Book Love: Welcome to The Classics Club!

I am now, rather excitingly, a member of The Classics Club.  This is a group of bloggers who all want to read (and of course blog about) more classic literature, and who sign up to read at least 5o classics in a maximum of five years.

Now, an absolutely huge part of my to-read list is made up of classics, so I’m mega-excited to get involved.  I already have a few books on my list ready and waiting for me on my bedside table – just need to finish what I’m reading at the moment first!  I’ve put my start date down as next Friday, which means that my challenge is to have finished 50 books by January 25th 2018.

This might not sound too much, but we have to bear in mind that I’m a pretty slow reader, very easily distracted, with a LOT of contemporary books that I’m desperate to read.  Though for now, at least, 2018 sounds like some kind of weird sci-fi date that I’m not convinced will ever actually arrive!  So the whole challenge isn’t too intimidating so far…

If you fancy a look at my list of planned classics, you can find it here.  This list is of course totally subject to change, so we’ll see how it goes.  I’m genuinely excited to see it start going down, and hopefully learning a lot from it!  Some of my favourite books are classics (To Kill A Mockingbird, Wuthering Heights, Atonement – I reckon that should count as a classic by now), but my general knowledge of them is woeful.  Time to remedy that!

So, wish me luck, and you can get yourself involved here, if that sounds like your cup of tea.  Let me know if you decide to go for it, that way I can keep up with what you’re doing too.  Or if you’re already a classics connaisseur, feel free to pass on any of your recommendations – or books to avoid, for that matter!

Book Love: Noughts and Crosses, the re-read

Has everyone read Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman?  If you’re in your early twenties and the answer is no, what on earth were you reading instead during your teenage years?

Noughts and Crosses was my absolute favourite book when I was in high school (though it probably did share that spot with Harry Potter) and I’m currently rereading the trilogy.  It is as wonderful as when I first read it.  At least five times as a teenager I finished reading this book in bed in the small hours of the morning, crying under my duvet.

Now, believe it or not, I’m 21 and nothing has changed.  At 1am last week, there I was with tears in my eyes.  And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

If you’ve never read Noughts and Crosses, especially if you have even the slightest interest in Young Adult fiction, I urge you to go and find a copy immediately.  If you have read it, go and dig it out again – I promise it has aged well.

In case you don’t know, the book is set in an alternate world where black people (Crosses) are in charge and whites (noughts) are, as their name suggests, considered worthless.  It tells the story of Callum and Sephy, a nought and a Cross, who are best friends discovering the difficulties of living in such a divided world and dealing with other people’s prejudices.

I cannot do this book justice with a summary.  It is heartbreaking, emotional, a brilliantly constructed world that can’t fail to draw you in and leave you amazed at the unfairness of it all.  And the scariest part lies in the parallels drawn between that world and ours.

Yes, the situation of black people in the western world has improved tremendously over the last 50 years, but it’s still nowhere near perfect and 1963 really isn’t that long ago.  And deep-seated prejudices are still evident everywhere – they may not be related to race, but the principle is the same.  In my opinion, this book should be compulsory reading for everyone as a teenager, when they’re starting to secure their world view and figure out what they believe.

I’m now halfway through the second book in the series, still as gripped as I was aged 13.  I can’t recommend Noughts and Crosses strongly enough.  Malorie Blackman has done amazing work.  Thank you to her.

Book Love: My Book Haul

As promised, I bring you more details of my book-buying mini-splurge last week.  Apologies for the delay – I had the most minor internet problem possible, which still somehow made WordPress decide not to work.20130116-214143.jpg

So, my books.  They came from Oxfam Emporium on Oldham Street in Manchester, just off Piccadilly Gardens.  I buy almost all my general fiction books from charity shops at the moment – they usually have a more-than-wide-enough choice to keep me going for a while, they’re loads cheaper than buying new, and you’re helping charity.  Surely there’s no better way?  If you happen to be in the Manchester area, this Oxfam in particular has a good range of books, and I always have to rein myself in when I go to browse in there!

This time I did pretty well, I managed to keep it down to five books at £2.99 each (it was originally four, but as I left the till I spotted The Jaguar Smile, which has been on my to-read list for years).

  1. The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey by Salman Rushdie has, as I say, been a book I’ve wanted to read for years, and I’m already halfway through it.  It’s non-fiction, about the author’s trip to Nicaragua while the revolutionary Sandinista’s were democratically running the country and were being unfairly attacked by Ronald Reagan as a result of Cold War politics.  I totally realise that this is probably not everyone’s cup of tea (!), but it’s something I’ve been studying at uni and is a subject I find totally fascinating.  It’s probably also a good introduction to Rushdie for me, since I stand half a chance of knowing what he’s writing about!  So far, needless to say, I am loving it.
  2. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.  Atonement (review here) is one of my favourite books, as well as the first book I read after starting my blog, and I’ve enjoyed a couple of Ian McEwan’s other books, so this seemed like a pretty good bet.  No idea what it’s about, more info to come!
  3. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  I remember exactly when I first heard of this book.  Someone very enthusiastically recommended it to me in my high school library when I was in sixth form, and I immediately thought, “Ooh I must take that out and read it, it sounds good”.  Five years later, I’ve finally got my hands on a copy!  This is also now on my list for The Classics Club, so it’s very high on my upcoming list.
  4. Regeneration by Pat Barker was a book I’d never heard of before I bought it, but was recommended by the friend I went shopping with (who knows me very well after ten years, and whose opinion I completely trust).  It’s about the First World War.  It’s supposed to be good.  That’s all I know.
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker.  Another book on my list for The Classics Club.  Also recommended by previously mentioned friend.  Looking forward to reading it.  Enough said.

So that’s it – yet more books for the shelf.  And all old, previously read and loved books.  I can’t wait.  Anyone read any of them?  Any other recommendations – of books or charity shops?  Is anyone else a charity shop lover?  Drop me a comment if you feel like it and let me know.

A Bit of Everything: Blogging Break

My brain is full.  I have been working kinda sorta nearly all day on the Horrible Essays and have reached the stage where you get a headache and eyeache from the computer screen and it all seems just too hard.  I have just had a chocolate break, am now having a blogging break (yes, I know that won’t help with the computer screen issue, but shh) and am preparing to plunge back in.  I have not entirely kept up with my wonderful plan and still most definitely have The Fear, but I’m on a bit of a mission to get back to up to word count targets now on at least one of the two.  So … go team!

Amongst all this essay stress I’ve still (through sheer determination) managed to keep up with one of my sort-of resolutions, and have been reading every night before bed – and it’s even been something none essay-related.  I’m quite proud of myself, I have to admit.  Yes, yes, I know it’s only the 9th of January, but please just let me have my moment 🙂

As a side note, as well as the reading I’m also finding time to watch Africa on BBC1 – second episode tonight and I am excited!  Anyone else obsessed?  I absolutely adore David Attenborough, and if you aren’t watching then you should be – it’s brilliant!

Back to the books … I finished The Slap a few days ago, and think I’ve finally made up my mind.  The bits I always thought I didn’t like (too much gratuitous sex detail, too much swearing, characters all too horrible/messed up) most definitely still stand.  While I’m not averse to a bit of gritty reality, I refuse to accept (as a couple of Goodreads reviewers have tried to assert) that this means everyone is horrible and ungrateful and entirely closed to compromise.  In fact, I feel quite sorry for people who think that these characters represent the “real world” (as though the one we inhabit is just pretend), because it gives us quite a sad window into their own minds.

Even so, if you were to remove these bits, I quite liked this book.  I’m a big fan of authors who get you to see things from multiple characters’ points of view, one reason for my adoration of The Casual Vacancy, and I did think that the author raised some interesting issues.  I just wish we could have seen at least one or two characters taking some kind of middle ground – that would have linked the story more to reality for me.  I think I probably disliked quite a lot of the characteristics that made the book such a big deal, and I disliked them enough that I wouldn’t recommend it.  Still, I’m sure Christos Tsiolkas has plenty of other recommendations coming from better qualified and more widely distributed sources than this one!

At the moment I’m just finishing Celia Imrie’s autobiography, The Happy Hoofer.  I absolutely love Victoria Wood and Dinnerladies, and have seen Celia Imrie in loads of bits and bobs, like Nanny McPhee and Calendar Girls.  I heard her on Desert Island Discs (yes, I really am 21, honest!) and found her really interesting – she came from a very upper-class family of the kind I always believed to be extinct, and had a horrendous experience of being locked up in a shocking mental hospital because of her anorexia – so I picked up a copy of her book from my Mum.

I’m finding it pretty readable, as expected, but I’m not loving it as I hoped I would.  It is quite personal in some ways, but there’s also a fair bit of name dropping, and I tend to get a bit bored in those parts.  This may well just be down to the fact that I am rubbish when it comes to celebrities, pretty much not interested in the slightest (the Mail Online sidebar is my idea of hell), so I suppose I should blame myself for picking up a celeb autobiography!  I’m not sure quite what it is that I’m not liking, because I do like a good human story, and I adored Stephen Fry’s autobiography, I think there’s just a few too many celeb-spotting moments in it for me.  Think I’m going to head back into good old fiction for a while next – fingers crossed for something I love!

The Fear

FearI have The Fear.  Any student reading will know exactly what I’m talking about.  That’s right, it’s essay deadline time again!

This time next week I have to produce two 4000 word essays, and The Fear has only just hit.  The Fear is that awful sinking feeling that you get, generally a few days before deadline, when you start cursing yourself for your utter lack of previous productivity while believing that you have no hope of ever producing a decent piece of work now you’ve left it to the last minute.

Happily I have actually done a fair amount of research for both these essays (a better position than I have been in previously) and have some idea of what I’m writing. So all I need now is a plan to get there without too much of a crazy last minute panic.  In the hope of actually committing myself to this, here, written down in all the publicity of the internet, is my plan:

Starting point
Essay 1: 839 words
Essay 2: 226 words

Monday: Both essays to over 1000 words each

Tuesday: Essay 1 to at least 2000 words

Wednesday: Essay 2 to at least 2000 words

Thursday: Essay 1 to at least 3000 words

Friday: Essay 2 to at least 3000 words

Saturday: Essay 1 to 4000 words

Sunday: Essay 2 to 4000 words

Monday: Mad last minute catchup and checking

 

A simple plan, I know, but hopefully effective!  At the moment I don’t feel in any kind of position to give advice to anyone, but if this actually works out I’ll aim to do a follow up “top tips” kind of blog post.  If nothing else, it might help me next semester to follow my own advice!

Until then, if anyone wants any info on the Italian Anti-Mafia or Transitions to Democracy in Slovakia and Nicaragua, I’m your girl!