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12 March 2008 @ 05:30 pm
Sophie's World - Jostien Gaarder
I was given this as a Valentine's Day present by a friend who remains intent on educating me. It sounds condescending, but manages to be done with the best of intentions, since it's often prompted by my asking questions which display my ignorance. And, since I wanted to do philosophy for ALevel, but never did, this seems a good place to start.

And as an introduction to philosophy, it works very well. It tackles concepts from ancient greek thinking up to the present day in a way which is pared down, but not over-simplified, I feel. Not being an expert, I can't say for sure, but I at no point felt that I was being talked down to.  However, I'm not sure it works as a novel. It's useful having Sophie to pose the questions the reader wants to ask, and the plot does break up what otherwise might be a quite dry read. I imagine this would especially true if the teaching wasn't done in the form of a dialogue. The infamous twist is something I'm still not sure about. Yes it's all very post-modern and ironic, but I just felt like it worked in this case. I'm not sure why. However, the ending itself is very weak; there doesn't seem to be a grand sense of closure, and some aspects of it feel a little too fantasy, given that much of the novel has encorporated the fantastical into the everyday.

The Hours - Michael Cunnigham

It seems so sad to be reading a book so closely linked to Virginia Woolf before doing a term's reading on the auther herself, but I've had this book sitting around for about 6 months, and at under 220 pages, I figured that I could justify taking time out from my set texts to read this novel. Having only read To The Lighthouse, I feel I might have missed how closely Clarrisa's day is linked to the fictional Clarrisa's, but it's still a hugely absorbing read. Depite following three seperate threads, the novel doesn't feel disjointed, partly because of the continuity of ideas and small details which recur from time to time. Cunningham is adept at re-capturing Woolf's writing style, and it doesn't feel forced.

I hate to say a book is "inspirational", but if I could think of a more fitting adjective to insert here, I most definately would.
Current Mood: cheerfulcheerful
28 February 2008 @ 04:04 pm
Culture and Anarchy - Matthew Arnold
The dreaded, dreaded book. A 150 page-long Victorian treastise on the ills of society and what can be done to resolve it. This was never something I would read for enjoyment, but more out of interest: we were told just to read Chapter 5 but I really wanted to hear the whole of Arnold's arguement. Which, essentially, seems to be that culture (the study of perfection) would have been the cure for all of societies ills. Of course, this is just the core idea, and you'd hope so considering the length of the book.
I found it interesting, but completely unenjoyable. I thought that the arguement might be too seeped in context, but in actuality, Arnold's main example of the distestablishment of the Irish Church is something I already looked into a lot, so it wasn't completely alien. Sadly, the writing is dry, and overlong (I recall in one chapter it takes the man 4 pages to outline the three classes of society as Barbarians, Philistines and Populace.) I can understand his argument, but I cannot at all how he thinks like this: he is aware of the poverty then rampant in London's East End, yet looks down with disdain at ecenomic development as a means of aiding this. It might well be a good point, but that his other option is to teach culture (of course, with the higher classes teaching the lower classes to raise their views) in the hopes that in 20 years, someone might come up with an idea.

Good plan.
Current Mood: bouncybouncy
The Waste Land- TS. Eliot
My favourite set text of this term, most definately. Of course, I'd only read it after hearing it hailed as the cornerstone of Modernism literature in lectures. And, it was towards an essay, so I'm afraid my focus fell mostly on the second part of the poem. Nonetheless, this was hugely overwhelming for me, the kind of literature which I feared reading at university: where it's best to have read at least 10 other books in order to understand it properly. Reading it through six times hasn't got me much further to understanding it completely, but what I do understand, I think is so important, and beautiful.

I find it hard to know what to write about Eliot: he's infamous and so thoroughly discussed, but I've tried nonetheless. I actually adore the density and the allusion, and I'm at a loss to pick my favourite, perhaps the section with Tiresias watching the receptionist and her lover. Things I thought I would dislike (the manic repition, the lack of formal structure in some sections, the borrowings and pastiches, the bleak world view) I actually found myself noting and appreciating, and grinning if I actually did get a reference.

I think the difference, for me, between Eliot and Joyce, is that Eliot is less dense, less overwhelming. I still cannot get to grips with Joyce's way of writing, despite writing an essay on The Sirens chapter of Ulysess. Still, as a first year undergraduate, I refuse to beat myself up over it.

Female Chauvinist Pigs - Ariel Levy
I think it's in 1984 that [presumably] Winston says something like the best books are the ones which tell you what you know already.
How true of this book: I've intended to read it for a while, having started flicking through it in a Media lesson two years ago, and getting endless amounts of flack for being a "dyke". It depresses me that this was a school intended for the bright students, and yet feminism and lesbianism in one form go hand in hand. At any rate, this book is subtitled: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture and looks at what has prompted a lot of women to consider that objectifying themselves is a form of empowerment, and it's a concept I've often stuggled with myself.
The concept it interesting, and Levy does so through quotation, through interview and observation of girls in Florida during spring break, or lesbian woman who term themselves 'bois', emulating men as far as they can. However, Levy does have a tendency to change registers quite suddenly, which is a little jarring, and sometimes dashes off into not-very-effective rhetoric. Nonetheless, finding an articulation for ideas I've had for a while was useful, as well as the chapter on feminist history. I think I want to tackle The Female Eunich next.

Howl's Moving Castle - Diane Wynne Jones
Yes, yes, at last. I've owned the film since the first day it came out on DVD and adored it probably more than is healthy for someone my age. I think that's the only thing I can hold against the book, because it's a fantastically written children's book. I just got very uncomfortable when I finally found out exactly where Howl's black door leads. Being objective, the characters are more well-rounded, in particular Cacifer and Sophie, and the relationship between Sophie and Howl is more complex. The only thing lacking, I think is the ending, which feels quite rushed, as though tying up too many loose ends at once.

The Alchymists Cat - Robert Jarvis
This was bought on a recent day trip to Hay-on-Wye, because I have such a strong memory of reading it when I was about 12 or so. (Yes, it's true: all this reading of dense, difficult prose, while rewarding, makes part of me long for the sugar-filled hit that is children's literature. I suck.) Verdict? This one was probably best left in the past: set in the 1660's, the time period is well written, as much as it can be without going into huge historical detail, and the onset of the Black Death is still grisly. But the main problem comes in the dialogue: Jarvis tries so hard to write in early modern english, but is entirely hit or miss. In particular, his attempts to write aristocratic characters are slightly painful to read now. The character development is minimal and pretty predictable, and the ending too neat for my liking.

It's like the literary equivalent of the feeling at the end of Halloween night when your tummy starts to hurt and you wish you hadn't had that last Twix.

The Stange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
This book, for me, is interesting more on a theoretical basis than for what is actually written. I feel that way about most Gothic Literature, but it doesn't mean I like it any less. It may partly be because quite a few texts are so engrained in our consciousness and have wandered so far from what they originally were that the more temperate original is never entirely expected. Despite this, the structure of the short story, as well as the idea of degeneration, darwinism and class standing is something I think I'd actually pick up and read again if I had a short journey ahead of me.


I'm not going to count Dorian Gray since it's a re-read, or the 4 criticism books I've read, because I dipped in and out of them.

Current Mood: bitchybitchy
17 January 2008 @ 11:44 pm
1. Dracula by Bram Stoker
A re-read for University. Of course, I loathed the novel when I read it two years ago for my AS English course. Although, thinking of the days where I would be set 50 pages to be read in three days seems like such a luxury....especially when I consider how I had to force myself to plough through it, struggling with the archaic language and the bits of vocab I didn't understand. Ah, to be 16..
Nostalgia aside, this time was not as painful. It's a perfect example of Gothic, and despite my copious amounts of annotations, I still had more to add: certain incidents (The Wierd Sisters, Lucy's deaths and the encounter at the count's London home) are so filled with oppositions and issues that it's understandable that this book has been the subject of so much critical writing.
Of course, between these, the action is often repetitive, and sometimes boring. Lucy's downward spiral, in particular, is dull. The views expressed are symptomatic of their time, so that's understandable, but I sometimes feel Stoker was taking on too much in trying to write so many characters; while Lucy's earlier letters are as twee as you could want, and Johnathan's early entries as ordered as you'd expect, Van Helsing's accented English is really inconsistent, as is Mina's later dialogue. But, my main question is, why exactly IS the point of Quincy Morris? Really, now.

2. The Child in Time by Ian McEwan
I begin to think I prefer McEwan's later writing. This is from the late 80's, and while a really affecting read, there are certain twists and turns that I don't really like, for example, the car crash seems so random, and I never really know why McEwan chooses to include that particular incidents. Of course, what seems random in Darke is understandable since it expresses the main theme well: the contrast between the public(city) life and the private (rural) life is brought to a head in Darke's breakdown. The characters are well written, and while the sections describing Steven's meetings in Whitehall are monotonous, they add to the effect. However, they sometimes seem to grate a little against Steven's concern at loosing his daughter Kate: sections where he is prompted into thought of her work well, but the appearence of the manuscript seems, for want of a better word, sudden.
I can't really explain that. I felt the same while reading The Cement Garden: that some incidents McEwan includes in his earlier works seem unnatural, placed there for reasons I can't fathom. Somehow, the same sort of unpleasant incident presented in Atonement works much better. Perhaps as he continues to write, he's becoming more adept at presenting these occurences?

3. Dubliners by James Joyce
This was quickly read in time for an essay, written and put to one side earlier this week. But, irresistably, I picked it up again and flicked through to re-read some of the ones I personally preferred. An instant re-read is a good sign of my affection for a book, even if the preferences are purely personal.
I was ready to hate Joyce based on reading one chapter of Ulysses, but this has really changed my mind. It's wonderfully written, and you feel like Joyce isn't wasting any word in putting across his view of modern life as empty and numb. This would explain his long battle with editors and printers, but not really why he felt it would "retard the course of civilisation" were it not to be read. Of course, I can't explain why he was quite so arrogant, but I can say that I appreciate well his way of creating a character, of free indirect style, and the showing rather than telling.
I'd say my favourites were Eveline, The Dead, Clay and A Painful Case. Although, that is at a push, and purely because the characters and situations that they deal with appealed to me most: I wouldn't presume to say I would know that they were better-written stories or anything like that.

Up next: more Joyce. I'm not thinking past that, if I'm honest.

(I'm reverting to this style because it's easier. Yes, less detailed, and I do miss my lovely little amazon links, but I want to keep this record this year, and since I often have so little time, this will spur me on, I hope. At this rate, I might read more than 50 books this year. Imagine that!)
Current Mood: draineddrained