Ramblings

A life in books…

We all have those books that create lasting impressions. Whether they inspired a love of a particular author or genre, or simply came at an important time in your life, there will always be some tomes that hold a special place in your heart. I thought I would list some of mine:

Alices’ Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Caroll
Plot: Alice falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world filled with fascinating creatures.
Why it’s important to me: The first ‘big girl’ book I read when I was 7. At school you were allowed to read certain books when you reached a certain reading level and this was the first book I read when I reached the top reading level, I just remember being fully immersed in this foreign magical world.

A Candle in the Dark – Adele Geras
The plot: Two Jewish children are sent to the England by their parents to escape Nazi Germany and they wonder if they will ever see their parents again.
Why it’s important to me: One of the first fiction books I read about WWII at a young age and it really helped me understand just how terrible things were for Jewish people during the Nazi regime. I read this when I was about 8 or 9 years old and just remember feeling so scared for the children in the book.

Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
Plot (fairly obvious): On his 11th birthday Harry Potter discovers he is a wizard and starts a life filled with adventure after he is enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Why it’s important to me: No list is complete for any twenty-something book lover without the Harry Potter Series. People who didn’t read the books can easily dismiss it as hype, but like all Harry Potter lovers know, J.K. Rowling didn’t just create some fun adventure stories, but lessons in how important love is and creating a wonderful, rich world which, on each re-read, feels a little bit like home.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
Plot: When the Orient Express gets stuck in a snowdrift and a passenger with a shady past is discovered murdered in his cabin, Poirot must discover which of his fellow travellers is responsible.
Why it’s important to me: My first Agatha Christie which spawned a life-long love of Poirot and his little grey cells. Easily one of my favourite (if not my favourite) authors, I have read every one of Christie’s books and I will always remember my first foray into her work.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Plot: A lawyer attempts to ensure his black client has a fair trial during the racial tensions of 1930s USA as seen through the eyes of his daughter.
Why it’s important to me: One of the first books to inspire strong emotions in me. I found myself feeling so frustrated and angry at the injustice faced by the black community in the book.

Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo
Plot: Two brothers fall in love with the same girl whilst also facing the horrors of the trenches during World War I.
Why it’s important to me: I read this book in one day whilst sitting on a beach in Spain. Having recently completed a school project on ‘Shot at Dawn’, it was the perfect accompaniment to highlight the hardships and injustice that these young men faced and the ‘crimes’ they were wrongly executed for, and I felt ashamed at how much of this part of history and the treatment of these men is brushed under the carpet.

Malvolio’s Revenge – Sophie Masson
Plot: A troupe of English actors travel around rural Louisiana performing a sequel to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. When they meet the beautiful and mysterious heiress of Illyria, their lives become intertwined with the magic and mystery of 1900s New Orleans. 
Why it’s important to me:
I received a proof copy of this book from my cousin after she found it discarded in the bookshop she worked in, and it quickly became one of my favourite books. I have yet to find someone else who has read it, but I cannot help but recommend this charming and sometimes spooky tale which blends Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with a bright and colourful New Orleans; it inspired a life-long ambition to travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Plot: In 1950s Barcelona young Daniel picks up a copy of The Shadow of the Wind after a visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The dark past of the book’s author and a mysterious figure burning copies of his books begins to affect Daniel’s own life.
Why it’s important to me: This was the first book I read of Zafon’s and I fell completely in love with his knack for storytelling. The mystical setting of Barcelona’s streets and the love of literature expressed in the book, quickly made this one of my favourite reads. It was a huge factor behind my decision to live and study in Barcelona, and the sequels continue to be just as captivating and magical. I also continue to be thoroughly impressed with Lucia Graves’ translations of his work which read just like original texts.

The Return – Victoria Hislop
Plot: On a visit to Spain, a young British woman discovers the story of an Andalucian family torn apart by the Spanish Civil War.
Why it’s important to me: I was always ashamed that I learned so little about the Spanish Civil War during my history education. I understand that growing up in the UK, most of our history lessons are focused on the British involvement in the World Wars, nevertheless, I always felt lacking in knowledge of my father’s country’s history. At Sixth Form and university I studied the war, but I have to say that The Return perfectly captures the way in which families were completely torn apart by the horrific conflict. I cried many times reading this book and I challenge anyone not to feel incredibly moved by the Ramirez family’s plight which was all too real for so many families and communities at the time.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Plot: Set in London in 2540 AD, reproduction is now carried out by artificial means and citizens are placed into predetermined classes. Advanced technology and entertainment feature heavily in people’s lives, however Bernard Marx feels like something isn’t quite right and his travels to the preserved ‘savage’ existence of the ancient world opens his eyes (it’s pretty hard to condense the plot into a couple of lines!)
Why it’s important to me: I love both A Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but as I see our growing reliance on technology and social media and need to seek validation through these means, I can’t help but feel that perhaps Huxley’s bleak view of the future is closer to reality. His ideas that that the way to control the masses isn’t through censorship and oppression, but via never-ending streams of information and propaganda aimed at confusing and overwhelming us, delivered by those material items we value most, seems all too familiar.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go – Dr Seuss
Plot: A poem on what awaits you when you embark on adulthood.
Why it’s important to me: I think everyone should read this book on becoming an adult. Whether it’s when graduating university or leaving school to start work, this poem perfectly sums up what to expect in life; the highs, the lows and the loneliness, and the consequences of your decisions.

I am disappointed by how many of these deal with depressing or difficult subjects, but I feel often these themes tend to leave deeper impressions.

Which books have greatly affected you?

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2018 – A proper go at it

Each year I make a list of attainable resolutions.

Waste less (money, food, materials), drink more water, read more, walk more, don’t eat out at work, text people back promptly…

I generally keep to these and manage to improve my habits year after year. However, I also set myself unrealistic goals like ‘write a book’ or ‘travel the world’ or ‘go to the gym’ . In order to help me achieve (some) of these goals over a longer time frame, I want to focus on learning and writing more in 2018. Aside from a few translations and the online articles and content I produce for work, I am still finding myself woefully lacking in time for writing, so it’s time I made a conscious effort to improve this and set aside some precious hours. Hopefully – and I have said this many (many) times in many diaries, journals, and blog entries -I will dedicate more time to posting on this blog. We’ll see.

I am also going to sign up for more free (and perhaps some paid) talks around London. I have lived in the city for 4.5 years and have definitely not taken enough advantage of all of the exhibitions, seminars and talks available to me, so here’s to learning more in 2018.

Reading goals:

  • Read more Russian authors.
  • Read more diversely (this was genuinely attempted last year and I ended up thoroughly enjoying Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Murakami’s Norwegian Wood)
  • Read more non-fiction

To read or reread this year (as usual, trying to clear my bookshelf/jenga pile of books):

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt (a book club pick)
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • El Laberinto de los Espíritus by Carloz Ruiz Zafón
  • Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  • Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
  • This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar ben Jelloun
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Read in 2017 (as of 29/01/2018):

  • Kill the Next One by Federico Axat
  • Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience by Shaun Usher
  • The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
  • Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
Ramblings, Review, Uncategorized

Attempting Austen

I first tried reading Pride and Prejudice as a thoroughly unromantic teen, it did not go well. As an avid reader of mysteries (I’ve been Agatha Christie’s biggest fan since age 12), I was much more drawn to darker stories and therefore decided that Jane Austen was definitely not for me. Oh how time changes you.

*There will be spoilers ahead and, although these books have been around for 200 years, it’s always polite to give warning.*

I read Emma last year (at the age of 25) having picked up a cheap copy in a bookshop and, much to my surprise, was greatly amused at how witty Austen’s writing and social commentary is. This was greatly aided by the fact that, in coming from a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, I was familiar with many of the characters – particularly Miss Bates who reminded of a certain family friend. After more research (I tend to obsessively look at reviews of books I have just finished to compare experiences) I saw that many Austen fans had placed Emma pretty low down on the list of the best Jane Austen books, so made a conscious effort to read more of her work.

I read Pride and Prejudice just before Easter, and subsequently watched the mini-series and film over the Easter break. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the book. I already knew the storyline (I mean, Bridget Jones is just the modern version – right?), but more than anything just enjoyed the author’s voice and way that, similarly to Shakespeare’s treatment of Romeo and Juliet, you can see that she is gently ridiculing her protagonists.

Then, in earlier this month, I picked up Sense & Sensibility at my local library and enjoyed it even more-so than the previous two (yes, I have now also seen the 1995 film starring Emma Thompson and the 2008 BBC miniseries). As a child I was always more sensible than my years and looking after my more tear-away friends, I connected with Elinor, and enjoyed reading about her family’s ups-and-downs. I also felt from the very start like Colonel Brandon was clearly the best option amongst all of the gentlemen introduced and felt like he and Elinor should have gone off together, but alas I will have to settle for Edward Ferrars.

I shall continue on my Austen journey and expect that Persuasion may be the next one I connect with most, given that I too am currently a 27 year old ‘spinster’. Good night.

Ramblings, Uncategorized

Rediscovering my love of the library

I have always depended on libraries. The  library in my home town is an impressive sandstone building which stands proudly at the crux of our town’s main roads and from the moment I was old enough to own my own library card I remember going there  on fortnightly visits to the with my mum, always excited to find a new book, cd or film to rent.

As we weren’t terribly well off, the library was my main source for reading materials and, on entering my late teens with little to no internet access at home, it became my weekly stop for internet use (even as late as 2008 I made the weekly trip to the library to do my weekend studying and university applications).  I loved the fact that after my studies, I could go for a wander along the bookshelves and pick up something new.

At university, like many, the library became one of the few quiet places where I could get essays and work done, I am sure I am not alone in pulling all-nighters sequestered among the bookshelves.

Then I started full time work in London and somehow just stopped visiting the library. I still read, but mainly picked up my books in second-hand book markets, or charity shops or (when feeling particularly wealthy in gifted book vouchers) treated myself to a brand new tome from a bookshop. In London I am spoiled, Foyles, Daunt Books, Hachetts and Waterstones offer fantastic selections in numerous languages, and the second-hand bookshops offer a wide variety of recent releases and classics (my favourites include the Oxfam bookshop in Hampstead and Bookmongers in Brixton). However, I noticed that I was buying books that I didn’t necessarily want to read, and then disappointed in having spent the money on them.

So, earlier this year, I decided to check out my local library and have been reminded of what I have been missing. Firstly, since my days of frequenting the library, eBooks and Audiobooks have improved enormously. Whilst I steadfastly refuse to use eBooks (I look at screens all day at work and am terrible at charging my devices) I have found joy in listening to audiobooks on my walks to and from work, and my library allows 15 free audiobook downloads. I have also recently joined a book club, so the library is a fantastic way of accessing the books I need to read, without risking spending the full amount on a book I may not enjoy. I also forgot how great it is just to wander and pick up any book in genres I don’t typically read, or on subjects I know little about, to see whether I might discover a new interest.

Therefore it saddens me to see libraries being used less and less. I came across a Guardian article (published in 2016) on a report regarding the significant decline library usage in the UK over the past decade, and it was interesting to note that poorer areas, like the town I grew up in, have been least affected. I know it is easier with eBooks and online shopping to pick up books with a click of a button, but I still feel like in wandering through libraries (and even bookshops) you always come across interesting books that catch your eye that you may never have heard of or searched for.

It is with this reacquired enjoyment for libraries that I hope to be using mine much more frequently in the next few years.

Review, Uncategorized

The Book Thief by Markuz Zusak

Why haven’t I read this earlier?!! A question that I am sure many others have asked themselves before. I’ve had this on my bookshelf for a good five years and have been meaning to pick up, I’m so glad I finally did!  To be honest, I remember being in a airport in France around 7 years ago and accidentally overhearing a girl talking in a very spoil-ery way about this book, so my justification is that I wanted to forget the spoilers she mentioned before picking it up – I am so glad I did.

Books don’t often make me cry (I can probably count on one hand the ones that have) but I can say that I cried at the The Book Thief. It made me cry, it made me smile, it made me despair for humanity in general.

Like most children in the UK I had a heavy dose of World War 2 knowledge dropped on me throughout my school career and have read many books and articles, seen many films and documentaries, and visited many museum and art exhibitions about that period, yet never fail be surprised to learn at yet another way humans managed to make each other suffer in those miserable years. On the other hand, it is always so heartening to learn about just how many good people tried to help each other, and the book wonderfully shed light on both aspects of wartime.

Whilst the book was perhaps initially aimed at a much younger demographic, I feel that there is much within the writing that you don’t appreciate unless you read (or reread) it as an adult, particularly Death’s rumination on humanity. An older perspective and deeper understanding on what happened and why things happened, adds greatly to the enjoyment of reading this beautiful book.

I loved Liesel, and Rudy, and Max, and Hans, and even Rosa. Rosa who’s forceful manner, again benefitting from having read from an adult’s perspective, you can immediately see comes from a place of love.

If you haven’t yet read this, I fully recommend doing so. The story of a young girl’s experiences through this terrible time, both positive and absolutely heart-breaking will stick with you. As will the wonderful people she meets, the caring foster family, brave young men, and adults who keep their gentleness hidden, you cannot fail to feel connected with every character in some way, and only hope that their kindness and heroism will somehow be rewarded in some sort of a happy ending, unfortunately like so many people during that time, this is not always the case.

Favourite quote: ‘A Last Note From Your Narrator: I am haunted by humans.’

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Beauty and the Beast Ponderings

This is not a book, I know. The only way I can think of linking it into my aim for this blog is that Belle is a book-loving princess?

I’m not going to do a review of the film (although I must admit that after going in with low expectations I was pleasantly surprised), but I had some stray thoughts while watching it and wondered if anyone else thought the same.

Please also note that there will be spoilers ahead and, whilst much of the film follows the beats of the original, there are some changes which I comment on below.

The Beast likes books
The fact that Beast couldn’t read never made sense to me. Before being turned, he was an 11 (?) year old born into royalty, so surely he must have been taught to read at some point?! I know that in the original film Belle and the Beast bonded when she taught him to read, but I think that Belle discovering someone else who enjoys reading seems like a more organic way to have her warm to him.

Also, surely in all that time he would have read as a form of entertainment? 10 years is a long time alone in that castle with such a big library!

The dance sequence
This was beautifully done as expected, if not quite as technically groundbreaking as the original. However, due the heavy use of CGI on the Beast, I could not quite suppress the image of Dan Stevens wearing a green body suit whilst dancing and staring romantically into Emma Watson’s eyes.
Please tell me that this is how it was filmed and please let there be footage somewhere.

Gaston doesn’t get a chance to remember 
So at the end of the film we learn that Belle’s quiet village was also put under the curse and had forgotten all about the castle and their loved ones who worked there (as is evidenced by Mr & Mrs Potts’ reunion). So what about Gaston? Maybe Gaston really had a lady love or family in the castle whom he forgot? We will never know if Gaston’s true self was perhaps a little less self-centred and he was just lonely all this time.

Ramblings

Getting back into it….again

Yet again I find myself realising how much I suck at keeping any form of record or journal, which frustrates me as I find it a great way to focus and to express myself outside of work.

My pile of books to read has grown ever higher and so I aim to read at least 50 books by October  – hopefully this blog will keep me on track and ready to read.

I fully expect there to be a couple of re-reads (always the best way to get out of a slump) although I will really be focusing on new books and want to aim to get some new releases in there too.

Completed in 2017 :

  • Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
  • Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (2017 UK release)
  • Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón (re-read of one of my favourite books of all time)
  • The Angel’s Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafón (re-read)
  • The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Ruiz Zafón (re-read)
  • Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  • Sad Cypress – Agatha Christie
  • The Murder at the Vicarage – Agatha Christie
  • The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
  • The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon -David Grann
  • Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie (re-read)
  • Third Girl – Agatha Christie
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray  – Oscar Wilde
  • Autumn  – Ali Smith
  • Nomad  – James Swallow (audiobook)
  • Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
  • Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
  • The Athenian Murders – Jose Carlos Somoza
  • Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood (audiobook)
  • Nutshell – Ian McEwan
  • The Club Dumas – Arturo Perez – Reverte
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer