The Big Read

No. 83 – Holes, Louis Sachar Read 18/4/14

I wasn’t looking forward to this one. I remember that it was always the film that my English teacher would put on at the end of term as a treat but we never got further than half an hour into it. I must have watched the first half an hour of that film 6 times.

But, as usual it was 4 o’clock in the morning and I had woken up knowing I was never going to get back to sleep so I started on this book as it looked like a relatively easy read. That was true but that wasn’t the reason I had finished it by 7 o’clock. This story is fantastic. I have talked previously of books aimed at boys that I had so much trouble with at school but this is one of those gender neutral books that even if it was aimed at boys, I could still enjoy it as a 20 year old female.

Stanley Yelnats is sent to a correction facility for juvenile criminals after he is wrongly prosecuted for stealing a pair of trainers. At Camp Green Lake, which is anything but, everyday the boys have to go out onto the dried up lake bed and dig a hole the width and depth of their shovel in the baking heat. It is supposed to build character but Stanley soon realises that this is a lie. Parallel to this present day story line is one about the history of Green Lake and that is all I will say about it for fear of ruining the ending.

I can’t tell you how enjoyable this book was. I love the two story lines because as you can imagine if the narrative was just Stanley digging a whole everyday it would get pretty boring. It is funny and charming and there is a mystery to be solved not to mention some bad guys who deserve a good old fashioned comeuppance. There is also the heart warming story of how Stanley teaches his friend Zero to read with surprising consequences.

I don’t care how old you are read this book I promise you will enjoy it.

Rating:4/5

Would recommend to: read quickly for fun.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life, Claire Tomalin Read 17/4/14

Biographies. They’re weird things for me because I find them sort of cold and detached. They lack the personal nature of an autobiography and the present moment intensity of a piece of fiction yet they can be the most heart breaking stories you read because they are true and usually a relatively unbiased presentation of the facts.

Katherine Mansfield was one of the Modernist writers I studied for A-level and I bought this biography then as extra reading. But I never had time to read it because I was busy reading the set texts for both the first and second year. Then, last year I had to write a case study on 1920’s fashion and so I read this book as research on the modernist lifestyle.

Now Katherine Mansfield was an incredibly complicated person. She lied about everything including who she was as she often put on different personae. She was rebellious, troubled and personally I bet she was a nightmare to be around, but Tomalin doesn’t gloss over this she discusses it in an honest yet sensitive way. Besides whether or not she was a bit of a handful doesn’t detract from the tragedy of her story.

There is plenty of juicy Modernist scandal in Mansfield’s story: illicit relationships, an oppressive family, rejecting the conventions of the time, but there is also so much that breaks your heart. She had an incredibly troubled marriage and although I imagine Mansfield was difficult to live with her husband sounds like a right git. It is also suspected that she contracted gonorrhoea something which at the time could kill you, her mother shipped her of to a German spa when she got pregnant where she had a miscarriage and to top it all off her premature death from TB.

It is all very sad but it is made even worse by the fact that she was such a talented writer. She threw herself into her work and her short stories are incredible they capture what it is to be alive in such a small space of time; it is like Mansfield had this inherent understanding of how to portray the human existence. Virginia Woolf once said Mansfield was the only writer who she could think of as an equal which is high praise indeed. It breaks my heart to think that Mansfield could have produced so much more literature over her lifetime if she hadn’t been cheated by illness. Then again, had she never been ill would she have been able to write as she did?

Tomalin somehow manages to remove the distance between the subject and the biographer so that the reader doesn’t just learn about Katherine Manfield’s life, they feel it as well.

Rating:4/5

Would recommend to: lovers of Modernism otherwise it’s a bit much.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Divergent, Veronica Roth Read 10/4/14

With starting this reading challenge I got really into the reading community online. I watch lots of ‘Booktubers’, people who review books on Youtube and I follow loads of book blogs which inspired me to start this one. Diveregent was a book that I picked up because I had seen it discussed so much online. Now although I loved The Hunger Games, which everyone compared it to, I am always a little bit suspicious of YA Dystopias, mainly because they feel a little bit like they are ‘jumping on the band wagon’. It’s like publisher have gone “young people love teenagers saving the world in the future! Let’s do that!” and so they publish a load of that kind of story not really thinking about whether the novels are any good. A very similar thing happened when Twilight became big. I even remember they republished Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights  with Twilight-inspired covers.

All that said I started on Divergent. It all went pretty much as I expected young white girl leaves her family and must over come enormous trials in a corrupt society before challenging the establishment whilst dealing with boy issues as well! I am trivialising a bit but you must agree that that sentence could some up quite a few YA novels.

But I really didn’t mind if it was a bit unoriginal because it is really well done. The universe is really absorbing and I am desperate to know more of how it works. The population of what once was Chicago are split into different factions based on what they value the most only you get to choose age 16. I was desperate to know more about how this society worked. What is the population of this new town? because it seemed incredibly small to me. The factionless, the people who don’t belong, what do they do with their lives how do they survive? PLEASE I NEED TO KNOW MORE.

This and the incredibly accessible style it is written in meant that I tore through this novel at lighting pace. My Goodreads says that I read it in 2 days but I think I might have stayed up all night to finish it. It is one of those books which is unashamedly just story. No faffing about with metaphors or structure just a great story. Sometimes that is all you want in a book. Yes it is nice to be challenged or to be made to re-evaluate yourself but that doesn’t take away the enjoyment to be had in a book like Divergent.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: escape from this world for a bit.

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