Friday, 28 June 2013

Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie.



I cannot lie, I found this an extremely difficult book to get into. It took me three attempts before I finally managed to read it all the way through. But I did, and I am  glad that I persevered.

Salman Rushdie sets out to tell the tale of all the children born in the hour around the particular midnight that marks the India’s break away from British colonialism unto its independence. The children born in this midnight hour each grow up with a unique magical power, but what makes them even more significant is that their personal histories seem to marry with the history of the new developing India.

The story of the multitude of remarkable children is followed through the life of one of midnight’s most extraordinary children. Saleem Sinai was born on the stroke of midnight, thus marking him as one of the most intimately connected with the history of his country.  Switched at birth Saleem is rescued from a life of poverty and grows up instead with a family who initially are blissfully unaware. The novel starts prior to his birth, establishing the roots of aforementioned  family who are an unusual and somewhat eccentric clan. Saleem’s childhood is then described, and alongside the usual antics of childhood anecdotes Saleem discovers his telepathic power. This part of the text really interested me, because alongside Saleem’s realisation that himself and the other Midnight’s Children are potentially incredibly important are his struggles to deal with growing up wielding this remarkable talent.

Overall the novel aims to encapsulate the new spirit of India, as embodied by the myriad of children born in the midnight hour who have to forge their way through life with the potential for incredible greatness as well as destruction. Rushdie narrates this through a network of characters whose stories interweave and blend together in a way which mimics the blending of individual histories with the nations development as a whole. However impressive this feat might be, the narrator – Saleem Sinai is an easily distracted character who I sometimes found laborious. As much of an atrocity as it may be, I found myself skim reading pages of this book because I was struggling to connect with what was being described.

The truth is, I struggled to read this book and now I am struggling to write a review; I don’t know if I really enjoyed the text, or if it was just too much for me to take in. I would really like to hear your opinions on this, did any of you struggle reading it? Equally if you are a massive Rushdie fan please speak up! I have The Satanic Verses on my Kindle but I am not particularly keen to begin it now!! 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Summer Reading List.

So its now officially the Great British Summer Time, although my dreary view of a drizzly Manchester suggests otherwise, and one of the articles that pops up in nigh-on every magazine is this 'What's your summer read?' or 'What does your summer-read say about you?'. Lets have a guess at how many of those lists this summer feature some 'saucy' erotica inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey. (Yes I have read it, and reviewed it, pot/kettle/black, whatever!) Anyway, snide comments aside I thought I would put together a list of the books on my shelves that I aim to work my way through over the summer break. Let me know which you think I should read first, and I'd love to hear if you have read any of them!

Poetry:



My mum has a copy of this, and I have fond memories of being a child, watching Cats on VHS and then reading the poetry that inspired the musical. So now I'm a big girl of twenty-two I'm reverting back to simple pleasures, buying the poems that I have loved my whole life.



Ever since studying one of Carol Ann Duffy's poems at GCSE (a poem which was subsequently banned from being taught at schools) I've been wanting to read more of her work, indeed I feel extremely guilty for not having bought a volume of her poetry before! 





This I bought on the advice of my mother, she's an avid poetry fan and told me that she had been reading some of Ted Hughes' work and really enjoying it. So I picked up some as well, quite intrigued by this as I don't really know what to expect!


Fiction:




This was a bit of an impulse buy on my Kindle, after reading a lot about Henry James whilst revising literary realism in the nineteenth century. Not too sure how much I'll enjoy this, but I will give it a go.


I'm actually about a third of the way through this already, and really enjoying it so you can expect a review up soon. I'm in my second year of an English degree and have never read anything by Rushdie before, which I thought was pretty naive on my part so that's the reasoning behind this one.


I read James Joyce's short stories The Dubliners and revised it pretty thoroughly for one of my exams this year, and in doing so did a little bit of back ground reading which involved dabbling in Ulysses. I would really like to read the whole text, I must admit I am daunted by the sheer size of it but I really enjoy the premise and encapsulation of modernist ideas.


My reasoning behind this is the same as Midnight's Children, I felt the need to have some Rushdie in my life!

Non-Fiction


This was lent to me by my history-loving, war-obsessed, sweet but kinda crazy man. I think its actually one he was intending to read, but his 'to-read' pile is even larger then mine so I got first dibs. I'm a massive fan of war poetry and I think that reading a memoir will really interest me. 


Actually - this was given to me by aforementioned man as well! It was a World Book Night give-away and he picked me up a copy thinking I would like it (awwww isn't that sweet!). I genuinely cannot wait to work my way through this, as the concept is amazing. It is a history of the world, aimed at younger readers and is described as 'lively and involving' something which our history really should be! 


Now this is really just me being a bit of an English Geek. For the exams that I had this summer I had to know a lot about the novel's development, in particular modernism and following on post-modernism. This book was something I dipped into for select aspects and then bought my own copy as I really want to have a comprehensive overview in a compact form. 


So there we go - that's what I will be sinking my teeth into over the next few weeks. What are you reading over summer?

NB. I've linked as many titles as I could find to Goodreads or to Amazon, so if you are interested then you can read up on them a bit more before hopefully buying them!

* all items marked with an asterisk have been lent/given to me and not purchased by myself.




Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt


Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt


Once again I begin a post with a sad apology – posting so far this year has been extremely lack-lustre but now all of my university work for this year is out of the way and I am making a summer promise to myself to revive my little blog. So here we go again guys, and I'm going to start with a review of a book that I have read at least four or five times now.

Angela’s Ashes is a memoir by the author Frank McCourt, which I think I read for the first time aged about fourteen.  Whilst revising for an exam my tutor recommended reading it in order to get a feel for the setting of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock (also highly recommended !) so being a good little student I bought a copy of Angela’s Ashes and promptly DID NOT read it before my exam. Oh well, now that exams have finished I dedicated some lovely cosy evenings to re-reading it and am extremely glad that I did.

This book is a seamless blend of anecdotes and memories about Frank McCourt’s childhood, and his families move from New York to Limerick, Ireland. Beginning before Frank’s birth it tells the story of his mother Angela meeting his father Malachy McCourt and of her quickly falling pregnant, ensuing in a hasty marriage enforced by Angela’s strict family.  Frank is born, followed by Malachy, a set of twins Oliver and Eugene and then little baby Margaret.

Sadly the little baby Margaret dies and devastated by her death both Angela and her husband are plagued by ghosts of the dead child and decide to move to Ireland for a better life. Instead they move to an Ireland ridden with poverty and damp from the river Shannon. Frank’s father falls through a series of jobs, drinking each weeks wages before moving to England and promising to send back money for his large family.  The bleak portraits painted of a family struggling to survive, of children fighting over clothes in the morning and stealing bread and milk from doorsteps is so frightening you almost forget it is real. As soon as he is fourteen Frank begins to work as a telegram boy , and from then on devotes his time to saving money as he aims to sail over to America – mimicking the journey his parents took – in order to find a better life.

I think my favourite aspect of the text is that alongside the portrayals of poverty in living memory is the touching exploration of a boy negotiating the perils of adolescence. Frank McCourt may have responsibilities and challenges that we may not ever experience but his overwhelming feeling of awkwardness in his own skin is something which is easy to relate to.

This is a book I would definitely recommend to everyone, I personally find it very humbling to read about such poverty and even more so because it is in Ireland – a place so close to home.  However the strength of the text lies in Frank’s blend of naivety as well as his grown-up responsibilities of caring for his family lead him to having an interesting way of perceiving the world. It is a humorous, intelligent and heart touching memoir, one that I will definitely read again.

Monday, 14 January 2013

What are you listening to?


Another year, another term and another long reading list. Unsurprisingly I've been spending a fair bit of time squirrelled away in a corner somewhere reading. Coupled with a cheeky little iPod shuffle (that was meant to be for the gym…) but has ended up glued to my ear, I've been thinking about what I like to listen to whilst I read.

I'm aware that some people simply prefer silence and find that it helps them immerse themselves in their reading, but for me music can sometimes really relax me and get me in a good mood for reading.

I tend to stick to fairly chilled music, nothing that’s going to distract me too much from the text; and I prefer listening to music that I know – again so that I can enjoy it but not get too caught up in listening to new songs.  So here’s just a selection of the tracks I would listen to whilst reading, it’s a fairly mixed bag but I’ll try and explain a little why I like each song for reading to. 


Bon Iver - Flume

Haunting music for those nights where you turn pages as the rain lashes against your windows and you feel safe in the knowledge that you are snug inside.


Beautiful South - Old Red Eyes Is Back

I think this is a case of me loving relaxing with really familiar music, my mum always used to play Beautiful South so listening to them is an old kick-back routine.


The Doors - Riders on the Storm

So again, this is a song I'm super familiar with and could listen to over and over again. Its not that I tune it out, just being used to what I'm listening to helps me read. 

Well there we have it, a small sample of what occupies my ear-buds whilst I'm reading. Especially on these recent horrible freezing nights I love getting lost in a world of music and imagination.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Wizard of Oz and other Wonderful Books of Oz: The Emerald City of Oz and Glinda of Oz - L. Frank Baum


The Wizard of Oz and other Wonderful Books of Oz: The Emerald City of Oz and Glinda of Oz





This book was given to me by a friend on my birthday, and it really is a gorgeous copy. I don’t know about you but I books think that lovely editions of books make for a really thoughtful present. The cover is part of a series of Penguin Classics Deluxe editions, which are inspired by the aesthetics of handmade crafts and use specially commissioned embroidered artwork by Jillian Tamaki. 



The cover is definitely something special,  it is highly textured, just as the embroidered original would be and the reverse of the cover is again printed like the back of the embroidery – a detail which I found irresistible.  It also folds out to create a beautiful piece of art.

One extra detail which everyone who has had their hand on my copy (yes it’s mine guys – mitts off!) has commented on is the rough cut paper. Maybe it is just the way in which the edges are left unfinished but they continue the tactile quality of the cover the whole way through the book.

Is it worth me recapping the story of The Wizard of Oz? It is on television every Christmas time, so I’m certain you all know it by now. However if you, like me have lived under a rock for your whole childhood and never seen it here’s a quick run-down.

The Wizard of Oz is about Dorothy and her little dog Toto who get swept up in a tornado which takes them away from the drab home life with Dorothy’s Aunt and Uncle in Kansas and deposits them in the vibrant Land of Oz After accidentally defeating the Wicked Witch of the East Dorothy is forever held in high esteem by the Munchkins and is blessed by the Good Witch of the North. Despite the beautiful land around her Dorothy wishes to return home and so travels, following the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard of Oz – rumoured to be the only man powerful enough to help her. Along the way she meets some unusual friends, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion all of whom desire something too from the Wizard of Oz.

The stories that follow on from this introduce new and unusual characters whose skirmishes threaten the peace of Oz, thus Dorothy who is now a princess of Oz is challenged to find ways of keeping the peace. My favourite story is The Emerald City of Oz in which Dorothy’s Aunt and Uncle are struggling to afford to live and repay their mortgage in Kansas so she arranges to have them move to the Land of Oz, a land which she has frequently told them about but which neither of them believe is real until they actually visit. Despite them having a hard life in Kansas, when they visit Oz and are greeted with every luxury possible they are uncomfortable with having nothing to do. To solve the problem they go on a tour of Oz with Dorothy visiting lots of strange places on the way.

I think that these books are intended for children, as there is never a dull moment and they are packed full of extremely fantastical characters with simple but imaginative story lines.  However I still enjoyed reading them, as the stories are really captivating and took me straight back to the books I loved as a child. They really reminded me of Enid Blyton – in particular The Magic Faraway Tree, because they explore a magical land filled full of the most ridiculous enchanting characters.

However if you are interested with a more critical examination of L. Frank Baum’s stories then this is the edition for you as it has an introduction by Jack Zipes exploring the relationship between Baum and the stories as well as traditional focuses for critical examination.

Now that I’ve read the novel I think I’ll have to see the film, see how it measures up!!


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Boy with the Topknot – Sathnam Sangera







‘A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton’


Once again the lovely Penguin Books UK (@PenguinUKBooks) have dropped another little gem through my letter box.  I jumped at the chance to review this book, intrigued by the hints of family secrets and found a story that is engaging, extremely comic but also disturbing. It is one that will make us all look at our own childhoods with fresh eyes.

The Boy with the topknot describes the life of Sathnam Sangera growing up in Wolverhampton in the eighties.  He has the delights of ‘George Michael mix-tapes, Dallas on TV and, if he was lucky, the occasional Bounty bat. On the other hand there is his wardrobe of tartan smocks, his 30p-an-hour-job at the local sewing factory and his on-going challenge of how to tie the perfect topknot,’

These memories are looked back on through the perspective of thirty-year-old Sathnam who we meet sitting in his childhood bedroom sipping neat Asda own-brand vodka that he has smuggled into his parent’s house. What follows is a journey through these childhood memories alongside a determination to uncover his families past. Aged twenty-four Sathnam discovered that not only his father but also his elder sister Puli suffer from schizophrenia, and this changed the way he viewed their past as well as how it shapes his present. He delves into his family history, reviewing his own memories for any hints that his father and sister were unwell as well as trying to uncover the path of his father’s illness.

Alongside this we feel the pressures of Sathnam’s own lifestyle, he feels pressured by his mother to marry a girl of his religion and of the right caste. However Sathnam has been secretly dating non-Sikh girls and feels that the pressure put on him by his family has contributed to the failure of his relationships. He has been concealing his lifestyle from his family, and the result of these two separate lives is taking its toll.

I honestly thought this book was a great read, I'm not really a ‘biography’ kind-of person as I always feel that they are too tedious and bogged down with unnecessary details. However I really enjoyed the mix of elements within this text.

 There was a lot of humour especially around Sathnam’s childhood memories of trying to fit in at school but having to balance this alongside his culture. It was also extremely insightful into Sikh culture, again in a humorous way. The revelation of his father and sisters illness was for me the most interesting part, reading about how his mother had coped with an extremely violent husband and then having to cope with two family members suffering from schizophrenia in a country that she is illiterate in. She is an incredibly strong, brave woman and it was heart-warming to read about their relationship.

Personally the story of mental illness affecting the family hit close to home, and I found some parts of the book upsetting but equally compelling.  To hear someone talk openly about their family’s experiences was incredibly cathartic, and I feel that many readers will be able to empathise with this.

Overall an exceptional book and one I’m looking forward to reading again!

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Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a lovely time, and I wish you all the best for 2013. Whilst I type up some blog-posts I just thought I would let you know that I am now on Bloglovin - it would be great if you could follow me on there :)

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