The Big Read

Books from School – No.8 Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell

And now we have reached it. The only book I hate more than Frankenstein. I just heard the collective intake of breath from around the world because the truth is I have never hated a book more than Nineteen Eight Four. 

Let me explain for I know this is an incredibly controversial opinion. I was forced to read Nineteen Eight Four at the age of 12 in school. Now my reading ability was such that I could mechanically process the progression of the words but what on earth did my teacher expect me to take from such an important political book at such a young age? How was I supposed to empathises with a middle aged man with varicose veins? Forced is the only word I can use to describe my experience reading this book. It got to the point where I literally threw it across the room in frustration and my mum sat me down and read it aloud to me because I couldn’t bear it any more. I have never cared less about a character.

*Enormous spoiler coming up. HUGE SPOILER*

So I trudge my way through this book, barely tolerating Winston, and finally he is taken by the thought police. For the first time I am mildly curious about what is going to happen. Will he escape? Will there be a revolution? Will he find out the truth?

GGGGGGGGAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. No no of course not. It turns out after all this time, after all the stupid little acts of rebellion, after having to put up with this git for several weeks of my life, HE LOVES BIG BROTHER. WHAT WAS THE F***ING POINT??? WHY DID I WASTE MY LIFE READING THIS SH*TTY BOOK FOR IT ALL TO BE FOR NOTHING??? I can’t tell you how angry I was. “Why bother?” I thought “What was the point in trying to resist when it was futile all along?”. 

And that is where I totally missed the point because I was too young to read this book. And now with hindsight I am angry that this classic of English literature has been ruined for me, for I can only think of it with frustration. Had I read it when I could understand that literature is not just about the story you tell but about the statement you make, my opinion would be completely different and I am sure I would be singing its praises here rather than explaining myself. But as it stands I know I will never be able to enjoy Nineteen Eight Four, never be able to appreciate the courage it took to write because I can never forgot the way it made me feel the first time I read it.

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The Big Read

Books from Childhood – No.9 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

This book is so much a part of my childhood that I cannot remember even roughly when I read it. I have just always read it; I feel as if I was born having already read this book. I do remember being aged 8 and getting into the rest of the series because there were some beautifully illustrated editions in my school library but as for the first one…

I can’t even think what to say about it. Okay, let’s try. To start with evacuees seemed like the coolest thing to me as a child, going on an adventure without your parents great right? Then we have a magical land, you know how I feel about those, talking animals and a battle between good and evil? It has all the elements I love and was the first fantasy adventure type I read which lead the way for more stories in the same vein such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Yet Narnia, as I shall call it to avoid having to type out the enormous title, has an innocence that the others don’t; it feels so much more like a children’s book. Perhaps that is why I think of it with a fondness that I do not associate with the others. Although there is danger you never feel worried whilst reading it because you know Aslan has got your back.

Which leads me on to the incredibly heavy religious messages in this book. Even as a child, at whatever age I was when I first read it, I got the message that Aslan was Jesus. It is as subtle as a sledge hammer with crucifixes engraved on it being wielded by the Pope. But, for me, that doesn’t spoil the story because whether you are a Christian or not the message of courage and self sacrifice is universal. As is the idea of redemption. It is nice to know as a child that your mistakes can be forgiven and that you can make amends for bad choices. Oh I am so incredibly fond of this book. I know I definitely checked the back of my wardrobe in the hope of finding another world.

Rating: 5/5

Would recommend to: Parents to read as a bedtime story.  

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The Big Read

Books from Adulthood – No.10 Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

I wish to start by saying that reading this book was what inspired me to start this BBC top 100 challenge in the first place. So that should give you some idea as to my feelings about it in the first place. But the story as to why I read it is even more interesting.

As previously mentioned I took A-level English Literature in one year so I wrote both sets of coursework and took both exams simultaneously. Now for the AS, first year, exam we were studying Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Have I previously mentioned Frankenstein? Well perhaps I shall talk more extensively on it at some point but for now all you need to know is that there is only one book in the world that I hate more and I shall be reviewing that shortly and don’t want to spoil the surprise. Don’t misunderstand me, I do not think it is a bad book I just HATE IT. SO MUCH. GARRAHAHH. I had previously studied it at GCSE level as well and to find out I had to return to it for AS level was heart breaking. But I persevered until 5 weeks before the exam where it got to the point that I couldn’t even look at the book any more without being filled with this insatiable frustration. At which point I looked up the syllabus online and saw that I could do Jane Eyre instead. I started reading that day and begged my teacher the next time I saw her “PLEASE ANYTHING BUT FRANKENSTEIN ” to which she promptly said no.

The end of that story is that I ended up doing Frankenstein in he exam and not doing as well as I should of but then Jane Eyre! I was hooked. Wow is it a good book. I was so caught up in the world that I bought the audio book off Audible so that I could listen to it as I made my textiles coursework. Talk about Gothic atmosphere; Frankenstein doesn’t come anywhere close. There is even the compulsory bit of incest. But what really got me about this book was the female first person narration. There are so many feminist elements to this book that I feel this is often over looked but Jane tells her own story, she has her own voice and that was so uncommon, even Jane Austen’s heroines are written in the third person. This element was even more impactful when experiencing the story in audio book form, just think about that famous line whispered to you like a great secret finally revealed. Plus it was kind of hilarious to hear ‘Jane’s’ impression of Mr Rochester’s deep brooding voice.

This is a book which moved me and changed me. It has had a profound effect upon my character and the way I live my life and it’s a story I never thought I would relate to. At the end of the day it is a romance and there are some rather moralistic elements but it is a story about sticking to what you believe in no matter what. It is a lesson in being self-assured and I strive everyday to be more like Jane Eyre. Reader, read it.

Rating: 5/5

Would recommend to: everyone, especially anyone with an ignorant view of feminism.

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The Big Read

Books from School??? No.12 – Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

I’m not sure how to categorise this one because I was 15 when I read it but it wasn’t on the school curriculum. I read it the week that I did year 10 work experience and I felt very sophisticated sat in Starbucks on my lunch break reading Wuthering Heights.  To tell you the truth I finally read it after meaning to for a long time because it was mention in Twilight and I thought it would make me cool and sophisticated like Bella *cringes*. It actually had a rather adverse effect on my relationship with Twilight when I realised that it was just an enormous rip-off of Wuthering Heights among other classics. Plus as far as dark, brooding love stories go Twilight paled in comparison to this incredible Gothic novel.

Now I don’t really like romances (ignoring my slight teenage blip with Twilight) and I opened this book expecting it to be all star-crossed lovers and tragic heroes but I couldn’t have been more wrong. To start with the novel uses the classic embedded narrative of the Gothic style where the main narrative is recalled by a character in the framework narrative, other examples Frankenstein, The Canterbury Tales. So the first character we meet is this guy Mr Lockwood and we briefly follow his boring exploits of renting his country house then he visits his landlord and we finally meet infamous Heathcliff but he’s a old and not at all like the sexy Byronic hunk I was promised. And it is about here where most people give up on the story.

BUT PLEASE KEEP GOING. When Mr Lockwood returns to his home after a night troubled by the ghost of Cathy, he get’s his housekeeper Ellen Dean to tell him the story of Wuthering Heights and this is where things start to get good. There is so much more to this book than the romance. My reading of it is that it is predominately a social commentary and then there is the evil scheming. Heathcliff is motivated throughout the second half of the book by revenge and he does some really cruel things. He is utterly heartless at times and he completely uses and manipulates Isabella. He also becomes obsessed with being good enough for Catherine and part of that is to better his social status which he does by inheriting people’s property after he has ruined their lives.

Putting the story line aside you should carry on reading for the atmosphere. The Brontë sisters can evoke Yorkshire in a way which is to this day unrivalled. Emily especially, mingles the supernatural with the landscape to create, in my opinion, the greatest Gothic setting ever written. It was so shocking in fact the Charlotte toned it down when it was originally published in fear of the public’s reaction.

And if that wasn’t enough to get you to read past chapter 3 there is a healthy sprinkle of incest. Who could resist that?

Rating: 5/5

Would recommend to: anyone who thought Twilight was dark and mysterious.

 

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The Big Read

Books from Childhood – No.5 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling

The Goblet of  Fire ranks nearly 20 places higher on the list than the rest of the Harry Potter series and I think it is due to the fact it was the newest book, plus it was only a month until the next instalment came out when the list was published, rather than it being significantly better than the first 3. Now don’t misunderstand me I am not saying that I don’t like The Goblet of Fire I hold it in equal regard with the others, which if you have read my previous reviews is highly indeed.

So what do I like about it? Change. We have change and it comes in just as I was starting to get a bit bored with the same old routine at Hogwarts. By introducing the tri-wizard cup we are introduced to the extended magical universe, there are other wizard schools? Of course there are why had I never even considered that? The Quidditch World Cup also does this for the first time we, and Harry, see how the magical community operates on a much larger scale. And of course there is real danger and not just for Harry this time.

*Spoilers*

In The Prisoner of Azkaban we saw the way that Rowling can masterfully weave her mysteries into a seamless narrative. In The Goblet of Fire the fabric gets even thicker. As the novel is so much longer there is more space for more characters to influence the story and there are so many layers to this narrative it is as if the book has grown with the audience; they are older and more able to comprehend a multifaceted narrative. The Riddle house, seeming random yet which we come back to not only at the end of this novel but also in The Half-Blood Prince,  Barty Crouch who could’ve guessed that his story would be so entwined with Voldemort’s. The disappearance of Bertha Jorkins holds the same quality. At first you think it is just a sign of Voldemort’s rise to power but no you got us again J.K.

Then for the first time in the series we have gut-wrenching, soul bearing emotion. We realise that despite all his previous victories, Harry isn’t indestructible; he’s a little orphan boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The events in the graveyard force Harry’s transition into adulthood and we see in the moment when Voldemort forces Harry to fight, turning him into sport for the Death Eaters, the death of the boy in the cupboard under the stairs. When Harry returns clutching Cedric’s dead body, when we see him sat in Moody’s office, in Dumbledore’s office Rowling makes us feel the weight of his trauma and I know it broke my heart.

Rating: 5/5

Would recommend to: READ IT. PLEASE.

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The Big Read

Books from Childhood – No. 24 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling

Although this one is the lowest on the list it is nearly everyone I know’s favourite including mine. I’m excited just thinking about it and I keep remembering how it twist and turns. Oh I’m going to enjoy this review.

*Spoilers. Uch.*

Whereas I can’t stand the atmosphere in The Chamber of Secrets I couldn’t love that of Th Prisoner of Azkaban more. It is just the right level of danger for me, there is some doing-something-stupid-that’s-going-to-get-you-into-trouble like there was in the last book but also real jeopardy where Harry, Ron and Hermione have to use there wits to escape.

This story is also shrouded in mystery adding to the tension and the suspense of ‘I have to keep reading to learn all the answers’. Who is this guy Lupin on the train? Why does he disappear every now and again? Why does Snape hate him? Can he be trusted? Not to mention the constant threat of Sirius Black and the Dementors that hunt him. How did he escape? Why is he after Harry? Why do the Dementors affect Harry so much more? Who sent the Firebolt? What on earth is the Grim? Who’s the crazy psychic lady and is she really a Seer? And most importantly how the hell is Hermione going to all her classes?

And then when you finally think you know all the answers to the questions, everything turns on its head and every single one of your guesses is wrong. It is a perfectly written mystery that has to be solved with a liberal application of adventure and it is J.K. Rowling at her best.

I don’t think I can say any more. God I love this book.

Rating: 5/5 I would give it more but I am all for mathematical accuracy

Would recommend to: HOW HAVE YOU NOT READ THIS BOOK

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I’m back!

Just a quick post to say I have returned from Leeds were I was working on the National Youth Music Theatre’s new show ‘Brass’ and reviews will start up again tomorrow! If you want to read about my time there you can go over to Bernie and Bryony, my other blog, where I shall be posting soon.

I just wanted to talk about how I haven’t been able to read anything properly for the 3 weeks I have been away. I never realised how reading requires so much head space. Working intensively on a show as I have done spending every day breathing, eating and sleeping with the show (I’m serious I even dreamt about it) left no room for me to think about any other story. I tried to read on the train as I travelled across the country but I couldn’t get into the plot as I just kept thinking about the show. I tried reading a different book. Nope. Still singing the songs and worrying about split trousers and missing buttons. 

But now as I sit here on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday with a horrific case of anti-climax I don’t want to think about the incredible experience I had and the wonderful friends I left behind. I want to crystallise it in my memory and lock it away in a little box where I can treasure it forever and peep inside when I feel a little blue. So I think I might turn to a good book. 

 

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