Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Devouring Stephen King: The Dark Tower VII- The Dark Tower

There are no words for how happy I am to be done with The Dark Tower books in my Stephen King reading journey. This isn't because they are bad books- on the contrary, they're some of my favourites- but simply because they have taken SO long. I envisioned reading all three of the final books in the summer of 2014, before starting the Shakespeareathon that engulfed my whole life, but it didn't happen, and I consequently felt like I was always in the middle of a Dark Tower book, mainly because I was. Their lack of portability and complex storylines did not make for easy reading, and having blown through all seven in a month when I first read them, reading them spread out over what turned out to be almost FIVE YEARS was a really different experience.

Because it had taken me so long to read all seven of the books, I expected my reaction to this, the final book, to be completely different to the last time I read it. Reading all seven books consecutively whilst also being unemployed had led to an excessive (and probably unhealthy) attachment to all the characters, and I can remember being destroyed numerous times throughout this last one. I thought I'd be ok this time because of the passage of time (... or something) but, in fact, I was very not ok. It was a relief, in a lot of ways, to realise that I did still love these characters, in spite of being frustrated with how long the books were taking to finish, and that I could still get emotional about... certain events in this book that I'm definitely not going to elaborate on.

The Dark Tower just works. As a final novel in a series, it is perfect, and its perfection begins with the reunion of Roland and his team of gunslingers within the first 100 or so pages of the book. If it took too long for any kind of event at all to happen in Song of Susannah, then The Dark Tower makes up for this completely. This book moves between events, locations, and even worlds (oh yes) at breakneck speed, barely giving the reader time to process, and it's fantastic. It's pretty much everything I want all of the series to be, and probably the reason I idealise the rest of the Dark Tower books- I remember them all being as good as the last one, and the last one is (probably) the best.

Of course I've been coy about the content, because LIKE I'm going to ruin an entire book series for you by telling you the ending! I will say that upon first reading, I was truly surprised by it (hence my avoiding spoilers now!) and maybe a little mad, but I see now that, really, it's the only fitting ending. Or, at the very least, I can't imagine a better one. I really have very few criticisms for this book, because although sometimes devastating, it also feels true and right.

And with that, my return to the Dark Tower is over. That I am both a little sad and pretty relieved doesn't surprise me, because damn I love these books, but DAMN that took so long. And that's not just the practically two years (!) it took to read the last three books, but the practically (I'll say it again) FIVE years (!!!) it took to read all seven. I'm so excited to finally read something else by King that I'm already halfway through The Colorado Kid (it's very portable) and I'm especially excited that there's another Dark Tower book waiting for me in the not-too-distant future. I didn't have the promise of more tales of Roland's ka-tet the last time I finished this book, but I'm very glad I have one to look forward to now.

But, for the moment, I'm moving on to A Game of Thrones. Wish me luck..?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sunday Sundries: The Joy Of New

This week, I got a brand new iPhone. I realise that this isn't really a groundbreaking event, and we all get new iPhones every two years (those of us who suckle at Apple's human rights violating-y teat, anyway), but getting and setting up this new phone got me to thinking about some things that it really only seems right to share here (because literally no one else would care).

I was pretty excited about my new phone because, in spite of what I just said, I had waited three years for this instead of two, due to a lack of funds and general ok-ness with my old phone the last time I was due an upgrade. Last week, events conspired and I found myself live-chatting with an O2 worker on a Friday night (wild!) getting a good upgrade deal and ordering my brand new phone.* I got the phone on Monday, and after trying and failing to restore my phone from iCloud three times, I got to thinking.

Why restore? Here I was, with this brand new phone, excited by the sheer feel of it, and here I was about to make it literally exactly the same as the phone I already had, just longer and sleeker and with awesome fingerprint technology. I wondered how many people just unthinkingly do this, without taking the opportunity to start afresh, leave behind the apps that weren't useful to their lives anymore, and start using their phones in a new, more mindful way.

So that's what I decided to do. It wasn't exactly a noble decision, considering the trouble I was having restoring anyway, but I'm pretty sure with a little perseverance, I could have made the backup work. Instead, I started with a blank slate (blank apart from the 5,000 compulsory apps Apple now have, of course) and thought about what I really needed at my fingertips, and what was pretty unnecessary to my life. I got to have the best of both worlds, since iCloud is pretty magic, so I got to import my photos and my contacts without laboriously adding them manually (although I would fully promote that, if only to weed out all the terrible boys in one's phone *shifty eyes*), and then it was up to me.

My strategy was this- to download the apps that I use to stay in touch with people (Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, social media-y things), the ones that improve my life admin (mobile banking, Bloglovin, Nike Running) and the ones that actually cost me real money (looking at you, Busuu and Yoga Studio). I left off things like pinterest, which I barely looked at but which sent me THE MOST notifications, and specific shopping apps, except for amazon because I use it pretty often because I just can't help myself. I figured that, if I need to buy something and it's easier to do it through an app, then I can just download and remove the app at basically the same time, and I've done that once already, with the etsy app.

It has honestly already made a huge different to how cluttered my brain feels when I look at my phone, and actively thinking about what I use my phone for and how much I use it. If you're doubting how much of a difference any of this can really make, then I point to the fact that I have left behind the online dating app from my old phone, a change which probably won't last but which has forced me to think about what I've been using it for, as well as how much I've been using it. It's a break from the exhausting process of small-talking with 20 losers before finding the one guy who's actually worth talking to (before, of course, he turns out to be a loser too).

Frankly, for now, I'm enjoying the quiet.

The internet is all about minimising and mindfulness at the moment, and choosing not to make my new phone a carbon copy of my old one has allowed me to practice both. I feel like I look at my phone less and get fewer notifications (which is honestly a good thing for me) and it's so much easier to find the things I really need, because at the moment, I don't have any that I don't. I'm fully aware that through the lifespan of a phone, I'm going to eventually add apps that I don't really need, and that things are likely to get cluttered again, but I'm glad I took the opportunity to fully start afresh, and hope that it's taught me to reduce and minimise, and just hold on to what is truly necessary. In all areas of life, not just in my phone.

*Just as an aside, you know when people say that you have to go direct to the service provider to get the best deal? THAT IS LITERALLY TRUE. Never ever accept the price that's on the website or whatever, trust me.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sunday Sundries: #20booksofsummer and other bits and bobs

Bonjourno, good Sunday greetings and welcome! It has just become really really hot here so I'm typing this in my underwear (calm down) in my bedroom and honestly, I'm still sweating a bit because I had the audacity to go outside earlier.

In other words, SUMMER! I've been waiting for you so long and finally you're here, and I love you even if all you've brought me is some sweat and all the sneezes in the world (Seriously. I've been scaring small children on the bus today.)

ANYWAY. It is summer and I have been alerted to the fact that there exists in the world a blog... thing (I don't want to call it an event because it sort of isn't. Challenge, maybe?) that, if we're boiling it down to its essential points, basically just involves making a big ole pile of books, and I think we all know how much I love doing that!

Real information- it's a thing, it runs from June 1st-September 5th, and you pick 20 books that you're going to read this summer. BOOM sorted here's a big pile of books coming atcha:
IT IS A RIDICULOUS PILE OF BOOKS AND I LOVE IT. I can't even describe how tall it is, but at the moment it seems structurally sound, and it is staying on my table of stuff. So there, sensible side of my brain!

Shall we talk about the books though? I've tried to put in a good selection of non-fiction, classics, authors I love, and a couple of comics, and hopefully it'll be enough of a pile to keep me interested through all the long long months of looking at it. I really want to read all of them right now, so hopefully that feel will continue!

So here it is, from the top to the bottom:

Lisey's Story, Cell, The Colorado Kid by Stephen King- Remember my 26 before 27 list where I said I wanted to try and read all the Stephen King this year? Well, I'm still on the same book as when I wrote that, BUT I'm finally making headway with it and this summer seems like a good time to READ SOME MORE! These are thankfully more portable than the last Dark Tower book so I should race through them in no time, and yassssss!

A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin- Also after finishing The Dark Tower, I've promised myself I can finally start reading A Game of Thrones because can I handle more than one fantasy book series at a time? I cannot.

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson- Any time of year is a good time to read Bill Bryson, to be honest.

Miss Buncle's Book by D E Stevenson- My first Persephone purchase! Since I've signed up for the Persephone Ninja Book Swap AND have plans to visit the shop with Bex soon, I feel like I should probably actually read one of the books and not just ooh at how exciting they are.

The Collected Stories by T Coraghessan Boyle- I have only ever read The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle but I loooooved it, and I've had this book of his short stories for a long time. Gotta read them, and short stories are just so great, let's be honest.

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski- The only things I really know about Bukowski is that I should read him and also he wrote this poem that's basically my favourite poem (more about which in another blog post, at some point). With this in mind, I'm going to read Ham on Rye. Boom.

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin- Sometimes a person just starts collecting autobiographies of people they like, and then they never read them. By a person I obviously mean myself, and this is an attempt at, y'know, reading one of them.

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami- It's Murakami sooooo... Yeah.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson- Every summer I say I'm going to read The Summer Book, and every summer I fail. I may fail again this summer. Let's see.

Torch by Cheryl Strayed- I would probably read anything Cheryl Strayed writes, but I've been avoiding this because I think it is about mother death and I bought it maybe weeks before my first nan died. But, I think I'll be ok, and Strayed's writing deserves my attention.

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov- Fun story- after I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, I bought Invitation to a Beheading because Nafisi made it sound awesome. A couple of days later I realised I already had it on my shelves and this is the story of how I officially own too many books. THE POINT is that I'm going to read it, still because Nafisi made it sound awesome.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall- Hey, wasn't this on the last pile I made? Sure, but I still wanna read it, on those rough days when running feels like the worst (which is actually all the days at the moment. Uhhhhh).

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert- I feel like I've been supposed to read Madame Bovary for a long time but I never have. Now is my time! (I have actually read a couple of chapters of this already, and I like it! What I'm saying is, I will probably actually read it).

Middlemarch by George Eliot- Bex is doing a readalong of this this summer and as I have tried and failed to read it by myself a couple of times, I'm hoping the camaraderie of it will see me through! Join us, why dontcha?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy- I reckon the odds of me actually finishing War and Peace this summer are slim to none, but I can maybe start it? Maybe? Maybe.

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan- If we will all recall, I bloody loved The Omnivore's Dilemma, so I'm expecting good things from this one, too. Pollen few.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner- I was DYING to read this when I bought it on the Bookshop Crawl, but I felt too naughty to read it straight away because I'm insane. Four months, though, seems like sufficient time to have owned a book before reading it, right? Right.

V For Vendetta by Alan Moore- And finally. I need more Moore (ha) in my life and I own V for Vendetta for unknown reasons so I shall read it with my eyes and brain this summer. *Nods*

I'm so sorry, this is like the longest post ever and I didn't even mean it to be. To summarise- I am going to read some books this summer and it will maybe be these ones but also it might not be now I am going to stop verbal diarrhoea-ing like some ineloquent bastard and get on with my life.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Things I Read In May

May was a pretty good month for reading. Considering the amount of time I spent with books, I probably could have finished more, but I find that non-fiction usually takes longer to read, but it is also usually completely worth it. I also read a good chunk of the final Dark Tower book so hopefully I'll get that OUT OF MY LIFE in June (I love it but it has taken soooooo long) and essentially, my general battle cry is YAY READING YOU ARE GREAT.

Here's what I read though:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
You'll forgive me if I cried a little more than usual during this first reading of To Kill A Mockingbird after Harper Lee's death. I'm sure I don't really have to review it (mainly because I already did, here) because we all get the gist, but the emotional resonance for me, this time, was turned up to 11. I'm still really sad that this really is it, and there are no hidden vaults containing maybe 20 Harper Lee novels, but one perfect one really is enough for a person in a lifetime, I reckon. RIP, Harper Lee, and thank you so much for Atticus.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Astonishingly I have already reviewed this, and in the same month I read it! Unbelievable effort there, I think we can all agree.

Nine Stories by JD Salinger
Having read Nine Stories, I've been thinking about JD Salinger a lot, and I've decided that his stories can almost universally be categorised, and/or dismissed, under the hashtag #richpeopleproblems. To dismiss them because of this alone, however, would be a mistake, not least because Salinger's writing is so good, and real, and honest, that it doesn't really matter that his stories are all about problems that rich people are having, because they start feeling like problems that anyone could have. Each of the Nine Stories are more or less tales of loss, of eccentric characters and difficult situations and just, in general, life. My dislike of The Catcher in the Rye still stands, but fades into the background over just how much I love Salinger's short stories, and I wholly recommend and Holden-haters to try Salinger's short stories, just to see. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Unbelievably, I have also reviewed this already. I know, I know, I take a bow. If reviews are a bit TL:DR for you though, here are some keywords: feminism, literary criticism, memoir, Iran, history, revolution, AWESOME. The last one is the most important.

Landing by Emma Donoghue
I liked Landing so much that it probably deserves a full review, but the chances of me actually getting around to that seem slim so let's talk about it here a little. Landing is about a chance meeting on an aeroplane, that leads to a long distance relationship, that leads to love. It's also about grief, about stubbornness, about the difficulty about combining two lives when you don't really know about their day-to-day business, and about the incredible gamble that being in love, any kind of love, always involves. Considering the premise, this book could easily have veered into the territory of chick-lit, but considering that the characters in love are both women (lesbians are NEVER covered in chick-lit) and Emma Donoghue is a consistently good writer that never ever ever lets me down, it offers a lot more than just romance, it offers just a little slice of life. It's definitely one of my favourite novels of the year so far, which makes sense because, I'll say it again, it's Emma Donoghue. She's honestly the best.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but I don't have much to say about it. It's slightly surprising to me that it's taught in American Colleges (I remember there being some furore about it a little while ago basically based on its title and oh my GOD can someone please teach censors how to read so they can stop being mad at books that are smarter than them) because although I whizzed through this in a few days, I don't have much to say about it in a critical sense. The story is told in a first person monologue, as a street trader in Pakistan tells an American businessman about his time in America, both before and immediately after 9/11, but it's much more subtle than that description would suggest. Although Changez (the speaker) experiences discrimination after the 9/11 of the book, it serves as a subtle backdrop to his story about loving a woman who is unreachable, and working through what's best to do with his life after graduation, which is actually a universal tale. The ending is perhaps the most interesting, especially in a critical sense, but I'm obviously not going to talk about it with you... Unless you've read this too and we'll talk about it in code in the comments. Critically interesting or not, this remains a very good read, and definitely worth your time, even if it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. 

BOOM, May! I kind of smashed it in the reading stakes, and there were even a couple more books I could have finished, had I wanted to permanently injure my back carrying around giant books (I didn't). Let's see what June has to offer. 

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Devouring Books: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran hits so many of my personal hotspots and interests that it's difficult to know where to begin in reviewing it. Do I start with the feminism? Or do I dive into the fact that it's not only a memoir, but also a work of literary criticism, based around autobiography? Or do I recount the ways it reminded me of Persepolis, but also the ways it was even better than Persepolis?

I think, instead, I'll start with Margaret Atwood (bear with me). The cover of my copy has a quotation from Atwood, suggesting that this is a really good book. A general marketing ploy, of course, to get people who read Atwood's work to try a book by an 'ethnic' writer they might not be aware of, and I'm sure it definitely works on that level. However, the more I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, the more I was reminded of The Handmaid's Tale and how you read the latter thinking that women's freedoms could never be removed in such a way, and then read the former and understand that it has already happened, in Iran. I think it's really interesting that we (and by we, I'm really just speaking for myself) think of Iran as being incredibly oppressive and sexist towards its female citizens and that's how it's always been, when in fact this oppression is incredibly new, and in fact Persia, as Iran used to be, was previously one of the most advanced places for women to live in the world.

This kind of history becomes evident in Reading Lolita in Tehran, which is memoir about a lot of things- about living through the Iranian revolution, and about living after it, and dealing with what is left behind for women. Nafisi recounts what living in Iran was like before the revolution, of her childhood considering her grandma almost a relic for wearing the veil, up to an Iran where wearing the veil is non-compulsory, and refusal to do so leads to either corporal punishment, and sometimes death. The memoir begins with Nafisi's story of the reading group she set up, having been fired from her university for general disobedience and not being a puppet of a woman, and it is made clear from this group that, although Nafisi can remember a time of freedom for women that is hard to shake, her students can only hear stories of those times, with no sense of what it is actually like to have personal freedoms. I found myself almost wanting to choose which was worse, but eventually decided that there was no point- both scenarios are terrible, and both to me seem unbearable.

Reading Lolita in Tehran would be good and interesting and immensely readable even without the literary criticism it contains, but with the literary criticism it becomes something else entirely. It makes complete sense that Nafisi, who is, after all, a doctor of English, should tell readers about her life through books, because in a certain sense, her life has been books. For this book, what it means is that we get solid literary criticism (from an Iranian, sometimes revolutionary perspective) about the works of Nabokov and Henry James, as well as a look at Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby and the ways in which they're relevant to life- to all lives, really. It's the kind of writing that made me rethink some of the ways I felt about The Great Gatsby, for instance, and made me want to read Invitation to a Beheading so badly that I ordered a fancy copy from Amazon only to find that I already had it on my shelves (the perils of a book hoarder!)

It didn't quite make me want to read James, but that's only to be expected because I have tried and I'm sorry, but I can't.

This book, then, is something of a reader's delight of a memoir, but it's also interesting in a historical sense and if you have any interest in feminism at all. I was gripped by it in a way I am not always gripped by non-fiction (even memoirs) and it made me want, in that dangerous, slippery slope sort of way, want to go back and just do a damn phD already, if only so that I could, maybe one day, write a memoir as good as this, with literary criticism as compelling and relevant to my life as Nafisi manages to make it to hers. If you care about history, if you care about revolution, if you care about feminism, if you care about books, you're probably going to care about Reading Lolita in Tehran quite a lot.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Second-Saturday Sundries: Living Life and Getting Through

Happy second-Saturday, everyone!
Is there anything better than a Bank Holiday? I think probably not, except for, like, actual holidays and days when there is cake. In a practical sense, what this Bank Holiday means is that I can apply for jobs without feeling like I'm losing a day of my liiiiiiife because I have a whole extra day off tomorrow where I can actually do things I want to do! (What I want to do: go to Reading with Frances and eat all the food. It's happening.)

I've probably written too much in general about how much I hate applying for jobs, so I'll avoid that line of thought today and go on a different, but still as sad route. Friday was what would have been my Grandad's 88th birthday, and tomorrow marks one year since he died, and one year of living without any grandparents. It's weird to put it that way, I guess, but when your grandparents have had an important presence in your life for 26 and a little bit years, and then they all go away in 17 months, you have to figure out how to get along without them.

Here's where I'd normally try to share things I'd learnt, or some kind of hopeful message or something, but if there's one thing I don't really know anything about it's being positive about death (also, boys. But that's another issue.) But seriously, it really sucks, and everything hurts, and then everything hurts slightly less, but it continues to suck, and I don't think it'll ever really stop sucking. Death is weirdly life-changing, and in the past year it's been so strange to not see my family every Sunday, and to not be able to go to my Grandparents' house anymore (I don't think I've really accepted that one), and just generally, to have fewer people in my life who are unconditionally there for me and think everything I do is amazing, whether it is or not.

It's just been really hard, is what I'm saying.

And yet. We carry on because there's nothing else we can do, and slowly carve out new things that we do all the time. I do still see family on Sundays but it's just my mum and dad, but that's enough. I don't get to see my grandparents on their birthdays (or, indeed, mine) but they're still always with me, and that's enough. It wasn't fair to lose three of them so close together, but it wouldn't have been any easier if they'd been spread out because I loved them and didn't want to lose them, ever. I don't really know where I'm going with this because I don't have a unifying statement, a grand message of hope, I just have this: I love them, I miss them, I was lucky to have them. Nothing will ever be as it was, but that doesn't mean it can't be just as good, just in a different way. Or at least I hope (ha! Hope) so.

So, Friday. With a touch of providence, I also got my Lucky Dip Club subscription box for the month on Friday, and in it were some seeds. I can't remember ever planting anything before, but I can remember getting my grandad to plant things for me, so it was wonderful to, even in the smallest way, be following in his gardening footsteps and planting my own little seeds, waiting to see what would flower.
I guess I'm waiting to see what else my grandparents have planted in me that's going to flower later. Knowing them, I bet it's going to be just wonderful.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sunday Sundries: New Things!

Happy Sunday, everyone! Here in merry old England it is warm but kinda cloudy and I am not into that at all, so I'm essentially staying in my room, 'tidying' (blogging) and 'looking for jobs' (reading) because what else are Sundays for? Exactly.

So, I missed last week's Sunday Sundries. MY BAD. It's especially my bad because the most exciting thing (to me) happened and it deserves a moment of pause:
I GOT A KITCHENAID. Look at how beautiful it is, I simply cannot cope. I suspect that normal people probably don't really care that much about Kitchenaids, but I've wanted one for a veeeery long time now, and, as I said to my housemate, it's definitely the best consolation prize for all my grandparents being dead that there ever was. (I don't want that to sound flippant and OBViously nothing makes up for it, but this was a present from my mum out of her inheritance etc etc. And I love it.)

I feel like it might be a better present for everyone who knows me than for me because I am so eager to use it at all times that I keep baking things. I made cupcakes the day after I got it, and then less than a week later (i.e. Wednesday) I made a chocolate loaf cake (so good) and I'm considering making some cookies today, so, yeah. I'm baking the hell out of stuff, does anyone want some baked goods because seriously, I want to make them!

In further excitement, I went to see King Lear and it was actually quite a good production (King Lear is notoriously difficult to perform and stage). Even better, I bought the cheapest ticket because I'm not a millionaire, but I presume they didn't sell enough (poor Shakespeare) so I got upgraded to a way better seat for no money, which totally felt like winning.
Last weekend I went out with work and got preeeeeetty drunk which was great, and Saturday I went to this Harry Potter comedy parody... thing with my sister. It was funny, BUT I felt like the performers found it funnier than I did, and I couldn't help thinking that with all of my Harry Potter experience and experience of being fucking hilarious I could kind of have done a better job? And yet. I still enjoyed myself so I shouldn't really complain.

And now we realise that it's a good job that I didn't Sunday Sundries at you last week, because I don't really have anything to tell about this week, apart from, you know, work and so on. Friday was my dad's birthday so I went to see him and eat food, then slept at my parents' so I could meet my auntie's boyfriend's dog (I have my priorities right) and also to be fed and generally looked after for a day because who doesn't want that?! Nobody, that's who.

Which just about brings us up to now. In book news, I'm really trying to read less books at once which is why I started two new books this week when I was already reading two (*sigh*) but being in the middle of four books is still less than I was in the middle of at the start of May, so... baby steps? In life news, the soundtrack to my entire life for the whole of May so far has been the soundtrack to Hamilton, and OH MY GOD. I feel like a fool for not listening to all of the Americans I know (sorry, guys) in like January about how good it is, but I have now learnt my lesson and it's all I can listen to. If I had a bucket list, basically all that would be on it at the moment is seeing Hamilton (and it better come to London soon, or so help me God...) and ARGH HOW IS IT SO GOOD?!?!?!?!?!

I know. I'm a thousand years behind everything. But at least I know now!

So that is me. What have you been up to, tell me everything.