Monday, 17 November 2014

The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn (4/5)

First published: 2010
Page count: 274

The back says: Presenting Emilie Autumn's long awaited autobiographical, reality-bending thriller, "The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls." This beautifully bound hardcover volume measures 8" x 11.5" and clocks in at a massive 274 fully illustrated pages. Positively packed with hand-written memoirs, photos, and paintings, this profoundly empowering epic not only deserves a place on your tea table, it is also one of the most complete accounts of bipolar disorder ever penned, and will take readers behind the doors of both modern day psych ward and Victorian insane asylum in this true life horror tale of madness, murder, and medical experimentation.

But reader beware: It's much easier to get into the Asylum than it is to get out.

I say: If I had read this in my teens it would have ruined me completely.

In the best of ways, of course.

However, being an adult I could recognise some parts of Autumn’s tale that seemed like fabrications artistic licence for the sake of the story – it is classified as an autobiography. One of these were the fact that she says that the carers in the asylum allowed her to keep her socks even though she very easily could have hung herself with them. This could be true for all I know, but it seems improbable. I am not going to go into what the other little things I questioned were, but that is the main reason this didn’t get a full 5/5.

So there.

What we have is the story of Emilie admitting herself to an asylum on her doctor’s recommendation after a failed suicide attempt. While there is isn’t allowed to check herself out – as she had been promised – and is put in the same ward as those with serious mental illnesses. While in the asylum she receives letters in her notebook from Emily who is admitted into an insane asylum in Victorian England. The narrative weaves between the two characters and also includes illustrations by and pictures of Emilie.

I found both stories intriguing, although I was more engrossed in Emily’s tale, which seemed more fleshed out. Admittedly there doesn’t appear to be very much to do in a mental ward, but the prose and flow of events made more sense in Emily’s parts – which seems like a strange thing to say since [spoiler: highlight to read] Emily is just the alter ego of Emilie, but there you have it. Also, the monstrous hardships Emily had to endure were so vividly described I just had to root for her.

Having said that, Emilie also had to go through some serious things that I do not want to look lightly upon (regardless of me believing all of it or not).

The book itself looks amazing and although I was enthralled by it, I found no interest in Autumn’s music or the future theatrical musical production of the book.

No offence meant, it’s just not for me.

So yeah, 4/5 due to reasons explained and the instances of magical realism which I didn’t particularly care for.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (4.5/5) [re-read]

First published: 2009
Page count: 375

The back says: When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents, his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is empty.
But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade, a large expanse enclosed by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning, for as long as anyone can remember, the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night, for just as long, they’ve closed tight. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered in the lift. And no one wants to be stuck in the maze after dark.

The Gladers were expecting Thomas’s arrival. But the next day, a girl is sent up – the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade. And more surprisingly yet is the message she delivers. The Gladers have always been convinced that if they can solve the maze that surrounds the Glade, they might find their way home… wherever that may be. But it’s looking more and more as if the Maze is unsolvable.

And something about the girl’s arrival is starting to make Thomas feel different. Something is telling him that he just might have some answers – if he can only find a way to retrieve the dark secrets locked within his own mind.

I say: I don’t really have that much to add to my first review, other than that certain parts towards the end left me rather impatient, but that was more due to my knowing what was going to happen. The main reason I re-read this so soon was because my niece read it prior to seeing the film, and she needed someone to discuss it with.

Also, this is probably our next trilogy for our yearly book club.

Although everyone knows that I love to moan about how films always ruin the book, this time I was seriously seething.

They.

Ruined.

Everything.

Quite literally.

It was not the same story that I fell in love with, but some inane bastardisation that left me cold and unhappy. There were added scenes that did nothing more than waste time and the brilliance of the maze was turned into something I can’t even begin to describe.

Ugh.

So yeah, don’t see the film because it was terrible. Do read the book. It wasn’t better the second time around, nor was it worse.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman (3/5)

First published: 1999
Page count: 120

The back says: All Tom's friends really are superheroes.

There's the Ear, the Spooner, the Impossible Man. Tom even married a superhero, the Perfectionist. But at their wedding, the Perfectionist was hypnotized (by ex-boyfriend Hypno, of course) to believe that Tom is invisible. Nothing he does can make her see him. Six months later, she's sure that Tom has abandoned her.

So she's moving to Vancouver. She'll use her superpower to make Vancouver perfect and leave all the heartbreak in Toronto. With no idea Tom's beside her, she boards an airplane in Toronto. Tom has until the wheels touch the ground in Vancouver to convince her he's visible, or he loses her forever.


I say: I first came across Kaufman when I read and adored The Tiny Wife, and I have been meaning to read more of his works for quite some time, which is probably why I found myself a tad disappointed with this.

The whole premise of the novella is that all Tom’s friends are superheroes – and I understand what Kaufman did with that – but I didn’t really like it. I don’t have a particular reason for not liking it other than it feeling a bit contrived.

It just wasn’t the wonderful story I was hoping for.

I don’t really have anything to say about either the prose or the story itself; I just read it to read it, which is sad because every now and then a little nugget of profundity would slip through my hardened exterior and make me smile.

3/5 because it was a short and worth the read (my expectations were just too high).

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Liquor Store Diaries and Other Ramblings by Nathaniel Carroll (2.5/5)

First published: 2014
Page count: 100

The back says: You work at a liquor store. People want to drink, you make it happen. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. Find out what it's like to be submersed in a world of desperate change-counters, pesky co-workers, and outrageous alcoholics. Discover how easy it is to learn a lingo and go from clerk to implicated felon. Experience through the eyes of the entrenched the toll taken on the soul after years of catering to and enabling the cream of any town's most depraved crop. Not for the faint of heart, the raw observations and judgments captured in this collection are sure to make you cringe, laugh at times, and walk away with a renewed sense of appreciation for the public servant who holds the key to your salivation.

I say: This was a Kindle edition that I downloaded during my brief trial period of Kindle Unlimited (which I didn’t continue because it just didn’t seem worth it) and to say that I am disappointed would imply that I was looking forward to reading it.

Which I wasn’t.

The most annoying thing about forcing my way through this rather short read was the abundance of spelling and grammatical errors on nearly every page. If I wasn’t re-reading sentences that made little sense, I was cringing at the flagrant lack of editing.

Couldn’t anyone have read through this just the one time?

Having said that, I understand where Carroll was taking his anti-hero, but I quickly lost interest because it was all just a little bit too over the top for my liking. I suppose selling urine in the liquor store may be feasible, but I just couldn’t deal with where any of it was going.

Although the other ramblings left much to desire, I can still see myself reading something else by Carroll in the future under the strict guidance of an editor and proof reader because there was something about the prose that I did like. It's a shame it got lost in all the mistakes.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Trouble with Being Born by Emil Cioran (5/5)

First published: 1973
Original title: De l'inconvénient d'être né
Original language: French
Translation to English by: Richard Howard, 1976

Page count: 224


The back says: In this volume, which reaffirms the uncompromising brilliance of his mind, Cioran strips the human condition down to its most basic components, birth and death, suggesting that disaster lies not in the prospect of death but in the fact of birth, "that laughable accident." In the lucid, aphoristic style that characterizes his work, Cioran writes of time and death, God and religion, suicide and suffering, and the temptation to silence. In all his writing, Cioran cuts to the heart of the human experience.

I say: This is basically a book of quotes that was on my reading list for a uni course entitled The Meaning of Life. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how to do it justice with a review and come to the conclusion that I can’t.

The synopsis says it all.

Therefore I shall simply post a few of my favourite quotes.

“It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.”

“What do you do from morning to night?"
"I endure myself.”
 
“Sometimes I wish I were a cannibal – less for the pleasure of eating someone than for the pleasure of vomiting him.”

“I do nothing, granted. But I see the hours pass — which is better than trying to fill them.”

The quotes may all seem extremely depressing and suicidal, but what I love about them is that they voice all the things I have been pondering my entire life. Cioran puts everything into words that I have ever felt and reminds me that there is beauty in thinking about life and death.


“I do not forgive myself for being born. It is as if, creeping into this world, I had profaned a mystery, betrayed some momentous pledge, committed a fault of nameless gravity. Yet in a less assured mood, birth seems a calamity I would be miserable not having known.”


5/5 because I’ll be re-reading this my entire life.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Fierce and Beautiful World by Andrei Platonov (5/5)

First published: 1970
Original title: -
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Joseph Barnes, 1970

Page count: 252


The back says: This collection of Platonov's short fiction brings together seven works drawn from the whole of his career. It includes the harrowing novella Dzahn ("Soul"), in which a young man returns to his Asian birthplace to find his people deprived not only of food and dwelling, but of memory and speech, and "The Potudan River," Platonov's most celebrated story.

I say: It took me over a month to finish this collection of 7 short stories because of the emotional turmoil and heartbreak I went through while reading. Each story is more touching and devastating than the next, and even though some of them do have somewhat happy endings, they still broke me entirely. I was literally gasping, clutching my heart and trying my hardest to blink the tears away.

To no avail.

The genius of this collection lies in the prose; the beautifully warm and tender prose that veered into poetry at almost every turn. Platonov lulled me into his Russia full of broken and destitute people that were all hanging on by a thread – some because they had no choice and others because they were trying to survive.

It was perfection.

5/5 and I look forward to reading more by Platonov and re-reading this when I have the strength.
 

Favourite Stories: Dzan (Soul), Homecoming and The Fierce and Beautiful World.

*The stories in this collection have been reprinted under the title Soul.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman (2.5/5)

First published: 2002
Page count: 181

The back says: In a Carmelite monastery on the outskirts of Los Angeles, life has continued virtually unchanged for centuries. Here, Sister John of the Cross lives in the service of God. She is the only nun who experiences visions and is regarded by the others as a spiritual master.

But Sister John is also plagued by powerful headaches and when a doctor reveals that they may be dangerous, she faces a devastating choice. Is this grace merely an illness and will a 'cure' mean the end of her illuminations and a soul dry and searching?

I say: I’m not quite sure what I think of this novel because parts of the prose were beautifully written, almost lyrical, while others were bulky and slightly mundane.

The same goes for the story itself.

On the one hand I was intrigued by the choice Sister John had to make, but on the other hand I was not so happy with the resolution of the story.

It felt forced.

It is a short novel that somehow didn’t leave as big an impact as I had hoped, so 2.5/5.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (3/5)

First published: 1604
Page count: 104

The back says: The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, commonly referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is a play by Christopher Marlowe, based on the Faust story, in which a man sells his soul to the devil for power and knowledge. Doctor Faustus was first published in 1604, eleven years after Marlowe’s death and at least twelve years after the first performance of the play.

I say: I have been meaning to read this play for the longest time, and now that I have, I wish I had done it much earlier – before I read other interpretations of the same story, because this was very underwhelming. 

Doctor Faustus sells his soul to the devil in exchange for anything he wants for 24 years with Mephistophilis, one of the devil’s henchmen, as his servant. His wish is granted, but during that time he doesn’t really do anything of importance, just lecturing to people and visiting heads of state.

He does play a joke on the Pope that offered some comic relief.

[Spoilers – highlight to read] At the end of his 24 years, Faustus starts regretting eternity in hell and tries to repent in order that God will forgive him and allow him into heaven. This doesn’t happen and the play ends with Faustus being taken into hell.

What bothered me the most was the language – the play was written at the end of the 1500’s – which was archaic and cumbersome. It wasn’t hard to understand, just not what I am used to. Having said that, there are a few passages that were quite beautiful. Like when Faustus asks Mephistophilis how he is out of hell and he replies:
 

Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it:
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?

 
I must admit I found it rather surprising that Mephistophilis would try to talk Faustus out of entering the deal with the devil, but it gives the play a deeper meaning beyond the simple one I have always presumed.

Another thing that I didn’t care for was that whenever Faustus was questioning his faith or considering repentance, a good and a bad angel would appear and plead their cases. This felt contrived and, again, probably because I have seen it done so many times it merely annoyed me.

What is left are the play’s literary and philosophical merits, which I don’t want to get into on this blog. More than the play itself I gained more from reading about it and pondering the question of selling one’s soul to the devil.

So, 3/5 because of its literary importance (the play itself would otherwise get a 2).

Friday, 1 August 2014

On the Move

I've moved to Edinburgh, Scotland (from Sweden).

Hence the silence.

New job on Monday and soon after that I hope to get back to my reading.

*as you were*

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (2.5/5)

First published: 1956
Page count: 57

The back says: Allen Ginsberg's Howl & Other Poems was originally published by City Lights Books in the fall of 1956. Subsequently seized by U.S. Customs and the San Francisco police, it was the subject of a long court trial at which a series of poets and professors persuaded the court that the book was not obscene.

I say: I expected so much of this collection simply because of the beauty of the first four lines of Howl. These four iconic and classic lines:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

 

The rest of part one of Howl is about the things that these ‘minds’ are and do, and it is beautiful in that broken and deprived way. Ginsberg was a part of the Beat Generation and this poem personifies himself, his peers and their surroundings.

The rest of the poems were not my cup of tea, at all. Some of them bored me to tears, while others were tolerable.