Winter is still coming: A Dance with Dragons progress report

January 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

After almost three weeks I am 430 pages into A Dance With Dragons; slow progress but I am reading consistently. I had a job interview last week that didn’t go too well and right now I want to curl up into a ball. It was my fourth job interview in the last year and although I know that the industry I want to get into is super competitive and jobs are scarce, the rejection still stings. The grey, dreary weather isn’t helping my mood, and it’s making me wonder if I’m craving fantasy because of how dissatisfied I am with real life.

So far, A Dance With Dragons is surpassing my expectations. It is unbelievably epic. I’d say to anyone who is currently halfway through the series- you have to keep going, just to get to read this book! Game of Thrones has to be the most brilliant series of books I’ve ever encountered, just for the insane level of detail and plotting. I can’t even imagine what George R. R. Martin’s office must look like. How does he keep track of it all?

The Marriage Plot and other stories

January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

A million years ago, in December, I had a massive case of reading-block and spent the whole month labouring over No Name by Wilkie Collins. Then I cured myself by reading The Marriage Plot in the week between Christmas and New Year. I am in no way suggesting that the latter is superior to the former, it is just interesting to note how reading-block can strike even when you are involved with your favourite authors. I enjoyed No Name while I was reading it, it was just a monumental effort to force myself to turn off the TV and pick up the book.

No Name is classic Wilkie Collins intrigue, with the twist of the secret being revealed in the first part. For the rest of the novel we follow the beautiful and vengeful Magdalen as she seeks out retribution with the help of the audacious fraudster Captain Wragg. I don’t want to give away too much in terms of spoilers (my pro-tip is don’t read the blurb on the back of the book until you’re safely past the big reveal), but I really enjoyed the sparring between Captain Wragg and Mrs Lecount. I also liked Magdalen when she was being brave and clever, but then all her resources crumbled and she had to be rescued by a man. I love 19th Century novels more than anyone, but as I get older I find it harder to roll my eyes and chuckle about the patriarchy over the way some of the female characters are portrayed. Wilkie is one of Dickens’ friends though, so I shouldn’t be surprised. He is also the creator of Lydia Gwilt, from Armadale, one of my favourite fictional characters, so I guess he is forgiven.

It almost seemed a shame to tear through The Marriage Plot so quickly, as it is one of the few books that I allowed myself to buy this year, and a hardback no less! It was all down to my weird self-imposed rule that I have to start a new year with a new book. Jeffrey Eugenides’ third novel details the participants of a college love-triangle in the early 1980s, and after complaining so much about No Name ending with a marriage or two it seems appropriate to talk about The Marriage Plot. Madeleine, beautiful and rich and clever, is a literature major who has written her thesis on the marriage plot in 19th century literature. Madeleine has at least two boys after her, Mitchell and Leonard, and her preoccupation with them, and their’s with her, drags on after graduation and into that tricky first year in the real world.

As a former student of 19th Century Literature, I can of course smile coyly and tell you all how this novel struck a chord with me, how familiar it all seems. Sadly I am neither beautiful nor rich, nor even especially clever, so the only thing I could do was nod enthusiastically every time the name of a novel I’d read was mentioned. When I read The Virgin Suicides as a depressed teenager it was a genuinely transformative experience for me and I will always love Eugenides for that. The Marriage Plot is another coming of age story, and to me it seems to be another tale of a young woman sacrificing her future and holding back from adulthood. Madeleine comes out of the novel apparently unscathed, but we never find out what happens to her, or even what her thoughts on the marriage plot actually are.

The Road goes ever on and on…

January 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

You know those days, so common in early January, when you are numb and so tired dragging yourself out of bed that you feel old? Sometimes it’s just lack of sleep or the sound of a storm raging outside, and sometimes it’s other things. Well life is a journey, and there are good parts, soul destroying parts and long, featureless roads you’ll never remember. My cure for the bad times is to immerse myself in the greatest journey ever written.

This last week has been something of a dark night for the soul. January often strikes me as the worst month to try self-improvement; how can you be optimistic when you are dragging yourself out of bed at 7am in the pitch black to howling wind and rain? I’m back in the office, and things are at a standstill. I feel paralysed with self-doubt over the future, too terrified of failure to take a step forward. I’m sure this will pass, and 2012 will turn out to be a good year. Until then I seek comfort in the written word, in other worlds. There is something wonderfully comforting about re-reading books. Knowing what happens to the characters,  freed from anxiety on their part, gives you the luxury to look around a little.

My literary comfort food of choice is Lord of the Rings; specifically the first book. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read the trilogy, and of course The Hobbit, since I was a child. I particularly like the first volume; as soon as I open the first chapter and begin to read about Bilbo’s famous party, I feel like I’ve come home to somewhere safe and familiar. Which is ironic as I used to scare myself to sleep every night as a child listening to a tape of the Radio 4 dramatisation, until I finally felt able to tackle the book aged fourteen. Since then I’ve re-read at least part of the epic trilogy every three years. The black riders still give me shivers.

Tonight I’m going to hurry home, stick the kettle on, and climb under the covers with my cat friend to finish the last two chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring. Again. Then I shall pull myself together and put the much-loved volume back on the shelf, for another year or so. Tomorrow I start reading something new.

2012

January 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

January is my worst month, but I like the clean fresh feeling of welcoming in a new year, and that empowering thought, ‘This year I’m going to be a better, shinier, healthier, thinner, more hardworking version of myself.’ Well, probably not. I am however happy to see the back of 2011, and I have big plans for 2012 career wise. I also want to make something of this blog. Making resolutions just because the clock ticked over into a new date period always seems doomed to fail, but I feel really optimistic about the new year and want to capitalise on my enthusiasm. Here are the reading-related things I resolve to do….

Read a book a week

I always try to read a book a week, which I guess doesn’t sound like much when I claim to be a prolific reader. This is mainly because I like long books. Last year I read both Les Miserables and the Count of Monte Cristo, over 2,000 pages worth of book. Reading books like this takes serious time and commitment, but they are so rewarding. I think I’ll always go for quality over quantity.

Read two Dickens novels, one Wilkie Collins, one Russian & one French novel

My reading goals have been the same for the last couple of years, except last year I didn’t read a Dickens, so this year I get to read two. Lucky me. Wilkie Collins and Dickens are two of my favourite authors, so I ration myself. Also, I suppose I’ve found it hard to get out of that university habit of having a set reading list and I find having a few set texts every year helps me focus.

So, it seems that I have the same hackneyed, boring resolutions as everyone else after all. Still, nothing wrong with trying to be the best person you can be, right?

Winter is coming!

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ll begin with a cliché; wow, how time flies! Autumn is my favourite season, and I’ve really been enjoying how mild the weather has been the last three months. Unfortunately today it is wet and windy, and somehow, January. With it being the new year, amidst plans and promises to be more productive, my mind has flown back towards this blog that I began at the beginning of October. I’ve read plenty of books since then.

I was reading Perfume by Suskind when I started the blog, and I’m still not sure how I felt about it. I was torn between wanting to give Grenouille a good slap and hiding under the covers from his creepy face. Possibly, having seen the film, my experience of the book was a little spoiled. I knew what was going to happen and there was no suspense. My favourite character of the novel was Baldini. I found all the little details about the perfume business in France and Baldini’s petty little professional jealousies really interesting. Then Grenouille goes off and lives in a cave for a year and I completely lost interest.

Over Halloween I dipped into some seasonally appropriate books; We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill. The Shirley Jackson was a re-read, she’s one of my favourite authors and I feel sad that I’ve probably read almost everything that she’s written. I still mournfully scan charity shop shelves looking for some obscure out of print treasure. Sometimes I think that my love of Halloween comes from the sort of books I love to read; twisty Victorian Gothic masterpieces and weird, sad novels about loneliness and madness.

As the ghostly days waned and Christmas lights started to appear in the streets I returned to my current reading obsession, which began back in August in Estonia. The title of the post probably gives away that I am talking about Game of Thrones. I admit that I’d never even heard of the series until all the publicity over the HBO series (which is amazing); I tend to have my head in the sand over anything published after 1960. I devoured the first book in the series on the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki, and by November I was ready to start on the fourth. I don’t want to give any spoilers, because I would hate to ruin anyone’s experience of reading these amazing books, but I was expecting to be disappointed by A Feast for Crows. The Amazon reviews were largely ‘blah’, with a lot people saying that the series had lost it’s way. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. The book set up an incredible amount of ‘oh my god’ cliffhangers, and left me desperate to read the next book (which is my favourite Christmas present). The series is slow-moving, and I can understand people’s frustration at the sheer scale and the amount of time they are expected to dedicate to reading it. I don’t think it’s meant to be fast moving though, it’s meant to be huge and epic, almost like trying to write about the War of the Roses from every possible angle in minute detail. The only thing I could wish for is that George would write a bit faster so that we could have the next installment sometime in the next five years please!

Where Am I?

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