I thought I would be able to tame my book buying habits last month but I was apparently slightly deluded as come pay day I was back in Waterstones…albeit for a talk and book signing with Stephen Grosz! He’s such a compassionate man and one of the most relaxed people I’ve ever met – but more of that when I write the review!
Since attending January’s Vintage Books Shelf Help Session between Grosz and Jeanette Winterson I’ve been eyeing up The Examined Life and I finally purchased it during my February Waterstones expedition. I already harbour a burgeoning interest in psychoanalysis and am a big fan of Oliver Sacks’ works so I’m really looking forward to reading The Examined Life which sounds like a more sentimental take on the same thing, focusing more on the relationship/analysis than the science/psychology. I made the most of Waterstones’ ‘buy one get one free’ offer and also bought Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life after hearing of its recent success in the Costa Book Awards.
As if I hadn’t already done enough damage to my bank account by this point, I also bought two books that I’d had in mind for a while. The first was The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente - a YA novel I’ve seen praised a lot on other blogs of late (and a potential runner for a book equally as magical as John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things). I also picked up a copy of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, because a book about a literary detective sounds AMAZING.
Foolishly I thought that this would be the last of my February book splurges but unfortunately my bookish enabler, Hannah, was leaving me for five months so we of course had to pay one last visit to Hampstead’s Oxfam Bookshop. I did some serious damage there
(although it was all cheap so it doesn’t really count), and purchased Love in the Time of Cholera, The Stranger’s Child, Charlotte Gray, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Treasure Island and The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte. I’m particularly excited about the last because a) I’m a dork and b) it’s written by Daphne du Maurier so it should make for an interesting read! Hannah also gave me a copy of The Shining Girls and I refuse to feel guilty about that one!
Look out for reviews on all these and more soon!
This is actually a bit of a cheat addition to my 2014 challenge because I’ve read The Fault in Our Stars twice before but I just can’t help re-reading it now that a film adaptation has been announced for June 2014. I’m slightly loathe to write a review because I’m unsure if I can put into words just how magnificent it is…
John Green’s latest novel will make you love, laugh and cry, all within the space of 313 pages. Told by 16 year old teenager Hazel Grace Lancaster, The Fault in Our Stars is not a novel about cancer but about life. I became so emotionally invested reading on as the cancer stricken Hazel ran into charming survivor Augustus Waters at support group. The two fall in love but are forced to watch on as cancer claims more from their friends, leaving the couple to struggle with whether two individuals with a pre-written death sentence deserve to be loved at the expense of becoming an emotional “grenade” to those around them.
I fell completely in love with this novel from the start, not just because of John Green’s witty, intellectually infused writing style but also because I’m fairly sure Hazel Grace is the kind of teenager I wanted to be when I was younger. The relationship between her and Gus isn’t overly idealised, but rather touchingly true to life (although I’m not sure if any 17 year old boy I’d known would have been able to spin some of the lines Gus does). I think what’s really incredible is Green’s ability to really get into your head, leaving you unable to put the book down until you discover the fate behind the two protagonists’ fleeting, transient lives.
Something else Green does really well is to translate onto paper the emotions felt by those who are indirectly affected by cancer, as well as the guilt Hazel experiences knowing that so many people are hurting because of what’s happening to her despite circumstances being out of her control. I think this admission Hazel makes about Augustus sums it up:
“I’d felt as though I were committing an act of violence against him, because I was”. (p.101)
The Fault in Our Stars is a wonderful addition to young adult literature that manages to reconcile a beautifully poetic story with realism and life. I find it impossible to believe that any reader would be unable to love this so I highly recommend picking up copy and reading it as soon as you can (with plenty of tissues on hand). Thank you John Green.
Unusually for me, I picked up The Eyre Affair knowing little about how it fared critically and relying only on the strength of what I’d gleamed of the novel’s concept – a story about a literary detective who has to track down a missing Jane Eyre.
In a world where literature plays a more prominent role, LiteraTec operative Thursday Next goes on the hunt for manuscript thief and evil villain Acheron Hades. Upon discovering the theft of Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit, Thursday finds herself in a series of fantastical events when she discovers that Hades has kidnapped her uncle - the inventor of a machine capable of transporting people into real-life works of literature…and bringing characters out of it, rewriting literature in the process. Thursday’s investigation eventually leads her to Jane Eyre, where the fate of Rochester and Jane is jeopardised following Hades’ entrance.
Whilst I really enjoyed the idea, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed at this first instalment in the Thursday Next series. For a book named The Eyre Affair there’s actually very little of Jane Eyre until the last third of the novel. As a huge Bronte fan this was my main motivation for picking up the book in the first place and whilst I really enjoyed Fforde’s depiction of the gruff yet love-stricken Rochester, I felt our introduction to him was a long time coming. It was almost like reading two separate books. I also felt that the author’s presence was too imposing. His style is very reminiscent of Douglas Adams but it demands to be felt to the point that it interrupted my enjoyment of the book.
Regardless, I do maintain that the concept is a good one and I did thoroughly enjoy the events that transpired once in Jane Eyre. I’m curious to find out what can happen to Thursday next
(see what I did there?), so I think I will be reading the next novel in the series, Lost in a Good Book, sometime soon. If nothing else, it has made me want to read Jane Eyre again which is always a good thing!
After having seen this production five times now I thought it was high time that I wrote a review! Austentatious is an hour-long improvised play performed in the style of a Jane Austen novel
(hence my reason for reviewing this on a book blog) by a cast of six actors. At the start of the performance you’re given a slip of paper to write down an “Austenesque” title of your choice (Friday’s was ‘The Regiment Stays at Dartmouth Hall’) and they randomly select one to base the completely improvised hour on.
I first caught them at the Udderbelly festival last year and I’ve been addicted ever since. Their performances never fail to send me into hysterics and I’m always incredibly impressed by how fast they can react to situations when put on the spot – one of their favourite jokes is to give another of their cast members a letter and ask them to read out, only to be roped into reading it out with them – often ending in hilarious results.
Furthermore, you never see the same material performed in any two shows. I’ve been to performances that have contained everything from evil brain surgeons to murderous old lords and lisping ladies. Whilst I do feel like my literary background does add to my enjoyment of the play (the last performance I saw contained a joke that pertained to Pamela), I think that you don’t have to be an Austen fan to find Austentatious funny.
Austentatious perform a few times a month around London and I think they’re also currently on tour. I think its format means that the play is more enjoyable in more intimate settings – like The Wheatsheaf – but they’re pretty amazing in large venues too!
If you’re an Austen fan, or you just want intelligent entertainment that is guaranteed to make you laugh, definitely book a ticket to see Austenatious. http://austentatiousimpro.com/
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Publication Year: 2013
I have to admit that I picked this up as a bit of a blind read…I had seen The Rosie Project mentioned on The Bookseller and a number of blogs around the time of its release but had never really taken the time to find out what it was all about. Then, determined to get a bargain, I saw that it was part of Waterstones’ “buy one get one half price” offer and immediately snapped it up. Upon arriving home I was horrified by the “chick lit” type blurb…but I’m so glad that I didn’t let that put me off!
Witty, hilarious and often touchingly sincere, this novel is a quirky take on a love story. Our protagonist, geneticist Professor Don Tillman, suffers from Asperger Syndrome without seemingly registering it. Realising that he’s never had a second date, Don sets out on The Wife Project – a questionnaire designed to eliminate any “unsuitable” partners and find the perfect woman to suit his temperament. Fortunately, his womanising friend Gene throws a spanner in the works when he sends him Rosie; wild, spontaneous and passionate, she’s everything that Don isn’t. When their first date turns into a quest to find Rosie’s real father, the pair’s unexpected friendship helps Don to discover another side of himself – one that can help him release the dark shadows of his past and revel in the here and now of the present.
What I really loved about this book was its sincerity and sweetness. Although Don’s straightforward comments are often the source of comic relief he can also make some really poignant, heartfelt observations. For instance, late on in the book he says:
“…inadvisable because I’d be an unsuitable father [...] I’d be an embarrassment to my children.” (p.243)
Not only does Don feel that his unique way of thinking is an embarrassment to other people, but he also wants to place his future children’s needs before his own. Throughout the book he believes that he is incapable of love but this is in fact far from the truth. He turns out to be one of the more clearly moral characters in the book and is often just trying to please others – like when he buys Rosie a plane ticket to find her potential father in New York after coming into some money.
The Rosie Project strikes me as a wonderful alternative to the average love story. As a reader you become wholly invested in Don’s quest for love and by the end of the book you’ll find yourself just wanting him to be able to accept that he’s a completely lovable person as he is. A really heart-warming read.
I’ve got a confession to make…although I’ve been a fan of Commander Chris Hadfield for a few months now, my initial motivations for picking up this book were centred around his signing at Foyles. Yet I’m so glad that I did pick it up because I believe that this is a truly life-changing read.
A little bit of background for the less nerdy people out there…Chris Hadfield is the astronaut who released the now legendary video of him performing David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ on the International Space Station last year. He’s now retired from space flight but he has become a bit of an ambassador for NASA, the CSA (Canadian Space Agency) and the work that they do.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started reading this book but I certainly didn’t anticipate the profound effect it has had on me. The book details Commander Hadfield’s journey from a 10 year old boy watching the Apollo 11 moon landing to becoming the first Canadian Commander of the International Space Station (ISS). His warm, conversational tone can often make you forget that he’s discussing something as grand as space travel and something he actually tries to emphasise in the book is that for the most part, being an astronaut is a very humble profession. The book is full of terms like “expeditionary behaviour” and “be a zero” – honing in on the importance of being a team player and putting the group’s needs before your own. This certainly seems like a highly desirable quality when you’re stuck in a space station for 6 months with a team of 6 people from widely varying backgrounds.
Apart from Commander Hadfield’s surprisingly “down to earth”attitude there is of course the more obvious appeal – space travel. The book really tries to cut through the mystery of being an astronaut, describing in detail the Commander’s own career choices and struggles to get to where he is today. The sense of international collaboration on the space programme is really inspiring – in particular the reverence Hadfield receives from his colleagues for his unique status as a Canadian astronaut. It also reminds you of the impact that the experiments on the space station have on Earth. For instance, the effects of gravity on the human body mimic many of the symptoms of ageing and have actually led to huge leaps in our understanding of osteoporosis. Then there is the sheer coolness of space exploration. The moments on the ISS and spent travelling in the Soyuz (Russian equivalent of the shuttle) leave you unable to tear your eyes away from the page.
I really can’t praise this book enough. Above everything else I really do believe that this is a guide to life. Chris Hadfield is an extremely inspiring role model thanks to his ever positive attitude and perseverance in the face of obstacles . Whilst we can’t all be astronauts I think there is plenty we can learn from those in the profession…starting with applying a more positive outlook to life.
As I’ve now moved my blog to the sparkly world of WordPress, I thought I would post some of my old tumblr reviews here. This review was originally posted in December 2012.
I’ve had Howard Jacobson recommended to me by someone at work for a couple of months now and I was finally persuaded to read him after finding an Intelligence Squared/Bloomsbury Institute book club event for his latest novel Zoo Time.
I have to admit that I was at first slightly deterred by the very sarcastic tone of the narrator…but thankfully it managed to avoid crossing that line between witty and obnoxious – in fact it became one of the things I love about the novel. The story is told from the perspective of novelist Guy Ableman, who was made popular by his first work but is now struggling to follow up with something just as successful.
In the end, Guy’s sense of humour was one of the things I liked most about the book. The whole novel is generally funny but there were particularly hilarious passages dotted here and there that made me literally laugh out loud.
A huge part of the novel is also about identity – partly regarding Guy’s ignored Jewish ID but also addressing the bigger issue of whether a writer is his work. Personally, I think a lot of authors are frustrated with readers attempting to find comparisons between them and their protagonists and this book coincides with that view.
Another over-arching theme is the way in which publishing is changing. Guy and many of the people he works with spend the book having to reconcile to the fact that publishing is moving into the digital age and readers are getting more control over what should be published – although some find this impossible to do.
In the end I bought two more Jacobson books at the event so I think this is evidence that I certainly rate him! I think its unique theme is one of its best qualities but being partial I can’t say whether it’s a story that would appeal to people less enthralled with the state of literature or the publishing world. I do think if you love books you’ll love this book – I certainly did!
Just before Christmas I attended a screening of Kill Your Darlings – the Daniel Radcliffe film focusing on the origin of the Beat Generation and the real life murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr. After enjoying the film so much I of course had to get my hands on the book that started it all so I promptly ordered And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. A joint project by Beat writers William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, the novel only reached public eyes in 2008 due to its sensitive subject matter. Burroughs and Kerouac take it in turns to write alternate chapters as their fictional counterparts (Dennison and Ryko) in order to tell the story of Phillip “Lucian Carr” Tourian and Ramsay “David Kammerer” Allen.
One of the first things that struck me was how vibrant all the characters are. Whilst I’m not sure I like Kerouac as a writer, as a person he seems incredibly interesting – as does Burroughs. The book doesn’t focus as much on promoting “the ultimate society” as it does on trying to paint colourful pictures of the Beat Generation’s founders. The structure is also really interesting – you can view the same situation from two different perspectives, often ending with hilarious results. For instance, Dennison’s exasperation at his friends’ tendency to scrounge off him versus Ryko’s lackadaisical way of life are a constant source of dry humour.
It’s difficult to tell whether I prefer the film or the book more because they appear to me as two very different beasts that nevertheless need to be compared due to their shared subject matter. In Hippos, you can tell that Kerouac and Burroughs are excited to be able to reveal their “truth” behind the events that surrounded Kammerer’s murder and the presence is felt throughout the novel. In fact according to James Grauerholz’s afterword, Kerouac still remembered the manuscript was hidden under the floorboard in a Paris Review interview decades later.
What I enjoyed about Kill Your Darlings was the ambiguity behind Carr’s actions and the presence of the more naïve Allen Ginsberg to neutralise the story. I think because Hippos was narrated in the first person it’s hard to remove the authors’ opinions from the picture. Whilst Darlings - which removes their prominent roles in the story’s telling – leaves more to the judgement of the audience. It also follows the story a little past Lucian’s arrest which ties the whole thing up nicely - rather than Hippos in which we’re only told of the events up until Carr turns himself in.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is I definitely recommend both Kill Your Darlings and Hippos if you’re at all curious about the Beat Generation or even if you’re just looking for a really good murder story. Either way, I’ve certainly been motivated to read the copy of Naked Lunch that’s been gathering dust on my bookshelf…
Kill Your Darlings: 4/5
And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks: 3/5
The third book I’ve read this year is actually one we selected for my office book group. We picked it partly because it’s just over 100 pages
(so everyone could finish it) but also because it was apparently quite controversial at the time of its publication, 1899, for its uncondescending treatment of women’s issues.
As soon as I started reading The Awakening I couldn’t help comparing it to the likes of Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster and Henry James. In particular it echoes Woolf a lot in both its modernist style and feminist subject matter. The book follows Edna Pontellier as she “awakens” from her life as a passive wife and mother to that of a free-spirited, passionate woman, unsatisfied with her half-fulfilled existence waiting to receive guests in her family home. This realisation is sparked by the unspoken love between herself and desirable singleton Robert Lebrun, leaving Edna feeling restless when he leaves and she is forced to return to New Orleans. Here, she is torn between her domestic life (represented by her friend Mademoiselle Ratignolle) and her independence (represented by unlikable pianist Mademoiselle Reisz).
To be honest I haven’t quite made my mind up about The Awakening yet. I think the writing is poetically beautiful but Edna herself is too passive to the point of being obnoxious (perhaps this is intended?). I also have a love/hate relationship with Robert which I haven’t quite worked out yet…
As a whole I found the book enjoyable and the majority of the characters are colourful and interesting to read about. I don’t want to give anything away but the ending is pretty magical and I think it’s definitely a book I’ll read again even if I can’t quite work out how I feel about it! Chopin’s foray into modernist literature led the way for the likes of Hemingway and Faulkner so I think it’s worth reading on that merit alone. And if you’re a fan of Woolf or James I would certainly give this a go!
After the book haul I received for Christmas I foolishly thought I wouldn’t be making any more book purchases until after January…how wrong I was.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield
My will first broke after finding out that Commander Chris Hadfield (the astronaut
who serenaded the world with his guitar from space) would be signing books at Foyles’ Charing Cross store. After watching him perform ‘Space Odyssey’ at Brian Cox’s Christmas Compendium of Reason
last December I knew I had to get my hands on his book. He just seems like such an interesting, genuine person with a great story to tell and this book signing provided me with the perfect excuse to pick it up.
Upon meeting him I was blown away by how humble and just generally lovely he was. Apparently he had been sat behind the desk originally but decided to sit round the front so there wasn’t a table separating him from his fans! Even though Foyles were having to rush people through the queue, Commander Hadfield made sure to spend a good amount of time talking to each person and make them feel appreciated. He even told me that he hoped I would enjoy the book
(as if that was in question). I’ve just started reading it today and I can already tell I’m going to love it.
Perhaps less eventful but also wonderful were the two books I picked up today. Buying the Chris Hadfield books had filled up my Waterstones stamp card, leaving me with an extra £10 to spend in store. Of course I couldn’t wait long and today I strolled in to make use of their ‘buy one get one half price offer’ and my £10 off – so I received Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma (another find from Brian Cox’s Christmas Show) for just over £2!
The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
I’ve found my eye wondering towards The Rosie Project when ever I’ve visited bookshops in the last few months but the thing that finally persuaded me to buy it was a suggestion that fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars would also appreciate this novel. It looks like a lighter read compared to the books I’ve been picking up lately so I’m looking forward to it!
Bad Pharma – Ben Goldacre
Of course I became hooked on Bad Pharma in the same way I did with Astronaut’s Guide to Life – after watching the fast-talking Ben Goldacre present at Brian Cox’s Christmas Compendium I had to find out more about the shocking state of medical trial publications in the UK. I think I might steal Goldacre’s previous book, Bad Science, off my brother before I read this!
Look out for reviews on these soon and expect more book hauls in the near future!