Tuesday, 22 May 2012

88/111 - Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

I bought this book very recently, and decided to take it on holiday with me as I knew it would be trash, and trash it is! This book has gotten a lot of attention recently, as it originally started off as a self-published work, and then has gained momentum from there, especially among  housewives, apparently. Lonely, sexually frustrated housewives.

The ‘story’ (if you can call it that) is told from the point of view of  clumsy but beautiful student Anastasia Steele who becomes bewitched with the billionaire tycoon Christian Grey. He tries to warn her away because he’s all like, dark and brooding, but she’s all like ‘nooo, I’m entranced by you’ and he’s all like ‘okay let’s fuck’. And the magical story unfolds from there.

Anastasia is a virgin, and Christian is into some pretty heavy bondage and pain in bed, and he gradually introduces her to it. There is a lot, a LOT of sex in this book. And it’s awful. Terrible writing, so so clich├ęd and the dialogue is also crap, if you can believe it. It was entertaining however, and I periodically read bits aloud for the enjoyment of those around me. Everything is so opulent and delicious, and perfect, and everyone murmurs everything and gives each other smouldering looks. It is also rife with cultural references, such as fine wines and classical music, which are obviously supposed to show us how refined Christian is, and yet how dark and interesting he is. Anastasia on the other hand, is like a blank sheet of paper. She has no real opinions, and is totally wide-eyed and innocent, to everything. One of those characters who is a total knockout, and yet has no idea that men find her attractive. Classic.

The series (it’s a trilogy) has had a lot of attention in part due to the fact that the sex scenes are not just graphic, but the relationship that starts to develop is a master and slave type thing, where Christian would like Anastasia to become his slave and obey him in every way while she is with him, and when she transgresses, he punishes her physically. It’s had a quite mixed reception because people are spending a lot of time arguing about whether it’s degrading, or whether it’s possible to enjoy the book, or enjoy that lifestyle, and still be a feminist etc. I think they’re probably looking too deeply into a crappy book. I don’t know much about the author, however it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if I found out it was either a lonely woman desperate to be in Anastasia’s place, or a lonely man desperate to exert his will over a sweet young thing.

In the end, I blasted through this in one day as I didn’t want to dedicate any more time than that to this monstrosity. However, I might end up reading the others at some point, perhaps when I go on holiday again next month as some lovely relaxing trash reading.

Next, something better: Generation A by Douglas Coupland.

87/111 - Fatherland by Robert Harris

I bought this in the airport on my way to holiday, as I was still reading the last Holocaust book, and I decided that I’d like to carry on with the Nazi Germany theme by reading a book that I’ve meant to read for a long time now.

The book is supposed to be set in the 1960s in an alternative future where Hitler won the war. Unfortunately, it was so dull I couldn’t even be bothered to finish it. I guess I had been hoping for a sort of dystopian future, and it was a little dystopian I guess, but it was more like a detective story and was pretty uninteresting so I gave up halfway through.

I don’t really like to give up on books, especially ones which are meant to be ‘good’, because I feel like I’m missing out on something really important, but on the other hand, I really don’t see any point in carrying on when there is so much other awesome stuff to read, which brings me onto my next book…

Next: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

86/111 - Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Someone lent me this book quite recently so I decided to read it almost immediately so that I could get it back to them. We had been having a conversation about existentialism (which I don’t know anything about) and she recommended this to me.

The book is half memoir, half psychology textbook. Viktor is a Holocaust survivor, and for the first half of the book, he uses his experiences of life in Auschwitz to try to explain how he used existentialism as a way to help him survive. I can’t remember too much about how he relates the theory to his experiences, mostly because everything else was drowned out by how horrible his life was during that time. I probably just didn’t understand the theory enough, and to be honest, I skipped a lot of the second half of the book as it was fairly dry and I didn’t understand it enough to enjoy it. Maybe I’ll try starting somewhere more basic.

Next: Fatherland by Robert Harris

85/111 - Firmin by Sam Savage

I bought this book while I was still working at Waterstone’s on the recommendation of my manager, who had quite cool taste in books. Sometimes a little too cool for me, and I haven’t always enjoyed his recommendations and I was worried that this would be the same.

Firmin is a rat, born as the runt of a litter of fifteen. In order to prevent himself from succumbing to starvation, he starts to munch on pages of books he finds lying around in the dank basement he’s living in. Eventually he starts to notice that the more books he nibbles on, the more his intellect seems to develop. As his brothers and sisters leave the nest for lives of debauchery, Firmin decides to stay where he is, and soon discovers that he is living in the basement of a bookshop, and the rest of the novel is about his adventures here.

The reason I thought I wouldn’t enjoy this is that at first, Firmin seems to be snobby and self-indulgent, but he’s also charming and funny (and a bit of a pervert), and it’s really sweet to see the world through his eyes, even though it sometimes has horrible results. One part I really liked involves the owner of the bookshop, who Firmin adores. He has read a book on Phrenology and decides that the owner is a good man based on the shape of his skull. However unfortunately for Firmin, he can only see the very top of the man’s skull from his vantage point on the ceiling, and so he doesn’t know that he also has a destructive streak and he then tries to poison Firmin.

It also had some really sad moments, especially towards the end of the novel. Throughout, Firmin has imagined himself to be an adventurer, but he is still relatively fragile and alone, and it was really sad to see him disintegrating as the decrepit street around him is slowly demolished.

Next: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

84/111 - Wasted by Marya Hornbacher

I’ve had this book a little while now and I bought it primarily after reading a quote from it, which was: We turn skeletons into goddesses and look to them as if they might teach us how not to need. and it seemed really powerful to me. The book is a memoir of Marya’s life up until now as she lives with a chronic eating disorder.

It took me quite a long time to read this, as I didn’t find it as compelling as I’d hoped I would. For a fairly long period I felt as if I was waiting for the book or the real story to start, and I never really felt as though it got off the ground.

It was really well written and very moving in parts, but overall I found myself skimming over bits in order to reach the end. It’s all pretty devastating stuff, but there’s something about memoirs of this sort that make me shy away from them a little, because they are so voyeuristic and I feel intrusive reading them. Although if Marya had been fictional, I probably wouldn’t have felt the same way.

Next: Firmin by Sam Savage