Monday, 31 October 2011

Devouring Stephen King: Pet Semetary

It felt so so good during the Readathon to break my Stephen King celibacy (is that an appropriate word to use when you're talking about books?! Possibly not...) and reading Pet Semetary in about 5 and a half hours or so was definitely the best way I could think of to spend an afternoon. This being a new Stephen King for me, and one severely warned against by a friend, I was apprehensive and excited to see what horrors lay ahead. And, oh boy, were there some horrors!

Interestingly, though, reading it in one setting made me extremely aware of the delicate balance in King's books, of, obviously, a certain level of horror, but also, much more importantly, the laying of the foundations that allows the horror elements to transpire. Once you've finished reading, you of course remember the parts that scared you the best, but I think it's also important to remember just how well crafted they are too, and how important all the stuff that comes before is to the success of the horror. Pet Semetary is a book where the horrible parts are indeed horrifying, but they would be far less so if they hadn't been so well explained, and if there hadn't been such an excellent sense of foreboding set up pretty much through the entire book.

What I found the most interesting and poignant about the book is the differing ways it deals with talking about and dealing with death. Before all the horrible zombie stuff happens (that's not a spoiler right? Well, if it is, there are zombies, but I'm not going to tell you who/how so there), there are reasons to discuss death, and our protagonist, Louis, being a doctor and all, has an extremely healthy attitude towards death- that it's a natural part of life that everyone has to go through, and you might as well know about it because there's no point in being scared of the inevitable. His wife has a rather different attitude after the grisly death of her sister when she was 8, and so the two conflict over the best way to deal with death with their daughter, Ellie. Then, later, the issue is more dealing with grief, and trying to learn to let go of the person who's died, because there's no way to get them back, no matter how much you want to believe there is. It's a heartbreaking fact that one of the characters (see what I did there?) simply refuses to accept, and from there, there's some creepy mojo going down.

One distinctive thing about this book for me was that the main character was a doctor, rather than a teacher or a writer. I can't actually think of another Stephen King book right now where one of the main characters wasn't a teacher or a writer, so this is actually a huge deal! It's interesting too, because it allows King to ruminate on how a doctor would see the world, and what this means is that supernatural things that happen to him are disregarded on the basis that they are impossible- he convinces himself, for instance, that he's in a dream whilst he's clearly following around a ghost, and it's pretty funny listening to him say 'wow, this certainly feels real, but because it's scientifically impossible it's not actually happening' (ok, he doesn't actually say that. But that's the gist of it!) Another rarity about this book is that there is nothing really supernatural about this family- they have no 'good' (like Danny's telepathy in The Shining, for example) to balance out the bad things that are going to happen, and if I tell you that the ending is really pretty bleak for a Stephen King book would you hurt me? I hope not cause I just did!

Basically, you're going to want to read Pet Semetary. Probably tonight. Probably without stopping. Pay attention to its nuances and get really really terrified- just hope that, when those trick or treaters knock on your door that it really is trick or treaters, and not something much, much worse...

Note: Not to devalue my creepy ending or anything, but just a quick note on the title- it really annoyed me for a long time, but actually, it's from a sign made by children for the cemetery where they bury their pets (obviously...) so I think we kind of have to forgive them. Unless you're not the forgiving type, in which case, don't worry about it! Also, I nearly spelt cemetery wrong myself... Duh!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Orwell October: A Life in Letters

Oh boy. I can't believe I'm about to type this, but my self-imposed Orwell thing that I've had going on is OVER. I think we all learned a lot- mainly that I don't like Orwell as much as I previously thought (but since that was A LOT, I think that's ok) and also that he's wrong about his own novels- for instance, he thought Keep The Aspidistra Flying was terrible, but I thought it was a lot better than Coming Up For Air, which he seems to have quite liked. But so it goes, I suppose. I also learnt that essays are pretty boring when you don't give a crap about their subject matter, no matter how well they're written; and also that there's a reason why Animal Farm and 1984 are the only two Orwell novels anyone's ever read. That sounds brutal, but they are so superior to anything else he's done, but most of the rest of the stuff wasn't half bad either, so that should give you some idea of just how good they are.

Anyway, I came to talk about A Life in Letters, and do that I shall. I'm pretty sure I've said it before, but if I have then it bears repeating- I love books containing letters written by noteworthy people. I really do. I think it gives a greater insight into their heads than any biographies can do, and, if they're really good letters, then I desperately want them to have been written to me. Here's the thing though- George Orwell was not the most interesting letter writer in the world. The majority of the letters in this book are about business matters, or about the running of his house, which are interesting enough in their own way, but somehow don't seem worthy for publication. That's kind of the problem I've been having- I'm not going to criticise Orwell for writing uninteresting letters because, you know, he needed to write them for various reasons, but I'm just wondering whether A Life in Letters really needed to exist at all when the letters are, for lack of a nicer word, dull.

I blame the Editor of the book, Peter Davison, for many of its failings, however (I would blame him for its existence, but I doubt that he commissioned it himself) because, quite frankly, he's included some of the most dumbass footnotes that have possibly ever existed in the world ever. I mean, during a whole load of letters written in 1933, anytime Orwell mentions his novel, Davison seems to think it's necessary to footnote 'Burmese Days' every time. Just in case we all thought Orwell was writing more than one novel at a time, presumably. Apart from the thick footnotes, he also footnotes things that really hold no interest for the reader, or that were pretty self-evident from what else Orwell says in that letter (for example, Orwell is talking about different formulas for babies, and Davison decides to tell us that this one brand of powdered milk is blah blah blah, and I'm just like 'I really don't care, so shut up!'). It got so bad that I eventually stopped reading all the footnotes without exception, so I probably missed some important information but I really couldn't care less.

I was also annoyed by the letters included in the book that were written by other people to other people that just mentioned Orwell, because, quite frankly, it felt massively like padding out (mainly because it was). Also, letters from Orwell's first wife Eileen to anyone were excruciating- I'm not sure anyone ever taught her the power of brevity, bless her. And, actually, what about his wife? As far as I can tell, Orwell never wrote a love letter to either of his wives, and seems curiously devoid of emotion on evidence of his letters- of course, this is typical of his writing style, but surely a love letter wouldn't have gone amiss, and actually would have made my day a little bit (although there probably would have been some stupid footnote like 'Here Orwell refers to his penis' or something, and that would have just been unnecessary and gross). There were a few moments when I smiled at something he'd said though, and allow me to share with you something that made me laugh out loud- Orwell talks about reading a book of Bertrand Russell's, and talks about a logic question that frankly made my head spin (and I'm not against a little philosophy) and then says "It is the sort of thing that makes me feel that philosophy ought to be forbidden by law." I can't say that Kant didn't make me feel this way, because oh my GOD, that man is incomprehensible, and I just found this funny.

That aside though, this book really was disappointing. I'd rather have spent my time re-reading John Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, because that's a man who knows how to share his thoughts through letters, and also a book with a much less... present editor. I'm not necessarily saying that Steinbeck was a more interesting person than Orwell (although I possibly love him more) but, in terms of letter writing, there's really no contest. This book has definitely made me reconsider my position on books of letters, although it hasn't ruined my urge to read more, just that the ones I do read should be better selected. But, I got through this, learned a little more about Orwell, but mostly wouldn't recommend this book to anyone but the most ardent Orwell fan (and even they'd be a little bored, I'm sure). Go for Steinbeck's letters instead.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Orwell October: Nineteen Eighty Four

Cherish the way 1984 is written in the title, because that's the last time you'll see it written like that in this review. I'm just that lazy, folks. NOT too lazy to read every single word of 1984 for the zillionth time, including the appendix about Newspeak and that bit that's a book within a book that, in my copy, you basically need a magnifying glass to read. I did all that because this is the one- it's the payoff for reading Coming up for Air and Homage to Catalonia, the magnificent culmination of Orwell October, an absolute dystopian masterpiece and one of my favourite books written by anyone ever. You could say I like it a little bit then.

So, reading 1984, I do always have to back up a little, breathe, and remind myself that actually, none of this stuff happened. I hope that nothing close to this has ever happened or ever will happen, but you never can be quite sure of what those pesky people are going to do. It's so easy to forget this is a work of fiction, because Orwell so convincingly creates a self-enclosed universe where love, and friendship and every positive human emotion is considered wholly unnecessary, and superfluous to the needs of the Party. The same Party, that is, that exists only for it's own sake, and for no pure or good motives at all:
"'The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.'" They are all knowing, all seeing, all powerful, and for no motive other than that power in itself. What people want or need is of no interest to them, and all they are consumed by is having power, gaining even more power (over people's thoughts, even) and ensuring that people aren't happy, unless it is by the Party's own definition of happiness (which is power for the Party). It's a horrifying system, and one which leads to the ultimate image: "'If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face- for ever.'"

In the midst of all this awful awful governance, there is Winston Smith, a man who is ideologically opposed to the Party, but who, since he has already broken protocol as we meet him, is unfortunately dead already (in case you hadn't got this yet, the Party is kind of evil, except that they've already defined evil as 'everything that is against the Party'. The slippery little suckers.) Poor Winston can really do nothing by himself, has no idea whether or not there is anyone who feels the way that he does, and so has to go about his daily activities as if he loves the Party, Big Brother (who may or may not exist) and the little telescreens that watch his, and everyone else's every movement. It's also pretty unfortunate that Winston works doing the precise thing that he finds so abhorrent, in doctoring the past so that it fits with what the Party is doing in the present, he goes against everything he believes about the past being unalterable and fixed, and, quite frankly, it's killing him.

Basically it's an awful awful world, and honestly it's so well drawn and amazing in its awfulness that you really have to read it if you haven't yet. What is so fabulous about it though, is that in the midst of all this awfulness, love is still possible, and really, much as I love political ideologies and stuff, the love parts are some of the best of the book. What Orwell does is masterful, in that, through Winston and Julia's love, he allows the reader to have hope- to dare to dream that somehow, what their love means is that the horrid tyranny can be overthrown, at least in people's hearts, and if that can be the case, then maybe it can be overthrown in reality as well. At the height of being given this hope, it is so suddenly snatched away that you're shocked, mournful, and just wanting things to be better. This is one of those times where you've got to remember that it's not a real society, or you might have to cry quite a bit.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the book which Winston receives that expresses criticism for the Party, and that, I think, is also extremely critical of most political systems that have ever existed. It is here that reading all the rest of Orwell's work becomes useful, as it is clear to see that his political thoughts and experiences have influenced him so that he can see what is wrong with other societies and can create a society that is so contrary to what he believes is the right one that it's scary. So yeah, in this book by the major enemy of the party, there are echoes of The Road to Wigan Pier, where he conjectures that no political system helps the poorest, and other things like that that give an extra air of authenticity to the scariness of this horrid world. Which we obviously all needed to be able to sleep better in our beds at night.

So really. 1984 is the perfect book for hallowe'en when you think about it because of all the scares and brainwashing and that whole Room 101 thing (DON'T tell me you don't know about Room 101, because frankly, I don't want to hear it). But it's also perfect for any time you feel bad about your own political system, because after reading this, no matter how crappy things get, you'll at least be grateful that you have the ability to speak out against injustice and inequality and all those other bad things. I feel like there's so much more I could say about the book, but to do so would probably rob anyone who hasn't read it of a lot of the story, so I'll just leave you with some quotations that I find the coolest/scariest/most interesting in the whole book:

  • (On Big Brother) "On coins, on stamps, on the covers of books, on banners, on posters, and on the wrappings of a cigarette packet- everywhere. Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed- no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull"
  • "'Who controls the past' ran the party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'"
  • "Everything faded away into a shadow world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain."
  • "'The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought... In the future we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.'"
  • "It struck him that the truly characteristic thing about modern life was not its cruelty and insecurity, but simply its bareness, its dinginess, its listlessness."
  • (After having sex) "No emotion was pure because everything was mixed up with fear and hatred. their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow against the Party. It was a political act."
  • "'Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or  courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you up with ourselves."
Yeah. So, sweet dreams everyone!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Orwell October: Essays

So, before I embarked on this month, I made this schedule of what I was going to post every day because 1) I'm cool (nobody say anything!) and 2) I knew I'd have so much to read and so many commitments that I just wouldn't do it all if I didn't have a plan. This worked out amazingly and relieved all kinds of stress that could have arisen so, you know, yay! So, for today, my plan was to review Essays by George Orwell, a Penguin Modern Classics editions of some of his many essays. I'm going to do this, because all hell will break loose if I deviate from THE PLAN (not) but I haven't read all the essays, not because of a lack of time, but because, what's the point of reading an essay on, say, Dickens, when I don't even want to read Dickens (someday maybe, Dickens people. But not today.) So yeah, my review is not really going to be extensive but, if you want to read essays on Dickens and stuff, then feel free to buy this book!

So, essays are kind of boring. They don't have to be, but they often are, and the only time they're ever good is when they're on a subject you're really really interested in and you just want to read as much about it as you can. Much of Essays is involved with literary criticism (which is fine, except that Orwell is mainly critiquing books and authors I haven't read, like Gulliver's Travels and Charles Dickens) and the rest is, predictably, about politics and stuff. With which, I have a similar problem as with Homage to Catalonia, in that they don't give enough context about the circumstances surrounding the politics, so that you can't really get a grip on whether you agree with Orwell or not. So, basically, I skipped all of these! But, if I ever need to know about any of the stuff he writes about in these essays, I'll know how to find them.

The best essays, I think, are the ones where he talks about his experiences in the Empire, in Shooting an Elephant (an essay so popular that I think the newest edition of Essays is called 'Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays'), as well as A Hanging which, despite a lack of hype, I actually think is better than Shooting an Elephant, since it sums up how Orwell felt about being involved in the killing of another human being (summary: not good). It's a period that he hasn't really written about too much (at least in what I've read which has been A WHOLE LOT) which I think is a shame because I feel like his time in the dying Empire caused the formation of many of his ideas about how the world should be, even if actual political input sharpened and improved such ideas. Anyway, I actually managed to get through these two essays in their entirety (they're not that long), so I'm thinking that makes them pretty good! (Because I'm narcissistic, apparently. Also I can't stop using brackets.)

So I did read some others, had a little skim of many of them, but my absolute favourite essay in the book was one called Notes on Nationalism. In this, Orwell not only makes a distinction between patriotism, which is mostly harmless love of a particular country that means you'll defend it against criticism; and Nationalism, which is more about the seeking of power, and about believing that your country (or political group, since nationalism isn't confined only to separate countries) can do no wrong in any circumstances. I found this completely wonderful and true, and it actually got rid of my hatred of patriotism (although I still think it's a bit silly, but still, harmless) and moved it on to nationalism, which, I'd agree, is a much bigger problem. Case in point:
"All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts... Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage- torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians- which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side."
I can't even begin to describe how accurate this is, but I think we know it's all true, right?! Like, people celebrating the fall of the twin towers in like Iraq or whatever is bad (which it is, by the way), but celebrating US army victories is ok that kill civilians (and, may I add, that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have killed ridiculously many more civilians than the 9/11 attacks) because... they're on our side?  I mean, I'm not even saying that's my side, but you all know what I mean right? Just YES, George, and also, can we stop doing this now? Thanks. (Also, if a bunch of rebels killed David Cameron and then tried to get images of his corpse on the telly, they'd be considered barbaric. But it's ok for us to have to see Gadaffi's dead body all the time? Granted he was a slightly worse leader than Cameron [it's pretty close] but this is STILL NOT OK. God!)

So, Essays. Not that great overall, but with a few bright spots, and, I'm guessing that pretty much everyone who picks it up would find at least one essay to fixate on and enjoy, especially if said essay allows them to imagine the current Prime Minister as a corpse. So, if you see it anywhere, scan the contents, see if anything takes your fancy and have a little read. I wouldn't bother buying it though, just because that's a lot of book to get through for the satisfaction that only a tiny percentage of it gives you. Unless, of course, you really really like essays, and then go for it!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Realistically, this could just be a list of my top Stephen King books, not only because, you know, I love him, but also because I don't really read scary things other than books written by him. Fortunately, I already made that list (it's right here) so I'd say go with any/all of them this hallowe'en. I've also picked out a top 5 books (some of which, ok, are Stephen King books) that you should probably read, as well as 5 books that I might actually read during Hallowe'en. Everyone clear? Ok, good, let's go!

Top 5 Books to read during Hallowe'en

1. It by Stephen King- Ok, so I'm doing badly already. But seriously, this is pretty much still the scariest book I've ever read, and yet I love it, and I think it would be very successful at scaring the crap out of you on Hallowe'en. Especially if you're scared of clowns, and if you're not, and you read this book- you will be.

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley- Definitely a gentler book for the easily scared, Frankenstein is actually a lot sadder than it is scary. Nonetheless, the creepy ambling about monstery thing is probably scary enough to give you a bit of a chill on Hallowe'en, so go crazy kids!

3. Any episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer- Because, seriously, have you ever seen it? That's some seriously scary stuff. Also, amazing, but scary: definitely. If you really want to pee your pants, may I recommend 'Hush', and if you need to take your mind off that afterwards, then watch 'Once More With Feeling'. You're welcome.

4. Dracula by Bram Stoker- So much scarier than I thought it would be, and all creepy and vampiric to boot, it's absolutely perfect for hallowe'en and will ensure you have a troubling fear of the dark... better get a nightlight...

5. The Shining by Stephen King- The quintessential King, you'll be scared witless if you read this anywhere around hallowe'en, say, in autumn. Or, for that matter, winter. Or maybe just not ever, unless you're really really brave.

And, 5 books I might actually read this hallowe'en:

1. Burton on Burton ed by Mark Salisbury- Tim Burton's not exactly scary scary, but his work is still creepy, and reading more about him on hallowe'en sounds like the perfect thing to do.

2. Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice- I've seen the film because, you know, Brad Pitt, but somehow haven't gotten around to reading the book yet- this could be the year! Possibly...

3. Pet Semetary by Stephen King- Because I haven't read anything by Stephen King in, I swear, a month, and it's sort of killing me. This is the next one up on my list, and I also hear that it's ultra-scary, so I'm excited/scared to read it.

4. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist- My friend loves this book, and I've been sort of meaning to read it for ages, but it's never really happened. This hallowe'en might be its time, I just don't know!

5. The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein- I've started reading this, and it's seriously scary stuff- kind of scary economic measures that completely disregard what is best for people and instead are focused only on the most money for the rich few. Terrifying because it's actually happening/happened, and probably the scariest thing I can think of to read on hallowe'en.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Orwell October: Animal Farm

I first read Animal Farm when I was 13 or possibly 14 years old, and actually wrote my very first essay on it- for that reason it's close to my heart, but this is more likely down to the fact that it's So. Freaking. Awesome. I mean, really. Anyway, reading it at 13/14, I didn't really know anything about Communism, Russia, Stalin, that whole revolution thing that happened, I could go on but I won't; and I was probably better informed than a lot of other people in the class. So, usefully, our teacher created a little sheet that contained explanations of what all the things in the book related to in real life (for example, Napolean=Stalin, Snowball=Trotsky, Boxer=the Worker and so on) which really made the book a lot more interesting to me because it related to real things that happened.

And boy, does it relate to real things that happened! I mean, so closely that it Orwell couldn't find a publisher for it while Britain was still friends with Stalin in WWII, which in itself is an indication of it containing truths that nobody wanted to face up to. Because really- an idealistic pig (literally, not insulting him!) dreams up a society where animals are all equal and have vanquished their evil overlords the humans, who take what they produce and produce nothing themselves, and then some other pig takes  these ideas and subverts them into something so closely resembling the old regime that it's impossible to tell them apart? Hello Marxism being f'd in the a! It's a genuinely so perfect satire/allegory that I can't even begin to describe it to you, you just have to read it to believe it- I can even make you a little cheat sheet if you like!

What I think is really great about it though, is that even if you take it as 'A Fairy Story' (which is what Orwell calls it on its front page) you can still see within it that the pigs are utterly wrong to do what they do, that Boxer is great and noble, and that, while the ideas behind 'animalism' (geddit?) are great and worthy, once they are subverted by the pigs, they become worthless, and, quite frankly, a sham. It's great, therefore, to be able to see these things in terms of a fairy tale, and then to be able to apply them to real things that happened, and is part of Orwell's amazing ability to connect with and appeal to such vast numbers of people (put another way, I LOVE ORWELL! Just in case you didn't know that yet...)

So, my reading of Animal Farm this time round was entertaining as ever (and took about 2 hours, if that, so you really have no excuse!) and I actually found quite a lot of things in it that I hadn't fully realised before. Here's just a short list of them:

  • There's this raven who hangs around talking about this animal heaven that animals apparently go to when they die- even though animalism is basically against religion, the pigs let him hang around and even feed him, obviously because, if the animals believe that something better is waiting for them when they die, they'll work harder because they will be rewarded in the end. Since the pigs want more work done, they let the raven stay, even though they know what he's saying in utter bull. Taking Marx's opium of the people and twisting it around for their own uses by any chance?
  • It's really sad to me that, because the animals truly believe they are working for themselves, they work as hard as they possibly can, and sometimes even harder; when actually they are absolutely not equal, the pigs have total control of everything, and, quite frankly, the regime is the same, it's just the leaders who are different.
  • There's this donkey, Benjamin, who refuses to get enthusiastic about animalism in any way, he says because he's lived a long time. I feel like this is an indication of the fact that political systems always benefit the same kind of people and short-change the rest, and if you live for a long enough time, you'll get to know that nothing is ever done to change this. It's a completely cynical way to look at the world, but unfortunately, I think that Benjamin might actually be onto something.
  • I really really really want to take Napoleon and make him into bacon. Then he'd at least be good for something, although I'm not sure I'd want that much evil in me!
And then there's Boxer. This paragraph is going to be pretty spoilerific, so look away now if you haven't read the book. I love Boxer so so so much, and he is really the epitome of the worker- not necessarily terribly bright, but so strong and with more bravery and determination in one hoof than Napoleon has in his entire big fat pig body. Orwell clearly admires and respects him, and it is clear that these are his feelings for actual workers as well. So, Boxers death (and his fall comes, quite rightly, within work) is so awful, so tragic, that I definitely have a little cry at it. Because, you see, Boxer is the person who is supposed to most benefit from the revolution, but actually, he gets the shoddiest deal of all- looking forward so longingly to his well-earned retirement where he will be taken care of for once, he instead gets sold off to the glue makers so the pigs could have more whiskey (which they weren't even meant to have anyway). It's the moment where all hope of something better goes out of the story, and it's just about the point where you wish the pigs were just bacon already! END OF SPOILERS.

So that's Animal Farm for you- brutal, mean, and exactly the same as it was before, only with pigs in control instead of men (although, you know, what's the difference?) Actually, in many ways it's worse than it was before, and I think this is Orwell's way of saying that, even if a political system sounds so wonderful in theory (equality for all) in practice, someone always gets too consumed with a lust for power so that everyone but that person and his special friends (ie security forces) actually loses out. In other words: actual socialism good, totalitarianism bad. Seriously though, read this book- it contains so much in so few pages, and is really worth the few hours of your time that it'll take to read. 

Saturday, 22 October 2011


Hour 24
That's right, it's the last hour, and guess who's awake to see it?! Yeah, that's right! After possibly the most wonderful 4 hour nap in the world I have come out the other side, I'm back on The Hunger Games, and I'm ready to DO THIS THING!! Pumped baby, pumped! Ooh, and there's an end of readathon survey too! Funtimes.

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Erm, probably hours 19-23 since I opted to go to sleep during them! Although hour 16 was pretty rough too!
2. Could you list a few high interest books you think could keep a reader engaged for next year? The Hunger Games! And Pet Semetary was pretty cool too, although it's pretty long so I didn't feel that achievementy because it took like 6 hours or something to finish
3. Do you have any suggestions to improve the readathon next year? Make it like 19 hours long since that's apparently my limit? No really, I don't know, it's sort of awesome already.
4. What did you think worked really well in this year's readathon? My eyes, my brain, my mouth (with the food and all)
5. How may books did you read? 4 and more than a half. But if I hadn't slept, I reckon I could have done 6.
6. What were the names of the books you read? Pet Semetary by Stephen King, Election by Tom Perrotta, Stir-Fry by Emma Donoghue, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender and over half of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
7. Which book did you enjoy most? Probably Pet Semetary, but actually all but one were kind of good.
8. Which did you enjoy least? The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake- it was weird and not what I was expecting and just not that good in the end (although I did have to keep reading it just to figure out what the fuck was going on!)
9. N/A
10. How likely are you to participate in the readathon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'm pretty certain I'll participate in the readathon again, although possibly slightly less... insanely. I'd probably be up for hosting/hosting a mini-challenge though, because they seem pretty fun!

Yay! So, it's sort of nearly over. I might post something very slight at the end, but this is pretty much me saying peace out you guys! And get some extremely well deserved rest!

Hour 19
Is that right? The start of the 19th hour? I'm kind of impressed with myself, I have to say- I thought I'd be asleep waaaay before now. Apparently I'm just forming really bad sentences instead! What to say- The Hunger Games is really really good, and I've got to say I'd rather be doing this kind of endurance test than the one in the book, because I'm less likely to die of reading! (Note: I said less likely. It's not impossible though.) Also- it's all peril-y which would be stressful, but I know there are two more books and that Katniss and Peeta are both in them, so I'm kind of feeling ok about the outcome of this one. Unless one of them comes back as a ghost or something, in which case I've got this series all wrong!

So anyway, I'm pretty hungry, so I might have some kind of a breakfast thing, and then I may have to go to bed... I'm pretty tired, much as I don't think I am. It's a very confusing sensation. So, yeah. I may be back in two hours, I may be back in about 24 hours, or I may NEVER be back. We'll see.

Hour 17
So, I finished The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake at like 4am, and what just like what the FUCK was up with that book? I'm really not sure I liked it, and I know it scared me! So anyway,  I then read 2 chapters of The Hunger Games, and thought, you know what, I could do with a nap; turned the light off and COULDN'T SLEEP! I feel like this might have something to do with the late night caffeine, so hopefully when that wears off I'll be able to have a teeny bit of rest. Although that might make me tireder. Hmmmm...

Anyway, page count is now 1221, which is an insane number of pages and I should probably stop before I explode or something. But obviously I'm not going to because of that thing where now I can't actually sleep. Damn. Instead, I'm going to do the mini-challenge from the last hour, which is all about re-reading- I'm possibly not going to be doing any re-reads during the readathon now (although, you know, never say never) but here's my list of my favourite re-reads of all time:

1. The Bell Jar- Sylvia Plath
2. 1984- George Orwell
3. Anything written by Austen ever
4. Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte
5. To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee

There's probably a lot more I could think of, but I just can't think, ya know what I mean? Also, I've reviewed most of these here already, so if you really want to read a review of them, you can just go to my 'Devouring Books' tab. I would link you to them, but it's like 5am guys, so you're on your own. Love ya though!

Hour 15
The lemon cake book is totally freaking me out, maybe just because it's all late and dark, but mostly because there's this brother and he disappears, but literally, and now I'm sort of scared of chairs... is this the diet coke twitches, I wonder? I don't know, I still think it's objectively scary though! Or at least freaky.

Ramble over. Resume normal reading behaviour.

Hour 13
So, I missed the halfway point, but I marked it in my own special way with a glass of diet coke, and, within the hour, finishing another book! This brings my page total number thingy up to 896, but who's counting petty things like that?! (I totally am-I need the visible achievements people!)
My sort of blurry but ultimately magnificent elixir of life/wakefulness

And, as promised, here's a picture of my lovely nest that's sustaining my reading continuation (I'm using big words because, if I'm awake and typing at 1am, that usually means there's an essay due in tomorrow)
It's really super-duper comfy, and I'm just trying to ignore the fact that it's one-something am and that I should be tucked up all cosy in my bed. My nest is pretty much comfy enough anyway. Onto The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake now- it's kind of sad so hopefully my next update won't just be a sob and a whimper....

Ooop, oop, hang on, there's also a mini-survey going on right now because actually, forget what I said earlier, this is the halfway point! So I didn't miss it! But also there's an extra hour than I was planning on... Anyway, the survey goes:

1. What are you reading right now? The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
2. How many books have you read so far? 3
3. What book are you most looking forward to in the second half? I literally don't even know what I'm going to read next! So something that's a surprise and awesome.
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? Not really. But I had to explain to my mum about 50 times what a 24 hour readathon would entail, and why that makes it ok for me to drink diet coke at midnight...
5. Have you had many interruptions? Not really! Other than having to change location and, you know, pee. But those didn't take very long.
6. What surprises you most about the readathon so far? How much I really just want to read and not really blog that much. Yay reading!
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the readathon next year? Not really, I think it's pretty fab!
8. What would you do differently if you were to do this again next year? Have moved out of home so that nobody questions ALL MY ACTIONS (argh!)
9. Are you getting tired yet? Oh yes. But I was up 4 hours before the action even started, so I feel like I have a slight excuse!
10. Do you have any other tips? Read your little hearts out! But also, pick short books and you'll feel like you're achieving more. Also, Doritos and diet coke are always the answer.

Hour 11
Have relocated now (can't be bothered to take a picture because I'm not properly settled yet, but maybe next time) and it seems to have sleepened me out, ie I'm tiiiiiiiired guys! It's probably time for a diet coke break (or is that 11.30? Everyone saw that advert in the 90s, right?) to perk me up a bit, otherwise I might need a nap- only a nap at this time could be PERILOUS, and I don't want to miss things! Because yes, I am a child. I'm currently halfway through Stir-Fry by Emma Donoghue, which is good, but I completely forgot it was on my pile of books/that I'd even bought it. But, it struck me when I examined my pile, so read it had to be!
In other news, I definitely bashed my head while I was sorting out books to take downstairs with me (I managed to cull 6, which is probably a good thing) so now my head hurts AND I'm sleepy. Fortunately, I'm staying up all night so if I have a concussion of some sort I'll probably be ok (I definitely don't have a concussion.) So yeah! Back to the reading-ness in actually my favourite spot in the house for late night reading! Yay!

Hour 9
Aaaaaand I just finished a book in 2 hours! I win (or something). Election was good! Also I ate food in the form of a meal, which was also good. I'm also doing badly at the whole entering competitions thing, but that's ok because I just want to READ! And then read some more! You get the idea.
I'm on 665 pages now- not to be all competitive, but merely intrigued, how's everyone else doing on that part? Are you even counting pages? Do tell me things!

Hour 7 (ish)
Pet Semetary finished and omg what a book!! I can't even... good job I'm staying up all night because I think it would be sort of difficult to sleep after that...
By my estimations (which are obviously extremely accurate because, you know, I have eyes) I've read 465 pages. I'm pretty happy with that, I've gotta say! Might have a very brief bathroom break now and then decide which book to read next (I'm thinking Election right now). I was definitely going to do some mini challenges this hour, but they're haaaaard (I'm thinking of the giving authors their real names one right now, because omg I don't have a clue and can't be bothered to google!)
So anyway, hope it's all going well wherever you are, and please please stay away from ancient Indian (or I should say Native American) burial grounds, promise?

Hour 5
I'm nearly 300 pages into Pet Semetary, and oh my God this shit's good! Right now I'm kind of thinking I'd be reading it all in one go even if there wasn't a readathon, but that's probably not true... Anyway, will probably power through the Semetary of pets (don't be too hard on that title because the sign was made by kids) before I update here again. I'm having a bit of a diet coke buzz right now, so I've had to put my big bottle away to save it for the rougher hours....

Oh, and just for Alice:
THESE are Moomins! Tell me you don't want one!

Hour 3
Well, I've been reading for two hours. That's about it. Had me some lunch in that time as well, and I'd say I'm about a third of the way through Pet Semetary. Which, I luckily decided to read sooner rather than later because that's some spooky shiit! Just going to finish the chapter and then coming back to mosey on over to other blogs and see how everyone's doing!

Hour 1
It's starting right now! So instead of reading, I'm doing the introduction meme... I'll read soon, honest! Anyway, here goes!

1. Where are you reading from today?
Surrey (sort of near London) in the UK

2. Three Random Facts about me...
Oh god, I hate these questions... ok, 1) I love Moomins, 2) I'm wearing super sparkly nail varnish, 3) Doritos will get me through this.

3. How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
18. Ahem. But I don't expect to read them all, honest!

4. Do you have any goals for the readathon?
Not to die. And to stay awake for the whole 24 hours (unlikely)

5. If you're a veteran readathoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?
I'm a first timer guys! Be gentle with me!

So yeah, that's me! Off I go to read now :). Also, can I just ask that if you comment (which I would LOVE!) can you please say which hour you're commenting on so I don't get all confused in the later hours... but if not, I'll try and know what you're going on about, promise!

15 Minutes To Go
That's right, I'm just a tiny bit excited. 15 minutes to go, and I'm just getting myself all prepared for blissful hours of reading! I think what I'm going to do is just keep updating this post all day and night (and the next day, oh my!) and then you'll just get a giant post that's a descent into madness to cherish forever! Just for starters, I thought I'd show you where I'm going to be reading for the first, ooh, 9 hours or so, which is here:
My trusty bed (in that messy bedroom...). I've rolled up the duvet and then put pillows on top of it so that I'm kind of sitting up but not quite, so I don't fall asleep, but also so I'm fully comfortable. You'll notice my trusty laptop right next to where my arm is going to be, so I can keep up with what everyone's doing and can read about everyone else's descents into madness! Since I share a bedroom with my sister, which is the lamest thing ever, I'll be relocating whenever she decides to come to bed, and I'll maybe take a picture of my new location to show you whenever that happens (won't that be fun!)

Anyway, I'm just kind of rambling now, so GOOD LUCK if you're participating, if not maybe come and see me and encourage me greatly, and, you know, we can do this! etc. Woo, go team books!!!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon: The Pre-Game

So at the last readathon, people were posting pictures of luscious stacks of books, and I felt all sad and pouty that I wasn't joining in, and because I was unprepared, I didn't read things. Also because it was my birthday, but that's another matter entirely! So, this is my preparation this time, to give me good luck for staying awake for a whole 24 hours and reading lots of useful and wonderful things.

Behold! A big pile of books!
Isn't it wonderful? I've actually had it ready for, I swear, about three weeks, and I was thinking about it before I made it, so basically this is the part where you tell me how cool I am! Now, I understand that I'm not going to be able to read all of these in 24 hours (I'm not quite that magical) but I think it's good to have choices, and I'm going to have a good go at attacking this glorious pile. In case you can't see, from top to bottom they are:

Pet Semetary by Stephen King
Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster
Let the Right One in by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Election by Tom Perotta
Stir-Fry by Emma Donoghue
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson
Timbuktu by Paul Auster
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
A Life in Letters by George Orwell
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
Burton on Burton
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 

Now that I've typed that out, it seems like an even more insane pile of books, and I think we all know I'm not going to read them all. If I'm going to bet on which ones I'm most likely to read, I'd probably say A Streetcar Named Desire (because it's a play and therefore easy), Pet Semetary (because I miss my King!), The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (because I've been waiting for so long to read it), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (because I read it in like 3 hours without stopping once) and actually, right now I'm really feeling Election. This could, of course, all be crap because I don't know how I'm going to feel tomorrow, so we'll see! I'm fully prepared on the snack front too- I've got my big bag of Doritos (previously good fuel to write essays until the early hours), marshmallows (because, yum!) and a nice big bottle of coke that I can but hope will see me through the night!
Other exciting things that happened this week are that people won some books! So, congratulations to Adam, Katie, Kristi and Virginie, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy your books! Here, for the satisfaction of the masses, is the grand hat draw of '11:
Yeah, I'm cool- I put names in hats when there are all sorts of computery things to do that can pick out names. Dontcha just love me?!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Devouring Books: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Ah, Dracula. I had some very mild issues at the beginning of the book that I can only describe as 'Classics Withdrawal Syndrome', but as soon as I got into the flow of Ye Olde Worlde Language and stuff, I was totally enthralled. In a way, I didn't even realise how much it was freaking me out until I was reading it late one night, everyone had gone to bed and I had to make my way upstairs in the dark... Let's just say that I sort of dashed up the stairs and got into bed as quickly as possible, since everyone knows that nothing can get you when you're safe in your bed (everyone also knows I'm insane. Moving on...)

It's interesting that I would think this though, since most of the violence and scary bloodsucking stuff that happens in Dracula takes place in the bedchambers of delicate ladies. There's not really any justification for why Dracula preys on young women, since he is so incredibly strong that he could probably take the men and just generally massacre them all, so let's just say that he's extremely heterosexual, shall we? (See also: the three women vampires who live in his castle.) I like to think that Dracula actually likes to give women the kind of power that they are unable to achieve in living life (as opposed to undead life), but actually, I fear, it's probably to do with the fact that women are weak and unable to resist the calling of Dracula, whereas men are strong and must protect said women, even if that means staking them through the heart and chopping their heads off. Yay, men!

But really, this book is too sexist for words! Poor old Lucy is all mutually loved and all, but once she gets too big for her boots (and starts feeding off children and stuff- only children though, because remember, she's a woman and even as a strong vampire couldn't feed off a man!) she must be stopped! I'm putting aside the bit where she's a vampire for just a minute for the sake of getting my feminist fury on right now. I think the case of underappreciated women is more extreme in the case of Mina, who, everyone agrees 'has a man's brain' and is honestly the most organised member of the team, and yet, at a certain point in proceedings, they decide to stop including her in events in case they 'upset' her and in doing so, I really think, leave her vulnerable to attack anyway! My conclusion from this, rather than 'women are weak' is more 'men are stupid' so there you go- maybe Stoker was all about the feminism. But probably not.

I really did love Dracula though, much as I like to moan about it's unfeminist credentials (I feel like it's necessary to point it out, because if I don't, who else will?!) because really, I wasn't expecting all that much in that area because, let's face it, a male writer in the 19th Century? Unlikely to be best friends with Gloria Steinem. So putting everything I've said so far aside, how freaking scary was Dracula?! I think that, the fact he is absent from much of the story means that he is even more terrifying than he might otherwise be, his cruelty at the beginning builds up a picture of him that you can't help but colour in yourself as the story goes on. One of his scariest facets is the fact that, while yes, he has to be invited into your house, he can easily achieve this by hypnotising the one he wants to suck. He seems to be unbeatable, and the feeling that he is continues pretty much up until SPOILER the moment that he isn't. But I didn't think they would be able to kill him, if I'm honest!

Being the mahusive Stephen King fan that I am, it was kind of thrilling to see the things that King extracted from Dracula to write his own vampire novel, 'Salem's Lot. I say that, but I can't actually remember any specific things that I can point to that were the same, but I definitely got a feel when I was reading Dracula that was really similar to the one surrounding 'Salem's Lot. They definitely both benefit from the wealth of different viewpoints covered, because in that way, you get the entire story, and in a plausible way. I really loved the diary/newspaper articles/letters set up of the novel just because, if you get bored with one narrator (which I totally did with Jonathan Harker at the beginning, even though his story was creepy) there's always a better one round the corner, and sometimes it's even a woman! What I also liked was that there was very little from Van Helsing's viewpoint, even though he's clearly the most important character in the novel- in doing this, we are able to see Van Helsing mainly from others' viewpoints, and so he is free from the whole I love Lucy/women are weak/I am a MAN narratives, and is just able to be a kick-ass vampire genius/know it all who you'd definitely want around in a crisis (although what's with all the broken English- I mean I know he's Dutch, but he's also super intelligent, and you'd think he'd be able to learn English/that his friends would tell him he was saying it wrong. But whatever.) (Also, has anyone seen 'Van Helsing', starring Hugh Jackman? Such a terrible film that I can't even think about it or discuss it logically. Happily, the actual Van Helsing is so. Much. Cooler!)

So, anyway. Dracula is scary, and awesome, and utterly perfect for Hallowe'en. While I'm thinking it wasn't the start of all Vampire Lore, within it is contained the bones of practically every vampire story that I can think of. While there is, of course, a sense in which all vampire stories pick and choose parts of the traditions, most of them are (possibly) started here, and thus Dracula claims its place as the beginning of the modern vampire thing. For me, this makes Dracula worth reading alone, because, trust me, I like A LOT of vampire things (Buffy, True Blood, 'Salem's Lot, Interview With the Vampire- NOT Twilight because VAMPIRES CAN'T GO OUT IN THE DAY! ARGH!) and it's really interesting to see their origins and the ways they've evolved from the original tales. Plus, it gives me the excuse to watch more Buffy than is probably healthy for a human person, as a task in comparison, you know? Also, if you're interested, Dracula makes his own guest appearance in Buffy in Season 5 Episode 1. And if you can just watch that episode, you're a better person than me!

Anyway! Back to Dracula, I would just say that there are two men who don't really get their fair share of narrative time in Dracula (they're just kind of there) I fear because one of them is rich, and the other is American. I feel like Stoker only really has time for intelligent characters, and so these two men are more devices to make things happen rather than actual characters. The problem with this, though, is that in killing one of these men off in the really abrupt dying minutes (ok, it's the American) Stoker fails to get the emotional reaction that you would get if he killed off, say, Van Helsing, or even Jonathan Harker. But, in doing what he does, Stoker does manage to give us a happy ending because we don't care about the American, and who can blame him for wanting to do that?!

So, to sum up, Dracula-good, sexism-bad. Vampires-good, under-developed characters-bad. Read Dracula on Hallowe'en and you won't be disappointed, but you might have a heart attack. Accept no imitations (apart from the good ones).

Note: This my book number 4 in the RIP Challenge, as well as being my review for A Literary Odyssey's readathon for Dracula, which I'd like to thank Allie for hosting because it was SO much fun to read, and I actually finally read Dracula! So proud!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Orwell October: Homage to Catalonia

I had issues with this book, specifically boredom issues (sorry, George). Basically Orwell's account of what happened when he fought in the Spanish Civil War (he fought, it was dirty, he got bored a lot, he got injured, and something else boring happened in Barcelona), I just really couldn't find anything in this book to connect with or to kind of care about. Mostly I was confused, bewildered, and, overridingly, bored.

This is mostly my fault. I mean, not the fact that it was boring, but the fact that I found it boring because 1) I know nothing about the Spanish Civil War, 2) I hate wars in general, and stories concerning wars specifically, and 3) I kept expecting a wider discussion of the issues (as in The Road to Wigan Pier) and when none came I decided to get bored instead. This book was such a struggle that I had to 'treat' myself after reading a chapter with a chapter of the True Blood book that I was reading at the same time (trashy, but oh so entertaining!) I wanted to be interested in the issues but I really wasn't considering that (I think) the Spanish Civil War was pretty much a tiny prelude to the Second World War which I think, in terms of history, was a lot more important. Probably.

I was lying a tiny bit when I said I knew nothing about the Spanish Civil War, because what I do know is that, at the start of The Way We Were, Katie goes on about it a lot, and it's all bad and to do with Fascism and Communism and stuff. More importantly, Robert Redford pretty much falls in love with her as she's saying all this stuff and caring and all, and I still don't really know what the Spanish Civil War is about but I know that Robert Redford is a beautiful man. And now I want to watch The Way We Were, instead of review this book. Damn. ANYWAY- basically I still know very little about the Civil War, except that it seems like the Anarchists and Communists and Socialists all ended up fighting each other rather than the Fascists, which seems a bit ridiculous to me. But that's war for you...

Basically, I'd only recommend this book if you know at least something about the Spanish Civil War, since Orwell is not exactly forthcoming with the background details on that front. Since the book was published in 1938, this is fully understandable, but it wasn't that helpful to me as a 21st Century gal. I might (might) read up on the Spanish Civil War one day on good old reliable Wikipedia, but Homage to Catalonia doesn't exactly compel me to do so. I'm sure it was really interesting and relevant at it's time of publication, but now, not so much. Sorry, George. But well done for fighting and stuff, I'm sure you were very brave!

In other news, Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris was very good if you're looking for vampires and were-things and Sookie Stackhouse-ness. Which, I've got to say, I enjoy more than war. Just putting that out there.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

I feel like this week's top ten is the polar opposite of last week's, in that, rather than being a top ten of books that were so wonderful you want to recapture that magic feeling you had when you first read them, this is all about being shallow and thinking only of titles, or even worse, covers. That being said, choosing a book this way can often reveal some surprising results, and even though I tend to buy books because of authors/positive reviews, the following are books whose titles were their sole merit, even if that's not the case any more.

Top Ten Books whose covers/titles made me buy them

1. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender- Isn't that just the best title ever? I did genuinely think it was going to be a discussion of lemon cake and its sad qualities (I don't know, something like 'it's sour and that means it's always a sad cake' or something) but actually it sounds even more interesting than that. I haven't actually read it yet, so I can't tell you if that's the case, but we'll see!

2. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides- I don't know why the title of this book appealed to me so much, but it was a mistake to read it because I really didn't like it (see here). Middlesex, which had a far less appealing title, was actually so greatly superior that I could hardly believe it was by the same author.

3. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster- It has the words New York in the title, I'm on it. I did also buy this because Auster is freaking amazing, but the New York thing definitely made me buy this one rather than, say The Music of Chance or, you know, anything else.

4. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates- I also bought this because there was a quotation on the cover that said something like 'Oates may be the great American author' or something, but I also just really liked the title (don't ask me why because I don't have a clue!) I'm really glad I did though- my very first Oates book that spawned a great love.

5. Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy- Isn't that a great title though? Also an awesome feminist discussion of how women are sometimes their own worst enemy when it comes to gaining equality, by seeing themselves solely as sex objects. Highly recommended.

6. This Book Will Save Your Life by A M Homes- This one I bought because of the title and the cover- it's got doughnuts on the front which is just a good thing whichever way you look at it. It also cost, I think, £1, so, you know, another good reason to buy stuff...

7. The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster- Another book by Auster! So again, it wasn't just the title, but I'm pretty sure I had heard of the book before I knew who it was by, and wanted to read it because of the title. Let's stick with that explanation, anyway.

8. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks- Come on. Are you strong enough to resist a title like that?!

9. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera- I think this was also recommended by a Philosophy lecturer, but the title alone is pretty magnificent, so I probably wouldn't have bought it if it wasn't for that.

10. What's Eating Johnny Depp by Nigel Goodall- Sadly, the title was the best thing about this biography. But there are still photos of Depp in it, so it wasn't a complete loss...

Aren't they all great titles though? Mixed results from the actual books, but at least the authors can rest easy knowing that they thought of good titles for their crappy crappy books (Goodall, I'm looking at you!)

Ooh, and if you're in a winning sort of mood, may I invite you to enter my Giveaway for the Literary Blog Hop? I'm giving away three books, so hopefully there should be something there that you will just desperately want to own! So don't say I never give you anything!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Revisiting Books: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I read Frankenstein for the Classics Circuit's Gothic Literature Tour, as well as part of the R.I.P VI Challenge- if that's not killing two birds with one stone, I don't know what is! Here are my thoughts about it:

One thing I want to make extremely clear from the beginning is the fact that Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not the monster. I'm hoping that this is something that we all know, but the number of times I've had to explain this in my life doesn't even bear thinking about. I mean, google don't even know the difference- an image search for Frankenstein comes up with a whole load of pictures of Boris Karloff's face (as the monster, not in general). So yeah, Frankenstein= the scientist, the monster is just the monster. All clear?

Mind you, it is a detriment to Frankenstein's character that he didn't even bother to give his creation (the 'monster') a name, and just left him to be doomed to be labelled as such. In fact, rather than being scared of the 'monster' I found myself more feeling sorry for him than anything, and kind of thinking that Frankenstein sort of deserved to have these bad things happen to him, because let's face it- he created a creepy looking dude, with perceptions and feelings, and yet no language, and then just abandoned him because... he was unattractive? I mean really, who is the real monster here?

Poor old Frankenstein then has to make his way around the world by himself, figuring out how on earth things work, and trying to find some kind of human decency so that he can be a functioning member of society. Instead, all he finds is horror, and threats, and terror, just because of the way he looks. This book confirms everything you ever believed about the shallowness of human beings, and in the end you really have to sympathise with the 'monster' because it's hardly his fault that he's turned out that way- cast out by his maker, shunned by society even though he tries to be good, there's not much for him to do other than become a murderer, which he of course does (although I definitely wished he had actually been innocent, he really does become a murderer- but who can blame him!)

On the flip side of my sympathy for the 'monster' is my disgust for Frankenstein, who is perhaps the most irresponsible character in all of fiction. Seriously- that whole creating a sentient being and then being disgusted by his face (which YOU created! God, Frankenstein!) and then spending the next hundred or so pages whinging because said 'monster' is, quite justifiably angry at you?! He's a poor excuse for a human being, and his continual deliriums are kind of embarrassing after a while. Towards the end of the book, someone says to the 'monster':
"'it is well you come here to whine over the desolation that you have made. You throw a torch into a pile of buildings; and when they are consumed you sit among the ruins and lament the fall. Hypocritical fiend!'"
The exact same thing can be said about Frankenstein himself, and no matter how much he blames himself for what happens during the course of the story, it is never enough because it is all his fault- not for creating the 'monster' in the first place, but for failing to nurture him so he didn't turn out the way he did. I repeat, who here is the real monster?

My interpretation of Frankenstein (the book) is focused in such a way because I have read it before- because I knew of the injustices faced by the poor monster, I was pretty much against Frankenstein (the man) from the beginning. I'm sure that the first time round, I was more taken by how sinister it was, and how freaked out the 'monster's' stalking made me feel, and just the general sense of doom around proceedings. This time around I was more pissed off than anything, and found myself replying to Frankenstein's whining in my head with no-nonsense responses. I guess the moral of this tale is, if you were scared by Frankenstein the first time, the next time you'll just want to kill Frankenstein before anyone else has the opportunity to, and to take the monster into your home and make him feel welcome. At least, you will if you're anything like me...

Fun fact re: the 'monster'- Shelley referred to him as 'Adam', which makes me think that the big bad in the fourth season of Buffy was definitely named after him, especially since he's like a Frankenstein-ian creation of all these different demons... good to know, I think!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop!

Update: This giveaway has now been closed, winners selected and will be announced as soon as they email me back. Thanks to everyone who entered, and I hope to do another one of these soon because they're super fun!

Well, hello hello hello! Welcome to my very first giveaway, about which I am extremely excited and also, fortunately for you, very generous feeling! Entries are until 12pm GMT on Wednesday 19th October, and I'll announce the winners right here on Thursday 20th. Aren't we all just really excited?!

But maybe just save your excitement until you know what I'm giving away! In honour of Orwell October (my own little attempt to read the things that Orwell wrote) I'm giving away a copy of 1984, that has actually been read by me! (You know like how people want Britney Spears's chewed gum? That's the kind of response I'm looking for with this. And also to let you know that it's not a pristine copy. Yeah. Although I haven't chewed it like gum, because that's not the analogy I was going for with this. Also you should probably just ignore me.)
So that's that. And if you don't know what it's all about, then seriously, you need this book.

Also up for grabs is an actual pristine copy of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which I haven't  read, but I have two copies for no reason known to anyone sensible, so if you want it, you may be able to have it if you ask really nicely...

And it's kind of the same story with Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky- I have two copies, one of you lucky people may have one of them (and I'm going to be honest, it's the one I like the look of least... I love you guys, but I love me more...)

And the superfun bonus prize is Emily Dickinson: Selected Poems which I have to say upfront has some highlighting and really bad notes I've made in it (stuff like 'this is a rhyme' and things because I never know what to say about poetry). So I'm fully aware that it's possible that nobody will want it. Which will make me sad, but I will understand. Sniff.

'But Laura!' (I hear you cry) 'How can I get my hands on such amazing books that have been touched by hands such as yours?!' Well, patience my dear ones, I'm about to tell you! So, if you would like one or many of these books then all you have to do is leave me a comment saying which one/s you would like, with an email address at the end that I will be able to contact you on. If you also say something amusing or witty, then I will love you greatly, and I might give you an extra entry or something. Note: You DON'T have to be a follower to enter, but if you want to read someone's gushings on Stephen King and generally want to be amazed into a state of awe and excitement, then why wouldn't you want to follow me?! But, again, you don't have to.

And it's pretty much as simple as that! Again, don't forget to tell me if you want more than one of these books (I won't think you're greedy or anything, don't worry!) and then I'll put your name in the hat for both/three/all four/you get the idea books. This may or may not involve an actual hat, I haven't decided yet (but there probably will be). So yeah, enter, cross your fingers, do whatever lucky things you do, and then move on to all these other lovely blogs to see what goodies you can get from them. Good luck to you all!

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Devouring Texts
  3. The Book Whisperer
  4. Seaside Book Nook
  5. The Scarlet Letter (US only)
  6. Rikki's Teleidoscope
  7. Bibliosue
  8. Curled Up With a Good Book and a Cup of Tea
  9. The Book Diva's Reads
  10. Gaskella
  11. Lucybird's Book Blog
  12. Kim's Bookish Place
  13. The Book Garden
  14. Under My Apple Tree
  15. Helen Smith
  16. Sam Still Reading
  17. Nishita's Rants and Raves
  18. Ephemeral Digest
  19. Bookworm with a View
  20. The Parrish Lantern
  21. Dolce Bellezza
  22. Lena Sledge Blog
  23. Book Clutter
  24. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (US only)
  25. The Blue Bookcase
  26. Book Journey (US only)
  27. The House of the Seven Tails (US only)
  28. In One Eye, Out the Other (US only)
  29. Read, Write & Live
  30. Fresh Ink Books

  1. Living, Learning, and Loving Life (US only)
  2. Bibliophile By the Sea
  3. Laurie Here Reading & Writing Reviews
  4. Amy's Book World (US only)
  5. Teadevotee
  6. Joy's Book Blog
  7. Word Crushes (US only)
  8. Thinking About Loud!
  9. Kinna Reads
  10. Sweeping Me
  11. Minding Spot (US only)
  12. Babies, Books, and Signs (US only)
  13. Lisa Beth Darling
  14. Tony's Reading List
  15. SusieBookworm (US only)
  16. Tell Me A Story
  17. Close Encounters with the Night Kind
  18. Nerfreader
  19. Mevrouw Kinderboek (Netherlands, Belgium)
  20. Boekblogger (Netherlands)
  21. In Spring it is the Dawn
  22. No Page Left Behind
  23. Elle Lit

Friday, 14 October 2011

Orwell October: Coming Up For Air

My review for this book originally contained one word: BORING! Having spent a few days thinking about it, I can't think of any more words that are appropriate for it, because I really got very little out of this book. It is boring, and honestly, I expected more from you Georgy. Its basic message is that you can't go home again- something which by now seems like a hackneyed sort of message and one that is self-evident- that, no matter how hard you try, you can never recapture your youth, and things can't go back to how they were because the world spins ever onwards.

This is something that becomes clear to George Bowling, the 'hero' of the book (I resent calling him a hero, because he's really pretty boring and irritating), when he attempts to go back to his childhood town and go fishing, something which he did when he was a teenager and liked and blah blah blah I really don't care. I might be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that this is the only novel of Orwell's written in the first person, and what a boring person to choose! George (the character) is annoying and boring, and while he feels like he's really interesting and special, he really isn't. While I think there is sometimes some appeal in that in a character (their 'everyman-ness') I was just irritated and bored with George- about half the book is a history of his life so far, and let's just say that nothing has happened to him, other than he's been fishing a lot, and went to fight in the First World War, although all he talks about from that is that he almost went fishing but didn't. Please excuse me while I take a nap so I can cope with such thrilling tales.

I'll admit that the fact that nothing really happens might have something to do with the idea that George lives in the suburbs, and works for an insurance company, and so we can't really expect anything of note to happen to him. But did it really have to be pointed out in such a tedious way? George has this brother who runs off, and I almost want to find out what happens to him instead, but his story would probably just be a reprise of Down and Out in Paris and London, so I'm good without that as well. I'm actually struggling to say anything much at all about this book, because there was just nothing much to it- all fluff, and nothing much else.

Oh, ok, there is one thing. So George is all freaked out about the onset of war (which actually happened like 3 months after this novel was published, vastly different to the 1941 that is predicted about 20 times in it) and keeps imagining a future where either the fascists or the communists have taken over, which in the end leads to the same thing: "the after-war, the food queues and the secret police and the loudspeakers telling you what to think..." and somewhere else it says things about the slogans and the big faces staring down at you, and I don't know about you, but that all sounds like the seeds of the idea for 1984 to me. Which is sort of fascinating to see as the beginning of the idea for that masterpiece, but on the other hand, it's still not worth reading this book to have. Especially because I've just told you about it, so you don't need to!

I think basically, throughout this whole book, what Orwell is trying to say is that things are about to change irrevocably, and he's not sure which way they're going to go, but nothing looks good, and that's why people are compelled to go backwards and try to recapture a time when everything was better, except that that's something you can't really do, so you're always disappointed and just left wondering if anything will ever be good again. That's the sort of the feeling I had about this novel, but knowing that I only have Animal Farm and 1984 left to read soothed me somewhat- no danger of being bored out of my skull with them. So, Coming Up For Air- should have been better. But I will forgive you for boring me senseless Orwell, because I'm nothing if not forgiving to people who are (mostly) geniuses.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Devouring Films: Heartburn

Or... My Response to the Question 'What Could Be Wrong With a Film 1) Written By Nora Ephron, 2) Directed by Mike Nichols, and 3) Starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson?

As it turns out, a lot. The main problem with this film seems to be that it was made in the eighties, which means it has few redeeming features- the clothes are awful, the computers are rubbish, and people are so not aware of their carbon footprint (they fly from New York to Washington DC! Have they never heard of a train?!) More than anything, I feel like the eighties, being so awful as they were, somehow meant that no one could make films that had any kind of meaning or artistic power. I mean, that's the only explanation I have for Terms of Endearment winning all those Oscars that one time, because that is seriously one of the worst things I've ever seen.

And speaking of Terms of Endearment, there were apparently only two male actors who were worth casting in the eighties- Jack Nicholson and Jeff Daniels are hot off the backs of the grand success of Terms of Endearment (success being apparently in equal proportion to how horrible a film is) and straight into another film that fails to set the world on fire. And let's talk about the Jack Nicholson casting decision- does anyone really start a film by getting that man married?! He's the ultimate bachelor, and while I love him, I just don't find him convincing as a husband, much as I would like to believe that he and Meryl Streep (who was, by the way, excellent as always) would get married, I just didn't. Also, a very small point, I'm pretty sure that Mark is meant to be Jewish, and Nicholson really isn't. Just sayin'.

The main problem apart from the whole eighties thing, was that the order of the film really doesn't match up with the order in the book, and that gives away all of the dramatic edge of the story. Nicols and Ephron have gone for a linear tale of love gone wrong, which is fine, and obviously the way things actually happened, but dramatically, it sucks. The book begins with a seven-months pregnant woman fleeing from her cheating husband with an infant child, the film begins with Meryl Streep eyeing up Jack Nicholson at a wedding and obviously enjoying his infinite sexiness (like any normal woman). I mean, that's nice and all, but where's the drama everyone?! If you don't know what's going to happen (which I did, having read and greatly enjoyed the book) then the film literally has no direction for the first 40 minutes or so. And it sucks.

All I can think is that everyone involved with the movie was snorting coke, and couldn't really understand that what they were doing was a great disservice to film and their own legacies- although, now that I think about it, while I love The Graduate and Angels in America, they are pretty linear in terms of structure, so maybe Nichols can't cope with the idea of a non-linear story... I just don't know! I can't tell you that it was entirely awful, because Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep sing songs about babies, and it's fucking amazing (I was going to post a video of that fabulous, but I can't find one. So here's Meryl singing Itsy Bitsy Spider with a small child instead):
Oh yeah, and that song in the background as they're walking to the plane? Totally the only song in the movie. I'm deadly serious. And at the beginning it says 'Music by Carly Simon', and by the end I was like, 'yes that's true... BECAUSE THERE'S ONLY ONE SONG IN THE MOVIE!'

Sorry. But honestly, that's what this film does to you. In a different time, with different people, maybe this could have worked. But as it is, I suggest you skip the movie and just go straight to the book, which has more funniness and charm in one page than is in this entire movie, Meryl Streep excepted. It just could have been so much better...

Update: I have to rescind my point that nothing good was made in the 80s, because When Harry Met Sally was freaking awesome. But apart from that...
I also forgot to mention that Kevin Spacey, looking extremely young and 80s-ish (basically Daniel Day Lewis in My Beautiful Laundrette) is in this movie! It was weird, but also awesome. So there, I managed to think of another good thing about the film- yay!