A (brief) apology!

I’m making this quick, because lately wordpress won’t let me post anything longer than a few lines and it’s seriously annoying! I have been writing posts, but they’re just not sending- I’m not neglecting you all! 

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Conscience

Conscience by Johnny Tait

I picked this book up at about half past one today and three and a half hours later, I finished it. Not only is it very easy to read, it’s also hugely gripping and it leaves you eager to find out what happens next.

I was lucky enough to meet the author when he was doing a signing at Waterstone’s a couple of months ago, which was my primary motivation for buying the book. He was lovely and even signed my copy- I think it’s the only signed copy of a book that I have!

Conscience is based in part on actual events and its main theme is justice and its perversion, namely by the legal system. It focuses on the corruption of the police force and their failure to deliver justice to those who deserve it. Part of the plot is based on the infamous and controversial Derek Bentley case, which resulted in the hanging of a mentally disabled young man. The three main characters find themselves in a room which I at first assumed to be purgatory but later thought of as hell. They tell their stories to one another and each of them has a guilty conscience. Each of them has caused or been a recipient of suffering through manipulation of the legal system. Their tales interweave and even if we don’t like them, we can at least sympathise with them. However, it seemed very obvious to me that the characters were all from different time periods, although that is never overtly revealed. It is also never confirmed as to where they are, or why- but it seems clear to me that they have all died. Much is left open to interpretation and I feel that a sequel is in order…

This book is gripping, chilling and unexpectedly funny in places. It’s a critique on society. It has also been adapted into a play, which I am definitely planning on seeing- I think it will translate incredibly well. I’d definitely recommend this!

Have YOU read Conscience, or seen the play? What did you think? Please let me know!

Grey and his fifty shades, Ana and her three personalities

Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James

I finished the second book in the Fifty Shades trilogy last night and I’m not sure if I’m going to bother reading the third. Whilst this book is definitely better than its predecessor, I am officially sick of Anastasia Steele. She whines when Christian buys her a new car, manages to attract every man to her and cries at the smallest thing- leaving me with the urge to scream “grow a pair!” What annoys me most, however, about the needy, weepy, wimpy protagonist is that she seems to have three personalities, and it’s doing my head in. There’s Main Ana, the one who we are with most of the time; her snarky subconscious, who wears half-moon spectacles and wags her finger at whatever Ana does; and her Inner Goddess, who enjoys gymnastics and has a very high libido. I get that you sometimes have unpleasant thoughts flash across your mind or that you have secret longings but James takes this too far and turns these different aspects of Ana’s personality into characters in their own right.

What I did enjoy about this one, though, is the development of Ana and Christian’s relationship, but even that got tedious after a while. Yes, it was interesting to see things evolve for them but it all gets a bit soppy for my liking somewhere around the middle. And marriage, after they’ve know each other for what, five weeks? James seems determined to turn this into a fairytale romance. What I did enjoy, however, was that Ana and Christian had so many issues, just like any regular couple. What irritates me, though, is that he’s so determined that she eat and she’s so unwilling- what normal girl turns down food at every opportunity? But of course, Ana isn’t a normal girl is she? She’s a complete Mary-Sue.

Another of the novel’s many flaws is that James has such a limited vocabulary. The phrase “the apex of my thighs” must appear at least thirty times, and “mercurial” and “boyish” also appear in almost every chapter. Every now and then James will throw in a fancy word to make herself seem sophisticated, but it’s pretty obvious she’s just been using a thesaurus. Still, the annoying “medulla oblongata” has gone, so that’s something- right?

Have YOU read Fifty Shades Darker? What did you think? Please let me know in a comment!

Look what I bought…

I did try and post this yesterday, but it was ‘invalid’. Naughty wordpress.

In the video blogging sphere, this might be called a ‘book haul’, but I’m not going to call it that because a) I don’t want to turn into one of those people who thinks everyone is interested in their every shopping trip and b) it can’t really be called a ‘haul’ because I only bought two books.

Don’t scream at me- I have a Kindle which I love and so to save packing space (and also because my parents pay for my e-books, mwahaha) I’m going to download plenty on there. However, there’s nothing quite like a proper book and it was buy one get one half price- what’s a girl to do?

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

This book has been critically acclaimed and also recommended to me by a friend with excellent taste in books, so it’s been on my to-read list for a while now. I’ve read the first chapter and I already love Mantel’s writing style, so I can’t wait to devour the rest!

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Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green

I hadn’t heard of this book previous to Saturday’s shopping trip but the cover caught my eye when I wandered into Waterstone’s. It’s told from the perspective of an imaginary friend, which immediately appealed to me; it’s a simple but brilliant touch of originality. I’ve read the first two chapters and it seems like a very easy to read book, so if I don’t read it before I go on holiday then I can enjoy it on a sun bed!

Have YOU been book shopping recently? What did you buy? Please let me know!

Middlesex

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

This book is, as the Los Angeles Times puts it “a towering achievement”. It’s a true masterpiece, written with incredible skill. Eugenides creates an absorbing tale which is both remarkable and achievable. When I first picked it up I was expecting a tale of a girl who grows up feeling uncomfortably masculine and undergoes a sex change, but this book has really changed and challenged my views on gender identity. Calliope grows up feeling like a girl and believing that she is one; it is only during adolescence that she starts to suspect that she might not be a ‘normal girl’. The issue is much more complex that I had realised; raised like a girl and not really a tomboy, Callie’s decision to become, or remain, male (depending on how you look at it) is based largely on her sexual preferences.

One of the things that I loved about this book was that it didn’t try to categorise anything. It challenged stereotypes and didn’t present anything as “right” or “wrong” per se- the characters were not “good” or “bad”; Cal explores the grey areas, empathising an understanding characters who might have otherwise been branded as “sick”, as freaks or as “baddies”. And it’s just as well because Middlesex is all about the grey area, about relationships and feelings that, according to the rules of society, should not exist. There is a lot of incest involved in this book and although I struggled initially with it, it didn’t disgust me. Instead of rejecting Desdemona and Lefty’s love, labelling it as “sick” and “wrong”, Eugenides explores it and allows the reader to understand what they are feeling. This once again reminds me of the power of literature to broaden the mind- it helps us understand and go beyond the face value of something.

Another thing I loved was how realistic the novel seemed. The characters, the storyline, the settings… it all seemed entirely plausible. This was helped by Eugenides’ excellent historical and biological research, which helped give Cal’s narrative weight and authority, as well as authenticity. However, although I found the book realistic, the plot twists also often caused me to gasp every now and again. I won’t detail them here because I don’t want to ruin it for those of you who haven’t read it yet, but I certainly didn’t see them coming!

The book also addresses not only the complex issue of gender identity, but of national identity too. What does it mean to be an American- being born in the USA, eating hotdogs and immersing yourself in an American culture, or having a surname  with less than two vowels? Is national identity determined by where you were born and how you were brought up, or by genetics and your ancestors? In a way, the issues of gender and national identity run parallel to one another.

The fact that Eugenides takes the reader through three generations of the Stephanides family gives the story a sense of completeness. We start in 1922 in Greece and travel through three generations until we arrive in 1975, and all of this is being told from the viewpoint of a narrator living in the early 2000s. We have an understanding of all the events which lead up to cause Cal’s condition and also why it went undiscovered for so long. We see the characters evolve over the years and grow to love them, for all their flaws. We understand them.

Therefore, if you haven’t read Middlesex it’s highly recommended. It’s also critically acclaimed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a bestseller, if you need any more convincing!

Have YOU read Middlesex? What did you think? I’d love to know!

Censorship

It’s a hot topic. Some say it’s the only way to protect people, others say it’s an insult and a violation of the freedom of expression- a basic human right. Censorship has existed for many years and has evolved across time. What once was considered as blasphemous and shocking- such as D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover- no longer possesses that same power to horrify. I can’t help but wonder what kind of reception Fifty Shades of Grey would have received in 1929, but I know almost for certain that it would have been banned.

In my opinion, banning books for being too sexually explicit is wrong. People can decide for themselves whether or not they want to read erotica. However, in the United Kingdom at least, the banning of an erotic novel hasn’t happened for a long time (Fifty Shades of Grey is currently being displayed in almost every bookshop and supermarket), which I’m glad about. I understand the concerns over young people reading this kind of material, but banning a book is probably the worst way to get people to stop reading it.

Things get a little more blurry, however, when it comes to issues of race. I am completely against the publishing of any racist books, but a ‘racist book’ is difficult to define. Recently there have been concerns over the use of the word ‘nigger’ in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, with some suggesting that the word ought to be removed from the book. I am against this for two reasons, the first of which being that Steinbeck himself wasn’t calling Crooks a ‘nigger’- the label was given to him by other characters; the narrator does not refer to the character in this way. Secondly, one must consider when the book was written. At the time of writing, racism was rife in America and sometimes people didn’t even call black people ‘niggers’ out of spite- it was just the done thing back then and no-one really thought about it. Nowadays, of course, if you call someone the n-word then it’s a completely different matter. Books written in the twenty-first century citing views that are racist shouldn’t be published, in my opinion. However, how do we discern which works of literature are and are not racist? If a character in a book says the word ‘nigger’ then that doesn’t mean that the author is trying to put across any racist ideas, and if the antagonist in a book is black that doesn’t mean that the author is racist. It’s difficult to know where to draw the line. 

Swearing, too, is a difficult one. Today in the UK I don’t think too much censorship goes on in terms of the use of language in books but I am aware that it perhaps does in other places. Personally, I do not think that potentially offensive language should be removed from a book- we all hear it in our everyday life, regardless of the walk of life from which we hail, and there are very few words left today with a real power to shock. However, I can understand that repeated offensive language could put some people off of a book and thus put a potential publisher off.

All in all, I think censorship should only be used in extreme cases. People are intelligent enough to make their own minds up about what they read and react to it appropriate. A poem in which the speaker grabs a kitchen knife and is suggested to have the intention of using it as a weapon was removed form my GCSE poetry anthology, but I read it anyway and after reading it I did not take to the streets with a knife. However, in extreme cases I can see the need for censorship, namely to prevent an indoctrination of the people- I wouldn’t like to see Mein Kampf on the shelves at Waterstone’s.

What are YOUR views on censorship? Please let me know!

Confession…

Ahem. I have a confession to make.

I did it. I purchased the next ‘Fifty Shades’ book- Fifty Shades Darker– in which the ‘heroine’ (I use the term loosely, she’s not very heroic) and her love interest are separated, much like in New Moon. I do not know why. I haven’t treated myself to a brand new hard-copy book in a while- buying eBooks just isn’t the same. It was on offer and I… I… I just bought it. 

This makes no sense. I am halfway through a Pulitzer Prize winning novel which is fifty times better than Fifty Shades. I’ll admit the first book was addictive but I was going to try and stave off buying the second one for a few weeks at least, but I succumbed. I imagine you’re all ashamed.

This is the thing with Fifty Shades– I know it’s a terrible book but I can’t help it. It’s easy reading, it’s a hot topic and there’s something faintly glamorous about reading it. It’s like the forbidden fruit, even if it’s not one I particularly enjoy eating. 

I’ll keep you posted on what I think of it. I am going to finish Middlesex first, but that’s so darned good that I’ll probably have read that within a day or two. I’m not trying to be a bookish hipster but I feel slightly ashamed to have jumped on the bandwagon. I know that the definition of a ‘good book’ is subjective, but we’re all agreed that Fifty Shades is not high brow. It is, however, addictive.

So that concludes by bookish confession of the day. 

Have YOU read Fifty Shades Darker, or any of the other Fifty Shades novels? Please let me know what you think! 

My to-read list grows… and grows… and GROWS

One of my earliest posts was a to-read list but it was rather short and sweet. It has grown enormously since then, as it always does and I’m wondering how I’ll manage to read everything I would like to….

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbra Kingsolver.

This book is a work of postcolonial literature recommended to me by my English teacher. According to her it is not only a fantastic book but will also provide  a much better understanding of post colonialism, which is what my English Literature coursework is going to be written about in September.

Starter for Ten by David Nicholls.

I read Nicholls’ masterpiece One Day about a month ago and I couldn’t get enough! I’m dying to see if the rest of his work is as good!

Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia.

I have read a few chapters of this but ended up getting sidetracked by GCSEs. It’s y/a fiction, which I’ve pretty much grown out of but since I’ve bought it I think I’ll give it a read. It’s definitely going to be a sun bed book for me though!

Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel.

One of my friends cites this as her favourite book ever, it’s won the Man Booker Prize and it’s a bestseller, so I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it. It’s also a story about the Tudor times which I’m quite interested in but have never studied (unless you count learning to recite divorced-married-died-divorced-beheaded-survived in primary school).

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

I read and loved Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and I think that Wuthering Heights sounds like a fantastic tale of love, jealousy, betrayal and revenge. I love nineteenth century literature, especially the Gothic, so it makes sense for me to read this.

Morella by Edgar Allen Poe.

I’m curious to sample some of Poe’s work and  I once wrote a short story entitled Morella, even though it had nothing to do with Poe’s work. I must have picked up the name from somewhere and now I’m curious to see what parallels there are between this short story and my own. It’s also a Gothic horror story, so it’s right up my street!

The Vampyre by John Polidori.

This was one of the first vampire stories to draw on the idea of a rich, aristocratic vampire and influenced many later works, namely Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I really enjoyed, so I can’t wait to read it!

Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar

I picked this book up and flipped through it a while ago and decided that I wanted to read it, but I didn’t have any money on me at the time (every book lover’s nightmare)!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I’ve been wanting to read this for ages because it reenacts the fall of Adam and Eve through generations of feuding families and the story of Adam and Eve has always fascinated me.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

This book seems to me like one of those that everyone should read- so why haven’t I? I believe that it also explores the darker, more primal side of human nature, something else which deeply interests me.

The list goes on and on, but I can’t I’m afraid! What books are on YOUR to-read list? Please let me know!

Currently reading…

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

This is just a quick post about what I’m currently reading! Some of you may know Eugenides because he has won the Pulitzer Prize, others because of his other successful novel, The Virgin Suicides, which I confess I haven’t read. It’s a tale of a hermaphrodite named Cal (formerly Callie) but, in the tradition of the Greek epic, it’s not just Cal’s story. It begins with the tale of Desdemona and Lefty Stephanides, Cal’s grandparents, in order to explain why Cal is the way he is. But Desdemona and Lefty aren’t just husband and wife- they’re also brother and sister. If you don’t think of Desdemona and Lefty as brother and sister then their story is very sweet but because they are siblings their relationship is fairly difficult to grasp. How can brothers and sisters be attracted to each other? But that’s the beauty of literature- it pushes the boundaries and forces you to consider things that you normally wouldn’t think about, or perhaps avoid thinking about. 

Causation is a major theme within the novel. It is somewhat a re-invention of an epic, a hybrid of Greek and American. Cal often mentions going back to the beginning of things- stories, rivers, production lines. I really like this aspect of the book as it makes me wonder about when a story truly begins. You could trace it back to the beginning of time, I suppose. Really a ‘story’ is not a complete thing, it’s just a snapshot. Cal, however, is trying to provide us with more than that, perhaps because he wants to understand himself and to do that you have to go right back to the beginning.

Anyway that’s all from me tonight. Please let me know what you’re currently reading; I’m always interested! 

Fifty Shades of… What?

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It’s been dubbed Fifty Shades of Sex and Fifty Shades of Shit but for this review I think its original title, Fifty Shades of Grey, is more apt- grey because I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. It is, as I’ve said before, not very well written, and it’s just not distinctive. You wouldn’t read something by an unknown author and say “this is definitely the work of E.L. James!” because it could easily be the work of any young teenager (if it didn’t contain so much sex).  Jessica Reaves claimed that the book is “sprinkled liberally and repeatedly with asinine phrases” and I have to agree- too many repetitions of “holy crap!” make it sound like a bad fan fiction. In fairness to James, this did start out as fan fiction which makes the terrible writing style forgivable…. just.

Furthermore, I can’t work out my feelings about the protagonists. Anastasia Steele is almost identical to every other fan fiction heroine- she’s shy, intelligent, insecure, occasionally witty, frequently at odds with her subconscious (don’t even get me started on her ‘inner goddess’) and hopelessly beautiful, but of course, she doesn’t know it. Whilst Christian Grey claims that she doesn’t “have a submissive bone in [her] body”, I wouldn’t exactly call her dominant either- she’s eager to make him happy and she certainly lets her best friend, Kate, push her around. She also cries whenever Christian leaves her, which I think is a little pathetic. However, it’s her “smart mouth” that saves her. Her email exchanges with Christian are genuinely funny and I did giggle a few times at what she came out with, but having said that, surely someone with a truly smart mouth wouldn’t keep repeating the same few expressions over and over again (but this is more a criticism of James’ writing style). Having said that, some of the expressions the pair use put a smile on my face, such as “laters baby” and I loved the way Christian signed off his emails with things like “Christian Grey, Cad and CEO”. Which brings me nicely onto the subject of our… hero? Villain? Deep down, we all know he’s a hero. He’s caring, he’s occasionally funny and he wants to make Ana happy. He’s certainly attractive (in every chapter there is, without fail, a description of his stomach-melting, heart-wrenching beauty) and he is, in Ana’s own too-often-repeated words “mercurial”. His mood changes swiftly and for all his I’m-the-dominant talk, he sometimes reminds me of a toddler bossing everyone around, wanting desperately to be in charge and everyone just indulges him to keep him happy. James certainly has created an interesting protagonist here and I’m dying to learn more in particular about his relationship with his adoptive mother- there’s definitely more to explore there. Overall, Christian is like a romcom hero with a kinky twist- he starts off all cynical and moody and then softens and becomes all romantic but still won’t admit that he’s fallen for the heroine.

Christian’s volatility and Ana’s vulnerability make them an interesting pair. There relationship is like a see-saw- if someone puts a foot wrong, or a bit too much weight down at one end, the whole thing is unbalanced. Their relationship starts off tense and awkward, then becomes hot and complicated and towards the end it begins to seem almost like a warm, fuzzy, romcom relationship. Were this real, a relationship counsellor would probably have a field day.

Of course, sex is a big aspect of their relationship. Ana loses her virginity to Christian and he awakens desire within her that she never knew existed. They also have sex very frequently, but the book is about more than S&M. However, it is, of course, probably the main reason that the book has accumulated such notoriety within such a short space of time. This book is definitely not one for younger readers!

Sex wasn’t actually my main issue with this book- it was the way in which James desperately tried to prove herself to be intelligent. I believe that Stephanie Meyer does this in Twilight too, with her prophases and anaphases and chromosomes- another similarity between the two series. James throws in several mentions of the medulla oblongata just to show, it seems, that she knows something about anatomy and references several classical writers, mainly Thomas Hardy, in an obvious attempt to seem well-read. I can’t quite put my finger on why this annoy me but perhaps it’s because the author is trying to pretend to be something she’s not. She may be a genius for all I know, but Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t an intellectual book and a few literary references isn’t going to change that- she’d be better off just calling a spade a spade.

In spite of all my criticisms, Fifty Shades is strangely addictive and very easy to read, which has probably contributed hugely to its popularity. You don’t have to be an avid reader to read it, unlike some of the classics, you can just pick it up and go. It’s not a challenge, which is perhaps a factor in its addictiveness.

All in all, Fifty Shades of Grey can only be summed up as a guilty pleasure. It does have a few good ideas in it- I particularly like that Christian tells Ana she shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying S&M. It’s also got the feminist critics going crazy- is it feminist, is it not?- so it’s interesting from that perspective too but essentially I don’t feel that it’s one of the greats of literature. As April Alliston wrote “though no literary masterpiece, Fifty Shades is more than parasitic fan fiction based on the recent Twilight vampire series.”