Thursday, 30 June 2011

Devouring Stephen King: The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone ended up being a lot different from what I had expected of it (and indeed what I expect from any Stephen King novel) but this was not at all a negative thing. On the contrary, to have less horror and more thriller aspects to his work was a refreshing change from what I had grown to expect, and I found myself continually being sucked into this book, and resenting having to set it down at the end of the work lunch hour.

Without wanting to give anything away (like the back of my copy did, damn publishers!) the story essentially revolves around a man who has psychic powers that manifest themselves when he touches people, allowing him to see into the future and to warn people about bad things that are going to happen. This alone sounds pretty paranormal and all freaky and stuff, but really, this is sort of a minor plot point. Bear with me, because I know that sounds ridiculous, but really it's more of a story about the invasiveness of the media (something that is much more relevant now, I think, then it would have been in the late 70s), and about political power, and what some people will do (anything) to get it.

The invasiveness of the media part comes in when our psychic hero (I don't really want to tell you his name, although I'm sure you'll guess right away if you read it) is completely hounded by the press, chased down even to his fathers home, and first celebrated and then humiliated for his gift/curse (however you choose to see it). It's an interesting phenomenon that we see practically every week, how the press builds someone up just to knock them down again, and we can see through the firsthand experience of the main character just how damaging it can be.

Intertwined with the story of our protagonist, there is, as ever, an antagonist, who is generally rather unpleasant, threatens teenagers, businessmen etc; whilst also gaining in political power (which will probably not surprise you at all). If I was going to criticise the story, these bits would be it- they are very separated from the main thread of the story and, although they are needed for the (very dramatic!) conclusion of the story, I can't help but think there might have been a better way to include them that might have been a bit more polished and more integral to the main story. Quite frankly, our psychic friend could basically have just seen inside him and into his evil, and that would have been enough justification for the ending that we get.

What is interesting about our villain though, is that he lacks any kind of supernatural qualities, something which I have essentially come to expect from Stephen King. He is just, essentially, a very unpleasant man, who should not be allowed any kind of power in any way. The supernatural element, then, comes from the hero, and in what is possibly a unique situation, the supernatural is used only for good purposes in The Dead Zone, and not at all for bad, as in basically all his other novels (that I've read so far, anyway). This is an interesting kind of twist on what people tend to think about the supernatural, and makes it, in this instance, something to be harnessed for good, and not just for evil purposes. This is something that has been explored before by King, notably in Danny's psychic abilities in The Shining, but it hasn't before been the only supernatural thing about a Stephen King story, and that's what makes it especially interesting to me.

In spite of this though, I did really enjoy The Dead Zone, and want to thank it for not scaring the crap out of me, and for actually making me think about stuff. There's quite a lot more to it than I've actually talked about, and I have been deliberately obscure because I really don't want to ruin any of it for you! Just trust me that you'll like it, and add it to your wish list immediately if not sooner!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Devouring Books: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I'm not sure I've ever met a book that I wish I'd read when I was a little bit younger quite like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Primarily a tale of a young bookish girl growing up in early twentieth century Brooklyn, it reveals to us the lush inner life of our heroine, Francie, as she slowly sees changes in the world around her, and more importantly, in herself and what she feels and believes. Supported by some wonderfully drawn lesser characters (in length they are in the novel rather than in their personalities), Francie is able to grow and flourish as the novel progresses, and, by the end, I almost felt proud of her and how far she had come since the start of the story. This is what this novel does to you guys- makes you feel like a proud parent to a fictional character. Can you really ask for anything more from a novel?

I think it's pretty clear that I adored this book, and most of that was down to Francie. If there's a character out there that I can relate to more, than I haven't read that book yet, and I've read a whole lot of books. Her imagination, her sense of the beauty in things that other people might not think are beautiful, and above all her love of books and her wallowing, almost even hiding in them- I'm not a stranger to any of these things, and I was definitely a lot more like her when I was younger. Watching Francie grow up, then, was almost like watching myself grow up, feeling proud of her maturity almost like being proud of my own (ah, if only I was as mature as Francie is by the end of this book!) She is a fabulous character, and I hope that Smith is as immensely proud of her as I also am.

This is not to put down the other characters in the novel however, since the supporting cast of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is just as vividly drawn as Francie, and equally great. My personal favourites were Francie's Aunt Sissy, a promiscuous lady who is also basically the nicest person to have ever existed (at least in my brain!). A more crude reviewer might call her a 'tart with a heart', but I call her simply lovely, helpful, and extraordinarily human. I also adored Francie's father, an incorrigible drunk, but one who is always always striving to do better and to be a better person, however difficult that may be. This supporting cast really makes the novel what it is, as without the side stories that the family presents, we wouldn't be able to see as clearly how Francie becomes the person she does. Also, some of them are just purely and simply hilarious! (I'm not going to ruin anything for you, but just trust me on this one.)

It is my personal belief that novels cannot exist on grand sweeping statements (fabulous though they may  be) alone. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, fortunately, has a wonderful story, as well as giving us many valuable insights into the nature of life itself. Thus, we have things like this, on being truly alive:
"'Dear God' [Francie] prayed, 'let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay, let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry... have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere- be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honourable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.'"
 And this, on saying goodbye to something:
"The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, [Francie] thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything, as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn't held it tighter when you had it every day."
That last one is actually my favourite, because it strikes me as being so true- how quick we are to take everything for granted, until we are about to lose it, and then what we had immediately becomes the most wonderful thing that has ever been. It's essentially, I suppose, the equivalent of 'you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone', but stated so much more eloquently and beautifully.

I'm going to stop soon, although I could probably go on for days, but I just have to share one absolutely brilliant moment in the novel that illustrates how, even though society changes so much and so quickly, things are always essentially the same, because, let's face it, people are people. Towards the end of the novel, the US (finally!) joins World War One, and a frenzy of German baiting ensues, best displayed by this little chestnut:
"'The last time I asked for sauerkraut he chased me out of the store,' complained Neely.
'You've got to ask for Liberty cabbage now you dope,' said Francie."
Sound familiar, American readers?! May I remind you all of freedom fries, about 8 or 9 years ago?! This just struck me as utterly hilarious, and really an indication of how pathetic people can be in terms of patriotism. Very uncool, but also very funny.

There is so much about this novel that I haven't discussed; it's portrayal of poverty, why I don't really like Francie's mother even though she's probably the bravest character in the novel, or how much I love that there are, I swear, at least three Christmases in the book (this isn't just me right? I've always loved descriptions of Christmases and birthdays, and how other people celebrate them and what presents they get and things like that. It just pleases me!) But I think that these are all things that you have the right to discover and learn by yourself, and chances are you'll have very different favourite parts than me. But that's the way it's supposed to be! I just hope that you really do love it as much as me, because it has quickly made its way onto my favourite books list (that exists only in my brain!)

Note: I wish I could remember the blogger that wrote a review of this that I read and that inspired me to get it for my birthday, but I really can't. BUT whoever you are, if you're reading this, thank you, and I love you!!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Another week, another Tuesday, another list of extreme awesomeness and wonder, hosted, as ever, by the incomparable The Broke and the Bookish (will they have to change their name when, inevitably, they all become wealthy because they are amazing? Just a delirious heat thought...) I've more or less ignored the instruction for this week's list because, basically, I don't use any bookish applications. I am signed up to Shelfari, but I haven't used it since I got it to participate in a discussion of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, basically because, if I have computer time, I'm generally updating my blog, reading everyone else's blogs, or on twitter. In the spirit of that, then, I'm going to share with you my top ten bookish (ish... you'll see) things I follow on twitter! Fun, huh? Oh, and if you want to follow me on twitter, I'm @LauraRowsell, and I generally blabber on about things and talk about True Blood and Lush a lot. Who doesn't want to see that on their twitter feed?! Anyway...

Top Ten Bookish Things/People I follow on Twitter

1. The Strand Bookstore (@strandbookstore)- I may have mentioned once or twice my undying devotion for New York City, and The Strand is probably one of my favourite things in the entire city (and, indeed, the world!) While I can't go to any of the events they promote on twitter, I can imagine that I can, and that's almost as good, at least for now!

2. Penguin Books (@PenguinBooks)- They tell me about new releases, sometimes start fun twitter discussions about books, and there's always the chance that they'll see my fabulous tweets and just hire me immediately and pay me millions of pounds to read. This is something that happens in real life, right?

3. Guardian Books (@GuardianBooks)- Constantly providing links to really really interesting articles about all kinds of books, interviews with authors, things like that. They also happen to be part of my favourite newspaper, so there's that too.

4. The New Yorker (@NewYorker)- Possibly my favourite magazine (I'll tell you about the other contender in a bit), The New Yorker twitter generally directs you to interesting and relevant things on their website, which is pretty awesome for a twitter dweller such as myself.

5. Diablo Cody (@diablocody)- The writer of Juno and United States of Tara is possibly my favourite person in the world (that I don't actually know) and my little twitter stalkee (that doesn't sound at all creepy!). She doesn't tweet as much these days, but when she does, it's still pretty awesome and hilarious!

6. New York Public Library (@nypl)- A similar twitter follow to The Strand Bookstore, the New York Public Library often tweets about things that I can't go to, but just by knowing about such things, I feel a part of them. Sad? Definitely, but it makes me feel better while I'm stuck in England.

7. Bust Magazine (@bust_magazine)- My probably actually favourite magazine, Bust tweets about things that I'm definitely going to be interested in, plus posts links to their blog which always has stuff on it that I enjoy. It gets me through the times when there's not a new Bust making its way towards me (and since it only comes out once every two months, that's a lot of time!) Go follow them, subscribe to their magazine and revel in the fabulousness- you'll never want to buy Cosmopolitan or any other magazine ever again!

8. True Blood (@TrueBloodHBO)- Not strictly about books, but hey, I talk about films and (rarely) TV on here too! The official True Blood twitter is awesome because it basically gives you links to every article written about True Blood, which is definitely useful for a crazed Eric fan like yours truly. In the times when the show isn't on, it can get a little annoying (mostly just quoting lines from the show) but it really is worth following for the links to videos on HBOs website, recaps on other websites, and other general good things like that!

9. Feminist Hulk (@feministhulk)- If you don't follow the feminist hulk, you've really been missing out! Feminist sentiments expressed in CAPITALS, reminding you to keep on fighting the good fight. Just amazing.

10. Vanity Fair (@vanityfair)- I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Vanity Fair as a magazine because, on the one hand, they're completely liberal (and therefore awesome) but then they also extol the fabulous excesses of rich people in, as far as I can see, a completely uncritical way. It's slightly perplexing, to say the least., however, which their twitter feed handily prescribes me links to, almost always has things I want to read on it, and, once, even had Charlie Sheen Madlibs. Awesome? I think so! They also employ one of my favourite reviewers (and their resident recapper of True Blood) Mike Ryan (@mikeryan), and so without them, I would never have found him! So yeah, good times all round!

So that's my top ten, who do you love to follow on twitter? Let me know in the comments and, you know, maybe I'll go check them out and stuff and think about offering them my much sought after followership. Or, you know, follow them and then be too shy to say anything to them and stuff. I'm really looking forward to reading all of your lists today, because clearly I need to get me some bookish apps if I'm going to keep up with the big kids! Have a fab Tuesday everyone!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

In My Mailbox/Mailbox Monday (Stephen King Special Edition!)

Greetings fellow book buyers! I tell myself every week that I'm not going to take part in IMM/Mailbox Monday, and every week I end up buying so many books that I simply have to share. It's shameful but true... Now, who wants to see the books I bought this week?! Definitely not my mum haha! As you may have guessed from the title, I have bought quite a few Stephen King books this week in preparation for the rest of my Stephen King Challenge, but I've also branched out a tiny bit and bought some books by *gasp* other authors too! I hope you'll all enjoy reading about them, and then be inspired to read them all, and then tell me I'm a genius for buying them! Or, you know, just read this...

So, the books I got by the King were:

The Tommyknockers

The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon

Everything's Eventual

Of these, I've only read The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon (so far), which I wasn't all that impressed with, but I will give it another go for the sake of completing a challenge properly! But I think I got all three for a total of about £2, so either way I'm not complaining! I'm quite sad that I couldn't find Firestarter though, which is the next book I have to read after The Dead Zone (which I'm progressing with quite nicely!) so i guess I'll just have to keep looking for that one...

There was still space in my reading heart for books not by Stephen King though. These were:

Literature and Gender ed. by Lizbeth Goodman- This book is like a dream- feminism, reading, feminist critiques of novels, feminist novels!! It could prove to either be really boring or really amazing, but either way it cost me 20p (!) and retails on for £20.98... I'm either going to make a spiritual profit or a literal one, let's put it that way!

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome- My sister thought it prudent to tell me (after going through my personal things without asking) that Swallows and Amazons is 'really boring'. As she reads what I can only describe as crap, and didn't really even get Never Let Me Go, I'm not going to let that stunning assessment put me off this book.

An Education by Lynn Barber- I watched the film of this not so long ago, and it wasn't until someone alerted me to it in the comments that I even knew it was a book! Fortunately they did (thank you teadevotee!) and now I can read it and make it be part of Two Bibliomaniacs Books to Movies Challenge! Two birds with one stone or what?!

And, finally, I got Hood by Emma Donoghue. If I haven't yet mentioned enough how much I love Room, let me direct you to my review and save you the giant gush that is bound to eminate from me if I talk about it here. The point, anyway, is that I thought I'd stick with what I know, and take the chance that Hood is as good (could it possibly be even better?!) as Room. Fingers crossed for that!

So these are the books I got this week. It occurs to me now that I got more non-Stephen King than Stephen King books this week, so it feels like the title is a bit erroneous now... but three books by the same author is still a lot, right?! If you're a new visitor here then welcome, please tell me what you think of my reading tastes, and feel free to follow if you see anything you like! I like you already, probably!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Hop Hop Hop Hop Then Fall Over Because You're Bored of Hopping

The great titles just keep coming guys! I know, I know, please save your applause and just send money and/or gifts of high monetary value. As you may or may not have realised it's Friday, which means only one thing here at Devouring Texts- it's time to hop in various ways that you all definitely love. I've only just realised that this title makes it seem like I'm bored of hopping, which, interestingly, I'm actually not. But I am adding an extra hop to this weeks load, so maybe I am feeling the need to spice things up a bit!

First up, as it tends to be is #fridayreads, hosted by The Picky Girl in a nod to the trend on twitter to say what we're reading on a friday. I do this on twitter too, but right here I can go into more detail and just generally ramble because, really, who doesn't love reading that?! Anyway, today I'm going to be reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, something I've been reading and enjoying a little sporadically over the past few weeks, and so I really want to get my teeth into it! Interspersed with that, I'm probably going to be reading The Dead Zone by Stephen King, which I've started this week and have been really enjoying! (The fact that I'm reading these, and 2 other books all at once should give you some indication of why I hardly ever end up posting book reviews these days... I have no focus!) But anyway, I'm going to give these two a really good go today and over the weekend, and hopefully report back next week! Good plan, huh?
Book Blogger Hop
This week, Crazy-For-Books asks: When did you realise that reading was your passion, and a really important part of your life? Amazing question! I guess I can't really remember a time when I wasn't reading, and when I didn't bug my mum to take me to the library on Saturdays so I could get the maximum 9 books out and read them in, I swear, a week. So I guess it's kind of always been there, and was just naturally nurtured by having amazing English teachers throughout school and college, and then choosing to take it at University, so that reading really has become a vitally important part of my life!

And Parajunkee asks: What is your favourite fairy story or story that revolves around fairies? Hmmm... Well, my favourite fairy is probably tinkerbell (don't you love how original I am and all?) because, seriously, that girl's got attitude coming out of her ears! My favourite fairy tale is possibly Hansel and Gretel, even though it's really intrinsically horrible, although, I guess all fairy tales are really. But there is the house made out of sweets in Hansel and Gretel, so yeah, maybe I just like that bit about it!

And: BRAND NEW FEATURE (for me) is TGIF at GReads- I only discovered this last week, and it was extremely exciting (favourite quotes, which I just LOVE) so I figured, why not take part this week? So, this weeks question is: Where is your ideal place to take a summer vacation and get lost in a book? This is a bit of a tricky one for me to answer, since when I go on holiday, I tend to go to cities and basically not stop for a week. AND I barely read, because, you know, I'm in an exciting new place, and I really want to be there, rather than getting lost inside a book. Clearly, I don't do holidays properly. Having said that, I probably can't think of a better place than Central Park in New York City, sitting in the shade under some trees, for reading. Sounds utterly perfect to me!

So, these are some thoughts and things going on with me this Friday! How about you? Also, new hopperinos, welcome! Please have a look around, if you desire, and please feel free to tell me how you adore me (it's a lot, right?)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Literary Blog Hop, June 22-25

Literary Blog Hop
Ooh, it's Literary Blog Hop time again! I have already had my say a little bit in the comments of this week's question, but, you know, I have more than a sentence-worth of thoughts (well, sometimes anyway). So, this weeks question is:

Should Literature have a clear social, political, or any other type of agenda? Does having a clear agenda enhance or detract from its literary value?
I basically have two divergent viewpoints on this, but they both add up to the same thing- literature must be well written above anything else. What I think is this. A bad writer with some kind of political or social chip on her shoulder is probably going to write something that is overwrought with a political message and that treats this as more important than the story itself. This is something that should not be done, and just completely makes the idea of political or social based fiction something that turns people off, and makes them think of badly crafted stories, and of books that should be avoided.

BUT- this is a mistake! I essentially think that the word 'agenda' in the question gives one an immediate reaction to go 'NO! Any prior/hidden/whatever agenda is bad! People should just write what they feel, man.' But the thing is, literature is supposed to reflect, or enhance, or just be related to life, and what is life if not played out against a massive political/social backdrop? So, in a way, I feel that authors of great literature can't really help but put some kind of political and social slant on their writing, more by accident than anything else- there is no way for us to live without the constant political and social aspects to life, and so any literature that deliberately tried to leave out such things would instantly not ring true, and we perhaps would not accept it as good literature. Some sort of political and social awareness, then, is necessary for a good novel.

But that's not really what the question is asking either. The question really is, I suppose, can a work of literature be mostly focused on a political or social issue, or trying to make a point in these areas, and still be good? My answer to this is just (as Connie at The Blue Bookcase pointed out) 1984 (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Animal Farm) by George Orwell. The entire basis and clear agenda behind these books is clearly political, and yet you can't say that these are not great works of literature- I would put them amongst my favourite books, and the reason for that is that they are incredibly political, but they are also incredibly well written, and engaging, and just everything that you could want from a work of literature, in spite of and/or because of the fact that they are incredibly politically motivated.

So, I guess the point is, write well and you can basically write whatever you want. Write badly and just give up and actually become a politician or something. The importance of literature in affecting people's thinking about politics and social issues cannot be overstated, but it can have no effect if handled badly. The moral of this story, really, is don't bother writing anything at all if you can't do it well, and shouldn't that just be a rule for literature anyway? I think so!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Devouring Books: Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

I was ridiculously excited when I found out (I think via twitter) that Rob Lowe was writing a book, I assume mainly because I think he actually is Sam Seabourn from The West Wing, and OH MY GOD, WHY ISN'T HE PRESIDENT YET?! But anyway, I thought that Sam Seabourn would have some interesting insights to make about the state of the world and politics and stuff like that, so I was ever so slightly disappointed to remember that Lowe is, in fact, an actor rather than an integral part of the President's inner circle. This disappointment ended, however, upon reading an autobiography that was extremely insightful, studded with stars, and reflective of a rather eventful life. And there's still (a lot of) space for a sequel!

It's always a little bit strange reviewing an autobiography because there really isn't anything in the story in itself that you can really criticise or question, unless you were there too (which I definitely wasn't), and even then you can't really argue with someone else's interpretation of events. So, instead of doing that, I'm just going to point out some things about the book that I noticed, and, probably, that I rather enjoyed! One of the things that was most apparent about the book was just how many famous names are dropped, and not in an overly obvious way either, but just literally in a way that said 'these are the people I grew up with. Deal with it.' And so there are tales of the Sheens down the street, losing a race to Dean Cain, and, my personal favourite, dating Cary Grant's daughter and meeting the great man himself! These names are just dropped so matter of factly that you just have to lament the fact that you didn't grow up with/around Rob Lowe, because maybe some of the star magic would have rubbed off on you, and you could be rich and famous too! The power of Malibu people, I've gotta say it seems like a kind of magical place...

The thing that really impressed me about this book is the amount of insight Lowe has into certain aspects of the 'movie star experience' (he doesn't call it that, I just couldn't think of a better way to put it!) One of the things that really interested me, because it is something that I have long thought about myself, is how fans completely lose their heads when they're around a famous person, and seem to find it more important to have been near the famous person than actually enjoying the moment at the time. This is something that Lowe, as someone who is actually interested in people, and getting to know things about them really can't fathom; how someone would want to come up to him, basically scream in his face, and then get him to scribble his autograph on a piece of paper like it means something, rather than having any kind of meaningful interaction with him, which he would actually prefer. This whole autograph hunting mentality is something that I've really never understood- to actually meet someone you idolise and all you get out of it is a scrawl on a piece of paper rather than a life experience you want to treasure? That's just a bit weird to me.

What Rob Lowe's autobiography does best is present a portrait of what it was like being in the cutthroat world of the 1980s film industry, being part of a group of bright young things, rising stars and all that stuff. What it seems to get you is a lot of insecurities, and a need to show that you are just as good, if not better than the rest of the guy's you're competing with. One of my favourite anecdotes from the autobiography comes during the making of Lowe's first movie, The Outsiders, when he tells Francis Ford Coppola how much he really loves The Godfather, and Coppola responds that, to him, the experience of The Godfather remains in the making of it; whereas now it's just like any other object, and really it belongs to the people. I found this concept so fascinating- that some great work of art you make can end up not belonging to you at all, but to the people who love it, and project parts of themselves onto it. In a way, it must be the greatest compliment your work can get, when it is something that ends up belonging to the people, and the best example I could think of for this is Harry Potter- doesn't everyone feel like it really belongs to them rather than to J K Rowling?

There were a few parts of Stories I Only Tell My Friends that I really just unashamedly loved, and for the sake of brevity I'm just going to blurt them all out to you. Firstly I loved that Lowe said that he loved Grease (I may have squealed a tiny bit at this), and that The Godfather 3 was truly awful (which, let's face it, it really is), and then there was this: "Charlie [Sheen] and I compete to see who can play harder and then show up to work and still kick ass. Verdict: Sheen, by a nose." When I read this, I instantly said, out loud, 'well, DUH' and then found myself really hilarious. But really, what else would one expect?! My actual favourite anecdote from the book though (forgetting about Coppola for a minute) is this one, which manages to be sort of hilarious and horrifying at the same time:
"My grandparents, square Republicans living in the tiny town of Sidney, Ohio, awaken one night to find three teenage girls standing over their bed. 'Is Rob Lowe here?' they ask- why they think I would be in my grandparents' bed under any circumstances is just one of the oddities of the evening."
AND he's funny! It's probably a side of Rob Lowe that a lot of people aren't that aware of (although his constant clumsiness as Sam Seabourn always makes me laugh!) but seriously, the dude's really funny, and smart and lovely, and I didn't know I could love him any more than I already did, but this book really just made me extra aware that, inside his incredibly good looking man suit, there is a pretty wonderful and smart spirit too. Yes I extra-love Rob Lowe now, is that a problem?!

The only slight issue I have with this autobiography, is just that there isn't quite enough said about his time on The West Wing, something which I was probably most interested to read about because of my obsession with the show. I was gratified to read that he had been following the careers of real life West Wing speechwriters since 1986 (!) and how strongly he felt that the part of Sam had been written for him, but on the whole there just wasn't enough meat to what he revealed about that time. My theory on this is that this leaves room for a follow up (Stories I don't even tell my friends, perhaps?), especially since there wasn't a lot of detail on much of his life post-sobreity and post-marriage, either. A lot more interesting insight to come? A girl can but hope!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Can I just say a big Happy Blogoversary to The Broke and the Bookish?! One whole year of bloggerising and whatnot, and creating a fun game of making lists and stuff that was a part of why I wanted to blog at all, just to participate in the funness of listing books and bookish type things. So thanks for that, guys! Now onto the rampant listing mania that overtakes me at about this time of the week!

Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Book Blogger/A Bookish Person

1. The Other Bloggers- To be honest, without the other bloggers I'm not really sure how long I would have carried this on for (especially when I got a job), and really being a book blogger is like joining a great big family network, all of which's members are as nerdy about reading as you!

2. The constant reinforcement that you're good, a.k.a. comments!- I honestly love comments- the idea that a total stranger has stumbled upon my blog and read what I've written is honestly mind-blowing enough for me, but when they comment too, it's just like 'whoa! They've taken time out of their day to actually write something and to compliment/agree/interact with me!' Yeah, it's pretty amazing.

3. It gave me something to do- Or, more specifically, it gave me something to do when I was going out of my mind with boredom; something I could focus on and really put a lot of effort into to make it a nice little corner of the internet, at a point when it felt like nothing was really going right in my life. Thank you blog, for giving me back some kind of control over my life!

4. You can read all the time and nobody can say anything!- 'Can you do the washing up please, Laura?' 'Sorry, I have to read so I can blog and the people will still love me!' I have never actually said this in my life, but you get the idea. I feel like it's ok to put aside other, possibly more important things to focus on reading, because really, you all need me to blog, am I right?!

5. I am physically able to share my writing with other people now!- Seriously, this was a massive problem I had- I could write, but nobody else was allowed to read it, and I could barely even read it back to edit it myself! I like to call it 'embarrassment at my own writing', others would probably refer to it as low self esteem. Whatever, I'm sort of over it now. Mostly. Until someone I know in real life asks if they can read my blog and I get excruciatingly embarrassed all over again...

6. Writing improvements..?- Well, I think so anyway. Sort of. Maybe. I read back a few of my old posts the other day, and, while I avoided being embarrassed by them, I did think that I could do better now, so that's probably an indication of improvement, right? Well, I think so anyway, you may entirely disagree (please don't disagree!)

7. There's always something to do- Whether it's writing a blog post or reading some more so I can write a blog post, or even just taking part in a blog hop or a bookish meme, I find that there is always something I can do, and so I never have to be bored. This applies to just sitting at home, but also out and about, on trains, sitting in parks and whatnot. You always have something nice and heavy to carry around in your bag too!

8. The other blogs- This is sort of the same as the other bloggers. But sort of not, in that the other blogs provide sources of inspiration, fun reading material, other perspectives on books I've read, stuff like that. It's like a wonderful insight into other people's brains, and a really fabulous way to spend an evening, reading other people's blogs and stuff.

9. Opinioning- I'm a pretty opinionated woman, and so having a blog is like the perfect soapbox for anything I want to say ever, which is why you may have seen a post on feminism here before, and usually a feminist perspective of books that I've been reading because, quite frankly, it just comes out! But that's the way everyone loves me to be, am I right?!

10. Reading is so awesome- I mean really. Reading just on it's own is pretty bloody amazing, but when you can discuss it afterwards and share your favourite parts of the story and just generally your joy to the rest of the world (or to my followers/twitter followers anyway)? How much better could an activity be?!

So that's why blogging is awesome, according to me. One bonus thing- as my friend put it the other day, Blogs are the new 'Zines! And isn't that what we're doing, really? Self-publishing the things that we think, and that we have to say, because, let's face it, they're just as important as anyone elses, am I right?! Yeah! Can't wait to read what all of you love best about blogging, and let's all keep on keeping on!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

In My Mailbox/ Mailbox Monday

I went to these charity shops that are pretty near my house on Friday, and what happened there was unspeakable, and, I'm pretty sure has made my mother disown me. But, it was my first visit to them in what may possibly be months, which I think is a pretty good excuse for my buying SIX books. Within the space of about an hour. For, I might add, the extremely purse friendly price of £8.25 (around $13 for my lovely American readers) so can anyone really complain? No, they cannot!

So, do you wanna see what I got?! Of course you do! First up I got The Rough Guide to Sweden, a little bit old but in absolutely perfect condition (I'm kind of sad that the previous owners probably never went there!) I bought this because I have a tiny bit of a Swedish obsession (for just some of the reasons why, go and see this post on my friend's blog) and this book is a little bit of a sneaky attempt to convince my sister that this is where we need to go on holiday this summer... I'll keep you posted on whether it works or not!

Next I got Bob Dylan- Behind the Shades by Clinton Heylin, a biography of the great man that will probably not be as good as his own Chronicles, but should still be pretty illuminating on someone who I find inherently fascinating. Fun little Bob Dylan story- I went to see him in concert with my mum, who spent most of the show looking at entirely the wrong person onstage... it was pretty funny!

I also got I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, and if you want to know why I bought this then you probably haven't seen When Harry Met Sally, or Julie and Julia for that matter, and you may not be aware of how awesome she is. Trust me, it's a lot. I am, as a consequence of her awesomeness, very very excited to read this book. Expect me to be loving it here soon!

A bit of a last minute pick was Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, because I'm pretty sure that I've either read good things about it or him that were pleasing to me, or possibly just because I read a short story of his in The New Yorker that was pretty good. Then again, it might just have been the new style (which is remarkably like the old style) Penguin Books cover that it comes in. I'm good with any interpretation you want to choose from the three!

I sort of don't want to admit to buying the next one, not because I'm ashamed of it really, but just because it kind of doesn't fit with the rest of the books that I talk about here. This doesn't mean that it's not worth reading, but that I don't really feel an urge to discuss it afterwards. Also, there are about 2 chick lit (can't describe to you how much I hate that term) authors that I really love, one of them is Sophie Kinsella and the other is the author of this tome, Size Doesn't Matter by Meg Cabot. Not exactly Shakespeare, but then again, who is? I have read the other two books in this series and, I'm not going to lie, I was really excited to find this, the final instalment. There, I said it. My name is Laura and I'm a Cabot-aholic. I'm sure I'll enjoy this and then not really think about it all that much. But I'll enjoy it! So yeah, I'm going to stop defending myself quite so vigourously against a charge that nobody made. Ahem.

And finally, I bought Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, a book that I KNOW someone said was really awesome and was potentially on someone's top ten tuesday list sometime or something, so to the anonymous blogger, thank you; unless the book sucks and then I will find out who you are and come and tell you off. A lot. This was probably my favourite book purchase just because the book was so pretty and unread looking- not so good for the person who gave it up, but a big pleasure for me to buy a new looking book for £1.75!

It was, I have to admit, a pretty exciting Friday (only in book buying terms, other than that, nothing really happened!) and I managed to bore my cousin in my very first Facetime call by showing her all of these- I'm not sure she really appreciated it! I hope you all had very exciting book buying weeks too, and I'm really looking forward to checking out all your purchases later on! And hey- I hope you all have a great week!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Hoppity do dah, Hoppity Day!

Why do I do these titles to myself?! They're not big or clever, and yet somehow I just can't help myself... But y'all love them anyway, am I right?

Ok, well I'm just going to shut up and get on with it then! So it is, as you're probably aware, Friday yet again, and I don't even have to work today so wooooooo to that *does a little happy dance*. What I am going to do is hop around a few blogs, answer a few questions, and generally just have a good time and be all happy it's Friday and stuff. Sound good? Good.

So first up, as it tends to be is #fridayreads, hosted by Jenn over at the picky girl. I haven't fully decided what I'm going to read during my three day weekend (sorry, just wanted to rub that in a little bit more!) but I think I'm going to go back to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, since I rather cruelly left it, for no better reason than Rob Lowe's autobiography, and Little Children, and for that I am sorry. So, my repentance reading will be of that, and I might also try and finish The Bloody Chamber, which, since it's only about 150 pages long, shouldn't really take all that much time.

Parajunkee asks: What's your favourite genre, and which book in that genre made it your favourite? This is such a ridiculously difficult question to answer, because there are so many genres that I really enjoy and would read any time. I suppose, considering my Stephen King love, the obvious thing to say would be horror, but that's really a Stephen King centred obsession, rather than displaying my love of horror. So, to cheat a tiny bit, I'm going to say my favourite genre is classics, because, to me, that encompasses basically all the other genres, and all the important things that happen, in life as well as in books. Also, they are just pretty damn awesome!

Book Blogger Hop
And, this week, crazy-for-books asks: How many books are currently in your To-Be-Read (TBR) pile? I don't really have a separation of books that I have read and books that I haven't, but I must have at least 100 books that I haven't read yet. This is a shameful number, I realise, and is symptomatic of my book buying addiction. Which, I should stop but don't really want to, so I can probably expect this number to grow rather than reduce. But that's the way I like it!        

So that's what I think about stuff, basically! I hope y'all have a good time hopping around today, and if you're new here then welcome, and please feel free to have a little look around and follow me if it feels right! And if you're old here then I completely love you and please never leave me! Have a fab Friday everyone!                                  

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Devouring Films: An Education

I received An Education as sort of a mistake from LoveFilm- I only had one film as high priority, but they sent me two, and one of them was An Education. I was less than thrilled with this unfolding of events, because An Education would never have been a high priority for me to see, and would likely have remained on my LoveFilm list FOREVER, as one of those things that I really should see, and sort of want to, but I probably never will. (The last film I felt like that with was probably The Godfather, and that actually turned out really well for me, which should give you some indication of where this story is going)

This entire preamble should be taken as proof of how much of an Anglophobic idiot I can be, because really, I loved and adored An Education, and felt much more of a connection to it than probably any American High School film I've ever seen. I can only attribute this to the fact that, although it's set in the sixties, it is very much relevant to today's England, and watching it I could remember what it was like being 16 again, only dreaming of the adventures that Jenny gets to have in this film.

And while we're on the subject, let's talk about Jenny. I absolutely adore this girl, her wittiness, her desire to get out in the world and really live; to break free of the stifling boredom of suburbia and really experience the world. Mulligan plays her so well- just the right amount of optimism and psuedo-worldliness, as well as, later, the utter desolation that comes with a teenager's heartbreak and belief that nothing will ever be right again, because it's not right now. She thinks she knows the way the world works, but really she's so naive that it makes you wince a little to watch- why does she never question the intentions of this older man, and the casual coolness he exudes through every step of their relationship? The answer is, of course, that she's a teenager, and that's exactly the way she should be behaving.

So, the basic story of An Education is that of Jenny, a bored but undeniably smart and lovely schoolgirl, whose father, teachers, and, to a lesser extent, herself, have ambitions for her to go to Oxford, something which she looks very much like achieving until she meets an exciting older man who makes her see there might be another way to live than by getting an education. Since this is the sixties, this of course means getting married, something which is strongly discouraged by Jenny's English teacher, who I love and adore as an example of an independent 60s woman; but is encouraged by her parents who it seems only wanted her to go to Oxford to find a nice (read: rich) husband anyway. That's sixties feminism for you- get a girl educated so she can meet a man who's going to be rich and take care of her for her whole life. Nice.

An Education is really a coming of age film, where Jenny finds out the hard way that anything you want you have to get for yourself, and that there is no shortcut to happiness. I really just loved everything about this film- the way it looked, the (pre) feminist attitudes of Jenny's female teachers, the idea that the entirety of England is 'bored', the way Jenny 'speaks french for no reason' (I can't say I've never done this!) What I possibly liked most is how universal the characters were- Jenny could have been any bright schoolgirl, and her parents could have been anyone's parents, especially mine (the lack of adventurousness and casual xenophobia, certainly!) and it just made me feel very English, without feeling boring (as Englishness always seems to me). It feels a bit like a first step on recovery from being a self-hating English person, but I'm sure it'll only take something with Hugh Grant in to fill me with an anger for all things English once again!

But still- it is nice for the moment not to feel like everything about England is awful and shit, and if you want to feel this way too, I strongly recommend An Education to you! And if you already love England then An Education is definitely for you, and if you have no strong feelings either way, you should still see it for Mulligan's wonderful performance, and just for the happy happy good feelings that you'll be able to carry with you from it to the next day. Also for something very hiliarious and wrong potentially happening with a banana. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Devouring Books: Little Children by Tom Perrotta

I'm not going to say too much about this book, since I already reviewed the film version of it, and this was refreshingly similar and faithful to the book. I think that, for the rest of the Books to Movies challenge, though, I'm going to read the book first, since watching the film, as I have seen with this, definitely impacts on how you see the book.

There were some different aspects of the story in the book as opposed to the film, however, some of which I liked, and some which I didn't quite so much. There was one arc of the story that was really very different to the one in the movie, and I had to keep reminding myself that the book's version of events was the 'real' one, because I did quite radically prefer the version portrayed in the film. But more about that later.

So, the first difference I noticed was that our hero, Brad in the movie, was actually originally called Todd; both fine upstanding All-American names, and I don't really understand the name change for the movie- if the producers or whoever doubted the credentials of the name Todd, then clearly they've never read Sweet Valley High! This is obviously not that important, however, and what is certainly more interesting is the capacity books have to give us a greater psychological insight to our to our characters, and this is certainly something that the book of Little Children doesn't shy away from. Thus, we see Todd's obsession with the teenage skateboarders as the product of his stunted adolescent development after his mother's death, and Sarah's complete willingness to enter into an affair as a result of her feeling shunned at high school, and left feeling utterly inadequate after being left working in Starbucks after college. This added new depth to these characters, and, I personally think, makes the reader more sympathetic towards their actions.

The book also provides a greater insight into some of the characters who are more marginalised in the movie- we are given a privileged look into the head of Mary Ann, the super bitchy mother, and Sarah's husband Richard is given more of a story of his own, rather than just being the slightly creepy knicker sniffer that he is in the film. Interspersed with this, however, were slightly more detailed descriptions of American football games then I really needed, and I have to admit to skimming over the play by play descriptions after a few pages (yes, pages!) of it. I think that's something that really works better on the screen, so that every move doesn't have to be described in minute detail, and I don't have to feel like I want to DIE of boredom!

The biggest difference between the book and the movie, however, is the way the paedophile, McGorvey, is portrayed. Far from what I thought was quite a sensitive depiction (for a paedophile) in the movie, the book makes him quite the monster in basically all areas of his life. He is rude, sullen, very provoking, and not nearly as apologetic for his urges as the movie makes him out to be. This is something that I feel ends up making the book far less surprising and original in its viewpoint as the film, and was a major disadvantage for me upon reading it. Because of these character traits the book imposes upon McGorvey, the endings of the book and movie are significantly different, and the one in the film I find a lot more dramatic, and also just a lot more interesting than the ending of the book, which, in comparison is a little bit boring.

I feel a bit naughty saying that there are things I like better in the movie than the book at all, but close inspection of IMDb tells me that Perrotta, along with the director, Todd Fields, wrote the screenplay, which hopefully means that he approved of the changes, and possibly even preferred them to the version he came up with in the book. Therefore, in my twisted brain, that means it's ok for me to prefer them too! Rest assured though, I really did enjoy the book (reading it in about 2 days is a big indication of that!) and I assign both it and the movie to you as summer reading and viewing- you definitely won't be bored, that's for sure.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

You all know how much I love The Broke and the Bookish's top ten Tuesday right? I love it so much that I more or less started my blog to take part in it (there were other factors too, obviously, but that was a big one) and that's why I see it as my right to change it a little bit when I want to. Hence, this week's top ten. It's supposed to be things that make you go 'awww' in books, and that's sort of what I've listed, except that it's more those moments that make your heart entirely and completely happy, and make it feel like it might burst a little bit with the amazingness that these moments give to you. You all know what I'm talking about, right? So yeah, it's those. For brevity's sake, let's just call it:

Top Ten Moments That Make Your Heart Happy

1. Basically all of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, but especially the part where they're driving in the car and Charlie says "I feel infinite". A mega goosebumps and perfect moment, in a near perfect book.

2. This quotation from On the Road by Jack Kerouac (you all definitely know this already, but just in case...) "the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk; mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the midle you see the blue centrelight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'" Isn't that just some incredible writing there? I mean, really.

3. The end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey because it is just magnificent and so perfect and exactly what you wanted to happen, for one of the characters anyway (I would say more, but, you know, we all hate spoilers!)

4. Many many parts of Gone With the Wind (the film rather than the book) basically any time that Rhett and Scarlett are onscreen together, it makes my heart a bit happy, watching their witty repartee and just generally soaking up their awesomeness. This love might have more to do with happy memories of watching it near Christmas with my bestest uni friend Frances, but it still has its happy-making effect on me now.

5. The end of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck- not because it's cheery in any way, but because it's just such a symbol of hope for a better future, and also such a altruistic thing to do that it makes me happy, in quite a sad way.

6. Almost everything in Angels in America by Tony Kushner, but especially Prior's speech towards the end "I want more life"- so perfect and wonderful and oh my God could I love this play any more than I do? Probably not!

7. That bit with the plastic bag in American Beauty- I know that many many people probably find this bit of American Beauty pretentious, and it is in a way, but I can't help the way it makes me feel. It's not the plastic bag so much as Ricky's description of what it means to him, as is the way with most art- it's not the physical object, but the way it makes you feel that really matters.

8. More or less everything that Atticus says in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- I truly believe that Atticus Finch is the greatest human being ever to live, even though, technically, he never did. Nonetheless, everything he passes onto his children makes me extremely happy, because of his utter wonderfulness.

9. This quotation from  The History of Love by Nicole Krauss "Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering"- Nice, huh?

10. Audrey Hepburn singing Moonriver in Breakfast at Tiffany's as well as the end of the film too. Just such a beautiful film that always makes me happy for some inexplicable reason- possibly just for its prettiness!

So that's my top ten. I'm very excited to read about the things that make you tick, and let me know what you think about my happy heart makers below if you have the urge to do so!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Devouring Films: Shutter Island

This is one of those things where I pretend I'm going to write a review, but actually I just go 'omg it's amazing!' and then tell you to watch it immediately. In this case, though, you're absolutely going to appreciate this, because this is one film where you desperately don't want to know what's going to happen because it is honestly one of the most intriguing and exciting films I've seen, with what has to be one of the biggest twists in film history too. So really, don't worry about reading the rest of this review, just go and watch the film! Then none of us have to worry about spoliers at all.

Oh, you're still here? Ok, well, I'll try and tell you something about the film, just hardly anything. So, obviously it's worth seeing just because Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo are in it (it's a partnership that is, there's no denying it, very pleasing to the eye), but if you also look for a film to be totally engaging, to take you down a really complex and massively twisting plot and to wholly surprise you at every twist, then you won't be able to resist Shutter Island. I didn't think I was that sort of person (I really love films with a lot of interesting dialogue and every day kinds of drama, that everyone else seems to find boring for some reason!) but Shutter Island was really something else- it seems that I need to consider films as a source of escapism more seriously than I have done before. Or maybe I just like their hats.

The basic premise of Shutter Island is that Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and Chuck Aules (Ruffalo) are detectives who are going to investigate  the (improbable) disappearance of a patient on the notorious Shutter Island, an island that houses a mental hospital for the criminally insane. When they get there, however, Teddy realises the improbability of this patient having escaped, and starts believing that they have brought him there under false pretences, as part of some horrendous illegal experiment programme that he believes they have happening. Intertwined with this is residual grief over the death of his wife, and his belief that her killer now resides within Shutter Island- Daniels wants to kill this man himself, without any thought to the consequences of such an action. All of this culminates to a climax that is at once surprising and utterly exhilirating, and you might not be able to control yourself when you see it either, and might just have to write a really bad blog post about it too!

What I loved best about Shutter Island is the way it really never let you stop guessing- There were two ways I thought it could go, and it turned out to go one of those ways but in completely different way to the one I was thinking. How annoyingly vague was that description?! But anyway, I'm sure that trying to unravel the mysteries of Shutter Island is something that you can enjoy about the film too! I also really loved the fact that, once I did know the ins and outs of the story, I almost immediately wanted to watch it again, to find all the hidden clues that I already knew I had missed the first time around. Even now (and I watched the film weeks ago now) I can just be going about my daily activities and suddenly realise something about Shutter Island- that's how deeply it seeps into your mind!

So that's my ode to Shutter Island. I truly did love this movie, and anyone who says they didn't has got to be lying. It'll keep you entertained for a good couple of hours, and give your brain a nice little workout while it's at it. If we're comparing (recent) DiCaprio films, I'm going to say that Inception is ever so slightly better, but that film actually blew my mind wide open so this being a very close second is a really really good thing! So yes, go see it, and then come back and read my review again for the things you might have missed....

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Literary Blog Hop June 9-11

Literary Blog Hop
The Literary Blog hop allows me to flex my brain muscles, and really think about and consider a question, the likes of which my brain hasn't had to grapple with since the long ago times (like, a year ago) of my English degree. For making me think and stuff, please thank The Blue Bookcase, and you know, go look at their blog and stuff, because it's really very good!

This week, they ask: What other outside influences affect your reading experience? Do you think these influences enhance or detract from the experience?

I like this question. A lot. So I might get a bit wordy and explainy and annoying, so you might just have to ignore me a little bit towards the end. But, I think that the outside world, and pretty much everything in our lives affects our reading and understanding of books, and that this neither enhances or detracts from the reading experience, but just is, something that is so much a part of the reading experience, and without which we wouldn't really get much of anything at all from books. I recently saw Margaret Atwood on the tv talking about reading, holding a copy of The Blind Assassin, and this guy was asking her about her writing, and she said something that was at once utterly astonishing, and utterly true. She said that the words in the book are just symbols on a page, until someone reads them and places onto them their own thoughts and ideas and beliefs, and really make the words come alive with meaning. This is now the only way I can think about reading.

As for my own personal reading, I find that the things that I read are always impacted by what I already know, and sometimes the things that I read affect and change the way that I think. This is sometimes such a subconscious thing that I don't even know that it's happened, but now that I think about it, my favourite books are often a reflection of the things that I think and believe- To Kill A Mockingbird, for example, reflects my belief in the idea that everyone should be treated equally, and just how wrong and disgusting racism is, and The Handmaid's Tale relates to my very strongly held views on feminism. It might be a bit of a strong statement to make, but probably every book I've read has given me some kind of lesson that has helped to form or cement beliefs I've held, and helped to make me the person that I am, even if this hasn't always been a conscious lesson.

The things that different people bring to the things they read can be best illustrated by a conversation that I had with a guy at work last week, about an article by Christopher Hitchens that we had both read but had wildly differing opinions on. In it, he basically says that women aren't funny, because they are enough in themselves to be worshipped whereas men have to work harder to get women's attention, and are therefore funnier to get this attention. I honestly found this not a little bit sexist, and kind of shallow in that, in my view, it was essentially saying 'women are pretty, men are shallow, and therefore women don't have to be interesting or funny to get laid.' I found that pretty objectionable, but this guy at work had a completely different view of it, and pretty much thought it was dead on, presumably having had some experience of making girls laugh to attract them, and not having thought so much about feminism. I found our conflicting views fascinating, and now I think that this is probably something that can be said of every book- we can only like something in regard to what we already think and feel, and if someone doesn't like the same, then it's probably because they have had different experiences, different beliefs, and just now think differently about things than you do.

In a way it's a little lonely, but in another completely liberating to know that, while many many people read the same words in a book as you, nobody is having exactly the same experience as you reading it, and nobody ever can. Our own uniqueness comes across even when reading, and it also helps create our uniqueness, our tastes, and our beliefs too. Have I actually answered the question or just rambled on and been a bit weird? Probably a bit of both, but hopefully you see my point. And if you don't, then I guess we don't have the same beliefs and ideas and reading experiences.....

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Woohoo, top ten Tuesday everyone! I have to admit to cheating a teeny bit on this weeks, in that I did tend to think of places I wanted to go and then thought of books that contained those settings for the most part, but I probably got the inclination to go to those places from books anyway, who can tell?! But these settings remain excellent backdrops for the action that occurs in them, and, for the most part, I'd love to visit them all (note: for some reason I seem to have thought that the top ten was about places I wanted to go to rather than just the best settings in books, but the two marry quite well together, right? I'm not crazy, honest!)

Top Ten Settings in Books

1. Japan in Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden- I probably shouldn't visit Japan after reading this book, because I'm not sure anything could be as beautiful as the Japan that I have built up in my brain. This is probably one of the most vividly described books I've ever read, and the vividness of the beauty just overwhelms me everytime I read it and I truly get lost in a beautiful storyland. Just utterly amazing.

2. India in The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy- The God of Small Things is really quite a tragic book, but the backdrop of India as its setting makes it, conversely, a rather beautiful one too. What I really loved about the book was the way that, even though the characters lived in this wonderful exotic land, there were things about it that made it seem so familiar to me as well. India just tends to be a place that I always find so wonderfully described in books, and this one does it extremely well.

3. New York in Angels in America by Tony Kushner- I know that Kushner's New York is really pretty depressing and dark, and the setting for so many painful scenes, but it's also the setting for hope and the promise of a better tomorrow. In my opinion, New York is basically the best setting for life, so any work of fiction that uses it as its setting ever is pretty much going to draw me in straight away, despite the fact that most of these works use it as the setting for horrible things and horrible people. It's still amazing!

4. Magical England in Harry Potter by JK Rowling- I'm going to break a lot of hearts here and let you know that England is really not very interesting or exciting to live in, no matter how much history there is or how many royals we have (in fact, don't even get me started on the royals) but Rowling's England is different- I doubt there is anyone out there who didn't want to go to Hogwarts and experience all that magical England had to offer. Just trust me- it's so much better than the real deal!

5. California in most of John Steinbeck's novels- Steinbeck portrays events of such utter desolation and sadness, but also has far lighter moments, and the majority of his novels take place in California, mainly Monterey, and the landscape is so utterly beautiful that it's difficult to believe that anything horrible could happen there. I have probably never been so influenced by a book to want to go to anywhere in the world as I have been by Steinbeck's novels.

6. Wyoming/Montana in most of Annie Proulx's short stories- I'm not going to lie, I love me some cowboy culture, not in a Western sort of way, but more in the desolation of a culture that is slowly diminishing and dying out. The real star of Proulx's writing, more than any of the characters, though is the scenery and setting of the unrelenting and unforgiving western landscape- sometimes harsh, but always memorable and usually beautiful in its own way.

7.Derry, Maine in It and Dreamcatcher by Stephen King- I can't really explain why I enjoy Derry as a setting, but I just really like (read: it scares me more) the idea of a small, unsuspecting town being host to a whole load of monsters. I've also read It so many times that Derry sort of feels like home to me, so I think about it affectionately in spite of the giant insane monster living in its sewers... *sigh*.

8. Oz from The Wizard of Oz/ Wicked- I haven't read either of these books and it would be wrong of me to pretend otherwise, but the Oz in The Wizard of Oz is utterly amazing and wonderful, and, having seen the show of Wicked, I still feel the same way. Just pure magic and wonder surrounds the whole place, and, really, wouldn't you rather stay there than go back to Kansas?

9. Sweet Valley from Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal- I'm not sure I'd want to live in such a perfect little town, but the idea that a perfect place where perfect people live and exist with minor traumas that are solved by the end of the book is a pretty comforting one- Sweet Valley is the perfect backdrop for the untroubled lives of these utterly privileged teenagers, and let's not forget, that it's always sunny there!

10. Narnia from The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis- I know these books are total Christiany inspired stories or something, but there's no denying that Narnia is a completely amazing and consuming world of fantasy and wonder that, to be perfectly honest, I could happily go and live in today. Sometimes, one just needs a bit of a fantasy world that they can escape to when the mood strikes, and Narnia is a near perfect one for this purpose.

So that's my top ten, how about you? I'm sure I've forgotten loads of wonderful book settings, and I'm really really excited to read everyone elses lists today to find out where all of you reside in your heads when you're reading!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Challenges Update

I feel like I take on all these challenges and then never tell you about them so you can't really keep up with them, and to be honest, that's just not fair to you, since you are clearly obsessed with my every action and every reading choice and everything about me. If no one tells me any different, then I'm just going to assume that this is true.

Ahem. So anyway, I'm currently in the throes of 3 challenges, one of which is of my own making, and you definitely want to hear about them and maybe even participate in them? You can even participate in mine if you really want to, even though I'm not really equipped for participants, but I'll totally be there for you mentally if you decide to read all of Stephen King's works like an insane person (i.e. like me). But you're probably too smart for that kind of thing!

Anyway, my first challenge for the year was the GLBT Challenge 2011, in which I pledged to read 15 books by a GLBT author or on a GLBT issue. As of right now, I've read two, and one of those was by accident. But fear ye not! I have a shitload of Jeanette Winterson to get through, and combined with some Tennessee Williams and a dash of Oscar Wilde, I think I'm going to be fine! Maybe. I'll let you know at (probably literally) the end of the year!

My next challenge arose in, I think, February, as my thought process became, 'I don't have a job right now so I know, I'll read everything Stephen King has ever written!' It wasn't my greatest idea, and now, employed with way less time for reading, I'm not sure what I can have been thinking undertaking such a mad task. Nonetheless, I'm on my 8th (of 62!) book, and, despite a near meltdown whilst reading The Stand, it's still going ok. I anticipate I'll be finished in about 2050 or so, when the internet will be wired directly into people's brains and no one will even attempt to read things anymore, and King will have published about 40 more books... it's going to be so fun!

My final (for now) challenge is Two Bibliomaniacs Books to Movies challenge, one which seems to have been made for my blog alone, since, as you may have noticed, I rather like reviewing both books and movies! I am a tiny bit gutted that I missed out on including East of Eden in this, since I reviewed both book and movie earlier in the year, and there are quite a few books and movies that I've already read/watched that I could have included (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Little Women anyone?) but I'm going to get over that and read and watch brand new things! I'm still struggling over the last book/film combination to include, so if anyone has any ideas, please let me know in the comments.

So that's what I'm up to, as well as just generally reading and trying to have some kind of life as well. If you want to know where I'm at at any point in the next year, then please go to my challenges tab (look up and to your right) and read some obviously fabulous reviews that will utterly fulfill your life! Probably...

Friday, 3 June 2011

I Hop, Therefore I Am.

Or something slightly more sense making than that title. But, you know, it's Friday, I've got a cold and therefore might be dying, so be kind! This is my first Friday blog hop for a few weeks, after a couple of family birthdays (they're annoying enough to all have been born at similar points in the year) so bear with me if I do it a little bit wrong...

First up is #fridayreads, hosted by Jenn of The Picky Girl, and this week I'm a little undecided on what I am actually going to read this weekend. After much deliberation (read, about 5 seconds thinking about it) I'm thinking I'm probably going to have a good whack at A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this weekend, whilst completely ignoring The Idiot, Vanity Fair, and The Bloody Chamber, which I have actually committed myself to reading. Because that's how I roll. I also might have a bit of a read of The Dead Zone as my next Stephen King, and the first of the books authored by him that I haven't actually read before. So that's definitely going to be exciting!
”BookCrazy-For-Books this week asks: Share your favourite post from the last month and explain why it's close to your heart. Obviously I love all my posts equally, just in different ways... but since I'm not a mother, I don't really have to say that, do I? I'm actually going to pick two favourites, since it's my blog and I make the rules here, and so my favourite non-review post is this one, which was part of Armchair BEA last week, and which I like because it makes me feel all good saying nice things about other people and shit. My favourite review was probably this one, of Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, which I just really, unashamedly enjoyed and loved every second of, and also because I fell in love with the author a little bit (you'll see... just read the review!)

So, these are the things I think on this fine Friday, I hope the weather's as nice wherever you are, and you don't feel so much like death warmed up as I do right now... Happy hopping!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Devouring Films: Little Children

I'm going to be completely and utterly honest here, and let you know that the only reason I put this film on my Lovefilm list is because of the promise of Patrick Wilson's nudity, something which was very appealing to me, having experienced it in Angels in America previously. I was not disappointed on that front, but I also got a lot more from a film that, while not perfect, was still pretty interesting and engaging, and stayed with me for a lot longer than just the time it took to watch it.

There are essentially two stories portrayed in this film, the main one being that of the boredom and loneliness of being a housewife/househusband in the suburbs, and a subplot focusing on a paedophile who is living in this community. In a way, the more interesting of the two was that of the paedophile, because he was portrayed in quite a sensitive, if not a wholly forgiving way. What I mean is this- he is shown to have remorse for his actions, and also feels terrible for feeling the way that he does, but is unable to stop himself. This doesn't mean that you fall in love with him, or anything like that, but he is a lot more self aware, and aware of how his actions will affect others, than Brad or Sarah, who are essentially selfish, seem to be.

So let's talk about Brad (Wilson) and Sarah (Kate Winslet). Brad is a stay at home dad, ostensibly working on passing the bar, but really sort of just lacking drive and wanting to return to a youth where he was far more successful, presumably without even trying. Sarah is a frustrated stay at home mother, choosing to spend more time with her books than her child, even though, as we are told, she insists on doing all the childcare herself. In this, we discover, Sarah almost resents her daughter, referring to her as 'an unknowable little being', not seeming to realise that the people we all become is dependant on those who care for us and on how much love we each receive. Sarah and Brad's various frustrations, anyway, lead to a companionship and eventual relationship that, I think it is evident from the start, that nobody is going to get anything they want from.

One thing that I found most compelling about the film is how much like a book it is- there is occasional narration which some people might find annoying but which I always appreciate as a bit of extra help with knowing what people are thinking (something that Revolutionary Road, another Kate Winslet film, really could have used). It is also filled with symbolism and all lovely things like that, and made me really very intrigued to find out what the book is like- I'm betting it's pretty awesome though! Another of my favourite things about the film was how effectively it put across the stifling and unaccepting nature of the suburbs (something Revolutionary Road did do well), which is honestly one of my favourite things to discuss, and one of the themes that I most like to watch in films (think American Beauty and Edward Scissorhands, and too many more films to mention!) so this is probably why I did enjoy this film so much.

In a way, nothing of very much consequence happens in this film, the world is not going to change because of its events, but what does happen is completely life changing for the majority of the characters. In a way, this and so much other fiction is so reflective of real life- each of us has our own little events that, while they make no difference to the world at all, make a huge difference to each of us individually, and in this film, we get to see these characters' lives change and dreams grow and shatter by equal measure. This film, in short, is a micro-life in itself, unfolding before our very eyes. And that's part of what makes it so good.

Without wanting to include any spoilers, the ending of the film is something I want to talk about in a sort of roundabout way. There is an instant where you think a certain thing is going to happen, and, by this point, you don't even want it to happen, and then after a series of relatively unlikely events, the opposite happens which I think gives it the best, and most realistic ending. In a way, then, by being slightly deus ex machina-ish, this film has an ending which I think best represents what the characters really wanted, and maybe even needed, and leaves one feeling almost wholly satisfied and sated.

So, I got Little Children for the nudity, stayed for the wholly compelling story. The two hour plus running time felt like no time at all, and I did honestly care for the characters, and what was going to happen to them after everything ended. I would recommend that you get this film just for Wilson's nudity, to be honest, and I think what you'll find apart from that will surprise, delight, and interest you in equal measure.