askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Made it to an inauspicious 18 books in 2016 - struggled to commit to a huge variety of books and also had a run of dreadful choices interspersed with some real quality.  Got some great books for Christmas and hoping this will buoy me into the new year and to at least 30 books for 2017.

....nope. Could not concentrate on a thing in January.

1. The Antidote: Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking - Oliver Burkeman.  I've read a lot of Burkeman's columns in the Guardian over the years and frequently recommend this article to people with imposter syndrome.  I have been interested in thinking about how I can take cognitive steps towards a different way of approaching the idea of happiness and wellbeing for some time but am turned off absolutely by what Burkeman calls "the cult of positive thinking". This book was refreshing, and reads easily in the small chapter chunks. I was struck by how much of this collected wisdom I've come to via other routes.  Investigating Buddhism, after dating a Buddhist woman some years ago, introduced me to a lot of the ideas discussed in relation to that and Stoicism. In my academic work I've encountered a lot of the ideas about the chimeric notion of the self and how it comes down to nothing more than arbitrary divisions between 'self' and 'other' which can cause more pain than reassurance.  And I had come by the idea of 'mori memento' via friends who've revived, and are interested in, Victorian-style celebration of the macabre, and by my own interest in the meaning and significance of Day of the Dead festivals. Finally, I encountered ideas about revaluing 'failure' via queer theory, and in particular a book called "the Queer Art of Failure" which at the time inspired me and this prompted me to reflect again on those ideas.  Despite not necessarily encountering anything 'new' here, I did feel reassured that my continually emerging, eclectic view of the world is actually a fairly solid way to approach life and 'happiness'. That my reflection on the negative and facing down worst-case scenarios rather than tying myself in mental knots trying to avoid them, is actually a fair strategy.  What it did highlight for me is that I need to work more on celebrating the things I have in the present, and valuing the things that give me pleasure, however fleetingly.  I tried to indoctrinate this into myself some years ago when I had "seek beauty" tattooed on my wrist (something which, whenever I glance at, I do immediately look around and try to find something to be awed by).  But I need to keep working at this.

2. Count Zero - William Gibson So one thing I like about Gibson is that his descriptions are both rich, and other wordly.  You usually have to work hard to imagine what he is describing, but he gives you so much texture alongside entirely new words or terminology, you can do it - and it's enormously rewarding. However, being one of the early books, it just doesn't seem to quite be there.  Much like Neuromancer I never felt like I fell into step with the narrative, descriptions felt impressionistic and abstract - I can see the components of what I like in the Bridge trilogy, for example, but it's just not come together yet.  I spent easily two thirds of the book not quite being able to grasp what was going on and, somehow despite there not being definitely a lot more characters than usual, I couldn't keep track of who was who. In particular, I never really got a sense of personality or point of connection for Bobby, and Marly seemed to be really inconsistently characterised. Hard work, in the end.
3. Three Blind Mice and Other Stories - Agatha Christie I've wanted to read this for ages and got it for Christmas. Three Blind Mice is absolutely heart-in-mouth stuff. So evocative, so claustrophobic, and a lovely gay lad. The other stories were all nice enough but more like sketches than actual mysteries you could get emotionally or intellectually involved in. I liked the Miss Marple one with two sisters the best.

4. A Street Cat Named Bob - James Bowen I don't know what I was expecting really. I'm not sure I've ever read something which is ghostwritten/co-written with non-professional writer and this was really jarring and clearly heavily edited into shape. I think that as an author, you have one responsibility - and that's to be totally honest with your reader, good or bad, you have to offer it up. For what is probably a whole host of understandable reasons, it seems that James Bowen does not want to reveal his soul in this book, but frequently things felt carefully revised/edited versions of the truth, or there were gaps where there should have been disclosure. For that reason, I found it very dissatisfying. It's a nice enough story, but I knew everything I needed to from a Guardian article about 5 years ago. Plus side though - very quick to read.
5. Saga: Volume 7 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona K. Staples Glorious. I cried. The series really does go from strength to strength, and I think volume 7 is especially strong after some meandering in volume 6. I care so much about all the characters, and believe in them absolutely, fantastic storytelling, jaw dropping illustrations. Perfect.
6. Queer: A Graphic History - Meg John Barker and Julia Scheele I bought this back in September, before my viva, and then lost my nerve reading it in case it had something in it I'd missed/didn't know. In my viva, I discovered someone heavily involved in writing this book felt that I had a better grasp on some elements of queer theory than them, so I then felt like I might be disappointed with it...! In the end, it's a fair book. I found the level quite variable, I'd hesitate to recommend it to someone who isn't already familiar with literary theory/critical sexuality or feminist studies as I think there are a lot of dense ideas still not fully decompressed for a less prepped reader. I'll definitely recommend to queer-inclined cultural studies undergrads and activists with a fair academic foundation. Some of it was strong, some of the selections were obviously heavily informed by MJ's psychology background. I'd have liked more on Judith Butler - I know PhDs who still don't understand her work and this would have been a great opportunity to address that.  Similarly, I think my way of explaining the heterosexual matrix and its relationship to heteronormativity is better (!) than offered here. There was, overall, a real pleasure in reading this for me and saying to myself, as I did, "I am an expert in this. I have a PhD in this. AND I'm still getting a guttural kick of joy at the scope and importance of these ideas".  That's pretty cool.


7. Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie - Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau, Alexandre Franc This was really disappointing. The challenge of any biography is to impose narrative and tell your reader something new. That 'new' is ideally an insight into the person, but at a minimum should be a coherent reporting of the facts. This managed neither. It's an impressionistic, snapshot of a series of apparently randomly chosen points in Christie's life.  Half-heartedly structured around her disappearance in 1926 - although this drops in and out. I lacked an encyclopaedic knowledge of her works and films, which at times meant I had no idea what the snapshots were illustrating. Similarly, the decision to sometimes have her talking to her characters felt pointless, and having Tommy and Tuppence, the only characters who aged in real time, appear and claim to have been "waiting unchanged" was flat out inaccurate. Will be selling on.
8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling I was at my parents house/cat-sitting and I was just getting nowhere with everything I tried to read so I went for something familiar, like a comfort blanket. I still love this one, think it may be my favourite of the series. It's got such a coherent narrative, the lovely Lupin, the wonderfully pained Sirius, and that lovely rhythm of a mystery novel. Very enjoyable.
9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling Every time I read this I convince myself that this time I'm not going to cry and it's not going to break me a bit. As usually, I got to the final third of the book and then couldn't put it down and found myself sobbing at 3am as Dumbledore delivers that speech about Cedric's integrity and kindness and how that is just wiped off the face of the planet because of evil. Heart. Broken.

10. The Truth - Terry Prachett I'd seen some quotes from this on Tumblr recently - all very on the nose in these 'post-truth' times and with the changing role of media and I resolved it would be my next re-read. I couldn't find it anywhere in my parents house (where all but a handful of my books live) so ended up rebuying. I'm sure I have read it before but it's so long ago it felt fresh. Sparkling dialogue and the wry observations of someone who has worked in journalism make it a joy. Although sometimes, perhaps, a little too close to the bone.
11. Fingers in the Sparkle Jar - Chris Packham When I heard, from Chris Packham on twitter, this was coming out last year I was really excited to read it.  Then I lost my nerve. I love Chris Packham and have done since he was on the Really Wild Show - what if it was dreadful and dull and painfully trying to pull meaning out of an ordinary life (my most despised trope in memoirs and autobiographies)? In the end, it was an impulse buy in Waterstones and oh! I am so glad it was. I read the whole thing in three nights which I haven't done for ages. The open, fluid prose was initially jarring but worked perfectly to submerge you in the obsessive mind of the author and really hammers you with its insistence on the beauty of nature.  I cried several times. I also really respected what a light touch there ultimately was with a story which is ultimately about [clinical] obsession and severe depression. Never self indulgent, never trying to be poignant, just relentlessly honest and open. I'm still thinking about it 3 days later.
12. The Descent of Man - Grayson Perry I absolutely loved the series he did on Channel 4 a couple of years ago about masculinity; I thought it was pitched just right and made so beautifully. I thought - think - it was important. Being loosely based on the outcomes of that show, this was generally good. As a scholar of gender studies, there's a lot I could pick at in this (especially interchangeable use of "female" for "woman" and "male" for "man", a long time pet peeve). Similarly, there's a lot of stuff which isn't quite thought through to it's conclusion that could have used a bit more thrashing out before the final draft. But the message is generally clear. And the manifesto for what men need in the future is excellent - and quite moving. It also prompted me to think about the way I perform masculinity as a shield, as armour, and how averse I have been to the (feminist) idea of "radical softness". I've passed it on to one man I know, and plan to send it to another after he's read it. I'm also still thinking about fear, vulnerability, and the way it cracks through for me.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Last year I read 30 books, although really it was 29 as the first one of the year was read between Christmas and finished on New Years Day so all in all, I'm maintaining my awesome pace of the last 5 years. I treated myself to 5 new books immediately after Christmas so I'm all stocked up and ready to read more graphics, sci fi, and the odd bit of crime fiction this year.

1. Watership Down - Richard Adams I bought this in the kindle sale, which in itself is becoming something of an annual bookfest for me.  I really, really enjoyed it. Having only seen the film before I didn't have the highest expectations because whilst the film is lovely, it's quite a thin story. I really loved the book - in particular I found the rhythm and texture of the prose to be really delightful, very rich. I also found the near ceaseless, but quite well defined, various conflicts to be really compelling.  My only critique would be that I wish we could have come to know Fiver better.
2. Pattern Recognition - William Gibson It's hard to know what to say about this book, on the one hand the plot was thin and nothing really happened and there were no twists where there should be if it was, as the blurb said, a detective/mystery novel.  On the otherhand, I loved Cayce (what is it with me and Gibson's characters?) and I loved having a protagonist with serious and non-dramatic anxiety issues which were both hindrance and gift. I also really like the portrayal of online relationships which absolutely correspond with my experiences over the last 10 plus years (back to 2003 when this was written/set). I'm sure I'll read the rest of the trilogy eventually, but it's not high on my list.

3. The Man in the High Castle - Philip K Dick It's hard to know what to make of this book and I'm trying to resist listing its faults.  I like the focus on minutae of life post WWII/German victory but I didn't really like any of the characters - except all of the Japanese who actually seemed to have integrity. I liked the acknowledgement that, had the Allies lost the war, they would have gone down hard and been accused of war crimes after the German victory - that felt true.  Otherwise it was very weak, quite meandering, lacking a real critical reflection on what fascism means - the idea that Germans were only interested in exterminating black and Jewish people felt really naive. I kept thinking of Swastika Night which gives a detailed account of the logical end of fascism with regard to women which Dick totally ignored/was unable to imagine. Similarly the Japanese are represented as reasonable, broadly compassionate victors which is problematic given the ideology which drove the Japanese war involvement in WWII.  As usual his female characters are all Madonna or Whore.  The suggestion, on the cover and in the foreword, that this was "the best sci-fi novel of all time" and that Juliana was a "fulled formed" character are laughable. It's not sci-fi and it's not even the best Philip K Dick novel I've read.
4. Interesting Times - Terry Pratchett Another of the 'old' ones I missed when I started reading Discworld.  I still adore the idea of a hero who, unlike your typical hero, hates finding himself in life or death situations and views every adventure as a disaster waiting to happen, or happening already. It shouldn't work, but good god it does.  Laughed all the way through. I must read the Last Continent again.

5. The Art of Flying - Antonio Altaribba This was a middling graphic. On the one hand, I enjoyed the history (the primary reason I bought it) and learning about the concentration camps Spaniard fleeing fascism were placed in, in France which was news to me. I disliked the representation of women - they were all Madonna's or whores and drawn in quite a juvenile way - all boobs and arse.  But there was a certain integrity to the story - even though it was the half-imagined life of a dead man. It's good.  Just not good enough to own forever more.
6. Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig I hated this. I bought it against my better judgement after Buzzfeed listed it. In short; his solution to depression and anxiety is basically; be lucky enough to have a partner who will support you and not leave you because you are suffering crippling depression and parents and a partner who will financially support you until you can work again.  He is also frustratingly evasive about medical intervention - he says he doesn't take meds which is fine, but did he have counselling or therapy? What interventions did his GP offer or make? There are a few mentions of GP visits which suggest he was known to doctor as a depressive/suffering anxiety - but nothing on what came, or didn't come of them.  Ultimately I found him patronising, privileged, myopic.  And as for the title? The reasons basically are "you won't be depressed for ever" which - great. Yes. True. But something more is needed for this sort of book, some baring of the soul, some revelation of the self. Instead, I found it superficial and evasive. The points where it was specific on what helped were things which are often part of the cause of depression for me and others - i.e having/not having family, friends, children.


7. Phonogram Volume 3. The Immaterial Girl - Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie It's a surprisingly long time since I started on my Phongram journey and I am sad and sort of happy that it ends here.  I liked it a lot more than Singles Club (vol. 2) and I was glad to find the reasons I liked Emily were right, somehow.  It feels like a document of our generation.  I'm glad of it.

8. The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett I started reading Carol but the PhD is sucking up all my emotional energy so I abandoned it/put it on hold for some laughs.  I don't remember much about the story from the first time I read it in 1999 so rereading was especially nice. I do remember that all the cultural-reference-point jokes largely flew over my head when I first read it so it was especially enjoyable to read again and actually *get* it.  I love Pratchett, and I miss him.  The sparkling wordplay and the confident, exhilarating plotting is just a delight. 
9. The ABC Murders - Agatha Christie After the success of getting through above, I picked up a Christie from the library as I always fly through them.  This was no exception.  Great story, lovely knowing, meta-stuff regarding how detective novels (usually) work and so on.  Great discussion of mental health and pathology (yay for non stigmatising depictions and nuanced descriptions of insanity!). And, as ever, the 'big reveal' was just a small element in a rich story.  Wonderful.

10. Witches Abroad - Terry Pratchett In the first flush of thesis submission I started three different books but finally settled on giving this one a proper go.  I love it.  Granny standing firm, busting arses - and younger than she is in more recent Pratchett's I've read which is a beautiful thing about books - time travel.  She'll always be there, young and old, wise and impulsive. Waiting.
11. Divergent - Veronica Roth Good things; a largely pacey read - but becomes very repetitive in final third.  Bad things: the clear Christian-Right themes and morality (guns are power! fat is ugly, ugly is evil! Knowledge takes you away from the one true path - aka god) were really offensive.  As a young adult novel, I genuinely find it disturbing it represents handguns as a route to power and control and a whole heap of 'good' things.  Also: the characterisation was very poor, even when I finished I still didn't have a sense of Tris as a person.  Similarly, the writing was poor and the vocabulary was embarrassingly simplistic.  I hated being talked down to at age this novel is targeted at.  It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. 

12. Saga: Volume 6 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona K. Staples I love love love this series. Rationed myself through this again.  I adore that more and more great female characters are emerging in every volume. And there is a trans character in this one which I loved. And yes.  Never end, Saga, never end.
13. Carol - Patricia Highsmith Took me bloody ages to read this. For the first half to first two thirds, I was bored.  It felt like same-old sad-lesbian story with everyone wringing their hands and carrying around lots of shame and sadness and it was so frustrating.  When Carol and Therese finally left on their trip it got radically more enjoyable really fast.  Ultimately, a really joyful book and radical for its conclusion which the author's postscript, written 30 years after publication, says was as well received and powerful as you might expect.  Glad I stuck with it.

14. Pyramids - Terry Pratchett Tried and failed to get into a Stephen Baxter book that I got cheap on kindle in order to make a decision about whether or not to read the 'The Long...' series he wrote with Pratchett before abandoning that, then tried to start the second in the William Gibson Blue Ant trilogy but couldn't get going with that and ended up doing impulse buying in Waterstones.  This was the last Discworld novel I had to read. So that's it, I've read them all now.  A very bittersweet achievement.  I loved every moment, read the whole thing in 3 days. Just wonderful, sparkling wordplay, and silly jokes and clever jokes, and warm, open storytelling.  Time to start the full re-read, perhaps.
15. A Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein The first half to two thirds of this novel are a delight. Save for some nagging sexism it's pretty much perfect and then it disappears up its own arse and becomes a trudge.  A contemporary review said it was "a disastrous mishmash of science fiction, laborious humor, dreary social satire and cheap eroticism" and i really feel that sums it up.  I don't know how or why it's come to be known as a 'sci fi classic' because it's barely sci fi, most of it reads as [erotic] wish fulfilment, which in principle is fine, but it's not what I signed up for.  It's not half as clever as it thinks it is and veers between loving women for being intelligent and independent, and some truly horrendous sexism.  I couldn't decide if Heinlein hated or loved women - I suspect it was a bit of both. He certainly didn't respect them as equals, more as exotic creatures.  The logic of his 'free love, human sexuality is wonderful' versus the explicit homophobia and expressions of disgust about m/m sex (predictably f/f sex is FINE) also really grated for me.  This review really covers the bases for me, I will try one more Heinlein - best 2 out of 3 - as I did enjoy Starship Troopers.


16. Spook Country - William Gibson I don't really know why I bothered with another in the Blue Ant trilogy. It was worse than previous one with absolutely no meaningful thrust and a really predictable conclusion. It was pacey enough for the first half but really dropped off and I slogged through the second half.
17. The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham Finally a good book! I loved this.  Really got in my head, really engaged me, really well rounded characters and such striking imagining of total collapse of society.  I started off thinking 'of it wouldn't be like that now with all the voice recognition...' but I think we might be closer than I think to similar hopelessness.  Like all good sci-fi, it also acts as a really great document of it's time - paranoia about total destruction, lingering trauma about mass casualties, a new perspective on women and their abilities and potential.  Good stuff.

18. The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula LeGuin It's hard to know what to say about this. Initially I hated it but ploughed on, then I came to love it and finished it in one marathon session. It really came into it's own when Genly and Estraven went over the ice and it turned into classic epic material.  Their love and determination was compelling. But there were a lot of inconsistencies - why if Genly was taught to hone his instincts about people did he never trust Estraven even though his actions all seem consistent and clearly motivated, but he went against his stated distrust of the Orgoreyns? There was also a level of embedded misogyny/sexism which was not only unexpected from a female writer generally, but firmly anachronistic for sci-fi from this era by women.  I don't know why LeGuin made those choices and it felt like an opportunity squandered.  The place names and various bits of Winter's language were distracting and I couldn't ever get to grips with it - this I think is an authorial failing as there are plenty of books with made up languages and words in which are immediately comprehensible (Stranger in a Strange Land, Clockwork Orange, pretty much all William Gibson stuff). I felt sad and worn out when I finished it - so it definitely connected with me emotionally, I'm just not sure I'm happy with how we got there.

....And that's it. Given it was the year I finished my PhD I suppose that's not too bad. I also read about half of Bleak House in November/December, and started about 3 more during year - I have been nothing if not indecisive/flaky.    Onward, to 2017!

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
I made it to 29 books last year - it would have been 30 but the publishers of Saga fell out with the people who made it available on Kindle so volume 4 was only available electronically from Comixology which, despite being owned by Amazon, is more expensive than the same graphics were on Kindle. Sigh.  ANYWAY; a successful year of reading sci-fi and a few other genres in 2014 and lots of good charity shop buys and library loans so I'm planning more of the same for 2015, onwards!

1. Idoru - William Gibson This was really the 30th book of 2014 as I began it a few days after Christmas and finished on New Years Day.  I really enjoyed it and am itching to read the third book in the Bridge Trilogy now.  Such a vivid, believable future.
2. Danny the Champion of the World - Roald Dahl After the wonderful adaptation of Esio Trot on BBC1 on New Years Day I decided I wanted to revisit some Dahl and picked this one from my shelves as it was the one I had the least memory of. In some ways, it has aged much more than other Dahl's, certainly when I was a child, growing up in a rural village and my Dad was the village policeman and poaching was a way of life, and my Dad, now I come to think of it, often turned up at home with a pheasant of unclear origin, Danny- had a lot more in common with the world I knew. In a world of internet, mobile phones, multiple car ownership, the end of village bobbies, and - for me now - city living, the story seemed much more removed from any sort of life I recognise. The epilogue remains as applicable as ever though; 
3. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams This was in the Amazon Kindle sale with the other 4 books and I couldn't resist the price at under £3 although I already have a hard copy of this particular book.  I think I last read this in 2005 and actually I had forgotten loads.  Laugh out loud funny - although I remembered doing that.
4. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams I didn't enjoy this as much as Hitchhikers although I don't know if that's just because I was in a bad mood. I did like the ending though, quite beautiful in its way.
5. Vincent - Barbara Stok I read the letters of Vincent Van Gogh a few years ago and was so struck I named my cat after him.  I'd heard good things about this graphic and wasn't disappointed.  The style is beautifully simplistic and offers the most striking and compassionate representation of madness I've ever seen - through the use of single visual cue in the panels, I was amazed by its effectiveness.  I absolutely adored it and intend to read it again soon.
6. Once Upon a Time in the North - Philip Pullman This was a Christmas gift and also a re-read.  I was on the fence about the His Dark Materials triology when I read it 5 or so years ago but I truly fell in love with Hester and Lee.  As it is such a short book and it's such a long time ago it all felt new to me and I was totally enamoured with them both again.  And I have, again, spent too long trying to work out what my daemon would be.
7. Life, the Universe, and Everything - Douglas Adams I enjoyed this much more than the previous book and was delighted with the quiet efficiency and brilliance of Trillian.  At times I found the prose a little difficult to navigate but very few complaints.

Started several, finished none.

8. The Lion of Comarre and Against the Fall of Night - Arthur C Clarke. I picked this up in a charity shop and bought it because I'd just finished The City and the Stars which I loved.  I actually prefer some of the characterisation, and small differences in the story in Against the Fall of Night.  The Lion of Comarre didn't really capture my imagination, although the thematic similarities to the second novella are striking. 
9. All Tomorrow's Parties - William Gibson. I was dying to read this and finish the trilogy but it wasn't as satisfying as I hoped.  Laney's death wasn't given enough time and for a character I particularly loved I was sad for that.  The prose was also a bit uneven - really odd grammatically at times and took you out of the flow too often. All that said, it was a good book again and compelling reading.  I liked that when we rejoined Rydell and Chevette they'd separated because I had found their relationship unlikely/circumstance driven at the end of the last book and this felt accurate. It just wasn't as good as it should have been.
10. So Long and Thanks for All the Fish - Douglas Adams This read really fast and I did enjoy it but I also felt I started to pinpoint what it is I dislike about Douglas Adams. Firstly, I don't think he writes decent women,  Fenchurch strays into Manic Pixie Dream girl territory and Trillian has been written out with bloody Zaphod? No. Secondly, and more strikingly, I feel a lot of the jokes seem like in-jokes, references to things I'm two decades too late to join in on and it's vaguely alienating. Compare to say Pratchett, a comparison many seem to make, and Pratchett is so welcoming in his jokes, so non-elitist.

11. Good Omens - Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman I've been putting off reading this for years because a) I don't like co-authored books and b) I don't like Gaiman. As it was, the co-authoring element was fine but I didn't fully enjoy it or feel like I got lost in it.  I kept transposing parts to Discworld and some joyful bits of fun and clever wording clearly stood out as Pratchett's. Basically, I would have loved it if it were a) set in Discworld and b) didn't have all those cynical, slightly nasty (?) 'gosh look how clever I am' bits that seemed to smell of Gaiman. I did rather like the ending though, so that's something.

12. Soul Music - Terry Pratchett Very enjoyable. Good ol' Susan.  Kept missing some of the clever wordplay because I was reading it late/when I was exhausted.
13. Mostly Harmless - Douglas Adams I really loved this up until the end when, despite how logical the end was, I was really disappointed. I suppose that's good - if I wasn't attached to the characters I wouldn't have cared.
14. The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett I can't believe I've been putting off reading the Tiffany Aching stories for so long, this was completely brilliant and joyful.  I even cried (right at the end, when Thunder and Lightning round up the storm and she just knows someone is standing behind her).  Looking forward to reading Hatful of Sky, and I found the Wintersmith in a second hand bookshop for a £1 the other day.
15. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card I loved this.  Really compelling read, loved characterisation. Struggled a few times with what 'the hegemony' was meant to mean within the context of the book but that was really only niggle.  I was surprised, as there is an Ender series, that this book ended quite decisively and not sure I want to rush on to the next book given how neatly everything was tied up - what could [logically] happen next?  The ending was almost too neat, actually.  Still a great book.
16. Saga Volume 4 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples Good god I love this series. This volume was the most compelling so far. Cannot wait for next instalment. Adore everything from characterisation to artwork to complexity of character relationships and plots.

17. The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester I was a bit back and forth on this throughout. Foyle is a really likeable character who does fairly horrendous things (casual rape!) but somehow his character is not drawn sufficiently harshly to really turn him into the anti-hero I think the book needs.  Olivia was a thoroughly weird character and very much of the time the book was written.  But I enjoyed the agency which some of the other women were allowed.  I also finished it quite quickly so it was compelling enough.  I liked the tension of war and greed which drove character's actions and shaped society and thought the characterisation of teleportation as a socially, economically and politically catastrophic invention was astute.
18. A Hatful of Sky - Terry Pratchett My second Tiffany Aching book and just as wonderful as the first.  Beautiful, wonderful story.  I adored it.  Pace, characterisation, story, all spot on.  I stayed up until 3am to finish it which I haven't done for ages.  And I cried.  A wonderful story, and just that reassuring voice of Terry Pratchett telling a story about how telling stories to one another really, really matters.  I miss him.
19. By the Pricking of my Thumbs - Agatha Christie Finally read (after a 2 year break according to these book logs) the next Tommy and Tuppence mystery. Loved this and read it in double quick time. There's something very real about Tommy and Tuppence which appeals to me much more than any amount of Poirot and Miss Marple.
20. Wintersmith - Terry Pratchett This was actually the book I found in a charity shop that prompted me to go backwards and get the two Tiffany Aching novels before this one so I could read the series properly. I still loved it very much but I did think the pacing was a bit off compared to the previous two. Still bloody good stuff.

21. Neuromancer - William Gibson I didn't enjoy this as much as my previous Gibson's - I found the prose very dense and descriptions too abstract to follow easily.  The story itself was largely compelling but I felt the ending was a little weak.  I really liked Molly and Case.  And I found Armitage quite interesting in the latter third of the novel.  It just wasn't quite there for me.  I've just bought his most recent novel and will use that as an indicator of whether I need to accept disappointing endings from Gibson novels in future.
22. I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett This might be my favourite ever TP. I adored the richness and brutality of the plot - opening with a [spoiler!] incidence of domestic violence and mob justice was gobsmacking and somehow, even though there were a few bits that felt repetitive, it never lost the pace, or the punch, it opened with.  Tiffany is a tremendous character and the Cunning Man is surely the most terrifying of villains ever conceived.  The Cunning Man is also, and I expect no less from Pratchett, so absolutely appropriate to the times we live in where we are forever being told to turn on our fellow man and those as let poison in surely welcome the Cunning Man in their acts of homophbia, islamophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny etc etc. That's what was so terrifying about the Cunning Man; he is immediately recognisable because he walks amongst us now.  I particularly liked that Pratchett took us back to that incident of brutality and inhumanity which is only really mentioned in passing in the Wee Free Men regarding the burning of the old woman's house and her manslaughter; it deserved more time and it felt entirely appropriate Tiffany had to be older before we could really explore what it meant.

23. Burning Chrome - William Gibson The short story format made it a little repetitive, and I liked all the co-written stories least but I really enjoyed this. They were exactly right length to read on commute too which was ideal. My favourite story was Hinterlands which I'm still thinking about and desperately want a full length version of.
24. Saga Volume 5 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples I'm still enjoying this series so, so much. This was most brutal volume so far and I proper gasped at some of the developments. I'm enjoying the pacing too, desperate to know how many (in-universe) years the series is ultimately going to span

Started a few, finished nothing.

25. The Shepherd's Crown - Terry Pratchett I started this in October, then stopped after finding the death of the character at the beginning was too upsetting to continue, then as time passed, I actively put off reading it so I had something to read during my convalescence from shoulder surgery - which I did. Overall, it wasn't really great after the first 50 or so pages.  Rob's postscript suggests this was only really a sketch of the story and not a finished novel and that corresponds with how I felt about it - secondary characters were quite 2D and there were a few threads which didn't seem to go anywhere.  Overall though, I'm so glad we had this story and got to see Tiffany establish who she was once and for all.  Whatever the content, this entire book was always going to be tied up in my sadness about Terry's passing.
26. Blue is the Warmest Colour - Julie Maroh I had been cautioned by [personal profile] tellitslant that this may not live up to the hype and she was right.  I felt it started well and I Iiked the illustration very much.  Initially it reminded me of Blankets and that was a pleasant association but it fell apart in the final third.  Firstly, the central character was ultimately unlikeable ("no regrets" over cheating on the supposed love of her life and hurting them both?), secondly, we are so past needing bloody tragic lesbian stories. My one word summary would be 'hackneyed'.
27. Pregnant Butch: 9 Long Months Spent in Drag - A.K. Summers I loved, loved, loved this.  Really light touch but thoughtful and funny. I should have read this ages ago as may mention it in my thesis and had it for about 6 months but there we are. Will be recommending it to everyone.
28. The Peripheral - William Gibson This was mind crushingly complicated for the first half/until I acclimatised to the world[s] I was being dropped into. I loved it though. Read it incredibly fast for 500 pages and, unlike the last few full length Gibson novels, I also loved the ending. Great book, great storytelling.
29. Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke I started this in September but just wasn't in right frame of mind to enjoy this type of novel. With the exception of the occasionally excruciating sexism, it was an enjoyable read in the end. It put me strongly in mind of Journey to the Centre of the Earth with similar pacing, frustrations and resolution. I felt at times it was a love letter to the scientific method and not a sci fi book at all. Although the simps are the notable exception to that summary. 
30. Eric - Terry Pratchett I recently logged all my TP books and decided to make sure I finally read the ones I had skipped when I began reading discworld some 18 years ago. I believed I hadn't read this but rereading in a day it all felt quite familiar so perhaps I borrowed it from Lucy. It was enjoyable all the same and I do intend to a full reread in the coming years so this is more like a headstart on that.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I was delighted to make it to 30 books in 2013 despite the demands of the PhD.  I proved to myself that investing in books I really want to read rather than dutifully trudging through unread books I own is worthwhile so I'll be keeping that in mind this year and allowing myself non-academic book purchases.

Nada (well, nothing finished)

1. Adventure of the Empty House, The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, and The Adventure of the Dancing Men from The Return of Sherlock Holmes in the Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle Still longing to get back to the full length stories but they are much more rounded in The Return of Sherlock Holmes than The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

2. The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clarke Loved this, read in no time at all and completely adored the city and the stars and all the other rich descriptions.  I sense that my imagining of Alvin's robot was significantly shaped by Eve from Wall-E though...!
3. Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes What a book! I had nightmares the second night of reading it which, although not fun, is always a hallmark of a book that I'm really connecting with.  Incredibly affecting, beautifully crafted narrative, tremendously magnetic narrator with flaws, faults and deeply felt pain  Yes.  Really hit home with my own long term fears of losing my mind and watching it go but being unable to stop it...amazing.
4. Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke In a future where there is no war or hunger and all inequality is ended it fucked me right off that all women did was keep house, have babies, and make dinner for their husbands.  Supremely depressing resolution, supremely unhappy making. And I don't believe in a resolution being positive when it says that all that humanity must be lost - I'd rather we remained children in the universe.  I was struck at Clarke's ability to make Karellen the only character we ever have any sort of lasting emotional connection with.  Him and Jan....this book made me sad. And angry.  So I suppose it was extremely good?
5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson Picked this up in a charity shop because the title rang a bell.  It was a good read and very compelling stuff but it ended incredibly abruptly and whilst I understand why it ended the way it did, I still felt a little cheated.

6. Saga: Volume 3 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples Try as I might, I couldn't limit myself to a chapter a day and ended up reading all but two chapters in one sitting. Oh god it's so good! Lying Cat and The Will probably my favourite characters but actually really liked the journalists who came through in this volume. Argh, more! Soon!
7. Brighton Rock - Graham Greene Took me about 7 years to find a second hand copy of this in a Brighton second hand bookshop (the restriction I had placed on my buying it given the connection to the city) so this was really exciting to finally get hold of.  I adored it - I always thought the Dicky Attenborough film was good, and it is, but compared to the book? A hollow imitation.  The film strips every female character of motivation and agency - and these are some really complex, interesting female characters.  The awful, grinding, absolute poverty that Pinkie and Rose come from simply does not translate in the film (or if it does, it's now lost in time and generational differences/cultural reference points) and without that, their actions become directionless/inexplicable. The book just makes sense, and it is all shades of grey and damning indictment of a society which lets those at the bottom slip under, and, to a lesser degree, of the Catholic church's dogma.
8. The Forever War - Joe Haldeman I've had this book for about 3 years and never got further than the first 20 pages previously.  This was a mistake because it's tremendous. I love that the main thing moving the plot along is just the cruelty of time. Relativity is a brilliant villain. And what an ending! Such authorial compassion. The way homosexuality is handled is, I suppose, of its time (1970s) but it wasn't so awful as to spoil my enjoyment.

9. Goodbye Chunky Rice - Craig Thompson Not as good as Blankets but better than Habibi.  Made for a nice read and had one particularly affecting panel.  Quite a difficult to follow sub plot though.

10. Good Dog - Graham Chaffee This is officially an adult graphic but non of it really has adult content and despite the hysterical reviews on back cover, it doesn't hold a torch to Animal Farm or Watership Down.  That being said, it's a good story about a dog, albeit a melancholy one.
11. Masquerade - Terry Pratchett Yay! Greebo! Also hijinks and such.  One of the Discworld's that came before I started reading and I never got to when I tried to read from the beginning.  As enjoyable as a Pratchett ever is.

12. Small Gods - Terry Pratchett Reorganised my bookshelves at my parents house and pulled this out, having never finished it when I bought it 16 or more years ago.  After getting through the dry introductory section that put me off last time, I really enjoyed it. Old school Pratchett; left me considering what he does with male and female characters - Brutha, Rincewind, Carrot all male characters who are good sorts, through and through, and get to stay in the books with no real character development.  Conversely, lots of interesting female characters Sybil Ramkin (later Vimes), Magrat, Adora Belle, Angua, are interesting and independent, and through-and-through good, but they get married and then disappear into the shadows of their husbands, or disappear entirely in the case of Magrat.  I'm not sure how I feel about that because I don't want to be annoyed with Discworld.  Susan Sto Helit is only woman I can think of who doesn't suffer that fate, but she does disappear, unlike, for example, the much less likeable Moist Von Lipwig. Hmm.
13. Behold the Man - Michael Moorcook The best thing I can say about this is that the narrative technique was interesting. It was shitty anti-women bullshit, navel-gazing Christianity revisionism, which in turn wasn't nearly as clever or original in doing that as the author thought. Nope.
14. Raising Steam - Terry Pratchett I think this will be the last new Pratchett I read. So much has gone from it and there wasn't a single good female character in it - plenty of characters who *used* to be good female characters were just shadows and wives and background noise. And just a nothing of a conclusion.  Felt like a waste.

15. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling I forgot how slow this one is, and how the grammar catches you awkwardly. Still a better world than this.
16. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - JK Rowling I must be getting old, spent a long time wanting to shake Harry and Ron. And oh god, the crashed Ford still makes me feel guilty by proxy.  My favourite in the series up next...
17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling Oh Lupin, Lupin, Lupin, I love you.
18. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling When Harry hangs on to Cedric's body, that's perfect writing, basically and everything about Harry's affect from then to the end of the book is just spot on. Makes me howl.
19. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - JK Rowling I love who Harry is becoming in this book, love how real his hurt and angry and irrational lashing-out seems. I ache for Sirius' loss; when Lupin hangs onto Harry to stop him going through the curtain after him? Kills me.
20. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - JK Rowling I remembered this as being tiresomely plotted with very little action but I think I read it slower than I have previously and as a result the pacing was more agreeable. I did a real close reading of Snape in this, this time, knowing the 'truth' about his actions and it holds together pleasingly well.

21. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling I kept putting off starting this as I didn't want to lose Dobby, Fred, Tonks, and most of all, Lupin, again.  The cruelty of their deaths never gets less and I am still pissed at Rowling for doing it. Sobbed and sobbed as Harry walked along with the ghosts of Sirius and Lupin, as I have so many times before.  Had secondary level of reading happening where I refuted all the crap I keep seeing on Tumblr about Snape and Dumbledore being terrible people to name your kids after because they weren't through-and-through good guys. Personally I think heroes who act against their nature, or inclination, in order to do the right thing are more worthy of reverence than Superman-types, but there we are.  Certainly it's why I find Dumbledore and Snape such engaging characters, and Snape's life in particular, to be an unmitigated tragedy.
22. Now and Forever - Ray Bradbury I picked this up impulsively in the library as I scanned the blurb and it said it was a rewriting of Moby Dick set in the future/ship was a space ship and whale was a comet.  Turns out this book is two novellas, Somewhere a Band is Playing and, the one I wanted to read, Leviathan '99.  They were both written in fairly open faced prose and were an easy quick read but I never got engaged. Somewhere a Band is Playing wound up being rather indulgent and didn't move me. Leviathan '99 was better but suffered for being too short and not developing any sense of claustrophobia, as Moby Dick does, or loyalty to Ishmael or the Captain - the Forever War totally nails that part of space travel..  It also missed the great sweeping Romantic reflections on beauty and nature which, given they are speeding through freaking space past planets and comets and stars is a MASSIVE oversight.  All in all? It was no Fahrenheit 451.
23. The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov This was a really easy read with a compelling plot but the resolution was fairly dissatisfying, as was the sudden Christianity.  And, in the final quarter, the sudden, wholly unnecessary section about how women put make up on, those peculiar creatures! lolz! Which just underlined the problem which up until then I had been prepared to ignore, namely that in a future where a complete overhaul of the way we live, work and eat was reasonable, and the positronic brain had been invented, and technology functioned in astonishing ways, women still just had babies and stayed home. FOR FUCKS SAKE EVERY MALE SCI-FI WRITER EVER WHY IS IT IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE FEMALE LEADERS BUT NOT FUCKING HUMANOID ROBOTS AND INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL?!?!?!  Also, less angrily, loads of stuff lifted from this for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which is no doubt not news to everyone else, but was for me.

24. A Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy This was...disappointing. I explicitly sought out woman-authored, woman-protagonist science fiction because, as above, I've been getting increasingly frustrated with sausage-fest futures.  This disappointed for being really woolly science-fiction, no hard sci-fi elements and really focused on emotion and physical descriptions and narratively-dull sex scenes. I didn't realise until just now it was written in the 70s which contextualises it better for me but still not a life changer. It was very dry in places, and I can't understand why there was only one, brief visit to the dystopian future as that was considerably more interesting than the utopian Mattapoisett.  I also can't get on board with a utopia being at war (which was plot hole anyway given the obsession of Mattapoisettians with eradicating waste in all other areas of life) and the death penalty continuing to exist.  It reminded me of Swastika Night and News from Nowhere, neither of which are gripping reads but are worth giving time to if you've got no better options/like to be well read within the genre.
25. The Clone Rebellion: Republic - Steven L Kent This is such a promising series but about half way I through I realised there were NO WOMEN. And then it started to make me angry.  There are so many ways women *could* have been in it, for a start - why not make the Liberators women? Then there'd be this amazing social commentary going on about society's fear of strong women and retribution/revenge.  I liked all the war and explosions and armour stuff though. Military sci-fi apparently appeals. Just not sausage fest military sci-fi.

26. On Red Station, Drifting - Aliette de Bodard I bought this in reaction to my previous read. It was dreadful. Lots of godawful grammar and comma abuse that even outdoes my worst habits. Then the story...which was very nearly good but failed to do anything science fiction-y and was just 'imperial China in space!!!!!'  Yes, there were female leads, yes they were in charge of their own actions and destinies but that's not enough - they need motivations (precious little of that for any of the characters) and some sort of characterisation (again, not so much for anyone) and some of the components that make me read sci-fi, like actual science fiction rather than a broadly magic system of psychic communication. I finished it out of spite, not enjoyment.
27. Virtual Light - William Gibson I loved, loved, loved this all the way to the last 50 pages or so when the narrative sped up and the careful, painstaking storytelling fell to the wayside to the point it was difficult to grasp how the plot was resolved.  I was also, unexpectedly, disappointed with the happy ending. It felt inauthentic.  I loved Chevvy though - yay decent female lead! Really enjoyed the threaded narrative of the end of the AIDS crisis and the conceptualisation of the shift to radical groups and massive division between rich and poor post social/economic collapse. It was just a really rich, textured world. Must read more Gibson.

28. The Wicked and the Divine Vol. 1 - Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson I was a bit on the fence about this all the way through and glad I was able to borrow it from the lirbary rather than commit to buying it.  I liked all the references to musical idols I just didn't with it.  I think I'm uncomfortable with the fantastic elements which is obviously what the series is built on...It's just not as me as Phonogram, I need to stop expecting everything McKelvie and Gillen write will be.
29. Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Jules Verne This was an impulse charity shop buy and I'm glad I did.  I think I managed to get a good translation and it read very quickly.  Ultimately, the fiction of the science was a little too much of a stretch for me, although I did reflect I would have happily suspended disbelief had it been set on a distant planet and not Earth - funny what a little knowledge will do in that respect.  I enjoyed the Victorian-Romantic reflection on landscape of Iceland and Denmark so much I plan to re-read Frankenstein in the new year so a Good Read.

The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, The Adventure of the Priory School - Arthur Conan Doyle I read these two sometime in 2014 but as they are short stories I only count them as one book if I read more than three. So recorded for completeness.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Last year I just about wheezed to 29.  I don't expect to get anywhere near that this year - I no longer have lunch breaks in which to read and I can no longer read without guilt at not doing something else.  Nonetheless, my 'too read' shelf is groaning under the weight of books as much as it ever is so I'd like to record my endeavours this year.

1. All Points North - Simon Armitage I'd rejected this previously because of the Amazon reviews, then I read and loved Gig and decided to give it a chance.  It's not as well written, or coherent as Gig and towards the end I began skim reading. It's not bad, it's just not good.
2. Stardust - Neil Gaimon One of the few cases where the film is better than the book - much more narrative tension, action, and motivation.  Everything just sort of...happens in the book.  Although the non-fairytale ending, and the less Stockholmy-syndrome relationship of the Star and Tristan is appreciated.  Not a Gaiman convert I'm afraid.
3. Y: The Last Man: Vol 4. Safeword - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr.  More of the same.  I just know I'm going to be disappointed with the conclusion of this series but I can't not carry on.  Happily, my local library stocks them so at least I'm not paying to be disappointed.

4. Y: The Last Man: Vol 5. Ring of Truth - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr.
5. Y: The Last Man: Vol 6. Girl on Girl - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr.  I read these two back to back as I got excited when both were in at the library and took them all out at once.  They improve considerably on the books before and move the story on.  I even gasped a couple of times.  It's still not a great series, but it isn't bad.
6. Y: The Last Man: Vol 7. Paper Dolls - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr Had a couple of proper gasps at this volume, getting good.
7. Small Island - Andrea Levy This is not the sort of thing I would normally read but a friend gave me the book.  It's an easy read, and occasionally compelling, but historical fiction never really does it for me and this was no different.

8. Reaper Man - Terry Pratchett. I've wanted to read this one for years as Death has always been a favourite character of mine.  I felt it dragged a bit in the middle but, as ever, a hugely enjoyable - and funny - read.

9. Heroes - Robert Cormier I read this whilst invigilating a GCSE English Language exam; it's the course set text.  It's terrible.  Badly plotted, glaring grammatical errors, poorly written in every conceivable way. I'm appalled that kids are studying this - what an excellent way to put young people off ever picking up another book after they leave school.
10.  Y: The Last Man: Vol 8. Kimono Dragons - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr Seriously content light but clearly important to read as part of the series.
11. Y: The Last Man: Vol 9. Motherland - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr Starting to feel nostalgic about finishing this series. Had dreams about people trying to kill me - practically a recommendation that.
12. Y: The Last Man: Vol 10. Whys and Wherefores - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr. So disappointing, hated what they did to Yorick. Hated lack of resolution. So much squandered. Bah.

13. Petite Mort - Beatrice Hitchman. Fine...was a 99p ebook from Amazon which was main reason I bought it, no sex until half way through which given the title? Boo. It's a first novel and it shows.
14. The Crooked Man, The Greek Interpreter, The Resident Patient, The Naval Treaty, The Final Problem from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in The Complete Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle. Met Mylock and Moriarty in these stories! Couple of good ones but still looking forward to getting on to the longer stories again.
15. Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling Summer re-read init,  new tradition
16. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J. K. Rowling
17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J. K. Rowling 
18. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J. K. Rowling 
19. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - J. K. Rowling 
20. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J. K. Rowling Forgot about Dobby dying, cue much sobbing. Was, at least, braced for Fred, Tonks and Lupin. Ugh. Emotional rollercoaster.  Finishing these made me return to Pottermore.

20. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte I can't remember how many times I've read this now but it feels fresh and different each time. Cracking stuff. 
21. Saga Volume 1. - Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples Great. Beautiful. Engaging. Trying to pace myself through it as only one more volume available at the moment and ohmygod I can't stand cliffhangers.
22. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald Another classic I had somehow managed to avoid reading. It took me a while to get into - the style of prose was initially jarring - but I finished reading in a fevered gasp. Wonderful book, really wonderful

23. Mr Norris Changes Trains - Christopher Isherwood Really charming book, great characterisation,  very readable. Particularly enjoyable for its Berlin setting after my visit there earlier this year
24. Goodbye to Berlin - Christopher Isherwood This wasn't as polished as Mr Norris Changes Trains, which obviously borrows heavily from the autobiographical experiences chronicled here.  The ending in particular, as Berlin is lost to the War, is particularly affecting.

25. Saga Volume 2. - Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples Better and better, can't wait for next volume to come out, they can't draw this series fast enough for me.

26. Walking Home - Simon Armitage Was quite slow going.  But then beautiful, and thought provoking.  Mostly only appealing if you enjoy the Romantic poets, and perhaps The Prelude.
27. Moving Pictures - Terry Pratchett Fine fine. Funny and that.  From the period I skipped to start reading books as they came out rather than chronologically for many reasons...I want more Watch stories, this is the trouble.

28. A Scanner Darkly - Philip K Dick I think this is only my second ever Dick (the first being Do Androids Dream, repeatedly) and I found it to be fairly misogynist - something I have seen Do Androids Dream criticised for but had always felt the things that could be read as misogynist could also be read as a wry critique of a future dystopia. A Scanner Darkly had some things I was uncomfortable with. Putting that to one side, the narrative is beautifully woven and, in its way quite moving.  I found the postscript quite interesting but felt Dick's decision to include himself in a list of friends who died or suffered permanent psychosis on account of his pancreatic damage was both ill-conceived and egotistic.
29. The Trial - Franz Kafka This is such an uneven book, perhaps it was one of the least finished of all his unfinished work? I'm glad I read it but at times it took such a lot of effort to keep on reading, it gets terribly turgid in places. A Hunger Artist remains my favourite of his.
30. N or M? - Agatha Christie Another Tommy and Tuppence story, much more developed and satisfying than the previous one.  I really, really love these characters.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
In 2011 I managed a respectable 29. Commitment to 'read a shit load' rather waned in the tail end of the year so that is my primary target this year.

1. Sherlock Holmes short stories from The Complete Sherlock Holmes; The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet and The Adventures of the Copper Beeches - Arthur Conan Doyle
2. When God Was A Rabbit - Sarah Winman This was a book my Mum passed to me after reading it as she said "it's more your sort of thing than mine" which usually means it's either abstract or gay. Turns out it was a bit of both but badly written with an implausible plot designed to pull at the old heartstrings. Pulp fiction in the highest degree.
3. Snuff - Terry Pratchett Really disappointing. Discworld has been sadly going downhill rapidly since TP sadly became ill. A lot of the word play, humour, complexity and depth has gone out of the books and whilst the characters are engaging enough to read compulsively to the end, it doesn't satisfy in the way TP books used to.  On a unrelated note, this was the first eBook I've purchased - from Amazon - and I was reet pissed off because it didn't have any chapter divisions in, which books I've got from Project Guttenberg do have.
4. Sympathy for the Devil - Howard Marks Rubbish. I only read it because the Amazon reviews were so good and, allegedly, a character was based on Richey. Striking similarity, yes, but I sincerely hope Marks doesn't know something about Richey the rest of us don't.
5. The Mysterious Affair at Styles - Agatha Christie Good ol' fashioned Christie action - although I think I detected just a hint of anti-Semitism...

6. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare - G. K. Chesterton I enjoyed this but, by the end, I'm not sure I fully understood the depth of references in there. One to read again I think.
7. Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
8. Catching on Fire - Suzanne Collins
9. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins I read this entire trilogy in 5 days. Had nightmares every single night.  Was absolutely captivated by Katniss - what an incredibly written character. In some ways it's typical sci-fi/post-apocalyptic fiction fayre, but in other it does what so many fail to do; it is utterly immersive. My only criticisms would be the way one character's death was dealt with and one aspect of the content of the epilogue which I didn't feel was inkeeping with the nformation we'd had on that character up to then but otherwise? Pretty much perfect.

** Leap Day Freebie; 10. A Hunger Artist - Franz Kafka Great, typically Kafka, typically numbing. **

11. The Plague - Albert Camus Vaguely disappointed with this. It took me months and months of stop-start to read it but I'm not sure why. It's interesting enough and the narrative style is typical of Camus but something of the pessimism I found so engaging in The Fall and The Outsider was missing. I'm glad I read and glad I finished it but...not a life changer.
12. The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson Good, lost focus in the second half; touched on lots of interesting points that could/should have been developed but weren't and made some blindingly obvious points too. A bit of a let down, particularly given how well it started.

13. Gig - Simon Armitage Great, great book. Just my kind of thing. A fusion of prose and poetry, anecdotes and earnest longing. Some fantastic descriptive passages - although I would expect nothing less from Armitage - and it does it all without crossing over into unadulterated pretentiousness. Adored it; made me laugh, made me think.
14. Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett  I resolved to go back and read all the Discworld books I've missed (the middle ones - I read in order for a while then skipped to new releases as they happened) which include characters I like, first up i'm back tracking through the history of the Watch.  This was good. Although coming to it from Snuff I can't believe Lady Sybil is the same person - MASSIVE change in her characterisation.
15. How to be a Woman - Caitlin Moran Started off brilliantly, my enthusiasm waned about halfway through and by the last quarter it was actively hard work. She moved from inclusive feminism to proscriptive feminism and a few things made me cringe which wouldn't ordinarily have made me cringe but she was so insistent "this is feminism!" that I felt compelled to engage with just how successfully she was a yeah.

16. Men at Arms - Terry Pratchett It seemed to get a bit lost at times.  Although the Corporal Carrot of this book is 100% the Carrot I fancy, which is nice.

17. Daytripper - Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon Good In principle this was a good graphic. In practice I didn't quite connect.  The style and colouring were a bit imprecise for my liking. The 'surprise' element of each chapter ending with the death of the same character was verging on trite.  Somehow, it just didn't come together for me - although it came close.  
18. Starman: David Bowie, The Definitive Biography - Paul Trynka Great book, enough narrative pace to keep it interesting, a good overall view of the 'facts' with plenty of clearly marked personal stories to flesh it out.  As with all rock biographies I'm sure many people will claim it's pure fantasy but it ties up with other things I've read and heard.  I really enjoyed it although it did flag a bit towards the end.

19. James Potter and the Hall of Elders Crossing - G. Norman Lippert  Objectively, this really wasn't very good - far too many Americanisms, a real betrayal of the basics of the canon (why are different year groups taking the same class? Why would there be a ban on flying brooms for under 11s? etc etc) but somehow, I believe the character of James.  I probably won't read any more of the series but this one has entered my imagination rather determinedly.
20. The Secret Adversary - Agatha Christie Brilliant! Best Christie I've ever read, absolutely adored Tuppence and Tommy and the little (explicit) feminist asides. Yes!

21. From The Complete Sherlock Holmes; Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes; Yellow Face, Silver Blaze, Stock Brokers Clerk, The Gloria Scott, The Musgrave Ritual, The Reigate Puzzle - Arthur Conan Doyle Not as good as some of the previous stories I've read, these are much shorter and as a result suffer from underdeveloped mysteries. Holmes is such a magnetic character, and Watson such an engaging narrator my enthusiasm has't waned much though.

22. Partners in Crime - Agatha Christie Fun but, as reviews on Amazon warned me, a bit repetitive by virtue of the short story formula.  Still enjoyable - Tommy and Tuppence really magnetic characters.
23. Feet of Clay - Terry Pratchett Super quick read and all the things I love about Pratchett. Plus, Vimes, Carrot, and Angua <3.
24. Maurice and His Educated Rodents - Terry Pratchett First book I read in Brighton - found it whilst emptying boxes in the attic of my parents house having believed I'd lent it to a friend who had made it disappear so read with real joy at being reunited.  As, ever, fabulous; the man knows his rats.

25. Are You My Mother - Alison Bechdel As so many other people have observed, this book doesn't really hang together.  The first third s dedicated to the author's reflections on how hard she is finding it to write the book she's writing which, instead of being pleasingly meta, is just annoying. It ends well but I found it, overall, to be navel gazing and quite thin.  Certainly not in the same league as Fun Home.
26. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson Until I downloaded this to my kindle, I had no idea RLS wrote it, how ignorant of me.  An enjoyable read, beautifully Gothic, spoiled somewhat by the fame of the story which meant I already knew the twist but well worth a read all the same.

Apparently I didn't read anything in November...Although I made a start on Mysteries of Udolpho but it is slow going.  Weirdly, this happened last year too.

27. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea - Guy Delise I've wanted to read this for a long time and picked it up on the spur of the moment at the library.  It's a quick read but not really a life changer - a little too self involved to mean anything much...I think I was disappointed. Nothing to Envy remains the go to book on North Korea.
28. Y: The Last Man Vol. 3 One Small Step - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr.  Still making me cringe at moments of sexism and fetishisation of women but it is still compelling enough for me to keep reading, especially since discovering the Brighton municipal library has the whole series!
29. Started, abandoned... Black Hole - Charles Burns. Tried and tried, but the content made me feel physically sick at times and I increasingly got the impression it would end misogynistically so I bailed out. First time in a very long time I've done that.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
As readers of my Tumblr will have worked out, I have been reading The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. I bought the book after I watched the stunning BBC drama Painted with Words. I read it on and off for a few months but in the last fortnight I've really committed to it and flown through the remaining 250 pages.

Throughout the letters, spanning 17 years, I found the most beautiful and honest descriptions of depression and mania I think I have ever read.  And I was moved by the sameness - the oneness - of human experience in this respect.  Vincent himself acknowledges, whilst in the asylum, that seeing others illnesses helps him understand his own and allows his fear of it to be calmed.  In this respect, and many others, I felt a deep affinity and emotional connection to him.  

I particularly enjoyed looking up paintings as he spoke about them to Theo and examining them through his eyes, instead of my own.  In particular I found the contrast between Entrance to a Quarry and The Reaper to be extraordinary; they were painted within a few weeks of each other and either side of, as VIncent terms it, 'an attack'.

The clarity of expression is astonishing and, appropriately enough, Vincent even provides a description for how I feel about reading his letters some 122 years later, when describing his reading of Shakespeare he says the following;

I read without wondering if the ideas of the people of those times were different from our own, or what would become of them if you set them over against republican and socialist beliefs and so on. But what touches that the voices of these people, which in Shakespeare's case reach us from a distance of several centuries, do not seem unfamiliar to us. It is so much alive that you know them and see the thing.

As I turned each page ever quicker as Vincent's quiet desperation and hopelessness begin to overwhelm him in the last 30 or so pages, I suddenly became aware what I was speeding towards; his end. It was at this point I began to cry. And then, as I read his last letter to his mother, wishing her 'happy days' with his brother Theo, Theo's wife Jo and their son, Vincent and speaking of his 'calmness' I cried more. Finally I read his business like final letter to Theo (to whom almost all the letters in this collection are addressed) which thanks him once again for some money sent and states that which he hints at in many letters - that Theo is also the creator of the paintings he has to his name and should also call himself an artist - I began to sob.

The postscript very nearly broke my heart as it stated what I knew of the circumstances of his death and told me something of Theo - whom I had come to 'know' through Vincent's warmth and love for him;

On 27th July 1890, Vincent went into the cornfields close by the chateau and shot himself with a revolver. Severely wounded he struggled back to the inn. At first it looked as though he might rally, although he was in dreadful pain. Theo was summoned from Paris. No attempt was made to remove the bullet. Vincent lay suffering for two days and finally fell into a coma and died in his brother's arms on 29th July.
Not long afterwards, Theo, in poor health and 'broken by grief', began to have hallucinations and violent headaches. He resigned from his job and had a complete breakdown. He died only six months after Vincent on 25th January 1891

The love between Vincent and Theo is absolutely beautiful - that Theo died so soon after Vincent is both terrible and inevitable.  At the end of the collection I feel his loss as keenly as I feel the loss of Vincent.


The other day I was reading the letters in the conservatory in the late afternoon sunshine.  Without meaning to, I drifted off to sleep for about an hour and a half.  The last thing I had read was a particularly vivid description of the colours in the landscape around Vincent's house and for that hour and a half I slept lightly, dreaming not in words or sounds or solid objects, but in colours.

askygoneonfire: Cartoon character lying terrified and awake in bed (insomnia)
Thanks to the unspeakable, inexplicable, wondrous generosity of [personal profile] forthwritten I have some paid time, I thought it was only right to celebrate with a post.

The other night, much like tonight really, I drank a heroic amount of vodka, and finished reading Albert Camus' The Fall. The book I finished a day before that was Martin Power's Nailed to History: the story of Manic Street Preachers. Being a massive CoR, I cried as much as I laughed at the story of the Valley boys and found myself obsessed/intrigued with Richey all over again. In that sense, The Fall couldn't have been a better 'next read' - the protagonist's words and Richey's lyrics are a marriage made in heaven/plagiarism made in hell.

The combination of the tail end of mania, vodka and Camus resulted in me being able to 'understand' some of the lyrics on The Holy Bible in what I felt was a new way. Before I passed out into a semi-paralytic sleep, I recorded my thoughts on Open Office on my phone. I record them below for 'posterity' (aka 'what the fuck?).

Much needed explanations can be found for some of this in '[]' brackets.

Dead )

It's a lot like when I watched The Man Who Fell to Earth when I was drunk on rum to the point I couldn't remember my own name, but for the first time that film made sense.  Or when I go really stoned and understood 'Motown Junk' in a way no person ever had before and insisted everyone I knew listen to it *right now*.  A week of fucked up sleeping habits and a night of heavy drinking with a bit of mania thrown in for good measure makes for some entertaining reading.

I hope to contribute something intelligent to Dreamwidth in the next two weeks. although don't hold your breath as I'm currently reading 1984 and the last 249839 times I read that it gave me paranoia-based nightmares....
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Tomorrow, at 3:30, it is The Holidays.  School breaks up for an unfathomably luxurious 2 and a half weeks and I don't intend to go in for a single days work (my contract requires me to work two floating weeks during school holidays, I pick when). In preparation for this vast expanse of time I have been ordering books! Books!

Today the first one arrived (Ray Bradbury's The October Country) and I pressed my nose into its pages to inhale the heady scent of a book as old as me (this copy even being published in the same year as me!) and made my way to my book shelf.  Not with any clear design on what I was looking for I started thumbing through books at random. Flicking yellowed pages open and reading snatches of hundred of different stories which all have unique and specific connections to different times and places in my life.

I called to my Mum to read to her from The Wrestling Princess, a staple of my youth being a story about a girl like me - who didn't want to wear dresses or do what the other [girls] Princesses did.  In the end she marries a tiny little man who likes extreme sports, and she drives herself to her wedding in her forklift truck.  I call that 'the Masterplan'.

I caught myself, in the end, just caressing the books.  Running my hands along broken spines and dog eared corners.  Softened covers and torn dust covers.  The [first of the three volumes of The] Chronicles of Narnia lost its spine many years ago.  Frankenstein is held together with good will and possibly the amount of ink which adorns the margins and bottoms of pages. Roald Dahl's are pressed together in a space just a fraction too small for them, Shakespeare and the Romantics luxuriate on a bottom shelf - the higher ones being too prone to bending to hold such weighty tomes.  Lee Edelman sits contentiously against Tess Coslett's collaborative Women, Power and Resistance.

Eventually I tore myself away - although not unburdened - carrying an armful of books to deposit on the bedroom floor I scuttled back across the landing.  Alas, the bedroom floor is already covered in books, zines and cds so the books are now joyfully strewn across the bed....I anticipate I will simply wriggle between them to sleep and awake coughing up bits of Hardy.

As much as I dread the inevitable destruction of society as we know it and living in a failed-utopia/dystopian nightmare I also can't wait for the day I wander into wasteland outside the government approved settlement to find the 'book people' and be asked "what have you to offer [Montag]?"

* Fahrenheit 451

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
List five things you would save if your home caught fire.

1. The rats, obviously.
2. My external hard drive.  It contains both my dissertations and all my photos from 2003 onwards.  I should probably back it up actually...
3. My iPod.  A damn sight easier than saving my entire shelf of CDs and representing 10 years or more of music collection.
4. Manics cds.  I know what I said above, but as I said in a previous entry, they are more than the physical cd. 
5. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.  This book is the bible (even down to the wafer thin paper) of university study.  It's more highlighter and biro now than it is printed word and the dust jacket was lost long ago, but I wouldn't go near an academic course without it.  It's glorious.

In other news, I seem to be experience some sort of crazy (har har) hypo-manic mixed episode which has only happened to me a couple of times before and is as much fun as you would expect.  Fuck off brain.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
I only made it to 19 last year, I hope to exceed that this year.

Books I've read this year (2011)

1. Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea. - Barbara Demick Fascinating and moving - turns out I knew less than I thought about North Korea. Literally the only criticism I have is that the epilogue hadn't been proofread properly, that's it!
2.Y: The Last Man Vol. 2 Cycles - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr. More of the same from Vol 1.  There remains a bit too much feminist fail for my liking but I do still want to read to the end of the series to see where they are taking it.

3. The Sign of Four: The Complete Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

4. Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett Missing, in my opinion, the usual effortless expression of Pratchett and a hundred or so pages too long I was vaguely disappointed with this offering, although I still enjoyed it very much.
5. Stitches - David Small Incredible graphic novel of an astonishing life story. It took me an hour and a half to read but it somehow felt like I was in a different week by the end of the book.  Really moving and beautifully, stunningly drawn.
6. Blankets - Craig Thompson One of the most beautiful books I have ever read, found myself caressing the pages as I read.  Felt like I'd fallen in love for the first time as Craig does the same. Feel hopeless, and hopeful and lonely and scared in exact parallel with those emotions being experienced in the book.  And now - half an hour after finishing - I feel kind of empty.  And that means it is truly great.
7. A Selection of Sherlock Holmes stories from The Complete Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-Headed League, A Case of Identity, The Boscombe Valley Mystery - Arthur Conan Doyle.

8. The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable - Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby Beautifully illustrated and funny in the specific way older Discworld stories are.  I've had this book for years and for some reason it's taken me until now to read, but I'm glad I held on to it.
9. Suburban Glamour - Jamie McKelvie This, whilst appealing and diverting enough, wasn't really my thing - I think I would have appreciated it when I was 17/18 (the age of the protagonist Astrid) but it didn't really speak to me.  I bought it because I like Jamie McKelvie's collaboration with Kieron Gillen on the two Phonogram books but evidently it is Gillen's story telling not McKelvie's drawings which appeal most.
10. Berlin: City of Stones - Jason Lutes Quite hard to follow as character drawings seemed to vary wildly from one page to the next but I got there in the end and found I was quite overcome by the hopelessness of the characters' fates.  Thought provoking stuff.

11. Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995  - Joe Sacco I read this because of my impending trip to Bosnia and surrounding area and beyond hazy childhood memories of the war, I knew little about it.  This is a compelling, beautiful, moving and above all honest account of the war, as seen by a handful of people in a small enclave.  There was no romanticisation of the people and no narrative judgement on the politics.  It was an illuminating read and wonderfully suited to the graphic form.
12.The October Country - Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 is one of my all-time favourite books so I wanted to read more by Bradbury; I'd heard about 'The Skeleton' so tracked down a collection it was included in.  This book is 90% pure pulp fiction and 10% exciting writing.  Not a life changer but the stories are short enough to read one per half-hour-lunch-break and diverting enough.

13. Nailed to History: The Story of Manic Street Preachers - Martin Power Absolutely brilliant.  Made me laugh and cry and write an extensive review on Amazon - I have nothing but praise for this book.  A must read for all Manics fans.
14. The Fall - Albert Camus My second ever Camus book and all I can think, as I greedily read each successive sentence, is 'where have you been all my life?!'; a delight from start to finish.  Also, the perfect follow on from my Manics book as I think the protagonist and Richey Edwards share a world view.
15. 1984 - George Orwell Second (or third?) time I've read this and the first re-read I've done since 2009.  I would say this is a doubleplusgood book....Seriously though, it's fabulous.  Never fails to penetrate my subconscious and seep out in dreams for months afterwards.  It reads in a deceptively short space of time despite how dense the content is.  Also, my copy is beginning to look pleasingly dog-eared.
16. The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh: to His Brother and Others; 1872-1890 - Vincent Van Gogh I wrote in more detail about my feelings about this book here but, in summary, it is beautiful, sad, universal, and all too human.

17. A Romance with Cocaine - M. Ageyev Read this purely because it's mentioned in Nailed to History (see number 13 above) as being the last book Richey read before he disappeared.  Like other examples of Russian Literature I've read it suffered from a cracking beginning which got mind-crushingly-in-depth before running out of steam.  Don't get me wrong - it's a good book, and an intriguing story with a likeably-dislikeable protagonist - but you need to keep up the pace if you read it, which in the end I didn't, and it's not really one to read anywhere other than in a silent room.
18. Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone - J. K. Rowling - News seems to be saturated with Potter at the moment with HP7b being released (and storming the box office) prompted me to start what I've been threatening to do since HP7 came out back in 2007: reread the whole series.
19. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J. K. Rowling
20. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J. K. Rowling

21. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J. K. Rowling - I actually forgot who dies in this book and as (*spoiler!!*) Sirious is amongst my favourite characters it came as something of a body blow. It is one hell of a book.  Possible the best in the series.
22. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - J. K. Rowling - plot, plot, plot, plot. Until the last couple of hundred pages when, once again, I was glued to the page.
23. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J. K. Rowling - I got home from a car showroom and sat from 4pm until 1am reading the whole book - in floods of tears for the last 300 pages or so - something that didn't happen last time I think because I read it in hostels and on buses as I travelled around South America.  The deaths of Lupin, Tonks, Fred and Dobby hit me particularly hard as I just had no recollection of them.  Still crying half an hour after finishing reading - for those losses, and for coming to the end of the series again.

24. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick - Another reread. I remember adoring this book, then I started reading and it seemed a bit flat...then it got gooood.  And I remember why I adore it.  Bleak and beautiful.
25. Several Sherlock Holmes short stories from The Complete Sherlock Holmes; The Five Orange Pips, The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, The Adventure of the Engineers Thumb, The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor - Arthur Conan Doyle

26. Habibi - Craig Thompson - Rich and sumptuous in mythology and illustration this gave me many of the things I adored about Blankets (6.) but with an indefinable 'something' missing. It was immersive but also violent - at least 3 rape scenes. The exploration of story telling in religion was a wonderful way to structure the narrative but the degree to which the story jumped around verged on distracting.  On the other hand, I was horribly depressed whilst reading this so I think that may have negatively impacted on my experience of this graphic.  Nonetheless, I'd recommend it to a friend and Craig Thompson remains a favourite.
27. The Fixer; A Story from Sarajevo - Joe Sacco - Occasionally clumpy in narrative style, nevertheless another great graphic - telling an uncomfortable story about some aspects of the Bosnian forces during the Balkans war in the 1990s.  I recognised some streets and scenes from my July trip and had the stories, as they were told to me then, to compare Sacco's collected accounts to which made it all the more interesting.


28. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - I got a Kindle for Christmas (although I didn't know I wanted one..) and resolved I would not pay for any eBooks for it, so went in search of titles I knew on free-to-download/out-of-copyright sites.  I read this years ago and couldn't remember why I enjoyed it so much so revisited it.  As wonderful and immersive and pointless as ever;  I remember and do not remember why I enjoyed it all at once.
29. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum - I was sure I had read this before but it was all new (as much as it can be when one has watched The Wizard of Oz so many times) to me and merged into a pleasing puddle of fantasy and whimsy in my imagination with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
INSTRUCTIONS: Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes [do they really? Anyone ever seen this list originally? [Edit; Yes! But it was the Guardian!]] most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Bold those books you've read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read an excerpt.

Read more... )
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
As part of the massive clean out that is taking place on my Nan's flat as she downsizes, my Dad is rescuing certain curios, presumably to pass this job onto me when he hits 94 and moves to a smaller place. You can be assured that when that happens, I shall be keeping this particular book safe from the tip;

The Universal


Birth Control:
The first thing that all young married people ought to realize is that there is no convenient time for having babies, and that it is best for young people to have their babies right away and face possible hardships than to wait for a 'convenient' time, which is hardly ever likely to arrive....Nature's plan, as that great philosopher, Dr. Havelock Ellis, has pointed out, is to provide an excess of offspring and to ensure that at all events a small proportion of them will escape the risks of destruction and carry on the race.

The eyebrows are one of man's prerogatives. Some birds have specially arranged feathers above the eyes, and the seal has a few stiff hairs; but no animal, not even the higher apes, can lay claim to true eyebrows.

Mental Hygiene:
The shocks experienced at the dawn of adolescence by both boys and girls who have not been prepared for the normal developments which take place at that period in their lives has driven many a youth and maiden to self-destruction.

In general, there is very good evidence for the inheritance of at least some forms of mental trouble; thus it would be wiser for those in whose families there is a history of mental disorder not to beget children. At the present time in this country, there is no law enforcing the sterilisation of physically or mentally unfit persons. The question of producing mentally or physically unsound children is one which must be left to the public conscience [emphasis mine]

Electricity in Medicine:
Types of current: Galvanism is the name given to current direct or flowing in one direction when used medically...Application and uses of Galvanism: Central Galvanism or Galvanism applied to the brain or spinal cord, is given in such cases as: Mentally or physically under-developed children; persons subject to seizures of an epileptic form or true epilepsy in its early stages; all forms of nervous exhaustion brought about by overwork, worry, or ill-health; nervous headaches and shell-shock.

It would be a mistake to suggest this book has stepped entirely from an unrecognisable past, after all it was published at the end of World War II - the world was changing - and in some ways it is very forward thinking;

Young women are said to feel the urgency of this problem [wanting to have sex] less than do young men and those who do feel it are often looked upon as abnormal, but this is an unfair view. The modern young woman has her sex problems almost as much as the young man does, and her remedies are the same as his, mentioned above [sublimate the problem, engage in games]. Healthy companionship of the two sexes in work and play is the best safeguard against sex difficulties.

Mental disease
is one of the penalties of civilisation and there is no doubt that owing to the rush and hurry of modern life it is - at any rate in its milder forms - on the increase....the old stigma of being a 'certified lunatic' has been largely removed, as any patients who are no actually incapable of understanding their position can now be received in mental hospitals as voluntary and temporary patients. No relative should hesitate to risk the delayed recovery of a person mentally ill because he fears the words 'mental hospital'.
This book has everything; average height and weights of adults aged 16 to 50 (in order to tell if you are obese), a guide to absinthe drinkers, home facials, exercises for fat necks, what to do with your "difficult child" (send them to a Ministry of Health and Education hostel in the country). In the a-z section there is everything from nostalgia to neurosis, obesity (fat clogs the brain!) to obsession.

There are even diet plans; the Banting diet (lose 35lbs in 38 weeks!) is, the book confesses, "a form of starvation, as it, practically speaking, comprises protein food alone". Yes, you guessed it; it's the original Atkins diet. There is also a 3 and a half page entry on hysteria - the longest entry in this 832 page tome I've found on anything as yet. There is also one of the most terrifying instruments I have ever seen illustrated; a 'magnet for Extracting Metallic Foreign Body from the Eye' - it's a massive cylinder about 10 foot long and 2 feet in diameter

With this resource at my fingertips, I ask you, dear reader, what information would you like? Give me a word, condition or affliction and I shall look it up and post the entry in a new post here soon.

The next post will also include the full entry on 'absinthe'.

* There doesn't seem to be a publishing date anywhere but based on mentions of 'recent' years, I estimate it was published in 1945 or 1946
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
So, in what can only be described as a predictable development, I have been signed off work with 'stress exhaustion'. As I remarked to a friend on Friday, I can and have continued to work whilst this stressed but it does not end well, and why make myself ill over a job I hate?

I've just begun reading Moby Dick and, like Ishmael, when I feel the hopeless melancholy and pervasive paranoia descend my greatest wish is to flee the soulless city for the wild and absolute anonymity of nature. I find myself in my parents house where the question of how I've come to have a week off work remains prominently unasked.

I'm finding some sort of comfort in the silence which envelops this house, only the birds break the silence morning or night. In the void left by city bustle, of course, rests my frantic thoughts. A lifetime of listening to the anxious nonsense which spills forth provides no help in trying, as I am now, to quieten that hysterical rambling.

On Saturday night I attended a family gathering for my Mother's brother's 70th birthday, it's been around 8 years since I have seen that side of the family and once again I was misrecognised as my brother's girlfriend; a peculiar and embarrassing mistake. My Mother's other brother asked me if I still wanted to do a PhD, I told him I was desperate to, he told me he anticipated it's completion so that he could boast about having a Doctor in the family. I smiled. I am the first person on both sides of my not unsubstantial family to go to University, an honour which seems to leave me irrevocably distanced from a family of the terminally unemployable and the lifelong incapacitated. It's odd to regret your success in that sense and harder still to sense the weight of pride which urges me on to gain appropriate employment and fulfil that most loaded of words, my 'potential'.

Which all leaves me firmly where I started, laying in bed at my parents house, reading a book by torch light wondering just how much the protagonist and I have in common. Am I, like Ishmael, fated to go down this disasterous road too blind to change course, too weak in the face of hopeless destiny to break out an original course?
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)

Ever since I can remember, sci-fi has been a staple in my imaginative life.  Whether it be Sunday mornings on the sofa with my eldest brother watching the original series of Star Trek, Tuesday afternoon's after school watching Bucky O'Hare, and later, The Girl from Tomorrow*; or one summer when I got a book called Interstellar Pig out of the library and read it twice in the space of a week, sci-fi has always been there.

While other kids worried about monsters under the bed or bullies in the school yard I quizzed my brothers and my Dad on the likelihood of alien invasion and what a post-nuclear holocaust world would be like (not good.  Actually, my Dad was a policeman and as a result had a place in a nuclear bunker.  He told us he would not take it because he would rather die with us than live in the dystopian nightmare of a post-nuclear world, but I digress...)

I recently bought the Star Trek: The Next Generation movie boxset and have begun a chronological re-watch, it struck me as I watched it just what appeals so much to be about the sci-fi genre.  Primarily, it's about possibility, the possibility of a better civilisation, and of a better way of being human. I think this is particularly appealing to children who, by default, have utopian motivations: what kid hasn't asked "why do we need money, can't we just exchange goods as we need them?" and many sci-fi plots tap directly into this, the most notable example probably being Star Trek. 

Secondly I think the key strength is being able to distance yourself from contemporary society in order to make a critique of it.  This is, in my opinion, most successfully achieved through dystopian futures where the sci-fi element has amplified and taken a contemporary problem to its logical and/or most extreme conclusion.  Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Day After Tomorrow all make direct and clear critique through the bleak realisation of the worst parts of our society in a not-so-distant future or through one catastrophic event.  Frequently this type of narrative is related to us through the perspective of one character who is either the only one to recognise their surroundings as a perversion of all that is good and right, or the only one to find out an inherent truth about the world - such as how it came about or how their government has lied to them in order to maintain order through fear.  The one-on-one interaction between reader/viewer and protagonist heightens the sense of horror or disgust at what the world has/could become. Resurfacing from this sort of fiction, for me at least, usually leaves me with a strong sense of isolation from the world as you feel that, through the lens of the fiction, you alone are seeing the world for what it is and the inherent horror of what is to come if things remain unchanged.  Personally, I find the immersive experience of this most compelling and offering the most absolute opportunity for a shift in one's world view.

We've also got sci-fi where Earth/humanity/the world as we know it is largely blameless and passive in its downfall.  We're talking War of the Worlds, Independence Day, and, at a stretch, 2001: A Space Odyssey (HAL destroys the microcosm of humanity on the ship)  Whilst the film does not make an explicit critique of society in itself, there is usually a lot to be taken from the commentary it gives us of political and social concerns of the time.  Most often there is a conclusion which reasserts the superiority of humanity over the cruel, violent 'other'.  It would be unfair to argue that such sci-fi primarily sures up the patriarchal, well established order of contemporary society because such a conclusion doesn't allow for the nuances in such works, what it commonly does is give cause for positive reflection on the contemporary audience's surroundings and mediates larger concerns about threats of international war, disputes and political uncertainty.

Finally there is transformative sci-fi where an individual, group or the whole of humanity is completely altered after an encounter of some sort, think E.T., Back to the Future, Batteries Not Included, Flight of the Navigator.  This takes the notion of possibility I mentioned at the beginning to it's logical conclusion and provides an often temporary or imperfect utopia behind for those connected to the events.  Much like the sub-genre of humanity being passive in it's demise I mention above I think such works reveal more about the socio-political environment in which they were made than reflecting in any broader sense on humanity.  The films I mention above were made in the '80's and I believe speak both of the over-riding confidence in the organisation and potential of society and also the concern which accompanies rapid social and technological change.  More advanced technologies and races contact humanity and whilst there is fear and misapprehension the end result is positive, even if there are difficulties on the road to resolution.

Overall, what sci-fi offers is the opportunity for a damned good adventure, outside of the day-to-day cares of the audience's contemporary world whilst remaining rooted enough in reality and truth that it can provide either a positive reflection on that which an audience wishes to escape or a solution for the ills of mankind.  For me, it provides a sophisticated commentary on what is, what is not and what could be.  It does not flinch from portraying the very worst aspects of humanity - the very thing which so concerned me in my childhood fantasies of how the world would end.  If the only way to be prepared for the unknown is to imagine every possibility then sci-fi provides the perfect forum for that to happen in.  Imagination is unbidden by technology, politics and social reality.  Even the essential human condition can be altered through the genre.  In short, sci-fi matters because it can speak about everything and make commentary - both positive and negative - without having to engage in the minutiae of how we get from here to there and in so doing it can subtly or overtly provide a new way of viewing that which surrounds us.

So yes, I am a sci-fi geek, but it's ok, because it's intellectual.

* As the only kid in my class who watched/enjoyed The Girl from Tomorrow I would play alone at break time the next day, with my hair band pulled down across my forehead, a la the Transducer.  It will come as no surprise to you that I wasn't terribly popular at school.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Books I've Read This Year.

January - February:
1. The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
2. Making Money - Terry Pratchett
3. Nation - Terry Pratchett
4. Once Upon a Time in the North - Philip Pullman; my absolute favourite character throughout the Northern Lights trilogy was Lee and Hester, I cried more for their death than anyone else.  This book was a delight as a result.
5. Lyra's Oxford - Philip Pullman
6. The Road - Cormac McCarthy; fascinating narrative technique.  Absolutely immersive

7. Looking Backwards 1887-2000 - Edward Bellamy; utopia/dystopia fiction from the Victorian period will never cease to fascinate me.

8. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess; A fascinating exploration in the readers own tolerance of 'ultra-violence' and how quickly your loyalty can be gained by the self confessed and well established villain of the piece. Wonderfully written, my narrative theory inclinations were aroused.
9. Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi; Better than the film
10. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic - Alison Bechdel; oh god it's ike academic graphic novel (autobiography) porn! Describing your own life events in terms of narrative theory? YES. 

May - July (inclusive):
11. Moby Dick - Herman Melville; Without a doubt, now one of my favourite Romantic novels.  Fascinating to see the Romantic impulse directed to descriptions of 'the Levianthan' (Sperm whales) and the 'iron soul' of man; "Alike, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, seemed ground to finest dust, and powdered, for the first time, in the clamped mortar of Ahab's iron soul"

12. Snakes & Earrings - Hitomi Kanehara (perhaps in need of a better translation? Very clumpy)
13. Starship Troopers - Robert A. Heinlein Brilliant. Much better than expected. Made me reconsider my thoughts about capital punishment and military endeavour which is no small feat.

14. Phonogram: Rue Britannia - Jamie Mckelvie & Kieron Gillen Phenomenal. A leaving gift from a friend in Brighton and all about being a(n obsessive) music fan and, in particular, a Manics fan.

15. Phonogram: The Singles Club - Jamie Mckelvie & Kieron Gillen Different in music content than Rue Britannia but I felt the characters were better drawn (narratively speaking, not artistically!)
16. The Outsider - Albert Camus Was still thinking about those 118 pages long after I finished it.  Awesome.

17. The Fry Chronicles - Stephen Fry Everything I hate about autobiographies, endlessly ego masturbation, lists of 'celebrity' names and uninspiring 448 pages covering just 9 years? In no detail? 9 years in which NOTHING HAPPENS? Never read a book in such serious need of editing.

18. Sherlock Holmes; A Study in Scarlet - Arthur Conan Doyle  Finally reading the glorious tome I was given last Christmas and enjoying it ever bit as much as I anticipated.  So far it is only the first story I can tick off, but yes, glorious. 
19. Y: The Last Man. Vol 1. Unmanned - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra Not brilliant, but certainly very engaging. The dialogue lags in places, but on the whole it works; I'll be buying volume 2, so that says it all really.


askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
a sky gone on fire

August 2017

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