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Tag Archives: 30 post challenge

Post 8: most underrated book

As ever, thanks to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge. :)

Without a doubt, it is War With the Newts by Karel Čapek. An author who deserves at least as much attention as Paul Celan, although now I come to think of it, Celan doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves either… Anyway!

In the first week of my degree, when graphemes such as: č, ę and ţ had absolutely no meaning or sound equivalent in my mind, I stumbled across a book by a Czech author called ‘Karel Čapek’. I didn’t know how to pronounce his name and this automatically made his work interesting enough to start reading then and there.

An hour later midnight struck and so did the bell to tell all the nerds to clear out so that the staff could get some sleep. I did not want to leave. I had fallen in love with his writing style and wanted to stay ‘at his side’, beside the shelf with all his work. I read it, read up on Čapek (he’s the guy who introduced the word ‘robot’ to English-speakers back in the ‘20s!) and proceeded to wander around with fragments of the story in my mind for the next few years.

In a nut-shell: the book’s about the discovery of a breed of newts that are capable of speech and of being ‘civilised’. This discovery leads to them being enslaved by Man, exploited and treated in much the same way as the colonised peoples of previous centuries. Slowly the newts learn all they can about our society and eventually rebel against their oppressors.

It’s a book that deserves to be read and discussed by people of different disciplines, to be wept over and laughed with. It’s a book that, to my mind, challenges not only contemporary schools of thought such as colonialism, but also current questions, such as the sort of greedy consumerism that’s led to maquiladores and other factories that have a tendency to chew their workers up and spit them out when they can no longer operate at full speed. It satirises the racial segregation that led to lynch mobs; the misuse of ‘scientific evidence’ to ‘prove’ that some races are naturally superior to others; the arguments for Lebensraum.
Basically, it’s beautifully crafted Sci-Fi that anyone who’s enjoyed Orwell or Wyndham should try.

Please read it if you get a chance to. Please? I will read pretty much anything you suggest if you read this, even Sean O’Kane (the author, that is).

Although if you recommend Sean O’Kane, I will judge you a little bit. He is like a modern version of de Sade.

 

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Post 7: A Guilty Pleasure Book

As ever, thanks to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge. 🙂

This is a tough post that I’ve been dragging my heels over! Thus far, all books I’ve ever read have fallen into two categories: those I’ve enjoyed and those I haven’t. All books that fall into the former category aren’t ones I feel guilty about reading or admitting to reading. There have however been some that I was surprised to find myself enjoying. So this post’ll be a ‘yay’ type one about a book (and genre) that blew my mind.

I feel duty-bound to point out to anyone who gets to the last paragraph that younger-me had lots of preconceived notions about the world, including chick-lit. I also feel duty-bound to point out that one of the joys of having these preconceived notions was- and still is- to have them challenged and re-evaluate them. I am a Humanities student, after all. 😉

The book in question’s called The Secret Shopper’s Revenge by Kate Harrison.SecretShoppersRevenge

The story follows the lives of three women: single-mum-and-not-loving-it Emily, recently unemployed Sandie and Grazia, a glamorous widow who’s lived beyond her means so long that she’s almost out of cash. The three are thrown together when offered jobs as mystery shoppers for the same company.

I know it may sound a tad formulaic but this book challenged quite a few of the preconceptions I had about chick-lit. For starters its three main characters were all distinct characters with different life experiences and different outlooks on life. Each chapter’s written through the viewpoint of one of the three and Harrison really gets the different voices and perspectives on the world across. Each character has a distinct story line but the three band together and support each other over the story.

It wasn’t just the variety of supportive, intelligent female characters that won me over to the genre. Harrison also included a sub-plot that celebrated the family-oriented and creative approach of Central and Eastern Europeans which was pretty darn socially advanced at the time of publication (2008) when England as a whole was still pretty much against immigrants from that neck of the woods… not that Eastern Europeans get the best media portrayal in 2014 either, but it’s improved a little for non-Romanians and non-Bulgarians

By espousing such modern and socially-minded views, Harrison made me realise that instead of being a superficial and capitalist genre that epitomised everything I disliked about literature aimed at women (such as ‘women’s’ magazines that always tell us that we can look better and lose more weight and that it is these things that should give us our sense of self and self-worth), chick-lit is something that can be read with pride and joy.

 

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Post 6: Book you’ve read the most number of times

As ever, thanks to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge. 🙂

My Mum has several books that she read whilst growing up and then passed on to me when I was little. The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett is one of them. It’s also the most well-thumbed of the lot- it’s starting to fall apart!

The_Wool-Pack_cover

The Wool-Pack is set in the Cotswolds (in England), 1493. It follows Nicholas Fetterlock, a wool-merchant’s son who’s recently been betrothed to a cloth merchant’s daughter, called Cecily. However trouble is brewing as Nicholas’ father has been set up by Lombards and some mysterious others who intend to put him out of business and buy up his lands.

In order to prove his father’s innocence, Nicholas and Cecily have to discover not only how the schemers intend to frame his father, but also have to work out a way to undermine their dastardly scheme.

It sounds dry bones for a children’s book, but there’s a je ne sais quoi about it that’s kept me coming back to it for over a decade.

The story is gentle and easy to follow, which is probably the thing that attracted me to it in the first place. It’s one of those ones that you know is never going to have truly nail-biting moments (rather like a Richard Curtis film) but you’re still going to be emotionally invested enough in the characters to care about what happens to them.

The details are historically accurate; Harnett gained a reputation for thoroughly researching the period she was writing about to ensure that every detail she included was accurate. Indeed, some of her other stories have been described as only having a plot so that she can hang all the cool details about the period on to it.

It’s this attention to detail (and the coolness of the details) that stirred my interest in historical fiction, especially the crime/ detective stuff… Actually, looking back on it, this book is single-handedly responsible for my subsequent devouring of Geoffery Trease and Ellis Peters’ work. That’s actually rather cool!

Anyone else traced back their interest in a genre to one book/series?

 

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Post five: your “comfort” book

Thanks again to Blogs of a Bookaholic for creating this challenge. 🙂

Comfort books are a beautiful bunch. Less dangerous than drugs, less calorific than Krispy Kremes, they give us all the love of a parent (sometimes even more) and make the world seem that bit less cold.

I have two go-to books I turn to for comfort on dark days. One is a novel that I’ll mention later in this challenge as it’s also one of my favourite books; the other’s a book of poetry called In Memoriam A.H.H. by Lord Alfred Tennyson.

I don’t know how well-known Tennyson is beyond the British Isles, but he wrote The Lady of Shalott, Idylls of the King and The Charge of the Light Brigade, all of which are a pretty big deal over here. He was also crowned Poet Laureate after Wordsworth died and held the post for over four decades.

In short, he wrote a lot of good stuff.

That stuff however was mostly rather sad, T.S. Eliot once said that Tennyson was “the saddest of all English poets” and that is, in my opinion, true. (Even Mr. Ode-to-a-Nightingale-Keats wrote the occasional humorous sonnet about cats). But from sadness and the raw pain of loss in In Memoriam comes wisdom and solace:

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.’

So why is such a sad book my favourite comfort read?

The first time I read In Memoriam, I was 14 and struggling to come to terms with the death of a close friend who’d passed away a year before in addition to the change that advanced Alzheimer’s had wrought on my grandfather (who’d moved in with us so that we could keep an eye on him). Back in the day I was a pretty average English teen; stiff upper-lip, silent rebellion and all that, so I spent a fair amount of time burying any particularly strong emotions or re-working them into sarcasm instead of acknowledging them.

Tennyson’s poetry metaphorically sat me down and told me that it was actually OK to be sad and to express that sadness, that it was good to remember one I’d loved and lost. Then he reminded me that the rest of the lives of others I cared for, and would one day care for, remained. In the course of 133 cantos, Tennyson led me from the graveside to the future and pointed out that joy would be all the sweeter after having felt any sadness:

‘Regret is dead, but love is more
Than in the summers that are flown,
For I myself with these have grown
To something greater than before;’

So every time I finish In Memoriam, I close my eyes, feel fortified and count every single one of my blessings. Then my heart,

‘[Stands] up and answer[s], “I have felt.”’

  And just because I can, here’s the canto (and the first 2 stanzas of the next) that struck me the most the first time I read it:

V
I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.

 VI

One writes, that `Other friends remain,’
That `Loss is common to the race’—
And common is the commonplace,
And vacant chaff well meant for grain.

That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.

 

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Post 2: Favourite side character

How does one even go about choosing a favourite side character?

For me a really good side character is one that’s got a well-developed or at least entertaining character and could have an interesting, thoroughly enjoyable chapter (or maybe even a book) written about some part of their life/ their entire life.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner just sprung to mind when I typed that. What did people think of that?

So after sitting and scratching my head over this one for the best part of a day, I’ve finally managed to choose one side character I really wish we could have seen more of: Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking; ‘of some delights I believe, [Cat], a little goes a long way’. (Unless of course you’ve never seen the Ehle-Firth adaptation, in which case you have no clue as to what I’m banging on about).

But this is Jane Austen’s lightest, brightest, most sparkling comedy of errors and of manners! And this is one of her most amusing characters (surpassing even Mr. and Mrs. Elton, Harriet, Walter Elliot, Sir John Middleton and Mrs. Jennings). One of the ones that makes everyone cringe and wish would leave, only to then miss the squirmy feelings his obsequiousness induces.

Overall, Mr. Collins isn’t a well-rounded character: he’s created to serve as a foil for Mr. Darcy and basically exists to move the plot forward (how else would Lizzy have met Darcy after Bingley left Netherfield?) and does need other characters around him to balance out his foibles. Nonetheless, it’d be enjoyable to see a little more of him in much the same way it’s enjoyable to have an extra scene with the villain of a pantomime on stage.

 

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