Uncategorized

No.94 – The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho Read 15/11/14

The Alchemist is a short book with a powerful message. It is philosophical in a mainstream karma, hollow your heart, fate way. Now I don’t really go in for any of those things, I am much more of a physicist than a philosopher, but the story of The Alchemist is incredibly cute and heart warming.

Santiago an Andalusia shepherd boy dreams of travelling and after a mystical encounter with an old man he sets of on a journey through the deserts to the pyramids. The language, I of course am talking here of the English translation, invokes a fable or a bible story; it has the feeling of story time at school. This does mean it feels like the whole book is simply a vehicle for the moral and there is a little bit of “okay don’t worry I have taken note of that because by the way you are hinting it is going to be important at the end”, but it works. You know as soon as you start reading that reading isn’t the point of this book. This structure is quite nicely paralleled by the outcome of the book. If you have read it you will understand what I say when, for the knowledge to be obtained the journey has to be undertaken.

I became quite fond of Santiago although as a reader you do feel a little distanced from him. For me this made a nice change. Sometimes I don’t want emotions, emotions, emotions from a character; it is nice to observe them grow from a distance. In The Alchemist you never feel more than a casual observer of the scene allowing you to see the bigger picture. You see the whole of Santiago’s journey as it is unfolding not just the right this second POV action.

The ending really is wonderful. Although this book hasn’t changed my life as people often claim it does, it is a story I have come to love. I will probably read it again and at under 200 pages it won’t be too taxing. It feels like an escape and it is nice to dream about leaving it all behind as Santiago did from the comfort of my nice warm bed.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: perfect for January.

Advertisements
Standard
Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran Read 13/11/14

So the only other autobiography I have read was Morrissey’s. Needless to say Caitlin Moran’s was a bit different. She tells her life story from growing up in a council house in Wolverhampton to becoming a music journalist at a young age through to the columnist she is today. I knew very little about her before I started How to be a Woman but I was persuaded to read it as I had been told it was a good view point on modern day feminism.

Having read it though, I would say it was much more about class as a social issue than feminism. Yes, Moran does bring up some good feminist points but what stuck me most of all was the way she came from such a poor background. Rather than call this a feminist book I would describe it much more as a social commentary. The feminism Moran describes is a little narrow minded and focus much more on ‘1st world problems’. It is also made very light and accessible which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing but leaves out quite a few rather important issues.

At its heart this is a memoir, Moran just expresses some of her opinions which happen to be feminist. She also tackles political and social issues with the same slightly light hearted mockery. She describes her childhood with fondness and nostalgia despite the fact it sounds very much to me like something out of Morrissey’s autobiography; just a little less melodramatic and Dickensian. What she does tackle sensitively and honestly is abortion. It was one of my favourite chapters and the only part which felt heavy, as if she wasn’t afraid to shy away from difficult issues and I commend her for the candid way she talked about her experience.

This book is also really funny. It is honest and a completely honest women is hard to come by. Quite often women shy away from certain topics for fear they shall be viewed as crude and unladylike and therefore unattractive to men. For Moran this concept doesn’t seem to exist and it is very refreshing. I laughed my head of at times because I felt like “yes! That is so true but I would never have admitted it in a million years!”. It is like sharing an embarrassing secret with your best friend and laughing about your own stupidity/misfortune/shame.

What I love most about this book is it is the kind of book that makes men uncomfortable. It talks graphically about sex, genitals, childbirth, periods, waxing etc. and a lot of the men I know can’t even touch a box of tampons let alone think about their use. This book takes a lot of the mystery out of how to be a woman and even at the age of 20 I learnt things I didn’t know about being female. That’s why I recommend it, it doesn’t break any new ground on feminism, but it is funny and relatable and honest.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: read if you want to debunk some of the less clear aspects of womanhood.

 

Standard
The Big Read

No.88 – Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons Read 6/11/14

Cold Comfort Farm if I hadn’t known when it was first published I would have thought it could have come out a few years ago. People often say that something is ‘timeless’ but this truly is what Cold Comfort Farm is like.

When Flora Poste, a 30’s socialite is orphaned she can either try and get a job with zero skills and become a modern woman or she can move in with one of her many relatives. In the end she decides to move in with the rather gloomy Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm. Everybody there is rather strange and Cold Comfort is a nest of fraught emotions and bitter schemes so Flora makes the Starkadders her new project.

What this book does so well is satirise the rather romantic image of rural British life in the 1930s. It genuinely made me laugh on a number of occasions and the rest of the time I read it with an enormous grin on my face. It is a light hearted comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yes it is making fun of many elements of society, including the difficult position single women were put in when they had to try and fend for themselves with little education, but rather than it being angry it simply rolls its eyes and sighs in a way characteristic to the British upper classes. “I’m homeless and all my family have died? Oh well, pass the gin dear.”

The Starkadders are hilarious as caricatures in their own right. Each of them seems to be an exaggeration of some troupe or other that is often found in books of similar era. The overbearing Grandmother who has everyone wrapped round her little finger, the mother at breaking point, the wild youngest daughter and the brooding son. They each are helped by Flora’s meddling in ways they didn’t expect and ways I certainly didn’t expect as a reader.

The ending is wonderful. It is the kind of book that sits so nicely as a story everything finished off neatly with a few surprises thrown in. It isn’t ground breaking or life changing it is simply good fun and an enjoyable read.

Rating:3/5

Would recommend to: read so you can say that you’ve read it.

Standard
Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn Read 10/10/14

I was late to the party I know. 2 years after it came out I finally read Gone Girl. Now this is going to be really difficult to review without giving the game away but I shall try my best to avoid spoilers.

Plot summary. Nick comes homes to find that his wife Amy, who found fame as a child as the title character in her psychologist parents series of children’s book, gone. Disappeared. Of course he calls the police but very soon he becomes the chief suspect and everyone assumes that he has killed her. We the reader know otherwise of course because Nick is narrating. But did he? Is he lying? What other secrets is he hiding? Because he is definitely hiding something I just know it.

And so it goes on. This is what Gone Girl is like. You can trust nothing anybody says. You think you know Nick, you think you know Amy. But WRONG WRONG WRONG. There is one revelation and you change your mind who did it and then buff! Wrong again. It is an amazing thriller and one of the most compelling mysteries I have ever read.

Interestingly, there is also a reading of this book which is a comment on how society perceives women. I have read interviews with Gillian Flynn where they discuss the book and she talks about this quite a lot. The story revolves entirely on our perception of people and how it can be manipulated and I defiantly feel there is a point being made about the pressure women feel to be perceived a certain way.

And then, there is the ending. WHICH I HATE. I have never been able to stand an unsatisfying ending, see my review of 1984 and the end of this book I just didn’t like. I can’t say any more about it without giving it away and I really wish I could talk about it because my feelings are so strong but this book is just too good to publish spoilers of.

So I shall leave this review here. I am telling you now. Read this book.

Rating: 4/5 – the ending just got me

Would recommend to: everyone, especially if you think you are good at guessing mysteries.

Standard
Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff Read 28/9/14

So I had a bit of a slump around this time. Mostly because I was really busy. I went back to Uni which involved moving into a new house and I started on my first project of the year which took up so much of my time. Really I know it sounds ridiculous a student who actually spends time doing work? But that is me if you are interested in what I was doing go check out Bernie and Bryony , my other blog.

Anyway, How I Live Now. Every now and again I have to read books that I want to read to stop me going crazy and like with almost all the books I own, I found this one in a charity shop. I had seen a lot about it on BookTube and was really in need of some YA escapism. So of course this is a wonderful book about a Dystopian future and mild incest. Yep you heard me right. Daisy, leaves America to go with her aunt and cousins in rural England and when she gets there they are all a bit weird, meaning they are psychic. When her aunt goes away to work, Daisy and her COUSIN Edmund indulge in there love for each other. Then World War Three breaks out. When the family are separated they use there psychic abilities to try and find each other again.

It sounds mad. It shouldn’t work. I shouldn’t love it. But it is so good. I don’t like a lot of YA or if I do it is always in a very surface way like I feel about Rom-Coms and pop music. But How I live Now is superb. Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere, it is just perfect. It manages to capture the feeling of indestructibility that living in the countryside can give you and the undertones of fear and tension. The book is narrated by Daisy stream of conciousness style and sure there is a little bit of angsty teen stuff but most of it is her determination.

So I have to talk a little bit about the incest. So first cousin… not actually illegal thanks to Henry VIII but still in theory it makes my skin crawl. Even in Gothic literature in makes me go ugh. Yet, I can’t believe I am saying this, in How I Live Now it seems so right. Maybe it is to do with the psychic thing? I’m not sure but Daisy has never met her cousin before so it feels a bit different? I can’t believe I am justifying this. Read it and you will understand; it feels like ‘hey who am I to judge?’.

Moving on, if you want a YA Dystopia which doesn’t happen a million years in the future or involves teenage girls fighting wars, this is for you.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: people who like stories about survival.

Standard
The Big Read

No.93 – The Colour of Magic, Terry Prachett Read 14/9/14

The Colour of Magic is the first in Terry Prachett’s renowned fantasy Discworld series. There are three other books from the series on the list but rather annoyingly they aren’t 2,3 and 4 but 4, 8 and 29. But I started at the beginning as I thought it would make more sense that way.

This is were I have to confess that I don’t find Terry Prachett funny. I really am sorry because I know he is a national treasure and an incredible human being but ahhh, it’s just not my thing. If you want an idea of what I’m talking about the summary of the plot should make it clear. Discworld is a world that rest on the shell of an enormous space tortoise. A bizarre expedition sets out with an inept wizard, a tourist from another world and his luggage which is seemingly alive and has hundreds of legs.

Now although I didn’t find it funny in any sense other than ‘that’s a bit odd’ I did really enjoy this book. It’s kind of an adventure/quest storyline and it does twist in many unexpected directions. As you all know I like other worlds and this world is strange but I still wanted to know about all its peoples and cultures. The rather hopeless characters get themselves into lots of sticky situations and I was sure they were done for on more than one occasion. But because this world is so odd, Prachett can just invent something that makes no sense what so ever to get them out of trouble.

The book ends on a cliffhanger which is really annoying. I understand that’s how series work but it’s frustrating for me because I don’t like this series enough to read them all, so I’m not going to know what happens. It is then going to be even more confusing when I pick up the series later on after an elapse of 3, 3 then 21 books. Oh well. I’m sure I can google it if I get confused. Anyway they zip along quite nicely these books so I think I shall be able to keep up.

Rating:3/5

Would recommend to: Monty Python fans.

Standard
The Big Read

No. 15 – The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger Read 8/9/14

I started The Catcher in the Rye and thought “oh great an un-likable narrator”. I really struggle with this kind of book mostly because I’m not a big people person and if someone annoys me I just tend to avoid them. In my opinion life is too short to bother with people you don’t like. Of course you can’t do this with a book so I struggled on and I am glad I did.

Holden Caulfield is your typical whiny, white, middle class, teenager. I would describe him as an insufferable git. This book is him narrating a couple of days of his life after he is expelled from prep-school. He describes everything and everyone he sees with the self absorbed cynicism of every misunderstood teenager. God is it annoying. This guy seriously needs to get over himself. And then it hit me.

It is all a front. Holden Caulfield is a sad, lonely, little boy who doesn’t fit in to the adult world yet and is terrified. He is trying so hard to hide it but deep down he is crying out for help. I knew this book is often studies for its literary prowess and so I decided after I had finished to do a little more analysis and I watched the Crash Course Literature videos on it and it opened my mind completely.

Yes I hate Holden Caulfield but I don’t hate this book. It is genius. Really it is a wonderful example of literature as art making me think and engage in a way that few books do, even of the famous ones on this list. The language is excellent because the slang used is so of its time and simultaneously timeless. It portrays the rebellion, the rejection of convention universal to all teenagers and specific to the teenagers of the fifties. Salinger also has a way of making me empathise with a character I hate which boggles my mind. You know when people tell you bullies are only bullies because they are having a tough time themselves? I always feel this sadness for them which doesn’t stretch to the person themselves but just to the world in general. I feel a bit like that about Holden. He has everything and nothing. He should be grateful and humble but he isn’t, he’s miserable because material things haven’t made him happy.

I know a lot of people when they read The Catcher in the Rye only see this ‘first world problems’ teenager and dismiss it. But for me it is more profound than that because it is so honest. There are far worse things happening in the world than the problems of Holden Caulfield but he can’t see that and that is what humans are like. We are selfish by nature and it is part of growing up to realise that we need to think of others.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: persevere with it’ll be worth it.

Standard