Thursday, 22 September 2016

RIP XI Book II: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier


I always think really fondly of Rebecca for a couple of reasons. The first line- "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again"- is very beautiful and also made a big deal of in Bag of Bones which is one of my favourite Stephen Kings, so I think of it as a very lyrical and beautiful book, more thoughts on which later. The other reason is THIS Mitchell and Webb sketch:

Because Frances and I basically wet ourselves when we saw it, and because David Mitchell is the absolute and ultimate Mrs Danvers. He just is.

This was, I believe, my third reading of Rebecca, and served to show me that I basically didn't remember anything about the plot beyond about the halfway point of the book, and that *whispers* it maybe isn't as well written as I thought it was. Don't get me wrong- I still enjoyed reading it, and that lyricism and beauty is still definitely present in the book (sooooo many gorgeous nature descriptions) it's just mainly there in the first half. Reading it this time, I noticed just how oddly paced it is- the first half is very slow and winding and takes a while to get anywhere, while the second half is all drama and speed and getting to a conclusion as quickly as possible. If you know the story, you'll know that this is fitting to what actually happens, but the effect this had on me was that I felt like I was almost reading two different books, where it seems impossible that the first half leads to the second, and where the styles of both are almost completely different.

Speaking of the story- I had forgotten quite a lot about the second half of the book, maybe because all of the character development and lush descriptions of the first half seem wildly superior to the cheap thrills of the second (for me, anyway, you might be into reading for the cheap thrills and that is fine with me). I remembered its basic point, but there were journeys and characters and plot twists that I remembered nothing about, just a vague feeling of unease about what was to come. It seems strange to me, then, that even though I think of Rebecca as a thriller, and even read it for RIP basically because of its thriller status, it's those parts of the book that mean the least to me.

For me, the book is all about the second Mrs De Winter. She's from such anonymous upbringing that she doesn't even get a first name, but nonetheless she's the character we see everything through, and that's important because, viewed through any other character's eyes, she would seem like such a drip. Even from the inside of her own head, she is an incredibly frustrating character at times, so passive and quiet that you want to shake her and have her TAKE COMMAND FOR ONCE FFS,  but then she'll come up with something like this:
"I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone... How lovely it was to be alone again. No, I did not mean that. It was disloyal, wicked, it was not what I meant. Maxim was my life and my world."
These are the second Mrs De Winter's thoughts after her husband goes away and leaves her with Manderley herself for a couple of days, and it's the perfect tension between being thrilled that you're alone because you can fully be yourself, and being concerned that such thoughts constitute a kind of disloyalty to other people. I can relate, but maybe not as much as I used to. Reading Rebecca this time, I grew increasingly frustrated with Mrs De Winter's passivity and shyness, whereas I'm sure that the time before, I was pretty much like 'yep girl, I feel ya.' Just another way that we change and the books we read change with us, because I can't really relate to that kind of passivity anymore (translation: I now have kind of a big mouth).

I don't regret rereading Rebecca and I will probably do it again at some point because damn, Daphne knows how to get you to turn pages. I will probably always prefer the parts that are less thriller-y, more beautiful, and I'm comfortable with that, but you might have a completely different reading experience than me, that's kind of how reading works. Either way, I fully recommend it as a read, and even though it won't scare the pants off you, I think you'll have a good time reading it and really what more can you ask for? Exactly.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

27 Before 28: #18- Go To The Beach This Summer

Since summer is now officially over, I guess it's time to sum up my beach trips. To summarise: There were not nearly enough of them, but as there were more than last year, I'm officially calling this a success. A triumph, even, if you will. I still haven't visited Katie at the Isle of Wight like I keep promising (SORRY I AM TERRIBLE, KATIE) so that will probably be my next foray to the seaside, but for now, here are the trips I made this summer.

May 1st- Southsea, Hampshire

If you want to get truly technical, my first trip to the seaside this year was to Margate in April, but Southsea was the first time I sat on the beach and the first time I had a bloody good ice cream so we're starting our tale of the seaside here. This trip wasn't perfect by any means- it started with my desperate need to wee and then horror for having to pay for the privilege, continued through the discovery that I had basically no cash and errrrrything in southsea is cash only (lame) and even further through my sister making me walk THE LONGEST walk from pier to pier for no discernible reason. But still. There's something to be said for getting some sea air in your lungs, and even more to be said for eating chips on the beach. The amusements were amusing and I paid a full 40p for the privilege of carrying out a natural bodily function, thank you very much you opportunistic bastards.
Overall, it was good, but I think I can do better.

July 16-17th- Margate, Kent
I'm not sure if I should count my trip to Margate to do the Race for Life with Bex as a trip to the beach at all, because there was no sitting on the beach, and no going in the sea (although, to be fair, I didn't go in the sea all summer so that's not really a deciding factor). I did however see the sea:
And then saw it some more whilst doing a really painful walk because of my womb:
AND went to the amusements (seriously Dreamland is waaaaay cool!):
And left with the most excruciating case of sunburn and dumb tan lines:
So really, a great success all round. Except for the sunburn part, which I admit was pretty awful. Why sun, whyyyyy?!

August 5th- Brighton, East Sussex
Before this trip, I had only been to Brighton once, with my family, on a day when we were all unreasonably grumpy, and then we got hangry, and everything was terrible. I have, since then, associated Brighton with grumpiness in my mind, and since grumpiness is my least favourite state, I have been reluctant to go back there.

But. This day in August was my last weekday off in between old job and new job. I wanted to do something special because who could say when I would have another day off (a couple of weeks later, as it happened, but that's another story) and I had recently discovered that Brighton is basically less than an hour and a half from my house on the train. Sold on the idea of beach goodness, and, well, chips, I followed my heart and found myself in Brighton at the start of Pride weekend. In Brighton. The gayest place in the country. Yeah.

So the giant crowds and AGAIN my desperate need to wee (I don't know why 1) I need to pee so much when I go to the seaside or 2) why there are so few toilets) did not get my trip off to the best start, and honestly I was nearly ready to remain grumpy about Brighton forever and ever until I realised how many freaking excellent Pokemon there were to catch there and everything was better.
I found my people.
But Brighton isn't just bursting with Pokemon! There's also ice cream to eat on the beach:
A bookshop with a pretty awesome staircase and yet not a single book I wanted to buy:
This one time where these seagulls attacked this one kid while his friends stood to the side and laughed:
And, of course, Brighton Pier:
I also had a little look at the Brighton Pavilion which is beautiful/tacky and none of my pictures of it were any good. My phone tells me I walked 17km that day (thank you, creepy phone that tracks all of my movements) and I barely felt it at all which I think goes to show the magic that is Brighton. I will definitely be going back there, and more importantly, I will stop associating it with grumpiness because it is a place of pure joy and also Pokemon.

BOOM. The seaside is cool, I'm pretty glad summer is done because there are a few days I thought I was actually going to melt to death there, but also I kind of can't wait for more beach next summer.




Sunday, 18 September 2016

Sunday Sundries: Upcoming and Important

Wassup Sundaaaaay? I feel like I have a really different relationship to Sundays now I work every day rather than having glorious Wednesdays off. It's like my final day of freedom and joy before another dreaded work week begins, so in other words, I now have the same relationship with Sundays as everyone else.*

Obviously that means I generally spend them getting fed by my mum and reading a lot, but what else is there to be done? Exactly.

Winter has essentially started over here this week, and the weather where I am went from unbearably hot (I actually felt kind of dizzy and weird at work on Thursday where I was just too hot) to raining and FREEZING literally overnight. I was not a happy Laura on either of those days, so if the weather could cheer up and just be vaguely autumnal instead of cataclysmically so, that would be cool.

So! Upcoming and important. Yes. Upcoming this week I am starting Japanese lessons on Thursday evenings, because frankly it's time for me to put my money where my mouth is and actually accept that, let's face it, I don't really have the discipline to actually learn it by myself from an app. I just don't. I'm pretty excited, if a little apprehensive in case the lessons are terrible and I've basically just wasted my money. But hopefully it'll be fun and, you know, I'll actually learn some Japanese and stuff.

Upcoming in the next month, I'm going to have an operation! Which is horrible and aghhhh but will hopefully be fine and will give me two weeks off work to read and watch Netflix and hopefully not just writhe around in pain (please please please no). I feel like telling you all about it would really push the oversharing that I ALREADY DO here, but let's just say it's not life threatening stuff, it's keyhole surgery, and it will hopefully stop me throwing up every single month at a certain time, if you know what I mean, ladies. 

But now the really important stuff! Have you seen that the unstoppable force of Bex is launching a Ninja Book Box  ? It's essentially going to be a quarterly subscription box for folk who like books (do you know any?) and it's worth knowing about because a) you can either fund her kickstarter or b) actually buy a box when she sends them out, because you KNOW it's gonna be good. The other thing you may or may not have seen is that Alice (also unstoppable) is doing another readalong, this time of The Master and Margarita, and, you know, come and have fun with us. I have failed at all readalongs I've tried to do in the past year, but I'm hoping that having to recover for about half of October will make me actually fucking read and follow a schedule and come ON Laura, this shouldn't be that difficult.

And that basically brings us to the end of October, after which I have no idea what's happening except maybe Christmas is in there at some point because it must be time for another one of those soon, right? Everyone, tell me your plans for the next little bit of time, what's the haps?

*Although tbf I don't really dread my work week cause I'm kind of liking my new job and if I get bored with one thing there's always a new thing to learn and that's all just pretty great really. I mean, come back and ask me in a couple of months, you know, but at the moment it still has novelty.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

RIP XI Book I: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris


I'm doing a couple of things with this review: trying to get RIP off to a roaring start by actually reviewing the things I read for it in a timely manner (I finished the book about half an hour ago) and undoing a wrong of last year. See, last August, in the midst of dissertation fever (TM), I watched Silence of the Lambs under the pretext of it being useful to my dissertation (it wasn't, but I did mention it briefly so it's fine) but mainly because I needed the break. And oh my god. I actually truly believed I had written a review of it here but obviously I didn't, but it is SO. GOOD. I didn't expect it to be very good at all because it's too well known in popular culture in a really shallow way, but actually it's an incredibly gripping and feminist and excellent film and I can't even really cope with how good it is, or how much I did not regret losing those couple of hours of dissertation writing.

And so. Just about a year later, I decided to read the book.  I've had it for a really long time, but the cover is so crappy and it just never looked appealing to read, without knowing it was one of the most compelling thrillers I've ever experienced, in both film and book formats.

Here's the thing with seeing the film first. The book is basically the film, only without some of Hannibal Lecter's snappier lines (thanks, Hollywood!) AND without the excellently atmospheric creepy music that the film has going on. The ending is also slightly different (surprise surprise, I liked the film's ending better) but for all intents and purposes, they're essentially the same thing. The Silence of the Lambs is a thriller above all else, so it's not like a lot of other books, where reading them gives a greater insight into the characters heads, it's pretty much told as you would see it, which isn't a bad thing, just a thing that helps make the film super accurate.

Does that mean you shouldn't read the book? Well, did I mention how much I love the film? Because reading the book is like that, only you can take it places with you and not use up your data reading it because, you know, it's a book. I'm not going to pretend I didn't cast Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, or Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter (who is, in spite of what you might expect, not the main character of this at all, it's all about my girl Clarice) in my brain, but it's still such a good read that I didn't want to stop reading even though I knew what was going to happen. Is that enough of an endorsement or not?
How about this?

I don't want to say too much about the plot, not only because I'm not much of a reviewer, but also because I went into the film knowing basically 'Hannibal Lecter is a cannibal' and got so much more than I bargained for, and whether you start with the film or the book, I want you to have the same experience. Here is what I will say- although I said it's pretty much a straightforward thriller, it deals with issues such as women in law enforcement roles (FEMINISM) and transsexualism and grief and psychopathy in delicate and interesting ways and that helps put it above other books in its genre that are basically focused on plot only. Unless I am remembering the film wrong, the book also has an advantage over it in that it gives Clarice a girl friend (as opposed to a girlfriend) who supports and scolds her, and manages to pass the Bechdel test in that sense as the film does not (again, unless I'm remembering it wrong and Clarice's awesome friend is in the film too). Harris manages to sneak a female friendship in amongst all the gruesome stuff, and for that, I kind of love him.

So. You can read the book first or you can watch the film first, or you can just pick one of them, but if you don't do either, you'll be missing out on not only an important pop culture touchstone, but also what I'm going to go out on a limb and say is basically one of my favourite stories. Out of all the stories. Is that a good enough endorsement or what?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Devouring Books: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

I didn't give Relish the kind of attention it deserved when I read it last year because (of course) Shakespeare, even though I loved it more than life (OK, not that much, but quite a lot). Knisley's drawing is simple but effective, her writing is solid and makes me pretty happy, and since I like comic book memoirs in general (they are, in fact, my favourite kind of comic not written by Alan Moore) I needed French Milk in my life pretty badly.

I finally, finally bought it when I needed a yoghurt pot for work (I party hard) and amazon would only sell me it if I ordered £20 worth of stuff. It cost £3.50 (fuck you SO much, amazon), so of course I took the opportunity to order a couple of books as well, because you know. I'm me. I got French Milk on the Friday and by about 11am on the Saturday morning I had completely devoured it, fitting to both its subject matter and, y'know, my blog name and all. But it was so good it was hard to stop reading, and also, comic books are fast to read. Duh.

French Milk is essentially a travel diary of a 6 week trip Knisley and her mother took to Paris when she was 21(she turns 22 on the trip). The blurb of the book tries to sell it as a journey where a mother and daughter communicate and bond and learn about each other as grown ups, and there is definitely some of that, but Knisley knows what the people really want, and that is food and presents and tourism and shopping.

That's right. Ignore the ruminations about her future, the d&ms with her mother about boys and fiscal responsibility, and the weird post birthday depression Knisley draws that actually I fully related to (does anyone else deflate like a balloon for a little bit after their birthday?). This book is all about the things they eat, the things they see, and the things they buy in Paris. Considering the fact that basically my favourite part of any book is descriptions about food and also Christmases because they get presents and describe them (hence why Little Women is one of my favourites because two Christmases!) this makes French Milk pretty much my ideal comic book. And also, have I mentioned how much of a burning desire I have to go to Paris of late? Because I do. It is very burny. In... a good way!

So, yes. French Milk was exactly as great as I expected a Knisley book to be, and just like Relish it made me want to 1) read everything she's written, and 2) be her friend forevs. 1) is perhaps the more attainable goal (definitely asking for Something New for Christmas) but don't tell me 2) can't happen because I just don't need that kind of negativity in my life. Go and do something positive for yourself, and go and read French Milk.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Devouring Books: Spinster by Kate Bolick

"Married women, especially those with children, tended to assume a superior stance, as if their insights into people and relationships came preapproved, even though single women drew from a larger store of experiences and had often seen more of the world."

When I bought Spinster (a mere couple of weeks ago, sorry #readmyowndamnbooks) I had a surprisingly strong idea what it was going to be like. Fairly strong stats, research, and information on single women throughout the centuries, what it means to be single today, and why it's totally ok to be building and living the life that's just for you, and no one else.

That is... not exactly what this book is. It's an odd mixture of memoir, some stats and whatnot, and then a study of 5 women writers that Bolick admires, none of whom were technically spinsters (I know) but all of whom had definite ideas about independence and womanhood that transcend others in their day(s), and also transcend the attitudes of many in today's world. If it sounds like a mess then I might not really be doing it justice, because actually it all falls together really well, Bolick is an excellent writer, and essentially I just really enjoyed reading the book.

Much as I enjoy learning things about obscure literary figures, it was really the things in between Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's* life stories that I found most interesting. The idea that Bolick begins with and keeps coming back to is that of women and their place in society being defined by their relationships with men- either they're married, or waiting to get married, or past their prime for marriage, and so on. The same rule does not apply to men, and so, the question is, can women live fulfilling lives without marriage and children being marked as their greatest achievements?

In terms of the memoir parts of this book, Bolick is not really what one would typify as a spinster. She writes about her seemingly endless dealings with men (if she's not in a relationship, she seems to be dating a lot) but the crucial part of her life is that she gets to come home at the end of the day to a world she has created and that is all her own. Bolick's path to spinsterhood is driven by her understanding, in her late twenties, that really she's never been alone or faced the world entirely on her own terms, with no one- no parents, no boyfriend- standing by her side, and it's her journey to a greater sense of self awareness that's as interesting to read as anything else in the book. At times, though, it almost seems like a bogus kind of self-awareness, since she essentially describes her relationships and her dating life and still defines herself by her dealings with men as much as by her career or her friendships, and it gets a little bit confusing what her point is. She wants to be alone but also not alone, single but not celibate but also not single sometimes? 

It's just, I think sometimes, it could have been a little more research, and a little less self, you know?

But anyway. I'm still really glad I read this if only because it made me think about the world and my own place in it in a slightly different way, which really all the best books should do. As a chronically single person (and not just the unmarried kind of single) I can't even really personally relate to Bolick as a human being, but I do have a lot of thoughts on spinsterhood now. Namely, these- I've been on my own for basically all of my adult life, which has given me ample time to understand that, realistically, I actually don't want to be alone forever. For me, family is the cornerstone of everything, and whilst the one I have is great, the opportunity to make my own seems amazing, but I also don't think that has to involve the absorption of one's entire personality into some kind of mummy-being (as Bolick really does seem to think, unwilling to give up any of her writing years to raising children). 

But, at the same time, I'm comfortable enough with myself and my life and my interests (sooooo many interests...) that I feel like, if this is it, if it's just me now and forever, then that would be basically ok too. Bolick takes spinsterhood as some kind of achievement, but if it's chosen at the expense of love, or family, or all the other things you hold dear, then it doesn't really seem worth it to me. Bolick talks a lot about the spectre of the thing women fear the most, ending up as the 'crazy bag lady', and argues:
What is haunting about the bag lady is not only that she is left to wander the streets, cold and hungry, but that she's living proof of what it means not to be loved. Her apparition will endure as long as women consider the love of a man the most supreme of all social validations.
 I disagree. What is haunting about the bag lady is that nobody loves her, and she is left to fend for herself, friendless and alone. Whilst I obviously agree that being loved isn't the only way to be validated (although, frankly, who even needs validation? Ok, most people, but shhhh), I think that loving others, and being loved in return is essentially the most important thing, for men and women, and the thing that defines our lives in the end, not how much work we did or how important and famous we were.

I realise that this review makes it sound like I disagreed with most of the book, but honestly I found it incredibly interesting and well written, and open enough so that I could disagree with certain points, without feeling like I would be stupid for arguing back. If you're interested in independent lady writers then this will be right up your street, and if you want to be entertained on the bus home from work for a week, then you should definitely read it.


*I know these guys aren't that obscure, but the three other women Bolick talks about I had never even encountered before.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Sunday Sundries: RIPPPPPPP and other updates

Happy Sunday everyone, wut wut!

I am actually writing this ridiculously early because my weekend is going to be pretty packed,  but let's just pretend I'm there with you at whatever point on Sunday you're reading this. But not actually with you, like, in your house because that would be creepy without an actual invitation and stuff.

Anyway, now that I've made things super awkward...

Let's talk about bloggish internet things and goings on! I am obviously going to discuss RIP in a minute, but FIRST I want to talk about #readmyowndamnbooks.
Oh hey, remember when I talked about this on the 1st January and then never mentioned it again? Well, I actually HAVE been pretty much following it to the extent that 31 out of the 46 new reads I've had this year were books that have been on my shelves since December last year. For me, this is really good, especially considering the fact that last year that number was 7 (although by this point last year I had basically done no recreational reading so that doesn't really count) and combined with the fact that I've been pruning my shelves, I think I've been doing fairly ok.

But fairly ok just doesn't cut it! Although I've been reading my own damn books like nobody's business, I've also been buying and acquiring books at basically the same rate. At last count I have 353 unread books, which is more or less the same amount I had at the start of the year, and you know. Womp womp.

So this is it, now. I am pledging. From now until the end of the year, I'm not buying any more books. That's right, I'm initiating a book buying ban and dammit, I'm going to read my own damn books if it kills me (which, you know, it won't). This is a financial decision as well as a saving the floorboards one, but dammit, I just want to read the books I have so that when I do buy new ones, I'm really excited to read them and don't feel vaguely bad about it because of all the unread books I still have. And, y'know, Christmas really isn't so far away or anything, so it's fine.

And now onto some real business! Some books I have owned for quite a while that all deserve to be read. It's time, of course, for RIP! I may have stated enough times that it's my favourite book blogging event of all, but in case that didn't get through to you,

IT'S MY FAVOURITE BOOK BLOGGING EVENT OF ALL!

Hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings, the aim is to read scary ass books over September and October and essentially have a gay old time. The most involved Peril is reading 4 books over the two months, and well. *cracks knuckles* I think I can handle that.

BEHOLD, THE SCARES!
The picture quality is pretty terrible cause it was a gloomy day, what can I say, it's fine because I wanna discuss the pile anyway! It's a mixture of books I've owned for ages and books I've just bought/received, and in the spirit of #readmyowndamnbooks, I'm going to give precedence to the books I bought before this year. But, ya know, it doesn't do to be TOO rigid in ones actions, does it..?

Anyway, the books! From the top:

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris- Had for a while because I felt like I should read it, am much more enthusiastic about it after seeing the movie last year (SO. GOOD.)

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane- I tried to read this once and then got bored. I realise this doesn't bode well, but it means that I either have to read it or decide its not worth it and get rid of it. Either way, it leaves less books in my house and I'm good with that.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin- I loved Rosemary's Baby. I loved The Stepford Wives. I don't really know anything about A Kiss Before Dying except that it came in a three pack with those two books, so it could really be worth a try.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn- I started reading this immediately after finishing Sharp Objects, and immediately realised that I basically wanted something really different instead. Now though, it could be time to have a read.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier- This was a late addition to the pile, but actually the one I want to read the most (in fact, I'm going to start immediately after I finish this post!) It's a reread, and is just the right amount of unsettling and gloomy to fit in perfectly with September.

The Collector by John Fowles- I'm sensing a theme here, but I started this book once and never finished it either! Again I believe it was a mood thing, so hopefully with the weather and whatnot, I'll be in the exact right mood for it this year.

Blindness by Jose Saramago- I'm always in the mood for a dystopia and this one sounds especially terrifying. Possibly the book I want to read the most, after Rebecca.

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins- Wilkie is always, consistently, the right choice. Yasssss Wilkie.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury- I don't really know anything about this either except Sci-Fi, but it's Ray Bradbury and Stephen King endorses it on the cover so it can't be bad!

Beloved by Toni Morrison- Pretty sure I tried to read this once and couldn't get into it either... It's ghosts, right?

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill- Firstly, look how teeny it is and perfect to carry in my bag! Secondly, the stage show scared the crap out of me so I am all over this.

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates- I literally bought this cause Stephen King wrote a review for the New York Times saying how good it was AND I wanna see how Joyce Carol Oates does scary. That was about 3 years ago, but hey, better late than never, right?

Affinity by Sarah Waters- Lesbian ghosts, right?

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue- This isn't supernatural but it is crime-y I believe, and I also find it really hard to be motivated by historical fiction, even when it's Emma Donoghue. Is RIP the catalyst I need? Well, maybe.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix- It's horror. In Ikea. The book is so cool in terms of layout and I've wanted it for so long and Ellie JUST sent it to me and yeah I might have to read it. Like, now.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye- I've heard many things about this and Charlotte just sent it to me and I wanna reeeead about a victorian murderer who is inspired by Jane Eyre, but again, it's new. Of course I wanna read it. So we'll see.

So, yeah. It's a big pile but I am going to have a lot of reading time in September/October so we shall see how well I do. Notably missing are any Stephen King books, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to be reading his stuff too, so if Halloween comes and I've only read Rebecca and some Stephen King, then please try not to be too surprised!

Now tell me- are you taking part in RIP? Are you also not buying new books until 2017? What's going on with everything everywhere?