Sunday, 24 January 2010

Book #4: To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was voted the book to read before you die by British Librarians, beating the Bible to top place. I don't quite agree with that order, but it should definitely be in the top three. It is such a beautiful gem of a book.

It deals with such deep issues—racial inequality, class, rape, justice—but from the view-point of a 10 year old child (well, the narrative voice is clever and complicated). Harper Lee does this to inject innocence and humour into otherwise appalling situations.

Interestingly, To Kill a Mockingbird has seen its fair share of controversy. When it began to be taught in schools, parents asked for it to banned, because most were apparently horrified by the idea that a white girl could be attracted to a black man. However, the book has later been said not to be as critical of racism as it should be, resulting in a further call for it to be banned from teaching syllabuses. Admittedly, the word 'Nigger' is used 48 times in the book, but you always get the feeling it is not used as a derogatory term. Sometimes the best way to remove a defamatory word's power is to claim it for a use that is not; just as the LGBT movement has for the word queer, and some feminists have tried for the 'C' word. Also, the book leaves no doubt as to who you were meant to be supporting.

One more note: Pullman, this is an example of what it is to do accents properly.

So, read it before you die. If you don't do it for me, do it for the librarians.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

In jokes...

Everyone has a love/hate relationship with in-jokes. If you aren't in on the in-joke you hate them. If you are, however, they're the coolest thing ever. Here are some of my favourite in-jokes, of which I am in on.

Gravity has taken it's toll
My brother and I spent some of this morning playing the Thème de Camille by Georges Delarue and saying "I have never felt better, but at my age gravity has taken its toll." This is because of the somewhat amusing L'Oreal adverts featuring Jane Fonda. Gravity has taken its toll? What, you fell off a bridge or something?

My boy is dead
This one seems a little more morbid, but its origins are quite simple. The line comes from Jaws in 30 seconds, reinacted by bunnies. Click here to see what I'm talking about. There is a range of films on this site condensed to 30 seconds, and all worth a look.

Okay, that's two in-jokes that I decided to share. There are others ("My house is in there!", "And clench..."). Another thing about in-jokes is that they usually are of a you-had-to-be-there sort, so when you do share them they aren't remotely funny.

In other news, I recently caught a bus with Sherlock Holmes. I got on the bus and he was sat there in a tartan deerstalker hat reading a book through thin rimmed glasses. But, unlike the real Sherlock Holmes (real? and in my last post I wrote about discerning between fact and fiction), this man was an idiot. The thing is, I get on the bus at a request stop, and on the way back, despite the lack of signage, there is also another stop opposite where I like to get dropped. So I pressed the bell, and the bus driver asked, "Where would you like to be dropped?". Just as I was about to say "Anywhere about here," Sherlock Holmes piped up and said "Just around the corner."

"What? Who asked you? I rang the bell. I'm the one that requested the bus to stop. Not you. You idiot," I thought. "Now I'm going to have to walk round that hairpin bend in the dark and will most likely get killed because of you." So, apparently, Sherlock Holmes isn't dead, he's alive and well and local to me, and most of all is an idiot

Book I'm reading: To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Book number: 4
Pages I'm into it: 257 of 309
Bookmark: The train ticket.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Book #3: Northern Lights

I'm just going to address one point before I can continue. I'm a Christian, but yes, I've read a Pullman book. There was no Faustian apparitions whilst I was reading it and I have not been pulled into the fires of Hell. It was a concern. I'm a (debatably) mature 21 (nearly 22- again: hint, hint) year old, and I can read a book without having a sudden crisis about the boundaries between fact and fiction. One of the main points of contention was the use of the word daemons within the book. Do your research people, the usage of that word with that particular spelling derives Classical mythology. Daemons were spirit guides and is found, for instance, in works by Plato. Admittedly, Pullman is vocal about his dislike of religion, but we cannot demonise (or should it be, daemonise?) him.

So that little nag over. What did I a-think of the book? Well, the one thing that really a-irritated me was the way Pullman a-tried to a-give a sense of dialect in his speech by a-putting an 'a-' a-in a-front a-of a-every a-single a-verb. Irritating, no? Lyra's speech was so inconsistent she either had multiple personalities or was one of those really fake people who put on accents to fit in. I knew someone who, whilst at a Christian camp, spoke in an American accent for the whole week so he could flirt with the girls. That was until I said that he sounded as if he had a stroke. He seemed quite offended but his fake accent quickly disappeared. True story.

Also, to some degree I didn't really enter the world of Lyra. I think there was so much that you had to learn about in this world, from different social codes to different types of science, it was just too much. I suppose this is the literary form of culture shock, and maybe because I read it in a day, I never really felt as if I was able to fully enter into the world that Pullman had created.

Now I have to talk about the ending. Why ruin a perfectly tradition? It was rubbish. Okay, it was meant to be a cliff-hanger. You were meant to be wetting yourself due to the excitement and anticipation of the next instalment. But I wasn't. I was like, "Hey, hang on a sec. This girl has just had a huge trauma. Huge. And she didn't even really notice." All sense of credibility that the character had, which wasn't much, what a-with a-her a-stupid a-accents, was lost. I don't know this child. The Lyra I got to know would not have reacted like that. She can't just let it go like that.

So I wasn't particularly impressed.

Book I'm reading: To Kill A Mocking Bird, Harper Lee
Book number: 4
Pages into it: Still page 1 of 309. I do have a life, you know. Albeit at dull one.
Bookmark: Train ticket (Single, Southampton to Ashurst New Forest, £3.40)

Monday, 18 January 2010

Nothing much except zombies.

It's been nearly a month since I've actually written about what I've been up to. I've written posts, sure, but not actually talked about what I'm up to.

So Christmas has been and gone, and so has New Year, and I think I've passed the deadline to begin talking about those (good, but busy, if you're wondering). So here I am, well into the bosom of New Year. I don't know why I decided to use the word bosom, but I did, so deal with it. Bosom. How salacious, one might say. But it's nice to say that despite the New Year, the New Decade even (or is it?), some things don't change. I still write a load of rubbish. Mostly, because I've nothing remotely interesting to write about. Well, I have, but the less said about that the better.

So there you have it, around one hundred and fifty words of nothing. Twoddle. Meaningless utterings. Sometimes I think reading this blog is trying to squint at a deeply dark landscape, attempting to make out something that isn't there. But I am alive, so that must be good.

It's my birthday soon(ish). And I've found something I like the look of (hint, hint). It's a book, of course. It an Austen, with a twist. The twist is...zombies.

Book I'm reading: To Kill A Mocking Bird
Book number: 4
Pages into it: Page 1 of 309
Bookmark: Train ticket (Single, Southampton to Ashurst New Forest, £3.40)

Book 2#: Brighton Rock

Having read this book I feel some mixed emotions, two being relief and defeat. For years I've avoiding reading Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. It was a subtle act of rebellion, as my dad is a huge Greene fan, Brighton Rock in particular. For most my life I knew, as well as Hale did, that before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. Don't worry, that isn't a spoiler, it's the first line. But, finally, I've read it.

And what did I think? I was good. First, because it was one of those dot dot dot endings I liked. It was one of those 'what did he mean by that?' endings. It is a brilliant ending, and I'm going to share it with you because it gives little away: "She walked rapidly in the thin June sunlight towards the worst horror of all." When you thought it wasn't going to get any worse, when you thought it was all over, Greene, at the very last moment, makes you realise you were very much wrong. What was that worst horror of all? My theory was that it was a gramophone record.

There was a really strong sense of different moralities, though most of the characters had abandoned them long ago. There was the dubious and subjective Right and Wrong of Ida Arnold and the Good and Evil (mostly evil) of the Romans (Catholics).

If you don't want a lesson on human depravity, read it just because it is a good thriller.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Book #1: Looking for Alaska

It is sixty-six and a half hours into 2010 and I have already finished the first book of my 2010 challenge. You’d think as an English graduate I’d find the reviewing part of it easy. But, actually it’s quite difficult to take a step back—not to give a Freudian/Marxist/feminist account of the story, not write an essay—and write plainly what I thought. Discuss.

Did you see what I did there? I turned it into an essay question. That’s the way we roll here, kids. Anyway, back to the book. It was Looking for Alaska by John Green. Well, I liked the characters because (1) I could relate to them. Miles, the protagonist was a geek: I’m a geek; (2) they all had their flaws. Miles was irritating: I’m irritating; and (3) I can’t think of a 3 right now, but 1 and 2 were good. I didn’t like them because, sometimes, they were too irritating. But that’s okay, because if the characters could admit when they didn’t like each other, so can I.

One impression I was left with though was that for a book so obsessed with last words it ended on a rather bum note. It was more of a dot dot dot, than anything else. And not one of those good dot dot dots, that leaves you thinking, “What? How can you do that, you crumby author? How could you leave us with so many unanswered questions?” Those are the good type of dot dot dot endings. No, this was like one of those conversations that you have where everyone talking gradually looses interest and you end in an awkward silence. And then you feel you have to clear your throat, or say, "Sooo..."

However, I loved the philosophical feel to the book. I loved the aforementioned last words that filled the narrative like dead on a battle field. I loved that it was a book written by a nerd, about a nerd and, probably, for nerds. One character learnt all the capitals of the countries in the world. I mean, my brother did that. It is one of those books that you could unashamedly talk in terms of feminism, Freud, Marxism, and all that jazz, because it seeped with references to different schools of thought, especially feminism. However I won’t do that, because that’s dull.

So it was a nice, familiar (read: predictable), and laid back start to my 2010 book marathon. I would say: read it, it won't kill you.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year

Bang! Pop! Wooooooooo! Phish!

If you didn't guess those are the sounds of fireworks going off to herald in the New Year. Hope you handled your fireworks safely. Now I've done my bit for public safety awareness, I can sleep tonight knowing that scores of people may have been saved by my aptly timed advice. I think I needed to emphasise the "may" in that sentence there.

Moving on. So, what has the New Year got in store for this merry little blog? Well, this year I’m going to set myself a challenge. It’ll probably go down like all my other challenges I’ve set myself during 2009. But, this is 2010, and we must have hope and courage and perseverance if we are to succeed. This challenge is to—wait for it—do something (yes?) amazing...spectacular...awesome...something... You know what I’ve done, haven’t I? How silly of me. I’ve made a huge thing of this challenge, and now you’re probably on tenterhooks to find out what it is (see note below). The thing is, this challenge isn’t the huge, spectacular thing I’ve made it out to be. But I’ve managed to delay saying what the challenge is by seventy words. Seventy-one. Okay, the challenge is to read twenty-six books in 2010. Why twenty-six books, you ask. Well, as there are fifty-two weeks in a year, that makes a book every two weeks. I’ve already got a few titles of books I want to read. These include Looking for Alaska, by John Green; Brighten Rock, by Graham Greene; and Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. If you have any suggestions, suggest away.

So there we have it: 26 books in a year. Hopefully I will have finished Doris Lessing’s, The Good Terrorist, by then. Hopefully, I will have a little widget which will tell you what the book I am currently reading is. I shall also write some short reviews/commentaries.

See you later, terminator.

Note on “on tenterhooks”: While writing this post I got curious on where the phrase “on tenterhooks” originated. First, I discovered it was tenterhooks and not tenderhooks. Basically, in the olden days, after spinning wool they had to wash it. Then they had to dry it, but so that it didn’t shrink they hung it up on frames. These frames were called tenters, and the hooks on them were called tenterhooks. It isn’t a huge leap of the imagination how being strung up on tenterhooks can be used as a metaphor for anxiously awaiting something. Now, hopefully you read this bit before carrying on with the rest of the paragraph, so I delayed you finding out about the challenge by a further 124 words. Gutted. 126.