Book Love: Frankenstein Review – A Lack of Love

Hello lovely people!

Although this blog is generally a place for things I love, every so often something will come up that didn’t impress me.  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was one of those somethings.

I read this as part of my challenge for the Classics Club – Frankenstein was one of the classics that I wanted to read.  To be honest though, I don’t really understand how it ever gained ‘Classic’ status in the first place.  I can only assume that it has to do with the era in which it was first written and read.  It was most likely a new idea at that point, and I do understand how the idea of creating a new life form in a lab can capture the imagination.  What the book lacked was a story to build around the idea – even though the full book is only around 150 pages, very little seemed to happen and I felt like the story could have been made even shorter.  Those 150 pages took me a looong time to get through!

I’m sure everyone knows the basic story of Dr Frankenstein, who creates a ‘monster’ in his lab but then becomes terrified of it.  The parts of the book I did quite enjoy were the creature’s narratives.  I thought he was a good character and I might have quite enjoyed a book about his journey and thoughts, as they were unique and realistic (or as realistic as a fictional man-made life form can be!).  Sadly there was just too much space devoted to Frankenstein and his repetitive and pathetic ramblings.  He was a total wet fish, which I don’t generally enjoy in books unless there is a very good reason for them being there (I hated Othello at A-level for this exact reason), and was absolutely horrible to his own creation.  I wasn’t keen on him.

I don’t want to dwell too long on things I didn’t like, so this has been a bit of a speed review, but suffice it to say that I found this book boring, really struggled to finish it and definitely wouldn’t recommend!  Sorry Mary Shelley.

Please let me know in the comments if I was missing something with Frankenstein!  Is it your favourite book and I’m just under-appreciating it?  I’d love to hear why.

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: A Challenge

Heading into the new year, I’m definitely ready to take up some new challenges.  I know that some will definitely come my way whether I like it or not (especially with finishing my degree and starting a job), but on a slightly smaller scale I was thinking of joining the world of reading challenges.  I’ve never tried one before and now seems like a good time, especially with my ever-increasing to-read list!

I came across a challenge on The Book Garden that shouted out to me – it’s the Tea and Books Challenge, inspired by a C.S. Lewis quote: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me”.  I couldn’t agree more 🙂

I’ve signed up for the first level, Chamomile Lover, which means I have to read two books of more than 650 pages next year.  I’ve had a quick look at my Goodreads list and I’m thinking of going with 11.22.63 by Stephen King and Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, both of which the internet tells me are the right length. Now just to make sure I can get hold of them!

I’ve never read anything by Stephen King, but I’ve seen a couple of reviews recommending this book for SK novices, so fingers crossed it’ll turn out well!  I have quite a few more books that would fit this challenge too, so I’ll see how it goes and maybe even upgrade to the next level – trying not to be too ambitious for now though…

As well as this new reading challenge I’ll be renewing my Goodreads challenge of reading 100 books in 2013 – I only managed 31 in 2012, so I at least have to improve on that!  I still think 100 books is manageable, even after my massive failure this year, because one of my sort-of resolutions will be to build up a proper bedtime reading habit (a bit sad, I know).  I’ve been trying for a while to do this instead of falling asleep watching Youtube videos/reading rubbish on my iPhone, and I’m determined that 2013 will be the year it happens.

Bring on the books!

Book Love: So I finished The Kite Runner

Blimey.  That was a bit emotional.  Blooming marvellous though.

Even though I’ve been hearing wonderful things about Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner for years, I was a bit nervous about reading it.  This is mainly because of everyone’s comments about how moving they found the story, talking about how it stayed with you long after finishing.  Now I am a bit of a lightweight with this kind of thing.  I cried at the Harry Potter books and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I also couldn’t make it more than an hour into the film The Pianist, then couldn’t stop thinking about what I had seen for weeks.  So I was worried that The Kite Runner would just shake me up too much.

I needn’t have worried.  Yes, this is an emotional book which describes some awful events, but it is so beautifully written.  Khaled Hosseini deals with the terrible events in Afghanistan over the past 30 years with so much respect that you can’t help but be drawn in by his story, rather than repulsed by the violence.

I really cannot appreciate gratuitous violence and misery in people’s writing, be it for books, film or TV.  While we cannot ignore that awful things do happen in the world, I see no point in reporting them for their shock value alone.  Some kind of conclusion should be drawn, or point made.

Hosseini includes enough shock to create an image of Afghanistan at war, and later under Taliban rule, while keeping a very strong novel.  Violence enhances what he is trying to say, rather than being all he is saying.

And a lot was said.  I honestly had no idea.  I had no idea what really happened in Afghanistan.  I belong to a generation who has grown up associating the country with war, Muslim extremism, the Taliban, terrorism and destruction, without ever really understanding why.  In school I learned about life in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and even Thatcher’s Britain, but nobody ever taught us what was going on in the modern day world and why.

While this book is by no means a political history lesson, I found it fascinating to read, not only about everyday life under the Taliban, but also about peaceful Afghanistan.  I have no doubt that there were many problems – the main character is told when he returns in the midst of the poverty and destruction that Afghanistan was always like this, he had just been too priveliged to notice – but it was once a country like any other.  It was not always the land of rubble and bombs.  If nothing else, this book has inspired me to find out what happened to that country, rather than being intimidated by seemingly confusing Middle Eastern politics.

So I’m now on the lookout for a good book to explain it to me – any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

There was so much I loved about this book.  The setting and politics were, sadly, entirely realistic and believable, but Amir’s personal story was just poetic and coincidental enough to excite the former English student in me – themes and motifs abound.

I loved the fact that, while pure good and pure evil are certainly embodied in the characters of Hassan and Assef, the vast majority of characters lie somewhere in the middle, in that grey area that most of us spend our whole lives flitting around.  The goodies and baddies are not always clear.

I loved that the USA was hardly brought into the book from a political point of view.  Since the second half of the book takes place in the summer of 2001, while reading this I was on tenterhooks wondering what the September 11th attacks would bring.  But this was not the point.  America is not considered a villian.

On a slight side note, this did set me off wondering when we became so suspicious of the US government’s intentions.  And coincidentally (or maybe not so much, given that it’s the anniverary of the 9/11 attacks) I came across this article on the Guardian website (“Widespread distrust of US extends beyond Middle East”).  But that’s a different topic.

I could say so much more about this book, but I won’t – there’s a lot of hype about it already, and you should read and form your own opinions.  It is an incredibly touching story and somehow manages to be not entirely pessimistic.  I loved it and now can’t wait to get my hands on A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini’s other bestseller.

Travel Love: The Joy of Book Swaps

This summer I’ve been travelling around Central America with a friend.  While I have A LOT to say about this experience, I want to limit myself to books for this post.

Travelling has given me the most wonderful opportunity to read again.  While I’m at uni, my reading time is sadly far too limited, and I constantly feel guilty if I’m not reading something course related.  But while travelling, I’ve had so much time to just sit around and simply be in a place.  While reading.  Bliss.

And the fuel to my reading fire has been hostel book swaps.  I find hostels superior to hotels in so many ways – the sociable atmosphere, guest kitchens, (generally) friendly staff etc etc – but the book swap is very possibly my favourite aspect.  I simply cannot get over how marvellous it is that I can come away for 3 months with one book, and keep reading the whole time.  There is such a range of genres and different tastes, and on occasion I’ve been forced into choosing books I normally wouldn’t even look at (this is how I found Still Alice, one of my new favourite books).

I’ve heard other travellers complain that book swaps are only ever full of terrible beach reads – I am here to tell you this is a lie.  On this trip, my goodies have included The Help, Slaughterhouse Five, A Visit From the Goon Squad, and I am just embarking on The Kite Runner, probably my final read of the trip.

As I get closer and closer to going home, I’ve been lamenting the soon-to-be loss of the book swap in my life.  What will I do back in England without a place to pick up free books, then be able to get rid of them when I’m done and save my space? It’s such a useful resource!  We should adopt this idea in everyday life at home!

Then I realised quite how much of an idiot I had been.  What are libraries if not a place to temporarily acquire new (to me) books?  I am a useless library user – I’m not even a member of the public library in Bath, where I’ve been at uni for two whole years.  So my new academic year’s resolution is to join this library and start making use of one of our most fabulous resources.  It’s no wonder David Cameron and his government are doing their best to wipe out libraries, when even active readers forget to use them!

Is anyone else a lapsing library member?  Do you agree with me that it’s a great way to make a dent in the to-read list, or do you prefer the thrill of buying books for yourself?

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: Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

I have been a very bad blogger.  I have been busy and travelling and full of excuses instead of replying to the lovely people who have looked at my blog and maybe even taken the time to leave a comment.  I am still busy and travelling, but just wanted to pop in a quick post about a book I’ve read while being busy and travelling.  I picked it up in a hostel book swap without really thinking, read it in a couple of days and still keep thinking about it.

It’s called Still Alice by Lisa Genova and is written from the point of view of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  She is a well-respected Harvard psychology professor, which just makes her understanding of the disease even more devastating.  It is beautifully written to show the advancing disease from Alice’s point of view, and is incredibly moving.  Alice’s feelings and reactions of her family bring up all kinds of issues about the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients, their quality of life, and the trust they put in their carers as they become more dependent.  I honestly don’t believe anyone (other than someone with dementia) could read this book without changing the way they think about this desease.

These illnesses are so often discussed by carers, friends and family, it is refreshing to truly consider what the patient wants and thinks.  This issue of giving a voice to dementia sufferers is one that is addressing in the novel, and I personally found Alice an inspiring character.  It has completely changed the way I think about dementia and its treatment, and my mind is still being drawn back to it weeks later.  And then I discovered that the book has a 5 star Amazon rating and 4.2 on Goodreads – so it’s obviously not just me!

I can’t recommend this book enough – Lisa Genova has managed to take an incredibly emotional topic and create a novel which is not depressing or hopeless, just realistic and thought-provoking.  Quite an achievement, in my opinion.

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!

Book Love: An unexpected (but wonderful) distraction

I ended having a completely unexpected new read tonight as a result of one of my many internet meanderings.  I stumbled across a new blog (Emily’s Blog – here) and a book cover caught my eye in one of the posts.  I had a quick look on Amazon, suspecting a cheap Kindle download (I was right, 99p), and lo and behold 1.5 hours later I had finished The Lover’s Dictionary: A Love Story in 185 Definitions by David Levithan.

It’s written in the style of a dictionary, with the story being revealed through short “definitions”.

At first I didn’t think I’d like this book.  I’m obviously a very impatient person.  I was confused, I didn’t know who was narrating and I didn’t like the fact that the constant chopping and changing and lack of chronological order was making these problems worse.

But then I got a grip, made it through the As and started to quite enjoy myself.  I really liked the short definitions and the way they don’t dwell on things – they kept the story moving.  A lot of it is a man telling us what he loves about his partner, but each thing is described in only a sentence or two so it’s not remotely soppy or over-emotional.  It’s just a beautiful glimpse into his thoughts.

And then you get a complete contrast – the little irritations, or his feelings during the difficult parts of the relationship.  It makes it feel real right from the start, as the lack of chronology means the hard parts, the tests of the relationship, are mentioned all the way through.  This contrast makes the romantic entries even more beautiful and the tougher entries more poignant.

I was surprised by well the characters were built up.  They are described only in the sense of how the narrator feels about himself and her, but I found myself with a definite image of each in my mind.

It is very cleverly written.  Even though it’s out of order, the story still manages to unfold, revealing a tiny bit more information in every definition, building on what you already know.  Somehow you always know what he’s talking about, even when it’s just a flippant comment.  But it doesn’t really say anything new: it’s a story that many people have experienced and that has been told a thousand times before.  It’s the writing style that kept me interested, kept me reading to have a bit more information revealed.  Kudos to the author for managing to come up with a new way to tell a basic story.

This is a lovely short novel, a very real and honest love story.

PS  Here is the cover – isn’t it lovely?

Book Love: I get surprisingly attached to some easy reads

Next stop on my reading mission was a quick and easy read – Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida by Catherine Ryan Howard.  I actually read the sequel to this book (Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America) about a month ago after discovering it on an aimless browse through the Kindle store, where I always lack the self control to resist buying anything with decent reviews and priced under £2.  I don’t actually have a Kindle, but the free PC software has come in useful for passing the time with free or cheap reads, especially since being in Italy.

Now, I do love the chance to be a bit nosey and get a look at other people’s lives, so I did enjoy a couple of fun memoirs.  If you don’t like either a) people talking about themselves or b) light reading, I’d advise you to skip these books.

Backpacked caught my eye because I’m planning a trip to Central America at the moment, backpacking from Mexico City to Costa Rica with one of my best friends for 2 and a half months.  I thought that reading someone else’s (very similar) experience would get me in the right frame of mind, and it did.  The actual experience of travelling is obviously different to the one you read about in guidebooks, and Catherine sounds about as different to your typical Lonely Planet writer as it is possible to get.  Right from the start, she makes clear that her only reason for backpacking in Central America is that it’s a good chance to spend time with her best friend instead of going home to Ireland after working at Disney World for a year and a half.  She loves chain stores, Starbucks coffee and expensive hotels, so is understandably not thrilled at the prospect of less-than-clean hostels and stomach bugs.

Now, while I wouldn’t say I’m quite as attached to the luxury lifestyle as Catherine paints herself to be, I’m not exactly a seasoned traveller.  As such, the vast majority of my worries for next summer involve dirty accommodation, food poisoning and having things nicked.  I also tend to worry, especially when doing things for the first time, that “I’m not doing this right” and that other people who are doing it right are judging me.  For me, it was a relief to read the travel experience of someone travelling with an 80 litre backpack instead of a 30 litre one, who isn’t always determined that everything should be done “like the locals” and that taking more than two t-shirts is a waste of space.  After reading too much advice from expert travellers on the internet, I was starting to think I was mad for wanting to take hair conditioner and more than 2 days worth of clothes!  There are a fair few moments in the book when things don’t go as planned (the most notable being when they try to do things exactly like the locals) and I found it reassuring to read that everyone was fine and unscathed coming out of the other side, and that you really do always cope somehow.

I read Mousetrapped because I quite liked the preview at the end of Backpacked, and it was also cheap in the Kindle store.  It is the prequel to her Central America trip, where she works at a Disney World hotel in Florida and builds a life in Orlando.  I really wasn’t expecting to relate to it in the same way.  I have no desire whatsoever to stay in the US for any extended period of time (although I did love my holiday in New York) and really dislike most of the things Catherine seems to love about Orlando.  Shopping malls and coffee, to name just two.

But Mousetrapped turned out to be completely different to what I was expecting.  Rather than filling a book with great stories and bragging about her Mickey Mouse life, Catherine deals with some real problems while living abroad.  She gets genuinely homesick and says that she’s looking forward to leaving the US for almost the whole book.  She also picks herself up and stays determined to make the best of it while she’s there.

Personally, I could completely relate to this.  Since living in Milan, I’ve been having a lot of very similar feelings and it’s great to hear that other people feel this way too – sometimes it seems like everyone that’s moved abroad is having the time of their lives.  It’s also good for me to see her dust herself up and get on with it.

However, I’m not convinced that I would have enjoyed this book so much if I wasn’t in the situation I am.  Catherine’s writing didn’t really make me understand how she was feeling; it just so happens that our feelings match up.  If you’ve never experienced living or travelling abroad, I don’t think you’d find the writing particularly emotional, or even necessarily interesting.  But if, like I am

Both Mousetrapped and Backpacked turned out to be exactly what I’ve been missing since my obsessive years of reading sugary-sweet teen fiction: well written, easy reads that I can lose myself in for a couple of hours when I fancy relaxing and not thinking too hard.  They’re both fun memoirs with enough problems to be interesting, with situations and feelings I can relate to without turning into a complete emotional wreck.

Overall verdict so far:  success!