Thursday 29 August 2013

A to Z Bookish Survey

Subtitle: That post other people have done that I'm copying because I'm too tired/lazy to write a review of anything. I've stolen this from both Sarah and Alley and you should probably read theirs too, because, I don't know, reasons.


Authors you've read the most books from: Have you ever been here before? Because it's obviously Stephen King. I mean, even in the past 2 and a half years I've read 39 of his books and I've read more than that and WOAH that is a lot of books.

Best sequel ever: I don't know, man, I don't read books that are in a series. Let's say... All the Harry Potter books EXCEPT the Chamber of Secrets, which is TECHnically the sequel... Dammit.

Currently reading: Oh God... *Deep breath* Middlemarch, The Lost Continent, Tell The Wolves I'm Home, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Friday Reads on twitter is like a NIGHTMARE for me every week

Drink of choice when reading: I really don't drink or eat anything (or only rarely) when I'm reading because I'm not even in the room, anymore, so I don't have bodily appetites, yeah?

Ereader or physical book: I loves a good physical book, but I'm also very fond of my Kindle- I haven't read that many books on it because SO MANY UNREAD BOOKS, but I don't dislike the experience at all. And I haven't taken it on holiday yet, but when I do finally go away, I am going to love it so much.

Fictional character that you probably would have dated in High School: I didn't go to High School because we don't have those over here. But I can't think of any hot teenage characters (because I'm OLD) so let's pretend Eric Northman (HE'S A BOOK CHARACTER TOO) and I would have been schoolish contemporaries and THAT would have happened because yum.

Glad you gave this book a chance: Um um ummmm... Oooh, OK, Ready Player One because it was exactly the book I wanted to read even though I didn't even know that. ALSO The Sisters Brothers. It was awesome.

Hidden gem book: What is this, like books that are awesome but nobody knows about? Everyone knows about Rainbow Rowell at this point, yeah?

Important moment in your reading life: I suppose my first Stephen King book was probably quite an important moment but I can't even remember what it was (it might have been Carrie because I'm like that.) BUT ALSO I'm going to copy Alley because starting this blog was a totally important thing because it took my book thoughts out of my brain and translated them into words I could share with other people and that's just AWESOME.

Just finished: The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger. It was fine... But I kind of want to say the cover was better than the book (the cover is AWESOME)

Kind of books you won't read: I kind of want to say YA only I DO read it, I just rarely enjoy it. HAVING SAID THAT, I believe Tell The Wolves I'm Home is YA and I am enjoying it muchly so you can just ignore me.

Longest book you read: Is it Les Miserables? I'm going to say Les Miserables. It's actually technically the uncut version of The Stand, BUT 1400 Stephen King pages is not the same as 1200 Victor Hugo pages.

Major book hangover because of: I kind of had a continual book hangover while I was reading Harry Potter because I didn't want to read anything else alongside it.

Applies to most of these. Also this isn't even a gif.
This is just getting gratuitous now.

Number of bookcases you own: I technically only own one, which is why my books live in weird places like 'the gap next to my bed' and also 'the bottom of my wardrobe'. 

One book you've read multiple times: To Kill A Mockingbird, and I will read it forever.

Preferred place to read: It's my bed. Always, always my bed.

Quote that inspires you: I actually have two quote notebooks (I filled one up. I am all about the quotes.)  so let's look in the one that I can reach without moving... "Well, I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to be acquainted with the butterflies." From The Little Prince (I didn't read far into my quote notebook... BUT this is pretty and also it's french and papillon is possibly my favourite word in french/any language. This is random information I'm giving you...)

Reading regret: I dunno. The fact that I can't do it for a living? That's not really a regret, is it..?

Series that you started and need to finish: Seriously, I don't read series! And I ALWAYS finish them. NEXT.

Three of your all-time favourite books: It by Stephen King, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and and *dies from the pressure of having to choose only one more* Let's say East of Eden by John Steinbeck? But SO MANY.

Unapologetic fangirl for: Stephen King (obvs), Nora Ephron, Caitlin Moran, Rainbow Rowell, Bill Bryson, John Steinbeck, WILKIE, Murakamiiiiiiiiii.

Very excited for this release: In general, I don't really know about any new releases, but I am excited for the new Donna Tartt (so excited that I can't even remember its name) AND Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood, which I've already reserved at the library even though it isn't even out yet. Oh ACTUALLY that's part of a series that I must finish. 

Worst bookish habit: Buying books when I definitely don't need any more books. It's an addiction, people.

X marks the spot! Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book: Why the 27th though? This one is stupid. Ok, *moves* The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I didn't do anything with it though...

Your last bookish purchase: I may or may not have bought three books on Saturday, ONE OF WHICH I already had out of the library and which I have now read and decided that I don't want to keep. This is not one of those stories with a happy ending (although I do now have another Richard Yates book which is cool because I like Revolutionary Road quite a lot).

Zzz snatcher- Which book kept you up way late?: SO MANY. But the most ironic was Insomnia by Stephen King, and possibly the best was 1Q84 by Murakamiiiiii, which I literally didn't know how to put down. 

I think we've all learnt a lot. My work here is done. 

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Devouring Books: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

I was trying to write my reviews in order because I'm a sensible kind of person like that, and then I read The Fault In Our Stars and couldn't contain my... Anything. And if you think that means I'm about to gush about it like 99% of the reading population, then clearly you haven't been following me on twitter.

This book. It's kind of terrible. And it shouldn't have been as terrible as I found it and I might be exaggerating its terribleness even to myself because of all the INSANE hype that surrounded it (remember last year when you couldn't swing your bag around the book blog world without hitting someone going 'OMG IT'S THE BEST THING I'VE EVER READ!') but I really didn't like it. And it was set up as something it seemed like I'd like- there was the book-within-a-book thing (we'll get to that later), the cancer thing (not that I like cancer BUT I have a certain interest in the topic and I'm not against reading something heartbreaking), and the thing that's like 'I don't want to make anyone like me because when I die they'll be sad', which is a really depressing but interesting way to be thinking, I think.

But. I hate the characters. Haaaaaaate them. And it's not even that I hated the way they spoke (which was annoying, let's face it), but I didn't feel like I knew them well enough to actually care about what happened to them. It was kind of like reading an obituary of someone you didn't know at all- it's vaguely sad, and you're not happy that they're dead, but you can't really care because it doesn't personally affect you. This book did not personally affect me.

I didn't care about Hazel (the main character- a cancer sufferer, but one who isn't dying just yet) any more than I care about other self-centred teenage characters who believe that their way of doing things is the only way of doing things. Seriously- this girl allows herself to feel whatever she's feeling and that's the only right way to feel it, whereas everyone else's feelings- about her disease, about how they grieve, whatever- are wrong because they're not hers. I'm not saying that's not a very teenage way of acting, and maybe Green's point is that she's allowed to act like a teenager even though she has cancer (which is fair!) but I think it's more 'This girl! Look at how awesome she is. LOOK AT HER.'

And then there's Augustus (I mean, Augustus. Compute on. This is not the last days of Rome. I'm about to get loads of angry comments from Augustuses, aren't I, except NOPE, there aren't any.) I actually liked Augustus (Nope. Can't do it. We're calling him Gus.) in a way that I didn't like Hazel so much, BUT he's not real. At all. There is nothing about this kid that would exist in any way in the real world because he is ridiculous, and not in a good way. (Alley called him a Manic Pixie Dream Boy in her review and I am SO JEALOUS that she's already said it because she's completely right.) And this is just one example of his incredible ridiculousness: He puts cigarettes in his mouth. And doesn't light them. So as not to give the thing that could kill him the power to do so. 
You know what, that IS bullshit. It's 'a metaphor' and I get it, but metaphors are really only found in words and not so much in real life, and all I can think when he says that is, 'so, dude actually wastes money buying cigarettes that he doesn't smoke, thus handing over money to the corporations behind millions of deaths? Smart!' And if that had only come up once I'd probably be over it, but it's used again and again in the book as a motif for how awesome Gus is, but if you didn't find that awesome? It's just a constant reminder of how annoying these characters are.

What else? Well, the writing isn't as good as everyone claims it is (it might be good for YA, but I'll take Rainbow Rowell any day) and it kind of disturbs me that someone would read it and find it the most profound book they've ever read. To me, a lot of the things Green says about illness and life and death, I've seen elsewhere, better expressed, and without characters that made my eyes hurt from rolling them so much. In general, the writing kind of swings from authentic** teenage narration (lots of 'likes' and stuff. WHICH was actually really annoying and is it that annoying when I do that in reviews? Please say no!) to a more highbrow way of saying things, sometimes in the same paragraph and WHAT IS THIS? Please choose one way of writing and stick to it. Please?

Now, for the book within the book. There's this book that Hazel really likes (An Imperial Affliction) which sounds like the book John Green wishes he'd written (meooow) and is all meaningful to her and stuff. All of which is cool and I was sort of excited about this plot point. But then, even though it's a big part of the book, it's... kind of a shitty storyline. It turns into a 'never meet your heroes' sort of warning, and then ends with a teenage girl giving a grown man advice that she is in no way qualified to give. The point is, this. At one point, Hazel says to this grown man 'I think you're a pathetic alcoholic who says fancy things to get attention like a really precocious eleven year old.'

That's not what you and your boyfriend have been doing the whole book then (apart from the alcoholic bit). Ok, cool, glad we sorted that out. And here endeth the story of how I snorted during a sort-of funeral scene.***

Oh and by the way, did you know that Gus is really super hot and Hazel thinks she's not at all pretty but he thinks she's the most glorious person ever? Surprise!

I shan't bother you with my anger for much longer, but I will just say this: just before I started reading, I read the glowing praise on the back (SUCH glowing praise...) and the two authors blurbed were Marcus Zuzak (he of The Book Thief TERRIBLENESS) and Jodi Picoult, who I have read exactly two books by before realising they were all going to be the same, and who I am still mad at for the ending of My Sister's Keeper. This set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head, but I read it all the same, and hence I have learned- trust your bookish instincts. 

But if you want to read this whatever, you can probably do it in a few hours and it won't hurt your brain much as long as you ignore the emotional manipulation regarding characters you've been given no reason to like (cancer is not a reason to like someone). 

*NOT the (500) Days of Summer gif I wanted. But it'll do.
**Authentic in terms of the way teenagers actually speak.
***Needless to say, I didn't cry. FULL DISCLOSURE: I did get a lump in my throat towards the end because CANCER IS SAD OK, but I refused to make the same mistake I did with The Book Thief (tricked into crying)

Sunday 25 August 2013

Sunday Sundries: I have not eaten meat for 18 months so let's discuss that

It's Sunday AGAIN?
Not that I have anything against Sundays, of course, but they do seem to come up awfully frequently. *Regards Sunday with some suspicion*.

Anyway! I was going to skip Sunday Sundries (I always want to call it SS but then I'm like 'NO! Nazis. Bad.) this week since I've been updating things every day on this post right here, and, you know, that's pretty much my week neatly laid out in little paragraphs and page counts. I was also going to skip it because, you know, LAZY, but but but did you see in the title that it's kind of my not-eating-meat birthday and a half (which is a thing now, apparently) so I'll ramble about that for a bit and then let you be on your way.

Oh, ALSO, it's this dude's actual birthday. It's worth a mention.

Anyway! Meat. Or, rather, the lack thereof. Let's see... It's weird when you choose to do a certain thing (or, choose NOT to do a certain thing) and people have all these questions about it, which I do choose to take as interest rather than, you know, horror and aghastness (which I fear they actually are). The most common questions, though, are without a doubt: 1) Why don't you eat meat? Don't you like it? 2) Don't you miss meat? and 3) What do you eat?

Well, that seems as good a structure as any for a post! (See what I did there?) Why don't I eat meat? I mean, I feel like I've probably covered this enough already, but I'm always stumped for an answer when someone asks me in real life because what were those moral things again? Basically, I guess in the most simple terms, I don't really think that other beings should have to die so I can eat when there are plentiful sources of other foods and also meat is so gross. Like... Really really gross. Antibiotic abuse and standing in their own shit and never seeing daylight and just no. Nope. Can't.

And don't I like meat? I love it. I think it's delicious. But I also think there are things more important than tasty things (I know, whut?) and for me, personally, it's more important that I not be involved in, you know, killing animals and stuff than to have a really good burger. But I still willingly acknowledge that burgers taste good! I feel like other people feel like I judge them for eating meat, and I don't. At all. Just because I've made this choice doesn't mean that I look down on people for not having made it, but I sometimes feel like I am being judged for not eating meat, which is pretty weird.

Don't I miss meat? I don't. I really truly don't. I mean, sure, whenever I smell bacon cooking, all of my senses go into overdrive, but bacon smells way better than it tastes anyway, and nobody ever said anything about not being able to sniff meat. But really and truly, it's not like I spend my days fantasising about burgers and then sadly go and eat some falafels or something- I just don't even consider meat as a thing I eat. It's kind of on a mental list of foods I'm just not interested in, along with peppers and mushrooms and cauliflower. And this isn't the same thing as pretending that I don't like meat, it's just not a thing that I think about because I know that I don't want to eat it. If anything, that would be my number one tip to converting to vegetarianness- as long as you know you don't want to eat it, then you won't eat it. It's really that simple.

What do I eat?
Well, this is my favourite question because MY GOD I eat so many different foods now. Seriously, as long as there was meat, I was the least adventurous eater in the whole world. I would have been happy just with some chicken and noodles and beansprouts and, you know, not much flavour. But now? You have to do something to replace meat, and flavour is the answer. I can cook a lot more things than I ever used to be able to, and I like SO many more vegetables than I ever did (asparagus is probably my favourite. Asparagus makes all the burgers in the world irrelevant to me. And aubergine is reaaaaally meaty!) The answer to the question then, really, is (apart from cakeballs) so many more things than I used to eat, and all of them are doing better things for me than meat, I suspect.

Having said that, I'll never get used to asparagus pee. NEVER.

So basically, the update is this: It's all going well, I still don't miss meat and the smell of bacon cooking is still good. The thing I probably miss the most, actually, is jelly sweets, but when you think about all the crap that goes in them anyway... It's definitely a good thing that I don't eat them. I don't really have a definitive ending here because, I don't know, nothing's over, it's just getting started, but basically a meatless life? It's not as bad as you might think, and it's much easier than I ever thought it would be. Expect another update in about six months, I guess!

Friday 23 August 2013

Devouring Books: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

"If you imagine you are going to read of model children, with perhaps a naughtily inclined one to point a moral, you had better lay down this book immediately... Not one of the seven is really good, for the very excellent reason that Australian children never are."

In spite of my newfound love for Australia (See: Bill Bryson's Down Under, Kayleigh's general awesomeness, including sending me this book!) my only real exposure to things that have come out of Australia has been Neighbours (sort of terrible, sort of awesome Aussie soap), Heath Ledger, and Australian Masterchef (much better than the UK version, just fyi). Because of this lack of things from Australia, I may have, at some points in my life, referred to Australia as a cultural wasteland (*ducks whatever Kayleigh is throwing right now* Don't worry, Kayleigh! I've also referred to the 80s and LA as cultural wastelands *hides from Megs*) and now I just feel mean about that.

So! Seven Little Australians! It's a book set in Australia and about Australian children and written by an almost Australian woman (Turner moved to Australia when she was 9, so basically Australian. But she was born in Yorkshire, so she's OURS) and I can just feeeeeel the Australian culture already. Not that this book exists to just go 'we are in Australia and look at all these Australian things we're doing and oh look! A kangaroo!' because that would be shit. Instead, it's the story of a family (guess how many children are in it) and their highs and lows and adventures and general hijinks, and in short, it's just a really good children's book.

Of the seven children, the two who really get the most screentime (screentime? Um... Pagetime?) are Judy (13) and Meg (16) presumably mainly because they're girls and Ethel obviously knows what it's like being a teenage girl better than a teenage boy, and also because, who doesn't want a children's book with female protagonists? I know that I do! Anyway, Judy is basically the best character- you know she's going to be trouble when she's described as having quicksilver instead of blood in her veins, and she truly proves to be a big problem to her exasperated father mainly because she refuses to do as she's told and act as a good young lady should which, you know, HIGH FIVE for Judy.
Meg is a much more traditional female character, but then also, she isn't. She has this terrible friend who has older sisters who have boyfriends and so this friend tries to convince her that they need boyfriends, and it's all just very 'Meg goes to Vanity Fair' in Little Women (why yes, they are both called Meg. I don't know if that's just a coincidence or what). BUT THEN it becomes all untraditional when Meg passes out because she's been lacing her corset too tightly to attract boys to her tiny waist, and it's all a bit 'well, that was really silly, maybe girls shouldn't do medically unwise things just to attract boys' which is an AWESOME message, obviously.

And there are all the other kids which have quite cruelly blurred into 'all the other kids' except I know there's a fat boy child who's really bad at lying (which is quite sweet, really) and another boy child who's kind of perfect and doesn't do too much wrong unless Judy is also there. NAUGHTY JUDY (I love you). And so basically Meg and Judy and the other nameless children all constantly egg each other on and drive their dad (think: Captain Von Trapp, with a new younger wife and everything) to distraction and just generally have a lot of fun.

And I had a lot of fun reading it. I really did. Things did take a bit of an unexpected turn at the end, but we shall ignore that (I am choosing to ignore it forever, actually) and just appreciate Seven Little Australians for its fun and cuteness and for finally making me read a book about Australia by an (almost) Australian, something which I can't remember happening for a long time, if ever. I think it's worth noting that, had I read this as a child, I probably would have been in love with it, but even reading it now, I just like it plenty. Which is good enough for me!

Wednesday 21 August 2013

I think I sort of love Brit Marling...

Lovefilm is a tempestuous beast, and has been refusing to read my mind and send me the things I want of late. In a stunning twist of annoyingness, this month I had three films on high priority, and the one I really wanted to see was Smashed (it involves Aaron Paul and I needed a little Breaking Bad pick me up which I so don't need anymore because BREAKING BAD) so of course Lovefilm sent me the other two. Why these things can't just know exactly what I want at all times is just beyond me. Damn technology.

Fortunately, the other two movies I had on high priority were co-written by Brit Marling and also starred her awesome self. Remember when I went to see The East and could actually coherently talk about things other than Skarsnudity? It turns out that it wasn't just a fluke that a film co-written by and starring Brit Marling is really good, because these other two films (Sound of my Voice and Another Earth)? SO. GOOD. It's important to tell you that, after a close watching of all three of these films, I've determined that Brit likes to wear hoodies a fair bit, and also that (wait for it) she's awesome.

I'm doing two reviews in one here only because I have about a million book reviews to write (must stop reading...) and not because there isn't enough to discuss in each of them because OH MY GOD I could talk about Another Earth, especially, for DAYS. But then things get spoilery and people get sad and that's not cool, so instead I'll give you a little taster of each and make you REALLY want to see them, then we can discuss them in emails and whatnot. I know it sounds awesome.

Sound of my Voice
In the grand history of Brit Marling films, I feel like this one will be known as 'the other cult one'. Having only seen The East before I watched this, I was surprised at the unreal element to this (The East is very much grounded in reality), in that Marling plays a woman, Maggie, who claims to be from the future, and by surprised, I obviously mean delighted. The big draw of the story, then, is whether or not Maggie is who she says she is, and there is evidence presented both for and against the truth in what she tells us, although in the end it's up to the viewer what they believe.

And, you know what, it's gripping! It's kind of told through the eyes of Peter, who, with his girlfriend Lorna, has infiltrated this cult in order to expose it, only through doing so he gets sucked in more and more, as Lorna pulls away to the same degree. Watching their changing relationship would be interesting enough, but it's only one event in a big tableau of events in this film, and turns out not to be the most interesting. That, obviously, belongs to Maggie, and to the amazing (seriously) performance of Brit Marling who seamlessly can go from serene to furious in about 0.6 seconds. I can't even with this girl.

It also gets bonus points for involving a secret handshake that I desperately want to make everyone learn so we can do it whenever we meet:

Another Earth
I liked Another Earth so much that I went straight to IMDb after I'd watched it to get more information about it because I couldn't bear that it was over. There wasn't much, but I went to the reviews and they were almost exactly as I would have predicted them to be- half of them called it a masterpiece of gloriousness, and so beautiful (it really is) and dramatic and sort of perfect. The other half more or less went 'sci-fi?! There weren't no lasers or aliens or nothing! They didn't even GO to Earth 2!'

And I see their point, BUT I am much more of a 'it's a masterpiece person' because you know what? I thought this might be a bit too sci-fi for me, but the sci-fi in this is actually used to move the plot along (well, and create the plot in the first place) rather than it being all there is to the film, and that apparently happens to be the perfect amount of sci-fi for me. This plot: Another planet is spotted in the solar system that appears to be an exact copy of Earth (hence, Earth 2) on the same night that Rhoda (Marling) finds out she got into MIT AND makes the moronic decision to drive home drunk. As a result of this, combined with looking up at Earth 2 (because, WOAH) she crashes into another car, killing a pregnant woman and her child, and leaving the dad in a coma. Four years later, she leaves prison, a different person and wanting to make amends to the dude who survived her actions and things develop from there.

It's just so amazing and clever and the deal with Earth 2 was EXACTLY the deal that I wanted it to be (I'm not saying more than that because I was both shocked and delighted when the thing happened) and THE END is so awesome I could have screamed but I didn't because everyone was sleeping. There were a lot of things I liked direction-wise- Rhoda wears her hood up and doesn't wash her hair and wears terrible clothes while she's still feeling guilty, but as she helps the man whose life she ruined more and more, she starts to wash her hair and generally take better care of herself because, I don't know, she feels like she deserves it more? It's all very subtle but gorgeous and I love it.

I also love the fact that Rhoda is SUCH a fully formed character, and also that she gives a shit about science, something which I can barely remember of any girl in any film, ever. After prison, Rhoda returns to her childhood bedroom and it's filled with science textbooks and models of the solar system and it's almost a shock to see a woman portrayed onscreen who is obsessed with a certain thing, even though, um, THAT IS SO A THING WE DO. Brit Marling has said that she started writing movies because she kept being offered terrible boring roles, and she really does so well at creating female characters (well, all her characters are good, really) who feel incredibly real.

So there. Brit Marling is awesome and makes bloody good films. I think it's also worth noting that both of these films are basically 90 minutes long, and they did more things to me than most directors manage in more than 2 hours. Things don't have to be long to be good (see also: Alice's thoughts on Love Story) although I would happily have watched another 10 hours of Another Earth. And I could STILL talk about it for days.

Monday 19 August 2013

Devouring Books: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

"You don't have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don't have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don't have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don't have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.
You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you've got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that's all."

I discovered the Dear Sugar columns on the internet not long before Sugar was 'outed' as Cheryl Strayed, presumably mainly so that Strayed could promote her memoir, Wild (which I loved) with a teeny bit of Sugar publicity behind her. It worked for me, anyway, because I couldn't imagine not wanting to read a book written by someone who, quite frankly, gives some of the best, and best written advice I've ever read. 

Seriously- before Sugar, basically the only advice columns I'd ever read were in teen magazines and basically involved telling girls not to feel pressured into having sex if they didn't feel ready, and SO MUCH talk about discharge that you'd think it was the only thing that girls thought about! What Dear Sugar is, really, is advice for grown ups, with complicated, messy lives and problems with their jobs, their friends, their spouses, their lives and every single one feels real, and horrible, and like it could happen to you, meaning that all of Strayed's advice feels like it's coming directly to you. It's the only advice column I've read where I've cried like a baby and felt weirdly renewed and so, in other words, it's not like an advice column at all.

Weirdly, there is a certain way in which I shouldn't really like Strayed's advice giving style at all- a lot of the advice she gives people is based on experiences she has had herself, and which have shaped her life (which makes this also, at least partially, a memoir) which comes a little bit too close to that awful, awful act of when you say 'this bad thing happened to me' someone else then goes 'oh, that happened to me, AND something else so mine is worse.' This is literally my least favourite thing that people do- a kind of one-upmanship of misery, if you will. Somehow, though, and I don't even know how, Strayed always manages to avoid sounding like she thinks your problems are insignificant because hers have been worse, and she genuinely manages to use her own experiences to offer advice, instead of an annoying perspective that your problems can't be that bad because hers have, at one time, been worse. Which would, obviously, suck.

There are also a lot of other ways in which she's awesome- she's not afraid to tell people that they're being kind of, well, stupid (although she says it much more nicely than that), and she's not afraid to tell them things that they don't want to hear- that they already know the answer, that they're going to have to do the painful thing because it's ultimately less painful than the alternative, that healing is never an immediate thing. There are so many different problems and issues covered, and most of them have never happened to me at all, BUT somehow, I could take something from the advice Sugar* offered in almost all of the cases. And I DON'T KNOW HOW THAT CAN BE, but somehow it is and it's sort of amazing.

Here are some of my favourite bits of advice:
"That place of true healing is a fierce place. It's a giant place. It's a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really hard to get there, but you can do it."
"There aren't three options. There is only one. As Rilke says, 'You must change your life.'"
"Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will."
"You actually do stop being an awful jealous person by stopping being an awful jealous person. When you feel terrible because someone has gotten something you want, you force yourself to remember how very much you have been given. You remember that there is plenty for all of us. You remember that someone else's success has absolutely no bearing on your own."
"Don't lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don't have a career. You have a life."
It occurs to me that all of these titbits mean almost nothing out of context, so go and get some context, guys! And this time, I'm not even telling you to buy this book (although you should, of course) but just go and read some of the Dear Sugar columns, some of which are in the book, and some of which are not, but all of which might contain some advice that you didn't even know you needed to hear.

*Apparently to me, Strayed will always be Sugar...

Ok, FINE, I'll Play

Bout of Books

I've been going back and forth in recent weeks about whether or not to do the Bout of Books (8.0, if you will!) readathon because unnnngh readathons that last all week, but also yay making me read more often in the week and stuff? ANYWAY, I'm a gonna do it because hey, why not track my reading for a week? Works for me!

ALSO- I have four library books out at the moment which I realise isn't THAT many, but at the same time, I own more than 200 unread books so actually it's far too many. The thing is, they're all so WELL REGARDED that I can't just take them back. So. My main goal for this week is to read some of them because then they can go away and I can stop looking at them guiltily. Also I need some JK in my life, and I picked up The Cuckoo's Calling last week, so that's just swell.

Regardez, les books!
So these are the library ones. Of them, I really really want to read The Cuckoo's Calling and Tell The Wolves I'm Home, and I feel like if I do that, I can take The Newlyweds and The Song of Achilles back without shame. (NOT that I don't want to read them too, but they can wait, I feel.)
And then THESE are the books I actually own that I want to read. I'm about 120 pages into Middlemarch, but I could definitely do with some loooong reading time with it (I... have not read enough classics this year. So the thing that's not being said here, is basically 'it's haaaard.') I know this pile is tiny, but I'm being realistic, AND these are basically the only books left of the books I said I was going to read this summer (minus The Corrections, which I'm saving so Alley and I can readalong it for moral support) and imagine if I actually managed to stick to that?! It would be mental, obviously.

And, for the purposes of togetherness, all the books:

Oh yeah. They're pretty.

To avoid clogging up everyone's blog feeds (and because, you know, I don't want to make THAT much of an effort) I think I'm just going to do a little sum up of the days reading at the bottom of this post and if I do any challenges (Might. Might not.) then I'll stick them on here too. So it'll be a nice, BIG post by Sunday. Yay?

Monday! You were alright. I didn't anticipate reading very much because Monday mornings are for catching up with US TV (Breaking Bad and True Blood, obvs) and then for reading about said TV and whatnot, and then, you know, work and stuff. But I did fine! I finished the Moomin book I was reading (One book down, yesssss!) before work (this is because I wake up early on Mondays to watch Breaking Bad... Apparently that's a thing I do now) and then this evening I had a bit of a read of The Fault in Our Stars (I thought I would either love it or hate it, and I definitely... One of those things [hate. It's hate.]) in spite of the great temptation to watch Pushing Daisies because apparently I really like reading! Who knew?! Anyway. Bedtime now. Or in a bit. Whatever.

Pages Read: 156
Books Finished: 1
Books Read From: Comet in Moominland, The Fault in Our Stars
Snacks: Swedish Fish. But someone finished my doritos and I am not pleased.
Non-Reading Activities: TV and Internet. Like my liiiiiife.
Reading Activities: Rolling my eyes at teenagers being dicks

I worked all day today to help out at work, so I didn't anticipate much reading being done because I only get half an hour for lunch and everything is stupid. I did get through one chapter of my Bill Bryson book (woo! One chapter!) but I also read during breakfast and then also for quite a bit of the evening- although I did of course have to watch The Great British Bake Off and ALSO Don't Tell The Bride because that's how I roll. But anyway, I think I did quite well, and oh yeah, what was that other thing? FINISHED ANOTHER BOOK. Fuck yeah. Even if it was a YA book which could be read immensely quickly, DOESN'T MATTER.
Today's page count is going to look HUGE because I'm counting the pages I read right before bed (and, so, just after I turned my computer off) too, so don't take it as fact or anything. Also, I have totally and completely sucked at visiting other blogs, but all I have planned for tomorrow morning is washing my hair so I will try to do some social activities tomorrow.

Pages Read: 237
Books Finished: 1
Total Books Finished: 2
Books Read From: The Fault In Our Stars, The Lost Continent
Snacks: Not really! Or not reading snacks, anyway. Had a little cake slice while watching the Bake Off, naturally.
Non-Reading Activities: Work and TV.
Reading Activities: Getting a welcoming hug from Bill Bryson familiarity and genuinely laughing at a funeral... I don't like what this book has done to me.

Pfffffffffft. Did you hear that sound? That was the sound of not-much reading getting done. I read a bit this morning but spent most of it writing a scathing (SCATHING) review of The Fault In Our Stars, which I'm glad I did now so I could remember the things that most annoyed me, and also so that I can get rid of the book (getting rid of books! Success!) so it was worth sacrificing that extra reading time. I did start The Cuckoo's Calling though which so far is very good- It honestly has the best descriptions of London I've maybe ever read, but I don't know if that's just because I've been there a lot or whether it ACTUALLY makes it easy to picture. Either way, I'm right there with them. And I read a teeeny bit of Middlemarch last night and this morning. I'm trying. I would have read this evening but instead I went to have dinner with my friend which was lovely- friends are actually even better than books- or at least this one is, anyway. And I did visit some blogs today! Yes! Not... NEW ones, but still.
Tomorrow is my auntie's birthday so I believe we're going to do some kind of something (present giving?) before I have to go to work, so WE SHALL SEE how the reading goes. I always think I'm free on Bout of Books weeks (or... I did last time) and then things always keep popping up, but oh well! At least they're nice things.

Pages Read: 95
Books Finished: 0
Total Books Finished: 2
Cumulative Pages Read: 488
Snacks: Um... I had some pringles? They were nice.
Non-Reading Activities: Looking at the Ikea catalogue and hanging with my frieeeend.
Reading Activities: Wandering through London in my brain.

Suuuper quick update because it's late and I've been tired allllll day. But I read things! We ended up not going to see my auntie until lunchtime (i.e. about an hour before I had to go to work) which was lame in one way, but in another, oh the reading I did this morning! And then also I did reading this evening, before and after losing about an hour and a half on the internet (GIVE ME MY LIFE BACK, INTERNET). But, the important thing is, The Cuckoo's Calling is so good that my bath went cold and it's now really late and I don't even caaaaaare and really I just want to stay up and find out who did it. But I won't because of that sleepy thing.

Pages Read: 230
Books Finished: 0
Books Read From: The Cuckoo's Calling
Total Books Finished: 2
Cumulative Pages Read: 718
Snacks: More Swedish Fish, but that's pretty much it
Non-Reading Activities: Staring around tiredly and eating cake (seriously, I had two kinds of cake today! Go birthdays!)
Reading Activities: Trying to solve the case- I have not even a CLUE who did it.

I'm pretty ecstatic that it's the end of the week (3 day weekend, yo!) and I am SO TIRED. It's barely 10pm here, but I'm already contemplating sleep and I'm definitely (clearly) contemplating turning my computer off in a few minutes. It's MADNESS, I tell you! I'm in a brain state where I'm either going to fall asleep as soon as I turn it off, or stay up reading for another hour, and right now I can't tell which way it's going to go (but it's probably the former. SO TIRED.) Today's reading... I'd call it average. I didn't do the MOST reading in the world, but I didn't really slack, either. You'll see in the stats. I'm excited for tomorrow's weekendness- I'm going to go out in the morning to get a few bits, but I'm thiiinking that the afternoon might be dedicated to reading, glorious reading (and it doesn't hurt that it's supposed to be rainy either- perfect reading weather.) I'm sort of tempted to 24 hour readathon it, but I SHAN'T for I am sensible. Mebbe.

Pages Read: 169
Books Finished: 1 (Yes!)
Books Read From: The Cuckoo's Calling, The Lost Continent
Total Books Finished: 3
Cumulative Pages Read: 887
Snacks: Hmmm... I don't think I ate anything while I was reading today, actually! I did have a diet coke (natch)
Non-Reading Activities: Working and walking in 80-odd degree heat. Unpleasant.
Reading Activities: Gasping at The Cuckoo's Calling and then going a-travelling with BB.

Oh, Saturday, I had such grand reading plans for you, and yet... Nothing. Or hardly anything, I should say. A combination of things added up to conspire against me reading, including: waking up about half an hour before my mum wanted to leave the house (and she was giving me a lift to the station, I should add), forgetting to take a book with me so there was all this spare time on the train where I just sort of stared instead of, you know, reading, and then the shopping, and then the cake-making, and then the dinner making... There was not much time for reading, but it was still a pretty good day! (cake! Note: if you want a lot of random strangers to like your instagram photo, just tag it as vegan. Works every time.) But anyway, I did buy a few books so it wasn't a total bust!

Pages Read: 83
Books Finished: 0
Books Read From: The Newlyweds
Total Books Finished: 3
Cumulative Pages Read: 970
Snacks: So much chocolate frosting. Also, doritos.
Non-Reading Activities: CAKE
Reading Activities: Pondering cultural differences and multi-cultural marriage.

For the purposes of completion... Sunday was a pretty good reading day, I neaaaarly finished a book but didn't because I had to go to bed early to go to the zoo (ZOOOOOOOO!) today, but I did finish it Monday morning so am tempted to count it in this count (but I won't because that would be a lie). Anyway. I didn't read so much in the morning, but from 5pm onwards basically all I did was read rather than my usual going-to-my-room-and-watching-internet-telly act on a Sunday. So that was good. In fact, the whole of Bout of Books has been generally good for me, reading-wise- I think last time I did it I sort of felt the pressure to take part (my own pressure, rather than anyone else's) whereas this time I was just like 'oh yeah reading, cool' and just prioritised it over tv. So, excited as I am to start watching telly again in the evenings (Pushing Daisies, I am coming to finish you!) I think I'm also going to make a better effort to read the things. She says...

Pages Read: 223
Books Finished: 0
Books Read From: The Newlyweds
Total Books Finished: 3 (NEARLY 4)
Cumulative Pages Read: 1193
Snacks: Grapes dipped in Nutella. Look into it!
Non-Reading Activities: Um... I did a facemask and saw my family?
Reading Activities: Being slightly perplexed by the plot direction of The Newlyweds...

Sunday 18 August 2013

Sunday Sundries: The internet is not an evil place

Oh man you guys, literally hours after I posted my 'yay, everything is awesome!' Sunday Sundries last week, my nan went and broke her wrist like a DIV (no, I love her but

and so my mum's been round there a lot helping out like an awesome daughter and I've been doing stuff (making dinner and whatnot) at home to try and help out some. Basically it wasn't the ideal thing to have happened, but it did and we make the best of it but JESUS. Also I felt like an idiot for going 'yay everything!' but sometimes you have to even if everything is only cool for a few days!

But anyway. Enough of the mess of my family's health, cause that's not even what I want to talk about today. That's right, today for the first time in maybe MONTHS I have an actual topic for my Sunday Sundries, which is awesome because I don't have to pretend anything interesting has happened in my life! (It really hasn't. Except BREAKING BAD IS BACK OMG LIFE HIGHLIGHT). So here I go with my thing.
So the paper we get at home (it's a tabloid, so you can pretty much just ignore it) is ablaze with righteous indignation about this girl who, having been on this website, where (it seems) people can ask you anything they want to know and being told to 'kill herself' a number of times, she actually went and did just that. (here's a bit of the story but really they've been running this all week). Now I know it's August which means there's no (sensational) news but this has been on the front of the Mirror for 2 weeks now, practically, and here's what I have a problem with.

Firstly, just to be clear, I think it's really terrible that a 14 year old girl killed herself. It's basically the worst, and I can't even imagine what that must be like for her parents, and her sister, and just generally everyone who knew her. It's a fucking tragedy. But here's the thing: all the blame for it is being put on the website that the abuse was received through, and I don't think that's fair at all. This is the kind of thing that could happen on any website where a person puts themselves out there (I mean, it could happen here, so thanks for not bullying me, everyone!) and it's the kind of thing that shouldn't happen at all, but hey, people are cruel and I don't think you can blame an entire social media platform for that.

Here's the part I don't understand, though. The people pouring abuse on this girl were people she didn't even know. They were literally anonymous online (like all the worst people on the internet) and it wasn't like she knew them in real life and had to be scared of seeing them on the streets. So why not just turn off her computer, or unsubscribe from and just walk away from the whole thing? Why continue listening to people telling you that you shouldn't even be alive- people who don't even have faces, or names, or anything, really? This isn't me blaming this girl, not at all, but I refuse to believe that it was only this that made her feel like she didn't even deserve to live anymore. It can't have been.

And so, when the Mirror argues that should be shut down, I just can't. No. That isn't what should happen. What should happen is, teenagers should be given the tools to have enough self esteem that, when some anonymous person online goes 'God, just kill yourself'*, their only response is 'um, no? Weirdo' and let that be the end of it. If I'm honest, I don't even understand how cyberbullying even exists (if one doesn't know the bullies IRL, that is), because it's kind of the one kind of bullying that you CAN walk away from- delete your account, change your email, just step aside. It's really as simple as that.

I mean, you can kind of take my thoughts on it with a pinch of salt because I'm sooort of unbulliable (I've never cared that much about others' opinions of me. Like, I like people to like me, but if they don't I'm like 'whatever dude, your choice', so bullying isn't really an option) but I really just don't like the blame that's put on the internet because guys! I love the internet! It's brought me all of you and that makes me so happy, and OVERWHELMINGLY my experience of being online has been so positive, and I won't have nobody talking shit about it. Essentially, it is what you make of it- you can sit there and take some anonymous abuse, or you can move away from it, go to friendlier online communities or maybe even start your own. Because you are better than any shit someone who doesn't even have a face can say to you, and I just wish that this girl had known that.

Oh, and also? Hey anonymous internet assholes,
Thoughts and feelings, guys?

*By the way, is this how teenagers are talking to each other nowadays? Because WHAT, that is clearly not OK.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Devouring Stephen King: Bag of Bones

"The aspiring novelist should understand from the outset that fiction's goals were forever beyond his reach, that the job was an exercise in futility. 'Compared to the dullest human being actively walking about on the face of the earth and casting his shadow there,' Hardy supposedly said, 'the most brilliantly drawn character is but a bag of bones.'"

I always find myself saying that  Bag of Bones is my favourite Stephen King novel that nobody's ever heard of. It's true, but then again, there are SO many Stephen King books that people have heard of that it doesn't really say that much. More accurately, then, at this precise moment it's my second favourite Stephen King book of all time (after It, of course) and I just love it, love it, love it.

I've been trying to decide exactly what I love about it, but trying to think of any specifics just gets tied up in a swirl of love for the book and then I get all dazed and am none the wiser. There are a few things that, structurally, I really appreciate- it's written in the first person, which is rare for King and which makes it SUCH a treat when he does it because he's so good at it. It's also perfect for this book because there's so much Mike (our narrator) doesn't know for so long, which means WE don't know it either which really ramps up the suspense.
I also love the fact that the supernatural is very subtle in this book, but it's also completely integral to the story, so it's there in the background for the whole book UNTIL it becomes THE thing in the last 100 pages or so, at which point you realise just how important it's been the whole time. It's all very clever, and it's also pleasing to know that the book kind of works without the supernatural elements, too.

Now, the actual story (supernatural things that make you reconsider the entirety of the book aside). It's essentially the story of Mike Noonan, a Maine writer (SO ORIGINAL. But I'll let that slide because he lives in Derry which is AWESOME and also, I like the guy) who becomes a widower at the beginning of the story. When he finds out that she was pregnant, his grief is multiplied by at least two, setting him off into a spiral of numbness and writers block that lasts for four years. Thanks to some increasingly creepy dreams, he decides to go to his house at an extremely creepy lake for the summer, where he meets a beautiful young widow (Mattie) who's tied up in a bitter custody battle with her creepy father-in-law (it's all very fairytale like) and he decides to help her because he's a nice guy. And things sort of spiral from there. 

Only, of course, that's really only what's going on on the surface, and underneath that there's the distinct possibility that Mike's house is haunted by more than one ghost, the mystery surrounding what Mike's wife was doing in her final months, the weird dreams that Mike continues to have. The thing is, though, I could tell you about everything that happens in Bag of Bones, and it would be pretty exciting, sure, but none of that explains what I really love about it, because I think that's really in the details, and in the things I've kind of made up in my head about it over the past bazoollion years (seriously, I first read this a looooong time ago). Here are a few of them:
  • It's very literary- Because Mike is a writer, he has also read a lot, and that means this book is filled with references to other books. And it's not that they're really a huge part of this story, but they're definitely noticeable, and they're just thrown in casually like the whole book is basically just having a conversation with a friend who has the same cultural references as you. Which is actually a really nice feeling. Off the top of my head, I can think of references to Rebecca, Bartleby, The Moon and Sixpence and Thomas Hardy.
  • The many meanings of 'Bag of Bones'- This concept is introduced in the story in the quote above, and it does a couple of things- tips a little meta nod to the fact that hey! You're reading a book!, and also describes the emptiness Mike feels after his wife's death. And I like all of that but THEN later in the book (waaay later) there's a whole other meaning to it that kind of rips my heart out. So you're going to want to read that.
  • It feels very personal- This is very much a thing that I've made up in my head, but it feels right so I'm going with it. So Bag of Bones is all about a Maine writer whose wife dies and leaves him with basically just memories and writers block. I'm absolutely just choosing to believe this, but it seems that for a (Maine) writer such as King, who loves his wife very much (it's really well documented), his two biggest fears would be losing his wife and getting writer's block. And I'm not at all saying that Mike Noonan just IS Stephen King, but just that it seems like King would be able to tap into this fears fairly easily to make this book so realistic, and yeah, heartbreaking. And also it makes me feel closer to Stephen King as a human but I know that's only in my brain so shh.
  • Connections to his other works- Ok, I always love these, but this was the first time I've read Bag of Bones having ALSO read the books referenced in it, so it was like reading a whole new book and it was EXCITING! (For the record: Mike has a chat with Ralph Roberts from Insomnia, asks after Sheriff Pangbourne from Needful Things and mentions the grisly end of Thad Beaumont from The Dark Half). Eve more excitingly, I feel like I found a connection to a book he hadn't even written yet- there's this bit during a dream-that-isn't-a-dream where there's clearly an allusion to the aftermath of JFK's shooting, which could just be, y'know, a reference to a historical event BUT King had been trying to write 11.22.63 since the 70s, so. The Jury's out on that one.
And I've managed to reach the end of the review without even mentioning mother-daughter relationships, and just how much I like Mattie (she transcends ALL stereotypes of single-teen-mothers, as well she should) and probably a million other things, but that's fine- you can find all these things out for yourself. To me, Bag of Bones feels in almost no way like a typical Stephen King novel (IF such a thing even exists, which I'm doubting more and more every time I read one) but what this means is, if you've read Stephen King and vetoed him, maybe give this a try, and if you're too scared to read him then this could be your one- it's not NON-scary, but it's definitely a lot more creepy than out and out horrible (unless you're really really scared of ghosts, in which case don't read this one...) And if you're already a Stephen King fan, then what are you even waiting for? Get on that!*

*Yeah, I basically just said 'this book is for everyone!' But seriously, read it read it read it, I love it so much! 

Sunday 11 August 2013

Sunday Sundries: I went on holiday! It was awesome! Everything is great!

And such a holiday it was! A beautiful, sleep deprived, laughter-inducing, New Girl watching, spectacular 3 days of wonderfulness.
Crazy Eyes.

I considered writing a holiday post like the ones Alley and Alice have done in recent times (they are very excellent and you should read them) but the thing is that, unless you want to read about the time that I nearly fell asleep on the sofa (loljk that was all the time) or the time we couldn't get burgers in Oxford because 'we're full except for these tables outside that we're not going to seat anyone on FOR NO REASON' then I don't have a grand travel diary for you because, realistically, to get to Oxfordshire from Surrey, you just have to go through one other county and BOOM you're there (this doesn't stop you missing a train and then missing your connecting train and being 40 minutes late for work though, LET ME TELL YOU.)
Train Photography.

If any of this sounds like I'm complaining about my holiday, though, I'd like to resoundingly deny that accusation. I had the most fun anyone has ever had and I was all giddy and happy the whole time (like, even when I was moany I was still happy) because, you know, FRANCES WAS THERE! You know when you have friends where you know you can just talk about anything, and after three days of near constant talking you kind of can't even remember anything specific about what you said but just that it was definitely awesome and you're both right about all things? And you know when you go somewhere and after three days you feel both that things have always been like this AND that you just got there? That's what this holiday was like!

And we cooked vegetable lasagne (since I don't eat meat and Frances's boyfriend Paul can't eat gluten, meals were a bit of a logistical issue, but Frances planned them ADMIRABLY) and watched 2/3 of a season of New Girl (which is something that we both love and had never watched together because it started after Uni finished so YAY) and Les Miserables and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (when I say watched... We both were basically asleep) and hair was hennaed (not mine) and Oxford was looked at, peach lemonade was sampled (it's very nice, but not as nice as the raspberry and cranberry lemonade!) Didcot was wandered around and, most importantly, good conversation and quality friend time was had.
Also, CAT! This was before he bit me.

And yeah, I did live with the girl for two years and it was basically the best time ever so obviously I knew I was going to have an awesome time and I DID, but still you forget how lovely it is to spend quality time with people you love but don't necessarily see all the time. It is SO LOVELY, especially when you haven't seen each other for more than one day in a row for TWO YEARS (ridiculous) and it's strange because it feels at once really special and wonderful, but also like it's no big deal- like this is the way things should be and it's how they are at their best. Apart from the sleep deprivation.
Oxford at sunset

So. To sum up, it was wonderful. For me, this week has gone by in basically no time, and it's insane to me that I even did two working days within it as well! (Well, minus that 40 minutes. YES I should have taken Friday off work too. Shhh.) As for things that happened when I wasn't here, my auntie had her operation and is doing really well (I might be going to see her today but I'm not sure cause I'm actually writing this on Saturday) and my nan and grandad have improved slightly (baby steps!) too, which is the actual best reason for going away- so things can be better when you get back!

To sum up: Holidays. I recommend them. But mostly I just recommend having a friend like Frances who makes everything, including yourself, feel awesome. The End.
(Favourite conversation I've ever had: Frances: 'There's an ox outside the station in Oxford!' Me: 'Oh cool!' Frances: 'It has a massive penis and people ride on it' Me: '...' Frances: 'I mean they ride on its back...')

P.S. OH YEAH- of COURSE I bought some books. Didcot is blessed with many glorious charity shops and so obviously books were bought. But really only a few, see:
SEE? And I've already read True Grit, so that one's really just for future emergencies, not for MUST READ NOW-ing. It's allll fine. (I don't NEED books man, I can quit at any time!) Also, saw this. Thought of you. 

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Devouring Films: Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane is one of those films that everyone knows about but no one has really seen. I was no different- but then, as Lovefilm has a knack of doing, they sent me the film on my list that I had the least real desire to watch. I mean, when are you ever going to be in the mood for Citizen Kane? You add it to your list because you feel like you should watch it, but that doesn't mean that you ever actually want to. Plus, you have to set aside like a week for that shit, am I right?

I was not right. I was very very wrong. Firstly you don't need a whole week to watch it (obviously...) you just need a tiny bit under two hours and a functioning brain. I think it also helps to wipe all preconceptions (which, it has to be said, I basically got from The Simpsons and Friends) about it from your brain and just watch it as if, I don't know, it's 1941 and it's just come out and you've never seen anything like it before.

Because wow, Citizen Kane must have been so revolutionary in 1941. It starts SO weirdly (actually, it starts weirdly even by today's standards, to be fair) with a newsreel presented without explanation, announcing the death of Charles Foster Kane, and goes on for at least 10 minutes. I'm not going to lie, I did start thinking 'is the WHOLE film like this..?' and I was ready to give up BUT THEN everything got excellent, the newsreel was deemed 'not personal enough' and some dude was sent out to get the true story of Kane's life, based on his last word:
Now. I know what Rosebud is, you probably know what Rosebud is, and if there's one famous thing from Citizen Kane, it's Rosebud. It's probably a good thing, then, that the search for Rosebud isn't really what Citizen Kane is about at all- in fact, it's really just the premise for telling Kane's story through a wide range of viewpoints and always always in retrospect. I don't know enough about film history to say this, but the acclaim Citizen Kane always gets seems to suggest that this whole telling of a story from different viewpoints, with each picking up where the other left off (ish...) was not really anything that had ever been done before.*

And you know what? It's SO well done that it's strange to think that it was the first time such things were done**or maybe I'm really just responding to how modern it really felt- I honestly feel like it could be made today, and there's nothing anyone could do to really improve on it. I sort of loved it- the trawling back through the years and acquaintances to try and get the real story about one man's life, but never really getting there because the one person who really knows it all isn't around to ask, and who's to say he wouldn't put HIS own spin on it too? It's all just very very human.

And also, I mean, THIS:
"If you could have found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would have explained everything."
"No, I don't think so; no. Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything... I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a... a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. A missing piece."
It's just so right on, and true, and I feel like people can get hung up on last words and turning points and trying to analyse life, when the truth is, life isn't like that. Sometimes you can look back and see turning points, but hardly ever, and I doubt that anyone knows the one thing that's the key to the puzzle of their entire lives, or even if such a thing exists, ever. But then again, maybe people can and I'm too young to know about it, but really I think it's only something that we tell ourselves.

SPEAKING OF MY YOUTH: Did you know that "Orson Welles was just 25 when he directed, co-wrote, starred in, and produced this, his very first feature film"? I mean, isn't that just sickening? It's like the opposite of my love for Julia Child and her late start in life, but also, where do you go after making what's commonly regarded at the best film ever at 25? Complete madness.

Here's the bottom line about Citizen Kane- it's a film I was expecting to admire and appreciate, which I did, but, unexpectedly, I also enjoyed it. I just straight up enjoyed the viewing experience. I mean, who wouldn't want to watch a film about a the life and exploits of a media mogul who was also once just a little boy with a normal life who loved his mummy? NO ONE, that's who. In case you couldn't tell, I kind of recommend this film, and I especially recommend not only appreciating but actually enjoying it, too. It's the best way.
Seriously, it's really fun!

*OR it's all famous and acclaimed for other reasons. How should I know?
**Whatever those things may be. I don't know, stop asking me.

Monday 5 August 2013

Devouring Books: Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

"'Life's under no obligation to give us what we expect. We take what we get and are thankful it's no worse than it is.'"

I've said this before when I've read giant books, and doubtless I'll say it again and again, but I don't know if it'll ever be truer than it is now: There's so much to say about Gone With The Wind that I don't even know where to begin. My history with the book and (especially) the film is long and filled with love and hate and over-analysis, and frankly there's too much of it for just one blog post. So, instead, I'll try and keep it (sort of) brief and hopefully get across just how truly excellent this book is.

First, my history- I first watched Gone With The Wind with Frances at Christmas 2007- it was the night before we were going home for the holidays and, logically, why wouldn't we watch a four hour long epic movie until 2am when I was being picked up at about 8.30am? Exactly. So we did and it was SO EXCELLENT (and I nearly smacked my mum for calling Melly a drip during the ride home. I mean, REALLY). Then, in the summer of 2008* I read Gone With The Wind and it is by far the best reading experience I can remember- AMAZING book, long warm days, with nothing to do but read and nowhere to go but my nan's garden to read in. It was something like this experience I was hoping to recapture by re-reading it this summer.

I think it's important for you to know that I both love and hate Scarlett O'Hara. This isn't the kind of thing where I can't make up my mind about her, it's that it's impossible to love her wholly when she's such a bitch, but it's also impossible to hate her because she's so bloody awesome. She's so tiny minded and unanalytical, shallow and often vapid and yet. She's also brave, pragmatic, strong and straightforward, and essentially the opposite of everything that she, as a 'Southern Lady', is supposed to be. In other words, she constantly challenges the conventions of the society in which she's been raised, and is capable of doing anything that a man can do, only usually she does it better. Do I almost want to call her a feminist icon? I almost do, you guys, I almost do.
"There was no one to tell Scarlett that her own personality, frighteningly vital though it was, was more attractive than any masquerade she might adopt. Had she been told, she would have been pleased but unbelieving. And the civilisation of which she was a part would have been unbelieving too, for at no time, before or since, had so low a premium been placed on feminine naturalness."
Alongside Scarlett, almost constantly, is her sister-in-law and secret enemy, Melanie Wilkes, who is married to Ashley, the man Scarlett thinks she's in love with because, um, he's really pretty? Oh, an rich and stuff too. Scarlett has good reasoning skills. Anyway, the point is that, although the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett is kind of seen as the big draw for Gone With The Wind (and kind of 1) The only thing I knew about it before I saw the film, and 2) The most misunderstood element of Gone With The Wind because this is love? REALLY?) maybe the most rewarding relationship for the reader is the one between Scarlett and Melly- a female friendship of necessity, at first, and constantly beset by jealousy on Scarlett's part, but one of unending loyalty and even, in the end, love.
"She had relied on Melanie, even as she had relied on herself, and she had never known it... She knew that Melanie had been her sword and her shield, her comfort and her strength."
But it's possible I just think that because I love Melly- I always place her in my brain right next to Beth from Little Women (Little Women being, of course, almost the other side of the civil war story of Gone With The Wind) as one of those female characters who are shy and quiet, weak in body but so incredibly strong in spirit and in love- both the love they give and how loved they are. Melanie is just so wonderful- just as Scarlett never lets anything beat her, Melly doesn't either but she manages to also retain her ability to be nice and giving to others, mainly because she actually does care about other people. She's essentially the kind of person who you know doesn't think much of themselves even though they're extraordinary, and as a result, people think all the more of her. Especially, I guess, me.
"Melanie had the face of a sheltered child who had never known anything but simplicity and kindness, truth and love, a child who had never looked upon hardness and evil and would not recognise them if she saw them. Because she had always been happy, she wanted everyone around her to be happy, or, at least, pleased with themselves. To this end, she always saw the best in everyone and remarked kindly upon it."
The fact that Rhett Butler refers to her as 'A great lady' doesn't hurt either, because if Melly isn't my favourite character (she definitely is) then Rhett is. And it's not just because he's incredibly handsome (he is) and it's not just because he sweeps Scarlett off her feet with a passion she has never known (he does, but only once and way later in the book than you'd expect but MY GOD it is totally hot) but because he's incredibly interesting as a character. A lot of what's interesting about him happens before the book, when he made the decision not to die in a duel to defend a lady's honour (she had to be defended against him, of course) because, in his words, 'I like to live.'

And in that, I decided that I understood his character better than anything because, having realised that he likes to live, and living according to the conventions of Southern society would have meant that he didn't get to do that anymore, he makes the logical decision not to give a shit about what anyone expects of him as a gentleman and I respect that so hard. This willingness to break with convention is also a big part of what makes him so perfect for Scarlett, even though she often tries to cling to the old conventions because they're what she knows and have always worked out well for her. And so she consistently and foolishly refuses to see how perfect he is for her because, like I said, she's not a deep thinker.

And those are basically the main characters (apart from Ashley, but we shan't talk about him because I hate him. Just picture him as someone who, like Rhett, also thinks Southern conventions are sort of stupid, but he still chooses to live by them because something something honour something) but fortunately for us all, the minor characters in Gone With The Wind? So awesome. Given that this is an epic novel in all the ways a novel can be epic, it leaves room for a vast array of characters, but that doesn't mean they have to be as well drawn and engaging as they really and truly are. Every single one of them feels like a real person, with a real history and a real life outside of the book, which I think is really a stunning achievement. My personal favourites are Mammy and Grandma Fontaine, but there's no one like Suellen when you need a character to hate. But seriously- the characters are SO good, and even when they're terrible they're good, and a lot of them are terrible a lot of the time.

Because, also, there's the slavery. Slavery is something it's impossible to ignore when you're reading Gone With The Wind, especially when the majority of characters hold alarming views on the subject. When you read Part One, it's difficult not to be aware that the whole party at Twelve Oaks can only happen because of the hard work of slaves (not that Mitchell makes you aware of this) and while the war is going on, it's difficult to grasp that they're fighting for the continuation of slavery. And then, once the war is lost (oops, SPOILER The South loses) and these characters we sort of like start joining the KKK it's like WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING and WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS and it's difficult to even like them, let alone love them.

And yet, somehow I still do. Not all the time, but most of it, and I guess that's because you can love people even when some of their beliefs are kind of disgusting, especially when those people are also characters in a book and it's easier to compartmentalise the things they say and do. And the thing is, what Mitchell also does is set up her book so that she has characters who are slaves (and some of them are fully realised characters, not just stereotypes, particularly Mammy) who argue amongst themselves about whether freedom is a blessing or an insult. Because, in spite of the fact that slavery is so so SO wrong (seriously, I don't like slavery)** it's definitely an interesting perspective that, when a certain (evil) system has been in place for so long, people who are the most disadvantaged by that system want to keep it in place because it's what they've always known and, what's more, for some slaves, I guess being set free would have been like being kicked out of their family. Of COURSE they shouldn't have been there in the first place, but they are now and have been for all their lives, and they truly are loved. In her darkest hour, Scarlett wants to go home to Mammy, and that's sort of all you need to know about how much she values her.***

I don't know if all of that was just to justify my love for Gone With The Wind to myself or what, but either way, you know what? I love this book. I love it so hard and I love pretty much everything about it (questionable morals aside). I would probably go as far as to say that it's nearly a perfect book, because you know what? It makes me laugh and it makes me cry, I've been angry, frustrated, joyous, horrified and, um, passionate towards it. In common internet parlance, it made me feel all the feels, and I can't imagine a time when it won't do that to me. I know that I'll read it again and again in my life, and I urge you to do the same.

Now let us take to the comments and discuss all the things I missed out! Are you a secret Ashley lover? Do YOU think Melly is a drip? There's practically no end to the things I could discuss about this book, so let's DO THIS.

*A summer where I also read Harry Potter and Bag of Bones, making that 9 rereads this year so far from 2008 and apparently I read in 5 year cycles?
**Really and truly. And if any of this sounds like I am for slavery then I really need to change that because oh my GOD that is so not how I feel. 
***Values, I guess being the operative word because she did LITERALLY own her. Ugh, this is such a difficult thing to talk about. And I guess it always should be.