Wednesday 26 September 2018

30 Books Before 30: #3 Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Oh my, this book. I have only read one other Lauren Groff book before (Arcadia) which, apparently, I really liked at the time but now have only the most fleeting memories of. Fates and Furies, I feel, is going to stick with me for quite a while, and I loved it so much that I have even kept it which, believe me, doesn't happen so much anymore with books I have just read.

Whyyyy is this book so awesome though, I hear you cry? So many reasons, I respond. It is structurally so perfect that I can't even with it - it opens up on a couple, nameless, newly married and newly in love, and then follows them throughout the rest of their lives. It follows him, initially and interestingly, and just when you think Groff has forgotten about her, BOOM, the narrative opens up and we get the other side of their marriage, literally the other half if you will, and see that things are not exactly as they had seemed, but also at the same time, they are both exactly as he saw them, and exactly as she saw them, because both realities exist at the same time.

Ahem, sorry. Got a little philosophical right there.

I know that I am not exactly the best at writing descriptive book reviews, or, lately, at writing book reviews at all, but this book really makes me want to say nothing at all descriptive about the story because it all unfolds so beautifully that sharing my knowledge of both parts of the book makes me worried that I will reveal something that you really shouldn't know until the end. It is a story of mysteries, even though you didn't realise that was the case, and it is the story of a marriage as told from both sides - one of them slightly wide-eyed and in love with the world, one of them more careful and pragmatic, who has already seen the world for what it can be sometimes, darker and scarier and much less friendly than their partner thinks.

I wasn't expecting as much from this book as I got, and even during the first half of the book, I wasn't expecting what I got from it. This isn't to say that the first half is worst than the second (it's ALL AMAZING, in case that wasn't clear) but that the second half resolves and explains things from the first that I didn't realise I needed resolving and explaining, until I did. I read a lot of this book on trains (I went a lot of places in August!) and it made the journeys fly by - in fact, I didn't really want them to end, so I could stay on the train and read my damn book. If that's not the mark of a good book, then I've completely misunderstood the point of reading, I think.

And that, without giving anything about plot away at all, is that. It's got to be one of my favourite books of the year so far, if not my ultimate overall favourite - please read it, and if you have already, please tell me what you thought about it in the comments!

Wednesday 19 September 2018

30 Books Before 30: #2 Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I have honestly owned this book for the longest time. Eons and eons of time have passed since I bought it from who knows where, for who knows how much, and for who knows what reason. I thought it might have something to do with Alley from What Red Read because Sedaris seems like her sort of guy, but having just gone to her review of this (from FIVE years ago, nice remembering brain) I have left a comment saying that I already own this so that is super mysterious. I also said that I should probably read it... 5 years ago... Yeah. Best not to dwell.

I have read it now! It's very very funny. VERY funny. I read most of it on a couple of train journeys and I think I may have giggled out loud a few times (in public) because it is very very funny. This is probably a good thing, because it's a collection of comedic essays, and they're pretty much separated into two sections- the first is general essays about funny things that have happened in Sedaris's life, his madcap family etc etc, and the second is about his life in France as a non-language speaker and some of the hilarious things that have happened with that. I was actually super charmed by the title essay, which outlines his experiences in french class (not great) (but funny) and me talk pretty one day is essentially the level of grammar he and his classmates could achieve in the language, but trying to comfort each other about it all the same.

Funny as I think Sedaris is, though, it's his sister Amy who was the real star of this book for me. I always forget that I know who Amy Sedaris is (she had a small role in Sex and the City and Elf and you've probably seen her in lots of other things but those are the two for me), I guess mainly because she has such tiny roles, but she sounds ridiculously funny. Sedaris describes her exploits and I just want to be her, because it sounds like she doesn't have those useless feelings of self-consciousness and, I don't know, shame, which is what I try to embody in life (I don't have a filter, like at all) but even I'm not shameless enough to imply my brother is a rapist on public transport and then hop off and leave him to it. Although maybe if I had a brother...

New (and probably terrible) role model aside, this book is fab. If you too, for some mysterious reason, have left this sitting on your bookshelves for years and years and years, you won't regret picking it up and reading it - and if you do then just stop reading it, nobody's going to force you! Life is good and also funny, and don't you forget it!

Wednesday 12 September 2018

30 Books Before 30: #1 My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (The Neopolitan Novels)

Ah, the Neopolitan Novels. They only really came onto my radar this year when my friend sent me a link to an article Elena Ferrante had written in The Guardian (which I can't find but was very good and feminist), and since I was planning on going to Naples at the time, I was all about finding and reading them. Not long after that, I found the first two novels in a charity shop, which felt weirdly fortuitous, and made the mistake of reading the first two before I owned the last two, which meant that I had to (HAD to) buy the others full price, something which I've hardly done all year! They are just that good.

Since reading them, I've tried to work out exactly why they are so good. On the surface, there is nothing too remarkable about them - they are essentially just a woman's story of her life since childhood, growing up poor in Naples and trying to figure out how to live and who to love and all of those other good things that make up a life. The writing is excellent, which doesn't hurt, but I think its crowning glory might be the fact that it isn't the story of just one woman (Elena, our narrator) but that of her best friend Lila, too, and their childhood and adult lives and their different paths and did you hear the part about their friendship? Because, that.

Because how often do we see that? A friendship, described from beginning to end, with none of the uncomfortable emotions sometimes associated with it left out? Friendships in fiction, especially fiction about women, are so often relegated to the sidelines as the main character finds and then marries some guy, when sometimes in life, friendships can be as important, and sometimes more complex than romantic relationships. I have a best friend who I've known for nearly 11 years (AGH) and I've known my boyfriend for less than 2, and whilst our friendship would make a really boring book (we're not so dramatic) she hasn't lost her importance in my life because I now have a romantic interest - and I think that's true for so many other women too.*

And so, back to these books. Elena and Lila take completely different paths in life- both very intelligent children, Elena is nurtured and given opportunities that Lila is not, but a crucial part of the books is that this doesn't really matter - their relative statuses switch throughout the novels as one becomes richer and the other poorer, but they are always there for each other, seeing each other through crises and each providing what she can when she is able. I don't mean to sugarcoat their friendship because they are both complex and wildly interesting characters, which means that they are not always the best of friends at all, but even their disagreements and fallings out come alive on the page. You care about them both, even when you don't really want to.

You may or may not know that Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym and no one knows exactly who she is. I'm not by any means desperate to unmask her, but I so want the characters in the Neopolitan Novels to be real that I have pretty much made her the fictional Elena, given her Lila as her best friend, and given her this truly captivating life that, well shit, I want to believe someone has lived. Childish of me, perhaps, but that's the level to which I loved these books, which I think might always hold a special place in my heart.

*And, I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but if your friends automatically lose importance when you get a boyfriend, guuuurl what are you doing?

Sunday 9 September 2018

Sunday Sundries: MINITHON Recap!

Oh hai, and happy Sunday! I'm a little sleepy this morning because I stayed up late reading (is there a better reason?) for yesterday we had a minithon. I'm in a slightly incompatible timezone for 8 shared hours of reading (4pm-midnight), mainly just because I'm old now and can't stay up late reading like I used to in the olden days/that one time in 2011 (WHEN I WAS 22 WEEPS OVER THE CRUEL PASSAGE OF TIME).

Ahem. Anyway. Yes. I decided not to blog the minithon because it's a super chill 'thon and also my computer was dead and because it's old too (seriously) it took too long to start back up and anyway, what are you doing if you're not following me on instagram and twitter? Exactly, nothing. The minithon happened to fall on a weekend between jobs (I'm being seconded into a new team in the place I currently work, starting Monday) which felt like a nice time to do a load of reading and eat a shitload of snacks.

And so, to recap, I had a tiny diet coke and read some Stephen King,

 I ate a disturbing amount of beige food,

I switched to some teeny weeny books when it got dark and late and I got too scared to read Stephen King anymore,

and, of course, I ate some (mini!) cakes. Also YES that is a moomin puzzle and it was the bane of my life for at least 2 weeks - are puzzles meant to be relaxing or something? It now lives on our dining table because we can't bear to break up our greatest achievement.
It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon and evening, and I can thoroughly recommend it - minithon or no, read some books, eat some cake, lay back and enjoy life. It's pretty good.

Sunday 2 September 2018

RIP XIII - Oooooh, Extra Spooky

Here it is - the reading event we've all* been waiting for - and this year, since it's the 13th one, it's spoooooookier than ever.

I've been feeling ready for RIP ever since the temperature dropped, and even more so since I started waking up in the dark this week. Now that it's September, predictably, it feels like summer's back again, but nonetheless it's time for some spooky spooky reading. 

If you've never heard of RIP before, firstly where have you been every September and October (because it is clearly not here) and secondly, you're welcome. RIP stands for Readers Imbibing Peril, and it's basically a two month event where book bloggers, and more generally people, dedicate their autumns to reading scary or perilous or crime (you get the idea) books. I have been in love with this event ever since I found out about it during my first blogging autumn (...7 years ago? Oh my) and my joy only increases with each passing year. 

Now. Tradition demands that I choose a peril, and, as ever, I am choosing Peril the First - Read 4 books that fit the (very broad) definitions of RIP literature. This is, I have just realised, my first RIP without also doing my Stephen King challenge, but looking back on it, I've also realised that I used to read Stephen King books PLUS RIP books, and still managed to hit 4, so... ok then! But still, *heart laments for Stephen King*

Do you want to see a big pile of books, though? Course you do.
What was that thing I said about Stephen King again? Oh yeah, nothing...

Let's just highlight a few books on my stack then...
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell I have owned for the longest time and really really really do want to have read it but LOOK HOW LARGE IT IS. Please tell me things about it that will make me want to read it. Please.
  • I promised myself I could re-read It again this year, and so it shall be done. See also: The Handmaid's Tale.
  • I really enjoyed The Talented Mr Ripley last year, so Strangers on a Train has made it onto my pile this year.
  • It amuses me to have father and son on the same pile, so hiiiii Strange Weather. I also genuinely love Joe Hill so expect me to definitely read this book at the very least!
Basically, yaaaaay spooky books. The weather will, hopefully be poor, the sofa duvet will come out of hiding and I am ready for an autumn of creepy reading, as ever.

What will you be reading?


Saturday 1 September 2018

Things I Read In August

Aaaaaand it's September now. I'm not sure how that happened, but here we are and it's basically autumn and just this last week I've been waking up before sunrise, and frankly, I am just not ready for this yet! August was pretty good- it started (more or less) with my sister's wedding, and ended (more or less) with my auntie's hen do because, you know, that's how my life is going this year. In between, I had a couple of Fridays off, one to go and visit my friends in Bristol (the best!) and one to make the most of the bank holiday and to actually see my boyfriend during it because of the aforementioned hen do, and whilst August felt like it was dragging in parts, I think mostly it was just long and full.

I also read some things, because of course I did. Observe:
Firstly, I just want to pat myself on the back for the spine colour complementing this month - it was completely unintentional but also looks really good, so go me. BUT ANYWAY, let's talk books!

French Milk by Lucy Knisley - I seem to be going through a little Knisley revival stage at the moment, or just, you know, I've been re-reading her comics a lot while I'm waiting for her next one (early next year!) This is her earliest (published) book and while I love it a lot, I miss the colour that's in her later stuff. This is still good good book though.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante - I finally finished the Neopolitan novels and things did not go at all the way I expected, which I guess is kind of the way of life. THESE BOOKS ARE SO GOOD and I still don't know why and I still mean to write whole post about them, you know, some day or something *mumbles non-specifically*

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro - I have had this book on my shelves for the longest time, without any real inclination to read it for whatever reason (I think I didn't like the cover?) I've been having a bit of an Ishiguro revival over the last year or so, and in fact I now don't own any unread Ishiguros. This was good, too - a kind of a mystery, along with a dollop of self delusion, and the now to be expected thing where so much is unsaid that you have to fill in the gaps yourself. I think I've said before that this doesn't always work for me within his writing, but in this book, it really really did. Nice one, Kazuo.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff - OMG this book was so good. I do want to review this one because I've got it into my mad head that I'll review all of the 30 before 30 books I read (we'll see), but I will just say that I read Arcadia and liked it plenty, but THIS I loved and was engrossed by and transported and all those other good things you want from a book. 

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris - Another 30 before 30 book so 'I'll review it later' but this is a very very funny series of essays, even though I did at times sort of wish I was reading Amy Sedaris's essays instead because my GOD she sounds like a character. Very very funny stuff though, and I am here for it.

Paper Girls Vol 3 & 4 by Brian K Vaughan et al - I found these in the library which was very exciting because I remembered really enjoying the first two volumes when I read them last year. Unfortunately I didn't remember much about them, so jumping into volume 3 I was like 'o...kay?' but that didn't really detract from my enjoyment - it's just so nice to read comics where a group of girls are the main focus and even the people they encounter on their accidental time travelling adventures are, usually, women. Also, they're just fun and exciting and perilous and totally reminded me that I need to read the next instalment of Bitch Planet that's just been sitting around my house for ages (no one knows why, really). GOOD STUFF SMASH THAT PATRIARCHY (all male writers and artists...)

And that was August! I supplemented my reading with some yoga (at the start of the month at least, whoops) and the entire new season of Orange is the New Black, plus some Studio Ghibli films. I've also just started watching Sharp Objects and I am TENSE af, so that's obviously super fun!

What have you been reading/watching/enjoying this month?