Thursday, 24 September 2015

100 best books in English

In the Guardian last month was an article that brought together the 100 best books in the English language (according to Robert McCrum associate editor of the Observer). The list is full of what you would expect, the classics, the canon. You can't really go wrong with them so essentially they could have retitled it as, "Here are 100 classics" and no one would be that surprised. But that doesn't make for good click bait.

Out of 100 I have read 15 of these greatest books which is quite a disappointing number for a literature student. But there are plenty on the list that I do one day intend to read but I can only comment on what I know. I thought I would give some mini- reviews of each book that I have managed to read.

Clarissa Samuel Richardson
I'll be honest I have not read every word of this mammoth book. But I have studied the story which I think counts? I do still want to revisit the kilo weight monster on my shelf just to say that I've done it. Maybe without the time pressure and without my student brain switched on I will be able to enjoy it a little more. Fingers crossed, review to follow... Maybe.

Frankenstien Mary Shelly
One of my favourites. A few years ago I started a tradition for the month of October of reading gothic/horror/thriller novels as Halloween approached and if possible would be finishing the book on Halloween night. I light candles and read by candle light, with one in the window to let the dead know that someone is alive in here, which is an old tradition I heard about and really liked as it feels protective while I read my scary story. ANYWAY. I loved the book, I never knew the full original story before I did and I urge everyone to read it, the ending may surprise you.

Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
I, like many of us, studied this at University. I think I also read it before Uni and had seen an old adaptation of it, which I found very scary. When I read the book it was perfect timing to read it as a nearly adult person and was more able to handle the scary images from the film. Suddenly everything clicked into place and I found the story to be very easy to read. It's not one of my favourites on the list, but it's certainly worth a read.

Alices Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Caroll
A child hood favourite in terms of story and a teenage favourite in terms of writing and then an adult/student favourite for the context and background of the story. This year it celebrates 150 years and its influence reaches across so many spheres. For example I recently visited the Cutty Sark, which mentioned the increasing popularity of tea drinking being an influence on stories like Wonderland with scenes from the Tea Party. Who knew I'd see the familiar illustration of Alice in the hold of the Cutty Sark.

The Moon Stone Wilkie Collins
Another dissertation book for me, the use of opium as a plot device and Collins' own opium use was very intriguing for me. I loved the story it was reviewed as the longest and first detective novel ever. It absorbed me completely and did not take me as long to get through as I expected because the story was so engrossing. For a number of reasons I'd consider it to be an important book in my life and it is so much more interesting than its marketing would give it credit for.

Three Men in a Boat
My step dad read out a passage or two from this book which made me giggle, so I picked up the book for some light-hearted entertainment. unfortunately I think it would be better as a set of amusing quotes rather than the whole story which I found to be completely tedious. I might try again in a few years, but I wasn't particularly entertained by a smattering of clever paragraphs in a story which had no interesting points at all.

The Picture of Dorian Grey Oscar Wilde
Another university love. I studied the opium in this section of the book and the way that it had become the demon element of the story and part of the degeneration of society. I am still fascinated by the subject and would definitely like to read not only this but all of my dissertation bibliography again.

Jude The Obscure Thomas Hardy
One of the most depressing books in the english language. I much prefer the mayor of casterbridge or tess of the durvervilles but I have actually read this one all the way through. With one awful event after another, you've got to have quite a strong constitution to keep going with it.

Dracula Bram Stoker
Another of my Halloween projects and easily my favourite by far. I was completely fixated with this story which was so frightening that I couldn't put the book down. I loved the structure of the story through letters and diaries which is often seen to be quite archaic if it is not done well. It's even good enough for me to read again.

The Call of the Wild Jack London
This is one of my dad's favorite books and quickly became mine. I love the interaction between man and dogs for survival in the snow. It's an incredible story and short so well worth an afternoon's attention. I love dogs so much and its a very well written story, in fact all of his books are.

The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerrald
Usually I would beg people to read the book before the movie but I did that backwards. I thought the book was brilliant, a quick easy read. Because I didn't study the story at school I'm sure there are elements of the writing which were lost on me, the colours etc.

Nineteen Eighty Four George Orwell
Certainly one of the most important books. I love the big brother society and I love the distopia. Actually I've rather forgotten what happens! The imagination behind it is very interesting and its such a well thought out story that I really respect the book just in terms of crafted story line.

Lord of The Flies William Golding
I read this at school and would certainly like to think its something I'd pick up again. I often think that the subtleties of what I was told about the story went over my head at school and it is only now that I realise the significance of a story like this one and what it says about humanity. Definitely one for a revisit.

To Kill A Mocking Bird Harper Lee
Fantastic book. Another school favourite I've studied this book backwards and my original copy is completely unreadable because of all the notes. But I have recently re-read it and loved it again. I'm intrigued by Go Set A Watchman, one for the Christmas list?

A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
Another very disturbing but socially questioning book. I absolutely love the story, though it is extremely harrowing. You'll excuse my nadsat, droogies if I say the book is horrorshow bezoomy, get your glazzies on it.

See the full list on the guardian website below.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The ACTUAL Man Booker Shortlist 2015

On Tuesday morning my refreshing thumb was on fire on Twitter waiting for the Man Booker announcement for the shortlist 2015 and at 11am I was rewarded with the list. Here it is.

I am disappointed that just one of my favourites from the long list has made it to the shortlist. I'm currently half way though The Chimes and am surprised that it has not been selected. There was a lot of comments in the media about how the odds were against Anna Smaill's first novel which is a shame because I am enjoying it very much.

A Little Life has, as predicted, made it to the shortlist. Sometimes harrowing, sometimes romantic and utterly gripping are a few of the ways it has been described. Personally I am not a fan of massively harrowing stories and will be avoiding it even if it wins. It is also the largest book in the list which always makes me suspicious...You didn't read it; admit it, it was long and wordy and you want to burn the damn thing. I'm sure that isn't true but I am always suspicious of longer books on prize lists.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy looks to be some kind of American psycho style story set against a corporate background and punctuated by the media that affects the main protagonist U. It sounds a little heavy to get through, and could be quite hard to follow and reviews confirm that it is "confusing". Not really something I'd consider a criteria for 'literary fiction'.

A Brief History Of Seven Killings
Following the story of an attempted assassination of Bob Marley, Jamaican writer Marlon James's third novel is reportedly written in a considerable amount of patois which some readers find difficult. The taste of the judges this year appears to be very conflicting with my own as so far we're half way through the list and I'm not excited about any of the subject matters so far.

The Fishermen
Okay here we go, some real fiction, some real originality makes it onto the list. The story follows four brothers who discover a prophesy which drives a wedge between each of them. The guardian has called it a promising debut novel and I am pleased to see a first novel on the list because I think that's important for the Man Booker Prize to be promoting new authors.

The Year of the Runaways
This one sounds a lot like The Island or What Was Promised about migrants in Sheffield. It's definitely got the topical element on its side but its not particularly grabbing for me. The guardian calls it a beautiful and brilliant novel and most reviewers give it 5 stars. A more promising second half of the list.

A Spool of Blue Thread
It so nearly made it onto my predicted shortlist! with a ton of prize nominations and best seller aclaim, Anne Tyler has got some serious character writing behind her which people LOVE to read. A Spool of Blue Thread tops my wishlist at the moment.

Overall I'm not loving the list but it's 50/50 love/hate so fingers crossed for them all. I hope I wasnt too critical, I am really looking forward to the winner being announced.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Sticking with your reading

I love reading, I love talking about books, I love spending time in book shops and reading on the train, the car, in bed. But sometimes I know that I am falling behind with my book. There are so many other distractions which pull me away from reading at the moment. I love how busy I am but it does mean squeezing my reading in between everything else.

One thing that helps me want to read is a good book. When I'm reading something that interests me it is easier to pick it up at every opportunity. Those are the days that I will roll over on a Sunday morning and refuse to leave my bed until I finish every page. Sometimes the book I'm reading isn't a cliff hanger read that forces me to return again and again and I end up spending my days listening to podcasts or music and playing candy crush because the story doesn't pull me back.

If that is the case, should I even be reading that book? I would argue that yes, I should be reading that book, even if I am struggling to fit it into my schedule. This is where my 50 page rule comes up AGAIN I feel indebted to the author and industry to read the whole book if I was sucked in by good writing at the start.

Another way I reconnect to my books is by actually looking at them. Reorganising my shelves and paying attention to what I actually want to read is my favourite way to get inspired to read more. Because there are always more books waiting to be read.

There has been a recent suggestion by a friend to start a vague bookclub so that we can talk about books together. And that has been a huge motivation to 'crack on' with my book and start talking about it with friends. It's something I really miss from university, when we were all reading the set text, getting to bitch about it for hours was brilliant and I think I might be about to get that back. The group of colleagues I have my tea break with are all avid book readers or students of literature and although we have very different tastes there is a ton of bookish discussion that has started, mostly by the Man Booker long list being announced.

Finally the last reason I keep reading is for this blog, it's a real motivator to finish a book by the end of the month so that I can write my reviews. Twitter is the main place I post about my blog, so if I am marketing my own writing I quite often have my eye on what publishers have coming out and what books people are blogging about. It's exciting to read about books and to write about them, so I have to do some of the primary research too and actually READ.

On that note, I have a book to finish.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

August Reviews

The Moor's Account
Laila Lalami
Periscope (Garnet) 30/7/2015 Paperback
Bought in Bookshop

The first on the list for the Man Booker Long list. I knew I wanted to get started with some of the chosen long list and when I wandered into the local bookshop near my work The Moors Account was both on my own personal shortlist AND was only £9.99. The story follows an expedition of Spanish soldiers and settlers out looking for gold in the new world of La Florida (sound familiar?). The twist is that the story is told through the eyes of a slave from Azemmour in Portugal.

The book is a fictionalised retelling of a genuine expedition which ended with just four survivors. Laila Lalami's novel is based on a single line in one of the survivor's records: "The forth survivor is Estevancio, an Arab Negro from Azamor."

The story looks into the developing relationship between master and slave when in survival situations. The gradual shift in the relationship back and forth is interesting to follow throughout each adventure in the 8 years that the expedition wanders, lost, through the wilderness. The skills of each man become more important as the situation worsens and improves and the hierarchy of the group continuously changes.

I loved this story, it has one of my style pet peeves which is that there are no speech marks which has been creeping into books more and more these days which I do not see the point of. It doesn't make the story hard to follow, however principally I find it difficult to find my place again if I ended on a chunk of speech and have to scan for the precise word rather than the rough approximation of where I was in the conversation.

Other than the small punctuation issue, I thought the book was descriptive, immersive and gripping. I was pleased with the ending and the story engaged me throughout although it was quite a long story and because there is no real beginning middle and end there is a slightly strange feeling to finishing it as if there is more to tell even though the adventure is over.