Monday, 31 December 2012

Birthday present!

For my birthday and Christmas, which are incredibly close together, I made a wishlist on Amazon for my family and boyfriend, as I pretty much only really ever want books and such. One of the things I asked for was this book lamp, which my brother bought me. I thought it looked really cool online, and it also looks cool in real life!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

119/111 - Kid Rex by Laura Moisin

I downloaded a preview of this book on my iPad a little while ago, after it was the recommendation of a recommendation of a recommendation and it had a cool cover. I quite liked the author's voice so I decided to download and read the rest of the book on my iPad!

This book is the autobiography of Laura, who developed anorexia while she was studying at university in New York, and the story of her recovery. The book was okay, but I didn't finish it. I liked her style of writing a lot and it was well written, however I'm just not that interested in this type of book. I am interested in eating disorders and their prevalence however not so much from an individual perspective.

Reading on the iPad was okay, too. There were times when it was annoying, like when I kept accidentally flicking to the next page, but on the other hand it was also pretty mice not having to hold open the book, and also being able to read at night time. Hm. Still not totally convinced, I think this requires further testing.

Next: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

118/111 - The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

I bought this book at the same time as The Age of Miracles and I had pretty high hopes for it, too. I should have followed my own rule however, and read the first 30 pages on iBooks, because if I had, I would never have bought this awful awful book.

This book actually has a lot of potential to be great, and the idea seems really interesting, but for me, the main thing that makes it totally unreadable and totally enrages me is the fact that it's written in a Scottish dialect. The result is that it ends up feeling like dogshit when I'm trying to enjoy it, because I keep stumbling upon a few sentences of passable English before getting to 'cannae' and 'umnay' and 'disnae' and GO FUCK YOURSELF.

This has enraged me so much that I don't know that I'll be able to carry on with the book.

I was trying to think earlier about what it is that pisses me off so much about this, because it shouldn't, really, however I think I hate the fact that it's so forceful and jarring. Maybe that's supposed to be the point, however I like to think that I can get into the mindset of the characters without it being shoved in my face that OMG SHE HAS A SCOTTISH ACCENT. IT'S SET IN SCOTLAND! Is that honestly the best way you can think to convey that the story is set in Scotland and the characters are Scottish? Do you seriously have to interrupt every sentence with a contraction in it to add in a little Scottish slang that causes me to trip over the entire sentence? To the point where I can't bear to read the rest of the book?

Dreadful. Just thinking about it is pissing me off, because I take no pleasure in slagging off a book, especially not one that I have paid for and had hoped to enjoy. Totally ruined it for me. The only thing I wanted to do was to 'CTRL+F' every contraction and 'replace all' with the proper word.

Maybe I'm being a bit intolerant. Is this distracting for Scottish readers? Or is it just me? To me, this felt like a cheap attempt to make the book more interesting, or to make the character seem more different, however for me part of the enjoyment I get from reading a book is the fact that I can immerse myself in the story, get lost and let it wash over me until I don't even remember I'm reading, or that I can't bear to stop myself because I'm so engrossed.

A book like this, told in 'dialect' (I'm using that word loosely because the rest of the English is flawless, which only draws attention more to the Scottish words) makes me more aware that I'm reading as I am continually tripping up on every other word, and so it totally fails at its job, which is to entertain me and hopefully engage my thoughts. I think I'll be returning it.

117/111 - The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I bought this book very recently based on a recommendation on a website, and it was fantastic, really really good. It's set in the present day and is sort of post-apocalyptic. Julia is a twelve-year-old girl from California and she lives in a world where the planet one day starts to slow down and the days become longer and longer. At first this seems like a fairly harmless thing - who cares if the day is ten minutes longer? However the days and nights start to become longer and longer, until eventually each day and night are 72 hours long each. This means that crops no longer grow as there is not enough natural light, and then people have to make the decision of whether to continue to live in clock time or if they want to switch to real time. Eventually, the fabric of the earth itself starts to come apart because of the changes in gravity, and the magnetic poles change, and lots of animals begin to die.

However, this wasn't really what was most excellent about the book. The post-apocalyptic setting stuff was really interesting - what if the world suddenly started to slow down? But the really riveting parts of the book all had to do with Julia growing up. The author is incredible at conveying what it's like to be a twelve year old girl, whether it's a bully lifting up her t-shirt, or a former friend suddenly becoming bitchy for no reason, the awkwardness of buying your first bra. I saw a lot of myself in Julia, also having been a fairly awkward young lady. Another great aspect is the family dynamics - Julia is an only child and she has a fairly neurotic mother and distant father, who she discovers having an affair with her piano teacher. At a certain point, he has to choose whether to leave with the mistress or stay with his family. This could have been in any setting at all, and it would have still been utterly convincing and engaging.

Really really impressed by this book.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

116/111 - The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

I've read a couple of Nick Hornby's books before and after downloading the sample of this book on iBooks, I decided to go for it. I felt like I could do with a little inspiration for books, and that this would be a good place to start (I also bought Howard's End Is On The Landing by Susan Hill).

This book is a compilation of magazine columns that Nick Hornby has written for The Believer magazine, and is more a book about reading than a book of reviews. I enjoyed it a moderate amount, in that I found a lot of truth in how he conveys his book reading and buying habits, however my enjoyment was a little stunted because I had not read most of the books he talks about, and so a lot of the text didn't have much relevance to me (although I did find a few good recommendations!).

Nick talks about his haphazard reading habits, and how nothing ever seems to be read in any particular order. I related to this because I tend to read something in a certain vein and then blast through a whole bunch of other things that are similar to it, like the Young Adult kick I went on a few months ago, or the post-apocalyptic phase, or the non-fiction phase. It also tends to affect my buying habits, in that I'll read something and then feel suddenly compelled to go and buy a whole load of other books in the same arena to keep my momentum in that subject going.

I found the book to be really funny in places, much like the other stuff I have read, and like I said, for me it had a lot of truth to it.

1. I liked his attitude of not being snobby with the kinds of books you read. I like to read feminist theory, but I also like to read Stephen King, and ghost stories.

2. I agree that reading can sometimes be a disappointing experience, which is why I also agree that you should never force yourself to finish a book you're not enjoying, not like I had to when I was an English Lit student.

3. I laughed at the idea of putting certain books in a book graveyard of sorts, where at a certain point you really need to admit that the possibility of ever reading certain books should be abandoned as it's never going to happen. I feel this way about a lot of books.

4. I also understood and laughed at the compulsion Nick feels to buy books. I get that feeling a lot in bookshops, that I simply must buy this book, right now, even though I'm reading something else at the moment and probably won't get around to reading this book for several weeks, if not months, and already have dozens of other books waiting to be read. Doesn't matter - I need to have that book now.

I also laughed when he referenced Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, which is a mammoth book I had to read not once, but TWICE while I was at university - once in my first year and once more in my final year. I had hated it so much that I had blocked out almost everything I had learned and so had to re-read the blasted thing. I hate hate HATE Victorian literature. In fact in this book, Nick makes a great point that one of the reasons that authors like Dickens wrote such laboriously long novels was that they were paid by the word and they also serialised novels back in the day, so there was no benefit to being concise, or cutting out superfluous characters, and so you're left with these huge monolithic novels which I take absolutely no pleasure in reading. Makes me shudder to think of those ghastly novels which put me off reading so much when I was a student. Ridiculous.

In summary: good book, lots of interesting stuff.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

iBooks Samples

Since I got my iPad I haven't really done much reading on it. It has pretty much replaced my laptop in terms of day to day stuff, mostly because it's so portable but I also don't need it to do anything complicated, or anything that requires a lot of power. In any case, I still haven't been using it much for reading because I'm still a book person at heart.

However, something that I have started doing is downloading samples from iBooks. Any book that is available on the iBookstore will have a sample of 20-30 pages for free, with the option to download the rest of the book afterwards if you want to. Yesterday I went on a bit of a frenzy and downloaded about 150 samples of books, some of which I already own and others which I want to read eventually. The idea is that since I usually always have my iPad with me, I can get to reading a sample of a book to see if I want to carry on with it enough to dig out the hard copy. Same goes for new books - instead of popping into a bookshop and coming out with another three books that I don't know much about, I can download the sample, read it, and then decide if I want to buy it.

If I'm honest with myself, then it's pretty likely that I'll still end up wandering around bookshops and making impulse buys, but I'm cool with that. It will also hopefully mean that I can settle more easily on what I'm going to read next, because sometimes I spend ages looking at my shelves, thinking about which one to go for, digging it out and then changing my mind. At least this way I can read a few pages and see if it catches.

Here are the samples I've downloaded so far:

115/111 - The Haunted Book by Jeremy Dyson

I've had this book on my Amazon wishlist for a while now and decided to go for it on a whim the other day. It's a really really interesting book and it did a great job of tricking me!

It first starts off with the premise that Jeremy has been asked by a small-time journalist to help him put together a book of true ghost stories from across the British Isles. In order to get a feel for the different stories he decides to go and visit each place to see what they're like and to pick up on the atmosphere. After a few stories, the book then seems to transform into another book from the past, and then again and again. So at first what appeared to be a factual book actually turns out to be fiction! The effect of going deeper and deeper into the book ends up being quite creepy as you go further and further into the past. Each time the book changes, the appearance also changes - for example the font, and the colour of the pages become more aged-looking. Eventually when you reach the end of the book, the pages have gotten darker and darker and you are sort of supposed to feel lost in the book. The pages are totally black and the text is white, and this disembodied voice talks you out of the book,NAND each page becomes lighter and lighter again until the pages are white and blank. Pretty surreal.

The stories themselves were pretty good, there were some fairly creepy ones in there. I think my favourite was probably the story with the guy who goes sailing round the world alone and then goes a little stir crazy on his boat. I also liked the one about the students who go to clean out an underground bunker, and the one with the stone circle. Those ones I probably enjoyed the most because they reminded me of some Stephen King short stories.

All in all, good book.