Friday 30 September 2011

Devouring Books: The Princess Diaries Ten Out of Ten by Meg Cabot

Dear Ms Cabot,

Oh, Meg. May I call you Meg? You were an important part of my formative reading years, a refreshing, better written alternative to Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club, and Mia, of The Princess Diaries was definitely one of my favourite characters. She was so great- a character with beliefs, ideals, a total hippy mother and a dad who was a Prince. The least likely Princess ever, and yet, somehow, it didn't make her at all annoying, and, I'm not gonna lie to you- I loved her. A lot.

You might have noticed I'm writing in the past tense here, and Meg, I'm sorry, but there is a good reason for that. Something has happened, and I'm not sure if it's Mia who's changed or just me, but somehow I can't get on with her anymore. I gave her very last book a chance against my better judgement after being disappointed with Size Doesn't Matter, the last Heather Wells mystery, and honestly, Meg, I can't say I was any more impressed with this book. Here's the thing- not to put too fine of a point on it, all of your main characters sound really similar, all of them freak out about tiny things that are irrelevant and, sorry, annoying, and they're also a lot dumber than I want women I read about to be. Here's the thing- I get that you want your readers to feel all clever because they've figured out what's going on before the characters, but when things are as obvious as you make them, all you really achieve is making your own characters look really thick. Which you do well, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure that's really what you want to achieve, is it?

Mia used to be different, although maybe that's just my mind remembering things wrongly. Even so- I feel like the Mia of even the first book was more clued in and just smarter than the Mia of four years later. I mean, seriously, Meg- the press were turning up every time Mia went out with her boyfriend (the icky JP) and it took her two years to figure out that was because he was calling them?! I mean, please- she's a lot smarter than that, and I think more suspicious since, you know, she became a princess and everyone wanted to be her best friend. And is it just me, or was JP made so obviously terrible in reaction to wanting to make Michael completely perfect, and give readers of the series the ending they really really needed? Kudos on that, at least, because, come on, like Mia could have ended up with any other guy!

There were so many more things wrong with this book that I really don't have the heart to go into them all here. One thing I would say, Meg, is that when you create a really great character like Lilly, don't completely sideline her in the last one and make her all sulky and grumpy when, in fact, I think she would have told Mia why she was angry with her, and that whole annoying rigmarole would never have happened. Although, please Meg, far be it for me to tell you how to do your job. And really, I hold no grudges- I remember the joy and good times you brought me in the past, and, you know, thanks for the memories. But Meg, much as I loved you, I think it's time for us to go our separate ways. Please, don't weep- it's me not you. Except, also, it's a little bit you too.

Yours (but not really anymore)

Thursday 29 September 2011

Devouring Books: Stephen Fry in America

My love for America is well-documented and astounding. I don't always agree with the shit that some of its politicians get up to, the whole having-to-pay-for-healthcare bit, quite frankly makes me want to puke, but the land itself and its people? Love doesn't even come close to covering it. I may have only ever been to two states (and New Jersey doesn't even really count because I just saw an airport) but I want to see a lot more, and in one way- through books- I already have. I've lived through the Civil War on both sides with Jo March and Scarlett O'Hara, I've had a taste of Western life with Annie Proulx's Wyoming stories, and I can't even tell you the number of visits to New York City I've had (not including my two actual visits). The fact that I wasn't born in America is a constant disappointment to me, and I'm still looking for that elusive American husband for that even more elusive greencard (and for love! Obviously...)

It's interesting to know that Stephen Fry, as he points out in the introduction to Stephen Fry in America, very nearly was born in America- his father was offered a teaching position at Princeton, which he turned down, but what if he hadn't? It's extremely trippy to think of Stephen Fry as an American, considering that he is, perhaps, the most English Englishman I can think of (albeit an extremely left-wing, atheist Englishman, which only makes me love him the more), and honestly, the fact that he travelled around America because he loves it so much and then wrote a book about it makes me basically as happy as a book can make a person. To put it plainly, this book is Laura-crack. Not your average travelogue of a journey around America, this book has stunning photos (seriously, America? SO beautiful) and, because it's kind of a companion to a six-part TV series he made for the BBC, there is literally never a dull moment because he had to travel to all kinds of interesting places to make it interesting for the telly!

There is a part in the book for each of the fifty States, and each includes stuff like the abbreviation for the State, State birds, mottos, drinks and things like that; as well as notable people from/associated with that State. This posed a problem for me, because I initially thought they were people born in that State, leading to a lot of confusion when Tennessee Williams was listed under Mississippi (he's called Tennessee! God, those are both hard States to spell!) until I realised that actually meant he just lived there for a bit. That confusion over, the chapters themselves are amazing. The really great thing about what Fry has done is that he doesn't go to the places you would expect him to. I mean sure, he goes to Vegas, but there he finds Mormons posing for a half-naked calendar (and yet, in Utah, he doesn't see any mormons at all!) He goes to Washington DC, and, rather than seeing any politicians, meets up with the founder of Wikipedia. He visits the Ben and Jerry's factory in Vermont (which I didn't know existed before I watched the documentary, and which I now absolutely must visit) and never even sees the Grand Canyon (which I do want to see and which I once told my friend off for going to Vegas and not seeing). He sees probably more of America than most Americans, and, for the most part, has only nice things to say about every State.

I think what this book has done more than anything is made me realise just how utterly varied and wonderful America as an entire country. I mean, it's got everything. Mountains, lakes, waterfalls, desert, cities, countryside, beaches, two oceans, and I can't really think of anything in the world like Monument Valley. Where I'm going with this is that, I used to scoff at the fact that something like 90% of Americans don't have passports, the way I feel about it now is almost, why does one ever need to leave America?! I mean, everything is there, and that's just in California (probably my favourite State, even though New York is, of course, my favourite City). Of course, I'm not saying that it's not good to travel- of course it's great, Paris is really nice, Switzerland is beautiful, but what I'm saying is this: Americans could probably stay in the country their entire lives, and still not see everything it has to offer.

Back to the book, I really enjoy how clear it is that Stephen Fry loves America- his journey takes him to many different places and to many different cultures, and he has nary a bad word to say about any of them- he gently chides religion, ever so slightly mocks a man who wants to hunt for Bigfoot, but most of his criticism is reserved for himself, and that only when he looks a bit silly dressing up in, say, a cowboy hat. And that kind of thing only makes you love him all the more, and makes you want to say 'nawwww, don't be silly- you look great!' even when, it has to be said, he does look a bit silly in a cowboy hat. The only bad thing I have to say about the writing in the book, in fact, is that someone didn't do their editing job very well- there were a fair few typos that I picked up on, which just proves that I should be Stephen Fry's personal editing lady person (very official job title there) just to make this book utterly perfect. Although, did I mention? Morgan Freeman makes an appearance in it too. I think perfection was just achieved!

Obviously I think you should read this book. Everyone should read this book. It's a weird thing when you feel patriotic for a country that's not your own, but I kind of do for America, and this book sort of makes me feel homesick for a country that's never been mine. Even if you are American, you can probably learn some new things about your country, and feel immeasurably lucky to live there. If you get the opportunity to see the documentary, then I definitely recommend that too- 6 straight hours of Stephen Fry ambling about America being lovely? Perfection! In the spirit of travel and America-loving, I've decided to list the top ten States I'd most like to visit (let's keep in mind that I want to see them all) because, although Stephen Fry doesn't play favourites with the States, I definitely do! So, my top ten, right now:
1. California
2. Montana
3. Utah (for Monument Valley)
4. Illinois (Chicago)
5. Maine (Stephen King land! [no that's not a theme park])
6. Washington (Seattle/Nirvana-land)
7. Tennessee (Dollywood!)
8. Louisiana (New Orleans)
9. Vermont (Ben and Jerry's factory)
10. Hawaii
So, fair readers. Good calls? Do you want to make a case for your State? Or, do you want to offer me a place to stay (you definitely do!) Have at it in the comments.

Note: I left New York off the list only because I've been there twice. But, seriously- NYC is my favourite place in the world, so far!

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Devouring Films: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a film that pretty much explores the idea 'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all'. In creating a world where it's possible to choose, essentially, whether or not you have loved and lost, you can decide to erase all painful memories of a relationship, but in the bargain, you have to erase the absolutely amazing ones too. I found this concept, from the beginning, a very interesting one, and as you follow Joel (Jim Carrey) through his experience, you start to see that erasing another person from your memory means sacrificing the good along with the bad, and kind of proves the above statement, even while trying to achieve the opposite.

When I start using big words and linking films to poetical statements (or statements of a poet? Whatever) that means I kind of loved a film enough to give it some kind of extra-artistic analysis that makes it totally worthwhile to be watching films instead of, I don't know, reading Proust or something. But really, Eternal Sunshine was sort of wonderful. In a weird way, it reminded me of two Christopher Nolan films, even though, in its tone and lack of big bangs, it was completely different to any Nolan film I've ever seen. Nonetheless, it still reminded me of Inception, in that the majority of the film took place inside Jim Carrey's head (albeit in his memories rather than dreams, but still) and it reminded me of Memento, in that it kind of worked backwards, through Joel's memories of Clementine (Kate Winslet) as each of them is erased. You probably didn't need to know that, but I will say that Eternal Sunshine made me feel a much greater range of emotions than a Nolan film has, most of which was down to the performances of a cast that, I'm not gonna lie, I really really loved.

So let's talk about the cast. Poor old Elijah Wood plays another creepy character, the nerdy memory-erasing technician who has kind of stolen Joel's identity (don't ask me questions about that- even though this isn't really a spoiler-ish kind of film, I don't want to tell you the entire plot!) and who can't get a very cool Kirsten Dunst to like him, probably because he's creepy. What is it about his face that screams creepy? Because it definitely does. Anyway, apart from creepy-face, Mark Ruffalo who I love and adore and who can, therefore, do anything, is the actual memory eraser, and he looks lovely and dorky in his big glasses. And he probably acts well too, but, you know, who cares? Kirsten Dunst, who I like, does a good job as his girlfriend and also receptionist of the weird memory-erasing company.

This film really belongs to Kate Winslet, and, I think to a far greater extent, Jim Carrey though. I can't even describe how much I love Jim Carrey, and I would never ever say mean things about him like other people, but even I would have to admit that, really, I've never seen him play anything other than a hilarious, slightly unhinged person who can do funny voices and just generally be really hilarious. As I may have mentioned, I do love him in all these roles because I find them hilarious, but Joel is something else entirely. He's real, in a way no other Carrey character I've seen has ever quite been. It was so wonderful to watch, and I kind of felt validated in my love for him because now, everyone can see that actually, he's a pretty great actor! Kate Winslet is always pretty great, and I love her as the free-spirited Clementine, even though she starts the whole mess of the memory erasing on a whim. But then, that's the whole appeal of her character, the entire reason Joel wants to both forget and remember her, and Winslet plays her really well.

I'm very conscious that I might have already given away slightly too much about this film, especially because I didn't really have any idea of how it was going to work before I watched it, and I really loved it because of that. While there are a lot of things I want to discuss (the ethics of undertaking such memory erasure, for example, and the parts of Joel's childhood that are also lost as a result of it, and especially the implications of the beginning/end of the film) I'm going to hold back on them because you really deserve to watch this beautiful film without knowing too much about it, and have the opportunity to love it as much as I did.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

We all know how I love a nice top ten Tuesday, and this week's is fun because it's all full of pipe dreams of what I would do if it was physically possible to re-read books, which I obviously can't because there are far too many books that I still have to read and there always will be! I mean, not to be too alarmist or anything... So anyway, I'm just going to make a nice little list now, and leave my neuroses out of it!

Top Ten Books I want to re-read

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky- I've only read it once which is, quite frankly, so not enough. I'm still resentful that I didn't have this book to hand when I was a teenager, so I definitely deserve to read it about 20 times. At least. I'm thinking that, since a bit of the book takes place at Christmas, I can re-read it as a Christmas present to myself. We'll see!

2. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell- Again, I've only read this once, and it. was. epic. It's length is the main reason I haven't re-read it, but, you know, I can always watch the film in a mere four hours and pretend I'm reading a really easy-read book!

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck- I mainly want to re-read this (again) so I can make a fool of myself here and GUSH about how much I love it, because trust me- I really really do. And you'll be sorry that you ever found out how much because you will be vomiting at all the positive adjectives I'll be using.

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- Like Perks, I only read this for the first time this year, so a re-read would be slightly foolish, and sort of pointless because I can basically remember it entirely! But it's a definite Laura classic (as in, you know, I liked it a lot) that I think I will revisit a lot in the future.

5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini- Because I read it a really long time ago, and I know it was amazing, I just can't quite remember it in its entirety. But I know that it's so beautiful, and so sad, and that's enough for me to want to re-read it.

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- I actually haven't read this for so long, and considering that I've quite recently read all the Austens, plus Wuthering Heights, it's an injustice to the greatness of Jane Eyre that I haven't re-read that too. But soon, I swear Ms Bronte!

7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley- It's definitely one of the best dystopias I've read (although, to be fair, I like most of the dystopian novels I read) and, I don't know why, but I'm in that sort of mood recently. Probably has something to do with living in a country that feels like a dystopia...

8. The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger- Let me make this completely clear. I only want to read this so I can point out all the things that are wrong with it, and then I want to forget about it and pretend the whole thing never happened (I just don't get it! I'm sorry!)

9. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood- Another dystopia, and this one I loved, so so much, and it actually scared me to the point of having to make an escape plan from this crazy, crazy America (I should actually get on that in case it does actually happen, REPUBLICANS, I'm looking at you!) I'm sort of thinking that I should read the other Atwood books I have before I re-read this one, because, chances are, they're all that good!

10. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster- I really love Auster, and The New York trilogy is probably the book I most want to re-read of his, because it's just so... intricate and complex and all combined up in itself, and I definitely think that through re-reading it, I will be able to discover so many more subtle connections and intricacies that it really excites me! So yeah, I'll be getting to that someday soon.

So those are my top ten most pressing concerns once I've read the 200 or so other books that I haven't actually read yet. How about you? Any books you want to get seriously re-acquainted with that I haven't even been acquainted with? Let me know in the usual place!

Monday 26 September 2011

Banned Books Week

Banning books is like trying to suppress people's thoughts, which seems like a pretty stupid and fruitless thing to do- the authors have already had the thoughts, the readers are definitely thinking it too (that's why their words resonate so much with the readers) and, quite frankly, there's nothing wrong with sex! Since this week is Banned Books Week, and I haven't read any banned books recently (and so can't really review them) I was just going to let it go by, and enjoy everyone else's posts about it (like this one, where Amanda from Dead White Guys reads a bit of Gone With The Wind- JOY!). Luckily for me, and of course for you, Alley from What Red Read has come to the rescue and posted a list of the top 110 banned books, which I am definitely going to replicate for you and tell you which ones I've read and stuff. Added bonus of this? Practically no work for me to do! We all win! Sort of...

So, anyway, here's the list! I'm going to copy Alley once more, and put the ones I've read in bold, and the ones I've read parts of in italics, and the ones I own and am all ready to read I'll underline. Then we will easily be able to see how much of a rebel I am (in books anyway- I'll save you some time about how much of a rebel I am in real life, and tell you- not. at. all.)

1. The Bible
2. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
4. The Koran
5. Arabian Nights
6. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
7. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
8. Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
9. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
10. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
11. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
12. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
13. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (I'm pretty sure that banning this one borders on evil...)
14. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
15. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
16. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
17. Dracula by Bram Stoker (I am reading it next month though!)
18. Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin (Really?! Banned in the US?!)
19. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
20. Essays by Michel de Montaigne
21. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
22. History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
23. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
24. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
25. Ulysses by James Joyce (This was probably just for public safety, no? I joke, I joke!)
26. Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
27. Animal Farm by George Orwell
28. 1984 by George Orwell
29. Candide by Voltaire
30. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
31. Analects by Confucius (Science is evil! And scary!)
32. Dubliners by James Joyce
33. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
34. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
35. Red and the Black by Stendhal
36. Das Capital by Karl Marx (But I wish I had..)
37. Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
38. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
39. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence
40. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
41. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
42. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
43. Jungle by Upton Sinclair
44. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
45. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
46. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
47. Diary by Samuel Pepys
48. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
49. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
50. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (The most ironic banned book ever)
51. Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
52. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (This should have stayed banned. Seriously.ARGH!)
53. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
54. Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus
55. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
56. Autobiography of Malcolm X
57. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
58. Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
59. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
60. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
61. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn
62. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
63. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
64. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
65. Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
66. Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
67. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
68. The Talmud
69. Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
70. Bridge to Terabithida by Katherine Paterson
71. Women in Love by D H Lawrence
72. American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
73. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
74. Separate Peace By John Knowles
75. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
76. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
77. Popol Vuh
78. Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
79. Satyricon by Petronius
80. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
81. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
82. Black Boy by Richard Wright
83. Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
84. Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
85. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
86. Metaphysics by Aristotle
87. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Really?! But why?!)
88. Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
89. Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
90. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
91. Sanctuary by William Faulkner
92. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
93. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
94. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
95. Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
96. General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
97. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
98. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
99. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
100. Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman by Ernest J Gaines
101. Emile Jean by Jacques Rousseau
102. Nana by Emile Zola
103. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
104. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
105. Gulag Archipelago by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn
106. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein
107. The Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
108. Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
109. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Hmm, I make that only 109 books... Nonetheless, I've read 32 of them, read parts of 6 of them, and have 5 all ready for reading, one of them very soon. That's not bad, but I could do better- I'll start with those 5. How many have you read? Any that you're really surprised were banned (Little House on the Prairie? Really?!)?

Friday 23 September 2011

Hop Over My Way Why Dontcha?

Ah, Fridays. You just haven't been the same without me answering the questions that the people need to know the answers to! I know you're just dying to hear my answers because I am just that awesome, so, without any ado:

Parajunkee this week asks: Do you have a favourite series that you read over and over again? Tell us a bit about it and why you keep on revisiting it.
I don't really have a series that I keep revisiting, just because I have SO MANY books to read that I can't reread right now. It's just a no. Having said that, there are two series that I think I will come back to again and again probably throughout my life- Harry Potter (wow, how original am I?!) and The Dark Tower series by Stephen King because it's just so good! Since we all know about Harry Potter, I'm going to assume, allow me to tell you a bit about The Dark Tower Series- it's basically made of awesome and encompasses so many ideas and worlds and characters, as well as having probably one of the best stories I've read. Since I'm reading every Stephen King book over a non-specified period of time, I'll be reviewing all seven books on here at some point, so check back here every so often if you want to know more about them- or just read them yourselves, which I highly recommend!

This weeks TGIF at GReads! asks: Reading Challenges: Did you sign up for any this year? How has your progression been?
I like this question, because I haven't had the opportunity to update on my challenges for aaaages! I signed up for the GLBT Challenge way back in January (when I barely knew what a reading challenge was, to be honest) and their rules were basically, read as many GLBT books as you like throughout the year. I thought 15 was a realistic number, but I've sort of kind of only read 5 so far- I'm still hoping to reach my target by the end of the year though, so stay tuned! I'm also participating in the R.I.P. Challenge, which runs from September-October, for which I've read two of my aim of four books so far. And I'm also participating in Two Bibliomaniacs Books to Movies Challenge, which is lots of fun, and for which I've read 5 books and watched 4 films already, and it only started in June- clearly this is my most favourite challenge of the year! And then of course there's my very own Stephen King Challenge, but that's more of a personal challenge thing that has no time limit or anything. But it's still a lot of fun. To check out what I've already read in these challenges, see here.

So, yeah. There are some answers to some things that you definitely needed to know. If you're getting antsy because it's Friday and you really don't want to do any more work, may I interest you in some blog posts to make the day pass faster? Here's what you may have missed this week on the blog:
Monday's review of Christine by Stephen King is sure to make you nervous about being near old cars at night
Or you might enjoy seeing the books that everyone has read except me, and that make me feel like a book reject,
Or how about this, where I get all excited about an reading event that is a whole month away (I'm still excited!)
And maybe you'll have something to say about Thursday's review of Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson- I had a lot to say, not much of it good.

I hope you'll find something there to keep you entertained, and if you do, why not stick around for a while? I'd be happy to have you! And, if you're at all interested in George Orwell, I recommend coming back throughout October where I'm going to do my best to read and review all his works (that I own- a very important point that.) So yes. Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday 22 September 2011

Devouring Books: Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

I had issues with this book. For one thing, I started reading it, I think, in July, which should give you some kind of idea how eager I was to finish it. I can't really tell you why this was the case though, which bugs me a fair bit- I just really wasn't into this book. This really disappointed me because I loved Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, and I really was expecting this to be just as good. But it wasn't.

I think at the root of my problem with Sexing the Cherry was that, much as I love books to be profound and filled with meaning, I also like them to have some semblance of a story. Sexing the Cherry has the deep intense meanings (although I had problems with them too, which I'll get onto in a bit) but the story? Not so much. I think this is part of why I really couldn't be bothered to carry on reading it after I started it months ago, because I really couldn't feel anything for characters that seemed more like symbols than actual people I could relate to, and because really, there's no connecting story to put them in any kind of context- it's all just ideas and concepts and symbols. Not necessarily a bad thing when combined with a story that you care about and want to read, but on their own? I wasn't too impressed.

As for the profundity and the symbols themselves, I wasn't exactly blown away by them either. One of the main characters (symbols) is a woman who is huge beyond any reaches of the imagination, and I really didn't get the point of that- was Winterson trying to display the strength of women by giving her ultimate symbol of woman a huge, hulking form? And if she was, shouldn't that have been clearer? I'm not asking for all meaning in literature to be completely transparent here, but, in other areas of the book, Winterson says things that are almost too obvious to even be stated. For example, "Are we all living like this? Two lives, the ideal outer life and the inner imaginative life where we keep our secrets?" To which the answer, I think kind of obviously, is yes, and, to take it even further, the way we navigate between the two is by sharing our secrets with other people. What a revelation! Ahem.

Reading the recommendations on the covers of the book, I can't help but get an Emperor's new clothes feeling about this book. It's almost as if they have been dazzled by the 'voice' of the book, and it's 'stunning' revelations, without recognising that, actually, there's not really a story to speak of, and the revelations that Winterson offers are such that we kind of already knew. There's hardly, in fact, anything she hasn't said in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, and that was done in a much better way since, you know, there was actually a story and all, along with the useful observations about life that it also provides. It's not necessarily fair to compare the two, but, at points during this book, it was useful to remember exactly why I was reading this book.

To be completely fair, I did quite enjoy the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, rebooted by Winterson so that each princess found traditional marriages to be lacking as the kind of life they wanted, which they all remedied by leaving their husbands, some having affairs with other women, but mostly just realising that marriage is not necessarily the best way to retain their strength and independence, and not the best environment for them to grow. Even this, however, was jarring in the larger scale of the book, as it really seemed to have no connection to the rest of the story, such as it was. There was just nowhere to focus my attention, no foothold to get my bearings, and in the end I really just couldn't enjoy this book, much as I really wanted to.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Readathon! Readathon!

Dewey's Readathon is just around the corner, and this time I'm determined to take part. Last time it was on my birthday, which meant that I just about managed to read like 20 pages of Middlesex, and... that was about it. This time though, I am so on it. I'm already thinking of books that I could read, I'm tempted to make a pile even though it's (just!) over a month away- which is very wrong and probably quite pathetic of me- but I don't care!

So, yeah. I just thought you all should know this, and have the opportunity to sign up to take part yourselves! I'm not guaranteeing that you won't fall asleep at 3am and wake up drooling on your book (although this hasn't happened to me, I can totally imagine it happening) but up until that point, you'll be having an awesome time! I've only, up to this point, taken part in a 12-hour readathon, so chances are, this could kill me. But I'll go out doing something I love!!!

Note: I might be exaggerating. But definitely do think about taking part- we'll have such fun!

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Howdy book bloggers and hoppers and all sorts of things like that! Welcome to the now award winning, I believe, meme that remains my favourite of all in the realm, Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the awesome The Broke and the Bookish. This week, I'm digging into my deepest psyche to reveal the books that make me feel left behind, part of the 'out' crowd, and just generally uncool. So, without any ado at all, here are the:

Top Ten books I feel like everyone has read except me

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- I know for a fact that everyone has read this except me, because when I posted it as part of my IMM/Malibox Monday one week, everyone had an opinion on it. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone, and when I say opinion, it mainly centred around the cover that I used in my post to illustrate the book. People are strange.

2. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer- But I'm actually ok with this one. I like my vampires tall, blonde, and burn-y, not sparkly, in the sunlight. And also, not shit. (It's definitely unfair for me to be calling Twilight shit without having read it. But I know enough about it to make that kind of statement. I think.)

3. A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan- When I say everyone's read this, what I really mean is 'everyone whose blogs I read and who I love' has read this, and therefore I must too! Luckily, I have it from the library, now I just actually have to read it. But, you know, one step at a time, yeah?

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Series by Steig Larsson- It feels like everyone and their mother has read this series of books, which I think is probably down to all the buzz around the movies (Swedish and American) rather than to do with the actual greatness of the books themselves. Nonetheless, like the poor damned sheep I am, I still want to read them and be like everyone else! Also because Frances said they're awesome and she's usually right about stuff like that. ALSO, because they're Swedish, and nothing bad ever came from Sweden.

5. Bumped by Megan McCafferty- I'm not especially bothered about reading Bumped (although I did read a review of it for the first time the other day and it did actually sound pretty interesting) but every blog I read seems to have reviewed it at some point this year. It's actually a bit got to the stage where I'm like 'If I see that damn egg cover one more time...'

6. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins- Ditto Bumped.

7. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender- I've seen quite a few reviews of this just lately, plus it's part of some tv book club thing here in the UK, therefore I feel like everyone's read it already except me. Luckily I got it out of the library, ostensibly because I really really like the title! So hopefully I can fit in with everyone soon enough on this one.

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett- You know you've read this already. Don't lie to me. At this point, I feel like reading it will show me to be so far behind the times that it'll almost be too embarrassing- regardless I'm going to read it anyway, because I've already bought it, and who cares if I'm late with it?

9. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel- I'm even further behind on this one, I realise. And I know everyone's read it because it won some kind of prize, and you're all laughing at me because 1) I haven't read it, and 2) I don't know what prize it won. I can hear you, so just be quiet!

10. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides- I have seen like two reviews of this on blogs, and it hasn't even been released yet, but in my heightened sense of wanting this book, I feel like everyone's read it, and it has really been released, and I'm just not allowed to have it, and everything's just so unfair! Hold me someone. Hold me close.

So these are the books that give me an inferiority complex. Any there that I should read rightnowthisverysecond? Any I should completely avoid? Tell me the things I need to know and make me feel popular peoples!

Monday 19 September 2011

Devouring Stephen King: Christine

You've probably heard about this Stephen King book, even if you haven't read it- it's the one where the car comes alive and kills all these people and it's all just horrible and, if you're a sensitive soul, makes you scared of cars. Or at least ones that drive themselves. I had read Christine before this time around, but somehow managed to retain none of it, other than the fact that there was a crazy-ass car (although I'd even forgotten just what makes it crazy, so apparently I just wasn't paying attention at all when I was reading it). I remembered just not being massively impressed by it, hence not feeling the urge to own it or read it again, until, that is, I decided to read them all (what a fool I am!).

Interestingly, I was actually pretty terrified by Christine. I know it all sounds just a tad silly- haunted car, teenagers, creepy old guys- but I actually did get a little bit scared late at night, making my way upstairs in my darkened house, seriously hoping that I didn't hear an engine anywhere near my house. I am ridiculously easily scared by things, but this is probably the Stephen King that has scared me the most so far, and that's probably because I really didn't know what was happening, or what was going to happen, despite reading it before. That sense of the unknown makes books so much scarier when you're in the middle of them than when you've finished them, and that's especially true of Stephen King books because they almost always have relieving, if not always happy, endings.

Christine is a book that, I think, starts off really strongly, falters somewhat in the middle, and then manages to pick itself up again by the end. That's not to say that it was really bad in any parts, but some parts were definitely better than others. And I could definitely have done without a lot of the car talk, but I understand that was necessary. Sort of. So at the beginning, it's all very creepy and implying of horrors to come, everyone except Arnie, this kid who we both like and don't, hates Christine, or at least get the creeps whenever they around her. As we learn as the book progresses, even Arnie gets the creeps to some extent when he is around Christine, but at that point he is powerless to do anything about it because he is also in love with her (it. Whatever.) The story is told from the first person perspective of Dennis Guilder, Arnie's best (and only) friend, who is a lot cooler than Arnie since he plays football (or, as I like to call it, American football) and he is more or less our eyes for the things that go on with Christine.

Until he isn't. And this is what I have a problem with. For the second section of the book, the narration switches to third person, and it's kind of distracting and irritating for a while, and in that time, instead of focusing on the story, I was too busy being distracted by the shift in narration. I don't want to give too much away, but at the end of section one, Dennis is left out of commission, and the story must continue without him, since it relates things that happen that Dennis can't have any idea about. I understand that (it's the whole basis of using third person narration) but it's just so jarring and distracting that I would rather have had the whole book written in the third person, or not have Dennis go out of commission (although I did think that was important to the plot in that it allowed Arnie to get closer to Christine... Or maybe the other way around mwahahahaha). The narration also goes back to Dennis in section three, which is really irritating because he then tries to make it sound like he's retelling this whole story for the first time, even the bits that were in the third person that he has no way of knowing about. King, why are you trying to piss me off like this?

Anyway! Moving on from the irritating narration, I really did like the story. It's obviously got the horrible , creepy, and sometimes just plain terrifying moments that you expect from a Stephen King novel, but also in a secondary way it deals with learning how to grow up, even if you're not quite ready to. Arnie, I think, represents Dennis's childhood in a way, and as they grow further apart, Dennis grows up some more. It's a pretty brutal way to have to grow up, but at the same time, isn't all growing up pretty brutal? This book also embodies what it's like to be a teenager (probably more a teenage boy than a teenage girl, but whatcha gonna do?) and this statement more or less sums it up: "It's only when you're a teenager that you talk about change constantly and believe in your heart that it never really happens." Ain't that a fact though?

I'm not going to lie, Christine is definitely more about the horror stuff than the more 'literary' theme of growing up, and when Stephen King does it as well as he does, who am I to complain about that? If you want to gain an irrational fear of cars (and a completely rational fear of moving cars without drivers) then I would definitely encourage you to read this- I will have ultimate respect for you if you read it on Hallowe'en too, when I will inevitable spend the night watching Disney movies and trying to not think about all the Stephen King books I've read this year...

As well as moving my Stephen King challenge along, this is the second of my posts for the R.I.P. Challenge. I think I might be reading more than 4 at this rate...

Friday 16 September 2011

Devouring: Chocolate and Nutella Sweeties Cake

When I started this blog, I envisaged it as more of a multi-genred thing than the book blog it's mainly become (although I do review quite a few movies as well). I think the main reason for this is simply that there is such a great book blogger community out there that it is really easy to just be a part of that then to have to think of other things to do! So, apart from the two, maybe three cake-type things I posted really early on, I haven't really covered the 'devouring' part of my blog very well, even though, apart from reading, baking is probably the thing I do the most often. The main reason I don't post about that? I'm too lazy to take pictures most of the time, and if I'm not, then my camera sucks anyway and that's just depressing in comparison to all the other food blogs out there. (My favourite? The Gluttonous Vegan. It's creator is super sweet, and, I'm sure we all know that vegan food doesn't count, so I can eat as much of it as I like!)

So, anyway, I'm going to try and post some more about cakes, lousy photos or not, because I think it just makes a nice change every once in a while to show you all some food that tasted really really good! Also because I can't read enough to post every day, and I like to try and do that because it gives me some kind of sense of achievement when I'm all pathetic and unemployed and stuff. And, even if I don't, this cake really deserves more viewers than it's had already.
Behold! The Chocolate and Nutella Sweetie cake thingy! I made this for my sister's birthday, not, you understand, that you ever need a reason for a good cake. Everyone was calling it a Willy Wonka cake, but I resent that because, you know, Willy Wonka doesn't know shit about cake!
I can't even tell you how long it took to get all those sweets on the cake... except that it was a really very long time, and after it my back hurt a lot from all the standing and doing things! This is a 3 layer cake, which is really the only way to make cakes if you ask me, and I'd love to share the recipe with you but I really feel like it's too naughty to do because it's from The Hummingbird Bakery's Cake Days book, which I would really encourage you to buy because it's awesome and has so many amazing recipes in that I can't wait to try! What I will tell you is that this chocolate cake was beautiful and soft (albeit a bit crumbly, which is fine, but not great when you want to get a picture of its insides). So yeah, get on that!
See, kind of crumbly! But still, sooo good... Let's talk frosting though. This is Nutella frosting, and if you don't think that deserves to go in italics then clearly you don't know about how amazing Nutella is. I'm going to be really nice and share the nutella frosting recipe with you, so you can thank me later when you're having mouth orgasms. So, to fill and cover a 3 layer cake, you will need:
625g (6 1/4 Cups) Icing (confectioner's) sugar
200g (3/4 Cup + 2 tblsp) Unsalted Butter
62.5ml (1/4 Cup plus 1/2 tsp) Whole Milk
200g (3/4 Cup + 2 tblsp) Nutella

And, all you need to do is whisk together the butter and sugar with an electric hand whisk until they come together nicely (it will be a bit thick, but don't panic cause that's what the milk is for) then add the milk and whisk until it's really really smooth and creamy, and the longer the better is really the case here. When you think it's ready, which is when it's really light and fluffy (at least 5 minutes with the electric whisk) stir in the Nutella by hand, and, importantly, don't overstir it because the frosting easily becomes too thick and unspreadable. When it's ready, just spread over your cake, and then just make it look pretty!

I put a variety of sweets on this cake- Haribo Tangfastics and Milky Way Magic Stars because they're my sister's favourites, and then M&Ms, Smarties and marshmallows, basically because I had them! It was so so good, I can't even tell you. I would go for some kind of modesty here, normally, but really, it was bloody great! And, I got Good Sister Points too, which is always a good thing to have! Mmmm, cake...

Note: It took me ages to figure out how to change metric measurements into cups. So if someone American could make the frosting and tell me that they love it, that would be fab!

Thursday 15 September 2011

Devouring Books: Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Oh, Nora. You're so hilarious and wonderful, why aren't you my best friend? I mean, it's probably because you're fifty years older than me, and live 3,000 miles away, but do those things really matter? We could make it work! Heartburn is, I think, Ephron's one and only novel, and it should really, I feel, be labelled more as a memoir since it is an exact representation of the things that happened to her. So accurate, in fact, that according to Wikipedia, Carl Bernstein (Ephron's second husband, and 'Mark' in the book) threatened to sue over it. If that's not admitting that the book is basically the truth, then I don't know what is!

It seems, of course, pretty hypocritical of Bernstein to sue over this book when, according to Ephron's character, 'Rachel', he had a column in which he outlined their lives for the American public every week (something that sounds suspiciously like a blog- whenever in the book he asks 'I wonder if I could get a column out of this' you could easily imagine him saying 'I wonder if there's a blog post in this'). But anyway. If you don't know anything about Nora Ephron and her general life drama (and why would you?) this book is more or less a document of that time when she was seven months pregnant and her husband, Carl Bernstein, great unveiler of Watergate, came home and told her that he was in love with another woman. He sounds like a real charmer if you ask me, but this isn't about me, so let's focus. As you can imagine, this is about the point where Ephron's ('Rachel's') life falls apart, and she discovers that everything she thought she knew wasn't true, and Heartburn seems to me, basically, to be her way of dealing with the shit that's happened to her.

In being a memoir in all but name, Heartburn seemed to me to be the polar opposite of Blonde- Ephron transfers all of her thoughts and feelings onto a fictional character in order to make them easier to deal with, whereas Oates, in Blonde, used a real life person but made up thoughts that she may have had. This doesn't really have anything to do with either book, but I just thought it was interesting that I should read two books that do similar but opposite things within a week of each other. Heartburn is so much funnier than Blonde, though (which, though I loved it dearly was not at all a barrel of laughs) and actually it's a lot funnier than the situation calls for. Some the anecdotes had me actually laughing out loud, and I rarely do that when I'm reading. Like I found with I Feel Bad About My Neck, though, the laughs in Heartburn were, at times, a cover for some much deeper sadness, as I think is so clearly revealed towards the end of the book:
"Vera said 'why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?'
So I told her why:
Because if I tell the story I control the version.
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
Because if I tell the story, it doesn't hurt as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it." 
You see? But also, most of it is funny, so if you shun the sadder (albeit more profound) side of things then please don't despair! You can definitely read this book.

I'd have to basically say that there's nothing about this book that I didn't like, other than the fact that it actually happened to Nora Ephron, and damn, I don't want anyone treating my future best friend badly! There are also recipes dispersed throughout the book that I did tend to find distracting rather than enhancing, but, having said that I do kind of want to make a few of them, so criticising that is no good! Basically it's awesome and I want you to read it, and what I want me to do is see the film, because, not only was the screenplay written by Ephron (kind of obviously) but Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep play Mark and Rachel respectively. In what way does that not sound like the perfect film? Add Mike Nichols as director, and you've got yourself a film that, in writing at least, deserves way more than the 5.8 stars it currently has on IMDb. This requires some investigating, so I'm off to add Heartburn to my Lovefilm list, while you go and read the book!

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Devouring Films: Waitress

Ah, Waitress. I love this film so much that I actually can't bear to send it back to love film, and for there to be a time when it's not in my possession (yeah, I know I can just buy it on Amazon for like £4. But I like to be dramatic, kay?) I almost don't want to ruin it with some over-the-top, crazy gushing review even though it so deserves one almost more than any review I've written. Probably my favourite new (to me) film I've seen this year, and definitely one that I'm going to watch again and again when I need a little Southern-accent in my life, and can't deal with the four hours of Gone With the Wind. Again.

So, instead of making you sit through a review that uses thoroughly too many positive adjectives, I'm going to give it to you in the form of a pie recipe, the inclusion of which in the the film made it literally delicious and, trust me, I don't even like pie. So, deep breath, here goes!

Take: One unhappily married, unhappily pregnant diner waitress, and her two plucky waitress friends. Add to the mix a series of complex relationships, including one with a dashing new doctor who can be seduced with pie. Allow to settle for a while. When problems with the asshole husband arise, try and smooth them out as much as you can so that the mixture doesn't blow up in your face, and you don't get hurt. Stir in a co-worker's unconventional romance, amazing southern accents, and the adorable/cranky owner of the diner. Add into a piecrust made up of around 8 months in the south, pour in the filling, and cook for around 108 minutes. Enjoy a slice of heartwarming drama comedy with a nice slice of actual pie!

For other, more sane sounding pie recipes, Waitress is excellent source material for them. It's also an amazing example of female written/directed/acted filmmaking, which makes me very happy, and I think is really reflected in the film itself (i.e. there is more than one woman! And she has friends who she talks to about stuff! It's really amazing to see...) Also, pie. Again. If you want anything more from a film then you may be crazy, so go! Seek out Waitress! And I promise to make you a pie if you're disappointed...

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Aren't you just so ready for another list? This weeks Top Ten Tuesday, as always hosted by the fab The Broke and the Bookish, is really fun, and lets me tell you a little bit about the blogs I like to read, as well as the books that get my attention! It is going to be a mixture, of books that I have already read after their recommendation, as well as books that I fully intend to read sometime but just haven't gotten around to yet! This weeks topic is in honour of BBAW, an event that I'm fully aware of but haven't yet participated in- yesterday's topic was a bit similar to this post I did for Armchair BEA, so I'm pretty comfortable just not posting about it- but I can still participate in my own teeny way with this weeks TTT (which I totally voted for as my favourite meme for BBAW. Obviously!)

Top Ten Books I Read/Intend to Read Because of Another Blogger

1. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, because of Jenn from Booksessed- Jenn is basically my blogging bff, so when she said that Water for Elephants was one of her favourite books I thought, hey, I think I'll give that a go! I'm glad I did- I liked it a lot, although maybe not quite as much as Jenn- but still, a lot!

2. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, because of Alley from What Red Read- I haven't quite got round to reading this yet, but I have gotten it out of the library, which is a good start! Allie's blog is possibly my favourite in the entire universe, and when she says a book is great, I've gotta believe her, so once I read her review of this, I immediately put this on my wish list.

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, because of Adam from Roof Beam Reader- I'm not sure that Adam has even formally reviewed this book on his (amazing) blog, but I do know that he talks about it a lot. Wondering what all the fuss was about, I bought Perks on a whim, and I'm so glad I read it- My favourite book of the year so far, probably one of my favourite books of my life,  so I'm really grateful that he likes to sing its graces a lot!

4. Pet Semetary by Stephen King, because of Kayleigh from Nylon Admiral- Ok, so obviously I'm reading all the Stephen King books anyway, so Kayleigh didn't strictly make me hurry out to buy Pet Semetary, since I already had it. BUT- her review of Pet Semetary did make me all edgy and hurrying along of myself so that I could get to it on my list because it sounds awesome. And so it had better be...

5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, because of Amanda from Dead White Guys- I adore Dead White Guys, which I found before I was even a blogger, and when Amanda said on twitter that she was going to be reading Anna Karenina, I thought, yeah, I've had it for about a million years, I might as well read it too. It is SO amazing that I was really happy for my sheep-like actions that day. Even if it did take me about 20 years to finish (or, you know, 2 months or something. Whatever!)

6. On Beauty by Zadie Smith, because of Breana from Literary Musings- I already owned On Beauty before I read Breana's review of it, but now I want to read it so much that I also have Howard's End out of the library, which I apparently have to read beforehand to fully understand On Beauty. It sounds like a lot of work to me, but I trust Breana when she says it's important, so I'm a gonna do it anyway!

7. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence, because of Allie from A Literary Odyssey- I should really say that I re-read Lady Chatterley's lover because of Allie's readalong way back in April, which I probably wouldn't have done without this encouragement- what I found was a book that was much better than the one I remembered, so I've really got to thank Allie for this one!

8. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, because of Ashley from Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing- I know next to nothing about this book, which I think is mostly the best way to go into books, other than that it is one of Ashley's favourite books, she personally recommended it to me on twitter, and when I like someone's blog and they say a book is their favourite, believe me, I pay attention.

9. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, because of Kit from Books are my Boyfriends- Honestly, I want to read everything Kit has ever reviewed because she is hilarious and brilliant and oh my gosh everyone should just read her blog right now! Eating Animals is just one example because I'm on a bit of a Foer kick these days, but really, everything she's reviewed, I just want to read.

10. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, because of various mysterious bloggers- Yeah, so I really don't know why I read Middlesex, other than it must have been because of other bloggers because I really disliked The Virgin Suicides, and I surely can't have just decided on my own to read another Eugenides book? So thanks guys, whoever you are- it was completely awesome, and definitely another one of those favourite books of the year for me.

So, who influenced you to read various books? Were they successes or not? Did you want to throttle your recommender because they were so awful? Let me know in the comments guys!

Monday 12 September 2011

Devouring Stephen King: Different Seasons

Different Seasons is also known as 'that collection of novellas Stephen King has that includes The Shawshank Redemption', the story in this book that really shines for me as being the best in the book, but probably only because I love the film so much, and I read the entire thing in Morgan Freeman's voice in my head. Or, actually, because it's the best written story in the book! I've tried to review short stories before and I find it sort of impossible, but these are technically novellas, so I guess I can just mini-review each of the stories, since there are only four of them. So, here goes!

Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption- I think we've all seen this film, and if you haven't, what have you been doing with your life?! The novella is more or less identical to the film, chronicling the struggles of Andy Dufresne, an innocent man in prison through the eyes of Red, his best friend there (although, really, I guess, it's more Red's story if you really want to get into it), sans a few inspirational quotes, and that bit where Andy plays the opera music that I love so much because of all the symbolism of hope and stuff. (Fun fact: I literally never listen to opera music, but whenever they use it in a film as a dramatic device it makes me all weepy/happy-sad. It's weird.) So yeah, there's not too much I can say about this novella, except that I love it, and you should definitely read it, and then see the film. Or vice-versa. When something's this good, it really doesn't matter.

Apt Pupil- I wasn't so keen on this novella- it seemed to drag a bit, and nothing much really happened- admittedly there was a great deal of tension building up to the really dramatic climax, and if you want to read about a teenager mentally unravelling, then this will probably entertain you. In a way, though, for me, it was almost too dark- in it, a 12 year old boy has found a commandant from a Nazi Concentration Camp, and instead of turning him in, he wants to find out everything he can about the death camps in a sick, voyeuristic way. Stephen King says in the Afterword of this book that there isn't much horror in it, but the idea of the existence of such a person (in fact, of both of these people), realistic as it undoubtedly is, it's also horrifying- I always find realistic horrors scarier than the ones that I find less plausible. So, yeah- when this story isn't veering on the side of boredom, it's going to far in the other direction and making me want to spiritually puke. I would probably recommend skipping it if you were to get this book. Ooh, one fun fact about it though- the ex-commandant, Dussander, had a banker who invested his money into stocks and thing and meant he had a comfortable amount to live on, and his name? Andy Dufresne. I love stuff like that.

The Body- A coming of age story about four twelve year old boys (only two of whom are really significant to the story), this was also made into a pretty successful film, Stand by Me, which I'm always meaning to see but the opportunity never comes up (I once videoed it off the TV but it got videoed over by mistake by someone evil, so I'm clearly cursed against watching it). It's called The Body because they ostensibly set out to find the body of this kid about their age who has been killed, but it's really what they learn about themselves and each other on the journey that is really important. I like it a lot, but it does trail off a little bit at the end, and goes on longer than you might expect it to. This doesn't matter quite as much to me as it might normally do, because it also includes things like this:
"The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them-words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out"
I mean, yes. Just yes. I'm sure everyone has experienced this at least at some point in their lives, and also the feeling that things that are so important to you, may mean next to nothing to the next person, and it's the loneliest feeling in the world. Just when people want to write Stephen King off, he writes something that is so true that you can't help but sit up and pay attention.
What I also liked about The Body were the inserted stories written by Gordie (the main character) because really that shows dedication to one's craft- he had to think up two other stories just to write this one novella. There are also further references to the Stephen King canon, mainly to Cujo, since the story is set in Castle Rock, but also to The Shining, and again to Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption.

The Breathing Method- This story is three things- the shortest in the book, the most outright horror story in the book, and the biggest surprise in the book. It's so different to King's normal style, that it comes as a bit of a shock, but it's so clever in its style that it's also pretty cool. What King has basically done with this story is written it like a typical Victorian ghost story, and there are two levels of scariness in the narrative. It's basically completely inspired, and I don't want to say too much more about it because any more information about it might ruin it for you. But it's totally creepy and cool.

So yeah, it's pretty fair to say that I liked Different Seasons a lot. I could have done without Apt Pupil, but, ignoring that, it's a great collection of stories. I also just want to rebut something King says in the Afterword, which is this:
"My stuff, which is fairly plain, not very literary, and sometimes (although it hurts like hell to admit it) downright clumsy... I am able to recognise elegant prose and to respond to it, but have found it difficult or impossible to write it myself." To which I can only say 'nooooo!', but then also maybe 'yes, a bit, sometimes', but also, just see above, to The Body, to see the kind of things you can do with prose. I mean, yeah, he may not always be the best writer in the world, but he always creates characters that you know so well they could be members of your family, and sometimes comes up with such stunning truths that you are left basically speechless. Sometimes you just have to ask yourself which is better?

As well as moving my Stephen King Challenge along, this is the first of my posts for the R.I.P. Challenge. Scary times leading up to Hallowe'en here...

Saturday 10 September 2011

Revisiting Films: Donnie Darko (The Director's Cut)

Donnie Darko is one of those films where, the more I think about it, the more confused I get, until I just want to curl up in a ball and whimper until someone explains the damn thing to me! This last time of watching, though, I finally got a lot of things, and then, upon turning to the internet (something which I could and should have done much sooner because has it ever failed me?!) the final pieces of the whole horrible/wonderful puzzle slotted into place for me, and it was like the most giant relief ever. I felt at peace with Donnie and Frank, the giant bunny rabbit, and just about everything felt pretty groovy. I still have my moments, mostly late at night, where I get confused all over again, but then I think about it carefully and come out with the right answer again. Most of the time.

Have you seen Donnie Darko? If not, this review/explainy-thing is probably not going to mean that much to you, and even if you watch the non-director's cut version of the film, it probably still won't make that much sense. What you should probably do now is go away, find a friend with a copy of the Director's Cut (probably some weird friend you don't see that much of because they're always watching weird movies or reading graphic novels or something), and revel in this cinematic excellence for the first time. Then, come back here and I'll explain it to you. Probably. Sort of. If you're already well-versed in the goings on of Darko, sit back, grab a drink, and I'll try and make clearer to you something that may have been pretty obscure. You can thank me at the end.

So, the original Donnie Darko is relatively obscure- boy makes friends with a giant bunny rabbit, who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days (and some hours and stuff), he meets a girl, falls in love, weird, seemingly unconnected things happen, and then he dies but that means everything's ok. I think. I was so confused and shaken up, and just like 'huh?!' at the film when I first watched it, and although I knew I liked it, I wasn't sure exactly what it was I liked. The Director's Cut is a lot more explicit- it provides a lot more information, and clarifies everyone's roles in the context of time travel (I know, it sounds mental still, but at least it makes sense. Sort of.) like Donnie is the living receiver, who has this whole divine job to do, and everyone in the movie is the manipulated living, whose entire subconscious task is to help Donnie do what he needs to do. This explains weird behaviour like his family not being really worried that he might have died when the jet engine falls through the roof, and Drew Barrymore's telling Gretchen to sit next to the boy she finds the cutest (because he needs to love her so that he can be really upset that she's dead and definitely do what he has to do. Also because he's Jake Gyllenhaal, so obviously we'd all sit next to him anyway!)

So, all this stuff about the manipulated living and the living receiver and whatnot I kind of understood after watching the Director's Cut, but then I thought, but if all that needs to happen is for Donnie to die, then why does Frank call him out of his bed before the jet engine comes through his bedroom and make him do all that stuff before him eventually having to die anyway? So, I looked it up. Turns out, more or less the entire film happens in a tangent universe. The engine falls through Donnie's room after the tangent universe is created, so if he dies there and then, he never gets the opportunity to do what he needs to do (send a jet engine back into the primary universe) so that everyone is safe again and the primary universe won't collapse, and everyone, except Donnie, gets to live happily ever after. It pleases me to know this, as it pleases me to know that Frank, because he dies within the 28 days of the tangent universe, gets to travel among those 28 days, helping Donnie out and making sure he does everything he's supposed to so that the universe can be saved. One other interesting thing to know about the film is that, although when they return to the primary universe, everyone forgets about the tangent universe and what happens within it, but they may remember it in their dreams.

This basically explains everything- the weird bit at the end where everyone wakes up and looks freaked out/happy/sleeps soundly, because we're back in the real world, and that feeling that everything was collapsing around them is wonderfully gone. It explains Donnie so much better, and this line "Donnie Darko? What the hell kind of name is that? It's like some sort of superhero or something" "What makes you think I'm not?" because, as we now know, he sort of is a superhero. Also, having just had a quick scan of IMDb quotes from the film, so so much more of the dialogue makes sense, and those seemingly random exchanges are so much less random- in fact, they're not random at all. Don't we all feel more at peace with the world now that we know (the not at all simple) explanations for things? I know that I do.

There are, of course, alternative explanations for what is going on in this simply fascinating film, but they apply more to thinking about the original movie rather than The Director's Cut, which definitely seems to pick just the one narrative to go with. The most popular of these, I think, is that Donnie has paranoid schizophrenia, basically the entire movie is happening in his head, and all the things he sees but no one else does don't really exist. I never really bought this as an explanation for Donnie Darko (although as an explanation for American Psycho I really like it, because it dramatically lowers the death count in that book and leaves you inside the imaginings of this very disturbed man who, nonetheless, doesn't actually kill anyone) because it's a bit of a cop-out in the style of "and then I woke up and it was all a dream", and actually leaves a lot more loose ends than the whole time travel-tangent universe explanation does, so I like it a lot less. Never did I think I'd say that tangent universes and pre-ordained destinies make more sense than mental illness, but there you go, I just said it. Hopefully I've made a little more sense of the wonderful and intricate world of Donnie Darko for you, and if not, then let's just forget this whole thing ever happened, like the manipulated living do in the film. If you'd like to read a probably far more coherent explanation of the happenstances in Donnie Darko, I suggest you go here, but just don't be afraid of the Frank voice that happens without warning like I definitely wasn't...

Friday 9 September 2011

Devouring Books: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

The problem with having a book blog is that I only write one post for each book, which isn't necessarily the best way to express the impact that a book has had on me. East of Eden is one such book whose impact can't really be summed up in a single post, and Blonde is another. Ostensibly a fictionalised auto/biography of Marilyn Monroe's life, this book literally had me enthralled for a week- if I wasn't reading it then I was thinking about it, wondering about the real Marilyn Monroe, and reading up about the real people behind the, at times extremely, fictionalised Hollywood that Oates has created. So yes, Blonde has had an impact on me that I can't really successfully sum up here, but I'll have a go at expressing just a tiny bit how amazing I found it.

I think it's really important to keep in mind, when reading Blonde, just how fictionalised it is. If one is expecting a clear account of every action Monroe made in her life, the people she met and the places she lived and whatnot, then they're going to be disappointed (and they should probably be reading a more conventional biography of Monroe). What you get instead, however, is so much better- a projection of what Oates thinks Monroe might have been thinking and feeling at different points in her life, and also what the people around her think and feel about her. In one way, I know this can be seen as almost exploitative, and not necessarily a fair representation of the actress, but in another, it almost doesn't matter who the subject of the novel is- it's so beautifully written, heartbreaking and joyful, and so much an overall representation of what life is like, that it could be about anyone and you would still find it as amazing as you do when it is about Monroe.

Or, I suppose, I shouldn't really be calling her Monroe, but rather Norma Jeane, as our heroine always refers to herself throughout the book, considering Marilyn to be just another character she plays, albeit her greatest. And while Marilyn is something of a one trick pony, Norma Jeane is amazing- so vulnerable and sweet, and just wanting so badly to be loved that you just want her to succeed, to find her man, and her baby, and just to be happy- something which it seems like she never is. Even as you know how the story ends (at least, I'm assuming we all know how this story ends) you're still wishing, until the very end, for her happiness, and for her to find a place in the world where she can finally be free.

Norma Jeane does, of course, encounter other people in her life, and Oates manages to draw them out as successfully as she does her main focus. It is quite clear that she has a fair bit of contempt towards Norma Jeane's three husbands, especially poor Arthur Miller, who she seems to think treats Norma Jeane as a sort of symbol rather than an actual person. I don't know if this critical attitude towards him comes from the fact that he is a fellow writer (although Oates doesn't seem to hold his work to very high esteem- she describes him as lacking poetry, which seems a tiny bit harsh) and she maybe believes that he should have been the one to save Norma Jeane, even as she is unable to save herself. She does allow him one bit of insight into the newly formed notion of fame, however, "Was this some new lurid development in the history of mankind? Public hysteria in the presence of someone known to be famous?" to which, as someone living in the twenty-first century, I can only YES, and it's much worse that you ever would have believed it could be now.

Much of the novel is devoted to men, or, more specifically, the way Norma Jeane reacts to the attention of men. Her actions seem to be classically Freudian, in that, by lacking a father, she attempts to make up for that void in her life by receiving the love she missed from him from other men. Unfortunately, the men she loves, while she calls them 'Daddy', can't provide the kind of love she really needs- they offer her sexual love, rather than affectionate, unconditional love. It's something she is willing to take, however, because "to be the object of make desire is to know I exist! The expression of the eyes. Hardening of the cock. Though worthless, you're wanted." What is really tragic about Norma Jeane's story (aside from the obvious) is that second-wave feminism hasn't really happened- there is a sense in which, if it had, Norma Jeane might have been a lot happier in herself, because she would be secure in the knowledge that she did have worth in the world by herself, and that she wouldn't have needed a man to affirm that. In spite of her attachment to men in this way, as it is said in the closing stages of the book "she was the most alone person I ever knew", and this is all part of her tragicness.

If I was going to criticise this book in any way (which I sort of don't even want to, but I feel like this has to be said) is that Oates doesn't allow Norma Jeane a single moment of breathing space to just be, and be happy. This isn't really even a criticism because, sadly, I feel like this might actually be true of the real Norma Jeane, but the fact is, since this is a fictionalised biography, it wouldn't necessarily hurt to suggest that Norma Jeane didn't hate Marilyn, but in fact embraced her as a way to reach out to the world, or that she was happy in her relationship with Miller, and didn't lose interest in him immediately after losing his baby. I can, of course, choose to believe that Norma Jeane did have some happiness in her life, since I have as might insight into her mental state as Oates does, but I fear that such a conclusion made by myself would just be wishful thinking.

But, apart from that tiny complaint that has more to do with my own wishes rather than any fault with the book, I love love loved Blonde. If I was the kind of blogger who gave stars, I'd give it fifty bazillion stars, and I would recommend it to you if you are interested in Marilyn Monroe, films, biographical writing, or if you just enjoy reading really amazing prose and you want to spend a week of your life consumed within a book (which you definitely do) then Blonde is definitely suitable for you. Read it, love it, then preserve the memory of its fabulousness within you forevermore.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Literary Blog Hop, September 8-11

Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is back! Yay! The trusty internetness tells me that I haven't participated since the start of July, so it's good to be back. Hosted as ever by the fab The Blue Bookcase, this week they ask:

Must all literary writing be difficult? Can you think of examples of literary writing that wasn't difficult?

I think the answer to this question depends on your definition of difficult, and your definition of literary. I would consider, for example, childrens books like His Dark Materials trilogy to be pretty literary (I'll fight you about that one, seriously) but in terms of language, it's not very difficult to read, although I suppose it is conceptually pretty complex.

In fact, maybe it's not difficulty that people are talking about when they talk about literary works at all, but rather complexity, which is a completely different thing- just because you have to pay a lot of attention and apply a lot of analysis to a book yourself, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just a sign of how complex the book is, or, in other words, how good it is. In terms of what I read, the books I find the most difficult to read are not necessarily the most complex (East of Eden, for example, is pretty complex, but it's so easy to just sail through-or at least that's what I find) but rather the ones that use the most 'clunky' language- Dickens is my ultimate nightmare, because he uses about 20 words to say what Steinbeck could achieve in about two. Difficulty for me, then, comes when someone rambles for no good reason, rather than when they use the sparsest amount of words to have the biggest impact, and nothing is superfluous to the story- a kind of complexity that doesn't at all have to be difficult.

If that made any sense then that's a bit of a miracle- I am a little bit rusty on attempting to talk intelligently about anything. I guess my point is though, that while a literary work is always complex, it doesn't, as an extension of this automatically have to be difficult. That's just my opinion- what do you have to say on the matter? Think 'literary' works are just awful, difficult pieces of trash? Let me know in the comments and I'll tell you why you're wrong...

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Devouring Books: How to Leave Twitter by Grace Dent

I sort of knew of Grace Dent a little before I read this book as a woman who sometimes writes stuff in magazines (I think she has a column in British Marie Claire, but don't quote me on it) and I'd heard about this book and thought it might be a useful thing for me to read because of my twitter... if not addiction, then slight dependence. Now that I've read How to Leave Twitter, I've decided 2 things:
1) I don't have to leave Twitter because I don't really have the problems outlined in the book, and, to be honest, Dent has a far bigger twitter problem than me (although I do still suffer from Desktop Multi-Application Spiralling Circle of Hell Syndrome!), and
2) I completely love Grace Dent!

I mean, seriously love her. Because, much as I appreciated the analysis of all the little twitter foibles, and the characterisation of the different twitter personalities, without Dent's witty and hilarious observations, this book could have been really dry and boring. It manages to be so fabulous because Dent herself is a great writer- so so funny and cutting, and yet not really mean at all (unless I'm just immune to the mean because my own sense of humour can be like that... But I really think she manages to just be funny and not cruel!), and if I could write as well as her, I would definitely have some kind of paid writing job going on. Obviously. Because I'd be Grace Dent.

Anyway... Dent basically goes through the stages of twitter, starting with twitter denial ('oh no, I don't want to join twitter, it's for losers!') moving swiftly on to full blown addiction, where "you wake up in the morning and check twitter before checking whether your kids have been stolen in the night by raiders", and have to face the basic twitter archetypes (celebrity who brags about their life, person who makes their life sound more interesting than it actually is etc etc), and then moves onto the awkward business of unfollowing people, and justifications for doing so, and finally gives some precious advice on how to leave twitter (at the time of writing, Grace Dent is still on twitter, and in fact tweeted 15 minutes ago. So I don't know how closely you want to follow her advice if you want to leave twitter...)

But basically, it's just awesome and funny and you should really really read it even if you don't want to leave twitter (but probably not if you've never been on twitter because you will have not a clue what she's talking about). My favourite observation about twitter? "It's a form of 'going out' for the tremendously sociable who, in truth, can't be arsed to leave the house." So so true. I can completely use twitter as justification for staying in because I'm still 'being sociable'- I am, in fact, talking to my very good twitter friends in Australia and the US- it's amazing! Another reason to love Dent is that she says this: "To my mind there is a scene in Friends which can explain every emotion known to man." This is SO TRUE! I am forever using examples from Friends in my everyday life, with the encyclopaedic knowledge I have of the programme, so I'm always saying 'this is like the time Joey and Phoebe...' and so on. If I'm with someone who has never seen Friends I'm a tiny bit stuck, because it forms, I swear, about 90% of my conversational skills. Also I'm a bit stuck because I don't know why I am with such a person! But anyway...

This book did, as well as entertaining me enough to read it in a day, provide me with great justification as to why I'm allowed to stay on twitter. The fact is, using Dent as a benchpost, I'm a much more sensible twitter user than she is. I only follow 149 people (right now!) and most of those are other bloggers, newspapers, interesting celebrities and book related things. What I essentially use twitter for is to find links to interesting things I can read on the internet, rather than competitively trying to find new followers for no real reason, meaning that I fall well short of the pitfalls of having 3,000 followers which, apparently, makes one feel like they're queen of the Universe. I'm ok with just being queen in my own brain, and not spending my entire life on twitter. I guess using twitter in this way shuts off a lot of amazing people in the world to me, but that's sort of ok- I can deal with not knowing who they are. Yet.

So, twitter's where it's at everyone. As Grace Dent says, "Facebook feels like having a part-time admin job at the National Institute of Ass-hats," and, let's face it, is full of people you know but wish you didn't. Twitter, on the other hand, allows you to find your interest sharing internet soulmates, who you probably have a lot more in common with than people you have once met in your life. This book, also, is where it's at. Definitely go and buy it, and look out for this one section on feminism and twitter that couldn't help but rock my socks off (and confirm some of my suspicions about the women's magazine industry). What more can I say? Off you go!