Tuesday, 31 January 2012

59/111 - Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Naturally this is the second book in the Thursday Next series, and also highly enjoyable. I think there are around 5 altogether? Something I found quite difficult when I was working at Waterstone's (and still find difficult) is establishing which order these books go in. Impossible!

I'm not going to say too much more about this series for the time being, as I'm going to dive right into the next instalment and devour it like I did with this one. However I'm liking this series more and more - it really reminds me of the Hitchhiker's Guide books, only with a badass female character and absurd in a very literary way. I also really like the way that the author is able to create some genuinely sad and touching moments, too.

Next: The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Monday, 30 January 2012

58/111 - The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

I decided recently that I wanted to read the next book in the Thursday Next series, as I’ve really enjoyed reading Jasper Fforde in the past, but about 30 pages into Lost in a Good Book, I discovered that I couldn’t remember anything that happened in The Eyre Affair! So instead of trying to muddle my way through, and even though I tried to read the Wikipedia notes to catch up on the plot, I decided to just read The Eyre Affair for a second time so that I could launch fully into the series.

This series is set in a parallel universe which is for the most part very similar to ours – they have the same great works of literature, however the world is under the thumb of the conglomerate Goliath Corporation, who are a weapons manufacturer supplying the ongoing Crimean War with newer and more deadly weapons.

There are also dozens of departments of Special Operations, from anti-terrorism to vampire and werewolf control. Thursday, the main character of this book, works for SO-27, who are the literary detectives. In this world, works of literature and art are closely guarded commodities, and people are constantly trying to forge and destroy works of art. Your opinion on whether Shakespeare really wrote his plays, or whether it was someone else is as strong as someone’s political opinion, and there are various groups and organisations affiliating themselves with different authors.

In The Eyre Affair, the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit is stolen and someone kills one of the minor characters. The idea is that if you destroy the character from the original manuscript then all other copies of that manuscript are altered forever. Eventually, the villain steals the original copy of Jane Eyre, and holds Jane to ransom, so Thursday must try and stop Jane’s death before the narrative is erased forever. Eventually she enters the text herself and changes the course of the story forever to the ending we know today. In The Eyre Affair, Jane marries John Rivers and moves to India instead of ending up with Rochester like in our world. So Thursday ends up changing the manuscript for the better, in the end!

I really liked this book, it was funny and charming and an interesting premise, especially for someone like me who’s a bit of a bookworm. There were lots of little hidden gems in there, reference-wise, and I’m sure I missed loads of them. One of the other things I really liked was Thursday’s character – she’s a resourceful, independent woman who gets flustered sometimes but has pretty big balls in tough situations. I liked her a lot. There’s a love interest in the novel, but it’s not the main point of the story, which I also appreciated. That's all I have to say for now.

Next: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Monday, 23 January 2012

57/111 - A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

From one angry try-hard young douchebag to another, it seems!

I bought A Million Little Pieces several years ago when I was still at university as part of a 3 for 2 offer. At the time I bought it, I knew nothing about the controversy surrounding it (I do now, obviously) and I only chose to read it this week because I recently watched the South Park episode, A Million Little Fibers.

My main feeling while reading this was incredulity that anyone could possible have believed that the events James recounted were real. The thing reads just like a movie script - every other scene involves James staring down some tough guy or making some sort of point and absolutely none of it reads like truth. Angry young man enters rehab; a tough (but kind) older patient (who is also a mobster) takes James under his wing; a stick-in-the-mud doctor doesn't agree with James' non-conformist ways; a kindly female doctor takes pity on James; his new friends are from high places and manage to get his prison sentence reduced; a damaged young woman is intrigued by him and they fall in love.

I don't know if I'd feel this way if I hadn't known that Frey basically made the whole thing up. All the same, it's an okay story, I guess. A couple of stylistic points annoyed me a lot - there is no punctuation when characters are speaking, and it's relatively easy to follow, however omitting the punctuation adds nothing to the text save to make it a bit more pretentious. Likewise, there are a lot of paragraph breaks where the previous paragraph only had one or two words, which is kind of lazy and amateurish, I think.

I was sort of intrigued by Leonard, the mobster character, and I know there is a sequel about him, however I'm not sure I'd bother reading it. I'm pretty sceptical of Frey on the whole after reading more into his history - basically I gather that he had some sort of drug problem, but his run-ins with the law and the bad-ass-ness of his character are all fictitious. What I don't understand is why he bothered to market the book as a memoir. Most (if not all) authors surely take experiences from their personal lives when they are writing fiction - when I think about some of Stephen King's best books, some of them are about writers/English teachers and are based in Maine - however they're not marketed as memoir. Why bother stretching the truth like that? For more publicity and money? I guess so.

I also find it incredibly hard to believe that the publisher didn't know what was going on. I was doing some work for a publisher last year sometime who were investigating the authenticity of a potential memoir. It had gotten all the way to the stage where they were designing the cover and naming the book, and the publishers were quite insistent that they meet the author (who claimed she was in hiding) before publication. She mysteriously died the next day. To my knowledge they never published the book.

Next: And This is True by Emily Mackie

Sunday, 22 January 2012

56/111 - Palo Alto by James Franco

When I heard that James Franco was writing a book I was sort of intrigued, because he's not primarily known for his writing, and he's kind of attractive, so I thought 'why not'? I also liked the cover very much - a plain grey background with a shiny blue embossed design.

I didn't really like this at all. For the most part I found it dull and boringly violent. It's kind of like a book of short stories, but they're all to do with the same group of people, and they're all teenagers who are bored and alienated and lonely.

Every story seems to turn to violence and disappointment, and not a single one of these people are good or happy or likeable in any way. This doesn't necessarily make for bad writing, however I also didn't like the fact that none of these characters are compelling. They are all dull and I could barely finish this book.

This group of teenagers all sort of know each other, and pretty much all they do is get drunk, get high, get laid and get violent with one another. I couldn't stand this. So boring, that I'm not going to write anything more about it.

Next: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey.

55/111 - It Chooses You by Miranda July

Finding this new Miranda July book was purely an accident. I had been feeling disheartened about books for a while and decided to browse the Canongate website for some inspiration when I saw her name. I read her book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, when I was at university and I remember loving it, so I bought this without even really looking at what it was.

Several years ago, when Miranda was working on a film script she was having trouble finishing, she decided to start interviewing people from the PennySaver in LA, which is similar to the Free Ads - you list what you want to sell and your asking price.

The resulting project is around a dozen interviews with people who agreed to be interviewed and photographed, as well as pepperings of July's progress with her script and her own interjections.

Like NOBHMTY, I found this charming and funny and sad, and there were a couple of moments that were creepy and in all it exposed the loneliness and need for these people to tell their own story and feel like they have a story. The other day I was watching Bored To Death, which my brother got me for Christmas, and one of the characters says, "I'm in your movie, and you're in my movie and we each have our secret thoughts while the movie is going on, and to try to find a place of connection. Not being alone is very difficult."

I liked this sentiment - every day I look around me and I see people and I think, to them, they are the most important person in their world, and yet they're not even on my radar. I think this is what she's trying to get at with this book. Everyone thinks they are the most important person in the world, when in fact they are totally insignificant.

She also talks a lot about death - not just her own, but sometimes the death of the people she is interviewing. One woman is selling some old photo albums of a couple she never met, but who are dead, because they didn't have any children and she didn't want to see the photos discarded. She can't afford to go on her own holidays, so she looks at their holiday snaps and lives through them vicariously. Another woman selling a kitten mourns the death of her first husband of forty years, even though she's since re-married, it's clear that the second husband doesn't live up to the first. Then there'a a creepy guy who has all his possessions laid out for Miranda and her crew to come and see, and talks at them endlessly and they get scared that he won't let them leave.

The climax of the project is when they encounter a man selling some greeting cards, and when they arrive at his house he shows them all the filthy limericks he has written for him wife over the years. They end up making such a connection with him that Miranda decides that he should have a part in the movie, however he dies before he gets to see the end result.

I liked this a lot, I like all of her work and her projects. I should probably watch her films at some point...

Next: Palo Alto by James Franco

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

54/111 - Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

This is another book I received from Luke, and it's appearing here in such quick succession because it was also a very short read, so good to feel like there's some momentum going here, I think!

I also wanted to read this because it's by Stephen King. What I'd really love to do is make some sort of master list of his work and see what I've read and what I haven't. As I've mentioned before, I've read pretty much all of his novels, save a few I didn't really like much, and I've also read a lot of his short stories, which I love, however I know there must be a lot more I haven't read. So a good list that I could use to check off what I have and haven't read would be cool.

Cycle of the Werewolf is part graphic novel and part short story. Each cycle takes place in a different month, and usually tells the tale of how a different person from Tarkers Mills has come to their untimely end at the hands of a werewolf.

At first, there doesn't appear to be a main or central character, but eventually Marty, a paraplegic 9-year-old, becomes the hero of the tale after a close encounter with the beast and some fireworks.

Apparently the illustrations were originally supposed to appear in a calendar with a short vignette by Stephen King accompanying each month (never mind that there are 13 lunar cycles in a year...) however according to Wikipedia, King wanted to be able to write more and so released Cycle as a novella.

I'm not sure how I felt about this story - I liked it, however I wish it had been more detailed and more in depth, and it kind of felt like if he had bothered to go so far as to release this as a novel, why not beef it out a little?

Next: It Chooses You by Miranda July

53/111 - Demo 2 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan

I received this as a Christmas present from Luke, and it's been quite a few years since I read the first volume, which I'd now like to take another look at. The two volumes don't appear to be linked in any way, but this one reminded me how much I liked the other one, even though this one was not quite as good.

There was nothing wrong with the quality of the storytelling or the artwork, however there were only a measly six issues in this volume, whereas the first volume has around 12-14, I believe. This one was also printed on glossy paper, which I didn't really like as much, but is really nothing to do with the content.

The last volume consisted of a series of vignettes of different, unrelated characters who have some sort of dark secret or special ability, sometimes something relatively inconsequential. They are moody and quirky, and sometimes dark and sometimes a little funny, too. Usually they are characters who are alone and angsty and disconnected from other people and from their lives. Drifters. This volume is much the same.

My favourite story was probably the one about the skinny guy who you discover is surviving on eating human flesh, and must ration it out and feels unable to eat anything else, for unknown reasons. A girl in his office likes him, and after an unsuccessful date, he turns to auto-cannibalism in an effort to kick the habit.

I also liked the story about the married couple who have to stay together, because they're like magnets and when they're apart, they suffer and bleed, however they also can't get too close to one another and repel each other. A little questionable science on that one, perhaps, but that's okay.

One of the things I love about the Demo series is how it acts like a little snapshot of someone's life, and it's very clean and simple. There's no huge long explanations or overwhelming dialogue, often there's no explanation for the circumstances, but I like that sense of mystery a lot. I'm not sure if there's more in the pipeline for the Demo series, but there are definitely some characters I'd like to see more of.

I feel like this blog isn't really going anywhere much at the moment. I'm glad that I'm reading more again, and I'm glad that I'm writing more in this blog again, but I feel like the quality is pretty low and pretty crappy, but you have to start somewhere, right?

Next: Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

Sunday, 8 January 2012

52/111 - 11.22.63 by Stephen King

Naturally, I had to buy this book, the new Stephen King, on the day it came out, and yet it's taken me all this time to finish it!

Since he releases a book a year (on average) and I (usually) read much quicker than that, and have read pretty much everything of his, my intention was to savour the book as much as I could and only read it at times when I was truly relaxed and wanting to read. As a result, it took me quite a while. I must have read around half in a few weeks, and then in the space of a few days I picked up the momentum and blasted through the rest.

It was good, and I liked it. 

The story is set in the present day, and the main character Jake is introduced to a time portal back to 1958 in the diner of his friend Al. Al wants Jake to complete the work he tried to undertake and go back into the past to prevent the assassination of JFK, since Al is now dying of cancer, and the rest of the novel follows Jake's journey back into the past and the results of the changes he tries to make. All round, I have nothing bad to say about it. I liked that one of the first things Jake does is to take a trip to Derry to try and make a relatively small change, and when he does so, he meets Richie and Beverley, two of the kids from It, so there was a nice harmony there. Harmony is one of the recurring ideas in the book; the way things mirror and complement each other, and trying to decipher the meaning of such things. In addition, I also liked that Stephen King had once more added another link between stories in hi universe.

I don't have an awful lot left to say about this at the moment, save the fact that I liked it. It was a strange work, as I expected it to be a little more supernatural in flavour, or to have one of his classic psychotic bad guys, like in Desperation or Under the Dome, but since this was based on a historical event, I guess he couldn't take too many liberties. 

In his new life, Jake settles in Texas and begins living a double life as a school teacher and as an observer of Lee Oswald, future presidential assassin. During his time as a teacher, he meets and falls in love with Sadie, and in spite of all their efforts, things don't quite turn out the way they'd intended.

Eventually, Jake discovers that when he goes back to the future to see the fruits of his efforts, the future he has created by preventing the assassination of JFK is much worse than the future he came from. Any changes that he made have caused reality itself to become unstable, and ultimately he decides that he must undo everything, even though it means he'll never be able to spend his life with the woman he fell in love with in the past.

It seems strange to me to choose the assassination of JFK as such a pivotal moment in history, because it's naturally out of my time frame. Since that time, there have been a huge number of significant events, one of the most vivid of course being 9/11, however I think the assassination of JFK makes for a much better story, namely because of the era. Some of my favourite Stephen King stories, and one of the things I like most about him is his ability to create a sense of time, and I feel he puts this to best use when he's writing about the past. I love reading all the little quirky pop culture references and turns of phrase, and when he writes in the present day, it doesn't seem quite as potent, so going back into the 50s and 60s was great.

Can't wait for the next Dark Tower book in April...

Next: Demo 2 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan