Bloggiesta (Autumn 2016)

It’s Bloggiesta time! The challenge is running from 15th-18th September, and I have a short to-do list.

-Update my About page
-Finish three half-written posts and schedule them
-Go through old Classics Club memes and write responses to a couple that interest me
-Do one of the mini-challenges

I’m aiming to publish two posts a month from now until the end of the year. That might not sound like very much, but I’m very busy with my PhD and it’s still twice what I’ve been doing recently. Building up a stack of posts during Bloggiesta sounds like a good way to start.

Is anybody else participating?

20 Books of Summer 2016

Cathy at 746 books runs a challenge every year to read 20 books from 1st June to 5th September. This year, mostly because I like writing lists, I’ve decided to join in. I mean, I’m cheating a little bit, because I’ll be reading a couple for my book club already and I’ve included those. Even so, here is my fairly ambitious TBR (links are to the relevant Goodreads page): Continue reading

Bout of Books May 2015

My “regular Friday posts” thing never did work out. That’s okay. It was an ambition, not a hard-and-fast rule. In fact, I suspect that blog posts are going to become more sporadic for a while, rather than less. The PhD is turning into a time-sucking social-life-devouring monster, and, as much as I love to read, the few hours I currently have which aren’t devoted to my research or my “real” job are spent on top priority activities, like sleeping and eating and trying to keep my flat inhabitable.

Continue reading

Austen in August & Pride and Prejudice reread

My relationship with Jane Austen is, I think, a bit complicated. I read all of her works in my early teens, and mostly didn’t like them very much. I think I was too young for them, and moved onto Wuthering Heights, which (rather worryingly, when considered as a commentary on my teenage mental health) I thought was much more realistic and enjoyable. Continue reading

Classics Club spin list #1

Since signing up for the Classics Club, I haven’t done quite as well as I might have hoped. I’ve read three of my 50 books (Agnes Grey by Charlotte Brontë, Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, and Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell), and only reviewed one of them. A review for Ruth is in the works; however, immediately after reading Metamorphosis, I decided that I will definitely have to read the original German text before I can review it, because I could clearly spot places where the translation was letting it down. Whilst that’s fine, and a good way to practice my rather rusty German, it is taking a while. I’ve even acquired many of the books I want to read (I recently moved flat, and my local Oxfam bookshop is now perilously close; also, I found out about the very generous Foyles loyalty scheme)–I just haven’t picked too many of them up.

In order to rectify that, I’m participating in the Classics Club Spin, which is far better described on their own blog. Below, I have to list 20 books that I have yet to read as part of the challenge. On August 11th, they will announce a number between 1 and 20, and I will then have to read that book by October. Sounds doable, right? Right. Here’s my spin list, as per their category suggestions.

5 books I’m dreading:

1) The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
2) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
3) Ulysses by James Joyce
4) Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory
5) The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

5 books I can’t wait to read:

6) I, Claudius by Robert Graves
7) Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
8) Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
9) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
10) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum

5 books I’m neutral about:

11) The Professor by Charlotte Brontë
12) Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
13) The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
14) A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
15) The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

5 Penguin English Library editions that I want an excuse to buy*:

16) Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
17) Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
18) A Room with a View by EM Forster
19) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
20) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

 

I anticipate 11th August with excitement and trepidation, and a determination to finish The Great Gatsby before then. Here goes…

 

*All right, so this wasn’t one of their categories. They did say ‘free choice’, though…

Cinder

Title: Cinder: The Lunar Chronicles

Author: Marissa Meyer

Rating: 3/5

I read this back in February, and though I raced through it, and even stayed up late to finish it (which I don’t do half as often as I used to, having reached the greatly advanced stage of life that is the mid-twenties), I’m still not sure if I really enjoyed it. Part of what I promised myself when I started the blog was that I would read more broadly, and Cinderella with cyborgs is definitely rather out of my comfort zone. I am not a great fan of fairytale retellings, and am fairly new to sci-fi. I think I’m glad that I gave it a try, but I haven’t rushed to read the other books in the series and I probably won’t do so. Continue reading

Underhyped reads

Although I enjoyed my experience of the Dewey 24-hour readathon back in April, I’m still fairly new to the concept of readathons. However, the idea of reading as a group activity, of a whole load of people from many different countries collectively reading and engaging with and enthusing about books–that seems to me to be exactly what the internet should be for. With that in mind, I am participating in the Underhyped Books readathon this week. There’s a Goodreads group that has been set up with all the relevant information (https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/137329-the-under-hyped-readathon); for my purposes, all that’s really important is that the books selected have under 5000 ratings on Goodreads. This is something new for me, since I read so many classics (all of which have tens of thousands of GR ratings), so I’m being forced out of my literary comfort zone. It’s an interesting experience, and here’s an approximate TBR:

Falling Sideways by Tom Holt (910 ratings)
Everland by Rebecca Hunt (44 ratings)
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie (3294 ratings)
The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble (1380 ratings)

I’m currently 160 pages into Falling Sideways, and, truth be told, I’m hoping it gets better soon. At the moment, it strikes me as snide without being funny, and that’s a quality that always irritates me in any writing. However, I read and loved The Portable Door and various other Tom Holt comic fantasy novels, so maybe this one will pick up–I’m not even halfway through at the moment. I’ve also just finished working night shifts, so maybe I’m just in a grumpy mood. I’ll have a nap and a cup of coffee, and see if it improves accordingly 🙂

Thanks to Ramblings of an Elfpire for setting up this readathon! I’m having a lot of fun chatting with people in the Goodreads group and getting book recommendations, even if what I’m reading at the moment isn’t as satisfying as it could be. I’ll post another couple of updates throughout the week and a wrap-up at the end. Let me know what underhyped books you love–I’m always on the lookout for recommendations!

Readathon wrap-up and #colourmyshelf

Well, I made the whole 24 hours (more-or-less… I had a little accidental nap around the 4pm mark—which was about 15 hours in—and woke up with my face squashing The Strangler Vine, which is unfortunate; before that, it had been easily one of the most beautiful books on my shelf), so I have a little bit more to say about what I read:

1) Finished The Strangler Vine, which I continued to really enjoy. I think that the reviews and blurb calling it a ‘romp’ were a bit inaccurate; to me, it seemed almost more of a bildungsroman, with the quality of the character development far outstripping the niceties of the plot—but more of that in my proper review and discussion, which will be up shortly.

2) Also, I finally read The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean, which has been on my TBR since it was released when I was, oh, eleven or twelve, maybe? Honestly, I really didn’t enjoy it much. I don’t want to write a proper review, since I’m aware of the fact that I read it after I’d been reading for twenty hours straight and my perspective might have been skewed as a result. A quick summary, though: Haoyou is a twelve-year-old boy living in a poor Chinese family when China was ruled by the Kublai Khan. After his father dies, he leaves town with a circus troupe and rides kites for the benefit of the crowds.

I will say that I think it was hampered by the first person narrative. McCaughrean discusses a lot of important things that I think should be discussed in children’s literature: child abuse, domestic violence, gender dynamics. I even think that she discusses them in the kind of way that is appropriate when trying to talk about these things with children. It’s the kind of book that I can see a worthy, Guardian-reading, lentil-cooking parent reading with a child, and working through the issues; it’s very much a book-club kind of book. However, reading it alone, without having a structure with which to ask those questions, is a less satisfying experience. It’s clear to an adult reading the book that many aspects of the cultural set-up in ancient China are troubling to modern eyes, and it’s also clear that McCaughrean is not condoning these things in any way. The problem is that Haoyou is such an accurately-realised product of those times: as a working-class, uneducated boy, growing up in an environment when women were property and children were a nuisance, he unconsciously echoes those attitudes and values constantly. The dismissive way he speaks of and corrects his cousin, Mipeng, even though she is a grown woman and he is a twelve-year-old boy, is very telling. It also doesn’t seem that he ever entirely learns that this is an unacceptable way to think about women, even though other characters occasionally demonstrate other attitudes.

The same goes for the financial and emotional abuse perpetrated on Haoyou and his mother throughout the novel by the family patriarch: although these issues are slightly resolved in the closing two or three pages of the novel, there isn’t really sufficient closure, given that this book is aimed at children and some quite serious issues have been raised. Haoyou’s lack of education and the ingrained customs of his family may well account for his unquestioning nature and acceptance of the world around him, but it also makes him an unsatisfying narrator. I wanted to see more character development in him.

Well, that was my readathon! I think I read about 1200 pages in 24 hours. Not bad, really, and overall I very much enjoyed the experience. However, if I am to do it again, I’d like to convince a crazy friend or two to embark on it with me in the flesh. I realised, about 14 hours in, that I was mostly doing the readathon to distract myself from the fact that I was lonely and bored on a Saturday, with nothing to do except go (voluntarily) into work. Doing something as solitary as reading (even with all the wonderful online support) to distract myself from the fact that I am by myself is actually a good way for me to make myself feel more lonely, not less. I would happily participate again, but I would want to have a friend with me some of the time to remind me of all the excellent IRL friends I have. I know a lot of people are very happy with internet friends, and I’m not knocking that at all, but sometimes I need people to be in the flesh, in my living room, drinking tea and arguing loudly about metaphor. This, I think, is a useful thing to learn.

Also, next time I would definitely plan in advance. I would allow myself 24 hours off the diet and prepare delicious baked goods in advance in case of tiredness. Even more of a reason to make it a readathon party, I guess!

 

(&, briefly, a footnote re: ‘#colourmyshelf’ and the BookCon debacle)

On an entirely different note, I’m aware of the issues that have sprung up around BookCon the past week or so. (If you aren’t, I suggest starting with this excellent post by BookRiot, and then following their coverage of it so far). One of the things that struck me was the comment that we, as readers, also need to demand fiction by authors of all creeds and colours—otherwise profit-driven publishers will have no reason to publish books by people of colour. Reading the coverage made me think about my reading habits. I went through my ‘read’ and ‘to-read’ lists on Goodreads with a fine toothcomb, and was surprised and upset to find that there are only a few books on there by non-white authors. I had no idea that I was part of the problem. With this in mind, I’ve bumped the few books that were on my to-read list a lot closer to the top (I have wanted to read Persepolis for years, for example, and never got round to it). I’m also on the hunt for good #colourmyshelf recommendations. I had a look on twitter but all the recommendations I could find were for steampunk, which is really not my genre at all. Any suggestions? Now that I’m aware of the problem, I can take a (small) step towards fixing it.