Wednesday 26 April 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars

I usually find with Stephen King that, even though there are scary things going on and things are kind of terrible, there are moments of brevity and lightness that give you some kind of hope about the world. Full Dark, No Stars does not offer this kind of relief to its reader. It really lives up to its title in that, in each of the four stories that comprise it, the characters really put themselves or find themselves in situations where not even the smallest bit of light shines through.

It's a bit much, is what I'm trying to say, but it's also a bit excellent.

There are essentially 4 novellas in this book, although I would argue that the third story is really just a short story at about 30 pages. Still, let's call it a novella for the sake of ease, and go through each story one by one, shall we?

1922- A man wants to keep his farm and his general way of life. His wife wants to sell the farm and move to the big city (pretty sure the big city here is Nebraska, but there you go). In order to get what he wants, man convinces his son that the best thing to do is to kill his wife, and from there everything turns (quite predictably) to shit. This was definitely not my favourite story in the collection because mehhhhh historical fiction can you just not, but it was extremely dark- there are no moments of light (as discussed) even before he murders his wife, but its after that that everything becomes fully terrible. It's maybe the most graphic of the novellas, and it's also very good.

Big Driver- This maybe was my favourite story in the book, even though it was incredibly difficult to read at times. A semi-famous novelist takes a shortcut home after a reading and ends up being subjected to a horrifying rape and being left for dead. I did not so much enjoy reading her anguish (like I say, so. Much. Darkness.) but everything that happens after this is jaw dropping and exciting and kind of made me want to punch the air with righteous retribution (cause that's a thing...) This is, in a way, a detective story as the novelist explores her own attack, and is so twisty and turny that I think I genuinely gasped at points. It's all very good, and very disturbing stuff, so obviously I highly recommend it.

Fair Extension- In many ways I feel as though this was the story that I found the darkest, or maybe just the one which upset me the most. A man who is dying of cancer essentially makes a deal with the devil (-ish) to take the bad stuff away from him and give it to someone he hates- and the person he names is literally his best friend. This deal being established, the rest of the story is essentially a recitation of all the good things that happen to the man who made the deal, and all the bad things that happen to his best friend in return. It's not so much the things that happen that disturb me (although they are genuinely horrible) but more that the man who made the deal feels no remorse. He doesn't try to take it back, he doesn't care that his (supposed best friend) has all these troubles, and at the end of the story, he basically has everything but is still quite literally wishing for more. It was just a way of thinking that I found really disturbing, and even though this book deals with SO MANY upsetting things (see the next story for evidence) it was this that really struck me, I guess because it's kind of how I believe a lot of people view the world. Disturbingly human, and also just plain disturbing.

A Good Marriage- A Good Marriage is, probably unsurprisingly, a really very dark story. It's essentially based around the idea that you can live with someone, marry someone, believe you know someone and then realise that, actually, you kind of don't and can't. Tale as old as time, I hear you cry, but in this instance, it involves a wife's discovery that her husband is actually a terrible, and terrifying criminal. The real strength in this story lies in the struggle of the wife between discovering these terrible things about her husband and trying to reconcile them with the man she (thinks she) knows. This is done so well, for instance, when she has just found out the terrible thing and her husband phones and she kind of hates him and is disgusted by him but he is also just the sweet guy who cares about her. It forces you to face the uncomfortable truth that, if you found out something similar about someone you loved, they would remain the person you loved AND the person who did the bad thing, and how does a person reconcile that? This story doesn't necessarily have an answer, just an exploration.

Just to reiterate, this story collection is not for the sad or pessimistic reader. I consider myself a fairly optimistic person and by the end of these I pretty much needed a giant hug and a drink. This doesn't mean that they're not worth reading and actually I feel like I've come to a really good patch of King-writing, it's just a bit intense and sometimes a bit much. Maybe don't read them all in one day like me, and break them up with some happy reading, but please definitely read them.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Devouring Books: Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class by Owen Jones

I come to my review of Chavs with a bit of a disclaimer- this book was, politically and socially and everything-ly, exactly what I wanted to read regarding Thatcherite politics and what they have done to the UK as a country and as a society. I have a hard time imagining that this is going to be interesting to anyone who doesn't care about politics, or doesn't know much about the ways that Thatcher has basically decimated the working class, or kind of doesn't care so much about UK politics and sociology, but then. This book is so well written that, even with no background, I think you could still be outraged, and horrified, and all of the other things that Jones wants you to feel over the course of this book.

Chav, for anyone who doesn't know, is a term used for an image of the kind of person that society doesn't like. Chavs are lazy, live off benefits, don't want to work, have loads of children to try and take advantage of the system, and essentially steal the money of hard working people to fund their self-indulgent lifestyles. Chav is a term often just applied to the working class en masse, so that people who are poor but work (i.e. the working class), terrified of being classified as chavs, move away from the identification of being this shitty person and, in turn, sell themselves short and allow for the problems of working class people to be ignored by the media and the government, and allow for the constant vilification of people on benefits.

Owen Jones really tries to dispel all of the current popular ideas about chavs, and he really does a stellar job. I can't get over how much I loved this book, and how insightful and straightforward it was, but I say this as a total leftie who pretty much think that the state owes its people the service of helping them out when they fall upon hard times. I'm sure someone with more right wing views reading this book would just roll their eyes and say 'well sure, but what about the chavs? They're an actual problem and they're terrible'. So said the man in Oxfordshire, who has never really met anyone from the working class, you know, ever.

Jones forms an argument in this book that traces a time line from Thatcher's destruction of all the manufacturing jobs in Britain and her selling of all the council housing in the 80s, to the state that the country now finds itself in. Combined with Thatcher's policies is the idea that is still current which suggests that people who fall upon hard times are entirely responsible for their own fates. Never mind that there are quite literally no jobs for people who are out of work, and never mind that there is quite literally no affordable housing anymore, people who are jobless and/or can't afford to pay their rent or mortgage are now considered to have failed somehow, rather than the government being considered as having failed them.

There's so much to talk about with this book that I definitely can't fit it all into this review, because for starters, you're all going to get bored. Fortunately, I've already ranted about this quite a lot with both my boyfriend and my best friend, so I guess I can trim the fat a little. One of the most interesting parts of this book to me was the role of the media in perpetuating the idea that working class people and people on benefits are terrible and lazy. It makes complete sense that politicians portray the working class as terrible because it serves their interests in being able to make crushing cuts to the welfare state (instead of, you know, TAXING THE RICH), but the media seems to willingly accept this too, for the pure reason that they literally don't know anyone who is working class. In order to work in the media, you need to both go to university and be able to afford to work for free for quite a while, and usually either one or both of these options simply aren't open to people whose parents aren't, well, if not rich then comfortable. The government and the media have become one circle of fear, telling working class people that they aren't good enough, and making everyone else believe it too.

It fucking sucks, is what it does.

Lest this become an unwelcome political rant, Imma stop right here. I will say that I think Chavs is a really important and eye-opening book, and I'm really glad I read it if only for some excellent statistics (did you know that Tax evasion costs the country 70x more than benefit fraud? Nope, and neither did I because members of the government and the media are much more likely to be doing the former than the latter so much better to focus on the poor, don't you think?) This book was originally published in 2012 and is only becoming more relevant as the current Conservative government continues to strip away the welfare state, replacing it with precisely nothing and, most recently, cutting £4 billion of welfare spending that's expected to put about 200,000 children under the poverty line.

But that's ok. They're only chavs, after all.

Saturday 15 April 2017

28 Before 29

Oh hey, so I guess I had a birthday recently* which obviously means it's time for a list that nobody asked to see and that I actually kind of struggled to make this year, cause 28 is many many things. Before I show you this years list though, shall we quickly review last year's and see what I actually got done?

Don't care, we're doing it anyway. I shall cross out the ones I've done, italicise the ones I've at least partially done, and laugh at the ones I haven't even nearly done...

27 before 28

1. Give blood regularly
2. Go to the dentist
3. Keep saving monies
4. Learn the Japanese
5. Do the Race for Life
6. Redo couch to 5k- I started but my womb wouldn't really let meeee
7. Surpass 500km in Nike Running
8. Don't buy ANY new books (kind of)
9. Continue being less sentimental about books

10. Read War and Peace
11. Read all the Stephen King- I made a REALLY big dent in it.
12. Blog at least twice a week
13. Do NaNoWriMo again

14. Make at least 10 beautiful things
15. Try one new Lush bath bomb a month
16. Have a Hummingbird Bakery Afternoon Tea
17. Go to Bristol Zoo- But I did go to London Zoo!
18. Go to the beach this summer 
19. Have many picnics this summer
20. Go somewhere new
21. Explore the Natural History Museum
22. Go to a Butterfly House
23. Go to the Shakespeare Exhibition at the British Library
24. See Titus Andronicus somewhere
25. Make Frances see Les Mis with me- tickets are booked for October, so kinda!
26. Go Vegan for a Month
27. Harbour Positivity and Expel Negativity- I mean, it's a work in progress but my main point was to not complain anymore that I don't have a boyfriend and I literally can't even do that anymore, so yeah.

So I completed 11/27, and half completed 3 more... I guess that puts me at about 50%? And I'm ok with that.

As I mentioned, I kind of struggled making a list this year, and it wasn't just because 28 things is a lot of things, but also because, not to sound smug or annoying or anything like that, but I feel like my life is in a place that I'm actually really happy with, so I'm slightly loathe to change it. 28 things IS a lot of things though, and I think next year's list (29 before 30!!!) is probably going to be my last one, both because 30 things will really be many many things, but also because I'm not sure how useful these lists are to my life now. They once used to be a sort of lifeline for me, making sure that I at least achieved some things, and even just had things to do, but I can really do that for myself in my everyday life now, and so yeah.

That being said, I kind of just enjoy these lists, and also I have made one and I will bloody share it with you YES I WILL. This year is all about me trying to form good habits, even though I am already  6 days into being 28 and I haven't reaaaally done any of the good habits... But there's still time! There's still hope! *dramatic arms*

28 Before 29

1. Read 75 books (that I already own)
2. Finish all the Stephen King (preferably by 21/9, aka his birthdayyyy)
3. Read (at least) 5 classics
4. Give blood
5. Get another tattoo
6. Leave the country
7. Blog (at least) once a week
8. Study Japanese at least one (extra) evening a week
9. Stop drinking Diet Coke for a month
10. Do some kind of exercise (at least) twice a week
11. Aim for 10,000 steps (at least) five times a week
12. Do the Race for Life again
13. Start saving monies again
14. Have a proper skincare routine
15. Read outside A LOT this summer
16. Don't buy ANY books (except on super special occasions, e.g. bookshop crawls)
17. Go to Marwell Zoo
18. Do a 24 Hour Readalong
19. Wear my unicorn shoes more (at all)
20. Go to Southampton IKEA
21. Go to the London Aquarium
22. Do a monthly blog post about movies
23. Go to Kew Gardens this summer
24. Dye my hair a ridiculous colour
25. Try to write letters to people in a more timely manner!
26. Actually read some Kindle books/start thinking of them as real books
27. Cook more and eat out less
28. Always be looking for ways to minimise my possessions

And there you have it! I am pleasantly surprised by this list (yes, I know I wrote it...) in that when I wrote it I thought that a lot of the things on there were kind of lame, but actually now that I have typed it I realise that these are all things I genuinely want to try and do, and so I shall! Self improvement, wut wuttttttt!

*It was the warmest day of the year so far, I had a beautiful picnic with my family and boyfriend, and I alternately wore a flower crown and a unicorn horn on my head. It was a good, good birthday.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Under the Dome

I started reading Under the Dome quite lacklustrely. It's a BIG book, which meant I didn't want to carry it round with me, you know, anywhere, and I found that my reading time at home kept being eaten up by other things I needed/wanted to do. After dedicating myself to it one particular evening, however, I found I couldn't stop reading it. I started reading before bed, in the half an hour I give myself to wake up in the mornings (mornings are so hard, you guys), and I even started carrying it to work with me because I NEEDED to know what happened.

So it's a little bit good, is what I'm trying to say here. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Annoyingly, though, I'm going to start with a criticism because that's just the kind of person I am. I loved this book and couldn't get enough of it, but upon finishing, I realised that I kind of hadn't gotten to know any of the characters at all well. In, say, The Stand, there are a few characters who are really the main focus and you get to know them pretty well, and you would live and die for them, essentially. Under the Dome has its main characters, but I feel almost as though I didn't know them well enough to care about them as much as I would have liked to. I wanted to care, but I realised after I had finished that I had been gripped by so many other things, but not so much by a love and concern for the characters.

But that's ok because there were so many other things about this book that were SO GOOD. It is structurally so excellent, and each section ends with a shocking thing that happens, and when you think that was the most shocking thing, you come to the end of the next section and there is an even more shocking thing. It's the kind of thing that keeps me reading so hard, but it didn't feel like it was being forced upon me so much as it seemed like these were exactly the kinds of things that would happen in a town enclosed by an invisible dome, run by a complete psychopath (oh yeah, that's basically the jumping off point of the plot).

Let's talk about that psychopath though- Under the Dome is set in Chester's Mill, and Chester's Mill is run by Big Jim Rennie. Big Jim is one of the worst characters I've ever encountered, and by the worst, I actually mean the best worst. I became so frustrated with him that I can only compare my hatred to that I have for Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter- he is incapable of listening to, not only criticism, but actual common sense that says being trapped under a dome is maybe not the best time to make a giant power grab, but maybe just to try and fucking help people. He is a tiny Hitler (tiny in terms of the amount of people he has to control, not his physical size) and he cares for nothing other than trying to control his (literal) captive township.

I feel like a lot of King's stock characters you would traditionally root for die really early on, and these deaths are always shocking because these are his people! These are the guys who should be fixing things, but by taking them out of the way, King ensures that Rennie's power grab goes much, much further than it should be allowed to. He fills the police force with mean, untrained teenagers, incites riots to make the town believe that they need strong leadership, and relishes all the opportunities that a fucking disaster bring. I feel like I need to stop talking now before I spoil some things, but rest assured that this book is darker than a lot of King's work, and it's because, apart from the dome itself, everything that happens in this book is as a result of human behaviour, rather than supernatural influence.

Scary stuff, huh?

So basically, in case you couldn't tell, I bloody loved this book. It was intricate and well thought out, and if I found 'the good guys' a little underwhelming, that was maybe only because they didn't even have the opportunity to be heroes like King's good guys usually do, but instead had to muddle their way through Rennie's tawdry wet dream. There are way too many things in this book to adequately cover in this one review, so I'm going to have to go ahead and recommend that you all read it, and then tell me all your feels.

Thursday 6 April 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Just After Sunset

I finished Just After Sunset all the way back in (early) February, so I wouldn't expect this review to have anything substantial or interesting to it at all, if I was you. I know, I know, I'm being overwhelmingly positive here, but I'm just warning you, this is going to be a collection of vaguely remembered thoughts rather than anything else.

As if I have ever written in any other way...

Anyway! Just After Sunset is a collection of Stephen King short stories, and yay! We like those! I don't know if it was just because I hadn't read any for a while and had forgotten the quality of King's shorter work, but this collection really seemed especially good, with the exception of A Very Tight Place*, the final and most seriously disgusting story in the collection. And not even scary disgusting just, you know, disgusting.

Apart from that though, there's really just some stellar work going on here. There's a longer short story (but not quite a novella!) called N in this collection that kind of links mental illness and demonic happenings and it all seems very symbolic as well as genuinely freaking me the hell out. The first story in the book, Willa, is the one King credits with getting him back into short story writing again, and he praises it for that fact whilst also suggesting that it's not-so-great. Predictably, because I always disagree when he says stuff like this, I feel differently. Willa perfectly touched all of my happy places (ooer!)- a mysterious beginning, creepy happenings, all building to the only possible explanation, that's still one you're kind of surprised by. I liked it a lot, is what I'm saying.

This collection also sees King's first engagement with 9/11, and he takes the interesting angle of not even trying to imagine the human terror, but the potential supernatural power of The Things They Left Behind (which is also, clearly, the title of the story). It's not one of my favourites of the collection, but it is interesting to see King engage with one of the most important events of recent times and try and make something out of it that has a kind of renewing quality (as the end of this story does).

There are quite a few really short stories in this book, and they have at least as much of an impact, if not more, than some of the longer ones. I think talking about these in any sense is slightly redundant, in that if you talk about it a little, you've really given away the entire story, but the one that stands out in my mind concerns a girl who is just about to graduate from high school, ruminating about her future, but then sees her future being wiped out in a matter of seconds. If that one's not a little bit about 9/11 too, then I don't even know how to read anymore.** But for it to have stuck with me for longer than any of the other stories in the book says something about it's impact when compared to the longer works.

So there you have it. I still have no idea if this was actually any better than his other short story collections, but I definitely enjoyed it a lot either way. There are 13 stories in this book, and I can only think of one that I really didn't like, and two others that were kind of meh. I will take a 75% success rate for a book of short stories, and I will take it with pleasure. You probably should too.

*Wikipedia is saving my life here, you guys.
** And, believe me, I still know how to read.

Saturday 1 April 2017

Things I Read in March

Happy April, friends and internet peoples! Did I blog at all in March? I did, but only once and yes I am terrible still. But do I return once a month to talk about books a little bit? I certainly do, and I am here for that very purpose right now.

Firstly, some life things: I have been not-eating chocolate for all of March and it has been preeetty challenging (especially because it's been lent too so I've been coming up against people who say 'well I'm not eating chocolate for 40 days, sooooo...) and I'm so glad it's over. I may have already had some oreos and also some chocolate this morning and the day is still so incredibly young. The point, anyway, is that you can in fact sponsor me for my epic achievement if you so wish and you can do that riiiiight here:…/dechox2017laurarowsell

Other March things: Actually, it hasn't been super eventful. I got an unlimited cinema pass in, let's say, February (I have no idea) so I mostly just go to the movies (don't see Power Rangers, it is trash) and see my gentleman friend on the weekends (it's so great). Japanese classes have finished for Easter break so you would think that would give me more time, but honestly I'm struggling to do all the things I need to do, let alone the things I would like to do (like blogging). I did, however, go to my first burlesque show (so great), bought a new bed, went to birdworld and generally had a pretty nice month, lack of chocolate aside.

But what did I read, I hear you cry? Well, these books:
I did in fact only finish three books this month, but MAN these books. I loved every one of them and actually (optimistically) may even actually write reviews of them I know I say that all the time but seriously just woah. Let's go through them briefly though:

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Well, obviously I already knew this one was good. I hadn't realised that I actually hadn't reread this book all the way through since it came out (I think I'd read the first 100 pages or so a couple more times) and well. I knew I loved it but I had forgotten how much and all the reasons why I loved Levi and just SIGH you guys. It was a really good book to read interspersed between the next book I read this month which was, may I just say, FUCKING INTENSE.

Under the Dome by Stephen King
Because honestly, when your town is enclosed in an invisible, seemingly unbreakable dome and is run by a psychopath, things turn pretty ugly pretty quickly. I've been excited to read this one ('that Stephen King book that's basically The Simpsons Movie') for a long time and I wasn't disappointed. I'll say more in real review, but this was honestly so good for Uncle Steve- so tightly contained and all loose ends tied up, all of the many many characters were kept track of and it was just stylistically so great even if I have a few reservations about stuff that I will save for a longer form review (*crosses fingers and hopes for the best*). But anyway, yes. Very good stuff.

Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class by Owen Jones
THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD. I really want to review it in a massive way because I have so much to say about it (mostly rants) but it's basically about the way that the working class has come to be viewed in Britain today, and how most people now consider themselves middle class rather than working class because they don't want to be associated with 'those people'. The book completely tears apart the idea that poor people are poor because of their own failures, instead pointing out the systemic and consistent government policies that have meant that the poor get poorer whilst the rich get richer (I'm sure you're familiar). It's an excellent look at Thatcher's politics, and the long lasting effects they have had on British society. I can't possibly comment on whether any of this book would mean anything to a non-British reader, but everything is explained so thoroughly  and written so clearly and accessibly that I can't imagine anyone not engaging with it, and getting mighty pissed off.

Annnnd that's what I read. I'm pretty impressed that I read anything other than the giant 880 pages of Under the Dome so I can't be mad that it was only three books. ONWARDS into April! I have the first 10 days (!!!) of the month off so plenty of time to read and eat chocolate and do all the fun, non-work things that my life desperately needs! Hope you have all had an excellent March, and let's do this April thing.