Tuesday 31 May 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Woohoo. you all know how I love me a Top Ten Tuesday list! This week, though, I'm rebelling against our lovely hosts The Broke and the Bookish, in protest for the fact that I am not going on holiday this year, and so I'm going dark right here, and instead of the top ten books that should be in a beach bag, I'm going for...

Top Ten Books That shouldn't be in your beach bag

1. The Green Mile by Stephen King- Unless you want to start crying in the middle of the beach and to start feeling like there can never be anything good in the world ever again, I would advise against reading this on your holiday. I can still remember my English teacher describing reading The Green Mile on holiday, and saying 'Everyone around me was having fun and playing around, while I was sitting there and wanting to die.' Don't make the same mistake she did!

2. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy- I know that a lot of people are apprehensive about reading this because of its depressiveness anyway, let alone on holiday. If you take this away, stop about halfway through, pretend it's the end, and you'll think you've just read a nice story about an unfortunate girl and her rightful redemption. Go any further, and you will want to scream at the injustice of what Hardy does to his heroine. So it's probably best to not even go there.

3. Atonement by Ian McEwan- I actually did read this book on holiday, and for a whole evening it really did bum me out a fair bit! There really isn't anything very positive about this book at all, so I would really advise that you just leave it at home/throw it away at the airport and get something else. It's really just not worth it!

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J K Rowling- Captivating, yes. But as you get to the end of the Deathly Hallows, you (or at least I) end up wanting to die just a little bit at the absolute horror that's coming up. If you want my advice on this, take the first four or maybe five books with you, and save the others for when you get home. Unless you want to lapse into a depression for the remainder of your holiday.

5. 1984 by George Orwell- I don't know about you, but the idea of a despotic dictator controlling and brainwashing an entire population is not exactly my idea of light and easy reading. Probably best to leave for a rainy day when such things seem like they could actually be possible, although I suppose that setting could inspire actual despair...

6. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood- If you are female and you want your time on the beach to be overshadowed by the constant threat of being picked up by the evil man establishment in this book, then I'd say go for it. Otherwise, I'd probably stick to something a little less intense and terrifying- like being chased by lions, for example.

7. The Dark Tower, Book 7 by Stephen King- I can't even get into how traumatic I found this book, but let's just say that the story ends with me sobbing in a bath, and yet unable to stop reading and get out to do something comforting. If you want to avoid the same fate on a beach, I'd steer clear of this book (even though it is clearly amazing).

8. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck- Much as I love and adore this book, reading about people in intense poverty whilst on a holiday that you've probably spent a fair bit of money on is possibly not the best idea. It's likely to turn you into a self-loathing depressed person, and not a little bit resentful towards the great Steinbeck. If you simply must take a Steinbeck book to the beach, I'd recommend Cannery Row, which is a lot lighter and pretty fun! Just... Stay away from The Grapes of Wrath, ok?!

9. Room by Emma Donoghue- I think we're all aware just how much I utterly loved this book (you can read my review of it here) but light and easy reading it is not. You're also liable to read it in literally a day, which may make you completely unsociable to whoever you're on holiday with, and you may make them totally hate you when you cry at them about the complete and utter hopelessness of the world. Definitely one to avoid, though I hate to say it!

10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath- Another book that I LOVE, but which shouldn't really be anywhere near a beach. Ever. Unless, of course, you enjoy feeling like you might be going a little bit crazy whilst in an idyllic location, in which case, knock yourself out! But you probably shouldn't...

Just to be clear- I massively think you should read these all these books, because they are all really excellent, but just leave them at home rather than putting yourself into a funk when you're meant to be all happy because you're on holiday! I'm so excited to read all your lists of what I should read on the beach though, just in case I get someone to take me to a beach at some point this summer!

Sunday 29 May 2011

In My Mailbox/Mailbox Monday

Ohhh yes, I haven't done one of these for a while, and didn't think I'd have the opportunity to take part this week, but a trip into a charity shop on a whim on Friday led to the purchase of two books. My mother was also there, and she wasn't too impressed, but I definitely was! Weirdly enough, these two books were literally the only ones in the shop I wanted to buy, and they were right next to each other on the shelf! Strange, huh? But that's the way it goes, I suppose!

Firstly I spotted The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, and I immediately had to pick it up because, although I've never read anything by Carter, I really really must, because I know already that I'm going to like her. As well as that, though, my wonderful friend Frances wrote her dissertation on Carter, and having heard about it for at least a year, I feel like I should actually read some of the stuff she was talking about and obviously try and be as clever as her! (She might dispute this, but she is clearly cleverer than me because she did an English dissertation, whereas let's just say I did not. Bloody Philosophy!)

And, directly next to The Bloody Chamber was Kingdom of Fear by Hunter S Thompson. I'm going to be completely honest here and tell you that, while I own two Hunter S Thompson books, my only actual experience of him is the movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which, to be fair, was completely fucking brilliant. If I'm actually going to be brutally honest, I also thought this was the book about the Hells Angels, and I'm a little bit obsessed with hairy men, and that's why I bought it. On further investigation, though, there is something in it about Thompson trying to kill Jack Nicholson (who I utterly love) which sounds hilarious, and, even though it's not about hairy men, could be its saving grace!

So these are the new additions to my book family this week, how about you? Do let me know all about your new books, and make me utterly jealous!

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.

Saturday 28 May 2011

Devouring Stephen King (as Richard Bachman): The Long Walk

Possibly the best thing I can say about The Long Walk is that it was shorter than The Stand, and that's not something to be taken lightly. Other than that, I'm not sure how many nice things I can actually say about a book that sort of underwhelmed me, after seeming to have so much potential at the beginning.

The story begins awfully intriguingly, with a group of boys embarking on a walk that seems to have something sinister about it, although at first it is not exactly clear what this is. After the absolutely horrifying secret of the walk is revealed (if you drop below 4mph, you die- and I don't consider this a spoiler because it was on the blurb of my copy) things get slightly less interesting, and ever so repetitive. I didn't exactly hate the book, but I did get slightly bored by the constant pattern that the story follows- walking, walking is difficult, someone gets shot, repeat. There is slightly more to it than this (a mapping out of Maine, for example) but this is essentially the formula the story follows, and frankly, there is a lot more he could have done with it.

What could he have done? Well, for a start, there are quite a few hints throughout the book of its setting in a dystopian society, which I think could really have been expanded upon in a broader way, rather than the long walk, which is a form of entertainment for the people in this society, being the only real way that this is shown. There is also some talk of the main character, Garraty's, father, a political dissenter, and I really felt that his story could have been fleshed out too. There are some practical reasons why this was not necessarily the case, one of the main ones being that these are teenage boys, who aren't necessarily the best at elaborating on stories, especially, I suppose, when they are walking for their lives. King chooses instead to focus entirely on the long walk itself, something which, I don't really think is enough to give us a fully rounded story, and this one really leaves us wanting to know more about a society that would consider the ritual murder of teenage boys entertainment.

There are, of course, some redeeming features of the novel, it's length being only one of them (seriously- a novel that has, I think, less than 300 pages after The Stand is such a huge relief!). Garraty is a fully formed, living breathing character, which makes the thought of his death all the more horrifying, and the dehumanising actions of the crowd all the more horrifying. It also makes one think of our own society, and how, taken to the ultimate extreme, our voyeuristic nature (anyone like watching boxing?) could lead to an event as horrible as the long walk. This is perhaps what is most interesting about King writing as Bachman- while he is not actually writing horror stories, he does get to the heart of humanity, and finds only scary things there. But I still want to know more about that dystopian society!

So, The Long Walk. Not a long book, but it's increased length could have been a complete advantage to it. It's worth reading if you want a relatively predictable ending, and a lot of description about walking a really really long way. But, to be completely honest, I could have done without it.

Friday 27 May 2011

Devouring Stephen King: The Stand

It's finally happened. After what seems like actual years complaining on Twitter, putting it aside to do other things and (I'm pretty sure) getting employed in the process, I have finally finished The Stand. 1421 pages of a whole lot of characters, a whole lot of events, and a whole lot of disappointment.

I'm going to qualify this straight away. I did enjoy The Stand, because if I hadn't then I wouldn't have bothered finishing it (something that looked like it might happen at certain points, eg when I hadn't read it for about a month), but there is a vital error, I think, in the way King has structured this novel, and the things he chooses to pay the most attention to. He spends an unholy amount of time paying attention to what would need to be done to rebuild society on a small scale after a disaster where 99% of the population has been wiped out, and it is clear from the attention he gives to this issue that this is something that he finds interesting, and has thought a lot about. To be fair, it is interesting, and King could probably write a whole book on the issue, but it feels like the amount of time spent on this means that there is an ending that feels completely rushed, and a little out of touch with the rest of the book. Case in point: 4 very important characters leave at the end of part 2, and don't show up again for about 150 pages, and really aren't treated with the kind of respect that they deserve in consideration of the rest of the novel. There is also a really really irritating death of a major character, which doesn't annoy me in itself, but just in principle in terms of King building him up to be majorly important and then just killing him without actually doing anything with him. Annoying.

The Stand does have some amazing characters though, both good and bad. I love the way King sets up an ultimate good and then an ultimate bad character, and then allows there to be a mass gathering of people around each of them, depending on whether there is more good than bad in them. Apart from the two 'ultimate good' and 'ultimate evil' characters, I feel like this displays a really realistic view of humanity, in that everyone has the ability to be good or bad, and this depends on so many different factors that it is hard to predict which way anyone will choose to go. Among these realistic characters, there are some that turn out to be so wonderful that you're almost sad that they don't actually exist so that you can't be their friend- Stu, the quiet East Texan who finds the self that he never knew he could be because of the superflu is probably my favourite, but Nick, Larry and Fran are all also wonderful, fully rounded characters. And, as King is wont to do, the bad characters are just as well sketched and dissected- Harold is probably one of the most conflicted characters in King's work, and he presents a fascinating psychological study to us- he has the option to change himself and really be something, instead of just being petty and hateful his entire life, and watching him struggle with this is sort of amazing.

I just realised that, in the last paragraph, I brought up the superflu without ever mentioning it before, and in a way that is part of the problem with the book- you sort of forget that the premise of the story, and the reason everyone gathers in Colorado is because of this virus that wiped out most of the population. Case in point: One character goes to another farm to get a chicken to kill, and laments that she can't call up a taxi to go there, and I sort of thought 'well, why doesn't she call up a taxi?' and then realised why and felt mildly embarrassed for myself. Part of this was definitely to do with reading it over such a long period of time, but also just the complete separateness that each part of the book really does have.

In terms of scariness, The Stand is scary in as far as it is a situation that could really happen (at least at the beginning)- I'm almost positive that military agencies around the world are creating viral warfare right now, and if just one person escaped while infected with a disease... let's just say it wouldn't be good. There are also some really horrifying images that come out of the book (walking through a pitch black Lincoln Tunnel filled with dead bodies, for example) that you really wouldn't want to have to deal with. As for the bulk of the horror, though, the setting up of the struggle between good and evil, and 'the dark man', I really didn't feel the true horror of that- in the end, I think Flagg was not really that formidable an example of evil, and never really does anything to warrant the amount of fear associated with him. It's probably fair to say that I enjoyed the first part of the book, the spreading of the superflu, far more than what followed from it, even though I did really care about what happened to those fortunate/unfortunate immune characters.

I know I've moaned about it a lot, but The Stand is really worth a read, if only for the complete and utter epic scale it's on- it's also worth remembering that mine was a re-read of it, and so I did feel at some points that reading it at all was redundant since I had already gotten through it once (even though I didn't actually remember it...) The characters alone, however, are enough to make you stick with it, and once you've seen them survive the unsurvivable, you'll definitely want to know what happens to them afterwards, and before you know it, you'll have read 1400 pages of a story and wonder what the hell just happened. But you'll feel damn proud of yourself afterwards!

Armchair BEA: Blogging about Blogging

I absolutely love blogging because it gives me something to do in the hours between reading and all that other reading that I do. In this, I treat it more as a hobby than as a business/something to make myself feel good because everyone loves me. This is what I tell myself anyway. But, I have to be honest, and tell you that every new follower, every new comment, and every new blogger friend on twitter makes me feel really amazing, and awed that anyone wants to read about my opinions on anything at all. I would never presume to tell anyone how to run their book blog, and I would never set out guidelines on how to review/write, because everyone's different. If you love what you're doing and how you're writing then that's the most important thing- having followers is great, but if you're not enjoying yourself then there's no point in having them.

I also don't have any rules about the blogs that I follow. I'm going to be entirely honest here, and let you know that, for every comment I get, and for every new follower, I always always check out their blog, and if I don't really like what they review, or the way they review, I don't follow back. I'm not sure if this is the right protocol or etiquette to have in blog following, but there really is nothing personal in my decision to do this- I just don't want to follow a blog that I don't really really love, just out of a sense of obligation, and I wouldn't want anyone to follow me just out of obligation either.

So, apparently blogging is all about love! And really, isn't it? Would there be any point in any of us putting our precious thoughts out there into the harsh, cruel coldness of the internet, spending time that we could be doing anything else with, if we didn't really love it? I think, probably not. Blogging started out for me as a way to fill endless days of boredom and unemployment, but for me it has evolved into something so much more than that, as something that I really look forward to doing, and something that affects how I think about reading- when reading a really good, or even a really bad book, I'm thinking in the back of my mind 'I can't wait to blog about this'. And so I do.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Literary Blog Hop May 26-29

Literary Blog Hop
I missed the last Literary Blog Hop so I'm excited to take part in it this week, and it's a really really awesome awesome question too. So wooo!

Talk about one author that you love and why his or her writing is unique. Please be specific.

I  basically have two authors that I adore, one of which is Stephen King, who I do go on about here all the time; and the other is John Steinbeck, who seems like a more appropriate author to talk about here since it is a literary blog hop, and, much as I would like him to be considered so, Stephen King is not exactly literary.

So why do I love Steinbeck so very much? It's kind of hard to explain, I guess, but I've just never really read another author like him. He seems to have this ability to fit so much meaning and symbolism into his novels, but also to combine this with amazing characters that you feel you could know, all while using language that is effortless and understandable, without in the least dumbing down. My love for him may also be fairly attributed to the time I started reading his novels, but I remember him as being the first 'classic' author that I could really understand and connect too, having struggled through some Austen and Bronte when I was really too young to have a full apprecitation for them.

Apart from that, there are just the stories. Based in a California that is so perfectly idyllic, against the background of human nature that can be so bitterly cruel, Steinbeck just nails people down to a fine art- his characters are complex enough to contain within them all a certain amount of good and evil, and it is this more than anything that sets him apart from a lot of other authors- an acceptance that characters, like people, must contain within them just the right balance of good and bad, in order to be plausible. In his fiction, just as in life, there are times when the bad overtakes the good, and it is this that creates just the right amount of drama and intensity in his writing, but more often than not the good wins out, and one feels the integral goodness and joy that there is in the world- in Cannery Row, for example, when Mack does something wrong, he instantly knows it and wants to make it up to Doc, and in his actions you see so much goodness coming out that you can't help but love him. Steinbeck really just puts the entirety of the world under a microscope, and comes out with the conclusion that everyone is really very similar- mostly striving to do the right thing, but sometimes getting lost on the way, sometimes irretrievably, but mostly in a way that they can be saved from.

Steinbeck can also be hilarious, but more than anything he puts out a sense of hope into the world. Even in The Grapes of Wrath, possibly the most hopeless story ever written, the ending is still so symbolic of hopefulness and the promise of a better future that I couldn't love it any more than I do, and I couldn't love him any more either.

Armchair BEA: Blogging Relationships

Ahh,  relationships. Infinitely easier to carry out online than in real life, because you can read tweets and emails and comments at your leisure, and not have someones words and thoughts thrust upon you when you're not in the frame of mind to actually listen. Or maybe that's just me...
But anyway. I'm meant to describe to you one relationship that I have with another blogger, and I am going to, whilst also combining that with my favourite bloggers- to be honest, there is a fair amount of overlap between the bloggers I have the best relationships with and my favourite blogs, because I basically stalk my favourite bloggers on twitter until they follow/talk to me back! That's not creepy at all, right? So, here is a breakdown of my relationships with other bloggers (clearly love you all guys!)

First of all, and quite obviously, there's my blogging bff Jenn of Booksessed, with whom I have the best relationship out of all the blogging land. I think the moral behind our friendship is always comment on blogs, and/or add the lovely commenter on twitter and say things to each other! I'm so glad that I did this with Jenn, since we now email regularly, and I feel like I can tell her literally anything, and hopefully she feels the same about me! In a more cynical sense, this relationship I think is also great in terms of promoting each others blogs, because we just generally like each other so much that we end up going "Jenn recommended this to me, go see her blog!" and vice versa. A friend and blog promotion all in one? Awesome stuff!

Then, there is the wonderful Christina of Reading Thru The Night. Even though (and I don't think I've ever told her this!) I don't approve of her spelling of through (love you Christina!) I do love her blog and her general amazingness. Our relationship went a little something like this- I stalked her on twitter (this is going to sound so familiar in a little bit), we shared a mutual admiration of Tim Gunn one time, and then I answered her pleas for a guest post, because, you know, I needed something to do! This was actually a really good move I think, getting my followers (of which I probably had about 10!) to Christina's blog, and her followers to mine. Also, I love and adore her and want to move to Florida and hang out with her lots! That's cool, right (I want Jenn to be there too, I just don't really want to move to Maine because it seems to snow all the time there!)

Then there's Jennifer of Literary Endeavours. Our relationship is not as close as mine with Jenn or Christina, but I have a special place in my heart for her because I remember her being one of my very first blog followers and commenters, which completely heartened me and convinced me it would be a good idea to carry on blogging and getting little boosts of self esteem from people saying lovely things to me. I also joined Shelfari just so that I could get involved in a discussion of Tess of the D'Urbervilles that she was hosting. Little known and very weird fact: we started our blogs on the very same day. If that's not some kind of fate, then I don't know what is!

My absolute favourite female blogger has to be Alley of What Red Read, who almost always writes about books that I love, or want to read (or, alternatively, makes me not want to read them depending on her opinion of them). I honestly comment on her blog more than any other, and she probably thinks I'm a little bit of a stalker, which obviously I am! I like to think that we have a good mutual blogging relationship though- more often than not I see her commenting on my blog, and we have some very nice twitter conversations too that convince me that we're probably quite similar... and that means I'm totally awesome too, right? (Nobody say no!)

My favourite male blogger, and I assume that he knows this because I do go on about it all the time, is Adam of Roof Beam Reader. He's so unbelievably smart and funny, and his reviews just make me sort of go '...woah!' in their amaingly writtenness. His blog is also one of the ones that actually inspired the creation of my own (as well as the massive urge to take part in The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesdays!) and, as such, I've built up a sort of celebrity level of love for him in my brain so that, whenever he replies to a tweet of mine I feel all excited and happy because 'Omg, Adam just like spoke to me!!' It's definitely pretty sad, but hey, that's how I roll.

So, there you go, a bit about blogging relationships, a bit about blogs that I love. Since my blog is basically just a fun thing for me (much as I would love it to be my job, since I could do it at home in my pyjamas!), I'm not really looking to network anyway, but just to meet some awesome people with whom I can discuss books. And I've got those kinds of relationships all sorted, so I'm good!

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Armchair BEA: Blogger Interview!

This is so exciting you guys! I literally only heard about Armchair BEA on Monday, so I thought there was  no way I'd be able to find an interview buddy for todays post, BUT luckily, and joy of joys, my blogging bff and literary soulmate Jenn of Booksessed (witty title right?) didn't have an interviewee either, so we got together and made this shit happen! If you get at all bored during this post then it is entirely my fault, since I am seriously bad at thinking up questions- if you go and read my interview on her blog, you'll see the questions are much better! But I do my best. So, without andy further ado, I'd like you to meet Jenn!

Hi Jenn! First of all, what are you reading at the moment?

I am reading two books right now. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery and Forts: Liars and Thieves by Steven Novak. I also have a book on hold at the library; Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. I've been wanting to read that for a long time and I'm sure I'll devour it once I pick it up. 

Do you have a favourite book?
I have a 3 way tie for a favorite. (My top ten also forever changes but I won't bore you with that.) My favorites are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fizgerald, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. 

Is there a book that really turned you onto obsessive reading?
It wasn't a book, it was more of a person. My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up and I wasn't allowed to go to bed until I watched Jeopardy with her and read aloud to her for half an hour. She didn't care what I read as long as I was reading. She was also the one who had me sign up for a library card. 

What is your favourite kind of food?
I love curry, but I have no idea how to make it so I sadly don't eat it often. Pasta, salads and couscous are also staples. 

Where do you like to do most of your reading?
I read mostly snuggled up in bed before I go to sleep or right after I wake up. 

If you could be any other person, living or dead, who would you be?
Stephen Fry. He's so witty and I adore him. Plus, he's British and that makes me happy. Oh, and he's friends with Hugh Laurie AND Emma Thompson! Major bonus.

What is your favourite ever movie?
I love almost every movie I have ever seen. But tops are Sense and Sensibility (the 1995 version) and I also can't get enough of Love Actually. 

Do you have a favourite author?
Not really. I mean, how could one choose? But I have several authors where I will read anything they write. Lately with all the authors I've had to chance to get to know, that list keeps increasing. Sadly, some of the authors on that list are no longer living. 

What is your stripper name? (The name of the first pet and the first street you lived down in case you didn't know!)
Duchess Jay-Hill. I am proud of that one. 

What would you like everyone to know about you?
I have a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor. I'm a proud vegetarian but could never give up yogurt or ice cream, so I'll never go vegan, or for that matter, demand others go veggie. I have several tattoos and want a literary one, but there are too many options to pick from, so that's on hold for now. 

Thanks so much Jenn! See why I love her, everyone? Lovely and fun, AND she thinks British things are cool (even though they're really not!) Now everyone go and follow her and tell her that she's awesome! 

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Armchair BEA: Best of 2011

So today is giveaway day over at Armchair BEA, and while I would love to be all generous and shit, I am both extremely poor, and extremely English, and since most of my followers/readers are American, this poses a slight postage charges problem. I could of course cheat and make sure that my friend Frances won the giveaway, but that really wouldn't be on, am I right? I've already given her books anyway...

So, instead of the excitement of a giveaway, what I have to offer you is so much better- a rundown of the very best books I've read this year! Who wouldn't rather have that?! I have read a lot of pretty great books this year, so I'm just going to give you a top 5, I think- and limit that to books I've actually read for the first time this year (which rules out To Kill A Mockingbird, basically one of my favourite books ever ever ever, and which you really should read) And so, here it goes!

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy- I'm almost positive you've heard of this, and you might even have picked it up, read a few chapters, then decided it was too long and run away from it (or was that just me?) Anywho, I was brave enough to pick it up again this year, and I am so very pleased that I did- it's probably one of my favourite novels ever, and really it has just cemented my belief in the incredibleness of Russian authors (Nabokov anyone?) Also, I just have to say, I LOVE YOU LEVIN! That's all.

2. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides- I wrote Eugenides off at the beginning of the year when I read The Virgin Suicides and that was a big mistake- Middlesex is honestly so awesome that it defies any kind of explanation, you just have to read it to really appreciate its brilliance. So go and do it!

3. Room by Emma Donoghue- I have probably gushed enough about this already, but seriously Room still haunts me- I can't get over how well written it is, and how many angles it is able to consider even with just one, five year old narrator. Just, really really awesome writing.

4. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell- I've just finished this, but I can really recommend it if you like blogs/cooking/swearing a lot (and I like all these things, I've gotta say!) Julie Powell has quickly become one of my favourite people having read this, because I think we could really be friends- and she could totally cook for me too.


5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky- I can't get over how much I already love this book, as if it got me through my teenage years, or helped me out in a really difficult adolescent situation, but I only read it this year. It's so incredible, and I honestly can't recommend it enough- it's one of my favourite ever books already.

Top Ten Tuesday

In the midst of all my Armchair BEA excitement (and I really am excited about it!) I still managed to remember my favourite meme of the week, The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday! That's right, I still remember my old friends, even when exciting new ones come along. This weeks top ten may well have defeated me though- I honestly (haha) can't think of ten books, so I'm just going to have to tell you about as many as I can think of, most of which are for the same shameful reason... So, here are:

Top Ten Books I've Lied About

1. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens- I'm not sure I've ever overtly lied about reading Oliver Twist, but I definitely know a lot more about it, and can converse a lot better about it than I should be able to after my whopping 9 chapters experience with it. I may, therefore, have given the erroneous impression of reading it when really, I definitely haven't.

2. The Republic by Plato- I have twice had to read The Republic for educational purposes, and twice I haven't finished it. I have, therefore, essentially lied to my tutors about reading this book (a common theme as you're about to see). Another lie associated with this book- I have a copy that is completely stolen from my college that I am definitely now way too scared to take back. And I think I'm so moral...

3. The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle- Assigned reading for the same unit as The Republic. Unfortunately, I assigned myself the watching of Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead. I didn't do so well in that exam, to say the very least...

4. The Ethics by Spinoza- I tried so hard to read this, but it honestly was entirely incomprehensible to me. I still can't even tell you what on earth the guy was talking about, and I wrote an entire essay on him, that I probably didn't understand either.

5. Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes- I probably read more of this than some of the other philosophers, mainly because one unit was based on this whole book, but I still don't really have a clue what old Descartes was on about... Hellishly written as well!

6. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant- Say this dude's name to me and I'll probably come out in a cold sweat. I thought Spinoza was bad, but I didn't even know from bad til I got round to Kant! I just can't even describe how scary this book is, so I read the bare minimum of it to avoid a nervous breakdown. That worked, and some very handy secondary reading got me through that unit relatively unscathed...

7. A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume- This fucker was huge, so one look at it, and the fact that it was a philosophical text meant that, of course, I wasn't going to read it in its entirety. I did manage to do a presentation on a tiny section on it though, which was nearly more than my brain could handle anyway!

That's about all I can think of, and to be honest I didn't even really lie about them- had I been explicitly asked by my tutors, I'm sure I would have told them that I hadn't, in fact, read them at all. If I am anything, I am unfailingly honest, just, apparently, really really lazy when it comes to reading philosophical texts, even when they're assigned. I think the lesson here is this- you probably shouldn't do a joint English and Philosophy degree when you're used to almost exclusively reading prose that really engages you- philosophy just really doesn't hold the same magic as novels do. Also, I'm a pleb, but we'll just ignore that, shall we?

What about you? Are you a dirty liar, or do you try and stay honest with your reading? Maybe your lies are reserved only for those who make you read horrible scary books? Let me know in the comments!

Monday 23 May 2011

Armchair BEA: An Introduction

I just found out about Armchair BEA today, and HOW exciting is that?! I'd much much much rather be in New York at the actual BEA, of course, but for now, for this year, this will do very nicely! I'm coming to you from a tiny village in England, where there is no roayalty/Colin Firth/whatever you might think is English, but I do live about half an hour away from London where those things might well be!

I started my blog in January this year, when I was feeling bored and miserable and useless, and it still surprises me what a big part of my life it has become- when I'm watching a great film, or reading a really good book, I find myself thinking 'Oooh, I can't wait to blog about this!' I read all kinds of stuff, and I think that's reflected under my 'Devouring Books' section; and I also love to write about films, and a little bit about TV (but only if it's really good, or, conversely, really bad). I don't have any kind of reviewing system, like other, far more organised bloggers, and so my reviews are likely just to be some random thoughts that I had about the books- my theory on this is, if I find them interesting, someone else is bound to too. 61 followers can't be wrong, right?!

I have so many books that I sometimes disgust myself, and so many of them are unread- this is something I'm trying to rectify daily. I am also a Stephen King fanatic, and am currently in the throes of a self-imposed Stephen King challenge (reading all his books in my lifetime/the forseeable future) and I just finished The Stand, for the second time! I honestly feel that, after this, I can basically do anything ever, which is a pretty nice feeling to have.

Other than reading, I also like to bake, watch movies, think about moving out of my parents' house, figuring out what I actually want to do with my life, and getting some pets! I also think about Johnny Depp a lot more than is probably healthy, and know more about him than I definitely should. But come on, who doesn't love Johnny?! I also find myself on twitter a lot more than I should, if you want to find me there, I'm @LauraRowsell, or, in fact, you can just find me there through the link to your right! Come and say hi, and I'll definitely be nice back to you!

This is going to be so great, I can feel it already!

Saturday 21 May 2011

Devouring Books: Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

I absolutely adored the movie of Julie and Julia (because, really, you can't go wrong with Meryl Streep) so when I found the book in a charity shop I absolutely had to buy it, and, apparently, to read it within a week! While it's not a perfect book, which I'll get to later, I really enjoyed entering Julie Powell's MENTAL brain, and assuring myself that hey, maybe I'm not that odd myself, really. But I probably am!

So, Julie and Julia, for those of you that don't know, is the story of one woman's attempt to cook through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year (that's 524 recipes by the way!) It's also the story of the blog she set up to document this attempt, which made it pretty close to my heart primarily, but more than that, it's the story of finding a direction in life and discovering who you were meant to be all along. At the moment, this is something that I want to find more than anything else, and so this story became even closer to my heart. On top of all this, Powell's writing is honest, self-depricating and often hilarious- you could say that I liked her from the very start.

There are various obstacles and traumas in Julie and Julia that seem to show the universe conspiring against the poor woman, and I felt every trauma with her, wanted to know immediately that she would be ok afterwards, and basically wanted to be one of her dedicated blog followers back in 2002. Which was obviously impossible, although I did feel that I was very much along for the ride with her as I was reading the book. Another thing that I couldn't help wondering, though, was how Julie felt about the film. There is a fair bit from her book that gets distorted, and, by her own admission she is 'not the sort of person you could describe as cute' (I'm definitely paraphrasing here), so I have to question what she felt about the casting of Amy Adams, the definition of cuteness, as herself. I don't know about Julie, but I would be sort of put out by the casting of someone more attractive than me as myself in a film, but it's sort of a difficult thing to complain about, I guess. I would also be irritated by the very clear attempts to 'Hollywood-ise' my life, since the movie makes everything about the project seem so much more glamourous (and if you think her life was unglamourous in the movie, you really have to read this book!) Fortunately, for me and my reading, I loved book Julie far more than movie Julie, if that means anything at all!

Despite my love for Julie, however, Julie and Julia did have a few flaws. One of these, for me, was that there were a few too many food descriptions for me. This sounds like a ridiculous complaint to have, since I pretty much knew what I was getting from a book where a woman is cooking 524 dishes/recipes, and it honestly didn't bother me that much, it's just that I found myself towards the end skipping the description of another recipe made up of foods that I don't like (I'm a notoriously fussy eater though, so my 'too many recipes' is probably your 'mmmmmmm *mouth waters*') Apart from that really finicky complaint, I also didn't like the faux diary entries based on Julia Child's life with Paul, as played out in Julie Powell's brain. I get what she was trying to do entirely (the book is called, after all, Julie and Julia) but for me they didn't really work, and after reading them I was left going 'really?' In contrast to this, what the movie did, taking these little seeds of an idea and expanding Julia's story, I think, worked extremely well, so I guess the interspersing idea was a good one, it just could have definitely been done better. (Side note: Julie mentions both Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci in her book, which just made me extremely happy! She didn't even realise she was casting a movie!)

But these are just small complaints, and I really did truly enjoy reading about Julie's essential transformation of her life, her bravery in not just sticking with what she was used to, and I honestly find her completely inspirational. Towards the end she talks about how Julia Child essentially rescued her when she was drowning, and it honestly wouldn't surprise me if Julie herself ended up inspiring a fair few people herself, to undertake their own projects, and change their lives too. Can I also just take a minute to talk about the dedication to the book too: "To Julia Child, without whom I could not have done this, and for Eric, without whom I could not do at all." If I was ever to write a book, I'd love to be able to write a dedication as succinct and beautiful and moving as this. Also, how much do I want a husband like Eric?! (Clue: it's a lot!)

So, please. If you loved the movie like I did, read the book and love and adore Julie Powell as much as I do. Just, try not to get offended by how often she says fuck, because come on, that's fucking awesome! And if you have read the book, please tell me how much you loved it in the comments- you know you want to...

p.s. I've just remembered that one of my top reasons for loving Julie is that she mocks the Republicans she works with/for almost constantly. That's my girl...

Thursday 19 May 2011

I Fail at Life...

...Or at least at general blogging/life organisational skills. So, today I was supposed to post my thoughts on the first part of The Idiot by Dostoevsky, but... I haven't quite got there yet. I can tell you what I thought about the first two chapters! But somehow, that doesn't seem quite right. I can already tell you what went wrong though- I have succumbed to the very unpleasant character flaw I possess that means that, if I have to do something, I'll really do anything else before I finally get round to it. At university, this meant watching endless hours of TV, maniacally baking, and even doing the week's worth of washing up before finally writing essays the weekend before they were due in (AND I'm not even the only person I know to suffer from this ailment, so I never felt alone in my madness, thanks to Frances and her equally addled brain).

So anyway. This time I have even less of an excuse, and instead of reading The Idiot I've been watching more TV, baking some more, and reading Julie and Julia and The Stand when I am actually reading. I'm very very naughty, and this time I have no one to answer to but myself. I've given myself a good stern talking to, and I've decided I'm going to go easy on myself for this, as long as I read and comment on the first parts of The Idiot on the 31st May, the next deadline. After that point, who knows what punishment I might dish out to myself?! No more TV or baking until I read it or something preposterous like that. I can't let this happen! So I'm going to pull myself together and do the things I say I'm going to instead. This is going to be good, I can tell.

If you're just dying to read about the first part of The Idiot and are now feeling completely lost and let down, I suggest you go and see Jenn's post on it, it's actually pretty much the cat's pyjamas, and she is so much betterly prepared than me. Also I love her a little bit, so go! Read! And tell her I love her!

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Devouring Books: Room by Emma Donoghue

And when I say devouring, I really mean devouring. I read this when I had a stinking migraine, and still I could hardly put it down (except when I really had to, like when I thought my head would explode into a million tiny pieces. But still it crept into my hands again!) Unfortunately, I feel this review is going to be a case of, like so many times before, me liking the book so very much that I can't adequately express it in words, and you'll be left feeling bewildered and possibly a little pissed off at my ineloquence (and already I'm not even using real words! You see!) But I'll try my best to show my love, AND not to give anything away.

I suspect you've probably heard of this book if you read anything at all concerning newly released books- I hardly do at all, and even the briefly noted review in The New Yorker, and I think possibly the New York Times online review (yes, I like to pretend I live in New York, problem?) both piqued my interest in the book and made me want to read it really badly. I think what tipped me over the edge to actually read it was Alley from What Red Read saying it was one of her top recommended novels, but that's just because I'm a tiny bit obsessed with her blog (go and visit it! Now!) But anyway, the reason I really don't want to give anything away about the book is that those reviews were just on the right side of being intriguing enough without acutally giving much of an indication of what happens to Jack and his Ma, which is perfect, because my reaction to what does happen was completely natural and not based on any prior knowledge of them. If that makes any sense at all to you, then you probably deserve a medal! (I'm still trying!)

So, Room basically opens on Jack's fifth birthday, which is, to the reader a pretty sad affair, but to Jack is the best day ever. Jack has lived his entire life in a locked room with only a tiny skylight as a window, and, so that he doesn't know about all the things he's missing out on, his mother pretends that the room is all that exists- the things they see on TV are just pictures, and everything outside the room is just 'outer space'. From Jack's perspective, then, everything is normal and fine, and because he is the narrator, I was lulled into a false sense of security and thought that everything was pretty fine too- Jack and his Ma seem to be enjoying themselves, and Jack's version of normal started to seem pretty normal to me too. And then I had a moment of revelation, when one of their games was 'scream', where the two scream and shout for help as loud as they can up at the skylight every weekday, and all at once I got it. They, or at least Ma, are prisoners, and no amount of innocent narration can make that less true.

That's about all I'm going to tell you about the plot, because from there it gets really really interesting, but I'm not in any way going to tell you how. What I will say, however, is that making Jack the narrator is a stroke of genius, not only because of the way it makes the whole situtation seem normal, but also because, with Ma as the narrator, the whole thing could become so much more depressing and just utterly utterly despairing, which can have its place in literature, but here would just make the description of a bad situation much much worse. More than that though, since I assume that Donoghue was influenced by real life stories of women held as essential sex slaves who also had children, it gives an interesting insight on truly horrific and unthinkable situations from the viewpoint of a child who has never known any different. It's a very brave choice of Donoghue's, and also one I think that really makes the book as good as it is, since you understand the horror of the situation without any kind of self-pity or despair creeping in from any of the characters.

So, why should you read Room? Obviously just because I told you to, but if you need any more of a reason than that then I suppose I'll have to give you one. Room is an utterly inspiring, surprising and completely absorbing book, that honestly, I finished over a week ago and still find myself thinking about all the time. I don't think it's going to be what you're expecting, and it might just make you that little bit more grateful about youir own freedom, and the fact that you're allowed to go outside any time you want to. And, also, read it because I told you to!

Have you read Room? I'd really love to know what you think about it, so tell me your brain thoughts and things in the comments below!

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Woohoo, another Tuesday rolls around, and as we all know, that just means an opportunity to write another list! I found this week's really hard, mainly because, when I'm reading a book, I tend to be focused on the main characters and their struggles and issues and whatnot, and the minor characters tend to fade into the background somewhat, meaning that when I look back on the book, I can barely remember them! That being said, I did eventually manage to come up with 10, although they may not be so much my favourites as the one's I could think of. But I like them just the same! So, without any further ado, here are my

Top Ten Favourite Minor Characters

1. Mammy from Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- I'm going to be honest- I'm definitely thinking of the Mammy from the film rather than the book, but since the film is pretty faithful to the book, I guess that's ok. I just love this woman so much- could any of the other characters really do anything without her? I think the answer is clearly a resounding no. Let's just ignore the whole slavery thing (just like Mitchell did) and pretend that she is servant to these people out of choice rather than because they own her, because, realistically, I'm not sure anyone could ever really own Mammy...

2. Roux from Chocolat by Joanne Harris- Yes, in the film he is Johnny Depp. Does one need a better reason than this to like him? How about, because he's an extremely attractive gypsy and a total free spirit who I would definitely not mind hanging around with every so often...

3. Karenin's Lawyer from Anna Karenina- You probably know this character better than I do, since I can hardly remember him now, only that, upon his appearance in the novel, I was really amused and I remember liking him a lot. Yeah, I know that's not a very good reason to have him on this list... Shut up!

4. Amy Gardner from The West Wing- Played by Mary Louise Parker, who I just love so much, Amy is my absolute role model- she makes things happen, gets the government to look at their agendas and policy in regards to women, and is basically the woman I would most like to be when I grow up. If only she was real... *sigh*

5. Bob from Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk- I love Bob! He's so so sweet, and I just want to cuddle him and tell him that he's going to be ok. Until he joins a cult and everything just goes crazy, that is...

6. Laurie's Grandfather from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- But how nice is Laurie's grandfather? I mean, seriously, he's so utterly lovely to Beth, who is essentially my favourite sister, and you can tell that he's faced a lot of pain in his life and yet he keeps on going, and keeps being able to give so much to others, both financally and emotionally. What a gent!

7. Miss Maudie from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- Miss Maudie is Scout's main guide of how to be a lady, and what a lady she is! Outwardly conforming to the way society expects her to be, but remaining utterly true to herself internally, she plays the entire town at its own game and always wins, because she always gets to be herself. Another completely amazing role model, in the shape of a relatively small character.

8. Doctor Urbino from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez- I didn't really like Love in the Time of Cholera very much, but I did like the good doctor's character quite a bit- sort of adorable and fun to be around. It is perhaps, then, his death in the opening parts of the novel that at least partially made me dislike it so, since he was set up and then just torn down as a character. I mean, Marquez, really?!

9. The patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest that aren't McMurphy or the Chief- Because, really, how could I choose between them? Each damaged in his own way, but also just so special and fragile that you can't help but love and care and worry about them being stuck in the asylum with a sadistic nurse that I just want to DIE.

10. Lee from East of Eden by John Steinbeck- I'm not sure if Lee even counts as a minor character, because he seems to be so completely influential and such an integral part of the book that he is always the character I leave the book having the strongest impression of and possibly even loving the most. That being said though, the film makes it pretty clear that, in the end he is a minor character, since he can easily be removed from the story without anything actually being lost. Philosophical touchstone he may be, but indispensible (except to me) he is not.

So that's my top ten, how about you? I have to say, I found it easier to think about film characters rather than book ones, hence why there are quite a few books that were films on my list... don't judge me!

Sunday 15 May 2011

In My Mailbox/Mailbox Monday

I haven't done one of these for a few weeks, mainly because I haven't had any new books to write about, and doing this would basically have been an exercise in futility. But, this week, shops have been entered, books have been bought, and so I can brag extensively about them and make you all jealous! Or, you know, just gently nudge you into buying some of them yourselves...

First up I got Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen from Amazon, ostensibly because my literary soulmate Jenn said it was one of her favourite books (I don't know if anyone can resist reading other people's favourite books, I definitely can't!), and then, when I just went to peek at it on Amazon, it had a recommendation from Stephen King. Does one need any other encouragement? Unfortunately, it does involve a movie cover, which does make me want to vomit just a tad and was one of my bookish pet peeves, but I'm going to get over that and just look at the words on the inside! That works, right?

I then bought Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, on the basis that the film is completely lovely and wonderful (I watched it again yesterday just to make sure this was still true) and so I assumed that one of the books it was based on would be equally as lovely. Hopefully I won't be disappointed, and have my love of the film destroyed as a result (I have to admit, this is unlikely).

Finally, I bought The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, a little bit of a copy from a previous IMM/Mailbox Monday, but there is a good reason for this! At least, it's a good reason in my brain... I previously got it out of the library, and have honestly had it for about 2 months now, so when I saw it in a charity shop, I just thought screw it, I'll let the library have their copy back and I'll have my own! My final justification for this was that, it's a Margaret Atwood book, it's going to be good. Anyone disagree with me? Didn't think so!

What did you all get in your mailboxes this week? Let me know below, as always!

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 13 May 2011

Hop and Bop and then Bop and Hop

Or something like that. I am actually going to blame my relative blog silence on Blogger's spazzy fit this week, and since I have 2 reviews to write, and fully intended to write at least one of them yesterday, this is at least half true. Plus, it means I get to bitch. But anyway, deep breath and let's move on! Lots of exciting hoppy questions this week, so let's get to it!

First up is #fridayreads, hosted by Jenn of the Picky Girl, where I tell you my escapist read for the weekend. While I am still, predictably, plugging through The Stand (I've managed 3 chapters in the last two days, which is actually quite an achievement for me and this book!) I also bought Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, and I quite want to get stuck into that since I love Love LOVED the movie! So, potentially, I'll be reading all weekend (in between watching Eurovision, of course!) and I can't really see a problem with that!

Book Blogger HopCrazy-for-Books this week asks: Are you going to Book Expo America (BEA) and/or the Book Blogger Convention (BBC) this year? Since I understand that these are taking place in New York City, it pains me horribly that I'm not going, because they literally seem like the best and ultimate way to spend my time ever, and I actually belong in New York. Unfortunately, I'm a sad little English girl, so unless someone buys me a plane ticket/accommodation/feeds me for a weekend, or however long, I seriously can't afford to go. But I'd like to thank crazy-for-books for the 5 millionth reminder of my life that I don't live in New York/am not an American. Cheers!

And, Parajunkee asks: What is the most emotional scene you've read in a book recently? I have to say, the entirety of Room, which I read last weekend was totally emotional, although I was kind of too horrified to cry at it! Probably the last book I cried at, though, was The Dark Tower by Stephen King, which had some seriously upsetting scenes in it... just, don't emotionally invest in it too much if you decide to read it, I warn you!

So, these are the answers to the most important life questions! For today, anyway... I hope you're all having a fun hop, and if you like what you see around here, please feel free to follow, and I'll try my very utmost to entertain and enthrall you! Have a fab weekend!

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Hosted, as always, by the wonderful The Broke and the Bookish, this weeks list allows me to express my deep and enduring dislike of certain male characters in literature. Difficult as it may be for me to criticise characters (note: it's not that hard at all), I'm going to be brave and do it. So, here goes!

Top Ten Jerks in Literature

1. Karenin from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy- I know that Karenin is pretty wronged, but he is kind of rigid and unreasonable, and in a way, it's easy to see why Anna needed to break free from his boringness and just plain annoyingness. Yeah, I don't like him so much.

2. Louis from Angels in America by Tony Kushner- Oh look, another reference to Angels in America! But really. I know that Louis isn't really the biggest villain in the play (that is, obviously, Roy Cohn), but Louis just kind of epitomises the word jerk. Leaving your lover because you basically can't deal with reality? Not cool. At all. (See more bitching about Louis here).

3. Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare- For some reason, I find the males of Juliet's family more jerky than Romeo and his crew, and Tybalt is the worst of the lot. And wasn't he also having an affair with his auntie? Weird, weird stuff there...

4. Frank Churchill from Emma by Jane Austen- Yeah, this guy is an idiot, am I right? Even though I know I'm not really supposed to like Jane Fairfax, I definitely feel sorry for her as he continually treats her like crap, even though he's supposed to love her! Such. A. Jerk.

5. Old Nick from Room by Emma Donoghue- More of an evil psychopath than a jerk, but I literally hate this character to the very depths of my soul. I'm sure you'll know what I mean if you've read the book, and if you haven't then what are you waiting for?! (I just read it this weekend after not reading it for about 2 months, so I'm a little crazy about recommending it right now... sorry!)

6. Bruce Patman from Sweet Valley High created by Francine Pascal- I think the word jerk was actually invented to describe Bruce, and I think he thinks that many words have been invented to describe him, because that's just how conceited he is. He made for pretty fun reading when I was a teen though!

7. Mr Wickham from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- Jane apparently has an uncanny skill for writing about complete and utter jerks (maybe she knew a few in her day) because Wickham really is such a complete idiot, isn't he? Lizzie made a completely lucky escape from him, and who was really upset when the idiotic Lydia was not quite so lucky? If ever there was a couple more perfect for each other, it's those two idiots.

8. Big Brother from 1984 by George Orwell- I guess not really a person, so not really a jerk, but as a symbolic leader of an entire population, he's pretty much a big jerk. And what's that whole adoration thing? Was someone overly bullied at school so they now need constant reinforcement? Whatever, he's just horrid, and shouldn't be allowed to exist anymore. Nasty Big Brother.

9. Randall Flagg from The Stand/The Dark Tower by Stephen King- Basically all Stephen King's villains that aren't animals, cars or women could qualify for this list, but I'm going with Randall Flagg because I'm currently in the middle of the worlds longest re-read of The Stand, and this guy is really pissing me off. Mind you, Harold is no piece of cake either...

10. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis- I mean, seriously, what is wrong with this guy?! He obviously goes far beyond jerk to psychopath (and practically beyond psychopath too, if that's possible) but he can be just a plain old jerk too. Let's just say, he's not exactly someone I'd want as my friend...

So that's my top ten. A bit of a mixed bag of complete and utter evil, and just irritating guys, but I wouldn't really want to hang out with any of them. Ever. And most of them I'd plain run away from in the street. How about you? Any really obvious jerks I've forgotten?

Friday 6 May 2011

Blog Hopping All Over the Place

Literally all over the place... I'm participating in 3 blog hops this lovely Friday, and this week the questions are actually really really really fun (if I've said this before I've probably lied, because I'm pretty sure they've never been as fun as this weeks!)

First up is #fridayreads, hosted by Jenn at The Picky Girl, where I'm meant to tell you about an escapist read that I'm going to be diving into this weekend, but to be honest I don't really have one... Other than Stephen King's The Stand, which I've now been reading for about half a millenia, I'm probably going to be making my way through Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck, because I actually can't get enough of Steinbeck's writing in any form at all! So, it might not be escapist, but it's guaranteed to be completely wonderful!

Book Blogger HopAlso this week, crazy-for-books asks: Which book blogger would you most like to meet in real life? This is a really really easy question for me: Jenn from over at Booksessed is my bookish soulmate, email and twitter buddy, and blogging bff! And I love her most muchly! And meeting her in real life would be especially awesome, because she lives in Maine, and therefore visiting her would be like living in a Stephen King novel! Which, while scary, would also be excellent...
Failing that, I'd love to meet Christina from Reading Thru the Nite too, and go drinking with her on some sketchy kind of 'celebration that we must do because it involves alcohol'... also, she lives in Florida, and I hear the weather is pretty nice there, but that might just be a rumour...

And finally, Parajunkee's View asks: What Character in a book would you most like to be, and what character in a book would you most like to date?
This is practically impossible to answer because I have read and loved so so so many characters that it's just ridiculous! If I'm being forced to choose though, I'd say that I'd probably date Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath because he's clearly very angry and sexy, and definitely wouldn't be able to afford a razor and would have an extremely hot beard... Ok, yeah, I'm done with that fantasy now! As for a character I'd like to be... I really really love Maggie Tulliver from The Mill on the Floss and her feministic ways, but there are just so many females from literature that it would be awesome to be: Lizzie Bennet, Scout Finch, Cassandra Mortmain... It's an almost endless list! But its definitely something to think about, like constantly, for about a week!

So, these are my answers, how about you? If you're a new visitor, why not leave me a comment, and if you like what you see, then feel free to follow me, and I will endeavour to entertain you with bookish daring feats every single week (or, you know, like book reviews and stuff). And if you don't want to do either of those things, then thanks for visiting anyway- I love you all!

Thursday 5 May 2011

Revisiting Books... The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

There are probably words to describe how much I love The Bell Jar, but it could probably only be expressed by someone who is as wonderful a writer as Sylvia Plath. This is why it's kind of frustrating having a book blog sometimes- there are so many books that I love and am passionate about, but it's so difficult to find the right words to accurately describe this love. I guess this is why I stick to the reading rather than the writing, huh? But I'll try my best to tell you about The Bell Jar anyway.

If you know anything at all about Sylvia Plath, then I guess you'll know basically two things about her: depression and suicide. Both of these do come into prominence in this novel, but, even in a book about a woman's breakdown and suicide attempt, these aren't the things that strike me as most important about the novel. It is intriguing to me that I feel this way, because when I first read this when I was about 15, full of teenage angst, these did strike me as the most important things, and made me wonder if I was also on a slippery slope down into depression (I really wasn't- these feelings faded about five minutes after I finished the book!) This time around, I was struck more by the things that lead up to her eventual breakdown- pushing herself too hard, trying to achieve too much, and then suddenly stalling and not being able to get started again. In a sense, she wants to do and be everything, and it is this that is her downfall- on being unable to decide on any one path, seeing only the things that will be closed off to her if she does, she finds herself stalled, back with her mother, and unable to think of doing anything at all.

I should probably stop myself here before I give anything away. But I definitely think that the way I read it this time is indicative of where I'm at in my life (not long finished intensive learning, don't really know what to do next, back at home with my mother...) and trying to avoid falling into a similar kind of funk to Esther, the protagonist. I have not been entirely successful in this, and I definitely am feeling a loss of direction that often leads to despair right now. So I guess you could say that I felt closer to this book than ever before on this reading, because, unlike my 15 year old self, I do know, at least to a certain extent, what Esther is going through.

But, enough about me. Let's get to the writing. It is deceptively simple, but also, I think expresses universal feelings. This is apparent in how many people I have known and blog posts I have read that feel like they can really relate to the novel, and I'm sure hardly any of them have experienced actual depression. While taken to extremes, Plath manages to express wholly universal feelings- the yearning to be the very best we can, the boredom of living in the suburbs, the desire to just change entirely who you are and to just do something better with your life. More than anything, Esther is one of the most real characters that I have had the opportunity to spend time with. You are there with her through every state of mind, and through her complete and consuming depression. Perhaps the best thing about her though, is that she isn't perfect- she can be petty and a little bit harsh on those who don't come up to her standards, but that just serves to make her more real, and a character who really haunts you long after you've finished reading.

One of the most bittersweet moments of the novel, and one that sort of haunts me, is the fact that Esther, following her recovery, is never really allowed to completely relax, because:
"How did I know that someday-at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere- the bell jar with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?"
This is a sort of disturbing thought, and it is an upsetting one too when you consider Plath's own suicide at such a young age. It must be so frightening, living with essentially the worst experience in your life (and, in a way, experience of your life) on your back all the time- out of the bell jar, but with it barely behind you at all times, a part of your mind always wondering if and when it might descend again. It's a horrifying thing to have to worry about, and, as Plath says, you still always remember the way you felt whilst in the bell jar, and so the thought of it coming back is an almost unbearable one. Fortunately, aside from this, the novel does end on a relatively positive note, and makes me hopeful to think that Esther is still fine, living the life that Plath herself deserved to have.

The Bell Jar is still stunning to me, even after reading it so many times. It is a work of art, and almost makes me uncomfortable to enjoy, in considering that another person's complete debilitating pain led to its creation. Nonetheless, it is still a book that I feel everyone should read, depressed or not, female or not, for its complete and utter painful beauty.