Tuesday 31 January 2012

Norwegian Wood, Chapters 10-11

Just a little note: I'm having my wisdom teeth taken out today, and since I don't really know how I'm going to feel afterwards I'm not sure how good at commenting and arguing in favour of Norwegian Wood I'm going to be. Most likely I'll just be grumpy and in pain, but if I'm all asleep and stuff then I'll get round to saying things soon. You probably didn't need this explanation, but I like commenting!!)

Well... These last two chapters of Norwegian Wood brought both fully expected (Naoko's suicide) and utterly WTF (Reiko and Toru sexing!) moments that we will deal with properly and sensibly and nobody will say 'what the HELL was that with the sexy sex?!' Because I know what it was, and I'll explain it to you in a bit! And then, oh, Midori! Murakami got all romantic and stuff, and it was lovely.

Was anyone, in any way, surprised by Naoko's suicide? I think it was built up to well enough, not only in chapter 10 (she's gone to an actual mental hospital... she's not doing too well...) but, really, throughout the entire book. I think that we all knew it was going to happen, but Toru had somehow convinced himself that it wasn't, and so when it did, it was a huge shock for him. Such a huge shock that he had to go and be a bum because he couldn't face the realities of everyday life anymore (not that he was doing so great with them before). I just have to question whether or not he really loved her though- did he love her as a person, or did he just feel the need to protect her, and to try and save her from the fate that took Kizuki away from them? Did he just love her because he didn't know if he could deal with another loss of that magnitude, or did he really just love her? (You don't have to answer these... but if you have any answers, then great!)

Naoko's death left Toru in such a messed up position though, mainly because of the nature of his relationship with Midori. Because, let's face it, they love each other, and somehow complement each other, and I can't even tell you how happy I was when they declared their love for each other, because I really think that Midori was what Toru needed to lead him back to life, or at least to living in a way that was somewhat bearable. But, of course, this is all complicated by Naoko, because even though he doesn't really love her (or at least I think so), he is somehow entangled in her life, and doesn't quite know how to free himself from that kind of obligation to her. Her death should really solve this, only it doesn't and he actually goes the other way- feeling guilty that he loves Midori, and thinking that was a factor in her death (God, that boy's self-centred...). So, they're in a bit of a pickle. But can I just...
"There is a decisive finality to what exists between Midori and me. It has an irresistible power that is bound to sweep me into the future... What I feel for Midori is a wholly different emotion. It stands and walks on its own, living and breathing and throbbing and shaking me to the roots of my being."
Siiiiigh! I think "I am Heathcliff" from Wuthering Heights just got some competition for a description of love. And I can already predict that some of you are going to be like 'oh, Toru's not good enough for her', and he kind of isn't; except that the way he acts towards her pretty much fits her definition of love, and, well, she's getting everything she wants, and he's getting the most amazing character in the book. Fair enough deal, I'd say!

Anyway, in order to get Midori, Toru has to do something about all his feelings about and for Naoko. And, and here's where we get to perhaps the single weirdest moment in the book, the way he does this is through having a good time with Reiko. I'm not going to lie- when I first read this bit, I was literally like 'WHAT?!?!' and, actually, I was kind of annoyed. I mean, did all the women have to want to have sex with Toru? Are there no other men in Japan?! But, I thought about it a little (using all my English degree skills) and I kind of thought that their sexing was a kind of an end to his relationship with Naoko, and the beginning of a hopeful future with Midori. Because Reiko was so close to Naoko, together they were able to put her to rest, and effectively made a bridge between Naoko and Midori. What I mean is, if Midori had been the first person Toru had sex with after Naoko's death, then his entire relationship with her would have been marred by the shadow of Naoko. Because he instead had sex with Reiko, which was all about Naoko, he was able to put her to rest and can hopefully start afresh with Midori. OR, it was just weird. I have to tell myself that the former is true, just so I can consolidate that event into my whole experience of the book.

So... there's probably loads I've missed out, but I can't remember many more things because I read the last two chapters in a rush in a super long bath (that really wasn't meant to be that long) because I wanted to find out what happened! I enjoyed Midori's screening of and anger with Toru, and I was concerned at Toru's catatonic state because of bloody Naoko (RIP). One of the most interesting things for me was how Toru gained a greater insight into his actions, and how he actually stepped outside of his head for a minute to think about how his actions might affect others:
"Whenever I get involved in something, I shut out everything else. But then I began to think about how I would feel and the tables had been turned and Midori had moved somewhere without telling me where or getting in touch with me for three weeks. I would have been hurt- hurt badly, no doubt... What a terrible thing it is to wound someone you really care for- and to do it so unconsciously."
And I slow-clapped him for not being a psychopath (psychological rather than murdery). And, of course, Reiko brought all her wisdom with her:
"'I mean, that was such a sad little funeral! No one should have to die like that.'
Reiko stretched out her hand and stroked my head. 'We all have to die like that sometime. I will, and so will you.'" 
Death is death is death, and they're still alive; and even if sometimes that's all they've got to hold onto, it's still a lot.

So, you could say I liked Norwegian Wood an awful lot. No, it wasn't a happy book, and it never made me laugh (don't be silly!) but it had an awful lot of soul, some really fabulous writing (you don't even want to know how much I've copied out of it) and some truly memorable characters. I think it ends with a great deal of hope, hope that Toru can start to really live, hope that he'll be such a good husband for Midori, hope that Reiko can live the rest of her life with as much sanity as anyone can in this crazy crazy world. Those who haven't been able to deal with life have departed it, and those who are left have to figure out how to carry on the best they can. It's an incredibly human book, and deals with the darkest side of humanity, something that we don't necessarily want to think about, but which, whether or not we do, still happens. I am a little bit in love with Murakami now, and want to read all of his books ever! And maybe I just will.

Top Ten Tuesday

Well hey there, gals and guys, and welcome to this weeks instalment of Top Ten Tuesday. And, oh my, it's the last one of January, and oh dear god, where did that month go?! I'm going to be having my wisdom teeth taken out today, maybe even as you read this, so please leave me lots of lovely comments to wake up to (in horrible pain!) A quick note on today's picks- my book club would obviously consist of supersmart people who were preferably also English graduates (well, they don't even have to be graduates, just, you know, people with some knowledge of how to analyse a book properly) because a LOT of these books I wouldn't necessarily recommend to people who don't read much, I just desperately want to discuss them!

So, anyway, with that massive preamble, here are:

Top 10 Books I Think Would Make Great Book Club Picks

1. Great House by Nicole Krauss- I've chosen this basically because I finished it more than a week ago, and I still can't think of what to say about it. It's just so... sort of intertwined stories, but not too intertwined, but then I think you can make other connections too, and basically I need to discuss this with people to figure out what it was really about! All I know is that I loved it, which does not a review make!

2. How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran- Basically because every person ever should read this. But  also because there are all sorts of funny things we could all talk about, and then also we could discuss feminism, which is always awesome (unless you're one of those "I'm not a feminist, but..." people, in which case you can't come to my book group!)

3. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates- Can't we all appreciate a good fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe? Lots to discuss in this one too- not only about the story itself, but also the ethics of writing such a book, and how seriously we can take it, and all other good things like that.

4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck- Oh dear god, the things that can be discussed in this book! I studied this book in Uni, and the one hour seminar was really not enough time to discuss all of the themes and the scale and the pure magnificence of this book.

5. Anything by Jane Austen- There is any number of things that one could discuss about any of the six Jane Austen novels, and I want to talk about all the things with many other Jane Austen fan people. It'd be like that book, The Jane Austen Book Club, only not shit.

6. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood- Another feministy discussiony book, but also one that I think people would really really enjoy, just for all the righteous anger and stuff it brought up, at least in me! Then we could have a revolution and take over the world...

7. It by Stephen King- This is, in fact, the next Stephen King book I'm reading (it's also my favourite!) but aside from both those things, there's so much that can be discussed about it. Like, so much that I'm sort of dreading reviewing it because it's going to be like a ten page long ramble about all its fabulousness that literally nobody will read past, say, the first two paragraphs. BUT THERE'S SO MUCH TO SAY! This is why I need a book club.

8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- Much as I hate hearing people talk about how much they hate this book (and I can't think of anyone I know who doesn't) I feel like a book club would be a perfect forum for me to convince everyone about why it's wonderful. And it's not its narrative structure, let me tell you that!

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer- This is almost the opposite of Wuthering Heights- I was massively ambivalent about this book (well, about the story, I was pretty freaking excited by the actual writing) but I feel that, if convinced by the right people, I could be convinced of its innate brilliance. Maybe.

10. No Logo by Naomi Klein- I should have really put The Shock Doctrine because, despite starting it in September, I've been too scared to pick it up again, and a book club would force me to read it! But anyway, No Logo is something I'm fairly convinced everyone should read, and then we could all have an anti-capitalist revolution along with our feminist one. The world's going to be SO GOOD after all our reading!

These aren't necessarily my top book club picks, but they're the best ones I could think of on the spur of the moment! Now I just need to find some like-minded people to read/start a revolution with. Or... maybe I could just keep doing readalongs here! (If anyone knows of a Grapes of Wrath readalong anywhere, please point me in that direction and I'll be on it! OR, if you'd be interested in reading it along with me, I could probably be convinced to host it...)

Friday 27 January 2012

Girls on TV

I've been meaning to write for a while about my love for two new programmes, New Girl and 2 Broke Girls (as well as sharing my premature excitement for the upcoming HBO show, Girls) and while I am still going to do that (I'll be damned if anyone's going to stop me!) I also need to address some criticisms that have come up. New Girl, which you probably know about unless you've been living under a rock, debuted in the UK a few weeks ago, and reviews of it were... less than positive. And this lack of positivity is all focused on the way that women are presented in TV programmes, namely that Zooey Deschanel's Jess is the scourge of all womankind, signalling our imminent demise and taking a bazillion steps back in the feminist movement. To hear these critics speak, you'd think that she wore corsets, did all the housework, and was a sex slave for the three men that she ends up living with (the entire premise of the programme).

These people, mostly women, I'm sorry to say, are misguided at best, and idiots at worst. Here's the thing- Jess is lovely. She's a good person, she has the warmest heart, and she tries to generally be nice to people and is always, above all, true to herself, and follows what she wants to do. There are SO many criticisms of her character out there, from the suggestion that she's just a bundle of quirks and not a lot else (which I get, and see what they're saying, but hey, quirky is fun!) and Laurie Penny (who, by the way, I used to admire but now sort of hate because she seems utterly joyless) in this article seems to suggest that, because Jess is the kind of character who likes adorable things and, you know, bakes, that she is an affront to feminism and inclined to use her sexuality and cuteness to make men feel more comfortable around her strength. I honestly have NO IDEA where she's got this from- for a start, Jess in no way 'uses' her adorableness to make the men she lives with feel better about themselves; but in a broader sense, who the hell does she think she is to say that a woman can't like things that are pretty or enjoy baking, but also to be able to express themselves and their ideas with strength and forcefulness?

The problem is, for Penny and so many other critics, that in their minds there is only ONE way to be a woman, and everyone else is doing it wrong. So Jess, because she watches Dirty Dancing when she's sad and, I don't know, wears skirts sometimes and is generally adorable, is somehow doing womanness wrong, whereas they, and only they are the ones doing it right. You know what I think about that? I think it's bullshit. There's not only one way to be a woman, or a feminist, or, I don't know, a dog; and women characters on TV shouldn't always be expected to be the epitome of woman. Jess has a job, she supports herself, but just because she also makes her own breakfast and dresses nicely, all of a sudden she's an affront to womanhood? I don't buy that, and I refuse to accept it.

In the comments of Penny's article, someone has said: "Nothing is worse for gender equality than someone who is unable to see past gender roles and insists on bringing them into every part of life, then loudly insisting that they be removed." and this is just so true- Penny is creating problems where there are none, and complaining because Jess isn't a good enough role model. Well guess what? There are hardly any great role models for women on TV, but is Penny complaining about the fact, oh, I don't know, that in Breaking Bad, say, the only women are the main character's wife and sister who know nothing about anything, or that in The Sopranos, the women just sit around enjoying the luxury that comes from the brutality of what their husbands do? Nope- she just sits and complains that a caring, self-confident and kind woman isn't a good enough role model for others. Give me a break.

Anyway! Enough with my Laurie Penny disagreements! Let's move on to 2 Broke Girls, which mercifully hasn't aired in the UK yet and so I haven't had to get all angry at various unfair criticisms of it. Because the aforementioned girls of the title? Are not at all the 'perfect embodiment of women' but I still love them and I just want them to be happy! The two main characters, Max and Caroline, are kind of like an odd couple, only instead of being messy and neat (that's The Odd Couple, right? I've never actually seen it...) they're poor and rich, respectively, only Caroline isn't rich anymore because her father was running this whole ponzi scheme which now means that she also has no money, hence the 2 Broke Girls of the title. There's a mini-premise running throughout that they're trying to raise money to open a cupcake bakery (major loss of feminist points, for some strange reason...) but that's clearly not something that's going to happen because, you know, it's a sitcom and they have to have drama to keep it going.

By far the best thing about 2 Broke Girls is Max. She's so so awesome- she has a hard, world weary exterior, but inside she's the softest softie that ever softed- she loves babies, animals, and this awesome old guy who works at the diner that she and Caroline work at and, above all else, she takes in Caroline when she has nowhere to live, and teaches her how to live on basically no money. AND she bakes! I can only imagine what all the nasty nasties will say about Max, but in my eyes she's sort of wonderful- she supports herself, helps her fellow (wo)man and can so take care of herself, mainly because she's had to, but still she does it. I love her so much, that any indication of her inner sadness genuinely makes me cry- there's this scene where she's talking to Caroline's pet horse (don't even ask, sitcom!) about how he was a really good thing in her life, which hasn't had a lot of good things in it, and I just started involuntarily crying because I just want Max to be happy! Yeah, I might be too emotionally invested in this programme. But still, it's really good, but again, not perfect. And do you hear me complaining about that? No you do not. Oh yeah, and not to objectify men or anything, but check out Max's sometimes love interest, and please agree that you think he looks like a younger Brad Pitt:
Also, yum...

And then, there's Girls, which I believe premieres in April, but which I am obsessed with seeing because I've been obsessed with Lena Dunham ever since she was profiled in The New Yorker. I'm obsessed in spite of not having seen her film, Tiny Furniture, but hey, I need to see that film (it's about a woman who leaves University and then has no idea what the hell she's doing- hello my life!) and in spite of having no idea what Girls is actually going to be about. Regardless, I am excited, only guess what? I'm pretty sure these women aren't going to be good enough either, and hence we're going to have to complain about them some more. Really looking forward to that. Not.

Because here's the thing- all three of these programmes are mainly written/directed/produced by women, all star women, and all tell women's stories. And hey, sorry if these stories aren't good enough for you, or are in some way lacking, but automatically tearing them down because they don't go far enough according to one view of how women should be is NOT OK. Because, you know what? Women's stories need to be told, and they need to have the freedom to do so without having other women tearing them down for not telling their own personal story. If you want that TV programme made, well then you write it, and tell me how well that goes. Women in TV already have to face monumental obstacles, and criticising TV shows that employ women in the highest jobs for not creating female characters that are to the exact specifications of one kind of woman? Again I say, that's not ok.

And, at the end of the day, while I'm not saying that TV isn't important in forming people's ideas and attitudes to some extent, at the same time, it is only TV. Not everything has to be taken completely seriously, and not everything has to be about gender roles- these are SITCOMS for fucks sake! They're created to be funny, and New Girl and 2 Broke Girls both create comedy that isn't at the expense of women (or, I would say, at the expense of men-in-general, either) and so I see no reason to take such a hard line on them. They're supposed to be funny, and they are- now can we all just lighten up a bit please?

Thursday 26 January 2012

Devouring Books: Heath: A Family's Tale by Janet Fife-Yeomans

I've had this book for quite a long time, and yet I was always apprehensive to read it because, well, firstly I loved Heath Ledger and I was (and still am!) so sad about his early death; but also because it was published in 2008, which fact fans will know was also the year in which he died. Now I don't like to judge books too harshly without reading them, but I couldn't help but think that this was just going to be a biography that was cashing in on Heath's death, and possibly even putting forward loads of juicy claims about him in order to move copies.

On this front, I was pleasantly surprised. Even though the book begins, predictably, with his death; on the whole it celebrates his life rather than glorifies his death, and stays pretty much with the provable facts rather than conjecturing about exactly what Heath was feeling or doing around this time (unlike a Kurt Cobain autobiography, Heavier than Heaven, which relates the days and minutes leading up to his death in almost first person detail, which seriously pissed me off because, hello, you weren't there!) which was probably a wise decision considering that, in 2008, we mostly weren't even sure if his death was accidental or not. There is one chapter at the end that deals with the aftermath of his death (funerals, blessings, 'whether or not he was going to win an Oscar'- which is why you shouldn't write a book right away!) but that also remained respectful and kept almost an honourable distance from all of the events; reminding us that, however much the world missed Heath, his family still miss him a whole lot more.

So, rather than being all about the death, this book really just celebrates the life and (mostly) work of Heath Ledger. Starting with his earliest roles and working its way to the last one, Yeomans describes some particulars about the makings of his films, their critical reception, and Heath's (public) reactions to that. She also takes us through his relationships, again using quotes that the couples of the time gave themselves, and there is, of course, a professional amount of distance between them and the reader. I guess this would annoy some people- who would want to know, I don't know, where they ate, and what they did, and exactly how they felt about each other; but I would feel much worse about this book if Yeomans had had the audacity to assume at any point that she had the right to speak for Ledger. She does, of course, conjecture about what he might have been feeling, based on the evidence of interviews and stuff, but it's mostly left up to us to decide how we feel about him ourselves.

If I'm completely honest, there wasn't too much that was new to me in this book. Less Ledger-inclined people (i.e. people who haven't read his IMDb bio) might not have known that he and his sister were named after Heathcliff and Cathy from Wuthering Heights (which, by the way, I find disturbing- not that his mother chose the names for that reason because, you know, that's AWESOME, but because they're brother and sister! Heathcliff and Cathy had a very disturbing and undying love that was in no way fraternal... *shudder*) but on the whole it was mainly 'he made this film' and 'he went out with Naomi Watts' and 'Annie Proulx totally thought he was wronged when he didn't win the Oscar for Brokeback Mountain' (didn't we all?!) so in that respect it wasn't massively informative, but still interesting to have all of that information in one place!

About the only thing that was news to me was about the only thing that I had a problem with in the whole book. There's this whole thing about how Heath was from a totally tight-knit family, but that, after his parents divorced and his father moved in with Heath's great-grandfather, there was a whole scandal about his father kind of stealing from his great-grandfather (in a really roundabout way involving re-mortgaging and stuff), and that, when the rest of the family found out, they took him to court about it and basically everyone, including the dad's brothers who he was really close to, sided against Heath's dad. Now, as far as I could tell from the acknowledgements, the only family members Yeomans could get to talk to her were Heath's dad's brothers, and this is why she had all this information and thought it was necessary to include it in her book. I disagree entirely- the whole affair was completely irrelevant to Ledger's life, really, and it sort of seemed like she just wanted to include some 'scandal' to try and get her book more attention. The whole crux of including this seemed to be so she could point out that Heath's uncles and cousins weren't invited to his funeral, but that seemed irrelevant considering that he hadn't seen them for the majority of his life. It felt like kind of a low shot, and I frowned disapprovingly at this whole portion of the book.

So, I wouldn't say don't read this book, but unless you're really non-well informed about Heath Ledger and his films, there's not going to be all that much you can learn from it. If you do read it, I give you permission to skip most of the stuff about his early life, because, actually it's not at all about him, and all about his dad who, let's face it, we're not all that interested in, right? And if you need something to make you cry afterwards (because this book really didn't do that for me, which is a good/bad thing depending on what you use books for, catharsis-wise) then try this video:

It literally makes me weep every time I see it! Oh, Heath...

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Devouring Books: Richard III by William Shakespeare

Shocking Confession: I had never read a Shakespeare History before last week. I know, shocking right?! As it turns out, actually, although I love and admire Shakespeare, and I kind of go on about him sometimes, I have, in fact, only read 9 of his plays. Including this one. I was sort of perplexed when I figured this out, but the thing is that the ones I had read before this here Shakespeare month, I'd read at least twice, and so apparently I'm not a venturer out on Shakespeare? Which makes sense- I mean, no matter how much I love him, I still think it's difficult to read Shakespeare, and so it's not necessarily something I'm going to do on my own all the time, which is why Allie's Shakespeare Reading Month has been so good for me! (And now she's extended it, I'm planning on reading two more plays before it's over, so that'll bring my numbers up *does a little achievement dance*). Anyway, so that's my dirty little Shakespeare secret- now let's move on to Richard III shall we?

Before reading this, all I knew about it was how horribly historically inaccurate it was- I did Tudor History at college (English college, that is, rather than the American college, which is our University...) and we did a tiny bit on how Henry VII came to the throne, and all I can really remember about Richard III is how wrong the Shakespeare play was about him. Which is fully understandable- Shakespeare was writing this at a time when a Tudor was on the throne (Elizabeth I's grandad basically de-throned Richard) so any other perspective on him other than his utter evil would have essentially been treason (suggesting that he deserved the throne would certainly have been) and so going with the legend rather than the facts was probably a good idea- both for the sake of his head, and for literary history. Just not for actual history, and in defence of that I just want to keep in mind that while Richard III is AWESOME, it's not really what actually happened. Necessarily...

So, Richard III. Where to begin? I have no idea. Before I read it, I tweeted that I wanted to read a History, and nobody suggested anything but Richard III to me. And my god, do those people know their shit! I was blown away- the language, the monologues (oh MAN, the monologues!) the raw ambition, the scheming, the plotting, the cunning, the insults, the hatred, the war, the murders! I mean, this play had everything except love, and who needs that when you're reading about a weird looking, power hungry megalomaniac?! I'm going to admit that I felt the tiniest bit sorry for Richard when he described himself thusly:
"I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made-up"
Because, aw, no one should think of themselves as being hideous; but most all of my sympathy faded riiight around the time he had his brother murdered because he wanted the crown for himself. I mean, he might be all insecure and sad that he's really really deformed, but that doesn't mean he has to "prove a villain/ And hate the idle pleasures of these days." Really, Richard, not cool.

Richard III is such a villain though, and he's probably the best one I can think of! He never relents on his end goal of seizing power over the country, and continually manoeuvres situations, peoples lives, stuff like that, in order to get what he wants. In doing this, he loses the support of everyone he knows, his mother constantly moans about him ("He is my son- ay, and therein my shame.") and with any other character, I might be tempted to go 'hey, wait a minute...' and feel sorry for them, but with Richard? It pretty much seems to be what he deserves. He is, to put it mildly, the most villainous of all villains who ever villained BUT, crucially, this is never done in a pantomime villain type-way, so you still have to take him seriously (as, I imagine, you do with anyone who's killing off members of the Royal family, and, almost more importantly, but easy to forget, his own family. Cold hearted bastard that he is!) So, in one way all this villainy is fun because it's a real look at someone who is seemingly without a conscience (more on that later) and who will do anything to get what he wants (Literally anything). BUT if you think about it too deeply and consider that all these deaths actually happened then shit all gets a bit too real, which is why it's sort of great to remember that it's fiction, not real. Ahhh, doesn't everyone feel better now?

Enough with all this though, let's talk about the women now, shall we? To be honest, I was surprised there were women having any role at all in things in Richard III, considering that monarchy generally revolves around the actions of men, and the men who help those men. Nonetheless, there are scenes completely dominated by females- the women who have allowed bad things to happen to improve their own status, the women wronged against by having their husbands and sons killed- women are really just the detritus left behind after the men are done being dicks and killing each other. So, each of them has their sorrows, and as the play goes on they have extra sorrows, and by the end you really have to feel sorry for them, whatever role they've played in proceedings (especially the absent princess, Elizabeth, who, it seems at one point, is going to have to marry her exceedingly ugly, and, you know, evil UNCLE Richard...) I do have issues with Anne though, because at the beginning she's all 'oh I could never marry you, you SCUM' (MUCH more eloquently, obviously) since Richard's killed her husband and all, but then when we see her again, she actually is married to Richard- it's all very odd, and we obviously can't see his amazing wooing skills because we're supposed to hate him; but they must be something, you have to give him that!

I have to talk about the last scene and then I'll be done, and look away now if you don't want to know how it ends (hint: Villains never win. Ever.) I was so so impressed by the final scene, and honestly, by that point, I didn't know how I could be more impressed by Richard III than I already was. Here's how: When all the ghosts of all the people murdered by Richard were cursing him and wishing him ill, I could really see how effective a scene it must be, not only now when ghosts can be all see-through and things, but also in Elizabethan times, when even then, just with a little flour or something, this scene could be wholly creepy and effective. I just thought it was amazing and effective and just actual pure brilliance. Obviously, because it's Shakespeare, but still- he really outdid himself! And then, after all that, Richard gains some much needed clarity, a moment where he realises 'what was it all for?', and reveals himself to be human, after all:
"What? Do I fear myself? There's none else by
Richard loves Richard: that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am.
And if I die, no soul shall pity me.
Nay, wherefore should they, since that I
Find in myself no pity for myself?"
He sees himself for what he really is, and he doesn't forgive himself, because, how could he? But at the same time he realises that, if there's no one to mourn for him after he's dead, then what was the point of gaining everything that he did? It's poignant, and even though you still sort of want Richard to die, it would be easier if he'd done it without this moment of clarity.

So, Richard III. You should probably read it, because it's a masterpiece, and I'm definitely glad I did. Round of applause to my personal Shakespeare advisers, because they really really know what they're talking about when it comes to Shakespeare. It may be the second longest play (after Hamlet, which you should also probably read) but it's worth the effort and the time it takes to read it- it gives you waaay more than you put into it. Just remember- it's not historically accurate. I mean, no one's ever been that ugly...

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Norwegian Wood, Chapters 7-9

Well, I was relatively underwhelmed by these chapters of Norwegian Wood, which probably means that everyone else LOVED them based on the evidence of the last two weeks! By 'relatively', of course, I mean that I still liked them, but maybe not as much as the rest of the book so far, and that may just have been because there wasn't really a cohesiveness between any of them, like there was with the last two sections. These chapters still had their moments though, and obviously that's what I'm going to talk about today!

So Midori's back, which I think is something we all wanted, only this time we find out that she's a liar, and her life is kind of depressing. Which, you know, is all like *sigh* and *groan* and stuff, ONLY Midori deals with the extreme pressures of her life with a good deal of grace, and large amounts of alcohol. I kind of respect her for this, for carrying on in spite of her dad being all terminally ill and stuff, whereas Naoko has just generally given up when bad things have happened to her. I don't really mean to compare the two, because I happen to know that you can't really control depression or the effect it has on you, but I think it's kind of important to compare them simply because Murakami sort of has- he throws them together in this story, and then it's up to us to see the complete difference between them. It's really difficult, then, not to admire Midori that much more, for having the mental strength to deal with the kind of things that would seriously be beyond Naoko.

And hey, can we just talk about Midori's dad for a second? Because I sort of love him because Toru sort of likes him, and he's not the kind of person to like others easily. The whole cucumber thing was sweet, only I have to assume that Japanese cucumbers aren't the same as English cucumbers because, well, I'm not sure you would or could eat a whole one in one go. I mean, I would because I bloody love cucumber, but it's not necessarily advisable. I should probably move on from the cucumber thing before I start saying something wholly obvious, but really, it just baffled me! Let's talk about what Toru says to the barely conscious man when he's left alone with him:
"What marks [Eurpides'] plays is the way things get so mixed up the characters are trapped. Do you see what I mean? Lots of different people appear, and they all have their own situations and reasons and excuses, and each one is pursuing his or her own idea of justice and happiness. As a result, nobody can do anything."
Random piece of information? Or some kind of parable about something, like the way Toru lives his life? Who can say?

I loved Toru in this section though. Really really loved. He still doesn't know what the hell he's doing, bless him, and when things get rough he wants to return to the retreat (shocking!), but on the other hand, he gave Midori some much needed breathing space by looking after her dying father, he accompanies Hatsumi home and doesn't try any funny business after Nagasawa's been an asshole to her (more on that later); and he's just generally an all round good guy. This is all combined with a new piece of knowledge about him, that he does at least have some awareness of his own depression and problems, as he writes to Naoko:
"It's because I think of you when I'm in bed in the morning that I can wind my spring and tell myself that I have to live another good day. I know I have to give it my best here just as you are doing there."
I think this acceptance of his issues alone makes him a much more appealing character, just because it sometimes seems that he thinks he's ok, especially compared to Naoko, and this shows an acceptance that it really isn't. 'Winding one's spring' sounds like exactly the thing you have to do with depression, just to do absolutely anything, and being able to do it is one of the hardest things in the world. The fact that Toru can, except on Sundays, is such a good sign, and the fact that Naoko gives him the strength to do so shows just how important she is to him.

And, oh, poor Hatsumi! I think we all knew that Nagasawa was a complete dick, but chapter 8 really just reinforced that point to the ultimate level. I don't even like Hatsumi that much, but at the same time I really really didn't like the way Nagasawa treated her, and nor did I want her to be the (third? fourth?) suicide in the book. I mean, really- I want to beat him and tell him to treat her better, and at the same time shake her and tell her to find someone better who isn't, essentially, a psychopath. And while I felt all these feelings, I also kind of thought they were sort of apart from the main flow of the narrative, and I could sort of done without it, unless, maybe, the point was that these are the friends he has to replace Kizuki and Naoko, and really, they don't measure up.

I just have one more thing to mention, and it's one of my absolute pet peeves- Murakami perpetuates the really really annoying and boring and cliched assumption that when women get their periods, they go insane. I can't even remember the exact circumstances here (did Midori get her period and then turn into an uber uber bitch or something?) but this kind of thing, in any situation just makes me roll my eyes and then want to stab something. Because really. Yes, sometimes, some women can get a bit grumpy or emotional or whatever, but it's by no means a universal thing, or even an every month thing for the same woman. HAVING A WOMB AND OVARIES DOES NOT MAKE ONE INSANE! Is that clear enough, every man writer ever?

Anyway. So, yeah, liked but didn't love, probably because there wasn't enough depression since Toru is discovering more things about himself and was kept away from Naoko for the whole three chapters. Nonetheless, I do want Toru to be happy, and since he's making steps towards normality, I'm optimistic for that happening in the final two chapters. I mean, he even quipped at Midori! "'[My sister] has this really conservative streak.' 'She's relatively normal, you mean?'" Teehee. Oh Toru. Keep on winding your spring darling, I think you're going to be fine.

Top Ten Tuesday

Hey there guys and gals, and welcome to another instalment of Top Ten Tuesday, hosted, as ever, by the fab The Broke and the Bookish. This week is a freebie week, which in one way is so pleasing because, you know, let your creativity flow and all that, but in another sort of intimidating because, well, what if you think of something that isn't good and that no one wants to read about? It's a tricky one! I thought that, since my it was my blog's first birthday last week, I'd talk about some of my favourite blogs, as well as the blogs that made me actually start blogging. Fun fact: I was trying to remember something about a Babysitters Club book when I stumbled across my very first book blog, and before then, I literally had no idea such a wondrous thing existed! From that point, I fell down a rabbit hole of book blogs, and a mere year and a quarter later, I started my own! So, yeah, it wasn't exactly an instantaneous thing or anything, but I still admired these blogs, and wouldn't have started mine if I hadn't found theirs. So, in no particular order, the:

Top (5) Blogs That Made Me Start Blogging

1. The Broke and the Bookish- I'm not trying to suck up or anything, but I used to read the Top Ten Tuesday posts every week, and go exploring on other blogs through this one. I probably wouldn't have found hardly any of the blogs I love without this as my initial starting off point, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

2. A Literary Odyssey- I was so drawn to the idea of having an actual goal and purpose to reading, a project of self-discovery through books was just an amazing idea to me, and Allie's reviews are always so well thought out and smart. A real blogging inspiration.

3. Dead White Guys- No matter how hard I try, I will never ever be as funny as Amanda. I had always thought of the classics as deserving of respect, whether I actually liked them or not, and through this blog, I learned that hey, it's ok to laugh at them a bit sometimes because hey, why be humourless about them? Just so so much fun.

4. Roof Beam Reader- I think I actually bookmarked this genuinely because I thought 'Oh my God, a guy! Blogging about books!' and, as I think you're all aware, that doesn't happen all that often! I kept returning because Adam's reviews are really really really smart, and give a really good indication about whether you're going to like a book or not. Which, you know, is perfect! (He also gets my undying love for introducing me to The Perks of Being A Wallflower, which, I may have mentioned, is now one of my very favourite books).

5. The Dairi Burger- An entire blog devoted to Sweet Valley High- my tween heart couldn't have wanted anything else! This blog probably has had the least influence on the way that I blog, but its existence alerted me to the existence of other blogs, which snowballed into other blogs, and so on, ad infinitum. So I probably owe it a lot, but above all, it's super duper awesome!

and my...

Top (5) Favourite Blogs (in no particular order)

1. Reading Rambo- Alice is the funniest and the nicest and her readalongs are the bestest! And, just as a general thing, if you're not reading her blog then you're not doing book blogging properly. Just sayin'.

2. What Red Read- Similarly, Alley is also amazing, and she always always always makes books sound like I want to read them (unless, obviously, she's saying they're rubbish), even if I've never heard of them before. I don't know how she does it, it's a gift!

3. Books Are My Boyfriends- Because I love the concept and I love the vlogs and I love the writing- it's really really great!

4. Nylon Admiral- Kayleigh is my Stephen King homegirl, and her Monday Links are always always always things I want to read, and that's not even an exaggeration. Also she's Australian, which I happen to find really cool, but probably only because I like watching Neighbours (I just realised most of my audience is American and so will have no idea what I'm talking about...)

5. Literary Musings- Brenna also always makes me want to read everything she says is good, I think possibly because she's super smart and manages to articulate how she feels about a book really well and succinctly. This isn't a skill I've picked up, unfortunately for all, but there's still time for me to learn!

ARGH, I feel brutal having only included five of my favourites because there are so many other book blogs I love pretty much equally! So, honourable mention to Booksessed (Jenn is my blogging BFF!), The Terrible Desire (a fairly new blog, also with a hilarious author!), Books I Done Read, Your Move, Dickens, and, well, just generally all the blogs I follow, really! Each have enriched my life and, you know, given me stuff to do. Which is good. So I love you all!

Monday 23 January 2012

Winter Mini-Readathon Wrap Up, PLUS Guess who won my books!

Sooo, the Winter Mini-Readathon was a lot of fun yesterday, and I did actually read about 50 more pages after I signed off, of The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates (LOVE her) so yay, go me etc etc. I've just come back to do a couple more of the challenges, set by Sarah and Jenn, and to tell you about the winner of my Blog Birthday Giveaway!

So, Challenge 4 was set by Jenn, and involves casting famous people to play characters in one of the books I read yesterday. I've had a bit of an internal debate about this, and I've decided to cast The Falls, mainly because there are only really 2 main characters, so I'm ahead already!

So, to play Ariah, who is this shy tiny redhead who's totally uncomfortable with herself, I'd choose a young Sissy Spacek because, well, that's basically who I'm imagining every time she's mentioned.

And then, to play her husband Gilbert (who has, by the way, already died) I think I'll go with Paul Dano, just because Gilbert is sort of odd, and I kind of think Dano is too... Is that a really mean thing to say? I also think the dude's got charisma, if that helps!

Both of these characters are the children of the clergy, so I don't know who would play them- I'm thinking Reverend and Mrs Lovejoy, mainly, although doing a part cartoon, part human movie is always tricky, especially when the cartoon characters are meant to have made human babies!

So yeah, that's that! And then, Challenge 5, set by Sarah, was pretty much a wrapping up Survey, which, hey, I can do! Here goes:

1. How many books and/or pages were you able to read?
Parts of 4 books, and in the end around 465 pages.

2. How many hours did you read for?
Hmm... tricky. I would say, overall, about 7 or 8? Definitely not the full 12 anyway, but I did my best!

3. Any likes/dislikes of the 12 hour readathon compared to the 24 hour readathon?
I think both have their advantages- the 24 hour readathon is SUCH an achievement once you finish it, although you feel like you might die around 4am; and the 12 hour one feels slightly less achievementy, but is still lots of fun, plus you get a full nights sleep and NO DYING! So I like them both, basically!

4. Favourite and Least Favourite Books Read?
I would probably say that Great House was my favourite, and I don't really have a least favourite- I actually picked some really good books to read/finish.

5. Any Suggestions?
Not really, other than, another Summer readathon please!

Yay, challenges done! (All the ones I could be bothered to do, anyway... I'm kind of lazy...) And now, the lucky lucky winner of Little Women and Good Wives: Kayleigh from Nylon Admiral! Kayleigh sort of wins by default, considering that she was the only entrant, but still, it's an achievement and I'll have no one take it away from her! So everyone say well done to her!

Sunday 22 January 2012

The Winter Mini-Readathon's Here!

Update 3: 10pm
I finished Great House and then I finished Richard III because I am a reading MACHINE! Ahem, or because between them they constituted about 80 pages, and, well, who can't read that in like 2 hours?! So, I'm probably going to read for a little bit more, but I suspect this will be my last update because I'm not really going to be reading substantial amounts. I SHOULD be reading Skeleton Crew next really, because I'm in the middle of it, but I can't because it's late and Stephen King is scary. So I really don't know what's next. Fortunately, I rearranged my bookshelves all nicely yesterday (well, truth be told, I built new ones, but rearranged the books too!) So the books I want to read soonish are at the front. Which is good because it's sort of late and I'm a little sleepy. To all of you still reading (and still updating, I guess)- have the mostest fun! I'll try and check in with some of you and comment and things tomorrow at some point, and oh the larks we'll have remembering things!
So, final stats for now: 415 pages, and 3 books completed! (well, sort of. If I'm cheating. Which I am sort of.)

Update 2: 7.45pm
Finished my first, and hopefully not only book of the day- Heath: A Family's Tale, which turned out to be a lot more respectful than I expected, which is good! Just trying to decide whether to tackle the last 2 acts of Richard III now, or to finish off Great House... Since it's easier, I'll probably go with the latter! But we shall see. So now, my page count is 334 pages, and I've finished a book! Go me etc etc!

Update 1: 4.45pm
Just got back from my nan's house, where I got surprisingly more reading done than expected- I'm now 136 pages into Heath: A Family's Tale, which I am enjoying thus far but it is rather speeding through his movie career, and I fear there may be more emphasis on his death than I would maybe like. But we shall see. I did get plenty distracted by a certain little two year old though, not that I minded in the slightest!
So, about 4 and a half hours in, my page count is 156 pages, and I've finished 0 books... I guess I'd better get moving!

Finally! I can read all day and not feel at all bad about it! Or, more specifically, I can read for a bit, go round my nan's house where I won't do much reading because there's an adorable 2 year old to be entertained by, come home and read read read! And that's all after I've caught up on my blog reading, of course, cause I haven't turned my computer on for 2 days (2 DAYS!) and all my open tabs are reminding me why I shouldn't do that. But hey, it's all reading, right?!

My main goals for today are:

  • To finish Great House by Nicole Krauss because I've been reading it FOREVER and it has to go back to the library on Tuesday anyway.
  • Finish Richard III because I want to.
  • Read this Heath Ledger biography I've had for a long time, because today is the fourth anniversary of his death, and, well, SOB.
Anything I read other than that will be a bonus, and will probably involve starting another Shakespeare play because I am cool and determined to give myself a headache, apparently. I'll be updating this post throughout the day, so if you want to keep up with my progress then please do! And if not, then, well, just go about your normal Sunday activities I guess!

Friday 20 January 2012

Revisiting Films: 10 Things I Hate About You

I have loved this film for the longest time and, in fact, I've just remembered that I actually saw it when it first came out in the cinema; when I was a mere ten years old, scandalously sneaked in by my parents. And now I'm actually thinking that my parents are kind of cool... (this has never happened before!) Anyway, I've gone through loving, at various times, Joseph Gordon Levitt who, may I say, whilst always adorable, has blossomed even more of late; and then Heath Ledger who, obviously, I can't discuss at all because doing so will make me way too sad.* One love that has been constant though is my deep and unbreakable love for Kat, who taught me how to be awesome, and probably also made me want to read The Bell Jar quite a lot. 10 Things, you rock my world.

Even though I didn't think I could love it any more, actually reading The Taming of the Shrew made me appreciate what a great film we actually have in the shape of 10 Things. It's the way Shakespeare's play really should have gone, if you ask me- slightly too angry girl meets a boy who's just like her, and in getting to know each other and falling in love, they are both tamed, although they remain themselves entirely and NO ONE GETS TORTURED. And also, you have things like this:
Oh, Heath!

I think we all know just how awesome Kat and Patrick are, just in general, but can we also talk about the soundtrack, because I think it's awesome. Like, I literally can't think of a bad song on it and it constantly bugs me that I don't have it because it's not on itunes and it's really expensive (for a cd) on amazon. But the point is, anyway, that it's great, and it's much better than my imaginary soundtrack to the Shakespeare play, which basically consists of, I don't know, the funeral march, and also all the bad songs.

I also love the whole Bianca and Cameron story. Even though it's awful when Bianca thinks that she fancies Joey even though he's an absolute shit, it all works out ok, and the lovely Cameron gets what he wants, even if he deserves better than Bianca, which he clearly does. Or at least the Bianca at the beginning of the film. Because, and this is yet another reason the film is better than the play, because whilst in the play, Bianca fully conforms and is seen as the much more desirable wife; in 10 Things, her conformity is seen as a bad thing (I assume by everyone who sees it too...) because it makes her silly and shallow, and it is only towards the end, when she becomes more like Kat that we have respect for her and feel like she's the kind of woman Cameron deserves.

There are just so many things that make 10 Things I Hate About You so amazing- a criminally underused Allison Janney (have I ever gone into how much I love her? Because I love her SO MUCH!), Cameron's instant best friend Michael, who is generally just sweet and funny and his girlfriend scoring without any drama makes me so happy, and Kat and Bianca's dad whose overprotectiveness has been brought bang up to date by making him an obstetrician who basically doesn't want either of his  daughters to get pregnant, which sounds sane enough, but the way he does it, it's not so much, and it's therefore HILARIOUS. I honestly can't think of a good reason why anyone wouldn't love this film, because there's just so much to love! Especially, may I just add, the torture of two people who really don't understand, or much like each other, living in the same house:
"Bianca: Where do you come from, Planet Loser?
Kat: As opposed to Planet Look at Me, Look at Me?"
And just, you know, the entire film is so damn quotable! I've gotten to the stage where I can almost recite it word for word (I basically can with Grease because I've seen it way, way too many times) which is probably not a good thing, only it is because, and I'll say it again, THIS FILM IS SO GOOD! It really is.

So, I'm sure that big gushfest was really helpful and instructional, and told you many things you didn't already know about 10 Things I Hate About You.** This post, on HelloGiggles, whilst maybe a teeny bit overlong, is also very good at helping one remember all of its highlights (i.e. the entire film) and brings a certain amount of nostalgia that may or may not have contributed to my watching of this film (that, plus Shakespeare month!) And, finally, I know I say this all the time, but really really really- if you haven't seen this film, you're really missing something special, and, let's face it, amazing. Go! Watch! You can see things like this:
Poetry! And crying! And Kat softening up but still retaining her own self and NOT being tortured! What more could you want?!

*Did you know that on Sunday it'll be 4 years since he died?! Crazy!
**An actual fact I do know is that Joseph Gordon Levitt and Larisa Oleynik used to go out in real life, and they were in Third Rock From The Sun together- it actually makes me sad that Larisa isn't really in things anymore, because I used to love all the things she was in- this, as well as The Secret World of Alex Mack and The Babysitters Club Movie!

Thursday 19 January 2012

Devouring Books: Submarine by Joe Dunthorne

All the signs were there that I liked Submarine- I read it a few days, was amused by some parts and disturbed by others, and it generally left me wondering, a lot, about teenage boys. I had one vital problem with it though- when it comes to books about mildly mentally disturbed teenage boys, I have a pretty high benchmark to compare them all to, in the form of The Perks of Being A Wallflower. And Oliver, the main character in Submarine, is nowhere near as sweet, or wonderful, or hopelessly naive as Charlie in Perks, and so I just couldn't get along with him anywhere near as well.

I fully realise how unfair it is to compare one book to another (books set, I might add, in completely different times and places) and I seriously wouldn't do it except that all I could do while reading Submarine was compare it to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I kept on doing it even as I got annoyed with myself for doing it. I just kept thinking 'Well, Charlie would never have done that', and 'that's not as noble as something Charlie would think' to which, of course, the only suitable response is 'THAT'S BECAUSE THEY'RE DIFFERENT BOOKS YOU MORON!' I really couldn't help it though, and hey, at least I'm not comparing them both to The Catcher in the Rye like EVERY REVIEWER EVER. Because that would just be cruel.

Anyway! I'll try and put my crazy aside for a minute, and actually tell you about the book! As I've said, Oli is our hero, and in a lot of ways he fits the external specifications for teenage boys- he thinks about girls and sex, he's a bit of a bully, and he often does what's expected of him rather than what he thinks is right, at least in front of his mates. All relatively average, except that also, he's extremely strange- he somehow manages to get into extremely odd situations that literally no one else would get into, and he kind of has no feelings for anyone else, although he's highly attuned to what everyone else thinks about him (although, is narcissism really a strange trait for a teenager? Probably not...). Anyway, while I think the author has tried to play these extreme situations for comedic effect, I really didn't find many of the situations very funny, mainly because of the narrative voice behind them.

Because, here's the thing: I don't like Oliver very much (one critic on the back cover describes him as a sociopath, which I don't think is far off the truth) but then I also feel like he's suffering quite a lot, and behind the situations he finds himself in is a lot of anger, and fear, and sadness, and just general badness. So, while the actual situations may be funny, viewing them filtered through his troubling brain makes them much less so. I would actually like to see the film of Submarine (released last year, I think) because I think that, viewed outside of Oliver's brain, a lot of the mishaps would be a lot funnier than I found them when I was reading the book.

In the end, then, I just didn't really like Oliver enough to really love Submarine. I wouldn't wholly un-recommend it, because while I was reading it I was enjoying it enough to want to finish it, but on the whole I don't think it's a book that's going to stay with me for a long time, which is probably a good thing. If you're looking for one that does that, then I don't think you can go wrong with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which, although I'm doing that totally unfair comparing thing again, is the far better book in my opinion.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Happy Blog Birthday to me! (With maybe a present for you!)

Devouring Texts is one year old today you guys! I realise that other people might use another 'b' word to describe this day, but I really can't deal with that word, mainly because it sounds so ugly, but also because, well, it's sort of inaccurate. I mean, an anniversary would suggest that I was married to my blog, but that would be seriously weird- it's more like my little baby, only it can't actually survive without me (well, it can but it wouldn't learn any new things) so actually it's kind of like my little foetus that's still being all parasitical and stuff. Since, 'happy one year of being a foetus!' is sort of, well, gross and weird, I think we can all agree that a blog birthday is the nicest way to put it!

So... should I get all soppy now, or save it for later? I think I'll get it over with out of the way, and then we can all move on with our lives and pretend it didn't happen (or that it did. Whatever.) So, when I started this blog a year ago, I was all miserable and unemployed and I more or less felt worthless and like I literally couldn't do anything. And I didn't really think a blog would do anything about that, and I saw it as more of a hobby then as a shiny beacon of hope and possibilities, but without being too much of a sap about it, that's kind of what it became for me, especially when I was really really miserable. So, a year ago, I couldn't really have imagined what it would come to mean to me, and I really couldn't have imagined all the awesome people I would meet (as yet only internetly, but one day I will find you all and hug you!) because of it. And while I could physically have done it without you, I really really wouldn't have wanted to. At all. So that's a great big THANK YOU to you if you're reading this right now.

There, that wasn't too bad, was it? Shit got a bit real, but on the whole I don't think I embarrassed myself too much! Probably more embarrassing was the fact that I made blog birthday cupcakes for myself (see above) but actually, I feel pretty great about them because 1) they took almost no effort to make, especially because I made a ganache instead of frosting (sounds fancy, but really it's just chocolate, milk and golden syrup all heated), and 2) they're vegan which means they have negative calories, and the actual cake bit is sugar free, so they don't give me weird sugar crashes if I eat them on their own (don't ask. It's not pleasant). I was going to post the recipe here, but then I remembered that no one ever really likes my recipe posts (WEEP- and also it's not even my recipe) so I couldn't be bothered! If you would like the recipe though, then you can email me and you SHOULD because they're AWESOME.

Anyway, that was going to be your present, but actually, I've decided to give some things away! What I'm offering is a copy of Little Women and one of Good Wives to one lucky lucky winner who really really wants them (Note: I'm relatively sure this is all published as one book in the US, hence my giving them both away at once. Also, I wouldn't want you to miss out on what happens in Good Wives, because oh my gawd, shit goes down that you wouldn't believe [and I still refuse to]). Anyway, so, if you want them, just leave a comment on this post saying hi and stuff, as well as leaving me an email address to contact you on so I can get your address if you leave the best comment  are randomly selected. I will post internationally, so if you live anywhere but the UK you can still ask me for them (and also you are SO LUCKY!) And let's say it closes by, ooh, Sunday? Sunday feels good. Announcement on Monday. Also, if you don't  want to win them, feel free to still leave me a comment telling me you love me. Because those are my favourites!

So, I'm heading off now to eat whatever blog birthday cupcakes I have left. Thank you again for reading and commenting, and just generally making a girl feel special. Now, here's to another year of awesome blogging fun and general joyfulness. I hope you'll all be here to share it with me, because it really wouldn't be the same without you.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Norwegian Wood, Chapters 5-6

Well, these were the depressingest chapters that ever depressed their depressingness, and not just because one of them was ONE HUNDRED AND TWO PAGES LONG. Which, I guess, you all already know, but may I just say WHY ARE YOU HURTING MY BRAIN, MURAKAMI?! I have forgiven him already though, because, well, I kind of love him and I sort of fell into the story in a dreamy, druggy kind of way, and emerged only with great difficulty. Partly because I had to (where do you stop?! I can't stop unless it's the end of a chapter, and if the chapter is very very long, I have troubles!) but also because, well, I almost didn't really want to. Naoko and Reiko's retreat from the real world was, even in page form, very very soothing, and a place I kind of didn't want to leave.

But leave it I did (I had to, bloody Toru wouldn't stay there, even though he a bit needs to, or maybe what he needs is to hang out with Midori some more) so I could write some things about it and tell you all my revised opinion on Naoko. Because, well, poor Naoko! I know before I was just relatively bored with her general lacklustreness and limp dishrag qualities, but really, the girl's been through more than anyone could reasonably bear. Retreating from the world as she has her whole life, it would be difficult enough for her to exist and flourish as a part of it, but since her sister and boyfriend left her to it because they decided that the real world really was too much for them to face? I mean, what the hell is she supposed to do with that information? Really though, what got me about Naoko in these two chapters was her selflessness, and self-awareness. She realises that she has the problems that she does, she's trying to cope with them, and at the same time realises that she can't offer much to Toru, and so she wants him to carry on living, and only to remember her, nothing else. It's not asking for a lot, and a much more unreasonable person would ask for a lot more, and so for this, I kind of appreciate her a lot more.

But Naoko and Kizuki's relationship? That shit sounds, well, intense! Like, they were so wrapped up in each other that it was like the whole world didn't exist, or at least didn't matter, and so when they were thrust into the real world and all its rules and social boundaries, they didn't quite know how to deal with it. It is this which Naoko seems to think led Kizuki to commit suicide- the inability to cope with a world that wasn't exactly the way he wanted it, I guess. In moving to the retreat though, Naoko has done pretty much the same thing, so both have checked out from the world in their own ways. It's tempting to think Toru will go the same way- when he leaves the retreat, he doesn't quite know how to react to the outside world, for example, but he also isn't suited to life in the retreat either:
"I was surprised to find myself missing the hum of people shouting for no reason and saying overblown things. That was just the kind of noise I had become weary of in recent months, but sitting here eating fish in this unnaturally quiet room, I couldn't relax."
I actually warmed to Toru quite a lot in these two chapters, and I finally decided that his mental issues weren't quite as bad as Naoko's although I still think he has things to sort out that he hasn't really acknowledged yet to a great degree. But I could be wrong, we'll see!

I greatly missed Midori in these chapters (even though she really, really wouldn't have fit in with the serenity of the retreat because she's simply brimming with life, and is hugely a part of the outside world) but this was offset by the introduction of Reiko who I really really want to be my friend. She's so lovely, but also a kind of deceptive character (Not that she herself is deceptive, but that the way she is described is) because she seems so incredibly sane to begin with, until you find out more about her and realise just how messed up she really is (Wow. Another messed-up character. What a surprise!) I know that she's basically sane now, but still she can't reconcile herself to living out in the world because she's afraid of what might happen to her if she does. All of which I find totally ok because I like her so much and I don't want her to fall apart again because it would make me sad. Basically.

Can we talk about Reiko's piano lesson story for a minute though? Because, I don't know if it was just me, but there was a point in her story when I was wondering if the clearly sociopathic student was actually Midori. I have no firm evidence for this- Midori has shown no signs of being a lesbian, or an incorrigible liar, or, you know, a sociopath; but I've read too many books where seemingly innocuous and not related to anything else events turn out to be related to another character too. All I really have to go on is that the girl said that she couldn't love her parents, or that her parents didn't love her or something, and I kind of got a teeny bit suspicious. Believe me, I'm hoping that I am entirely wrong about this because I LOVE Midori, and I'm probably just being mental. But if we all find out in Chapter 11 that Midori is the evil life ruiner, then I want everyone to remember that I thought of it first. Agreed? Good.

Soooo, these couple of chapters have given me greater insight into Naoko, who I now have a lot more love for, and introduced me to Reiko who is really so awesome although I suspect we might not see a lot more of her (unless Toru checks into the retreat, which, admittedly, is unlikely). I also wrote down an embarrassing number of passages from the book, practically so many that I might as well have just copied it all out... Oooh, and I enjoyed the great number of popular (Western) culture references, especially Reiko liking Simon and Garfunkel, because really, that makes her my kind of woman. What I am looking forward to is some more Midori, and having looked at the first couple of pages of Chapter 7, I can already see she's there. So, yay. Onwards!

Monday 16 January 2012

Devouring Books: The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Ah, The Taming of the Shrew. Right now, I'm struggling to say anything nice about it at all, but I have just read Kate's speech at the end so I'm more or less just simmering with anger because WHAT THE HELL SHAKESPEARE, I THOUGHT YOU WERE ON MY SIDE! Okay, I just have to remember to breathe and think of Lady Macbeth (who is completely awesome, at least until she goes crazy). I just... it's so... I can't even... ARGH, Shakespeare what have you done?!

Ok, now actual sentences that make sense. The Taming of the Shrew is basically the story of Kate, an extremely angry woman- I'd like to defend her anger as some kind of primitive form of feminism, but really she just seems angry for no real reason; who gets tamed by Petruchio, the only man in town willing to take her on, with all her anger issues and 'difficulties.' He's convinced to do this by Hortensio and Gremio (not to be confused with Grumio, his servant [I never confused them, except for all the time]) both of whom have a vested interest in Kate's marriage because they want to marry Bianca, Kate's sister, who their father will not allow to marry until he's offloaded the difficult one on some sucker.

AND THEN, there's this entire farce around Bianca's marriage that I genuinely don't understand that for some reason requires someone else to dress up like Lucentio (this other guy who likes her) even though her dad totally says she can marry Lucentio, even when he isn't Lucentio. It's probably less confusing on stage, but it seems really unnecessary anyway in terms of the story. I just don't know! But that all turns out ok in the end anyway, everyone forgives who they're supposed to and it's a comedy tralalalala! The height of comedy at that time, unfortunately, seems to have been things like this:
"Baptista: When will he be here?
Biondella: When he stands where I am and sees you there."
I HATE these jokes. Hate them. With a passion. Vom all over them. Stupid Elizabethan lack of humour.

Anyway, besides all of those problems (and I didn't even mention the induction which was highly unnecessary and didn't even get finished off properly- where was my conclusion to that, with Christopher Sly being humiliated, huh?) the main horrorshow is between Kate and Petruchio. At the beginning, I thought he was all sweet and charming, and I was basically going, 'oh go on Kate, marry him!' because, you know, I thought he was nice, and I thought that he would just generally be kind of hot at her, and get her to calm down a bit and be nicer to people. Instead, he kind of starved her and then brainwashed her into being his love slave and general yay-sayer to all his doings. It's literally like, instead of going to live with her husband, she went to some weird cult where she was starved of meat (not that kind of meat, don't be gross) and watched people be shouted at until she thought her husband was the best thing since sliced bread (not that they had sliced bread. Since flushing toilets? Did they have them?) And I can't even... I didn't even like angry Kate, because she seemed angry for no reason, but subservient Kate I really can't stomach. Observe:
"Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign...
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love and obey." 
Dammit Shakespeare, I knew you'd throw those old fashioned wedding vows back in my face! Oh yeah, those stupid women who don't do everything their husbands say as soon as they say it. What fools they are! If they do it, they'll get their meat fed to them! I think Kate might just be suffering some PTSD from having been starved those couple of days, and now she's just saying the right things so Petruchio lets her eat! Except that's definitely not what's going on here, and oh my GOD I could just sob about it!

A final little quirk about The Taming of the Shrew is that, when I was reading it, all I could think about was 10 Things I Hate About You (a review of that will be coming soon. For definite now I've read this.) and I was trying to figure out who was who and stuff, except I pretty much had to give up on that because no one is anyone, except for Kate, Petruchio, Bianca and Lucentio who are basically the four main characters. And you know what? I'm going to have to say that I like the 90s teen movie better than the Shakespeare play, a statement not all that shocking for the average person, but for me it's like a crazy exploding bombshell because I'm a little bit like the girl in 10 Things who is in love with Shakespeare (but mostly I'm just Kat. She was/is my feminist ICON!). But not this time!

It's a great comfort to me that this was one of Shakespeare's earlier plays, and, having read quite a few of his other plays, I know that these views on women are not really the norm. If I'd read this and no other Shakespeare play, I probably would have been so put off by him that I would refuse to read any others, and I am deadly serious about that. So, read this play with caution, and only after quite a few other plays (especially, I'm going to say, Macbeth and Twelfth Night, both of which I know have quite strong female characters). Unless, of course, you're a giant misogynist, in which case, well, I know a play you're really going to love...

Friday 13 January 2012

Winter Mini-Readathon

So, I don't know about you but I've been pretty bad at reading this January. I've read like a Shakespeare play, and that one biography about him, but apart from that, not a lot has been going down in reading world, and I don't even have the excuse of having to work or anything like that because, well, jobs are in short supply. ANYWAY, that's not the point. The point is, it's been difficult to read, I reckon because I still think it's Christmas, therefore I should be staring at a TV screen stuffing Quality Street into my mouth as fast as I can unwrap them. That's how I roll.

So, to get back into a reading frame of mind, I'm taking part in Sarah Says Read's Winter Mini-Readathon next Sunday! It's a perfect, wholly low/no pressure readathon- the plan is just to read for 12 hours during the day, at whatever time you want, and, you know, just to enjoy yourself! Sarah's Summer Mini-Readathon was the very first one I took part in AND I won a prize (squeep!) and this time there are even more prizes for doing the mini-challenges. Possible prizes for reading and blogging? I think yes!

If you want to take part in this very exciting readathon* (and I know you definitely do) then go over to this post on Sarah's blog now to sign up. And just think, in 9 days we could all be reading together, actually finishing books, and having a jolly old readathon time. Can I get a woohoo, or possibly a yay?

*It just took me the longest time to think of a way to start this paragraph without saying 'so'. Because I'm a smart one!

Buffy: Top Tens

While I was doing the whole 'Watching Buffy Will Ease My Woes' treatment, I decided to keep a list of my favourite episodes so I could do a post exactly like this one, and thus milk my viewing experience for everything it had. I managed to list 32 episodes (that's just under a quarter of all the episodes, by the way) so narrowing that down has not been an easy task (subtext: Appreciate this post!!) Additionally, in my extremely cool and not-at-all-a-waste-of-time special features watching, I came across Joss Whedon's top ten episodes, which was really really interesting, so I thought I'd share them too and see how they compared with mine.

I realise that this is going to be really boring and irrelevant if you've never seen Buffy (although to this I again say, Why not?!, and also WATCH IT) so if you haven't you're free to leave now and read other things on the internet. Fellow Buffy-ites (and I know there are some of you out there because there were comments on my last Buffy post, oh the JOY because normally everyone ignores it when I talk about TV) it's good to have you with me! So, without any ado at all, my top ten episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

1. Season 2, Episode 17- Passion
Why it's great: Anything with Bad Angel in is awesome (I think his transformation is where the series really steps it up a notch) and this episode is where we see him at his most depraved- mentally and physically torturing those who once liked and loved him, and bringing Buffy ever closer to the conclusion that she has to make at the end of the season.

2. Season 3, Episode 1- Anne
Why it's great: Most of the seasons begin with Buffy having to find herself again (I don't know what she does over the summer, but it must be pretty bad) and nowhere is this more evident than in the first episode of season 3. Whilst her friends and mother worry about her back in Sunnydale, Buffy has to face dark forces all by herself, and literally has to go to hell and back to rediscover what she wants and who she is again. A dark, but ultimately hopeful episode, that is probably the best start to any of the seasons.

3. Season 3, Episode 6- Band Candy
Why it's great: It's one of the funniest episodes there is, and seeing Giles act like Ripper is priceless! Extra points for the revelation that we get in Earshot ('You had SEX with Giles?!') but on its own, it's still one of the best.

4. Season 3, Episode 9- The Wish
Why it's great: Answering the question of what would have happened if Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, we get a really brilliant, dystopian answer: Willow and Xander are vampires, Cordelia would be good and dead, and Buffy would be a lot more like Faith than she would ever want to be. Also, Giles gets to be the full on hero, so that's always good.

5. Season 4, Episode 9- Something Blue
Why it's great: Willow starts to gain power, even as she's being all whiny and emo. It's also hilarious- Buffy and Spike love each other! Giles is very disturbed by this! Xander is a demon magnet! And no one, not even Willow, knows what's going on! It's great. Another positive, since this is Season 4, is that there's a significant lack of Riley. Always a good thing.

6. Season 4, Episode 10- Hush
Why it's great: It's probably the most genuinely scary episode of Buffy, or at least has the villains I'd be most scared to encounter in real life. The best thing about it though is how much can be conveyed even without speaking, the ending is divine, and it is also Tara's introductory episode (Tara is my favourite). All in all, not too shabby!

7. Season 5, Episode 16- The Body
Why it's great: This is possibly the best episode of Buffy (although its tied between this and the next one for my absolute favourite) and it's a heartbreaking, honest, and above all real portrayal of what happens when someone close to you dies. Its authenticity comes from the lack of all but ambient noise, as well as the lack of supernatural forces, but what still gets through is that natural death is the scariest thing that anyone can face. It's an absolutely real account of death, and that's what makes it so amazing, and yet so difficult to watch (and probably impossible to watch without crying). Possibly my favourite moment is Anya's inability to understand mortality:
But really the whole thing just makes me weep. Buffy, and just TV, at its absolute best.

8. Season 6, Episode 7- Once More With Feeling
Why it's great: um.. It's a MUSICAL episode of Buffy! Musicals are the greatest, Buffy is the other greatest, so together they're almost too much! Additionally, whilst it would have been so easy to make this a throwaway episode, it actually moves the plot of the entire series forward, with revelations like Buffy's (that she was in heaven) but also that Willow used a spell on Tara, that Anya and Xander have relationship issues, and the whole Buffy and Spike kiss thing. Basically, it's a complete wonder of the TV world, and possibly/probably my favourite episode.

9. Season 6, Episode 8- Tabula Rasa
Why it's great: Willows unruly spells are generally quite fun (see: Something Blue) and this episode is both fun and not- Fun because you get to see how normal people would react to a gang of vampires chasing them down (screaming and hiding, which is extra funny because its the complete opposite of how they normally react), and because of all the completely wrong guesswork about all their relationships, especially Giles and Spike's father/son rivalry. It's not fun because Willow is clearly going off the rails, magic-wise, and because Tara leaves her! Laughing and crying in the same episode? Perfect.

10. Season 6, Episode 17- Normal Again
Why it's great: If neither The Body or Once More With Feeling are my favourite episodes, then this one would be it. It's maybe the most thought-provoking of episodes- is everything in Sunnydale real, or is it all a schizophrenic delusion in mental-patient-Buffy's head? It casts doubt on everything that has gone before, and you just don't know what to believe (even at the end it's still open to doubt.) It's kind of difficult to explain, but if you've seen it then hopefully you know what I mean (and also think it's great!)

So these are clearly the best episodes, because I say they are and I know all! But I suppose Joss Whedon might know something about it too. And this is his top ten, in ascending order (with my helpful accompanying comments):

10. Season 1, Episode 12- Prophecy Girl
Hmm- I have kind of ignored Season 1 in my list, probably unfairly, since this is a pretty great epsiode- Buffy's first death! I generally find that the last episodes of all the seasons are pretty great (probably because they're mostly written by Whedon).

9. Season 7, Episode 7- Conversations With Dead People
Hmm- I also ignored Season 7, mainly because of all the irritating potentials (too Dawn-ish), and not enough of the old gang! This is a well crafted episode though (although my favourite of the season is probably the last one) and an important one in terms of the whole season.

8. Season 4, Episode 22- Restless
Hmm- Dream hauntings? Fun! But the best thing about this episode is all the foreshadowing- "Be back before Dawn" and so on. Still not one of my favourites though.

7. Season 2, Episode 22- Becoming, Part 2
Hmm- Well, yeah, another end of season episode. Wonderful because Buffy finds total self-belief and confidence, horrible because of Xander's betrayal, for which he never gets punished! Bad Xander.

6. Season 3, Episode 9- The Wish
Hmm- Yay! Our first correlation!

5. Season 3, Episode 16- Doppelgangland 
Hmm- This is a sort of continuation of The Wish, and while it was on my long list, I eliminated it from the shortlist for that reason. It's still fun though!

4. Season 5, Episode 16- The Body
Hmm- Well, yes. Quite. I feel like this, and the next two, would be on everyone's lists...

3. Season 4, Episode 10- Hush

2. Season 6, Episode 7- Once More With Feeling

1. Season 2, Episode 14- Innocence
Hmm- Bad Angel! This is a great episode, and my equivalent of it is Passion, but the whole 9 episodes where Angel is bad are all brilliant, and like I said before, really bring the series into its own, and make it something more. Also, poor Buffy.

So, didn't we all learn a lot? Also, just FYI, my favourite school season is season 3 (or the second half of Season 2... hmm...) and my favourite later season is Season 6, and, while I think that on the whole the show was better while they were at school, the later seasons have the best stand-alone episodes. I have no opinions about Angel because I've only seen the first episode and it's kind of naff, so... can't help you there! Anyway, enough about me, how about you? Do you have any favourite Buffy episodes? Do you just want me to shut up about Buffy? Have at it in the comments!