Recommendations!

I got up crazy late today and even though I’ve got work in the morning (yawn) I know there’s no way I’m going to be able to sleep. But before I head off to bed with A Street Cat Named Bob (what I’m currently reading- sorry, I realise that sounded more than a little strange) I thought I’d make a quick post. I’m going to recommend ten books off the top of my head and give a brief reason why- these won’t be books I’ve mentioned in previous posts. So! Here goes:

1. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. It’s a really thought provoking, gritty and very realistic story of racism and friendship. But there’s a twist; it’s been reversed so that white people- the Noughts- are discriminated against rather than black Crosses. Difficult to put down and a fascinating examination of racism and society.

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. You may think you know the story of Victor Frankenstein and his Promethean ambition, but unless you’ve read the book, you probably don’t. It’s more than just a green man with bolts in his neck (the Creature is not green nor does he have bolts in his neck) running around and terrorising villages. It’s about relationships, society, family, ambition and prejudice, and although it’s an imperfect novel in many ways, it’s a fantastic read. It’s quite wordy in places but much easier to read than I expected.

3. The Lying Game by Sara Shepard. More for girls than boys, this is an addictive tale of friendship, duplicity and murder… Easy to read and impossible to put down!

4. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. A story of lost innocence, nostalgia and yearning, which examines the ‘Golden Age’ of the early 19th century and asks whether it was really that golden.

5. 1984 by George Orwell. Although I found it difficult to get into, it is undoubtedly an iconic and fascinating book. It’s incredibly thought provoking and although the protagonist is unlikeable, he is also quite sympathetic. What struck me most about this book was the ending- if Winston had died, it would have been sad but also hopeful, as he would have died fighting, but instead his spirit is crushed and he lives on, loving his oppressors, which is infinitely more depressing.

6. Animal Farm by George Orwell. A short political allegory, beautifully  written and a very interesting read.

7. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker. A truly brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction. An aspect of the book that I liked was that it included no male surnames, reflecting upon how males were perhaps all the same to the protagonist; alien, violent, unknowable.

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. A brilliant and touching book, incredibly difficult to put down! It’s very funny in places and intensely sad in others- a true masterpiece and I look forward to watching the film.

9. Othello by William Shakespeare. It really is a great story and ahead of its time- if you don’t want to read it then at least go and see the play!

10. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Absolutely tragic and a must for anyone who’s interested in literature. Most of you probably will have read it anyway though- generations have studied this book for GCSE (or O-Levels, as they were once called…)

Anyway, that’s my random list of good reads. Night!

P.S. What are YOUR reading recommendations? Please let me know in a comment!

Advertisements

The perks of ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’

This book, written by Stephen Chbosky, is relatively well-known amongst young bookworms, but anyone who has been through high school (or secondary school as it’s called here in the UK) will be able to relate to this book. I had a very difficult secondary school experience; I was a wallflower, like Charlie. I (thought that I) was in love with someone that barely knew who I was, I wasn’t ever invited to parties and I was afraid to be assertive- I did what other people told me to and never made any bold moves. Reading did help me through secondary school, but the main character always became the centre of attention, somehow befriended the popular kids or fell in love with someone who loved them back. In short, the main character of most books, especially a large proportion of the books that I was reading at the time, were heroes. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was so refreshing because Charlie isn’t a hero. He doesn’t, like most protagonists in Young Adult fiction, start off as a wallflower and transform into a heroic, well-loved figure- he remains a wallflower for the entire book. This is what really makes it stand out from the rest of the coming-of-age fiction, for me at least.

In my opinion, one of the most poignant moments in the book- and there are a few- is when Sam tells Charlie that he can’t just be a shoulder to cry on- he’s got to be a pair of arms that can embrace someone and lips that can kiss someone. She tells him not to fear rejection, which a lot of people my age do, because if you like someone, you should kiss them, and if they don’t like it they can just tell you to stop. You’ve really got nothing to lose. It gave me a completely different perspective of things and made me stop living in fear of rejection. For me it is one of those rare books that comes along and changes your life.

One-Day-Ful!

Sorry about the cheesy pun! I’m trying to come up with imaginative titles for my posts and this was the best I could come up with- I’m not very witty or a natural comedian. But anyhoo, I’m reading ‘One Day’ (as you might have guessed). It’ s written by David Nicholls, who I hadn’t heard of previously but is actually a fantastic writer- the book is funny, poignant and a fantastic love story.

But the critics on the back of the jacket could have told you that. ‘One Day’ is about more than Emma and Dexter (wonderful protagonists though they are); it’s about ageing, growing, changing. We travel with them through twenty years of their lives- we experience their ups and downs, career changes, new homes and new partners, with their love for each other constant the whole way through, even when they don’t like each other much. The changes that the protagonists go through reflect the experiences that everyone has between the ages of twenty and forty- being radical, being oversexed, holidays, awful jobs, drink, drugs, going to parties, feeling down, settling down, parenthood, break ups, loss, letdowns and family divisions. It’s the coming of age novel for an older generation. It really is an incredible book, not to mention it’s easy to read and impossible to put down. ‘One Day’ is an absolute must for any book lover, especially if you like a bit of romance, like me. And though it essentially is a romance novel, it’s not too soppy, but paints a more realistic picture of romance, bittersweet, painful, yet irresistible.

What did YOU think of ‘One Day’? Let me know!

Gatsby- truly Great!

I read The Great Gatsby in just under two days after downloading it on my Kindle. I’d had the intention of reading it for some time, but it was on my rather vague list of books to read sometime in the future. However, I saw the trailer for the new film adaptation of the novel and decided that, since I’d finished Dracula the night before, now was as good a time as any to read it, and I’m very glad I did. It’s a truly fantastic book, funny, ironic and tragic too. You feel as though you’re there in New York with Nick Carraway, associating with the unhappily-married Buchanans and the somewhat unlikeable Jordan Baker. In fact, most of the characters in the book are unlikeable to some degree, particularly white-supremacist and adulterer Tom Bunchanan. There is nothing particularly charming about Wilson or his wife, Jordan Baker seems cold and Daisy, though I liked her at first, eventually made me want to tear my hair out with her cowardice and selfishness. I found the enigmatic Gatsby easily the most likeable character in the novel, and although he was by no means perfect- a bootlegger clinging on to an unachievable dream- he is also noble in many ways and generally affable. Yet he is not well-liked by the denizens of New York; it is his notorious parties which attract them to his West Egg mansion. Whilst they are happy enough to go there whilst Gatsby is alive, just one of his party guests attends his funeral. Gatsby’s world was certainly glamorous and charming, filled with pleasure, but in the end it is revealed as lonely. This is an reflection upon the nineteen twenties society; morals and values were quickly disappearing in the pursuit of pleasure, and so whilst Gatsby’s guests were happy to enjoy his alcohol, just one of the hundreds had the decency to stand beside his grave. For me, this also reflects upon the fickle nature of popularity. Gatsby had hundreds of ‘friends’ who frequented his lavish home, yet just there are just three guests at his funeral. 

What did you think of the Great Gatsby? I would love it if you left a comment! 

Spec-Dracula!

So I finished reading Dracula a couple of nights ago and I was pleasantly surprised. The Hollywood adaptations and modern day conceptions of the book had me expecting an over-dramatic, gory end but in actual fact I thought it was an apt ending to the tale. It was certainly tense and I was worried that Mina would join the Undead. I thought that the at first barely noticeable changes in her were very skilfully done and at first I couldn’t help but wonder if she was pregnant, and perhaps her symptoms were being mistook for vampirism. (I’ll follow up with a post about the lovely Mrs. Harker.) For some reason I found the scene where Mina and Van Helsing rose from behind the rock and pointed their weapons at the gypsies, along with the other men, particularly poignant, perhaps because of the show of unity and the solidity of the friendship that the protagonists had managed to find whilst battling the Count. Another interesting element was the relief that the Count is said to exhibit just after he is stabbed in the heart by Quincey. Of course, the Count is a largely unsympathetic character but in including the sentence describing his relief after being  laid to rest, he prevents Dracula from becoming a purely one-sided, melodramatic villain. The idea of vampirism taking over even the purest of souls also struck me as interesting. It was not the characters in themselves who were ‘bad’ but rather vampirism that made them that way. Whether intentional on Stoker’s part or not, I feel that this perhaps says something about those who are perceived as evil. Maybe they are not innately cruel, but are made that way, for one reason or another. In some cases, evil acts are triggered by mental illnesses and so the person committing the acts is a victim too, just like Lucy, the three women and the Count himself were all victims, even though they committed treacherous deeds. 

Gone with the Wind!

There are numerous references to Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel in popular culture, but I’d never been inclined to read it until I stumbled across it whilst looking for another book in Waterstone’s. I read the first few pages and decided to buy it but left it on the shelf and sauntered off to browse in another section. When I returned, it was gone, which taught me a valuable lesson: never let go of a book you want to buy! Luckily, my sister bought me a copy for my birthday and I began to read. I’ll admit that I was slightly daunted by its length- 1011 pages- but that ceased to matter once I’d read the first chapter. I was engrossed and I couldn’t get enough. It really brought the culture of the southern states- so rich and charming, yet oppressive- to life. I was also enchanted by the protagonist, the selfish, sparkling Scarlett O’Hara of Tara. She was utterly ruthless, unlike myself, and yet I found that I was able to identify with her on many levels and I admired her for daring to rebel against the expectations of her friends and neighbours. Her imagined romance with Ashley Wilkes was another thing that struck a chord with me- what teenage girl hasn’t convinced herself that the object object of her affections loves her back? As happens with so many teenage girls, Ashley sent her mixed signals and clouded her judgement. What the reader can see so clearly, but what Scarlett fails to grasp, however, is that her true love, the man she belongs with, is the enchanting Rhett Butler…

Oh Rhett Butler! I’m sure I speak for every female reader of this book when I say that I am completely and utterly in love with Mr. Butler. Like Scarlett, he doesn’t belong in the mannered southern society, and his wit, charm and nerve make him loveable to a twenty-first century audience, yet detested by his contemporaries. A truly unique hero, flawed yet impossibly charming.

As for the historical context, Gone with the Wind is the type of novel that makes me excited about history. It’s fascinating to observe the changes that the society went through on one hand, without losing sight of its values- better to starve than associate with the Yankees! Before reading Gone with the Wind, I had little idea about the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, but this novel sparked an interest in the Confederacy and its downfall!

What I’m reading now…

I’m currently reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula and I’m really enjoying it! I decided to read it after studying Frankenstein at college as I wanted to experience some more Gothic fiction. I’m about 3/5 of the way through and although it took me a while to get into it, I find that I’m totally gripped now! I’ll write a full review of it when I’m finished but I’d just like to mention a few interesting points…

– Mina Harker. I don’t have a broad experience of the Gothic, but it seems to me that women tend to play a rather submissive role in these novels. Indeed, it was delicate Lucy Westenra who first fell victim to the malicious Count and rather than a male character. Yet whilst Lucy was unable  to defend herself, Mina seems ready to fight the Count alongside the men. I’ll be keeping an eye on Mrs. Harker…

Renfield. The mystery of this strange man is just being uncovered. It was clear he had some connection to the Count, his ‘master’, but I’m uncertain as to what this link could be. He is, without doubt, a fascinating character, and I have a feeling I’m going to be kicking myself when all is revealed…

Van Helsing. I love him!

Have you read Dracula? What did you think of the novel? Please leave your thoughts in a comment!

Introduction…

Well, I’ve always been absolutely terrible at writing introductions. It’s always the worst bit of writing an essay, yet introductions are so vital. They have the power to hook you, absorb you, thrill you and above all, to make you think ‘this is the book for me’. One of my favourite introductions is the famous first line of L.P. Hartley’s The Go Between: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’

In short, this blog is going to be about literature of all kinds and the plethora of interpretations of a single text- perhaps even a single line. You can’t make literature fit into a box, just like you can’t sum up a person in a sentence, and so it is my belief that in their own way, books are alive. 

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com! This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

Happy blogging!