Saturday, 30 May 2009
Thursday, 28 May 2009
This is really hard to answer. If a book is that bad then it's very unlikely I will get to the end of it anyway, so it's actually quite hard to say that I wish I'd never read it! I could list numerous so-so books, but none of these I would want to unread because if I actually got to the end then I could obviously see some worth in the book even if I didn't love it!
If I had to pick something then it would have to be White Teeth and On Beauty both by Zadie Smith. These were both incessantly boring and books that I did wonder when I'd finished them why I even bothered. So don't even ask me why I read them both. You'd have thought once would be enough! And I recently read Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris which I really didn't like. I don't think I'd say I wish I hadn't read it though because at least now I know not to try anything else! Learnt my lesson from Zadie Smith! Lol.
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Thursday, 21 May 2009
What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?
When I first saw this question I thought it would be really easy to answer, there are so many books I'd like to re-read, but then when it came to actually writing it, I drew a bit of a blank. Of course, there are lots of books I would like to re-read, so I thought it would be easy to just mention some of these. But then I realised that when I think of re-reading, it's a very different process to reading a book for the first time and having the suspense and excitement of not knowing what's going to happen next.
I think the first that springs to mind would be Tess of the D'urbervilles. I think I've mentioned a few times that I love this book, and even after many re-reads, I still read this and will Tess to make different choices, even though I know she doesn't, so I'd love to go back and read this fresh, and feel the sadness, despair and frustration I felt the first time.
Another one that I'd like to be coming to with a fresh mind is English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. This is another of my favourite books, and although I've re-read it and get pleasure from it, I'd like to feel the sense of not being able to put it down that I felt the first time I read it.
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Death by Scrabble by Charlie Fish
This is a really short story about a man playing scrabble with is wife who starts to realise that the words he spells out on the board seem to be manifesting themselves in the real world. He tries to test this theory with devastating consequences, especially as it appears he is not the only person to have recognised this phenomenon. I can't say much more without re-telling the whole story, but it's a really interesting idea, and I think it might come into my head the next time I play scrabble (not that I do very often).
The Necklace by Guy De Maupassant
This one is definitely a more classical short story, with a twist at the end. A woman of little social standing marries and becomes discontented with her life because she does not have all the nice things and finery's of life that she feels she deserves. She is not in poverty by any means, but she just wants a better, richer life. Her husband secures a ticket for a well to do social occasion, but instead of being pleased, she is disgusted as she will have nothing to wear. After wheedling money out of her husband, she procures a dress, and borrows jewellery from a friend. But the jewellery goes missing, and her life takes a turn for the worst, as the couple put themselves into debt and poverty to replace the necklace, all revealed to be totally unnecessary at the climax of the story.
For a short story, there's a lot going on here.It's full of social criticism, and moral outrage almost! Criticism of the constant need to be bettering yourself, even if it means stretching yourself too far, is inherent through this story. The woman can not be happy with the simple pleasures of life and always wants more. Stretching yourself can lead to disastrous consequences and leave you in a worse situation than you were in in the first place. Although written in the 1800's, that message could still be taken heed of today! It could also be read as a criticism of a materialistic society, as the woman is noticed by everyone in her new dress and borrowed jewellery in a way she is not, or feels she is not, in her everyday clothes. Whether this is a criticism of society itself, or individual perceptions of what makes a person worthwhile, I'm not sure. I suppose it could be read either way. And the twist at the end, which I haven't actually revealed, would imply that things should never be taken at face value, beauty is not always about expensive, material things. On a simplistic level, it could also be read as honesty being the best policy.
Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell
I'm only going to mention this briefly because I'm working on a full post based on this. It's an essay written by George Orwell in response to the idea that the ordinary man doesn't buy books because they are too expensive. He basically refutes this idea, but does it in a very detailed way by adding up the total cost of all the books he owns, whether new or second hand, and comparing them to the cost of his tobacco, beer or cinema trips. Comparing prices, an average quantities, he concludes that buying books is no more expensive than keeping up a smoking habit.Taking into account the time spent reading a book, and the time spent at a cinema he comes to the conclusion that he spends no more on books than on other forms of entertainment.
I was really interested in this, and it was really well written. The point he made was clear and concise. The only difficulty I had was that I struggled to understand the values he assigned to things, being written in the 1940's and therefore in imperial money. So I thought I'd use his essay and formula as a base and do it for my expenditure and see how it all adds up. I'm working on that, so I'll post it when it's done.
Monday, 18 May 2009
Sunday, 17 May 2009
Friday, 15 May 2009
This is essentially the story of Amir, an Afghan, and his attempt to create a life for himself in the shadow of a betrayal he committed against his friend when they were children. Played out against the background of the unrest in Afghanistan, first with the Soviet invasion and then the Taliban rule, Amir leaves Afghanistan with his father during the unrest, but returns later at the request of a family friend in an attempt to redeem himself. The melancholic tone of the book is set up from the very first chapter, when an adult Amir says
“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid, overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws it’s way out. Looking back now, I realise I’ve been peeking into that deserted alley for the past 26 years.”
The story starts with Amir as a child, living in Afghanistan, happy, contented and living a comfortable life. He is great friends with his servant, Hassan, who is a similar age to him. But he is distant from his father, who seems to struggle with the sensitive nature of the child he has brought into the world, and Amir struggles to develop a true bond with his father, and would do anything to make him proud. Throughout the early part of the novel, Amir struggles with how he is supposed to behave towards Hassan and does set him tests to see how subservient he really is. The hierarchy is always there in Amir’s mind and he does question to himself how he actually views Hassan, although he tries to push these thoughts from his mind.
“But he’s not my friend! I almost blurted. He’s my servant! Had I really thought that? Of course I hadn’t. I hadn’t.”
But despite this undercurrent of hierarchy and resentment, Amir and Hassan remain close, take part in the Kite fighting tournament together. But when Hassan runs the kite for Amir, his lower status in society comes into play once again and sets in motion Amir’s betrayal that eventually lead to Hassan leaving Amir’s family. Soon after Amir and his father leave Afghanistan for America and develop a new life and relationship there. Until Amir is forced to return and confront his childhood wrongs, as well as the current state of Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
Amir is caught between two opposing attitudes. He believes Hassan to be his friend, but his peers and his education instill him with very different, divisive attitudes. His father is distant, and although he obviously cares for Hassan, he doesn’t have the closeness with his father that could explain how he’s feeling. So although it is very difficult to feel that Amir’s eventual betrayal of his friend is anything but horrific, it is possible to sympathise with his feelings of indecision.
I have to say that this is not a cheerful book. Some parts of it are sad, some are downright depressing, and some of the parts set in Afghanistan under Taliban rule are just horrific and really difficult to read. It is a fantastic cultural eye opener though. Afghanistan is not a country I know very much about, and what I do know is all fairly recent stuff from the overthrow of the Taliban rule. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of what seemed to be a fairly sumptuous, fruitful country before the Soviet invasion, to the wrecked, ruined country under Taliban regime, when Amir returns. Not only has the landscape changed, but the nature of the Afghan people themselves. The spirit of friendship and mutual co-operation vanished with the religious doctrine.
I think the religious upheaval in Afghanistan was one of the most interesting parts of the novel for me. Amir and Hassan are part of different branches of Islam, and as a Hazara, Hassan is destined to always be subservient. He is not taught to read, and doesn’t attend school. And this subservience is inbred into him. Even Amir’s father, who is seen as a relatively liberal muslim, sees him as his servant, although always treats him kindly. But Amir’s school friends do not have this same liberal attitude. Amir suffers for being friends with Hassan, and ultimately Hassan suffers for being born what he is. Even in their reltively idyllic childhood, the seeds of unrest and division are present, just waiting for the right climate to come to the surface. Assef, one of Amir’s contemporaries says to Amir and Hassan
“You’re part of the problem Amir. If idiots like you and your father didn’t take these people in, we’d be rid of them by now, they’d all just go and rot in Hazarajat where they belong.”
The horror and melancholy are pretty relentless throughout the novel. But it does end on a hopeful note. Ultimately, it’s a novel of friendship and betrayal and as to which wins out in the end, the novel does at least give us hope that friendship and redemption are powerful enough to come through.
Thursday, 14 May 2009
My immediate reaction to this is that it's no fun buying books just when I need to read them! I buy far more books than I could ever possibly read! But in a vain attempt to justify myself, I buy most of my books in charity shops or second hand bookshops so if I see them, then I feel I need to buy them right away. hey might not be there next time I go into that particular shop. I know this is a pretty weak argument because it would be just as easy not to go into the shop, so then feel no need to buy any books in the first place!
This argument collapses even further when I consider my library habits. I get far more books out of the library than I could possibly read in the time allowed before they have to be returned. I just can't resist books. I find it difficult to leave them on the shelves.
I have had to curb what I spend on new books, but this is purely for financial reasons than any desire to limit the amount of unread books lying around. In fact this decision to look for second hand books rather than new has actually led to more books finding their way into my house because I can spend a lot less money and get lots more books. So yes, I'm a book glutton!
However, I don't think it's a problem at all! I like having lots of books to choose from. I'd rather have a few minutes indecision about what book I'm going to read next than only have a small selection, or possibly even have to go out and buy something to read! I think that would be more stressful than anything else!
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Monday, 11 May 2009
Have you ever finished a book, then turned around and immediately re-read it? Why?
What book(s)? (question courtesy of MizB)
I haven't done this for a long time! I used to do this a child quite frequently, but I've got too many other things that I want to read to re-read something immediately! The only one that I can actually remember doing this with was Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, and I'd read this twice every time I picked it up. I do re-read things though, although I sometimes forget what they are! Maybe I should start making a list, but I've got enough book lists floating around as it is, and to be honest I'm not that organised. Lol. But this had made me think about books I'd like to re-read.
- English Passengers b Matthew Kneale
- The Time Machine by H.G.Wells
- Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson
- Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (I'd like to ty and 'get' it a bit more)
- The Museum Guard by Howard Norman
And I'm sure there are a lot more, I just can't think of them right now! I also have a small selection of books that I love that I never get bored of reading again. These get read every few years and no doubt will have many future re-reads.
- Tess of The D'urbervilles by Thomas hardy
- The Hndmaid's tale by Margaret Atwood
- The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
- Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Friday, 8 May 2009
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
Monday, 4 May 2009
Sunday, 3 May 2009
Friday, 1 May 2009
Oryx and Crake is a dystopian, end of the world type novel kind of in the same vein as The Handmaid's Tale but with a political and economic slant rather than a new world created by a theocracy. Surprisingly, for an Atwood novel, this took me a while to get into, but it was worth it in the end. And since for some reason I found this really hard to write a review of this is just my thoughts, and in a somewhat convoluted fashion at that!
Set in the early twenty-first century (I think), it is the story of a catastrophe that wiped out almost all of humanity and left our narrator virtually alone in the world. Although the story is narrated by one person throughout, the narrator has two incarnations, Jimmy before the catastrophe, and snowman after, and the story is told in a non linear fashion from both viewpoints, although there is some chronological progression in Jimmy and Snowman’s individual narration. We don’t actually discover what actually happened until very near the end of the novel, but there are hints and suggestions right from the start.
The world Jimmy lives in is similar to modern western society, but more advanced. I assume it is meant to be viewed as an exaggerated version of the world we live in now. It is a very divided society, with the educated and skilled elite living and working in compounds, with their every need taken care of on site. Everybody else lives in what are termed the Pleeblands, which we don’t learn too much about, but are viewed with derision from inside the compounds, where Jimmy lives.
The various compounds all seem to be highly scientific, involved in Genetic modification for food production, healthcare, cosmetic surgery and similar activities that are all present in our world today, although in a less exaggerated form. Nothing eaten seems to be real, although meant to taste as much like the real thing as possible. Everything is created artificially, with any possible dangers removed, and to maximise financial viability. Among other things, the compound Jimmy’s father works on is working on creating new breeds of animals from splicing two species together. Hence Racunks, snats, and wolvogs (work it out for yourselves). They also breed Pigoons, large vicious pig type creatures who have the capability to grow human organs for use in research or transplantation.
However, at the same time as we learn about this technologically advanced, self obsessed society, we also learn about Jimmy’s current predicament, as Snowman, from where he is narrating this story. He lives in a tree, dresses in a sheet, scavenges for food, and appears to be the only human left alive, apart from a strange group of primitive humans known to Snowman as The Crakers, who seem perfectly content with their lives and almost revere Jimmy as a God. How Jimmy/Snowman got from his sterile, protected life to this tough, lonely one is the focus of the story.
Through Snowman’s narration we learn of Jimmy’s childhood, adolescence and college years and his friendship with a boy named Glenn, although always referred to in the novel as Crake. Although they seem to have the normal teenage relationship, Crake’s brilliance shines through, as does his obsession with human faults, and his understanding of why the world is as it is, although his eventual solution is pretty drastic. He has an obsession with changing humanity, using genetics to iron out all the flaws, therefore creating the perfect human race and obliterating the need for wars, violence and even love. Jimmy serves as the foil, proposing counter arguments, although he can’t argue with the science. In their teenage years, Jimmy and Crake play Internet games, watch Internet porn and discuss the state of the world. The porn leads both of them to an obsession with a young child they see in a video, and the games lead Crake to an obsession with extinct animals. Much later in their adult lives, Jimmy and Crake end up working together, with a woman named Oryx, who both would like to believe is the girl from the Internet, but probably isn’t, although she’s had a similar background.
And without totally giving the plot away, which I’ve tried really hard not to do, that's about as far as I can go. Both Crake and Oryx take their names from extinct birds, although Oryx’s was chosen for her by Crake. Oryx is a strange character. Jimmy and Glen are both fairly well developed, but Oryx always seems a bit on the outside. As well as appearing in the chronological story, she also appears in Jimmy’s head. He fantasises about her, and it does appear that what he tells us about her is not altogether true. He seems to have created a persona for her with the absolute belief that she is the girl from the video.
One of the things I found most interesting was Snowman's obsession with words. As Jimmy, he studied language and as Snowman, he is constantly thinking of different words that could be applied to his situation. It is almost as if language is creating a structure for his life where nothing else can. It also provides a contrast with the Crakers I mentioned earlier, who have very little language.
I could go on for pages and pages about this. It serves as a warning, and just as The Handmaid’s Tale, I think it will be relevant for many years to come. I think there will always be something in it that will be relevant. However, I don’t think it’s one of Atwood’s best and I do think it strayed slightly too much into the realms of science fiction, although it is feasible that most of the science in the story will be possible at some point in the near future.