The Big Read

No. 47 – A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens Read 30/4/14

If you want a really bizarre reading experience read A Christmas Carol in March. I don’t know why I read it in March it must have been the next one on the shelf or something, but yeah read it in no earlier than November 3oth.

I don’t know if there is a person in the English speaking world who doesn’t know the story of A Christmas Carol. There are a million different adaptations including a musical, which I was in once as the Ghost of Christmas Future aka Blind Old Hag. I thing the first version I saw was the Muppet’s but anyway I knew exactly what I was in for before reading the book.

Now for once I didn’t get stuck in the middle of Dickens! This may be because A Christmas Carol is only 104 pages long. But I like it short, somehow it makes Scrooge’s redemption more poignant because there isn’t an enormous section of waffle about the awful conditions of the poor. It feels like the length of the book reflects just how quickly you can become a bitter, twisted miser.

I also love the characters. Mr and Mrs Fezziwig make me feel all warm and happy inside and I don’t think there is a person alive who doesn’t feel so sorry for Tiny Tim. Although this book screams “MORAL” at you before smashing you in the face with a prize turkey it is done in such a way that I didn’t withdraw from the story to roll my eyes. In the end you feel sorry for Scrooge and are genuinely pleased he saw the error of his ways; he feels like a real person not just an instrument of the story.

It is a wonderful Christmas story, one that focuses on ‘the true meaning of Christmas’. Although that sounds horribly cringe-worthy it is a book about family and charity and it is a really nice reminder of what Christmas should be. There isn’t really much else to say about it other than don’t read it in March.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: make you feel Christmas-y

 

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The Big Read

No.70 – Lord of the Flies, William Golding Read 25/3/14

So it’s becoming more and more difficult to post everyday now I have gone back to uni full time. But I am trying and soon I shall have gotten through all the books I have already read and will only have to post when I finish a book. Or maybe I will suddenly have loads of stuff to talk about on other book related topics who knows?

Right on to Lord of the Flies. It’s on exam syllabuses all over the world and yet I never studied it. I did however know a bit about it from wall displays in the English department at school, mostly random bits about the symbolism of Piggy’s glasses accompanied by some student’s cartoon of a pig in glasses. This is one of those books were I’m not sure if I like it for itself or its reputation. When, I actually think about the story there is very little I really like or that moved me. I didn’t really care about any of the boys on the islands so I didn’t care if their small society broke down. I read it in a detached manor as if I were an outside observer rather than a part of the story.

I’m not sure if I’m making myself clear. I found it difficult to imagine the island physically. Left and right seemed to mean nothing and I couldn’t visualise the geography of the place. As a result I kind of drifted through the novel with no sense of reality. Perhaps this is engineered. Perhaps it is to reflect the loss of reality that the boys feel. But at the same time it makes it difficult for me to believe the events as realistic. With this sort of book I like a Brechtian approach. I don’t want to drift through the novel not feeling anything I want to be shocked and my views challenged. Perhaps I have too much faith in humanity, maybe a modern audience is less suspicious of ‘savagery’ and more understanding of society than in the 50s. Perhaps having never been a prepubescent boy I find the downward spiral of events hard to understand.

Whatever it is, I am glad I read this book, not for its content, but for the prestige. There is no denying that this book is an extraordinary work of literature and sometimes it is quite nice to have bragging rights and be able to say “yeah I’ve read that”.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: fans of Orwell.

 

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson Read 23/4/14

Well that was a long title. I bought this as a Christmas present for my brother and then stole it off him. It is a translation from the original Swedish by Rod Bradbury and it follows Allan Karlsson as on the day of his 100 birthday party he climbs out of the window and, as the title says, disappears.

This book is told in two time frames, the present day and then also the story of Allan’s life. Both sides of the story are incredibly interesting and dynamic so you never get that feeling of wanting to skip the flashback and return to the story, in fact I find the flashback funnier and more engaging then the present day story. Allan has lived an incredibly life entirely by accident and I loved the way all the major events in modern  history are covered as he floats along doing his own thing.

I found this book really funny, the sense of humour is quite similar to that of Good Omens in that it is a bit silly but it is much more tongue-in-cheek and as a result it is infinitely funnier. It knows it is being ridiculous and it embraces it whole-heartedly and it’s almost like you are having an in-joke with the author about the whole story. In addition the jokes are not offensive, there is some satire about the ridiculous nature of politics but it is not cruel or mean. That being said I know not everybody finds it funny and it certainly is a type of comedy that appeals to the British sense of humour because it is very subtle.

I must mention the translation because it was so good that I never even noticed it. The book is set all around the world but it does focus on Sweden but there was never a cultural reference that I didn’t get nor did I fail to be able to picture a specific scene or part of the landscape. The tone was excellent, although it the third person you could feel Allan’s way of thinking from the language and not being able to read the original Swedish I don’t know if this was the author’s intention, but it feels right to me.

I suggest that to enjoy this book at it’s best you need to take on the mindset of Allan Karlsson: don’t take things too seriously and just go with the flow.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: read on a beach under a parasol with you favourite drink beside you.

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The Big Read

No. 67 – Good Omens, Terry Prachett and Neil Gaimen 15/3/14

I am totally aware that Terry Pratchett is supposed to be hilarious, but I didn’t find this very funny at all. It felt to me like the kind of Monty Python intellectual humour which I find a bit snobbish. It is all a bit silly in a smart-arse sort of way and I don’t think I laughed once. So as far as my understanding of humour goes Good Omens is mildly amusing. Some quite ridiculous things happen that are comical because of there absurdity but they are too ridiculous, too bizarre to give you that humour through mutual understanding which I love; I have laughed more at internet memes.

Apart from that I really quite enjoyed the story. I liked the characters and was incredibly eager to find out how the Armageddon was going to be avoided, the tone of the novel gave away the fact that it would, and I am quite glad I read it. There is a little social commentary in the relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale because despite the greater schemes of heaven and hell they are just two individuals try to get by in the world. What it didn’t do for me was make me think about the heaven and hell or “the ineffable plan” or any of that. I think maybe it was written to be a satire on certain elements of religion but I didn’t find it at all thought provoking.

I wasn’t to sure about the role of the 11-year old Antichrist. That isn’t a sentence I ever thought I would write. It is just such a strange element to the story and then it sort of fizzles out; I can’t even remember what happens to him. I think he lives happily ever after having had a happy, secure upbringing. But really that says a lot about his part in the story; he was supposed to be crucial and I can’t remember what happened to him. Also I must admit I find long passages of  children’s dialogue in novels tiresome, mostly because author’s tend to really force the issue that they’re children by painstaking demonstrating their laboured thought processes, and this novel has large chunks of the Adam the Antichrist, get it it’s ironic and supposed to be funny, converses in a den with his friends.

I also have issue with the ending. For starters, I can’t remember it but also I was left feeling incredibly unsatisfied. It was all a bit rushed and convenient and I like my endings a little more dramatic than that. It was disappointing to carry on with a book I had only sort of enjoying to be let down at the end.

Rating: 3/5

Would (not) recommend to: anyone who has issues with blasphemy.

 

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – A Place of Confinement, Anna Dean Read 9/3/14

You know that awkward moment when you get home having bought a new book in a bookshop only to realise it is the last in the series? Yeah that’s what happened here. However, I wasn’t deterred as the blurb had me hooked and I was desperate to read it.

This best way to describe it is as a Jane Austen murder mystery. Dido Kent has been sent to live with her elderly aunt after turning down a marriage proposal from a perfectly respectable man. But when she gets to the Charcombe Manor all is not what it seems and it soon comes to light that a young lady has disappeared. But that’s not the only mystery to solve. Dido soon discovers that everyone has their secrets.

I really enjoyed this book it is an incredibly well observed tribute to Jane Austen but the language is more modern so it makes for a much easier read. The plot is so rich with mysteries that need solving there is never a dull moment and the suspense is excellent. Dido is a wonderful narrator and you really feel for her in her confinement and for the way she is trapped by social expectations. She feels like she could be an Austen heroine; she has all the likeability of Elizabeth Bennet and just the same independence and intelligence.

The only thing I would say about this book is that there is a lot going on and it does verge on the ridiculous. It was a bit like the author said “how many scandals can I fit in one book?” and then put them all in for the hell of it. However, there was an excellent twist at the end which I really wasn’t expecting which certainly made a nice surprise. In spite of this I think if you can suspend your disbelief and look past the rather crowded plot it makes an excellent read.

It’s not the kind of book which is going to win any literary awards but I know I certainly want to read the rest of the series after reading this one. I enjoyed this book immensely and it certainly was a nice chance from really heavy classics. It was fun and light-hearted and sometimes that it just what you want from a book.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: read if you just want to be entertained.

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The Big Read

No. 30 – Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll Read 31/1/14

I know this was supposed to go up yesterday but contrary to popular belief I do leave the house occasional thus making daily blogging harder.

But anyway, Alice in Wonderland. It is one of the most bizarre books ever written. I know everyone jokes that Lewis Carroll must have been on drugs but it really does feel like that. There is no logical cause and event progression; suddenly there is a Duchess and a Queen when we were in a world of talking animals. Things appear to happen for no apparent reason and I’m still not sure I really understand half of what was going on.

The thing to do when reading Alice in Wonderland is just to go with it. Suspend your disbelief and join in whole heartedly with this crazy, crazy world, you will find it much more enjoyable as a result. Once you get past the odd nature of the plot you start to appreciate Carroll’s excellent use of language. There is a lot of rhyme and verse, which also adds to the absurdity, but also he manages to convey Alice’s child like nature and the innocence with which she accepts everything that happens to her. Suddenly, after a few pages of reading I was lost in this world and it was Carroll’s language that swept me along.

I think it is marvellous as a children’s book because it feels as if it has come out of the mind of a child. I was reverted to a way of thinking about the world whilst reading this book that reminded me very much of the days when I would hide behind my Mum’s legs if a stranger approached. It is with wide-eyed fascination that Alice sits down for tea with the Mad-Hatter instead of logically analysing the situation and assessing the risks as an adult may have done, it is refreshing to see that celebrated rather than criticised. Plus talk about imagination. This novel could be seen as an exercise book written to try and encourage children to use theirs.

I wish I had read it earlier, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had believed it would be although I was glad of a reminder of childhood as an adult.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: 6+ years

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The Big Read

No. 34 – David Copperfield, Charles Dickens Read 26/1/14

I finally finished David Copperfield 4 months after starting it! It was one hell of a slog but it got much better at the end so I am really glad I persevered. I can never understand people who give up on a book half way through; what if the ending is amazing?

The ending wasn’t exactly amazing but it was better than the rest of the book. If you know anything about Dickens you can probably guess what happens. Small boy has an evil step-father and gets sent to an even more evil boarding school with a brief spell at an evil wine merchants. He then runs away to live with his slightly crazy aunt in Dover and grows up then to live a rather dull life before the bad guy gets his comeuppance and living happily ever after.

So I wasn’t crazy about this book. It was slow. I mean it is rare for me to take 4 months to read a book and I just couldn’t get to care about David Copperfield, despite his neglectful upbringing. He was much more likeable as an adult and I was much more interested in who he was going to marry than whether or not he would die on his walk to Dover. I read it in thirds leaving it completely for long stretches and the last third was by far my favourite and the most enjoyable reading experience. The other two just dragged and dragged.

I always seem to have this issue with Dickens. There seems to me so much stuff that just isn’t necessary and if he had been subject to a modern publisher I am sure large quantities would’ve been cut. If I am honest I have no idea why Dickens is given the acclaim he his and I have no idea why he was ever inducted into the literary canon. But I guess I had better get to liking him because Great Expectations, Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities all make the list.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: read it gradually a chapter at a time so you don’t get bored.

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