DNF Without Guilt? Tuesday Talks

No video today, I don’t have time to edit!

Have i ever felt guilt about not finishing a book? Yes, mostly when it’s a book that was given to me as a gift. I dread the moment when that person asks me how I liked it and I have to make up something vague based on the bit I did read, and hope they hadn’t read it themselves.

Otherwise, no. It’s like saying ‘have you ever felt guilty for not finishing the star trek series?’ I love tv shows, and I love watching series, but I don’t like Star Trek, I find it long and boring and dated and I don’t like that genre of show. Am I going to be a fan of every genre? No. Am I going to sit through hours of film that doesn’t interest me, has actors I don’t like and has a bad script? No. That’s the way I feel about reading books. I’m not going to feel guilty for not finishing a book if I find it torturous to go through. I’m not going to force myself to read something I hate or that irritates me or that feels like it’s a waste of time.

That being said, I did finish a book recently (The Name of the Star) that I absolutely hated. I read to halfway and was going to give up, but I felt like I should read it because it was for a book club. I’m glad I did finish it now, because the story picked up a lot after the first awful half, and I’m now onto the second book! So in a way, I’m glad I felt that sense of ‘I should really finish this’, otherwise I would have had a very different opinion of a book that I hadn’t seen through!

tl;dr Nope, no guilt!

The Sleeper And The Spindle

Because I didn’t read a full length book this month, I also read two illustrated ones. This was the first of those two, Maus being the second.

I was given this book for Christmas by mum because she knows I love Chris Riddell’s artwork. I read The Edge Chronicles by written by Paul Stewart and illustrated by Chris Riddell when I was fourteen or fifteen and fell in love with them. They’re fantasy novels, with absolutely incredible images to help tell the story.

Photo on 29-01-2015 at 00.44 #2

So The Sleeper And The Spindle is illustrated by Riddell and written by Neil Gaiman. I’d never read anything of his before but I have seen his name everywhere. The story is a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, with a young queen being taking on the traditional role of the prince searching for the sleeping princess.

While it’s based on a well known fairy story, this one does feel a lot less like the romanticised Disney version and more like the traditional, darker versions of old stories. There are scary sleep walkers and skeletons and beasts that follow them.I loved that this story had a complete twist in it, one that I honestly hadn’t seen coming when I first opened the book.

Honestly, I spent the entire time reading it in awe of the incredible drawings and how much time they must have taken to create. Where can I get me a poster??

Just to reiterate how stunning they are, I’ll include a picture:

25284718-c769-4a99-bf1a-11dde87b434a-2060x1236

Maus

This month has been a busy month, and while about 3/4 of the way through A Game Of Thrones, I won’t get it finished before the 31st. So (slight cop-out) I chose to read one of my prescribed books for my English class- MAUS by Art Spiegelman. I’ve been putting off writing this review because it’s such a sensitive topic, and I want to be respectful in talking about it and I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. But here it is.

I hadn’t known that the book was a graphic novel when I’d ordered it from Amazon. I thought it was a textbook about Art. There’s a sticker on the front cover, that obscured the Nazi swastika on the front, and since I hadn’t bothered to look too closely, I also had no idea the book was about the Holocaust.

Photo on 27-01-2015 at 22.27

 

The inside cover was the first thing I read, and thankfully I did. The Times review helpfully explained that the mice were Jews, the cats were Germans and the pigs were Poles. I wouldn’t have understood about the pigs later on had I not read it. The book is split into two parts – before Auschwitz and being in Auschwitz itself.

The first half of the book introduces Art and his father, Vladek, and explains that Art wants to turn his father’s experiences into a comic. I loved seeing ‘the making of’ the book while reading it, it made the story feel so real. Throughout the book, the setting switches between the point at which the comic is being drawn and his father’s memories.

Vladek explains the gradual changes that occurred in the 1930s. These small changes begin with the family seeing their first swastika in Czechoslovakia as they passed through a small town on the train. Vladek’s speech is in disordered English throughout the book, and at first I thought this was just a bad translation, but Art speaks fluently. The caption at the bottom of the drawing of the Swastika flag was very striking to me. He says ‘Here was the first time I saw, with my own eyes, the Swastika’.

From that point, things become continually worse for the family, but I loved how Vladek always found something to be positive about through all the struggles he lived through. Positive things such as finding a better shelter or being able to feed his family while in hiding. I also enjoyed seeing Vladek in the present day, and seeing the changes that this experience had made to him. I thought it was interesting that (very early on) he is displayed as the stereotypical racist idea of a Jew (something that Art notes during the book, but says it can’t be helped because that’s the way he is).

The second half of the book takes place in Auschwitz itself and the descriptions Vladek gives are incredibly vivid. Art draws some very disturbing images without making them too graphically horrifying. It’s a very delicate balance, but it’s executed very well. The story Vladek tells is shocking- there were details of Auschwitz that I’d never heard of, ones which I feel too disgusted to write on this page. At one point I felt physically sick, and couldn’t understand how anyone could live through those experiences and come out sane at the end. I know my mind wouldn’t have lasted if I’d have seen those things.

The artwork was really enjoyable to look at. It was simple to follow along to and although the faces of the mice weren’t incredibly detailed, each emotion was conveyed perfectly. There are pages within the book which display a different style of drawing from Art’s earlier days, which I thought made a great contrast and exhibited his talent very well.

The book took me about 3 hours to read, and I’m glad I did. It was a great and eye opening read. Not often do you get to read the story of a survivor which is unedited by the news for shock value. This was a very raw and real story of a holocaust survivor which has certainly changed my view of the Holocaust- it no longer feels so far away.

Book Review: The Underground Storyteller

I started this book being very excited. I’ve watched the author’s Youtube videos for a long time, and I’ve always found the London Underground very interesting. I’m stuck now though. At first, I was loving reading it. The tone and the quirky little stories really interested me. But I have a couple of problems with the book which mean I’m finding it hard to read it.

Firstly, the book is Alex’s journey along the train line. That’s interesting, but in quite a few places, he simply describes what it looks like, which isn’t at all interesting. In some places, he simply mentions the name as he rides past it. I think in most cases this is because he talks about the station in another chapter (because stations often overlap), but in terms of being able to follow along with him it’s a little confusing. I don’t think he visited every station either, because he only mentions Edgeware road once, which has two stations but only gives one description (I believe this is because he stopped riding the Hammersmith and City Line at Royal Oak because he’d visited Paddington on the District Line).

While riding the District line, Alex doesn’t talk about Paddington other than saying ‘passing through Paddington’. He doesn’t talk about it in the Hammersmith and City Line either, which is a few more chapters later, and only discusses it when he reaches the Circle Line right at the end of the book. So what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t follow all the lines in the way that’s easy to keep track of- it almost jumps about.

Secondly, the book is mostly about his experience. While I have enjoyed that, I wanted to know more cool facts about the underground rather than a long story about Alex’s thoughts at a certain station and then ignoring others. There were plenty of stations that I wanted to know more about, but Alex just sailed on by them.

The book also rambles on a lot about completely unrelated stories. This book could be a collection of very short stories. I found that they were all too disjointed and jumbled and filled up my head too much so I couldn’t concentrate.

I did like his writing style- I liked the tone and the footnotes were funny. I really felt that Alex’s personality came through with this book, and it was fun to read about his experiences.

I haven’t finished it yet, and I’m not sure if I can. I’ve certain lines that interest me so far (Hammersmith and City- which was disappointingly short- District, Central, Circle, Metropolitan and The Mumbles Train), but dipping in and reading the Picadilly line for example, Alex heads straight from Knightsbridge to North Ealing- missing out stations that he barely mentioned. Hammersmith for example, he talks about a fan experience, nothing about why it might be named that way or the fact that there are two stations.

So I’m not sure if I’m going to finish it properly (I’ve read at least a little bit from most chapters), and I want to start reading another book- one which will take me a good while to read. I’ll post about it in December!

Gone Girl

This is my first book review here, so I just want to start by saying that this isn’t supposed to be formal, and as far as I can I won’t include any major spoilers.

I decided to read Gone Girl this month, a novel by Gillian Flynn. I’d never heard of her before this book, but having read it I will look into her other books. I knew the film was coming out so I wanted to read it before I saw it in cinema (I always find that when you invest your time in a book, it’s way better if you don’t know the outcome. If I know what’s going to happen, I can never bring myself to spend the time).

From the beginning, I questioned whether Nick was telling us the whole truth. The first chapter paints a fairly bland description of their lives- a glittering past replaced by a dull, less comfortable existence. The second chapter is from Amy’s perspective, and immediately made me wonder if these two people were really experiencing the same lives. The way the first half is written sums up how I feel about life in general sometimes- that I am experiencing a completely different world, a different version of events to everyone else around me. Nick and Amy’s experiences were so different, their takes on the reality they live in so contrasting that it was difficult to be able to tell what was really happening. A little bit like The Catcher In The Rye (everything could relate back to that book), where his viewpoint is so skewed that you can’t imagine that world could possibly exist- but it does for him. Just as it does for Nick and Amy.

So Nick as a character is very flawed. The nature of the novel is that big things are revealed to you very slowly throughout, so I can’t exactly say why without ruining it, but he makes very poor decisions throughout. A lot of his choices were a bit…unrealistic, a lot of the excuses he makes are very…pointless? I couldn’t really empathise with him a lot of the time, because it’s like he intentionally makes things difficult for himself by being a compulsive liar.

Amy on the other hand appears to be exactly what a loving wife should be- a little too perfect I thought. I don’t want to go into depth unless anyone reads this so I’m going to leave it at: Amy was an intensely annoying character who also made very poor decisions, and constantly thought she was more clever than she actually was.

The book as a whole:

I want to kind of concentrate on how the book made me feel, because I think that’s a very important part of reading- what the book leaves with the reader, what messages resonate with them, and how they will remember it.

I read this two weeks ago now (I know, this has been a draft for a long time, I just never got round to reading it) and I remember very well how I felt after I’d finished. The book left me with an uneasy feeling. My head felt a little messed with, confused, uncomfortable, claustrophobic and trapped. I felt frustrated with Nick for his complacency and the resolution to the situation and I felt confused with Amy for her explanation of the ending. The whole novel she seemed to feel that people should do her bidding because she deserved it- but it was never explained why she deserved it  (other than having mental problems). I did like the last sentence from Nick in her narrative, which was almost like the ultimate ‘fuck you’ to her, because neither of them would ever get what they wanted from this relationship.

I was also very disturbed by the idea that there maybe there isn’t a difference between pretending to do things and actually doing them. Maybe what we pretend is real even though in our heads it’s not real, we’re still doing them, so isn’t it reality? Doesn’t that just mean that even though they were pretending, it was real? Okay so that sounds really vague unless you’ve read it left me thinking some really deep questions about life.

Overall I’m glad I read this book this month, It was a good read, it kept me gripped the whole way. I don’t know if I’ll see the film- I’ve heard it’s very long, but it depends on whether I can keep to my budget.

 

12 Months 12 Books

I decided when I started at UEA that I would try to read a book per month this year. I know that’s not a lot, but I’ve fallen out of reading in the last couple of years, and wanted to ease back into it. So over the next twelve months I’m going to write about the books that I’ve read on this blog. I might do more than one book each month but I will have at least one every month!