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I know the meaning of those 19 years, a slave of the law…

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always had a problem with posting consistency. Would that it were the problem just now. No, my problem is a different beast, namely, the law. Or, more accurately, Law School. It’s a bit of a bastard. I’ve sat my final undergraduate exam and I have never been more hollow or burnt out feeling. Assuming I live, I’ve worked out a rough posting schedule beginning tomorrow, but until then I hope those of you who are following me and reading this will hang tight!

For now, I’ll post a round-up of my reading in April 2013.

The Damned Utd – David Peace
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones – Alexander McCall Smith
Room – Emma Donoghue
Wintersmith – Terry Pratchett
This Is Not A Test – Courtney Summers
Fall For Anything – Courtney Summers
Genesis – Bernard Beckett
The Importance of Being Seven – Alexander McCall Smith
Bertie Plays The Blues – Alexander McCall Smith
The Black Book – Ian Rankin
Mortal Causes – Ian Rankin
Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins
Cracked Up To Be – Courtney Summers
Let It Bleed – Ian Rankin
Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

Given that I finished reading the last of these almost a full month ago now, I’m just going to quickly round up what I thought below. Easy standouts among these are Genesis and Wintersmith, with The Damned Utd only really of interest to those of us enamoured with the beautiful game. Anna was a strong contender for one of the most beautifully fluffy novels I’ve come across that was not too saccharine for my tastes, I think because of the relateability of the situation in the book for me (I’ve been Etienne, sans good looks unfortunately). The three Summers books were light and ennjoyable, but I often felt that sense of unreality that comes with those who choose to write about high school too long after the fact. As usual, AMS is my happy place (though I’m missing the next book and will have to catch up!) and Ian Rankin is… Ian Rankin.

Speak and Room are probably the two most controversial or issue-driven books on my list. On the former, I was surprised by the youth of Anderson’s voice, given that I’d read Wintergirls before and not been overly impressed by her ability to capture the actuality of what it is like to be that age. As someone who had my own struggles around about that age with “growing up” and the realities of puberty (or “mocha latte” as Ruby Oliver, my spirit animal, would call it), I feel like, for a fourteen year old who has had the experience that the protagonist has here, the voice is pretty accurate. Also, the scene in the cupboard is incredibly affecting. However, I feel like it could actually have done with being a bit longer and deeper. Room was much less annoying than I’d expected it to be, given the child voice – it’s pretty easy to get used to. It’s also a lot less gruesome than I expected it to be, in the sense that most of the threat and dread comes from what is implied rather than laid out – it’s effective, without subjecting one to all the gory details of the terror inherent in the situation. However, the end of the book somewhat meandered, and while it was realistic, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed at Jack’s mum’s possessive attitude towards Jack at the end of the book. But that’s just my personal feelings about that “trope”.

So, what are my plans for the blog? I know I’ve been pretty unstructured so far, and while that’s all well and good, I think you’d probably like to know what to be able to expect from this page in the coming months. After much deliberation, I created a posting schedule that I’m hoping I’ll be able to stick to and that I hope will be of interest to at least some of you!

On Mondays I’m going to continue with the book meme posts, so you can get to know a little bit about me as a reader. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be dedicated to the feature I started this blog to embark upon: The Great Discworld Re-read. I was inspired by the awesome people at Tor (http://www.tor.com/features/series/malazan-reread-of-the-fallen) to do a re-read of what is probably the formative series of my reading life. As Malazan is to my university years, so Discworld was to my high school ones, and I’m excited to see what I get out of re-reading, in particular as regards to the early books which I first read some ten years ago (those and Thief of Time). Wednesday will see me tackle the always controversial topic of The Film v. The Book, starting with a recent, deeply controversial adaptation. Finally, Fridays are going to be dedicated to some of the young-adult stuff I’ve been reading recently, from the perspective of someone who was kind of out of that loop as a teenager, starting tomorrow with the beginning of my revisit of one of the YA series I did read as a teen – The Princess Diaries.

On top of all this, all going well, I should be able to post some stuff about the things I’m reading in “my own time”, so to speak. The plan is that I should be able to queue the week’s posts in advance and hopefully thus still maintain my ability to read normally for the most part. How that pans out in practice remains to be seen! However, these roundups will keep happening, and if anyone has anything they’d particularly like to see me tackle, then I’ll try to make it happen. Current projects aside, nothing is set in stone. Here’s to the future!

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March reads!

Here’s a round-up of what I’ve been reading this month:

Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist – 1/10

I really, really hated this book and was very disappointed in it. It was self-indulgent and depressing and not terribly well-written either. It had the bones of a good 200-page or so novel in it – if they had just concentrated on the story of Oscar and Eli – but as it was it was flabby and I didn’t enjoy it one bit.

The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery – 7/10
This was good, but I really wish I’d read it when I was a kid. The allegory was a bit to glaring (and yet incoherent) for me to properly immerse myself in the story. The drawings are fantastic and the writing is very, very engaging, but I think I’m just a touch to old (and too cynical? I am a law student after all…) to be swept away by it.

The Godfather – Mario Puzo – 9/10
I enjoyed this a great deal, much more than I had expected to. A lot of people complained about the plain, unadventurous style of writing but I felt it really suited the subject matter. There is some extraneous material – the sex scenes and the whole vagina storyline (no, really) are kind of pointless – but it doesn’t really impact too much on the overall narrative. The last scene with Vito is particularly moving.

A Winter Book – Tove Jansson – 8/10
This was very good, although some of the time I felt a touch disconnected with the narrator. I think that might be because of my weird relationship with short stories though, and these are very short. However, I really got a sense of Finland from it, and Tove Jansson seems like an endlessly fascinating sort of person. The chapter with the letters from Japan made me cry.

The Solitaire Mystery – Jostein Gaarder – 10/10
I think you either love Gaarder or you hate him – I think a lot of people feel his naive sense of wonder is a bit put on and I will admit that he does tend to repeat themes in his books. But I genuinely love everything about his style, his sense of language, the sheer fascination he has with the world. The plot is stronger in this than in some of his other works, and that definitely plays to his advantage. Genuinely beautiful. (But like I said, I have loved everything else that Gaarder has done, with the exception of The Castle in the Pyrenees.)

The 39 Steps – John Buchan – 8/10
Despite being largely set in Scotland, Buchan avoids most of my stamping ground so I don’t have a connection with this on that level. That said, there is something essentially Scottish about the deep vein of silliness that runs through this slight novel.

Espresso Tales (Scotland Street #2) – Alexander McCall Smith – 7/10
Love Over Scotland (Scotland Street #3)- Alexander McCall Smith – 7/10
The World According to Bertie (Scotland Street #4) – Alexander McCall Smith – 6/10
Taking these all together for obvious reasons. This series is such great escapism and capture a particular element of Edinburgh really well, I think. Matthew, Bertie, Big Lou, and Cyrill continue to be my favourites, and I like how sedate the pacing is. Of the three, TWAB was my least favourite, but I’m not sure if that’s because it was my third Scotland Street novel in three days! I really didn’t like that two pieces of character development from the previous novel (regarding Irene and Pat) were essentially wiped out by the end of this one, and I’m pretty sure I noticed a few mistakes – the most glaring being that Bertie’s room was mysteriously pink again?

Pygmalion – George Bernard Shaw – 10/10
What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Not a wasted word in this, and the final scene between Eliza and Higgins is incredible. Eliza has to be one of my favourite literary inventions.

Wonder – R.J. Palacio – 7/10
Started off strong, but too many point-of-views drag this one down slightly. There’s also a very sad bit about three-quarters of the way through that made me rate it a little lower because of my aversion to that particular thing (I don’t want to spoil it but if you’ve read it you can probably guess). It’s a very sweet story, if a little unrealistic, but it’s a children’s book so I was hardly expecting grim and gritty. I would have liked a bit more of Auggie’s experiences, and if we were going to have different narrators, why not have the parents? It would probably be a neat lesson in understanding how adults feel towards their children for the age group this is aimed at.

Childhood’s End – Arthur . Clarke – 10/10
Last, but most certainly not least. This is just plain fantastic. Again, not a wasted word. Turns the usual cliches about what first contact with alien species would be like upside down – I genuinely can’t say more than that without spoiling the magic of this one. I didn’t really know a lot about Clarke before (I know, for shame) but I will definitely be reading some more stuff by him now!

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born with the gift of a golden voice

Sorry about the brief absence in posts – I had some technical difficulties coupled with a super-heavy schedule. Things should be back on track now!
embassytown

 

“Word spread because word will spread. Stories and secrets fight, stories win, shed new secrets, which new stories fight, and on.”

 

I can remember the specific moment, when I was a child (which is really saying, before I was the me that I am now), that I realised that reading was more than just saying the words off the page in order without making mistakes. I had this book of Greek myths with the most gorgeous pictures elucidating something so magical, so fantastic, that I desperately wanted to be inside the book (despite the horrible things that happened to all sorts of people in the stories). I had been able to read for a while, but I hadn’t really read anything much except for the usual kids’ stuff and I don’t think anyone thought I had an unusually strong ability in that area. So it was much to my parents’s surprise when I recited, word-for-word, the foreword to the book, with clear comprehension of what I was reading, in my politest (non-Weegie) voice. They were excited. They were surprised. They knew, then, what I know now – that the love of the written word is a fine thing, the chief joy of my life in terms of culture. But at that moment – the moment that the spark lit behind their eyes that maybe, just maybe, I would be good at this thing – I knew that there was a difference, between reading and understanding, between seeing and knowing – between knowing and loving.

This relates to another odd facet of my childhood. I was brought up by non-religious parents and am an only child. My primary schooling – from ages five to eleven – was vaguely Christian in a sort-of non-specific Protestant way, and we learned a lot about other religions, chiefly Judaism and Islam. My parents in no way discouraged discussion of religion, and, both coming from Catholic families, I attended quite a few first communions and confirmations. However – perhaps owing to the introduction to the Greek myths at such a tender age – I somehow fundamentally lacked understanding in a rather crucial way. I didn’t actually realise that anyone really believed any of this. I thought the biblical stories – the exodus, all the things that Jesus “did” – were just that. Stories. It was not until late on in my primary education – probably around the same time that my parents made the decision that I was attend the local Catholic high school (for educational reasons as opposed to moral or ethical ones) – that I realised that these belief systems were not equivalent to the Greek myths. That they weren’t just things that people used to believe in order to make sense of the world. That they were very prevalent, and that people were very serious about them. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted.

This is my round about way of showing what I brought to the table when I read Embassytown: a sense of wonder at the power of the written word, an attachment to fairytales, and a mild bemusement at organised religion. Perhaps it partially explains why I like it so much. China Mieville’s command of the written word is awe-inspiring, that much I had known for a long time. But this book is more than that – it’s all about the way we communicate, how language can make us who we are, how it’s a fundamental part of who we are and our culture. It’s also a story about stories, about the stories we tell ourselves in order to rationalise our place in the world. About the structures and cultures and traditions that we build for ourselves, and how the removal of one pillar can cause the whole thing to collapse. The scope is so vast, and yet, in some ways, it feels intimate, touching. I think most of this is to do with Avice.

Avice is a wonderful main character. She is strong, without being a caricature. Too often do writers create binary women: either stereotypical damsels in distress or improbably Action-Man-like. A third category is, I suppose, characters who are trying to be the latter but have much more in common with the former (Katniss Everdeen, I’m looking at you). Mieville’s female characters are among the best I’ve ever seen because they just make sense. They are well-rounded, real-sounding people, who speak in a voice that resonates with my experiences.

Of course, his world-building is unparalleled. In place of New Crobuzon, here we have Embassytown, and what a weird and claustrophobic place it is. Throughout the book I felt oppressed by the buildings, by the furtive gossip, by those in power and their relationship with the native beings of that world. Everything was haunting and desperately… desperate.

Embassytown is a poem and a metaphor and a novel rolled into one. It’s the story of a women and of a nation. It’s the story of language and communication between those who are fundamentally alien to one another. It’s a story about the nature of morality. It’s a story told by probably the most talented contemporary author that I can think of. I can’t really say any more without spoiling it. But I can tell you that you should read it. I can tell you that, without exception, this is the best book I read last year.

(I hope I didn’t offend anyone with the religious discussion above – if anyone wants to ask me about the development of my beliefs or lack thereof, you’re more than welcome.)