Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Pre-Christmas Stardust

Having seen the film a few times I thought it might spoil the book experience a bit as I started tucking into Neil Gainman's Stardust, but it turns out the storylines only loosely fit each other. A nice easy read - and something a bit less haunting after Birdsong - so pretty much exactly what I needed! It's such a good fun story, with various tangents that crop up and lead you into some very strange scenarios and has the odd touch of graphic violence to keep you on your toes (wasn't expecting that at all!). I'm definitely slacking a bit now - it's taken me over a week to read that little gem, despite being the kind of book I could probably have digested in a day if I'd been willing. But it's only 12 days until the winter festivities are in full swing, so I've allowed myself a bit of time for tree decorating, present buying and, of course, for guilty pleasure television.
I'm reaching a point where my supplies of books that are as yet unread are diminishing fast so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that santa will be deilvering a few soon. I'm about a third of the way into the list now, 33 down and a whole lot more to go. http://apps.facebook.com/booklistchallenge/List/?l=1293
I'm struggling to pick something for just before Christmas - might have to go for American Gods now that I'm in the Neil Gaiman mood. Or perhaps a bit of Terry Pratchett. I wonder if the experience of having my nose in a fantasy book will be enhanced now that my flat is filled with fairy lights and tinsel...

Monday, 28 November 2011

Birdsong - an incredible read

Well, no one warned me quite how affecting Birdsong is. I couldn't put it down, but half the time couldn't read the words for welling up. I don't think I've ever read anything, or seen a film that gives you quite such a personal account of life in the trenches. Reading about the war usually allows you some distance, but this book makes it so personal that you get completely sucked in. It's so clever in the use of context. Characters that I could easily dislike in another novel became the ones I was most fond of, and most precious about if it's possible to feel protective of a fictional figure. The events they go through in the book and as a result the perspective of life they have are so well described that you shift your own boundaries of what is 'likable' in a person. It's a very humbling read.
I've travelled a lot. I read a lot. I studied anthropology and I try to always open my mind to learning about the world from every source available. But reading Birdsong just reminded me of how sheltered our lives are. How different things are now and how privaledged we are to live in a world which was created for us by generations before us who gave up their lives so we could have the protected, safe environment we do now. And that there are still people who dedicate their lives to ensuring it stays that way. I always find it hard to read or see things that relate to war. I find it very upsetting to think about the horrors that people have faced (and are facing) in fighting for whatever cause is on the table at the time. But I loved this book. Every page of it.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Severe blog neglect

Wow, has it really been that long since I last logged in? Eeesh, must remember to look back into the real world every now and again. Apologies for any typos but I'm typing this entry one-handed having had a bit of a fight with my bedroom door and broken a finger last week. Not the best thing I've ever done, but the long wait for the operating table to come free in the hospital meant I could finally get in a few good hours quality book time without feeling guilty about the indulgence. Every cloud and all that...
I found Dracula to be pretty heavy going if I'm being honest. I enjoyed it, and can see why it's such a popular novel with the impressive detail, beautifully descriptive and elegant language and the way the suspense builds, but the trouble I had was that it's so famous. All of the great revelations throughout the book are things you already know so the element of mystery that it must hold for anyone who doesn't know the story of Dracula is really diminished. The other big problem I had with it was the constant battle I was having with my own brain to not read Van Helsing's voice in a Jamaican accent. It was a fleeting moment where I thought the writing style gave him a caribbean twang and the next thing I know everytime he spoke I found myself developing his creole. Sigh. I do wish I had more control over my mind sometimes. He still remains my favourite character in the book. I spent a lot of time finding dark, quiet places to read it in the hope that the atmosphere would get me more into the spirit, but sadly I wasn't drawn in to the degree I'd hoped and found myself flagging a bit towards the end. Still, glad to have read it!
I've popped the Hobbit in my bag with the intention of that being the new venture, but I'm now wondering if perhaps I need something more modern to boost my enthusiasm again. I really want my next one to be something I can't put down... may need to get a bit of advice from the Twitter crew on what's going to give me that brilliant book buzz back.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Pride, Prejudice and WBN 2012!

I've loved reading Pride and Prejudice again so many years after the first time. I'd completely forgotten how much I enjoy it. Mr Bennet is by far my favourite character for his one liners, dry sarcasm and mostly for his quiet tolerance of a busy-body wife. I must be a bit of a romanic at heart as I still swoon over Mr. Darcy and shed a tear or two when the stiff upper lip finally drops to admit his feelings. It's a real pleasure re-visiting some of these classics, and I'm thinking it might be appropriate to start Dracula next with it being Halloween. I was served by a zombie in tesco the other day. And contrary to what horror films would have you believe it actually brightened my day a bit, he was a very amiable chap and quite smiley for the undead...
The other thing that's really brightened my day is getting my application in for WBN 2012! Loving the list again this year, and it's already added a few titles to my ever growing list of things I need to read (this challenge may actually carry me through to my 40s at this rate). I've chosen Touching the Void as my number one - nice surprise to see that one on the list! It's one of the books that I recommend to people time and time again, so if I manage to get chosen again as a giver (and it's with my first choice) I'll love giving that one out. If you haven't read it yet, I really recommend you do. It's incredible. It's basically an account of a climbing accident and the subsequent experiences of those involved - all true and all almost unbelievable. If you're anything like me you'll get to the end feeling somewhat blown away and also seeing that human limits are actually way beyond what we think when it comes to the crunch. I can't say I ever warmed to Joe, the guy whose story it is, but I certainly have a huge amount of respect and admiration for him.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Northern Lights

Having seen the film but never read the book, I've been wanting to get my teeth into the first part of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy for a while. And I'm definitely not disappointed! I've caught myself checking for people's daemons walking next to them a few times. It seems most people in our world have canine daemons...
I never thought of myself as a fan of fantasy, but it's impossible not to get drawn into Northern Lights and start believing the magic. Such brilliant escapism and fast paced action all the way through. If I weren't so keen to get through a few more books on the list I'd be straight out to buy book two, but discipline is the key to getting some more ticked off the top 100.
I'm really enjoying this so far, but it's tough finding time to read so much. I always considered reading something of a guilty pleasure; an hour before going to sleep or indulgence when you're on holiday. Incorporating more reading into everyday life has actually changed my habits quite a lot. The trouble is you can't just have a book 'on in the background' while you're cooking or cleaning. Reading demands time and concentration and I think I'm running short on both a lot of the time! I wonder if audio books would be cheating...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Broken eyes

It's been a tough week for my poor little eyes with twelve hours a day staring a computer screen now that the busy season is in full swing at work. Thank goodness that The Book Thief was such an amazing read. The thought of picking up a book at the end of the day to drag my tired eyes over more words could have been enough to make me pack the whole thing in if I hadn't been so engrossed in what was in store next for Liesel. Definitely added that one to my favourites of all time list. I had no idea it was possible to make a tragic and blunt story of a little girl in Nazi Germany into an 'easy read'. I'd catch myself smiling over the brilliantly subtle humour and then be a bit shocked at myself for being able to smile while reading about the desperate situation of a family hiding a Jew in the basement. Within a page I'd be in tears again (people on my bus definitely starting to think there's something odd about me). It's been a while since I've read a book that made me question my own reactions, perceptions, perspective. Very satisfying to reach the end of a novel and feel you've changed because of it. Only very slightly, but a little adjustment in the way you see the world. That's how I feel after reading The Book Thief. I'll be recommending it to everyone I know.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The dangers of excessive reading

It's somehow accepted that people are on their mobile phones every minute of the day. I barely even snigger now when I walk into a bar and see a table full of people out for a drink together, and every single one of them is engrossed in their smartphone. I always mocked people for it, called them anti-social, wondered why they aren't engaging with the fabulous real world around them rather than the virtual one on a miniature screen. But I've become one of those incredibly anti-social types since starting this challenge. And I think it's to a whole new level. At least when someone is texting, or checking emails, or Tweeting they tend to look up every now and again, say a few words, engage in a bit of conversation. But having my head in a book, especially books as good as the ones on this list means there's no drawing me out of there. I'm reading in every spare minute I get. I can squeeze a page in while in the supermarket queue. I'll get through a couple of chapters on my bus to work - and have on more than one occasion missed my stop when the plot reaches a gripping point just at the moment I ought to be ringing the bell. I've walked into numerous lamp-posts, tripped over a dog and, on one occasion, almost sat on someone's knee all because I'm trying to make every reading minute count. I'm a walking hazard. And now it's at the point where I'll be sat in the pub and while waiting for whoever I'm meeting have that fatal thought of 'I'll just read a few pages while I'm waiting'. And that's it. I'm back into the book and my poor friend will have got through most of their beer before I find a point I can bear to drag my eyes away from fiction and back to reality. So far everyone is being very understanding, but I'm guessing their tolerance has a limit.
I fear this is going to have a devastating effect on my ability to socialise. As I'm venturing into The Book Thief I think the 'can't put it down' syndrome is only going to get worse. So many people are telling me it's an incredible read. Perhaps I need to set some boundaries. Have reading slots planned into my day. But to be honest a little bit of me is tempted to just become a recluse for a while and fully indulge...

Friday, 23 September 2011

Priorities and panic

I promised that I'd post an updated list of which books I've already read to get my priorities in order, and as if by magic the lovely World Book Night people have popped the list into a handy Facebook app that allows you to tick them off as you go. Fabulous stuff. So, here's my 'done and to do' list as it stands. http://apps.facebook.com/booklistchallenge/List/?l=1293
I'm about a third of the way through Little Women, and it's not at all like I expected it to be! I feel like I'll be a far more moral person by the end of this. Or at the very least be aware of the virtues I ought to have...
Almost had heart failure today when I saw that WBN had tweeted the url to this little blog of mine. I'll do my best to keep it entertaining... and if anyone can offer any advice on how to finally make it through Catch 22 which I have attempted to read about 4 times in my life and never made it through I'd be very appreciative. Might just put that one off for a while. See if I can get my numbers up to boost my confidence before tackling it.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Mockingbird shooting draws a tear

Ok, so I said I love a weepy book and I'd forgotten just how heart-wrenching To Kill a Mockingbird is. Fabulous read. Thoroughly enjoyed every page. And I'm considering working 'nome' into my vocabulary, but I suspect it's less endearing when coming from a grown English woman rather than an American child with a lovely southern drawl. Ah well. I'm getting into the pace a bit more now and have jumped straight into Little Women. Shocked at myself for never having read it before, it has been sat on my shelf for about eight years I think.
I got far too excited yesterday when my Amazon package arrived containing the the next delights to add to the somewhat intimidating stack that is now growing in my living room. The Book Thief and Birdsong look intriguing. I'm a little concerned that since so many of the most-loved books in the world centre around hard-hitting, traumatic and emotional experiences I may come out of the other end of this feeling it's a tough old world and wondering where the joy is. Hopefully I'll come out with a new appreciation of my own circumstances and realising how lucky I am to not be any of the characters in these books!

Monday, 19 September 2011

One Day

I got really into David Nicholls' One Day. Really easy read and enjoyed the story. Brilliantly observational, with loads of quirky and amusing characteristics that were rather too easy to relate to at times (I won't specify which ones rang true for me!). The realism to the writing made the characters seem far less fantastical than a lot of fiction, and I thought the pace of the book reflected the lightening speed at which life really does seem to fly past. The trouble is (and I suppose this is part of the problem in reading a book that's had so much hype) I read so many reviews of this being an incredible, moving, heart-breaking book that I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't blown away. My tissue box remains untouched, and I haven't spent any time sobbing into my pillow. And being a typical woman I definitely love a bit of drama in my life so any book that can draw the tears is a winner for me... Still, a good start to the reading challenge. On with To Kill a Mockingbird now. I have actually read this one before, but it seems like a good excuse to enjoy a few of the classics again. I'm going to have to try and pick up the pace a bit though. Fine line between getting through as many of these as possible and actually enjoying the books as I read them!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The challenge...

It's a really bad idea to ever say the world 'challenge' to me. I can't help but bite. And so when I was browsing Twitter for the latest updates and saw that the World Book Night top 100 had been announced, closely followed by the setup of a #WBN100readingchallenge hashtag I was bound to get on board. So here it is, the start of a somewhat impossible task of reading all 100 of the shortlisted books. Have a look at the list http://www.worldbooknight.org/your-books/the-wbn-top-100-books
The idea is to get through them all before World Book Night, which occurs on the 23rd April 2012, but that would give me roughly two days per book(!) so while I'm willing to have a bash at reading them all, I'll be making a few allowances for having a full time job, writing this blog, having something of a life etc. and be aiming to read as many of the 100 as possible... Better to start with a bit of realism ;)
In light of the likely impossibility of getting through all of them, I'm going to start with making my way through all the ones I've never read before. That makes the list a little less daunting. I'll post the amended list to this soon, feel free to make recommendations of which ones I should go for first. I'm thinking alternate the easy reads with the heavy subjects and tough writing - all motivating comments will be really welcome!
And before we get into too much geek-bashing - yes I love books, yes I use Twitter, yes I live alone, no I do not have cats or smell of wee. Yet.
So, onwards with David Nicholls' One Day since it's in every bookshop window in sight at the moment...