Sunday, 29 May 2011

Of Course I Did

I know that I’m like a broken record with this, but I just can’t get over

how

much

it

hurts.

when I finish reading this book. Physically. It’s amazing, really, how I react the exact same way I did last time. And the time before.

“You could never stare long enough but needed to keep staring to find out why you couldn’t.” (p.9)

This.

Is what I'm talking about (over and over again, I know).

May a dare be so bold as to say that Call Me By Your Name has the best last sentence of any book I’ve ever read?

Even A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, which was my favourite before today.

Obviously I'm not going to type it out, because it's such a major spoiler, but ah, the simplicity, the beauty, the perfection.

I’m ruined.

Quote of the Week

"The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have."

- Henry James

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (5/5)


The back says: When the devil arrives in 1930s Moscow, consorting with a retinue of odd associates – including a talking black cat, an assassin, and a beautiful naked witch – his antics wreak havoc among the literary elite of the world capital of atheism. Meanwhile, the Master, author of an unpublished novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate, languishes in despair in a psychiatric hospital, while his devoted lover, Margarita, decides to sell her soul to save him. As Bulgakhov’s dazzlingly exuberant narrative weaves back and forth between Moscow and ancient Jerusalem, studded with scenes ranging from a giddy Satanic ball to the murder of Judas in Gethsemane, Margarita’s enduring love for the Master joins the strands of plot across space and time.

I say: First of all, what is the deal with all these Russian authors burning their books? Apparently Bulgakov burned the first manuscript, then rewrote it and kept reworking it until his death. So, basically this isn’t exactly how he envisioned, it but it’s still utter perfection. Bulgakov is such an excellent writer; witty, satirical, pays great attention to detail, and masterfully manages to weave together this story of absolute madness and impossibility.

I love this book.

Really, and truly, just love it.

I had no idea what to expect when I started reading, but was slightly disappointed that I knew beforehand that the devil was the devil – it would have been nice to have started reading without that knowledge, but it is what it is. I’m trying to think of ways to give a brief plot outline without any spoilers, but I’m finding it impossible. The beauty of this novel is that in the first part we are introduced to all these characters and their encounters with the devil and the consequences, and initially I thought “ok, great.” But then when we get to the second part of the novel, everything is tied together in the most excellent of ways, and Bulgakov takes the entire story that much further.

And deeper.

I was a bit apprehensive about the whole deal with Jesus, but Bulgakov introduces that story so seamlessly in the beginning with the devil arriving in Moscow, calling himself Professor Woland, who tells the story to Berlioz and Bezdomny in order to prove to them that the devil exists. Events then take place that culminate with Bezdomny, a poet, winding up in a mental hospital when he’s trying to convince the people of Moscow that Woland is not to be trusted. It is in this hospital that we are introduced to The Master who wrote a novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate, that he later burned.

While they are locked up, Woland, and the most random entourage ever created (Bulgakov must have been some type of crazy to have thought them up) go about wreaking proper havoc all over Moscow, targeting its literary elite. People lose their heads – literally – their clothes, their money and their sense.

It’s all very entertaining.

In the second part of the novel we are finally introduced to Margarita, the former lover of The Master, and how she goes about saving him.

As much as I love this novel for its absurdity and just plain crazy, there were some elements with Margarita that I could have done without. I don’t think I really understood her; she came across as a silly bint who just refused to come to terms with her own and The Master’s original fate – hence selling her soul to the devil. I was also a tad underwhelmed with the Satanic Ball, but I love the way Bulgakov depicted the devil and his posse.

Honestly, their conversations and shenanigans may have been the highlights of this book.

Surprisingly, I really loved the story (within the story) of Jesus and Pontius Pilate. I’m sure most Christians would find it blasphemous, but it was such an interesting take on his sentencing and murder and how that affected Pontius Pilate. That story alone was worth the read.


Friday, 27 May 2011

I Shouldn’t, But I Really, Really Want To (and I Probably Will)

In 2008 I bought and read Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman and it completely broke my heart. Somehow I forgot about it until earlier this year when I was watching Little Ashes (which also utterly broke my heart) and I was thinking of how the love between Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí reminded me of the love between Elio and Oliver in Call me By Your Name. So, I re-read the book and it completely broke my heart again.

I mean, proper, gasping-for-air-that-I-don’t-even-want-to-breathe-in-because-what’s-the-point-and-why-are-you-doing-this-and-life-has-no-meaning type of heartbreak.

Yes.

It’s that intense.

I couldn’t read anything for about a week and I walked around in a haze because I just wanted to be back in the world of the book. Finally, I snapped out of it and realised that this is quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read.

If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I would pick this one.

So, the dilemma I’m facing right now is that I woke up feeling that I want to read it again, but I really shouldn’t since I know that it’s going to break my heart all over again and ruin me completely. Everything about this book is such perfection, and Aciman's words are so beautiful I really just want to crawl in between the pages and stay there for all eternity - somewhere in the middle, because I don’t like the end. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that I hate the end, even though the end is the very reason I love the book.

So, do I break my own heart and potentially ruin myself for a week or do I turn to Samuel Beckett and potentially ruin myself for a couple of days (because he makes me think and that’s why I love him)?

Animal Farm by George Orwell (4/5)


The back says: Animal farm is regarded in the literary field as one of the most famous satirical allegories of Soviet totalitarianism. Orwell based the book on events up to and during Joseph Stalin’s regime. Orwell, a democratic socialist, and a member of the Independent Labour Party for many years, was a critic of Stalin, and was suspicious of Moscow-directed Stalinism after his experiences in the Spanish Civil war.

The plot is an allegory in which the pigs in a farm play the role of the Bolshevik revolutionaries and overthrow and oust the human owners of the farm, setting it up as a commune in which, at first, all animals are equal. The other characters have their parallels in the real world, but care should be taken with the comparisons as they do not always match history exactly and often simply represent generalised concepts.

In other words: The animals take over the farm, tired of being mistreated by humans. Initially they are all equal, but as time progresses, that changes. Epic forbearing.

I say: First allow me to rant on what it says on the back of the book. I truly hate it when they spell out the entire meaning of a novel at the back, before even giving me a chance to read it. And they always do this. I already knew what Animal Farm was about because we were supposed to read it for my English Lit module when I was at uni, but because we didn’t have to write a paper on it, I merely skimmed through it and talked random nonsense during the discussion (as per usual). But, if this was the first time I was picking it up, the last thing I want is for someone to explain it to me beforehand.

This is why I refuse to read Forewords/Introductions because they are just filled with spoilers and they sully my mind with other people's interpretations of something that I really want to discover for myself.

Now, yes, thank you for letting me know that Orwell wrote this as an allegory of Soviet totalitarianism, but this is applicable in so many other states/situations, so just shush about it until I care to know.

/rant.

So, I really enjoyed this short read, more on a political level than a literary one, because, quite frankly, there really isn’t much to be said about the way it’s written. It’s all very basic, very plain, which, in a way, is nice when there clearly is a point to be made.

But how does one review this without going too deep into it all?

Essentially, I feel like novel should be disturbing, but since I’ve studied political science and conflict resolution, it isn’t, since I’m already so familiar with the process. Correction, this novel is disturbing. The animals start up believing that ‘all animals are equal’ and sharing the labour. It’s not long before a hierarchy is set up with the pigs on top, soon enough declaring that

‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’

Initially the pigs point to the fact that they are the ‘thinkers’ and therefore are the hardest workers and deserve more and better food. As time progresses, with the use of propaganda, the pigs convince the rest of the animals that they are better. They change all the laws, move into the house, and create a line of defence that makes it impossible for the other animals to dare contest. And the rest would be spoilery for anyone who missed the epic forbearing.

But how often have we not seen this happen in real life? And not just in politics, but this pretty much how the girls operated all throughout school. They'd form these cliques that lasted about a school year, and during summer when someone would go away they would bad-mouth them and create a new clique.

Rinse and repeat until graduation.

I’m giving this a 4/5 simply because reading Animal Farm at this age it’s not really anything revolutionary. If I had read this in my teens, I probably would have loved it. Although the end is a surprise to no one (I sincerely hope, because, seriously…) it is really, really good.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

BTT: Rut




Do you ever feel like you’re in a reading rut? That you don’t read enough variety? That you need to branch out, spread your literary wings and explore other genres, flavors, styles?

I have an obsessive personality that I'm constantly trying to rein in. In my youth I would read all the books by one author and then discard them to never return to again. Or I would only read a certain type of books until they made me sick.

These days I take great care to mix it up a little - even continuously reading genres that I know I don't like. If I could have my own way (woe betide the world if that ever happened) I would only read Russian novels, but I know that if I do, I'll grow sick of them and not touch them for years. So, my general attitude is to try not to read two books by the same author or of the same genre back to back. Do I always follow this rule - of course not. I wouldn't be me if I did. But looking at the year so far, I have to say that I've been doing a good job. 

The Outsider by Albert Camus (4.5/5) [Re-read]

The back says: Albert Camus’ laconic masterpiece about a Frenchman who murders an Arab in colonial Algeria is famous for diagnosing a state of alienation and spiritual exhaustion which summed up the mood of the mid-twentieth century. Today, more than fifty years after its first appearance, we can see that the success of this Existentialist classic was no passing fashion. One of the most influential books of the century, The Outsider continues to speak to us of ultimate things with the force of the parable and the excitement of a thriller.

In other words: The Outsider (also known as The Stranger) starts off with Meursault going to bury his mother, whom he has put in a home. Once there he doesn’t cry or show much emotion. The following day he goes swimming and then the cinema with his girlfriend. A while later he finds himself on a beach where he unfortunately shoots and kills a man.

I say: To say that I love this would be an understatement. This is the fourth time I’m reading it; the first being in English, the second in Swedish (bad translation), and then twice again in English. The best thing about Camus is his no nonsense style of writing; his language is very plain, without any pretensions.

But then again, he was an existentialist absurdist (and no, that doesn't mean anything at all).

Truth be told, there really isn’t much to the plot itself, but everything surrounding it and what/how that makes you feel. This is the main reason why I keep re-reading it, because every time I do, the nuances change and learn something new about myself. The first time I read this I thought Mersault had some kind of disorder that made him disconnected from the world around him (Asperger syndrome), but the past couple of reads I have envied him.

I used to be like Mersault.

And now I’m not.

This last read has also made me wonder if I have thus gone from being an existentialist to a nihilist to an absurdist.

But those things are irrelevant. What matters is that although I could talk about The Outsider for days, I shall refrain from doing so here.

The reason I only give this 4.5/5 is because I always feel like there’s something lacking between the murder and the end. I don’t know what that is, but the end feels so rushed in comparison to how much Camus’ spent talking about the funeral in the beginning.

Or maybe I’m missing something.

Guess, I’ll have to read it again to find out.

Although, I really hate it when people explain books to me before I read them, I’ll include Camus’ explanation after the jump because it does make a lot more sense than my random ramblings, but be aware that it contains spoilers.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

100 Classics Challenge

A few years ago I got this idea that I was going to read all the classics before I turned 30. I started a blog to document this silly idea, but when I realised that I had started this whole project a tad too late in life, I just gave up. However, since I turned 29 this month, I have decided to revive this idea because my abandoning it has haunted me ever since.

(I feel a tad dramatic today.)

So yeah, I know that it’s impossible to read all the classics, simply because it’s impossible to make a complete list of all the classics. Different people have different opinions, so, because I’m extremely lazy to make it easy on myself, I’ve decided to go by the Penguin Classics’ list of 100 Classic Books You Must Read Before You Die. I will say straight away that I have no idea who, what, where, when or why with this list; there are a lot of books missing and a few that I don’t think should be there,

but this is the list and that’s that!

In starting this, I have already read 15 books in the past few years and I have no intention of reading them again. There are a few that I read in my teens and that I don’t really remember, so I’ll be re-reading those.

You know, just cos.

The reason why I’m obsessed with classics is because I want to know what all the fuss is about. There are a few books on there that I really don’t want to read, but I figure that if I can manage to get through Tess of the D’urrstupids, then I can pretty much read anything. And yes, I’m totally referring to Thomas Hardy and a few select Brits on there.

My goal for this year was initially to read at least 40% classics, so if I stick to this, it’ll be like killing two birds with one stone.

Yay me!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Quote of the Week

"Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as by the latter."

- Edwin Paxton Hood

Silverfisken av Sofia Rapp Johansson (4/5)


Insidan av omslaget säger: Fialiten har en kniv som hon gömmer uner badkaret. Ibland tar hon fram den för att lätta på trycket. Och när dagisfröknarna ställer jobbiga frågor berättar hon ingenting. Inte heller när läkarna på sjukhuset och soc-tanterna frågar. Inte om mamma, inte om pappa eller hans polare, ingenting om det som häner i rea-trean någonstans i en stad precis som alla andra i Sverige.

Jag säger: Jag hade ingen aning om vad den här boken handlade om och tog den egentligen bara för att jag skulle låna Tills Skulderbladen Blivit Vingar, också av Johansson. På baksidan står det:

Jag drömmer att jag är långt borta och att jag är frisk
pappa klär av mig pyjamasen
jag blir en silverfisk

Jag hoppades så innerligt att boken inte skulle handla om just det den handlade om – övergrepp på barn. Den är skriven som en poetisk monolog ur Fialitens perspektiv, och det gör så ont i hjärtat att läsa att jag inte kan beskriva det med ord. Det är mycket rim, mycket lek med ord, och mycket upprepningar som gör att det känns som att man är fast i den här lägenheten; i det här helvetet, och bara önskar sig så långt bort som det bara går,

men inte hittar någon väg ut.

Döden som inte låtsades se mig
väjde bara med avsmak i dörren
jag bad honom ta med mej
plåstra om mej
jag vände upp min nyputsade lekisrumpa
nymålade bäbisnaglar
nyrapad och nysköljd
dysmak
jag bad om pardon jag bad om nåd
men han skakade bara på sitt döda huvud
och lät mig fortsätta lida
- s. 58

Det mesta i Silverfisken är obehagligt att läsa. Johansson skriver på ett så otroligt avskalat och ärligt sätt att det känns som att man står framför ett gapande sår, och fast man känner för att vända sig om och låtsas som ingenting (som alla vuxna tycks göra), så är det man egentligen vill göra att plocka upp denna trasiga varelse och plåstra om henne.

På något konstigt sätt är jag glad att jag läste den här, fast ändå inte. Jag vet inte om jag någonsin skulle orka ta mig igenom den igen – en gång räcker nog gott och väl.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

BTT: Age-Inappropriate


In contrast to last week’s question, what do you think of censoring books BECAUSE of their intended age? Say, books too “old” for your kids to read?
I don't believe in censorship. Ultimately, I think that it's up to the parents. If you don't want your kids reading a certain type of book, then it's your job to keep them away from it - or it away from them, however that works.
 
Also, don't some publishers do like children's versions of classics? I know Penguin had those when I was a kid (that I refused to read because I knew they were keeping something from me, and I'd rather read the original with my dictionary at hand).

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (4/5)

The back says: Into his story of a simple but beautiful country girl’s seduction by another man which causes her husband to leave her on their wedding night and thereby precipitates a course of events that end in murder, Hardy wove a luminous tenderness and longing. ‘I have never been able to put on paper all that she is, or was to me,’ he said.

I say: First of all, I will have it known that Thomas Hardy is one of those Brits whose writing I have the utmost difficulty with. Don’t get me wrong, Hardy is an excellent writer, and an expert at what he does,

it just drives me insane.

His longwinded descriptions of nature and with minute detail, and some of the most eccentric similes you’ll ever encounter. Not to mention his love for seemingly endless sentences, which, again, I have no problems with; I continuously do it myself. But in that old-timey English.

Ugh.

This book has been the bane of my spring.

But on to the story of Tess, which is a very interesting story (once you remove all that talk of nature). However, as tragic as her tale may be, I think the biggest tragedy is the sheer stupidity and self-destructiveness of all the main characters. My goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered characters that so willingly and continuously made such bad decisions out of some misguided notion of martyrdom as these people.

Well, at least Tess, Angel and Alec (and the three milkmaids).

So, fair enough, what happens to Tess at the beginning is not her fault. She is a naïve country girl who finds herself in a very unfortunate situation, and I will never fault her for that. But, and it pains me to say this, everything that happens after she gets to the dairy farm is because Tess must be some kind of stupid, and not, as Hardy constantly alludes to, because she is a victim. I’m serious. Most of the misfortunes that she encounters are brought on by her. Then, of course, it doesn’t help matters much that her husband turns out to be just as incapable of making the right decision. And yes, I get that Hardy also meant to point out their folly as foolish pride, but I’m just not buying it; because they continuously did things that contradicted that.

Ugh.

They’re all insane.

And that ending…

It pretty much proves my point.

So yeah, you’d think that considering all this I’d give this a 2/5, but the fact remains that it is a really good book. It’s full of stupid people, but Hardy does tell it well. It is also full of really good quotes, and maybe some day I shall read this again.

An aside full of spoilers after the break.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Drömmar Ur Snö av Anna Jansson (3/5)


Baksidan säger (jag lånade denna från biblioteket så jag har tagit beskrivningen härifrån): Visst är det skönt att tonåringarna har sysselsättning hemma med sina datorer. Då vet man ju var man har dem. Eller?

"Vi söker ett ansikte till vår nya sminkkollektion. Kan vi ses så jag får ta några bilder. Sminket får du givetvis behålla oavsett hur det går. Och du, lova att det stannar oss emellan. Det här är vår hemlighet." Vem möter tonåringerna i cyberrymden? Och vart kan det locka dem? En 14-årig flicka försvinner på väg hem efter skolan. Dagen därpå hittar man hennes kropp i skogen. Kriminalinspektör Maria Wern får utredningen på sitt bord, och när ytterligare en flicka försvinner ligger paniken på lur och man söker en syndabock bland samhällets utstötta.

I Anna Janssons deckare ställs ofta intressanta och angelägna frågor om vårt samhälle. I Drömmar ur snö handlar det om vad som sker när vi inte längre har råd med ett fungerande rättsväsende, när vår medkänsla med de mest utsatta upphör och människor tar lagen i egna händer.

Jag säger: Det här är den andra boken jag läst om Maria Wern. Jag gillar egentligen inte deckare, men då den första Wern boken jag läste var helt ok, tänkte jag att jag skulle prova igen.

Och det funkade väl.

Jag gillar det enkla sättet som Jansson skriver på; hennes sätt att beskriva vardagen och helt vanliga människor. Kanske är det nog det bästa med den här boken, för jag tyckte inte att den var så värst spännande. Dels så tar det så långt tid innan någonting händer, och när det väl gör det, händer allting på en gång, så det känns lite huller om buller. Som den förra boken jag läste, Först När Givaren är Död, så känns det lite som att Jansson försöker få alla att verka misstänkta på ett forserat sätt. Jag vet inte varför, men det är något med hennes sätt att bara beskriva vissa saker om personerna för att sedan fylla i allting i slutet, som jag inte gillar. Av de två böcker jag läst känns det som att den person som det skrivs minst av är den som gjort det.

Boken var inte dålig, men inte heller något speciellt. Den funkar som slö sommarläsning, I guess.

Brothers: Life, Death, Truth by Ted van Lieshout (3.5/5)

The back says: Can you still be a brother when your brother is dead? Luke often wonders. His brother Marius has died, leaving Luke alone with their parents. When their mother decides to burn Marius’s belongings in a ceremonial bonfire, Luke saves his brother’s diary and makes it his own by writing in it. And so begins a dialogue between the brothers, the dead and the living, from which truths emerge, truths of life and death and love.

I say: I was a tad annoyed with the way this started, mostly because I just didn’t like the mother and the way she was treating Luke; and him, in turn, acting up. The entire family was in such emotional disorder, which is understandable in a house still grieving, but I just felt so sorry for Luke.

He had no one to turn to.

The best part of this story was when Luke finally decided to read his brother’s entries in the diary, and write his own response in between the paragraphs. Not only because we got to see what Marius had died of, but also the relationship between the two brothers. It was heartbreaking to find out how Marius truly felt about Luke, especially since the latter had no idea. Van Lieshout manages to describe the way the signals and messages got misinterpreted and tangled over the course of Marius’s illness with such delicate perfection, it felt like such a shame when the diary entries ended. Because, truth be told, I didn’t care too much about the other parts; they just felt so mundane. Which, of course, they were,

because that’s just the way life is sometimes.

As cheesy as the end was, it was a nice conclusion. There’s this once sentence on the final page that made me shed a tear because it was just so silly and the essence of everything the two brothers should have been all along, but Luke had somehow forgotten or overlooked. Its childish simplicity made it so beautiful it was poetic.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (4.5/5)


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 am ridiculously hooked on this, and would have bought the second part if it weren’t for that pesky book-buying-ban I put myself on. So now I am patiently waiting to see if the library will heed my suggestion and buy it.

But I digress.

This book has almost has everything I seem to be oddly in love with at the moment, i.e. some element of dystopian science fiction, fast paced plot, constantly being kept in the dark by an intriguing and quite excellent plot. This is a Young Adult book, so the writing is what it is, but I hardly paid any attention to it (well, not much) as I was constantly trying to figure out the who, what, where, when, why of the maze. And even though I had an inkling of what it could have been, the enormity of it all was nowhere near what I had expected.

Which is why I’m loving it.

The reason why I’m not giving this a full 5/5 is because some of the characters were a bit one-dimensional, and I had serious problems believing some of their actions; there was a lack of build up to one of the main scenes, and so I suppose anything could have happened really, but no. Also, as unpredictable as the plot was, Dashner, unfortunately, pulled a classic move right at the end, which made me frown for a quick minute.

But then again, I wouldn't be surprised if what I think happened isn't what happened at all.

So yeah, my copy had the first two chapters of the sequel, The Scorch Trials, which I’m hoping is going to be just as good – if not better. And then the third and last instalment, The Death Cure, is out in October. I’m just seriously hoping that Dashner hasn’t taken the story and ran like the dickens into some weirdness; which is always my main worry with sequels.

I guess, I'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Quote of the Week

"It was a book to kill time for those who like it better dead."

- Dame Rose Macaulay

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (2/5)

The back says: Alice wakes up on the floor of the gym with a nasty bump to her head, thinking she’s still a fun-loving twenty-nine-year-old starting life with her gorgeous husband and pregnant with their first baby.

To her disbelief, it soon transpires the fall has knocked ten years from her memory and she is actually an uptight thirty-nine-year-old whose idea of a good time is a three-hour workout followed by committee meetings with the kind of women she used to despise. How on earth did her life come to this? And more disturbingly, how can she not remember giving birth to three children? Why does her husband suddenly hate her? And what can Alice possibly have done that means her beloved sister will barely speak to her?

Seeing herself through fresh eyes, Alice barely recognizes or even likes the person she has become. Can she ever find her way back to the woman she used to be?
I say: This book. Ugh. It’s Samantha Who (which I, by the way, can’t stand) but without the gorgeous and talented Christina Appelgate and Jennifer Esposito.
I thought that this was going to be good, in that cheesy light-read chic lit kind of way, which, right there, was the problem, because I hate those kinds of books.  I’m always drawn in by an interesting plot and then always find myself completely annoyed with everyone and everything.
And that is exactly what happened with this novel.
It starts off innocently enough. The writing isn’t much to write home about, actually, it was painfully bland. And I hate saying that because it sounds so cruel, but it was. The thing that first caught my annoyance was that completely randomly, without any reason whatsoever, we’re exposed to Alice’s sister, Elizabeth’s, letters to her therapist.
I mean, come on.
And then was her grandmother’s blog posts. Complete with commentaries. I think it was meant to be cute, and, quite frankly, I was more interested in reading the comments to the blog than the actual story.
I think that Moriarty thought that by giving us glimpses into these two other women’s lives, she’d be giving a clue as to why Alice turned out the way she did, but it was just so distracting. And not just because I was so completely and utterly uninterested in Elizabeth’s life, but because it seemed like a lazy – or easy, I haven’t quite decided which, yet - way to tell the story. Almost as if Moriarty didn’t know how to properly write the story in only Alice’s voice and had to use these two as props.
Also, I felt cheated, because I cannot stress enough how little care I had for Elizabeth. If I had read a summary of a book about her problems, there’s no chance I would have read it.
In the beginning I was interested in Alice’s life and her discovering who she was. That lasted until page 42. This I know because there’s a quote there that I wrote down, but won’t bother sharing because that would just be mean-spirited. Then I kept reading just to read. Then I put it aside because I was bored. Then I picked it up again. Then I put it aside.
This is how it went until about halfway through when I decided that I would just finish the thing in one go and be done with it.
All 487 pages.
And so here I am writing this and desperately trying to find nice things to say, and failing. I just didn’t like it.
At all.
Ugh, I’m bored just writing about it. I really want to give this 1/5 (which I’ve only given one book since I started grading books) but that seems cruel. So, I won't. And yes, I do realise that me pointing it out is pretty much the same as me grading it as such...

I feel very passive-aggressive today.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (4.5/5)

The back says: Ninety-five days, and then I'll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It's hard to be patient. It's hard not to be afraid while I'm still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn't touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.

I say: It's been over a couple of weeks since I read this, and my memory isn't the best, but I gave it a 4.5, so that means it's a story I'll carry with me for a while. I was kind of excited about this, being a lover of dystopian fiction. But even though the premise was really good,

it's quite obvious what was going to happen.

It was a rather slow start, with Lena counting down the days until she'd be cured, but that was the point. Nothing really happens when you're just waiting for time to pass. And then, of course, she meets Alex and everything changes.

Although I wasn't too fond of Lena in the beginning, she just seemed impossibly naive to me, she kind of grew on me. But I have to say that the best part of Delirium was Oliver's beautiful writing. She has a very poignant way of describing emotions, and even the events leading up to the massive cliff-hanger were nothing short of excellent.

Cos yeah, this is part one of a trilogy.

When I first started reading this I didn't know there'd be a continuation, so I was a tad annoyed at all the information that Oliver left out, but I see now that she did that purposefully. At least I hope so. Dystopian science fiction or not, I still like to have a back story and not just have information thrown at me out of the blue. So yeah, this would have been a 5/5 if it wasn't for that, and some foreboding that turned into very predictable plot turns.

BTT: Age-Appropriate

Do you read books “meant” for other age groups? Adult books when you were a child; Young-Adult books now that you’re grown; Picture books just for kicks … You know … books not “meant” for you. Or do you pretty much stick to what’s written for people your age?
I read whatever sounds interesting to me, regardless of whether it’s meant for my age group or not. Since I really have a penchant for angst, I tend to read a lot of Young Adult novels, for obvious reasons. The only obvious thing about reading YA is the writing/language – I’ll “allow and excuse” a lot more from those than adult fiction, for some reason.

It was worse when I, as a child, was bored with children’s books and started reading adult books. I obviously wanted a reading challenge, and wound up “learning” a lot of things that kids need not know. In a way, I’m glad this was before the internet was everywhere, so that I only had the dictionary to rely on (and the encyclopaedias at the library – remember those?). Biggest reading mistake was probably Macbeth by William Shakespeare at the age of 11, and The Prince by Noccólo Machiavelli at 14.

I was way too young for both (but maybe I say that because I got oddly obsessed with them and, at that age, never taking anything at face value, my young mind lacked the ability to critically analyse them the way I constantly do now).

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Black Snow by Mikhail Bulgakov (3/5)


The back says: When Maxudov’s novel fails, he attempts suicide. When that fails, he dramatizes his novel.
To Maxudov’s surprise – and resentment of literary Moscow – the play is accepted by the legendary ‘Independent Theatre’ and Maxudov plunged into a vortex of inflated egos.
Each rehearsal sees more and more sparks fly higher and higher… and less and less chance of poor Maxudov’s play ever being performed.

I say: I was excited to read this, and thoroughly enjoyed the story up until Maxudov enters the theatre world, then I feel like Maxudov went from witty and deliciously self-deprecating to just whiny and descriptive. It felt like he became a different person in the theatre, disillusioned as he was, and he spends all this time being fascinated by all these people that have absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

Oh, that’s right, Black Snow is a thinly veiled jab at all the people that Bulgakov encountered in real life.

Needless to say, I was disappointed, but that’ll learn me to get excited about things. I do like Bulgakov’s writing, for the most part, especially when describing the different actors and their petty fights. I just think that, because this subject was so close to heart, he lost track of his main character in the satirical portrayal of his contemporaries. And I am in no mood to sit and dissect all that right now.

I do love the ending, sort of.

According to the foreword by Michael Glenny (The Flamingo edition, Fontana Paperbacks, 1986) Black Snow was unfinished. So, yet another novel I picked up without knowing that the author never finished it.

Note to self: forewords are your friend.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Teaser Tuesday


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I'm currently reading a Swedish book so I'll chose the first two lines of my next English book to be read, which will most likely be The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

"He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air. Metal ground against metal; a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him." - p. 1

Monday, 9 May 2011

Trains & Boats & Planes by Killen McNeill (3/5)


The back says: Love for Harry Moore will be forever linked with Marie, the beautiful girl from Alsace. Ever since his magical teenage encounter with her in a tiny holiday resort in Donegal, it has never lived up to his expectations.

Thirty years later, Harry, middle-aged, but not quite disillusioned, travels to Strasbourg to take up the search for Marie, and the innocence and longings of his youth.

I say: I don't know what I thought about this book, and that worries me. It starts off with Harry having this mundane conversation with an associate to be in Strasbourg that he's eager to get away from, which he does, and then runs off to find Marie. I don't think I'm giving away anything by saying that he does find her - it happens within the first 10 pages - which was a surprise to me, since I thought the whole idea of the book was that he was going to look for her.

Whatever.

The narrative of the book weaves between everything that happens from the moment Harry meets Marie in the now, and when he met her as a child, 30 years earlier. I preferred reading about Harry as a teenager, and I think that if the book had started off with how they first met, and then skipped 30 years ahead, I would have liked it better. The way it was set up now, going back and forth, I didn't like the person Harry had become, which made it harder for me to read about him as a teenager. I found myself searching for clues as to what had happened, and that took away from me just enjoying the story. And then when we got to the things that did happen, I didn't really care anymore. Which I thought was unfortunate, because if this had been just a coming of age novel, it would have been really good.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Wish I May by Justine Picardie (3.5/5)


The back says: Kate Linden is a thirty-five-year-old single mother, who dreams of finding a man who will love both her and her son, Sam. But while she's waiting for that unknown saviour, she finds herself as entangled as ever with her handsome, domineering cousin Julian, the son of her mother's twin sister.

As she returns to Julian's childhood home in Norfolk, Kate is drawn back into the mysteries that haunt her. What was the truth of the relationship between her mother and Julian's father? Who was responsible for her mother's death in a car crash? And will those half-remembered patterns repeat themselves, or can she escape them, and create some happiness of her own?

I say: This is one of those books that I bought because, quite frankly, I knew beforehand that I wouldn't like, but I like to switch up my reading by purposefully buying genres that I normally stay clear of - just to sort of broaden my view.

Also, it was on sale.

So yeah, I thought this was going to be interesting, I liked the plot outline above, but, sadly, I was disappointed. I really tried to get into it, but I just never got a clear view of who Kate really was. I felt like Picardie kept tip-toeing around the character by having her focus on all these events in her life that, supposedly, had shaped her, but there was no evidence of that. I just didn't understand her, and not in the sense that I didn't understand why Kate was acting a certain way, but in the sense that throughout the book I felt like I was just reading about this person and not knowing why.

I was so disconnected.

Truth be told, the only thing that kept me going was Picardie's writing, because she writes beautifully and strangely engaging. Which is why this book was so confusing to me. Picardie kept pulling me in with her early foreshadowing; a silent promise of the unveiling of dark secrets, and I stuck with it, but when the resolution finally came, all I felt was a sense of meh.

I will most likely pick up another of Picardie's works because I do like her writing, this story just did nothing for me. So yeah, the story was probably a 2/5, but Picardie's writing bumped it up to a 3.5.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

BTT: Not in Theatres


And–the reverse of last week’s question. Name one book that you hope never, ever, ever gets made into a movie (no matter how good that movie might be).


If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor, which is one of my all-time favourite books; most of all because of McGregor's writing (which, judging by reviews, a lot of people have problems with). In short, he does everything that my teachers told me to never do when writing -

and I love it.

It's poetry. And I honestly don't think anyone could be able to capture the dreamlike state I was wrapped in when reading that book. Also, because I'm a sucker for punishment, if anyone ever attempted to, I'd be forced to see the film and it would annoy me to no end.

So, nobody touch this!

Library Books

I love libraries. Have as long as I can remember. As a child I spent my summers in the library looking at all the "adult books" (and by that I mean adult fiction, not porn) everyone told me I couldn't read yet. Seriously, I would walk into a random section and just look at the books, read the titles while gently caressing the spines.

I was an odd child.

But that's beside the point. Libraries: love them. I mean, they let you borrow books (and other things) for free. However, not all is perfect with these books they let you borrow. One thing I love doing is breaking the spine, and I rarely get to do that with library books. On the other hand, most of the books I borrow are old with yellowed pages and that lovely smell.

But the worst.

The. Worst.

Is that 9 times out of 10 people have scribbled on the pages.

I hate that.

Not only is it disrespectful to the library, because it's their property, it's disrespectful to everyone else who wants to read the book after you. Like right now, I'm starting to read Black Snow by Mikhail Bulgakov (I'm having a Russian moment) and finding the first chapter riddled with translations.

For why?

Why would you write the translation of a word into a book that you borrowed, not knowing if the next person speaks your language - in this case Russian; which I must admit is slightly ironic; that a Russian would borrow a Russian book in English and then translate the difficult words into Russian (complete with phonetic transcription - I'm thoroughly impressed)? Why not just look up the translation and let that be that? I mean, it's hardly like they're planning on reading the book over and over again (and if they are, how are they to learn the word if the translation is right there?).

Luckily whoever did this tired after the second chapter, but I just had to get my rant on.

When I was a wee lass (just finished a book set in Ireland), our librarian would always check the books as you handed them in. If she saw any writing in them, she'd make you erase it right there on the spot, while giving you a lecture on the importance of respecting other people's property.

I miss her.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Dead Souls by Nicolai Gogol (4/5)


The back says: Russia in the 1840s. There is a stranger in town, and he is behaving oddly. The unctuous Pavel Chichikov goes around the local estates buying up 'dead souls'.

These are the papers relating to serfs who have died since the last census, but who remain on the record and still attract a tax demand. Chichikov is willing to relieve their owners of the tax burden by buying the titles for a song. What he does not say is that he then proposes to take out a huge mortgage against these fictitious citizens and buy himself a nice estate in Eastern Russia.

I say: I think I may have fallen in some sort of love with this book. At least some parts of it. Gogol is hilarious when he wants to be, which, thankfully, is quite often, and I was laughing out loud in so many places. At one point I was laughing so hard I started crying.

But that's just me.

The reason why I love Russian authors (well, the ones I've read) is that they have a tendency to describe Russian life in such a detailed and lengthy way. I know that a lot of people find this annoying, but I love it. They also concoct the best descriptions of people and have the most hilarious insults (rivalled only by, perhaps, the Nigerians and the Polish). So yeah, a lot of descriptions of the scenery, Russian culture and, of course, the names.

Aside: the reason I mention the names is that every time I read something by a Russian author it takes me ages to remember who everyone is, because, as you may or may not know, they have three names and people apparently refer to them differently. Like the protagonist in Dead Souls, Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, who is Pavel Ivanovich to some, and Chichikov to other. This becomes an issue when they introduce several characters at the same time and then have them referred to as different things.

Dead Souls is a tale told by an unknown narrator who, every now and then, addresses the reader to provide information - it's kind of like watching a DVD with the director's commentary on (if you're nerdy enough to have done that, like I have). I thought that this was, more often than not, a novel thing, especially when the narrator provided some sort of commentary on Russia and Russians; I thought that was interesting, and often hilarious. However, sometimes it was slightly annoying when I was more interested in the story than social commentary.

For some reason I love characters like Chichikov, i.e. characters that genuinely believe that the world owes them something, and will do any and everything to get what they believe they are entitled to. The reason I love them is that, sooner or later, they always find themselves in some sort of predicament that leads them to repent (and they always do - when caught), and as soon as they have been forgiven and given a new chance, they go right back to their old ways.

Nothing is ever their fault and they always have an explanation for everything.


I realise now that I'm on the brink of writing an essay on this, which, in itself, is a sign that the book really had an effect on me - the characters, the descriptions, the conversations, the excessive use of "the deuce!" - so I'll limit myself in saying that I am forever saddened that Gogol decided to burn some of his work* because I would have loved to see what was to become of Chichikov and his Dead Souls.

*When I bought this book I had no idea that it was incomplete (which, once again, teaches me to do my research before picking up things), and only realised it halfway through (because I never read the introductions either) when I was doing something or other. The book was meant to be in three parts, but Gogol supposedly burned the end of the second one, and it all ends mid-sentence, nonetheless. The edition I have (Wordsworth Editions Limited, 2010) ends with a book (final chapter) that was published in Kiev in 1857 under the title of Continuation and Conclusion of Dead Souls by Vaschenko Zakharchenko. I haven't read that yet, and am still deciding if I want to read someone else's ending of the book. Maybe at a later date.

Teaser Tuesday


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


"Now, you can't buy a village with that; that is, you might buy it, perhaps, if you were to add fourty thousand from the French king. Well, so he took refuge in the Revel hostelry, at a rouble a day: the dinner consisted of cabbage soup, and a scrap of a scrap of roast beef..."

- p. 213, Dead Souls by Nicolai Gogol

Monday, 2 May 2011

Enough

This month was meant to be the month where I don't spend any money on anything other than the very necessities. I have enough books waiting to be read, and was going to finish them before buying anything new, and should I manage that before the month is over, there's always the library.

That was the plan.

But sneaky and untrustworthy as I tend to be when it comes to limitations, I ordered two books and a DVD on Saturday and figured that would be that.

And it was.

Until I just stupidly went to Bokus (where I buy most of my books) to check the price of a book I'm meant to order for a friend (honest) and saw that they're having a sale - of course. Before I even knew what I was doing, which is a lie if ever I told one, I had ordered 3 books. And they weren't even on my TBR list, but just random books that were cheap.

Epic. Fail.

So yeah, let me reset and start over. As of this very moment; one month without buying anything that I don't need.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Quote of the Week

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."

- Sir Francis Bacon

Pigtopia by Kitty Fitzgerald (3.5/5)

The back says: Pigtopia is a beautifully crafted tale about the unlikely friendship that develops between a lonely and angry adolescent girl, Holly, and Jack, an older man who is isolated from society due to his terrible physical deformities. What follows is the heartbreaking portrayal of their relationship, built around Jack’s obsession with the pigs he rears in secret and which Holly comes to share, and the eventual destruction of this secret world.

Narrated alternately by contrasting voices of Jack and Holly, Pigtopia is a story of violence and foreboding, but also one of compassion and the redemptive power of friendship.

I say: If there’s one thing I have a real problem with when it comes to literature, it’s books written in vernacular, or “dialect,” if you will. Although I understand why an author would want to use this, it’s just so hard for me to read.

Which is why Pigtopia was a slow start for me.

Jack, having not had much contact with the world outside his mother’s house, speaks with what can best be described as the language of a child. As the story progresses and his interaction with Holly gets more intense, his language improves and his parts get easier to read.

Also, I think I got used to it.

I read this in one sitting because it flows along nicely, with a little suspense here and there. I tend to like reading stories where I already know the end in advance, because I like finding out how they get there. Although Pigtopia does end badly, it wasn’t anywhere near anything that I could have imagined. I don't think I’m giving anything away by stating that is was disgusting and very disturbing.

In fact, there are a few parts of this story that turned my stomach.

They were just so unbelievable I think they turned the whole story into a travesty. It was hard enough for me to believe that Jack would be able to build his Pigtopia and manage to befriend Holly. And then once having resigned to that idea, Fitzgerald just took it all too far.

Just way too far.

If it weren’t for these parts I would have liked the book a lot more, but alas, it is what it is.

Oh, I suppose I’m meant to say something about the moral of the story, which is (if you didn’t figure it out but reading the short summary above) that it’s the inside that matters, people can be cruel because of fear and/or ignorance, and everyone needs a good friend.

Although with friends like Holly I wonder if I wouldn’t rather be alone…