (probably my own, with a large heavy copy of Ulysses swung by some book nut...) But anyway.

The Shining is a complete masterpiece. Some of the things that you might think are in it, like the creepy twins in the hallways, 'all work and no play make Jack a dull boy', 'Here's Johnny!', the maze and elevators filled with blood that must have cost so much to film that it had to be used 3 times for no apparent reason; are actually not in it. Also, I really hate the film, apart from the whole Jack Nicholson thing (i.e. his appearance in it), even though I probably wouldn't have cast him as Jack. What you do get instead, however, is something that is quite a lot more frightening- the mental disintegration of a man, controlled not only by his own (alcoholic) urges, but by external forces that want him to sacrifice his own son for the sake of the hotel. It's some pretty scary stuff!

I was, once again, less scared of this book than the first 5 or so reads, which actually does make me kind of sad because I think it means I'm growing up- I really just want to be scared shitless instead of going 'well, that's not very likely, is it?' This will probably all change when I start reading Kings that I haven't actually read yet- I'm sure I'll acquire a completely irrational fear of dogs when I read Cujo, for instance. Anyway, having said all that, The Shining still does scare me in various places- mainly, with the moving topiary animals, the thing that lies behind the door of 217, and, oh I don't know, the complete disintegration of everything that a man once was into a complete monster. That's almost the worst thing of it- having to be inside Jack's head as he tries to reason everything out to himself, always telling himself that he's doing the right thing, and never considering that anything could be his fault (one of the facets of his personality that most leads to his downfall, in my opinion).

And then there is the 'shining' itself- something that seems like a blessing, but might actually be more of a curse. In the very end, though, it does essentially save their lives (sorry if that ruins things for you, but I'm going to let you into a little secret- basically all Stephen King books end nicely, with order restored in the universe- that's just the way they're made!) This 'shining' then, is essentially a precognition, mixed with a bit of telepathy, which can be useful when you want to please your dad by knowing where his missing things are, but not so much when you know that terrible things are going to happen and there isn't anything you can do to stop them, or when your parents' angry or sad thoughts send shudders through you, even in your sleep. Danny's knowledge of the bad things that are going to happen casts the longest shadow over the entire novel, since you are fully aware that there is nothing he is going to be able to do about it because he's five years old, for goodness sakes! So, there seems to be very little that can be done, and you are left just wondering when and exactly how things are going to go down, without much hope for our valiant characters pulling through.

I pretty much want to stop here, because if you haven't read The Shining then I'm probably pretty liable to blurt out one important factor of the story or another, that might put you off reading it. But you should absolutely definitely read it, because it is an absolute classic, and one which might even keep you up nights with fear. More than that, though, it's also psychologically complex, and explores the deep recesses of one man's mind (as well as his son's rather more extraordinary one) which is controlled by more than the hotel- it is also a prisoner of the man's past, and his addiction.

You so want to read it now, don't you?! I thought so. Up next is Rage, the first 'Richard Bachman' book. I realise I could have skipped these, but The Stand is slowly creeping up upon me, and I'm not sure I have the stamina to be in the middle of two extremely long books at once (I love you, Tolstoy! Please, just give me time!), so the Bachman books it is!