Uncategorized

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 07/01/2018):

  • Kill the Next One by Federico Axat
  • Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience by Shaun Usher
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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.’

Uncategorized

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
Review

When She Woke

When-She-Woke_305

When She Woke –  Hillary Jordan

(published Oct 2011)

Ok, so this one is not so recent, but I read it last October and it’s one of those books that just sticks with you. The story, the ideas behind it, and the way it so scarily mirrors the possible near future left a profound mark and I find myself coming back to it.

Plot

When She Woke tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed—their skin colour is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes—and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder – aborting her unborn child.

In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.

The Good

Red: The design team behind the hardback edition of this book deserve huge applause! Red, red cover, red pages, red is the immediate impression on the bookshelf, and could not be more perfect given the context of this book.

Political commentary: Reading it a time when abortion was a hot-button issue in US politics, When She Woke really brought home the possibilities of a future should pro-life extremists succeed in banning abortion. The overwhelming sense and despair and injustice you feel for Hannah and her punishment, and the consequent humiliation she is subjected to over her decision should, one would think, cause anyone to rethink their position on the matter. The first half of the book, setting up this world where those who have committed crimes are highlighted for everyone to see, and how women who have undergone (illegal) abortions are treated makes for addictive reading. For anyone following the debates on women’s rights, treatment of criminals, and religious extremism from all sides, it is difficult not to be terrified by how closely Jordan’s future is to becoming a very possible reality. This idea of ‘melanchroming’ people for the duration of their sentences is an imaginative process, and for me, demonstrated the idea of how some people cannot look past someone’s crimes and focus on rehabilitation.

Bigger picture: So often in these dystopian novels do we focus on just one country, or one small community, that it’s difficult to imagine how these societies function in relation to the rest of the world. When She Woke puts forward the idea that these changes are unique to the US, and the suggestion that Chromes are seeking to escape to countries like Canada where these laws aren’t enforced, widens the world within the book.

Hannah’s story: As I previously mentioned, you truly feel for Hannah and what she’s been through, and cannot help but to feel the injustice of it all. Witnessing how people react to her, how she has to forge a new life in such a hostile world, and how her own views begin to transform.

The Not So Good

Second half: The narrative slows down a lot in the second half of the book. After the set-up of  this new future, we really delve into the narrative of Hannah’s journey. Although it is interesting to see how she deals with what happens to her, and the new people she encounters as a result of her circumstances, it doesn’t make for the same addictive reading as the first part of the book. At some points, it feels as though too many negative things are being thrown at our main character where the story takes on a kind of soap opera feel, however, Jordan’s writing  manages to remain sharp and keeps you interested enough in the character to overlook these elements.

Overall view

A great book which gets you thinking about current issues being debated in the US (and to some extent, globally). The creativity behind the set-up of this dystopian future is what works best for this book, and is more than motivation to read it.

You’ll like it if you liked: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)