52 Books: Weeks 3 and 4

Fine, fine, this whole ‘blog at least once a week’ malarkey has somewhat passed me by, and January’s only just sodded off. I have good reason for my absence, though: I’ve been writing way more than I’ve been reading for the past two weeks. Two brand new book ideas have leapt into fruition and I’ve been struggling to plan them and make a start on the actual writing part before the inspiration buggers off and leaves me for another several months. Usually I read while on my breaks at work because I can never get a plug socket for my laptop to do any writing, but the purchase of some very beautiful exercise books put pay to that. And on the bus I’ve been listening to podcasts (is anyone else really into podcasts all of a sudden?). I still managed to squeeze a few things in though, and the one I’m going to discuss is somewhat topical seeing as the film version just came out last week.

Room – Emma Donoghue

Start date: Thursday 28th January

End date: Saturday 30th January

Reread/New: Reread

Anyone who hasn’t read this book: please, please, go and read it immediately. I read it a few years ago, having seen a good review, and I’ve returned to it many times since then. It’s powerful, moving, and beautiful. And because of the film coming out, it’s all over bookshops right now. You have no bloody excuse.

This is the story of a five year old boy called Jack. He lives in one room, with one skylight, muffled with cork tiles and hidden behind a sinisterly beeping metal door – but he believes it’s the whole world. The pictures he sees on the TV? His mother, locked in the room with him, has told him all his life that that’s just fantasy.

Jack’s mother, known only as ‘Ma’, was kidnapped years before the story begins, and Jack himself is the product of her near-nightly rapes by her captor. It’s very obviously based on cases like Jaycee Dugard, and the three women kept prisoner by Ariel Castro.

The book is narrated by Jack himself, and although his distinctive style of childish grammar can be jarring for the first few pages, it doesn’t take long before you’re utterly immersed. Believe it or not, the story of life within the same four walls doesn’t get boring (and, spoiler alert, it doesn’t stay that way for the entire book). Jack’s innocent depiction of his daily routine is captivating and beautifully written – only on reading this for the second (or third or fourth) time could I really pick out some of the deeper nuances of Jack’s thoughts.

Even though Jack is undeniably the main character, with everything being seen through his eyes and his childlike perception, I was fascinated most by Ma. Here is this woman, captured when she was still a teenager, raising her son in a locked shed. I remember the person I was at nineteen years old: barely recognisable from the woman I am today, and not just physically. This book makes me really consider how I would have coped in that situation, and how I would have matured differently. By not giving Ma a name, the author is not only pointing out how her captor has stolen her former identity, but also seems to keep her at the point where she really could be anyone. Me, you, anyone.

That’s how I see it anyway. And I love the way Jack has to slowly come to terms with the fact that his mother, who has only ever existed to be his Ma, actually has a whole other personality beneath the surface that has been locked away for years.

I don’t want to spoil the book too much, because some sections had me turning the pages at top speed, devouring the words in an absolute state to see how things would turn out – and that was a few days ago, when I was rereading. The first time, if I remember rightly, I was a bit of a howling mess. But although there are a lot of bittersweet moments, this is a book that I will always go back to when I need inspiration, when I want to be truly uplifted.

This is the trailer for the film starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay – it came out here in the UK a couple of weeks ago and I was right there at one of the first showings in Manchester. As soon as I saw it had been made into a film I knew I had to see it as soon as possible, I’ve loved the book for so long after all. I didn’t believe the film could be as good as the book, and it isn’t, but it comes pretty damn close. Somehow managing to evoke Room’s claustrophobia through Ma’s eyes, and the sense of haven it gives Jack, it’s a pretty magnificent piece of cinema. Brie Larson’s Oscar nomination is well-deserved, though I do think Jacob Tremblay should have been nominated too. Screw DiCaprio for best actor – he should have been gracefully losing to a nine year old this year.

Why are you still reading this? Go out and buy Room.

Other Books From Weeks 3 and 4

Bossypants – Tina Fey (new read)

Fabulous, fabulous biography/life manual. I didn’t want to do a full review as I did a similar thing for Caitlin Moran a couple of weeks back, but suffice to say – I love this woman. And her book. I honestly don’t know how I’ve managed not to read it until now.

The Adrian Mole Collection – Sue Townsend

Technically not one but three books; when I’m too tired to concentrate on anything new, the Adrian Mole series is one of my go-to reads. Having started at the beginning a couple of weeks back, I’m steadily working my way through the series.

Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years – Sue Townsend

See above. Actually, when I’ve finished my slow reread of this lot in between all the other things I’ve got going at the moment, I might do a full-series retrospective. I just can’t get enough of that anal pedant from Leicester.

 

 

52 Books, Week 2: The Girl With All The Gifts

First up, let’s be honest: I’m a tiny bit tipsy right now. I’ve just been out with my coworkers for our ‘Christmas’ meal (come on, we work in retail; we’re not going to get a Christmas meal at actual Christmas!). But I’ve decided to do this blog post every Sunday, so while it’s still Sunday, it’s getting written!

The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey

Start date: Sunday 10th January

End date: Sunday 10th January

Reread/New: New

Yes, you read that right: I read it in one day. That’s a day where I had to work, too; I read it in a couple of hours when I got home, after starting it on my half-hour break and being so captivated I could hardly put it down. It’s not a short book – it took some dedication but honestly, I really couldn’t stop until I could find out what happened.

I only picked this up in Waterstones on a whim; it has a bright yellow cover and stood out to me from a table in the sci-fi section. When I took it to the till, the guy who served me was so excited about the book I decided it would have to be the one I read first this week – he just managed to grip me with his enthusiasm.

‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ is a post-apocalyptic thriller – a genre that I’m very interested in at the moment seeing as I’m trying to write one myself. It features zombies (though, as appears to be fashionable at the moment, the word ‘zombie’ is never mentioned), and plague, and doom and destruction and all those good things. It came out a couple of years ago, and apparently the person who wrote it is some kind of Marvel big shot (I had no idea of this when I bought it – I did literally judge the book by its cover).

This is a book that, while it is focussed largely on the effects of a plague that destroys much of humanity, gains most of its addictive qualities from its characters: the enigmatic Melanie and her relationship with Miss Justineau, a proxy mother-daughter situation that really grips you and makes you root for the pair of them to survive through their various trials and tribulations. They have to try and normalise the abnormal, something that always makes me want to keep reading. It fascinates me – probably because there’s not a lot abnormal in my own life at the moment!

The characters really were the best part of this story – the main plot point is a journey from apparent safety, through near-certain peril, to an unknown future. So far, so normal for this genre. Without the characters, it would have faded into obscurity. Melanie, Miss Justineau, and particularly Parks, who I loved. Even Caldwell, who while she was somewhat deplorable, you could appreciate the detailed motivations of her character. It reminded me a lot of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, even though the situation of the plot was very different.

Would I recommend this book? Most certainly. Go and find it if you have any interest in post-apocalyptic fiction or zombies, or anything really. You might find it’ll surprise you.

Other Books From Week 2

Tooth and Claw – Jo Walton

Paper Towns – John Green

How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend

All rereads, all much-loved. After the somewhat weighty main read I had this week, I wanted a few chilled-out favourites to keep me occupied through a bit of a difficult week. If nothing else, please go away and read Tooth and Claw, it’s basically Pride and Prejudice with dragons, and a must for all lovers of fantasy and feminism.

I don’t think that’s gone too badly for a post where I’ve had a couple of beers too many (including Cormoran Strike‘s favourite, Doom Bar) and I’m watching Call The Midwife with a stack of home-made fudge. I’ll try to be a bit less distracted next week!

52 Books, Week 1: How To Be A Woman

It’s only taken a week for me to realise two things. Firstly, I have such a short attention span, I cannot focus on just one book at a time without the promise of something else to read simultaneously. Secondly, I read bloody quickly. Who knew? So what I’m doing is keeping a record of everything I read in my lovely little book journal, while blogging about just one of them each week. I’ll be interested to see quite how quickly I hit the magic number 52, seeing as I’ve read three books in this first week of 2016 (though, granted, two of them were rereads).

How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

Start date: Sunday, 3rd January

End date: Tuesday, 5th January

Reread/New: Reread

This book came out in 2011, though I didn’t read it until roughly a year after it was published. I’m not a massive fan of biographies, and to me, that’s what this seemed to be. I picked it up on a three for two deal when I was visiting my mum, thinking it would at least be something vaguely amusing to read on the train home.

A few hours later, as I choked back an actual scream of laughter at the sentence comparing pornographic closes-ups to “one of the Mitchell brothers, with no eyes, eating a very large, fidgety sausage”, my fellow passengers on the TransPennine Express perhaps wondering if I was going through some kind of mental anguish, I had to admit I had been very wrong about this book.

Before reading How To Be A Woman, I had always called myself a feminist. I didn’t really know why. I knew that I supported gender equality, and that having been raised by a strong, independent single mother had had a lot to do with that.  But it had no focus; it had no definition to me. I had already been trying to keep back tears of laughter at Caitlin Moran’s depiction of her childhood and adolescence before I stumbled upon this particular paragraph:

“Put your hands in your pants. A) Do you have a vagina? and B) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

A simplistic summary, perhaps, but it was my thoughts in one succinct nutshell. I wanted to jump up on my seat, as suggested in the book, and start proclaiming “I AM A STRIDENT FEMINIST” for all to hear (though I’d have probably been forcibly removed from the TransPennine Express and would still be languishing in a ditch somewhere south of York).

Rereading this book several years on, despite reading a lot further into feminist canon and making up my own mind about quite a few things, I still identify with much of what Caitlin Moran says. Comparing ‘beautiful’ designer handbags to “Tom Jones’s knackers, with handles” – yes! Exactly! The mental image of Marilyn Manson weeping over bootees in JoJo Maman Bébé – a thought that brings tears of hilarity to my own eyes!

A lot of self-proclaimed feminist texts are hard-hitting and hard to read, and with that comes quite a degree of humourless expression. How To Be A Woman manages to cover meaningful issues from adolescence to abortion, while still making you laugh so hard you snort pasta through your nose. What could be better?

Would I recommend this book? Yes. To anyone, male or female. It’s part autobiography, yes, which I don’t usually enjoy, but it’s also part manifesto, a hilarious and honest call to arms for anyone who wants to just be one of ‘The Guys’. In fact, she has a new book coming out later this year, Moranifesto – I have high hopes that this will carry on in a similar vein and I will most certainly be buying it, in hardback, the day it comes out.

By the way, please do go and follow Caitlin Moran on Twitter, it will be very worth your time.

image My stack from the week – cunningly angled to hide the giant crack in my Kindle

Other Books from Week 1

Trying to Conceive – Genevieve Morton (new read)

Feeding into my current obsession, obviously.

Atonement – Ian McEwan (reread)

A book I read as a teenager, didn’t massively understand but loved it; then studied it for A Level and loved it even more.

 

 

52 Weeks, 52 Books

As I may have mentioned before, I’m not doing any of those New Year’s bullshit resolutions this year. I can’t remember what mine were last year, and I don’t particularly want to check, because I don’t fancy being confronted with my own failure.

I am the master of burying my head in the sand.

Seeing as the only concrete resolution I can come up with is to get a Tolkien-related tattoo at some point this year, I’ve decided to set myself the 52 Weeks, 52 Books challenge instead.

Obviously, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. I read 52 books in 52 weeks. Lots of people already do this challenge on Goodreads and Reddit and various other places, but I’m just setting my own rules on this one.

I’m running Sunday to Sunday on this, so I’m starting my first book today. I am obviously allowed to read more than 52 books, but once I’ve set myself a particular book (to be documented in The Notebook) it has to be finished within the week. At least one of the books each month has to be something completely new to me. Not necessarily new as in newly published, just something I’ve never personally read before. I can choose these books by trotting into Waterstones or just browsing on the Kindle store, and they can be expensive hardbacks or free eBooks, it doesn’t matter.

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The Notebook. Where many things shall be written.

The whole point of this challenge is to make me actually think about what I’m reading and not read the same books over and over again. I want to actually analyse what I’m reading, really get my old English Literature head on. My brain is starting to feel like it’s stagnating in a big puddle of coffee, and I need to fine-tune it. Well, give it a good whack with a wrench at any rate.

I’m really looking forward to this. I’ve always been a big reader, and I’m interested to see if I really do read as much as I think I do – or if it’s more. This challenge might turn out to be really easy. Or it might turn out to be cripplingly hard. I genuinely don’t know, and I’m excited to find out.