Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Announcements and New Arrivals

Ok, I really only have one announcement, which is that the readalong of The Moonstone starts tomorrow! So if you're really having an urge to read some Wilkie this summer, then you should definitely do this. And also you should anyway because it's clearly going to be awesome, even if the book sucks (which it won't, but you know, if it did we could make fun of it and stuff!)

And with that announcement comes a book I bought...
Obviously! But it's pretty, huh? I'm seriously in love with all these Penguin English Library books, they've kind of become my equivalent objects of lust to the Clothbound Classics, only, you know, they're cheaper! And on that note, I also bought this:
Because the writing in mine was just too small, and well, I just can't deal with that, you know? I also bought (bear with me, guys, this is like a month's worth of books. And it was a booky month) a complete set of Maya Angelou's memoirs which is 6 books that were... wait for it... £3. I don't even know how to pass up an offer like that, so I didn't.
Oh, and here's a thing I did this month- I participated in RAK for the first time, and it was pretty awesome (this totally counts as my wrap up post for that, DON'T TELL ME IT DOESN'T!). So I sent out books to Bex and Ellie, cause I like them and also I approved of their lists (I sent Ellie The Woman in White, and may in fact just use RAK as a vehicle for buying EVERYONE The Woman in White and making sure they read it!) and ALSO Bex sent me This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald, with, I have to say, a rather lovely cover!
See, it's nice huh? So I was really pleased with RAK and will definitely be taking part again this month (although probably not every month, because poor! Or at least not every month until I get a job anyway) and it's really nice and feels really good to do and everyone should do it all the time, ok? And this wasn't the only book I got in the post that I didn't even pay for either! Here's another:
Eeee! I won this from a giveaway Trish did over on her blog, and I was SO excited because it's something that I'm really excited about now, but probably would have forgotten about, which seems like it would be a very foolish thing to do from all the things I've been hearing about it! So, you know, yay! And thanks again Trish!

And then (I told you this was long. I'm so sorry.) my dad decided that I needed a present for being nice and looking after him and my mum and things, which was really nice of him, even more so because what he bought me was books! (and also a Joni Mitchell album, because JONIIIIII! But also, BOOKS!) And these were these:
Which, by the way, I happen to think were really good choices (he asked me what I wanted and I directed him to my wishlist, so he chose them all by himself) because they're books that I did want, but also may never have actually bought myself. So now I have them and all is well with the world! Ahem, well, not that last part. But you know... And then I was allowed to run around in various charity shops and things and I bought the following:

Which I feel I'm allowed, because I have valid reasons for wanting them all! You know, you've been there right? 

So, I'm really sorry about this post because I even got bored writing it, so, you know, feel free to beat me up later. IF YOU CAN FIND ME hahaha the internet is awesome. 

Oh, and actually there is one more thing: The very same Trish I mentioned earlier is doing this awesome thing called Pin It and Do It, which is a sort of challenge thing encouraging people to make/do the things they've pinned on Instagram. I'm totally on board with this because, like everyone, I assume, I pin many many things with really good intentions and then, erm, never make them. I think I've made one recipe I've pinned, so.. I need to do something about this. I'm being a 'timid pinner' (making 1-3 pins) but hopefully I'll get a few more in than that- we'll just have to see. So go and sign up and I'll cheer you on and stuff! 

And now I'm really done. Go on with your LIVES, good people!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Devouring Books: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

"I followed her through the beaded curtain and into her private world. The beads felt lovely and tickling on my face, and I experienced a shudder of happiness at this. It is true, I thought. I am living a life."

One of the very best things about book blogging is that it forces encourages you to pick up books taht you might never have even considered reading. Had I read a description of The Sisters Brothers basically anywhere 'two assassin brothers in the Wild West set off to kill their next victim' etc etc, I probably would have gone 'meh, Westerns' (having never read a Western, by the way) and moved onto the next book. Fortunately for me, Alice and Megs got there first, and their praise was so incredibly glowing that I thought, well, maybe there's something in it after all. Apparently I didn't trust them enough to actually buy the book, (I got it out of the library) but hey, I still read it!

And it truly is kind of wonderful. It is a Western, but as much as it's that, it's also a character study of Eli, one of the assassins who is maybe not so sure about what he's doing anymore. He travels alongside his much more inscrutable brother Charlie, (who is inscrutable both to Eli and to the reader, who only has Eli's thoughts to go on) but the fact that we don't know much about Charlie's innermost thoughts (if, indeed, he has any besides 'where is the booze and the ladies?') is fine because Eli is so amazing.

Seriously, I could write a whole book about how much I love Eli (and in a way that's exactly what DeWitt has done) but I'll try and be brief here. Eli is a complex guy in many ways, but it's clear that a) killing doesn't really come naturally to him, and furthermore he doesn't really like it, and b) he'd much rather be living a simple life, and running a shop or something. It's especially awesome that we know this about Eli, because viewing him through basically any other character, he'd seem pretty intimidating, being a notorious criminal and all, but because we're privy to his thoughts, we know exactly how much of a softie he actually, intrinsically, is.

I mean, seriously. Eli's horse is distinctly below par, but because he doesn't want to hurt its feelings, he can't bring himself to buy a new one. He falls in love with every woman he comes into contact with (in an adorable, giving them money way, as opposed to a creepy, stalkerish way) and, in his head at least, he's an all round good egg. Because we are also in his head, it's easy to ignore the bad things he does, and even easier to want to squeeze his little (big, intimidating) face, and cuddle him all day long! Honestly, I don't think I've come across a more compelling narrator since Charlie from The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and that is saying a lot because, damn, I really love that kid!

So, with such a compelling character, I'd be ok if the actual story of The Sisters Brothers wasn't so hot, but hey, whaddaya know, the story is also consistently awesome. I love a good journey in a book, and this has that, along with some fighting, killing, and unexpected but wholly welcome meditations on what it means to be human. Essentially, it's a perfect combination of a fairly straightforward Western adventure story, with a more highbrow look at the human condition- it never goes too far in either direction, and the result is a book that both entertains and resonates, in a way that so few books manage to do. And that, my friends, is what you call being an excellent writer.

In conclusion, read this, read this, read this! And if you are Alley, I'm pretty sure that you're obligated BY LAW to read this now. I haven't taken my copy back to the library yet, and I"m not sure I can... I'm very attached and might need to secure my own copy before relinquishing this one. THAT'S HOW GOOD, PEOPLE!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Summer Mini-Readathon Time!

No Sunday Sundries this week, because lookit! Sarah Says Read's Mini-Readathon! I will just say that mum did have her last chemo on Friday which is AWESOME, and also, just thank you everyone who's said kind things over the last 5 months or so- every single comment where you say you hope that mum's ok, or that I'm ok just really makes me feel so much better and keeps me going, and honestly I just love you all. She's still probably got to have radiotherapy at some point, so this isn't exactly the end of the cancer thing, but it's the end of one stage so I just wanted to say thank you for reading my grumbling and just for the support.

Ahem, so I just got all emotional! Now onto the reading! I literally have no idea what I'm going to read today- it occurred to me yesterday that I haven't made a book pile or anything, so apart from my Fuck the Patriarchy Readathon list, I'm kind of going in blind. I'm thinking that I'm definitely going to try and read Anthony and Cleopatra, but apart from that I really don't know what else! I'm half-heartedly reading both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster (oh, and The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir) so I might try and get stuck into one of those too, but Shakespeare and I definitely have a date.

I think I'm just going to start reading whenever I wake up (I am, of course, writing this on Saturday) and then just time the 12 hours from there, but we'll see, we'll see! If you haven't signed up already, then I'm sure Sarah will let you do so today, so if you fancy a bit of reading then I say, go for it! Have funnn!

Update 1: 4.45pm

Welp, it's 4.45pm here and I'm just writing my first update. 'She must have been reading SO HARD!' I hear you cry, but alas, instead I've been watching heats of the Olympic swimming (NONE of the Olympics happens when I'm asleep! This is going to be a time suck...) and having lunch round my nans and chatting and whatnot. I have read abouttt.... 60 pages though, which is not a lot for like 6 hours (I'm going to say I started at 10.30am, cause let's go with that) but I'm fine with it, and now I don't have anything else to do today BUT read, so there's that. Since this is the first time I've been online today, I'm a gonna do the starting mini-challenge, I guess!

1. Tell everyone 3 random things about yourself
1. I am ridiculously obsessed with Joni Mitchell right now, and I kind of want to be her...
2. I have the hugest collection of tights anyone has probably ever seen
3. I have a bruise on my foot at the moment and I don't know why.

2. Is this your first readathon?
Not by a long shot! Although this was my first readathon last year, and got me in the readathon spirit, hence I love Sarah's readathons :)

3. Do you have any specific goals for today?
I really don't, other than what I said above which was to read me some Shakespeare. Which I haven't done... I'm going to get right on that!

4. Do you have any specific snacks, drinks or books planned?
I really don't! I want to read Anthony and Cleopatra, but I have no snacks, which is what happened to me during the last readathon which makes me really sad! I did make some cookies on Thursday, so maybe I'll have some of them...

5. What hours do you plan on reading during?
Well, since I started at 10.30, I plan to finish at 10.30, but I might just kind of keep on reading until bed, since I've already lost SO much time today... we shall see!

Update 2: 7.00pm

I'm about to take a little break to have some tea (um. The meal, not the drink. Just to be clear) and maybe watch some Olympics (but not ALL THE OLYMPICS, Laura...) but before I do that I'm going to do the second mini-challenge that Sarah JUST posted cause I'm a nerd and also AWESOME. Ahem.

So, I'm reading Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare, and here's a line:
"If I lose mine honour,
I lose myself: better I were not yours
Than yours so branchless." (Act 3, Scene 4)
I mean, he's trying to get away from his wife so he can go back to his lover, but still, honour, sure! Ah, Shakespeare, you crazy fool!

Update 3: 10.45pm

Sooo, I just finished Antony and Cleopatra and that looks like all I'm going to get finished today, but hey, one page of Shakespeare counts as like 5 pages of anyone else, right? I have, I calculate, read about 150 pages today, which isn't amazing, but isn't really terrible either, and I'm pleased with it, especially considering my super-failed start, and also the fact that the Olympics are on, people! I'm going to read a little bit more, basically until bedtime (which will be quite soon, I reckon) but this shall be my last update for the day, until I do the wrap-up challenge thingy tomorrow.

So, yeah! Have fun continuing to read, American people, and I shall catch you on the flip side! (You know, tomorrow.)

So Let's Wrap This Up...

I know you've just been waiting for this final wrap up thing, don't tell me you're not! Here goes:

1. How Many Books and/or pages were you able to read?
I finished one book and read about half of another, but the one I finished was Shakespeare, so... I feel like that should count for more! But in actual real life, I read about 150 pages.

2. About How Many Hours Were You Able to Read For? (Were there many distractions, breaks etc?)
Many many breaks and distractions, but I'm going to say I read for maybe 4, 4 and a half hours? I didn't really properly time myself at all, but that feels about right.

3. Do you have any likes/dislikes about the 12 hour readathon, compared to a 24 hour readathon?
I definitely still like the smaller amount of pressure with the 12 hour readathon, and especially the 'starting whenever' aspect, because I bloody hate waiting around til 1pm to start reading... Not that I'm going to stop doing the 24 hour one, but still!

4. Favourite and least favourite books read today? Favourite and least favourite challenges?
I liked both the books I read today, although I possibly didn't read the Shakespeare as 'deeply' as I like to do... But I really don't have a least favourite! And I liked all the challenges, even the one I didn't do (the taking a photo one, cause it got all dark, and I was like... hmmm.... might just leave that one)

5. Do you have any suggestions for things you'd like me to do differently for the next readathon?
I can't really think of anything, other than maybe don't do it when the Olympics are on?! Not that that should be a problem, since it'll be January and a non-Olympic year!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Devouring Stephen King: Needful Things

Needful Things is the last of the Castle Rock books (and, although King sometimes says something is the last of something and then reveals himself to be a dirty liar *cough* The Dark Tower *cough cough* I think this is actually the case with this book) and it's a bit of a rollicking end to it too. It's an incredibly detailed look at the way a community in a small town operates, as well as being a bit of a fable along the lines of 'Be careful what you wish for'. In other words, it's pretty awesome.

In a very Stephen-King-like way, and with this being the last Castle Rock book and all, there is reference to all the other stories that have taken place in Castle Rock (The Dead Zone, The Body, Cujo, The Dark Half and Sun Dog... and I think that's it!) and because I'm a sucker for things like that I just love love love it! But the thing is, these mentions really aren't shoved down your throat, and they feel entirely natural- there's a hint, for example, that Cujo, or the spirit of Cujo or something might be back, and a big showdown happens where that guy in The Dead Zone had a big vision, and it just all feels comfortable and homey, almost, that you know the setting even if you don't know all these characters yet.

So! These characters. King brings back Sheriff Pangborn from The Dark Half, which I really think was a stellar decision, because that dude? He's got charisma! Sadly, they also kill off his wife in between the books (not a spoiler, because it actually doesn't happen in either book. Ha!) which makes him sadder and kind of deeper, and also gives him a new love interest, Polly Chalmers who is a super awesome female character (read: she's not a wife and owns her own business) which is such a refreshing change for King. Even if all the other ladies in the book are wives... Hmmm. Anyway, they're an adorable couple and the perfect protagonists to set against the new and extremely sinister guy in town, Leland Gaunt, owner of Needful Things (it's a shop), chief hypnotiser and all round bad guy to anyone observing goings on in this book, but a generally well received guy in town. He gives the people what they want, and they love him for it.

And honestly, there is so much about this book that feels so... clever to me, because while there are of course big gory battle scenes (swinging intestines, anyone?) and many sinister moments, and a big scary monster who looks like a dude, there's also a lot more to this book that makes it kind of awesome. In looking really deeply into a small town and seeing what makes it tick, King uncovers so many deep buried hurt and angry feelings that Gaunt is able to use to his advantage in order to fuck shit up, but the point is, he wouldn't be able to do it without their consent. And so, by preying on both people's need to acquire things AND their petty squabbles and hatred, Gaunt is able to do a lot of damage just by tipping everyone over the edge- making them feel like they need to 'protect what's theirs' and hurting anyone who gets in the way of that.

In this, it's really a look at what people really need as opposed to what they want, and in spite of the name of his shop, Gaunt doesn't really sell anyone what they need, and the things he does sell them that they want make them forget what it is they really need- the love of their families, a sense of common decency, and some goddamn order around their town! But, while Gaunt is the ringleader and obviously a supernatural presence, he wouldn't be able to do the things he does if the people weren't as they were,  and, as in basically all the Castle Rock stories, the supernatural element becomes almost incidental to the story- Gaunt doesn't directly kill anyone, I don't think, and while he is undeniably the ringleader of all the events, the people still do what they do, which is kind of the scariest part of all.

My only slight criticism is that it's possible Needful Things could maybe have been slightly shorter- I realise that King wanted to get a full cross-section of the townspeople involved (lots of juicy deaths!) but there were at least a few conflicts that perhaps didn't need to be included. Actually, this isn't even a criticism from me, because although it was long, it didn't really ever drag for me, but I can easily see how it could for other people. At this point, I'm just grateful for any King book that isn't The Tommyknockers, but this one really is the best I've probably read (excluding The Dark Tower books) since Misery. Not that it's as good as Misery! But still, it's pretty great.

I read this book as part of the Fuck the Patriarchy Readathon. If you'd like to donate to Rape Crisis, please visit this Justgiving page. Thanks!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Bryan Cranston Is Basically The Best Actor Ever

I was going to write a review of You've Got Mail and post it today, but then it got ridiculously hot and I got slightly delirious and could barely remember my own name, let alone the whole plot of a movie, so you get this instead. It's going to be great though, so just shhhh and listen.

SO, last night I watched Malcolm in the Middle for the first time post-Breaking Bad (and for the first time as a sort-of grown up, so hello focusing on the parents!) and it totally freaked me out. Like, unbelievably so. Cause, like, the dad who can't make decisions and is basically a crazy person only not in a psychopath way? He manufactures meth! And makes lots of decisions that are life threatening and scary and he's a pretty bad person, but he takes care of 4 boy children? RUN AWAY FROM HIM NOW!

Only, the thing is, the characters are so incredibly different that this was barely something that crossed my mind (other than, because I watched Malcolm in the Middle specifically because I couldn't remember Cranston in it at all, and because I wanted to compare his performance to that of Breaking Bad). And I realise that all I'm saying here is basically 'actors play different roles! The world is round! The sky is blue!' and so on, but seriously? SUCH a different role. Only it isn't, because a key factor to both characters identities is being fathers, but apart from that? It's literally like a different man plays each of them. Literally like that. Not just 'oh, he does this so well, it's so different to when he was in X' but actually like 'this isn't even the same person, and it's literally impossible that it could be'. But it is!

Hence, Bryan Cranston is the greatest actor ever. To be able to do two such incredibly different roles, and do them both so well, is something that I think he should be constantly praised and revered and all that kind of stuff for (to be fair, he has been nominated for an Emmy 7 times for both Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad, so it's not like he's exactly unappreciated) because his range is ridiculous. To be able to embrace the sitcom madness and over-the-topness of Hal, as well as to literally become Walter White is a pretty impressive feat, and one that I feel like not all that many actors could accomplish. Because they're not fucking awesome.
This really was an 'actors play different people sometimes!' post, huh? I don't care- just watch Breaking Bad AND Malcolm in the Middle and you tell me you're not impressed. Next time: I can't believe Johnny Depp is both Edward Scissorhands and Captain Jack Sparrow! (I actually really can't. But you don't need to hear about that...)

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Devouring Books: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

"A woman may possess the wisdom and chastity of Minerva, and we give no heed to her, if she has a plain face. What folly will not a pair of bright eyes make pardonable? What dullness may not red lips and sweet accents render pleasant? And so, with their usual sense of justice, ladies argue that because a woman is handsome, therefore she is a fool. O ladies, ladies! There are some of you who are neither handsome nor wise!"

There is really TOO much to say about Vanity Fair for just one blog post (or at least one post that won't bore everyone silly, not that I've ever worried about that before, huh? Huh?) but I'll give it my very best shot. I mean, even now, about a week after finishing it, I'm fairly sure that I'll need to read it about 80 more times to grasp all of its little nuances and quips and awesomeness. And I'm also pretty sure that won't be a hardship.

Let's see. When I first started reading Vanity Fair, I was slightly irritated by the authorial voice and its constant cutting in, (and when I ranted about it on twitter, Alice told me off, because, as she quite rightly said, it's a book without a hero, and when did that ever happen in those days?) but it was surprising how quickly I got used to it, or rather just didn't mind it anymore because the book was SO AWESOME. It's just... it's so sharp and cutting and funny and just so completely representative of a particular time and place but also pretty relevant to todays people. I bought the above copy of the book (after I'd read it... basically, the writing in my copy was too small, so I read a library book version, and now I have a pretty one! With good sized words!) and on the back it says:
"While Vanity Fair was criticised on publication as being a cynical view of mankind, Thackeray's epic adventure is a searing portrayal of men and women at their most vulnerable."
To which I say: this is literally the most cynical book I've ever read. And I think we live in a pretty cynical age, but this just tops everything else with its pulling apart of its characters motives and in basically not having a good word to say about anyone. I can't even tell you how many reviews of this I've read where people have gone 'Well, I hated all the characters so I didn't really like this book' and now I'm like 'You're SUPPOSED to hate all the characters! Thackeray hates all the characters, and possibly all the people ever to have lived in the world!'

Except. Well. I don't really think he does. Sure there were points where I definitely thought he was just this giant misanthrope, but there are at least a few characters he really cares for. Poor old Dobbin who can pretty much never catch a break is treated with a gentle mocking, but he's also a relatively successful character, and Emmy, who is constantly chided for being too silly and over-emotional and obsessed with her husband, but is still treated by the narrator with a certain amount of sympathy. I mean, I'm not saying he's nice about them, exactly, but he's probably the least harsh with them than anyone else, probably because they're the least involved with, and obsessed with, the ups and downs of Vanity Fair.

Who he really hates, though, is Becky Sharp, the social climbing, good-marriage obsessed harpy who will literally do anything for attention but won't tuck her child in at night. I mean, really- she's a pretty dreadful person (I mean, character... obviously...) and Thackeray makes sure that we know that. With his cynical and awesome ways, of course. But this isn't all as bad and attacky as it all sounds, because Vanity Fair is really really funny. And a lot of that does of course come from the cynicism, but some of it also just comes from the ridiculous idiosyncrasies of people, not always expressed in a cruel way, but just in a wholly accurate way that I think even people of our times (like, you know, me) can understand and appreciate, and, you know, laugh about. Which is always good!

Here's what I will tell you about Vanity Fair which seems to be the thing that nobody tells you about Vanity Fair: it's really epic. And the marriages happen about 100 pages in, which surprised the hell out of me because I assumed the story was heading for 'how the evil Becky Sharp found contentment with a good man', but nope! The marriages are almost immediate, and then the fun can really begin! It's funny because, at that point, Vanity Fair kind of started reminding me of Anna Karenina (just, in its scope and its being outside of like domestic issues and things) and I was like 'hmm, I wonder if Thackeray was inspired by Tolstoy' but our good friend Wikipedia informed me that Vanity Fair was written a good 30 years before Anna Karenina, so... I guess, if anything, it was the other way around. Or nobody was inspired by anybody and I'm just crazy.

This is my last point and then I'm done, I promise, but here's a thought. Vanity Fair seems to be fairly kind of sympathetic, or if not sympathetic than just sort of progressive in its attitude towards women. I mean, sure, the good woman is the one who takes care of her child and does all the things for her husband, while the bad woman is the one who does not, but there is a sense in which women are seen as equal, or maybe even superior beings, especially when it comes to social matters. Also, I'm always sort of grateful when there is a 'bad girl' character anyway, because at least they're letting the woman do something instead of just sitting there as a kind of ornament, you know? I'm not saying that Vanity Fair exactly challenged gender stereotypes or the patriarchy or anything (nor would I really expect it to) but it is kind of respectful of women and the things they do and the way they are treated in return. Sort of. I mean, there's this passage, which doesn't exactly say 'women should be allowed to do more things!' but just sort of appreciates and validates their own personal struggles, and shows a great deal of understanding of the trials they face:
"What do men know of women's martyrdoms? We should go mad had we to endure the hundredth part of those daily pains which are meekly borne by many women. Ceaseless slavery meeting with no reward; constant gentleness and kindness met by cruelty as constant; love, labour, patience, watchfulness, without even so much as acknowledgement of a good word; all this, how many of them have to bear in quiet, and appear abroad with cheerful faces, as if they felt nothing."
So. Possibly slightly mid-19th century feministy (i.e. not feministy at all, but sympathetic to women), but definitely hilarious, and cynical, and hilariously cynical. I honestly can't say enough nice things about Vanity Fair, but it wouldn't really be in the spirit of things to be nice about it- I should probably just be cynical. But I can't because it's too awesome, and you should read it RIGHT NOW and then tell me how much you love Jos Sedley because, well, who doesn't?!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Devouring Books: In Love and Trouble by Alice Walker

"For the drums will soon, one day, be silent. I will help muffle them forever. To assure life for my people in this world I must be among the lying ones and teach them how to die. I will turn their dances into prayers to an empty sky, and their lovers into dead men, and their babies into unsung chants that choke their throats each spring."

I've had this book for the longest possible time (or, as long as I can remember, which isn't really that long but let's pretend it's AGES) and I presumably bought it in a post-Color Purple haze of 'well that was clearly the best book ever'. And then promptly left it in various places around my room for many many years (again, probably not that long. Maximum 23 years, but probably even less than that... Probably). So, duly added to the TBR Challenge list it was, and then to the Fuck the Patriarchy readathon list, and so the time for ignoring it was pretty much over. It had to be read.

And what a little treat it was! The cover I have is different from the one above, and it fails to mention that this is a collection of short stories, so when I opened it and realised that this is what I was getting I kind of went 'okayyyy... Let's see what you've got then, Walker.' I figured, it's basically only 140 pages long, and so even if the stories are bad (I don't know why they would have been, but there you go) at least it won't take long to read. Long it was not, but filled with emotional power and incredible writing? It sure is!

Seriously, it's a pretty amazing book. It's one of those books that makes you go 'I can't believe I left you so long, I'm SORRY!' and makes you wonder what else you might be missing out on in books you own but have left unread for YEARS. Food for thought, let me tell you! And the stories? They're basically, as this cover helpfully tells you 'Stories of Black Women', which was probably clear because they're written by Alice Walker; and, well, they're just so varied and spectrum-y and just plain wonderful. I mean, I think it's fairly universally acknowledged that black women are basically the most downtrodden group of people anyone can think of (obviously I'm generalising, and I guess I mostly mean non-white women, but just go with me on this yes?) because of how they have to put up with the dual prejudices that come with being a) non-white, and b) a woman, and so when you come across anything that kind of puts black women to the forefront and says 'here we are! We exist, and this is what our lives are like!' well, I'm pretty much down with things like that.

And I say I'm down with things like that, and I am, but you know what's even better? When these things are put to the forefront with objectivity and sensitivity and excellent writing, all of which Walker does here. There's nothing didactic about what she's writing, it's more just like... this is who these women are and what they're like and what they believe, and they exist and you'd do well to remember that. Which is not to say that there's no emotion attached to them or their stories, and in no way are all these women meant to be saints or devils, and nor should they be- they're just people, who have obstacles and struggles and are trying to get through them as well as they can. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, all of them feel very very real.

Please note my generalising statements and lack of reference to actual stories, and see: my lack of ability to review short story collections. Having said that, let's just talk about a few of them:

Roselily: A story about a 'bad girl' who has 4 children already but has found a man to marry her, and she doesn't quite know how she feels about this. I kind of liked the form more than the story- it's an internal monologue that goes on in-between the lines of the wedding service and kind of blew me away as the first story in the collection. It's almost more like poetry than prose, and it's pretty special.

"Really, Doesn't Crime Pay?": About a woman whose husband doesn't understand her and so she has an affair with another man, to whom she tells all the stories that she can't risk writing down. All of which seems to be going really well, until he betrays her in the worst way...

Everyday Use: A story that I think is all about Walker's dislike of a certain kind of black activism, that involves both disdaining 'ignorant/unenlightened' black women, whilst also revering the things that they've made. Basically: bitchy elder daughter goes back home having decided her upbringing wasn't good enough, and wants some precious family quilts, over her younger, quiet, severely burnt sister. It's all very nuanced and interesting and I could probably analyse it forever. But, you know, I won't...

The Flowers: A sort of shocking, really really sad two-page story that I'm not going to give away basically any of because it's kind of the whole thing. But seriously, it's really really sad.

And those really are just a few of my favourites, but to be honest, it's alllll good. Seriously.

So, if you're looking for a collection of short stories to knock your socks off, then this one should do it. I feel very naughty having neglected this book for so long, but so glad to have read it now, even more so because it's a book that applies for like FOUR challenges, which is fairly awesome (to me, because these are the things that count as achievements in my LIFE). And my advice to you, if you don't want to read this, is to read a book that you've bought but discounted many times. It might just make your heart happy.

I read this book as part of the Fuck the Patriarchy Readathon. If you'd like to donate to Rape Crisis, please visit this Justgiving page. Thanks!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sunday Sundries- A Few (more) Words About Books

Caitlin Moran being awesome. For more pictures, see here.
Sunday greetings lovely ones! Note my exclamation point and hearty manner, which is surely the result of having sat in the garden for a full, ooh, half an hour yesterday, and also of mum having felt much better this week, which maketh my heart glad. Having said that, I am writing this on Saturday afternoon, so I'm probably the grumpiest bitch ever today. Oh well, let's just pretend I'm not.

Let's see, the week... It went SO slowly. I think I need to do more outside things (easier said than done to find the motivation for that when it's raining all. The. Freaking. Time) to make the week go faster, because I swear on Wednesday it felt like Friday, so now we're just on like the NINTH day of the week, which really shouldn't be allowed. At least Friday, when it did actually come, ended up being really fun, cause me and my cousin went out to dinner, which we NEVER do (we see each other at least once a week, but dinner? Basically never) and then couldn't be bothered to go home so we drove around for a bit and ended up at our nan's house having hot chocolate (well, Horlicks, which I then decided I didn't like...). I know, you're so jealous of my wild, party animal life, but it was really really fun! I like fun!

Just the one hospital visit this week too, for my dad for a change (*siiiiigh*) but this week coming, as long as her white blood cells are being good, mum should be having her last lot of chemo! *does a happy dance, gets some booze/cupcakes ready* Which is obviously a very very big good thing and I'm hoping that it'll take a bit of a load off of these poor old shoulders of mine (mentally, I obviously mean- not complaining about doing houseworky things). And then we can watch the Olympic opening ceremony that evening. Yay? I don't know. I'm trying to muster up some kind of enthusiasm for the Olympics, but the best I can do is 'I like... the gymnastics?' But mostly I'm just like 'you spent HOW MUCH on this?!' and I can't really get over that, so... Yeah.

In other news, can we talk about books for a minute? I mean, another minute, extra to the many many minutes we've spent doing that already! Cause I feel like I've got a little bit of reading mojo back this week, possibly just because I've finished Vanity Fair (which is AMAZING by the way, and which I'm trying to muster up enough words than mean good to write a review of, but I feel like it was slightly holding me back, reading-wise? I dunno), but maybe just because I really feel like reading a lot at the moment! And so, a big cheer for reading mojo, but that's not even what I wanted to talk about. *Attempts to re-establish the subject, lays down and dies a little*

SO! One of the things I'm reading at the moment is Needful Things by Stephen King, and on the back there's a quote about him that I don't think I've ever read before, and it goes thusly: "An incredibly gifted writer, whose writing... is so fluid that you often forget that you're reading." (Guardian). And I'm  like really impressed by this (some might say overly impressed...) because firstly I think it's a really nice thing to say about someone's writing, and secondly, I enjoy the fact that, out of all the things that have been written about Stephen King, someone thought this was worthy to go on the back cover of one of his books. And I agree with them! Because I think it's the kind of thing you look for books that you love to have- to sort of go beyond looking at words and taking them in, and beyond that thing where you basically have a movie going in your head, to where it just is- this is what's happening, and it's happening to you (well, hopefully if you're reading Stephen King it's not literally happening to you, but you know... metaphorically).

Which obviously isn't to say that books that maybe are a bit more of a struggle to read aren't worth it, or that this same effect can't be achieved with books that are harder to read (I definitely found Vanity Fair pretty challenging, but still forgot I was reading at quite a few points), but just that I think that to really love a book, for me, I kind of have to forget that what I've been doing with that book is reading it. This is starting to make no sense, so I'm just going to have to leave it! But let's just say I like that thing that that person said, ok?

And that's about all I have for you folks! Tonight (Saturday) I think I'm going to watch either one or two Nora Ephron films (Noraaaaaa! :( ) (Sleepless in Seattle and/or You've Got Mail, thanks for asking) because they are from LoveFilm and I should probably watch them, and also because I've never seen them (ok, I might have seen a bit of You've Got Mail, but definitely not Sleepless in Seattle) even though their descriptions make them kind of sound the same, so maybe if I watch 2 Ephrons I'll watch Julie and Julia instead of one of those... but what am I telling you for, I will have done it by the time I post this! (DUH!) But anyway you can possibly expect an Ephron movie review this coming week, along with a review of a collection of Alice Walker short stories and hopefully Vanity Fair, assuming I can get my arse into gear. And as well as enjoying such wondrous things, I hope you also have magical weeks!
And in this lovely old spirit... This weeks new-favourite-blog is actually an old favourite: Your Move, Dickens, but Darlyn took a bit of a break from blogging recently so I figure, this counts! So anyway, on her blog she's reading through some classics and saying things about them (like a blogger does) and she's usually very amusing/heartfelt/inspiring, and always always honest and forthcoming. And I really really like her writing voice. So, go! Read her blog! Tell her she's awesome! You'll be glad you did!

Friday, 20 July 2012

My Life in Literature

So, I saw this thing on Jillian's blog the other day and I've never seen it before so I sort of kind of had to steal it and do it too! As Jillian says, apparently it's supposed to be composed of books I've read this year, but... I have no idea which books I've read this year and which are from last year sooo I've just gone through all of them! So here it is:

Describe Yourself: I Remember Nothing
How Do You Feel: Rage
Describe Where You Currently Live: Middlesex
If You Could Go Anywhere, Where Would You Go: Norwegian Wood
Your Favourite Form of Transportation: A Streetcar Named Desire
Your Best Friend is: Toast
You and Your Friends are: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
What's the Weather Like: The Year of the Flood
You Fear: A Visit From The Goon Squad
What's the Best Advice You Have To Give: The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Thought For The Day: How To Be A Woman
How I Would Like To Die: Freedom
My Soul's Present Condition: Blonde

See, didn't we all have fun? We totally did.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Devouring Books: A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

"There are so many ways to go wrong. All we've got are metaphors, and they're never exactly right. You can never just Say. The. Thing."

Oh man. This book was so awesome. I mean, I guess I should have realised that everyone saying about a year ago 'This book is awesome!' should have alerted me to that fact, but that actually only got me as far as buying the book, not actually reading it. I think I might have just been too... intimidated by it or something (for intimidated read: too lazy to try something different) and this feels really silly now because it ended up being challenging, sure, but never unnecessarily complicated or anything. Always a good thing, I'm sure you'll agree!

So. A Visit From The Goon Squad. It almost defies classification really- there are all these chapters that are all different stories, but also they're all interconnected so that in the end you see this intricate tableau of people and their relationships and stories, and the way it all hangs together is really kind of magnificent. The day after I read it (and I read it all in one day, partially because readathon! But also because I'm not sure I could have not read it all at once) I actually made a timeline of when I assumed each of the important characters was born, which was pretty nerdy and which I've now lost, which is probably for the best. But the point is that this book gets to you, and you want to spend all your time figuring out who slots in where and who knows who and whatnot. Or possibly that's just me.

Now, when Red reviewed this ages ago (and probably was the biggest motivating force behind me buying it, her reviews are pretty persuasive!) she said that she saw the book as a series of short stories, and whilst I see where she (and all the people on the 'short story' side of the fence) is coming from, I have to respectfully disagree. The thing is, every single one of the chapters is connected to at least another one, there's nothing just shoved in there without reference to other characters in the novel, and there's definitely a closed loop thing going on in terms of the story. I can't think of anything raised in any one chapter that doesn't get answered in another one, and there was definitely nothing I was left hanging about. Everything and everyone is sorted out, even if it doesn't necessarily go the way you wanted.

So, we're 3 paragraphs in and I've literally said nothing about the story/stories. Anyone would think that style is all this book has going for it, but nope! Each chapter has clearly been carefully thought about and each has its place in the narrative, and the narrative as a whole is fairly awesome. It's basically impossible to give you a definitive 'This is what the story is all about' because it's not like that- each focused on character has their own story to tell, and the fact that characters from other chapters pop up in the others but aren't the focus is something that appeals to me so much because this is what life is like! Seriously- we each have our own stories (lives), people come into them and go out of them all the time, and sometimes they're part of our stories and sometimes they aren't. And that's just life.

Let's talk about a few of my favourite chapters, shall we? (This shouldn't really be spoilery, but if you literally don't want any information at all about this book then you should probably skip this paragraph) I loved the 'PR lady for a dictator' chapter so incredibly much, because it was kind of ridiculous and yet you can totally imagine someone getting themselves into that situation, and I also liked the 'Sasha's College Years' chapter, (that wasn't really about Sasha) even though, or probably because, it was really sad. I could take or leave the Powerpoint Chapter, but it really didn't feel like it was there to show off or anything, and I sort of see it as almost an autistic thing that the narrator of that chapter has almost picked up off her brother?- but that could just be me. And then I really really liked the last chapter, which felt slightly dystopian, but also not that far away from now, which obviously makes it ultra disturbing!

What I loved above all, though, was the way it all hung together so beautifully- that something could be mentioned so briefly in the first chapter, and come up as an actual thing that happens later in the book (obviously it's not in chronological order... that was obvious, right?), or that in the first chapter Bennie's in, he seems like such a loser, and from another person's story later on, we can see how he got that way.  It's like getting to know a person- meeting them at a certain moment in time, and then patching together their past life in an attempt to get to know how they got to this point, this one, right here. And I can't even describe how beautifully the first and last chapters align- it's seriously perfect.

Basically, you should probably definitely read this book. I basically loved every character, and those I didn't love I at least understood, and could appreciate how they got into such a state (unlikeability). It's incredibly well crafted, and amazing, and probably one of my favourite reads of the year so far. I recommend taking a day for yourself and this book, and predict that you'll have a very lovely time together.

I read this book as part of the Fuck the Patriarchy Readathon. If you'd like to donate to Rape Crisis, please visit this Justgiving page. Thanks!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Devouring Films: The Rum Diary

I'm going to be honest here and say that I've been underwhelmed by Johnny Depp films lately. I mean, a lot of the films he's been in have been distinctly underwhelming, but his performance is usually so awesome that I can overlook that; but lately I've just been kind of like... Meh. Admittedly, mostly I'm just thinking of The Tourist here (although even that was more fun than the critics seemed to believe it was) but Pirates of the Caribbean 4 was really the most dreadful thing... Just horrible. It was like they just thought up a load of 'hilarious' things for Jack Sparrow to do, and then wrote a terribly flimsy story around them. Honestly, just terrible.

Anyway, so the point is that I wasn't exactly expecting great things from The Rum Diary, but I wanted to watch it anyway because Johnnnnnnny! and, well, I was actually pleasantly surprised. I wouldn't exactly describe it as a perfect film, because it wasn't that, but it had its moments of fun and silliness and also a bit of seriousness, and it was extremely clear that everyone involved in making it was having an outrageously good time. And, well, you know what, I like to see Johnny clearly having a good time, and it's way preferable to his 'I'm being paid quite a lot of money for this so I'm going to just go through the motions' time (The Tourist. Seriously)

So, the film. Well, it's a bit... sort of scattered and mad, but not in an entirely unpleasant way. It wasn't as wonderfully mad as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (because nobody, but nobody, does that kind of crazy like Terry Gilliam) and so felt a bit unfocused and not quite sure if it wanted to go that far, or to retreat back a bit into the land of normal things, so there is a sense in which you're not sure what you're going to get from one scene to the next. I don't know if this is something that's symptomatic of the novel as well though (I tried to read it once, but I'm not sure if Hunter S Thompson is really my bag. Nonetheless, I will give it another try, and I'm reading Fear and Loathing this year for sure because I'm challengely obligated to) although if so, is that even a reason to excuse it? I just don't know!

Obviously this is entirely a Johnny Depp vehicle since I'm fairly sure he's the entire reason it was made, and because, you know, he's literally in every scene because I believe the book is basically a first person narrative- a young guy's journey through the crazy world of journalism. And he's really great in it. I mean, I basically say that about everything he's in, but like I say, here he's really relishing every moment, having a rollicking good time that he maybe hasn't been so obviously having since the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie (which was like the formative moment of my Johnny Depp loving/maybe even movie loving life) and, well, who wouldn't want to watch that? Moving on from Depp for juuust a moment, the guy who played Phoebe's brother in Friends is really really great as this basically insane alcoholic/whatever else he can get his hands on-aholic, and kind of truly creepy and hilarious at the same time. And Aaron Eckhart was also there, and he was ok- I kind of liked his character (and by liked, I obviously mean hated) more than I liked the way he played it, but that's ok. Still a good bad character!

Basically, I don't want to try and make The Rum Diary out to be any more than what it is, but what it happens to be is a really fun romp that, to be honest, doesn't try to be any more than what it is. And I'm ok with that, even if I still believe that there has to be this perfect combination of Depp-director-screenwriter that could make the absolute greatest film that the world has ever seen. But until that happens, I'm good with more films like this. I'll allow them to happen.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Devouring Books: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller

"She's a mystery, a cipher, something nearly extinct these days: a person not controlled by ambition or greed or a crass need for attention, but by a desire to experience life completely and to make life a little easier for the people around her."

Hey, so, you know last week when I did the readathon thing and kind of read too much and so now have slightly got the plots of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and A Visit from the Goon Squad intertwined in my head? Yeah, let's pretend that's not a thing and proceed as if this review is going to make sense, and just, you know, excuse me if I maybe skim over the plot a little bit so I don't get it completely wrong...

So. Let's talk about Rebecca Miller a bit first please? Cause, like, I'd never refer to a woman in relation to the men in her family because that would be dreadful and sexist, but while we're on the topic, can I just bring up the fact that her father was Arthur Miller, and her husband is Daniel Day-Lewis? This is relevant, because firstly, we must discuss if she's gotten good writing genes from her father (I say yes) and secondly, the first mention of her I ever heard was in relation to this film, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, which stars DDL, and was sort of creepy and slightly father-daughter incesty. Also Earl from My Name is Earl was in it, and Frances and I debated whether he's more attractive with or without the 'tache (I say with, but I really really love Earl!). And then we had to stay up until like 3am because My Beautiful Laundrette was on. Yeah, it was fun.

But anyway. I think I liked that film, ostensibly because of DDL, and I wasn't disinterested in experiencing more of Miller's work. When The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (the movie) came out, I was intrigued by, I think the title more than anything else, and I must have seen the book somewhere and bought it (obviously). And then not read it (even more obviously). The thing with the story is, I thought, for some reason, that there was going to be a United States of Tara split-personality thing going on (Private Lives, you know?) but instead, it was pretty much a really really interesting character study/things have not always been this way narrative going on.

Allow me to elaborate. So, Pippa Lee is this amazing wife and mother, and even though her daughter harbours some resentments towards her (this novel is filled with complex mother-daughter relationships), basically everyone thinks she's amazing and the best wife ever. As, indeed, does the reader. She's just moved to this retirement village place with her husband (he's 80 and she's 50) and she's not quite at home there, being basically the youngest resident, and still with so much more life left in her. Since they've moved in, she keeps having weird sleepwalking epsiodes, and really can't figure out why, and so the novel delves into her past to try and figure out her issues, but really just to tell the story of how she got where she is today.

And OH, what a story! It was really quite unexpected, but just so good (by good I mean well written and all, rather than that she was good... She was not good!) and in perfect contrast with the persona that the book first introduces. Seriously- I don't want to give too much away about it, because I think it really is best if you find yourself kind of shocked by Pippa's actions, but honestly, it's so amazing. One thing I found interesting was that the first section is in the third person, whereas the second is in the first. I feel like this is some kind of allusion to the fact that Pippa as she is in the present is not the real thing, and she's just playing at being this person, whereas her actions in the past, whilst not necessarily the best choices, were truer to who she was, and what she wanted. Although maybe she's never known what she really wanted, which is another avenue that the book explores.

And the end! Obviously if I'm not going to tell you about anything past the first section, I'm not going to tell you about the end, but it just felt literally perfect- perfect for the character, and perfect for the what the reader wants for Pippa. Basically, I was absorbed by Pippa as a character, which is definitely a good thing because the entire book rests upon her- if she'd have been unsympathetic it would have been terrible, but although she has her flaws (what great character doesn't?) she's someone that you unreservedly root for, constantly. Here's a thing that I didn't realise was a compliment until I read this book, but about halfway through I actually forgot that it was fiction- I was trying to figure out where in New York she had been, and who else might have been there at that time and so on, and then I suddenly had a little 'oh! These things didn't actually happen!' moment, which has happened to me so rarely that I didn't really know what to think about it! But I've since decided that it's a good thing- nothing was overdone with the language or the details, so I could believe in it all, and agree with it wholeheartedly. That's a good thing, right?

So this has been way too long, but what can I say? I liked! I'm definitely going to check out the film soon and see if it measures up, but since it was written and directed by Miller too, I'm going to assume it does!

I read this book as part of the Fuck the Patriarchy Readathon. If you'd like to donate to Rape Crisis, please visit this Justgiving page. Thanks!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sunday Sundries

I saw the above on a friend's facebook wall this week, and, well, it's so entirely accurate that I couldn't not share it with everyone! Mmmm, cake...

So anyway, there has been no cake this week. *Sigh*. And, unfortunately, not a lot of good things either. See, on Tuesday mum woke up feeling really ill, and so antibiotics were obtained and she stayed in bed for basically all of the week and I did all the household things. This isn't really a big deal, but the big deal is how it affects me kind of in my brain, so that I'm like constantly switching between worrying about mum, and feeling stressed by all the thing that I will have to do at some point during the day. Which is a completely ridiculous thing to do, I realise, and yet it's what I do and it's very stressful and hurts my brain and by yesterday I just felt completely drained. Like, completely. And today I just feel meh (so also drained, I guess, and sleepy and still slightly stressed, even though mum's like up! And doing things! And eating and stuff! So basically I just need to get over myself.

And that was the main tableau of my week! Let's see, can I find some kind of glimmers of sunshine in it too? Hmmm... Well, there was the Once Upon A Readathon which was good because it made me read many things, but also bad because it made me slightly more stressed after each like emergence from the story, if you know what I mean? But, being in the stories? Blissful. It's weird because, whenever I feel stressed like this, I don't feel like reading, but actually reading (and the Once Upon A Readathon actually forced me to read, which I think is a good thing for how I feel at the moment) makes me feel better, so... it's an odd situation. So that was on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and that was like my whole activity thing for those days (and hey, if you're looking for a post about people who've actually done stuff, this is not that, since I barely left the house this week, apart from going to the library on Monday, getting the papers every day, going to the Jobcentre [UGH] and going to Tesco yesterday. It hasn't exactly been thrilling.)

Anyway, on the bright side, books were read, so there are reviews to write and hence things for me to do this week! On another bright side, Season 5 of Breaking Bad starts tonight in the US, and so I can watch it... whenever it comes over to England, which I'm sure will be soon now *cough* cause I'd never seek it out online to watch *cough cough*. So there's a silver lining to LIFE, to which I say yay! And indeed, woo! I was trying to re-watch up to the end of Season 3 (i.e. all they have on Netflix) before it started again, but that hasn't really happened (I've got like 6 more to go before that happens... Perhaps I should marathon tonight?) so I might just watch it, cause, you know, I've got the gist of what's going down. Moral relativism and all that.

Basically now I'm just babbling, so I should probably stop that! I'm kind of sad that I have nothing more interesting/happier to say, but I don't just want to sugarcoat everything, especially to myself, and I don't want to be afraid to say that this was a rough week. Because it was, it was a rough week. I've got no solid plans for this next one (apart from this work programme thing I have to go on tomorrow that I'm dreading, and where if they make me feel bad about myself I'm so just walking out) but I'm hoping it'll be better. In all ways. For the whole week. That's a realistic thing to want, right?

Totally forgot to mention 2 things that are happening that are extremely important! Firstly, Sarah from Sarah Says Read is hosting a Summer mini-readathon (which I made her do! Well, not really. But sort of.) and you should do it because it's really fun and it's the very first readathon I did last year, and I believe there will be mini-challenge prizes, and so yeah, just go and sign up? You can do it on this post riiiiight here.

And then the other important thing is that Alice is hosting a readalong of The Moonstone! It's going to run through the whole of August, and I'm choosing to take credit for this one too, because I read Armadale, and then all the Women in White people were sad that we didn't read it together, and hence it was decreed that if we're going to read Wilkie, we're going to do it together! Note: you don't have to have read The Woman in White with us to join in. But I'm sure it helps. So you can sign up for that one over heeeeeere.

So obviously you're doing those things right now, right? Good. You keep doing that.
But, before I go, let's have another one of these shall we? I've got quite a few new-to-me-ish blogs that I like, so I might just keep doing this indefinitely- it feels nice, and I like to think it makes other people feel good too! (Note: like, if my blog is in someone's blogroll, or favourite blogs or whatever, it makes me the HAPPIEST EVER! So I like to do the same for others, share the love, you know?) So, this week's favourite-new-blog is An Armchair By The Sea. I think I'd been vaguely aware of Bex's blog for a little while, but had never really read it properly (for SHAME!) but then when I signed up to do RAK this month, and was looking for UK book bloggers to send books to (it's just cheaper! I'm not, like, never going to send a book to an American person, but this month it's all about the UK, ok?) and Bex's wishlist was on her blog, and I was like 'ooooh!' about a lot of the books on it, and so I clicked around a fair bit and just found many great reviews of great books! And this was before she emailed me and sent me a book for RAK, which a bit odd and coincidental, and also lovely! So, anyway, go and check out her blog and see the lovely things. I can't guarantee that she'll send you a book for doing so though...

Friday, 13 July 2012

Devouring Books: Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

"It seemed to me strange that in all the words written about the fall of the Iron Curtain nobody anywhere lamented that it was the end of a noble experiment. I know Communism never worked and I would have hated living under it myself, but it seems to me none the less that there is a kind of sadness in the thought that the only economic system that appears to work is based on self-interest and greed."

That quote about Communism came right near the end of Neither Here Nor There, and, frankly, it made any problems that I may or may not have had with this book completely obsolete. Which is not to say I had millions of problems or anything, but I had a few qualms- something which is pretty much unheard of for me with a Bill Bryson book! So, I'm just going to get all of them out of my system in the next paragraph, so you can forget all about them by the time you get to the end of the review so that you still want to read this. (Definitely read it! It's good!)

So. Bryson seems SO grumpy in this book, to a greater extent than in any other book I've read of his, although it's possible I just think that because I haven't read a book of his for a while. I mean, I know he's usually pretty grumpy, and I like it, but in this it just felt excessive. There's also the fact that he was mostly grumpy at tourists, which is something he clearly was to be able to write this book, which smacks a little bit of... 'I'm more important than you, so I'm allowed to be a tourist, but NO ONE ELSE IS.' Having said that, he does a little bit go 'yeah, I know I'm a tourist so I'm totally being a hypocrite', and self-awareness? I approve of it a lot. And then, the other thing that slightly bugged me was that it's a really out of date account of travelling in Europe (it was published in 1990) so there are places he visited where I was like 'well, that's clearly different now' and 'the Swiss are NOT that boring!' but this isn't something that it's really fair to be annoyed at because, well, he can't exactly just change his experiences of the places like annually and just spend his life travelling round Europe! Or can he..?

Anyway. So, grumble grumble grumble. OH, and one final grumble- he was mean about Sweden! I'm basically convinced that Sweden is the greatest place on Earth (sorry, America) and so reading his 'yeah, it rained ALL THE TIME' and 'this guy peed in the street in Stockholm' and his basically not saying anything nice about Sweden at all made me really cross! But having said that I haven't actually been there, so... maybe it does suck (FORGIVE ME, SWEDEN!) But. Apart from Sweden? There were basically, as Bryson described it, good and bad parts to every country, as you would expect, and the bits that are good are described so beautifully that it makes you want to uproot and go to ALL THE PLACES, immediately. Honestly, I'm kind of desperate to go to Bruges now, and Capri sounds basically like heaven, and they're all so close to me! Damn you, Bryson.

Here's a little aside: I've just realised (having looked at a list of the places he visited) that he didn't venture into Spain once. This is kind of weird to me- it's a massive country, and whilst it's totally a tourist hotspot for English people (the awful kind) there are still places like Barcelona that have a lot of culture and things. Hmm. Now I'm really intrigued as to why he didn't go there! Answers on a postcard please.

Um. What else? Well, I liked the way Bryson tied in his earlier travels in Europe, when he first came over from America, with his modern day (HA! Old modern day) trip, and, as always, I enjoyed all the Katz anecdotes. I honestly want Bryson to basically have lived with Katz for the entirety of their twenties, just for the anecdotes he would have gotten! I mean, he also would probably have ended up murdering him, but what's a little murder compared to hilarity and Katz-isms? Nothing, that's what I say. As long as he'd gotten away with it and been able to still travel around and write books, obviously. Anyway, ignore the murder thing. But KATZ! He was great in A Walk in the Woods, and he remains awesome, albeit ridiculous, in this book.

So. A crotchety middle aged man (when has Bryson not been middle-aged? Really, tell me!) travels around Europe and complains about a lot of things, but also points out some magnificent European things that I should probably see someday. It's by no means an up-to-date guide of what's hip and happening in Europe (and, bless him, I doubt it was even when it came out. And also, you probably guessed that by the fact that some of these countries still had Communism! Jeez!) but there's still plenty to get out of it in a travel guide sort of way, and much more to gain in an anecdotal, awesomely written sense. As always with Bryson books, you should basically probably read this. Obviously.

I read this book as part of the Fuck the Patriarchy Readathon. If you'd like to donate to Rape Crisis, please visit this Justgiving page. Thanks!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Once Upon A Readathon: The Final Day

So, how's everyone feeling today? Ready and raring to go for some more reading? I'm writing this on Tuesday evening, and I have to admit to feeling slightly book fatigued, but hopefully I will have woken up today ready to focus and knock some books out of the park (or whatever. Read them, you know?) So what I'm going to do is update on yesterday's (Tuesday's) progress, and then also round up today's reading on this post, so I don't have to do a whole other post tomorrow going 'and this is what I did yesterday, but it's all over now so no one cares.'

In other news, here's what I did yesterday, and the readathon's still going so everyone clearly cares:
Page Count for Day 2: about 350 pages
Books finished: 2! So proud.
Snacks consumed: Most of a bag of Giant Buttons, and about half a packet of Starburst. Not the best snack things, I'll admit. I'm thinking of a much more savoury line of snacks today, but I might just let a grilled cheese sandwich sustain me... (craving one. Seriously.)
Hours spent reading: (why did I even include this category, when I have no clue?!) Let's say... about 6 or 7? Enough to finish 2 books in, anyway!
Biggest distractions: Making the dinner, emptying bins and other housewife duties, but I managed not to be distracted by tv at all really, which I guess is kind of the point!

So, that was yesterday! Hopefully today will be fab, although I'm still not making any goals because this is meant to be fun! Let's just say... I'd like to finish one more book. Reasonable, I reckon.

Update 1: 12.30pm
Inexplicably woke up late again (I mean, not this late, but like 10.30?) which I can only attribute to being brain tired from all the reading? Maybe? Anyway, since then I haven't done massive amounts of reading (having breakfast and all, you know?) but I have started A Visit From The Goon Squad, which I've been meaning to do for probably more than a year, and so far, I like it! My plan is, I think, read this, and then just go back to Vanity Fair, and that'll probably be me finished for the day. And for the readathon. What am I going to do tomorrow?!

Update 2: 3.45pm
I've just learnt the very important lesson not to brag about being able to read outside on twitter, for doing so is sure to come back to haunt you about 5 minutes later... Yep, I read about 5 pages and then it came over all dark and started spitting, and, well, it was obviously time to come in. *Sigh*. Anyway, I'm about 100 pages into A Visit From The Goon Squad now, which pleases me; even though it's not really that amazing an amount. Nonetheless, I'm pushing on, and since at 3pm I thought it was 4, it's like I've MADE TIME. Which is, I think you'll agree, pretty cool.

Update 3: 8pm
Well, I just finished A Visit From The Goon Squad, and now I'm not sure I can read anything ever again. It's SO good! I really can't believe I just let it sit on my shelves for so long! It's honestly so good that it's made me slightly giddy, so there you go! I'm now torn between 1) Not reading any more things (obviously not ever, but maybe for the rest of today) 2) Reading Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which I found from its hiding place today but which I can't really muster up any enthusiasm for, or 3) Reading Vanity Fair because it's awesome and I have now been reading it for approximately 8000 weeks (Or, like, I don't know, 5? It feels like AGES, and even though I like it, I'm still like 'I want to FINISH YOU!') 
So thems the choices. I don't know which I'll choose, the only things I know for sure are that I'm having a bath tonight, and I'll wrap things up here before I go to bed, which I know will just thrill everyone!

Update 4: 10.10pm
Ok, this is it you guys. I really want to turn off ze computer, so what I'm doing is anticipating how many pages of Vanity Fair I'll read tonight, adding that to my total amount of stuffs, and calling it a... readathon? Whatever. So, here it is in all it's glory:

Page Count for Day 3: 380 pages
Page Count for the readathon: 960 pages (oooh, so close to 1000!)
Books finished today: 1
Books finished for the readathon: 3! Which is really good! And I hadn't started any of them! Yay!
Snacks consumed: Just the rest of the Buttons and starburst. I was going to make pancakes for breakfast but then I couldn't be bothered, and they're not snacks anyway so I'll just be quiet now.
Hours spent reading: about... 5? Actually, make it 6 since I'm going to read some Vanity Fair before bed.
Overall hours spent reading: Like... 15 or 16? Not too shabby, that's what I say!
Biggest distractions: Once again being housewifely, and also having to relocate at one point because of the horrid rain. Hmph. Oh yeah, and at about 8pm I gave up and just perused the internet and watched Breaking Bad. Which, obviously, was pretty awesome.

And that's about all I have to say! Thanks for sticking by me as all this went down, and it's been fun! But let's just say I won't be doing a loooong readathon for a looong time!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Once Upon A Readathon: Day Two

By 'Day Two', I obviously mean 'Here's what I did on day 1, and by the way, pretend you didn't notice that I basically didn't update all day yesterday, yeah?' So, yeah, sorry about that if you were on tenterhooks or whatever, but I didn't really do all that much reading yesterday, or at least not enough to brag about! I did watch True Blood and make a really nice stir fry for dinner though, so that was good! Let's look at some stats, shall we?

Page Count for Day 1: 229 pages
Books finished: Well, 0. But I could have finished Neither Here Nor There instead of moving on to Vanity Fair, but, well, I didn't, so. 
Snacks consumed: I literally had NO snacks yesterday. Not even, like, some raisins. Clearly, I need to go to the shops today and stock up on a few goodies to encourage more reading!
Hours spent reading: Who knows?! I'm going to say, about 4 hours? Not so bad, but I'll try and do a few more today. There's books that need reading, people!
Biggest distractions: Waking up at 11am (for no reason, I should add!); Going to the library (this is literally what I did yesterday... I don't want to exaggerate my bookishness, but really I am very bookish!); and watching True Blood, which obviously took about 10 hours because it wasn't necessary watched through reputable means.

SO! Today, I'm definitely going to update sporadically (thanks, Cher) to try and shame myself into having something to say about things that I've read. This feels like a good plan. A bit joy-sucking, but still, a good plan!

Update 1: 1.30pm
I finally finished a book! All is good with the world! I woke up way later than planned today (like 10am, which is still an improvement on yesterday!) and I've only read like 90 pages but still- A finished book! YAY! Now just to do proper functional things like getting dressed and foraging for lunch (and probably going out to the shop up the road for snacks- I NEED SNACKS PEOPLE!)

Update 2: 3.30pm
Look at me, frequently updating! I wouldn't, but I reached an appropriate book stopping place (end of part one of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, which I am so regretting leaving for so long- it's kind of fab!) and I was going to nip up the road for some snacks, BUT it's totally going to rain, and dammit I don't want to get wet! So, alas, this readathon will have to remain snack free for the moment, and oh boy do I feel like I'm living through some kind of snack prohibition or something- it's really really sad! PITY ME!

While I'm feeling sorry for myself, I guess I should do a challenge. Even though I totally vote for Ellie to win this one already, because her story thing is kind of awesome! But I'll try my best anyway. So the challenge is 'Once Upon A Time There Was A Bookish Fight' (OH, because it's the Once Upon A Time readathon! Gotcha.) And, well, for the fight I choose Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair (and I'd just like to point out that I haven't finished it yet, so if she has a radical character transformation before the end [WHICH WOULD BE NICE] then, you know, just take it as Becky from the first 2/3 of the book) and Isabella Thorpe from Northanger Abbey:

Becky and Isabella are both almost too busy thinking about themselves and their place in society to even notice that there's anyone else in the parlor of the house in Hampshire that they find themselves in.    Eventually noticing the presence of the other woman, Becky tries to calculate her class and usefulness, and, deciding that Isabella is worth nothing to her, decides to show her coldness and cruelty only. This decision proves to be ineffective as Isabella has noticed a man out of the window who looks like he might be just what she needs in a man today, and her complete ignorance of Becky's tactics push her right over the edge. Just as she's advancing on her to maybe pull a comb out of her hair or smack her round the face a little, in walk Catherine Morland and Amelia Sedley; and their sweet and quiet ways annoy Becky more than Isabella's vapidity ever could. As she resumes her position on the sofa, ready to tear verbal shreds off of Catherine and Amelia, Isabella dreamily ambles out of the room, ready to make a conquest with the man outside, who she believes must surely be a Lord... Or a Duke...

Hmm. That was more fun than I thought it was going to be! Ok, so that's that done. Also, I'd just like to say that it's raining BUCKETS now, so I was totally right to not go and get snacks. So I win in one way, but also, I'M HUNGRY FOR SNACKS!

Update 3: 8.30pm
Here's what's gone down- I got the snacks! It stopped raining for a bit and so I scampered out and got some giant buttons and starburst from the shop up the road (which, by the way, had the crappest snack selection ever. I was most disappointed- I also wanted some Nutella and they didn't have that either!) and then ate waaaay too many chocolate buttons, which, interestingly, is the best way to get a headache, in case you didn't know! Anywho, I chased away the headache with some yummy macaroni cheese which I made for dinner (for myself, anyway- mum's not feeling great today, so I'm all housewifey, and I literally made 4 different dinners. I should get a fucking medal.) and with dinner making and general housewife (housedaughter?) duties, I haven't done that much reading since the last update. BUT in spite of that I have nearly finished The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, so THERE, household tasks. Try and stop me from reading, will ya?! So anyway, the plan for the rest of the evening is to finish that, and then to read a bit of Vanity Fair. I don't know why it's taking me so long to finish, but I'm kind of enjoying savouring it, so I'm just going with it!