Monday, 14 July 2014

Attitudes to Reading

Stage 1:
I assume the first stage was picture books before bed time. In some ways this has influenced my attitude to reading all through my life: it's always something to do before bed and I normally cannot sleep without it.

Stage 2:
School. This involved trying to read as many of those little books with the yellow borders on as possible (I distinctly remember one with a hamburger on). It was about learning a new skill and trying to be good at it.

Stage 3:
The movement to bigger books was not hindered by my reading skills, but by my love of pictures. I could cope with more words, I just did not want less pictures. I suppose to some extent this led to my reading of large hardback illustrated classics such as 'The Secret Garden' and 'The Water Babies' (from what I remember that is one messed up book). But eventually reading became something I did by myself, carefully selecting books in the library. I rarely read something I just did not like. (This may have been due to how long I took choosing my books.)

Stage 4:
Reading young adult fiction was a very conscious change, it meant going purposefully to a different section of the library, choosing books with YA on the spine. I think I was ready for more difficult books long before I  was ready for the more "grown-up" content (I was/am fairly a fairly naive person!) I am glad I did read a number of YA novels, though I am a little suspicious of this "genre" nowadays and the artificial divide it creates between YA and adult fiction. Reading these books was about gaining the experiences I did not gain for myself and, to some extent, becoming a bit less naive about the way things are.

Stage 5:
Littered throughout my YA days were classics (facilitated mainly by them being free on kindle) but I never really thought about reading a contemporary "adult" book. It was only when I saw them on the reading list for sixth form that I thought I was now "ready" or "allowed" to read them. Probably the first I read was 'The Da Vinci Code' and I remember thinking (with that brain that assumed all adult books would be as challenging or as nuanced as the classics I had read) "well, it's just like YA, it's not even very good". This stimulated 'Stage 5' which I would regard my current stage. I mainly read, (pretentiously phrased) "good books" i.e classics (modern or older), books regarded as important. This is a sensible thing to do considering that I will (fingers crossed) soon be studying English Literature at university and this fact has affected my reading pattern. Books are no longer devoured quite as they were. I read things that I have no real connection to out of a curiosity, a desire to experience all these different books (admittedly also because a small part of me feels that I "should", but that part can be dangerous!) It's not so much about that total absorption in the story, though with the right book this comes also, it's a little more considered than before.

Do you identify with any of these stages? Have you got any extra stages? I think I can accurately predict Stage 6: trying and occasionally failing to read like a machine all the set books for university.

Monday, 9 September 2013

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Stupidly Simple Synopsis: Family and guests on a holiday by sea. Years pass and some of original characters return to house. 

I have never read anything like this. Ever. It is hard to be drawn in by plot, the events drift along at the change of the tide. I did not wish to read it constantly and obsessively. Yet, it put a spell on me in such a way that the cliched phrase is justified. As I read it, it felt... almost 'delicious'. I wanted to consume the words and let them wash over my hypnotised mind. The language is so beautiful and very visual. Ingrained on my mind is an image of the house. I imagine the flaking paint and sand on bare floorboards and fading rugs and shells. Perhaps reading it on holiday helped!

I could not read Woolf all the time, I think it would strangely alter your reality. Reading this book made me think a lot about myself and what its like in my head compared to others. The seamless slipping from character to character causes you to identify and dislike them almost equally. Internal monologues all seem to be diffused through the filter of Virginia Woolf or an ethereal narrator borrowing from people's thoughts. They are at once their own thoughts, as well as sharing a vague wholeness of one complete person.

There was also an intriguing use of brackets to record deaths. It changed the weight of importance from real, tragic events to the general, continual passage of time. There was one whole chapter that was in brackets (designed to confuse yours truly, who hunted the whole chapter for the second bracket unsuccessfully, before finding it at the end).

Some people think holiday reads should be light books that you can easily dip into without worrying your brain too much. Personally, this could be the perfect holiday book. Not only is it about holidays(!) but it has a dreamlike feel that could go perfectly with lounging on the beach. However, as it is no longer summer, I would urge you to pick it up now anyway!!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013


This play is brilliant. Honestly, it has completely dispelled any apprehension I had about Shakespeare. That he was too difficult to read. Or that he actually wasn’t very good. I could so clearly understand and see his genius, far more than in Romeo and Juliet. Hamlet’s monologues really were the highlight, debating issues of death and life and morality and madness.

There was also the usual helping of innuendos. One in particular was rather shocking and made very obvious by David Tennant (in the BBC adaptation). As a play it seems an odd thing to read it when so much of the presentation comes from seeing it acted. Perhaps because of this I found that as I read it, I wanted to read it aloud and act it. This is surely also proof of the realism of the characters (well a kind of fictional realism, not the kind of realism you might get in a novel nowadays). It was so open to interpretation too. “My Hamlet” was subdued and depressed, Tennant’s was more violent.

I guess the real question that comes with this play, is “Is Hamlet mad?” and I refuse to answer it! Please offer your ideas and comments, because I honestly feel I should reread it, looking closely at the text, ignoring all other interpretations, to come to a conclusion. I simply don’t have enough time!

One element of the plot that I felt a little unsure about was the very small Fortinbras line. To me, it didn’t offer much, other than a setting of war. I suppose this may have made some of Hamlet’s observations more potent. I mean, who am I to doubt Shakespeare? He’s like Britain’s one claim to fame that could probably trump all others. So you’ve got Michael Jackson? Well we’ve got Shakespeare.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The rest of the LORD OF THE RINGS

I have already written about the first book and, because I read the last two consecutively and because they were all intended to be read as one (and because I’m lazy) I have combined those books into one post.

The first thing to note is that I enjoyed them so much more than the first one, even though I didn’t even dislike the first. Tolkien is one of those authors who seems, to me, oblivious of his audience. He is genuinely enjoying adventuring in his own world and will not apologise for relishing in details or for having five chapters of relative joy after the ring is destroyed. I think this is what makes the books so popular. There is an amazingly real world presented to you to discover and explore – what could be more exciting?!

I think it may have been slightly anti-climactic once Frodo and Sam entered Mordor though. Apart from the emphasis on their weariness it all seemed a little easy (well, sort of easy). There was never any great confrontation with Sauron either. I don’t think we even find out what he looks like. For me, though, this was probably necessary. To keep him hidden and disembodied makes him appear a far greater threat. Instead, I would have liked a battle of Frodo vs His Conscience on Mount Doom. His loyalty to Sam would have made him overcome the desire for the ring and it would have been a display of the glory of friendship. I’m wrong though, it’s far neater for it to be Gollum that causes the ring’s destruction. It’s also a testament to the ring’s power that it was really only an accident that destroyed it.

The story of Eowyn jarred a little with me, as did the lack of women, though I suppose I should not expect a contemporary take on women considering the time it was written. I just thought, even with her defying her father and desiring to fight, her reasons seemed twisted. It seemed that she only wanted the glory that a man can get and thus, as she was the only strong female representative, it seemed that this was a reflection on all females. Moreover, the end of her story, of marriage and becoming a healer, seemed to say “She’s learnt that women aren’t suited to battle now and has instead fickly and femininely fallen in love.” Oh I love getting feministly riled on the odd occasion.

Basically, they were undoubtedly brilliant books and the first epic adventure novels I’ve read in a while, but they reminded me of my love for that genre, especially when so beautifully written.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

Please stick with this book, you will be missing out on one of the most bizarre and hilarious scenes in any novel ever if you don’t read to the end! Honestly, this book could drag, but there are some utterly brilliant anachronisms that really make it worthwhile.

As the title rather explicitly suggests, this novel plants a (for Twain) modern American, in the time of one of Britain’s greatest legends, and basically causes chaos! The novel begins with quite a sense of adventure; how will he survive? What will he do? But it quickly becomes apparent that these knights are way too stupid to be of any threat and are easily manipulated into business making tools. Then come the telegrams and coal mines and soap adverts which make this novel so uniquely obscure. Just the images created by this collision of two cultures, one so stuck in legend and tradition that to destroy it is utter glee, are brilliant.

However, there is a lot of economic and political discussion that comes. This may be the most intellectually meritable thing about this book and I did enjoy the questions that were raised. Despite this, when it comes in the form of frustrating one-sided conversations it can become, for someone who knows little about these subjects, monotonous.

Like I said at the beginning though, stick it out, because you will be missing out on more of Twain’s humour. I shall leave you with a little taste of what to expect of this book:

“She had no more idea than a horse how to photograph a procession; but being in doubt, it was just like her to try to do it with an axe.”

Saturday, 24 August 2013


I can promise you now that there will be a post a day for the next three days, which is an amazing feat of regularity for me, so enjoy it whilst it lasts!! 

I'd also like to really encourage you to comment (I'm so sorry for nagging you, if this feels like nagging, I am not your mother). However, I'm sure your mother would really love it if you did comment because it would make my day.

P.S If you do comment please follow the one golden rule: Be nice.

The Town in Bloom

Dodie Smith may be the author of 101 Dalmations, but don’t be expecting fur clad villains and adorable puppies in this simple story of youth and romance.

First, please appreciate the beautiful cover. Isn’t it nice? Quite apart from the cover, I picked it up because of the brilliance of another of her novels, “I Captured the Castle”, but it didn’t have the same delight. In fact, it was bordering on the dreaded genre of ‘Chick Lit’ which, although I have little experience of, I know that it is not for me!

The main character, “Mouse”, tries to become an actress and ends up as a secretary in a theatre. Here she meets the famous, but aging, Rex Crossway and (inevitably) falls in love. She has the courage and stupidity to push herself onto him which can be very cringey, particularly as I didn’t even like Rex. His womanising ways were just accepted as part of him, as if they were inherited and inescapable, leaving him blameless. By the end of the novel he effectively had three women running around after him and, worst of all, they were all aware of it! I found his character a little pathetic without any redeeming sense of morality. I could have coped with this, if I felt that there was a reason for it, if it seemed to be making some kind of valid social comment; I don’t have to like characters! However, it felt as if you were supposed to fall in love with Mr Crossway too.

The book ended slipping forward into old age. I think the combination of how unsatisfactorily their lives turned out and the skipping of many years seemed to say that after youth, nothing is monumental or exciting. How cheery.

Despite all this, if I squinted as I read so as to blind myself to the things I disagreed with, I could enjoy this novel. It was a nice break from some of the heavier stuff I have read, without descending into some of those mindlessly churned out novels!

Just a quick note to say I hope to be uploading blog posts quite regularly over the next week, as I have a ton of books stored up to write about. It would be really great if you took the time to comment if you find something interesting, or even if you disagree with me! Thank you for reading J