The Big Read

No 17. – Great Expectations, Charles Dickens Read 5/1/15

*Contains Spoilers*

Dickens. I am sure you are well aware by now that I really struggle with Dickens. Great Expectations was no different I started it in June of the previous year and was finally done with it this January. If you don’t know the plot of Great Expectations a young country boy Pip, is coerced by and escaped convict to help him remove his chains by stealing a file. This event shapes his life forever.

The story is also haunted by Miss Havisham a jilted bride who 20 years on still has the wedding breakfast laid out on the table and still wears her wedding gown. At a young age Pip is taken to Miss Havisham’s house to play cards with her young ward Estella. Pip falls in love with the cold but beautiful Estella and spends a good part of his life pining after her. When Pip is made a gentleman by a wealthy patron he assumes that it is Miss Havisham who intends to raise him from his poverty to marry Estella. But things don’t quite turn out that way.

It is pretty standard Dickens stuff. Poverty, dingy places, lawyers and clerks a few crazy people. I didn’t like Pip, I didn’t like Estella I hated Miss Havisham and always have done*. The only person I liked in the whole story was Joe. Joe is Pip’s brother-in-law who cares for him in his early days when he lives with his awful sister, Joe’s wife. WHY IS PIP SO MEAN TO JOE. It makes me so mad that as Pip becomes a gentleman he becomes ashamed of Joe don’t you remember all the kind things he did for you?

The story gets really slow in the middle so no surprises there. There is a bit where Pip is living it up in London being an ungrateful little toe-rag that seemed to go on for ages and I couldn’t wait for it to end. But after that all the things happen. Crickey it’s like Dickens saves it all up for the last few chapters. Now I have to talk about the ending because I think I misinterpreted it so ***SPOILER WARNING****

*Spoilers*

*Spoilers*

*Spoilers*

Right okay I might need you all to help me out here. So Magwitch dies, Pip is bailed out by Joe and he finally realises that Joe is awesome and goes to Egypt with Herbert to earn the money to repay Joe. Got all that thank God Pip realised he was being an idiot. It is just the last sentence when he sees Estella again “I saw no shadow of another parting from her”. I took this to mean that Pip was very much of the mindset ‘I can leave her here, never see her again and be happy’ because there won’t be another parting. But according to Wikipedia it means they get married??? I don’t like this ending at all. I liked the idea that both Pip and Estella have grown from their misfortune and they leave the past behind them and continue in the world as better people. Not that they see each other again after 11 years and go back to a place emotionally where they were both terrible people. Why do that? I don’t get it. Anyway, in my head they never see each other again and leave Satins House with peace and forgiveness knowing that having known the other person was important and made them better people.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: read for bragging rights/ literary study but not pleasure.

*I had to study a poem at GCSE English called Havisham by Carol Ann Duffy. I had a big fight with my teacher about it because she reckoned Miss Havisham was tragic and I thought she needed a slap.

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Other Books 2015

Other Books – Let it Snow, John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle Read 2/1/15

My first book of the new year. I had heard a lot bout it, I like John Green it was Christmas and I felt like reading something seasonal.

I should probably talk about my relationship with YA or Young Adult literature. If I’m honest I don’t really like it and it seems to me that I am one of the few people on the internet who feel that way. Every now and again I read a YA book and I enjoy it but I would never usually go into a book store and go to the YA section. Nor would I desperately wait for the new book in a YA series to be released. This isn’t to say that I think YA isn’t proper literature, I disagree with that statement whole heartedly, I just prefer to read about people who are different to me and quite a lot of the time, YA is told from the point of view of teenage girls.

But Let it Snow. First off it is really Christmasy in a rather unconventional way. The snow of course helps but each writer somehow manages to capture that feeling of Christmas when people who would usually scowl at you in the street smile instead. The book is split into 3 stories that all cross over each other at various points. The first story, by Maureen Johnson, was definitely my favourite, I liked the narrator, Jubilee, the most and I found the whole ‘my parents might go to prison over a collectable Christmas village’ hilarious.

The second story, John Green, I wasn’t so hot on and I think it is because I know so many people like the characters of this story. It was silly teenagers doing silly teenager stuff. Some friends set out on a race to a Waffle House which has unexpectedly become host to a squad of cheerleaders. It reminded me quite a lot of the road trip section of Paper Towns, lots of banter, a race against the clock. The part I did like about this story was the romance. It felt plausible, possibly because the characters were so realistic, but it made a nice change to have a love story without bells and whistle that starts with a date to Starbucks.

The final story, Lauren Myracle, oh dear. At first I didn’t like it at all. The narrator Addie is awful and I really thought I can’t put up with this any longer. Then you realise she is supposed to be awful. This last story is about her becoming a better person. Admittedly her transformation is heavily on the side of Christmas Miracle because I have never known anyone go through so much personal development in an afternoon but hey it’s Christmas. This just wasn’t my thing. My only real criticism of this story is that when the stories converge and the characters from the previous two stories appear in Myracle’s, she kills them with her writing. It is such a shame because they just flop and lose all depth. This means the book ends on rather a low point and the ending had such potential if only the other writers had chipped in a little the end could have been glorious.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: make you feel a little fuzzy inside when it’s cold outside.

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The Big Read

No.82 – I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith Read 24/12/14

I believe that this book falls into the category of historical fiction but I tend to think of historical fiction of being in relation to historic events. If it is just set in a different time period I think of it as period fiction. Anyway, I read the back of I Capture the Castle and couldn’t wait to read it. I think I was slugging my way through something or other at the time, I bought it and it took all my will power to not just drop everything and read this instead.

Cassandra Mortmain lives in the crumbling ruin of a castle in the English countryside with her eccentric family during the 1930s. Her father once wrote an excellent novel but now has chronic writer’s block, her step-mother Topaz likes to play the lute and wonder around the countryside naked and her older sister Rose longs to live in a Jane Austen novel. There is also the servant-come-son Stephan who is in love with Cassandra which she find flattering but exceedingly embarrassing. Cassandra’s diary gives an insight into the world of this impoverished family and how their lives are changed forever with the arrival of two wealthy American brothers.

I love the typical British eccentricity of this novel. It is spot on with its depiction of people doing their own thing and not caring what anyone thinks. But that’s where the conflict comes from. Suddenly as Cassandra grows up she does care about how others perceive her and she struggles with being ashamed of her family in all its wacky glory. I like Cassandra as a narrator, like all diaries her’s is biased but I always felt for her even if I didn’t agree with her.

The writing of this novel felt modern so I was shocked to learn that it was written during the Second World War in California of all places. The setting is so powerful and beautifully crafted that I assumed Smith had sat on a hill looking over this ruined castle as she wrote the manuscript. Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder and missing her home country Smith painted the most beautiful portrait of it from thousands of miles away where she couldn’t see the imperfections.

The prominent theme is romance which we all know is not my favourite but in this context I didn’t mind it. I think it is because the love that Cassandra and her sister Rose feel is much more a part of their journey to adulthood than anything else.  For fear of spoiling it I shall say no more except the ending was unexpected and wonderful.This story is about growing up and I think it might be one of my favourite Bildungsroman ever. I know I shall visit this world again if only for the escape of the captured castle.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: not quite adults.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon Read 19/12/14

Upon starting Curious Incident all I knew was that it was from the point of view of a young boy with ‘some behavioural difficulties’ suggested to be Asperger’s  Syndrome. I’m not sure if this influenced me before I started the book but I imagined it to be rather difficult to follow. I think this was because from my understanding of the condition, people with Asperger’s find the world difficult to understand so it would make sense that I wouldn’t be able to make sense of the world as they saw it.

Although the narration is most definitely unlike any I have read before it still feels like a novel which I wasn’t expecting. It gives an insight as to how difficult it must be to navigate a world in which people make no sense. Christopher is 15 but he has never been past the end of the road by himself. When his next door neighbour’s dog is murdered Christopher takes it upon himself to solve the mystery and find the murderer.

From that synopsis, which is given in some form on every version of the book, you wouldn’t expect what this story is really about. I don’t want to give the game away but the mystery in this book is not the murdered dog. In many ways the mystery is people and Christopher has to do some major detective work as to why they behave the way they do. As with a lot of good mysteries the reader figures it out before the narrator and the fun comes in watching Christopher put the clues together.

I do have an issue with this book. I love the fact that people with disabilities are being represented in literature and I can only encourage more of that. But I feel as if the uncomfortable bits are slightly glossed over. Christopher talks about his humming and rocking when he isn’t coping and it is mentioned in a very light way. It doesn’t seem to convey the fear he must be feeling and the distress he is in. I wish this book had been a bit more honest it feels like a rose tinted version of living with a disability. That being said I think the wide spread success of this book can only help in getting people to talk and think about disabilities in a way they might never have previously.

There are some rather memorable parts of this book such as Christopher’s inclusion of diagrams the better to help the reader’s understanding, his use of prime numbers to number the chapters and the fact he explains the things he doesn’t understand to us as if we don’t understand them as well. These elements are so original that I understand why this book won awards. Haddon uses the established convention of a book as an example of the things the able bodied take for granted as comprehensible.

If you wanted any more indication that this is a great book, Parents in Texas have banned it from High School Libraries.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: everyone, especially if you are a high school student in Texas.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen Read 17/12/14

Sometimes I think about the fact that by my age Jane Austen had already written Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. I normally then have a bit of a crisis as to what am I doing with my life. Anyway, as previously established on Bernie and Books, I love Jane Austen and I have kind of started a new little challenge for myself to read all her published works. Next on the Jane Austen list and what with needing a bit of a break from the top 100 after On the Road, I started on Northanger Abbey. 

Whereas with every previous Austen I had read, I had never seen an adaptation of Northanger Abbey and it was a refreshing experience to go into the novel blind. Catherine Morland is one of 10 children of a clergyman. Her life is no where near as exciting as the heroines in her favourite Gothic Novels. When family friends invite Catherine to Bath the usual Jane Austen romantic conflict happens. The best bit is when Catherine’s friends from Bath invite her to stay at their home Northanger Abbey and its Gothic nature fires Catherine’s imagination resulting in ‘misunderstandings of the heart’.

One of my favourite things about Austen’s writing is the satire and let me tell you she is on point with Northanger Abbey. I think to understand a lot of it you have to be familiar with the conventions of Gothic Literature so perhaps read some of Catherine Morland’s favourite books before you start it. If you can’t be bothered with that, this book offers just as much enjoyment from the misunderstandings, romantic conflicts and comic characters as Emma, S&s or P&P. 

I really enjoyed the setting of Bath as it made a change from the grand country houses we normally see in Austen’s work. Admittedly the last portion of the book takes place in a grand country house but it was really interesting to see a different aspect of Austen’s world. I must admit I was bit confused when I started reading it because, as with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin I felt a bit like “this book needed a different title”.

I love the ending of this book so much. Normally with Austen there is a happily ever after so I don’t think I am giving too much away if I say that this book is very similar although not the same. Right at the end when you least expected I was completely in shock and then wetting myself laughing. There is the biggest curve ball and it works perfectly. Perhaps this book should have been called Incorrect Assumptions or something like that because that really is the predominant theme.

In terms of where it sits with the other Jane Austen I have read I would say I like it a lot more than Emma, a bit more than Pride and Prejudice but it sits in a comfortable second after Sense and Sensibility. 

Rating:4/5

Would recommend to: give it a go if you’re new to Jane Austen.    

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The Big Read

No. 90 – On the Road, Jack Kerouac Read 12/12/14

There are very few books that I give 1 star on Goodreads. This is one of them. If I could sum it up in 3 words it would be ‘First World Problems’. From what I remember of it a guy drives around North America whining but apparently there was more to it than that. It is heralded as a portrait of a generation that Kerouac himself called ‘beat’. I guess in a similar way to the generation after the First World War felt lost as to their purpose in life so must have Kerouac’s generation after the second.

All this is very good and well but I can’t get over the fact that this book is filed with awful characters. I didn’t like a single person in it. These terrible white men doss about doing nothing in particular and moaning about how terrible their life is. They seem to have no understanding of responsibility or the consequences of their actions and are so selfish I struggled to make it to the end.

As I try to give a synopsis I can’t even think of anything tangible that happens. They go on road trips a lot and treat women terribly.

I can’t even find anything to say about the writing it was just blah. It felt like Kerouac had just whacked it out in one sitting. In fact the manuscript was written on a continuous roll of paper so I reckon that isn’t too far from the truth. There are 5 parts but I can’t really understand way because they don’t seem to add to the structure of the book it just keeps on going. Perhaps this is to reflect Sal’s continuous journey over the continent. I don’t know either this book is all hype or I have missed something major.

I don’t want to say any more about it because I would just be whining. Please feel free to enlighten me as to why this book made it to no.90 on the list.

Rating: 1/5

Would recommend to: don’t bother.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Road, Cormac McCarthy Read 8/12/14

Not to be confused with On The Road by Jack Kerouac which is why I originally bought it oops. Still I love it when this happens because it means I accidentally discover a book that I never would have picked up other wise.

Anyway, The Road. A father and son walked their way across burnt America. They are heading for the coast although they don’t know what awaits them there. All they have to defend themselves is a pistol from the savage gangs that room the wasteland.

Sounds pretty cool right? And pretty reminiscent of The Stand by Stephen King. That’s what I thought anyway and when I was finished I felt pretty vindicated because this book is everything The Stand should be but it is 1000 pages shorter. The atmosphere of fear is so powerful I expected the world to end any second whilst reading it. Structurally this book is as sparse as the barren ex-country of America and it is brilliant at building the tension. What am I even afraid of? Deep down I know but I don’t want to admit it. Not until the very end when it is said out load by the little boy, not even then do I want to accept it as a possibility.

There is some pretty graphic stuff in this book I must admit. Be prepared if you are squeamish or easily disturbed like me. I suggest reading the Wikipedia page first so it doesn’t come as quite so much of a shock if you do want to read it and I really recommend you do. There isn’t much to the plot, there is very little character development but this book is like a lesson in atmosphere. It is so well done you understand without knowing anything. I could picture this once green now black waste land I had never seen and I could sense the shadows around me, behind the sofa, in the next room, the ghosts that vanished just as I switched on the light. It is rare when a book can do that to you.

There isn’t really much to the ending either. There is no conclusion, no satisfaction and I know when I was younger I would have found this very frustrating. But now I understand there is no conclusion for the characters and the author makes us feel their ongoing struggle as we close the final pages of the book. For that reason, and the gorey bits, don’t read it before you go to sleep. Seriously, there are some books that for the sake of your health you need to read in daylight and this is one of them.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: post-apocalyptic lovers with a strong stomach.

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