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!

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Book Love: I Love Eat, Pray

While I was in Italy, I listened to a few audiobooks, but due to my aforementioned rubbishness, my thoughts never quite made it onto the blog.  After the disaster that was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I tried Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, who also narrates the audiobook version – a nice touch, I thought.

I had listened to a couple of other audiobooks (A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Stephen Fry’s autobiography), and the national treasure that is Stephen Fry had convinced me with his wonderful narration that the audiobook format wasn’t my problem.  I just really didn’t like that book.  So by the time I got to Eat, Pray, Love, my optimism had returned and I had high expectations.

Happily, I wasn’t disappointed.  Or not at first anyway.  For anyone who managed to escape the mass-media publicity when the film came out, the book is a memoir of a 30-something American woman who heads off to travel around the world and get her life (and head) back together after her messy divorce.  It’s in three sections, as Liz travels to Italy, India and Indonesia, corresponding to the Eat, Pray, Love malarky.  Clever stuff.

Now, this was a bit of a strange choice of book for me, given a good third of it (probably more) is dedicated almost entirely to God and spirituality.  I’ve talked about my feelings on religion before when I read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, but essentially I’m a very convinced atheist, happy to let everyone believe what they want, but curious about why they do.  I have a tendency to find books about people “finding God” and “going on a spiritual journey” frustrating, because I can rarely understand what is motivating them in this, or why they believe what they do.

I did not have this problem at all with Liz Gilbert.  She explained beautifully her view of God and why she felt reassured by feeling close to him.  There is no way I could possibly report her views as eloquently as she writes about them, but I will say that reading this book was one of the times I felt jealous of true, honest, 100% believers.  I was jealous of Liz’s faith, and the calmness and happiness she managed to find in her search for God.  Sometimes I wish I was capable of that kind of belief, but then I accept that my logic simply won’t let me and determine to find my own peace and happiness.  In Liz’s words:

Happiness is the consequence of personal effort.

I agree with this woman in so many ways.  Her determination to be confident and at peace really resonated with me.  I also really related to her metaphysical crisis at age 10 – wanting the world to just stop so she could get her head around the concept of time and its passing.  I feel like this so often, especially when I’m happy with my life.  I want to freeze my favourite moments forever, and am almost sad knowing that my happiness will be over soon.

In fact, I related so much to Liz Gilbert’s ideas, and found them so relevant to me and my life (despite being a 21 year old single university student, not a 30-something divorcee journalist), that I’ve re-listened to this book while I’ve been travelling in Central America.  Or some of the book, anyway.

I mentioned that I wasn’t disappointed by Eat, Pray, Love at first.  I adored the first two sections in Italy and India.  Unfortunately, the section in Bali when Liz finally finds love just (dare I say it?) bored me a little.  It wasn’t the greatest slog to get to the end of the book, but on my second time round I cut off after India.  After all, what’s the point wasting time on something you don’t love?

Despite this, I can’t help but recommend this book, and I get the feeling it’s going to be one I keep coming back to when I need a little pick-me-up and someone to put life into perspective.  The tone is not remotely self-pitying and I found it very motivational to keep trying to improve myself.  Well worth the read.

Book Love: Zen and the Art of Talking Rubbish

This my first audiobook review (fanfare please)!  It’s the start of a bit of an audiobook theme, as I somehow managed to get five for free in a very short space of time – thank you to The Guardian and their “inspiring self-help audiobooks”, and free downloads from whatever Amazon’s audiobook thing is called.

Compared to my last mammoth of a post, this one should be short and sweet, mainly because I didn’t like the book, so have pushed most of it out of my memory.

My first (unfortunate) audiobook experience was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, read by Michael Kramer.  I’ve been feeling quite contemplative recently, so I started this book with an open mind, genuinely expecting to get something out of it.  But instead I thought that, for the most part, the narrator was speaking either common sense or complete rubbish.  I found myself zoning out a lot and forcing myself to tune back in to what he was saying.

I didn’t really look forward to the next installment either.  I listened to this on my commute to and from work each day and forced myself to carry on with it – I don’t like to criticise something unless I’ve heard it out first, and have at least some understanding of it.  So I finished the book, constantly willing it to grow on me, but it never did.

I’m wondering whether all this is just because it’s an audiobook.  Maybe I find them more difficult to concentrate on, no matter what the content.  Well there are more to come, so all will soon be revealed…

I think a big problem was that I really didn’t like the main guy.  He sounded like a bit of an idiot and a crappy father, pretty full of himself and condescending.  I find it hard to relate to the philosophies of someone like that.  The only parts I did find vaguely interesting were the parts discussing what education should be, probably because it relates to my stage of life.  I get the feeling that I interpreted it wrong though – I was probably supposed to put it into a broader context and apply it to the universe (blah blah blah…).  Needless to say, I took it at face value instead.

I kind of respected Phaedrus (even if I didn’t necessarily like or agree with him), but he was painted as the villain, so that was a bust.

And apart from anything else, the narrator’s voice kept reminding me of Skipper from The Penguins of Madagascar.  (This is my new favourite cartoon, I’m a bit obsessed.  If you haven’t seen either the film Madagascar or the spin of TV series, you should – it brings back the glory days of kids cartoons.)

I definitely feel like I was missing something with this book, and a bit of me wants to read it in written form at a slower pace to see whether I can find whatever I missed.  But then the rest of me cannot put myself through that again.  With so many great books on my to-read list, it seems like a waste of time.  Maybe I could fully appreciate it if I properly studied it, but unfortunately I can’t see that happening.

Hmm, maybe that wasn’t quite as short as I hoped.  Or sweet.  To try and make up for that I leave you with this, simply because it gave me an excuse to spend an hour on YouTube watching Penguins of Madagascar videos.   I hope it cheers you up as much as it did me after a pretty bleak review!