rebness: (Snow Cross)
*Screech* JUST POST STUPID THING

O hay, everyone! Hope you all had a merry Christmas and stuff. I've had a great Christmas, mingling with the family just enough to be happy but not stabby and with my doggies, of whom I can never tire (the cat is a different story). I've walked in winter sunshine on a crisp Christmas morning, met with Chris and Pen and Kelly and shopped. My mother and I cooked a ridiculously fantastic Christmas dinner and there is central heating and double-glazing. It's been great, but not as great to be online again and have hours of my life sapped away by the internet. :D

Let me tell you about my worst gift, in the spirit of Scrooge: my brother bought me an insultingly cheap, indifferent book called Cities, presumably because he picked it up, thought 'Oh, Becky likes cities and stuff' and thought that'd do.

EXCEPT. It has a bright yellow cover, with stupid text and a painting of some fake city and it's a FANTASY BOOK WITH EXCERPTS FROM STORIES ABOUT CITIES. AND PROBABLY GOBLINS AND UNICORNS. I could not be less likely to read a book unless it was written by Jade Goody. I am so upset. At least a crappy bathset is still useful; a bad book hurts to the core. I dread to see what loserface gets me for my birthday.

My sister got me the Nightwatch DVDs, the Twilight Watch book and, continuing with the Russian theme in a more dubious manner, In the Court of the Red Tsar. That's a little more like it. The rest of the stuff was horribly useful: a bathrobe, slippers, gloves, clothes, household knicknacks. I have finally grown up. :D

The best present was a laptop. All right, so I bought it for me, but I've been promising myself this since I started my new job. I chose an HP laptop, partly because my work one is pretty damned good and also out of company loyalty. Er, yeah. Don't let me down, bb. I also caved and bought the O2 modem for mobile broadband, which offers a slow connection but at least is a connection of sorts. It was also less than a third of the price for the 3G one, so I guess I can't be too choosy.

I thought I'd get a lot of reading done whilst I was at home, but forgot about the dogs and the family and the friend!visits, so all I've managed in the last week and a half is a book of short stories by Ian McEwan: First Love, Last Rites.

Now, I lovelovelove Atonement and I know I'll plunder my way through the rest of his books, but this collection is weird, man. The stories are unpleasant, though obviously well-written. None of them have really affected me, although I do love short stories. It's very much a 'meh' read, but good to pass the time. Incidentally, he uses the word 'c*nt' in most of the stories. Oh, Ian. You're such a c...ard.
rebness: (Petit Prince: Mouton)
After The Count of Monte Cristo, I've been having a hard time getting back into fiction. I just really enjoyed the sweep of Dumas' narrative and didn't want to sully it with anything else for a bit. So I decided on some non-fiction for a few reads:

Shakespeare –
Bill Bryson
A fast, entertaining read. I love the humour Bryson brings to his subjects. He’s never condescending and brings a wry, fresh outlook even to something as tired as the subject of Shakespeare’s life. The only thing I didn’t really like was the endless dissection of why other people couldn’t have written his plays. I know, I believe he wrote them, Bill! Can we have more fun trivia, please?

Armageddon in Retrospect – Kurt Vonnegut
A collection of essays from Vonnegut, on the theme of warfare. As usual, the writing is self-deprecating, making its point through sad, gentle humour. The chapter on Dresden and why we should care about the destruction of such a city brought tears to my eyes.

I loved the introduction by Vonnegut’s son, too – there’s an amusing story whereby Kurt applied for a job at Sports Illustrated. For a preliminary assignment, he was told to write a story about a racehorse that leapt over a fence at the aqueduct and ran away from its owners. He stared at his desk for what seemed like hours before finally getting up and leaving the building, without a word. Inside his deserted typewriter was a piece of paper which read: The horse jumped over the fucking fence.

Vonnegut, you were awesome.

The Sun King – Nancy Mitford
What a horrible, horrible man Louis XIV was! When he wasn’t imprisoning people for daring to build nice houses or having grieving mothers whipped, he was persecuting his nephew because he mildly irritated him and threatening to punish anyone who dared mention that the poor were starving. He didn’t like to know. Oh, deedums.

Louis XIV is often painted as a great king, but apart from saving France from bowing to the Allies and annexing half of the country, I think he was a terrible, selfish, tyrannical ruler. It makes me even sadder that the rage of the starving peasantry had to be visited upon gentle, bumbling Louis XVI rather than this clown.

But that’s exactly it; the book is very well-written, with excellent, amusing and shocking anecdotes. Mitford paints an evocative scene of Versailles and its people. I really enjoyed this book.

Currently reading: Le Petit Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I'm trying to get my brain back into French mode with this gentle, lovely little story.

Coming up:
The Thirty-Nine Steps - John Bucan
Night Watch - Sergei Lukyanenko
Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf (I never finished reading this for my Modernism class and have felt guilty ever since).
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

I'm off to France for a few days with Hannah, so we're packing some nice reading. :D 
rebness: (Esmeralda and Djali)
I am waiting and hoping on so much right now that I can scarcely concentrate on anything else, hence the lack of posting. But anyway, for now...

BON VOYAGE to [personal profile] saffronlie , on her return to Australia. I really, really hope you have enjoyed Blighty and I can't wait to see you posting again, chica. <3

O hay, reading:

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
Oh, Lionel. Kevin was such a great book; one of my very favourites of this year. So you follow it up with a book about snooker? (Do Americans really pronounce it snucka?) People, this is as boring as it sounds. The protagonist, Irina, either falls for a Cockney snooker player that uses Northern terminology ('pet', anyone?), or stays with some guy who works for a Think Tank. It's Sliding Doors without the Aqua soundtrack. It is boring. The end.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Oh, wow. Vendettas and escapades and mysticism and people fainting, turning pale and trembling at the turn of every page. I loved this novel, despite all its cliches and silliness, despite its dubious science on poison. I've taken two weeks to finish this and I'm really sad it's over. It was awesome. I just love the melodrama of the old French and English canon. I'm watching the film version now (the one with Guy Pearce.) It's crap.

Anyway, back to waiting and hoping and trembling, perhaps turning pale and fainting... :p
rebness: (Dexter: Sux0rs!!1)
Maurice by EM Forster
There was so much to dislike about this book. Its irritating misogyny. Its wish-fulfilment. Its patronising portrayal of the thick, loveable working-class.

What really irritates me about British fiction is that the working class is so rarely portrayed as anything beyond caricature: it’s either mindless squalor and stupidity, or the patronising myth of a poor-but-happeh social underclass. Few authors ever seem to get it right (I maintain that Orwell did, missing pier and all) and instances like this, where rough-n-ready Alec comes crashing into Maurice’s life with his bullish, honest-ter-god authenticity, deeply irritate me. I understand the point Forster was making about hypocritical society, but that he had to reinforce stereotypes for another social group disappoints me.

However, it would be churlish to deny that this book isn’t at least worthy and notable as a milestone in gay fiction, if only because it represents a struggle that was so close to Forster’s heart. It’s just a pity that Forster’s considerable talents weren’t so much in evidence in the narrative; maybe it was too close to his heart.


The Fahrenheit Twins by Michel Faber
The short stories in this book are really, really strange. Really strange. The title story is a twisted Nordic myth about a pair of twins and their role in the world. Some of the stories are excellent, some a bit *meh*, but they were all pretty inventive. I…can’t really explain it, but I enjoyed the stories, anyway.


The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis des Bernieres
This story is set in a fictional South American country and serves as a parody of various historical incidents: guerrilla fighting, the collapse of Argentina’s economy, the drug cartels of Colombia. What I love about Louis des Bernieres is how, even with a dark story, he manages to weave so much humour and feeling into his characters. The story of Parlanchina and her ocelot was a beautiful bit of magic realism.

Unfortunately, des Bernieres also sucks at endings. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was let down by its ending and the incredibly bizarre ending to this story rather jolted me out of what had been a wonderful read. Still, it was, overall, worth it.


The English Civil War by Diane Purkiss
This is my attempt to reconnect with my country’s history. I may have chosen the wrong book.

I am being driven to distraction by the incredible overuse of the term ‘the godly’ in this book. What does that even mean? Does the author not know any other adjectives? The term is used at least twice a page. I have always taken it to mean pious, but Purkiss uses it as a blanket term for Protestants, something I am finding rather offensive when compared with Catholics. Maybe it’s a stylistic term, to echo 17th century usage. But hello, Purkiss! You’re writing for a modern audience.

And there’s the rub: this book reads like an amateur love-fest for history. Like a bad Anne Rice novel, there are endless pages focusing on cherubs and the wallpaper and not the thoughts and feelings of people in the narrative. It seems like Purkiss just throws in every single scrap of primary evidence she can find, even completely irrelevant recipes and diary entries about a cat falling off a roof or a baby’s first steps.

The book reminds me of one of those starry-eyed tourists wandering around Versailles; it’s all very nice and pretty, but What Happened There may be slightly more interesting. The Amazon review states: Fixated on trees rather than the forest, Purkiss offers no clear overview of events or much coherent interpretation of the conflict. I couldn’t agree more.

I am also puzzled at how the author just assumes why someone acted in such a way and presents it as fact: Charles was briefly bullied as a child, so he therefore raised taxes on shipbuilding because sailors traumatised him. Or something. Antonia Fraser and Simon Sebag-Montefiore manage a really good balance between personal anecdotes and the wider scope of history. Purkiss doesn’t.


Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
So much darker than the television series and as devoid of empathy as Dexter purports to be. This was a light, fast read. The ending was so twisted, but it made me laugh out loud. I like the programme more than the novel, but it was still a fun read.
rebness: (Esmeralda and Djali)
Catch-up on the last three books I have read:

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro


Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
High school shooting and its aftermath. I have resisted Picoult for the longest time, but my boss loaned me this book, so I thought I might give it a whirl.

In sum: it was a compulsive read with some flashes of brilliance, even if the asides: “Every student wants to be popular… do you understand?” were patronising and trite.

It also suffered in comparison to We Need to Talk About Kevin, which, for all its faults, really made me think. There were no surprises for me in this novel, though I don’t regret reading it. Picoult is a competent writer and isn’t afraid to address social issues; it’s just a pity that I feel this one has been better explored by other authors. I wouldn’t be averse to reading more of her novels, particularly as my boss and [profile] mothergoddamn  both say that other works of hers are much better, though I probably wouldn’t buy them.


First Love by Ivan Turgenev
Short, melodramatic novella written in the 1860s. Nice read and relatively lightweight for Russian literature from that period – it felt like contemporary English or French fiction in terms of style, rather than Russian. But it was pleasant enough and just what I needed before plunging into EM Forster next.
rebness: (Scorchio)

One day of sunshine and it's TOO HOT. But I have gazpacho, so all is right with the world. It can be books update time now?

The Monk by Matthew Lewis 
Finally finished this book. What a melodramatic, crazy novel! Lewis seemed to throw in every Gothic cliché he could muster. No wonder Jane Austen parodied it in Northanger Abbey, but it was still a fun read nonetheless.

Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres
Red Dog was at times too anthromorphic for me, but then the style of this book is supposed to echo the outlandish accounts the Australians interviewed by the author took when describing the animal. I started and finished reading this book on the train to
Leeds and was horrified when tears started trailing down my face, to the consternation of the person sat next to me.

My brother Paul said this book is a testament ‘to the fact that no matter how nice you are, someone out there will try and f*ck it up for you.’ I rather agree.


Atonement
by Ian McEwan
I’ve resisted this novel for some time and only picked it up because it was £2 in a charity shop. I read it, enjoyed it and then put it away. Except I keep thinking about it and the more I do, the more I feel it was an excellent read and certainly one of the best books I have read in a long while. I want to discuss this further, as well as the film, which I saw immediately after finishing...

In summary, I love both book and film. Huzzah!

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag-Montefiore
Praise has been lavished upon Sebag-Montefiore’s strengths as a biographer, but I find him too preoccupied with the military side of Stalin than what actually made him tick. The portrait is of a foxy, ruthless individual with Serious Issues. I thought it an interesting and enlightening read, but I can’t help but prefer the more narrative biographical style of Antonia Fraser.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
In this book, Leo Demidov, an unswervingly loyal cop in Soviet Russia, is sent to silence a family who believe their son was murdered after he is found on train tracks in Moscow. He’s told to ignore the case, but when he finds himself at the centre of a KGB investigation, things turn. Read rather as pulp fiction, given its share of foreshadowing and conspiracy and femme fatales, but I enjoyed it immensely. I also loved the character of Raisa, Leo’s wife. In fact, although there are inevitable clichés in this novel, the characterisation is so strong that it overcomes its failings. Horribly, the story is based on a real case.

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzsakis
Re-read: halfway through. Do you ever feel that you can only read certain books at certain times of the year or in certain places? This novel starts off with a rain-lashed Greek café at a port and for some reason, I feel I only really appreciate it when reading when in
Greece. In September or October, when the weather turns. Maybe I’ll put it aside until I’m next there.

 ETA: failing at HTML and even Rich text, as usual.

 

rebness: (Klinom Krasnim)
Reading catch-up for this year:

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Attwood (re-read)

I find it hard to come back to books I have loved reading in my formative years, if only because I'm often dismayed at how simplistic their worldview now seems, or how trite a story I have previously considered groundbreaking. The Handmaid's Tale was neither of these things, I was delighted to rediscover. I got through this book in no time, perhaps because I'm not so well-disposed to men of late. ;)

The Private Lives of the Roman Emperors by Anthony Blond

Not quite as titillating as it sounds. This was rather an adult version of those splending Horrible Histories books they do to get children interested in history and it did the trick with me - there were some really interesting chapters on Roman warfare, their games, Roman food and then the emperors themselves. The author has a fun (though sometimes gratingly informal - referring to people as 'buddies?') tone to his writing.

There was also an unforgivable point where two pages of untranslated French were used to explain Roman cooking. It's all very nice that the author can speak French and also that he lives in a lovely part of France (which he was careful to drop into the book), but really... it struck me as rather snobbish to presume that your average English speaker picking up a quick read on Roman life is expected to also be fluent in French.

 Still, it was an enjoyable read in the main and its enthusiasm for Roman history was infectious. It's almost enough to make me brave going to Rome again. Almost.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

My friend Anthony has been trying to get me to read this for months. I'm glad he persisted in nagging me to read it; I loved this book, even if it is one of the more shocking novels I have ever read. The story is that of an American mother, Eva Katchadourian, writing a series of letters to her absent husband about their troubled son, who is languishing in gaol for embarking on a school shooting. The twist is that the child, Kevin, wasn't bullied or pushed into it, but that his standoffish mother regards it as a supreme example of his inherently cruel nature.

Shriver neatly sidesteps debate about gun control (to explain why would be to spoil an important aspect of the book) and Eva dismisses Kevin's angst-ridden 'colleagues' with a sneer - this book is not so much about school shootings themselves than the twisted love-hate relationship between a mother and her child.

If the concept seems jaded or weird (as a friend informs me), I think it is more than saved by Shriver's sharp prose. For instance, grief transmuted into art when angry relatives of the dead vandalise the Katchadourian house:

Picking my way to the side door again, I puzzled over how a band of marauders could have assaulted this structure so thoroughly while I slept inside...there were no jeers and howls, no ski masks and sawn-off shotguns. They came in stealth. The only sounds were broken twigs, a muffled thump as the first full can slapped our lustrous mahogany door, the lulling oceanic lap of paint against glass, a tiny rat-a-tat-tat as splatters splattered, no louder than fat rain. Our house had not been spurted with the Day-Glo spray of spontaneous outrage but slathered with a hatred that had reduced until it was thick and savourous, like a fine French sauce.

Or, one simple passage on travelling that really resonated with me and almost choked me when I read it:

I don't believe I ever told you
how sorry I was for putting you through all those little deaths of serial desertion, or commended you on constraining expression of your quite justifiable sense of abandonment to the occasional quip.

It's a sharp, often nasty book that doesn't pull punches. It's not perfect, but it's one of the most entertaining and provocative things I have read in a long while. The ending is compulsive.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

Currently reading. I hope the Mary-Sueish qualities of, er... Mary are toned down later in the book.
rebness: (Fetchez)
I finally finished The Brothers Karamazov! This is quite good going for my laziness, considering that I've been reading it for three months, on and off. It was worth the effort, though. I think the three brothers were exceptionally well-drawn, especially Dimitri Karamazov, who is basically my brother Adam in Russian garb. The book seemed overlong -- the most minor character would have to come onstage and give a three-chapter rant about their feelings on God, but in the end it was interesting to see how each little belief and each minor character had their effects (for better or worse) upon the dynamic between the brothers. I thought it was a good read and though Dostoevsky preferred The Idiot, I prefer this. So nur.

I meant to say more about it and explore the philosophy and humanism of the novel, but quite frankly, I have been distracted in the past couple of days by the completely sublime Max Gogarty vs. Mean Guardian readers affair. A talentless, middle-class white boy from North London lands himself a cushy job describing his 'completely mental' adventures-to-be in India and Thailand (he's 'doing' Asia in two months). In the blog, he manages to insult Indians, Australians and basically the intelligence of mean-spirited, 'jealous' Guardian readers who noticed that he is the son of one of their journalists. Comments were open on the blog. Hijinks ensued - from A+ trolling to Guardian staff invoking Godwin's Law to Wikipedia edit wars on 'nepotism'. And yay for OTF_Wank for picking up on it. >:)

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