Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Monk read-a-long, Weeks Four and Five, or Shit Goes Down At The Convent and I Finish This Crazy Book Once And For All

Subtly merging two posts into one, because sshh.

Theodore disguises himself to go to the convent and see what's really become of Agnes, because his master is too heartbroken to do anything. Theodore, you are the breakout star of this book. I love his ridiculous lies and weird stories about Denmark. Also, he gets results- in the form of a Secret Note. Oooh. Is Agnes secretly alive? (Spoiler: yes.)

Ambrosio is even more my least favourite person ever. Holy shit, what a dirtbag. He tries to rape Antonia (again) and then murders Elvira when she intervenes. At least he shows some guilt about it and it puts him out of his rapey mood. For that day, anyway. Holy shit.

Matthew Lewis continues his happy plagirism with a potion that will make Antonia seem dead, so that Ambrosio can happily rape her in the privacy of her own tomb.

This book. This fucking book.

Anyway, he rapes her in a seriously squicky scene and she dies, because obviously that's what happens. Lewis couldn't have let her live after she went and got herself raped, now could he? As for Lorenzo, he conveniently meets someone called Virginia- because she's a nice pure virgin who hasn't been raped, obvs- and he falls for her and they forget all about poor Antonia. Seriously, I know, product of its time and all that but blegh.

On a less depressing note, Lorenzo calls in the Spanish Inquisition. Were you expecting that? I sure wasn't.

Any excuse for Monty Python.

It's all for finding out what happened to Agnes, who, as we might have guessed by now, was being held prisoner in a dungeon and basically starved and left to give birth on her own. This is so nightmarish I can't even. Also, gotta love how the nuns are like "hey, we didn't want to leave her to die in the dungeon! We were going to poison her instead!"

I hate everyone in this book. 

At least Matilda and Ambrosio get their comeuppance? In a way that fits with the tone of the rest of the book, of course- Matilda being burnt at the stake and Ambrosio, umm, being dropped onto rocks by Satan. Nice one, Matthew. 

So that was The Monk! Holy shit, what a crazy book. It's absolutely terrible, but I think I sort of loved it? Thanks Alice for hosting! Here's some of my favourite Nevilles I never found room for. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Moby Dick read-a-long: Weeks One and Two!

I think we've established that I'm pretty terrible at keeping to post schedules for read-a-longs. I can keep up with the reading, fine, but then I never seem to find the time to actually write the damn posts on time. Anyway, here's weeks one and two!

Week One

1) So, first impressions. What do we think of the novel?

I was wonderfully surprised to find that I got really into it straight away! Seriously, so much more readable than I expected. I have a touch of fondness for the nautical, so the idea of setting off on a sea voyage is awesome.

2) What about Ishmael's attitude to Queequeg? Is is tolerance ahead of its time of just a form of casual racism?

Ahhh, Queequeg. Right, I have a lot to say about Queequeg/Ishmael.

So, Queequeg is basically introduced as the stereotypical savage/cannibal and all those things that make you wince because holy racism, Batman even though this was pretty much exactly standard for the time etc etc. But I don't think it's really as simple as that- Queequeg is actually a pretty fleshed out, honorable character. (There's some complicated race and nautical themed stuff in Melville's Benito Cereno too, just to give that a shout-out.)

I like his and Ishmael's weird friendship. Actually, it's more than a friendship, right?

"... giving a sudden grunt of astonishment he began feeling me..."
"Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife."

Just to give a few examples. I ship it, what can I say.

3) Do you think Ishmael should have heeded Elijah's spooky warning?

Probably. I don't think he would though; he's much too determined to go to sea. Probably for the best, because then where would we be?

4) Captain Ahab! He's almost with us. What do you expect from him?

He's a bit of an enigma, isn't he? I have high hopes. I want him to be grumpy and cantankerous and full of rage towards all whales.

Week Two

1) We've met Captain Ahab now. What do you think of him? Did he meet your expectations? Who would you cast to play him in a movie?

Not quite as grumpy as I'd hoped, but surprisingly rather likeable, I thought. I can sort of understand his motivation; I'd be pretty pissed to lose my leg too.

I was curious to see what adaptations there were of Moby-Dick, and apparently there's a 1956 movie with Gregory Peck as Ahab. Not who I would have chosen, but how awesome is the poster?

I think I'd go for someone appropriately rugged and gruff. I keep coming back to Ciaran Hinds.

2. Some chapters seem to focus on action and attempt to move the story along, whilst others seem to ponder the concept of whaling and life. Do you find one type easier to follow than the other?

Hahaha. Yeah, I think we all know the answer to that. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggled with this week's reading after last week was plain sailing (pun intended). I'm usually not even one to complain about books with a lack of action in them, but yeah, I'm not sure having so much musing on whaling was really necessary. I understand what he's doing (I think... I hope) but it sure doesn't make for easy reading. 

3. Keeping in mind everything we've learned about whaling this week, has it changed your views on it at all?

Not so much- I'm as against killing any sort of animals as ever, obviously. But I've enjoyed learning more about it- it's really freaking weird when you think about it. Let's hunt ridiculously large and dangerous animals in order to turn them into candle wax! That's some crazy shit. I think they're all crazy.

4. Why do you think Herman Melville suddenly branches off into lectures about how acceptable/difficult/clean whaling is?

I guess it's part of the whole thing where Moby-Dick isn't really about whales at all but Melville's own musings about life. At the same time, I really wasn't expecting him to go into quite as much detail about whales. I still don't know what that encyclopaedia-ish part was all about. Or how accurate it is.

5. Do the scientific misconceptions bother you at all? ie. that whales were fishes, etc. 

Not really. I've always figured taxonomical classifications of animals are a bit vague and useless anyway... I mean, a dimetrodon looks a heck of a lot like a reptile but is technically a mammal, and platypuses just ruin everything by somehow being mammals that lay eggs. Like, what.

Just an excuse to share my love of platypuses, ridiculous creatures that they are.
So if you wanna call a whale a fish, be my guest I suppose.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Monk-a-long Week Three, or In Which Things Get Even More Ridiculous

Look, I suck at getting read-a-long posts up on time. I admit this. But I'm here now. Have a Neville.

Damn right.

This week's reading was short, but so much happened!

I'm starting to really hate Ambrosio. My god, what a skeeve. "I'm going to have sex with you! And then blame you for it! And then ditch you for someone else as soon as I get bored with you!" I'm probably not supposed to but I'm Team Matilda all the way. Okay, so she's tempting him or whatever because she's the devil, but I'm still blaming Ambrosio for the whole thing.

I had my suspicions about Matilda, but as soon as she said "I'm going to cure myself of this deadly poison, don't ask me how" I knew, yep, she's the devil. I think I'm actually disappointed? I went into this book with my lit student head on, looking for themes to do with gender and religion and to have Matilda as the devil just seems like a bit of a cop out. Anyone else get the sense M G Lewis is just making this up as he goes along?

Antonia and Elvira return. I can't think of Elvira without thinking of this Elvira.

Ambrosio would probably hit that.

Ambrosio reminds Elvira of someone, but she can't think who. HMMMM. Seriously, is there any doubt that Ambrosio is secretly her son? M G Lewis, subtlety is not your strong point. But, I guess we've already established that.

Ambrosio doesn't know this yet though, so now that he's bored of Matilda he moves swiftly to the next female shaped object under thirty. God, Antonia- her extreme naivety about love just makes Ambrosio's advances worse. And he knows full well what he's doing. Are we supposed to read him as possessed at this point? He's just coming across like an rapist asshole. 

Just... just fuck you, Amrosio.

So, Matilda is actually pretty chill with this and wants to help Ambrosio out with witchcraft, and he agrees, because again, he's an asshole. I suspect he knew all along what she was doing. I mean, he could have guessed. Aren't monks supposed to be on the lookout for things like this?

Thus concludes the section! I've already read next week's (okay, this week's) section so I know what happens. And damn, shit goes down.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon!

Yay, it's back! And for once I'm not actually working! Sure, I'm a little late to the party but the plan is to write this post and then get stuck in for the rest of the 24 hours.

Book stack pictures don't really work when you're mostly going to be e-reading, do they? Sigh. Okay, so the plan is:

1) Uni reading! That book on the far right is Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I'm about 100 pages from the end so I really want to get it finished! Then on the Kindle I've got Charlotte Brontë's Villette, which I'd like to get a good start on- maybe 100-200 pages. I also have random essays/academic reading I have to do which I'm totally counting in my page count, because why not?

2) I've got this week's section of The Monk to read for Alice's Monk-a-Long, so I'd like to get that done. Also on the kindle.

3) And on the purely recreational front, I've got The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson on the Kindle and The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson, both of which count as RIP reads. Yay!

See how I'm seamlessly able to combine uni work and other reading challenges with this readathon? That's the plan anyway...

Introductory survey!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I'll be reading from my parents' house in Armagh, Northern Ireland. It's warmer than my own house and has lots of cats roaming around to help/distract me!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? 
The Haunting of Hill House, because I've heard such good things and I feel like a good scare.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
These Hallowe'en Starbursts. I was obsessed with them last year but forgot all about them until I saw them in a shop yesterday. So, I'll be devouring these until they disappear for another year...

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm Gemma, I'm studying a post-grad in literature while working ridiculous hours at a fast food restaurant. I like cats, coffee and denim and Halloween is my favourite time of year.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do differently today? 
For the first time that I can remember, I'm not working at all during the readathon! So, hopefully more reading will be involved than usual.

Update: 5:26 pm (Hours 1-5 and a bit)

Reading: Orlando by Virginia Woolf, "Context Stinks!" by Rita Felski
Pages read: 80
Books finished: Orlando
Snacks consumed: two cups of coffee, crisps, more Starburst than I'd like to admit...

I finished my first book, yay! Okay, so I didn't have all that much left to read, but still. Starting on my academic essays now, which are much slower going as I'm taking notes and looking up things and all that jazz. My dad's bringing home Chinese in a bit so it might be time for a break and maybe some The Monk before I get back to reading about criticism about historicism...

Update: 8.58 pm (Hours 6-8)

Reading: The Monk by M G Lewis, also two articles: "Context Stinks!" by Rita Felski and "The Unfinished Historicist Project" by J Kuchich
Pages read: 47
Total pages read: 127
Books finished: both articles
Total books finished: 1, plus 2 articles
Snacks consumed: a Chinese takeaway, more coffee, a little chocolate, and more of those Starbursts

Had my Chinese, read a little of The Monk, and then plowed into the two essays. Got them both finished, which means it's strictly fiction reading from here on out, yay! Weirdly, a readathon context is actually a good time to do academic reading- I'm in the mood for sitting quietly and focused reading. The plan now is maybe a little The Monk before I get stuck into Villette. 

Update: 12.24 am (Hours 9-11 and a bit)

Reading: The Monk by M G Lewis, Villette by Charlotte Brontë
Pages read: 190
Total pages read: 317
Books finished: none
Total books finished: 1, plus 2 articles
Snacks consumed: a cup of tea to wake myself up, plus some pick & mix

Had a great three hours and a bit, mostly reading Villette- I've read it before, a few years back, but I don't remember it being anywhere near this good. It probably helps that my French is much better now (so, so much French in this book) and that since my first read, I have experienced teaching French teenagers like Lucy Snowe. There's so much snark in this book too. I love it.

I will be going to bed fairly soon- I don't function well without sleep, and I have work tomorrow night, so staying up all night is out of the question. I'll see how I go though. I want to finish reading this week's portion of The Monk (which is such a weird book, seriously) and hopefully get started on The Haunting of Hill House before I fall asleep.

Mid-event survey!

1. What are you reading right now?
I was reading Villette, but I'm going to go back to The Monk to finish this week's read-a-long chapters.

2. How many books have you read so far?
I've read from three, finished one, and also read two academic articles. Yay for combining uni work and readathons!

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-Thon?
The Haunting of Hill House, still!

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
I haven't actually had many! By happy coincidence my family got takeaway Chinese so I didn't even need to cook dinner. Also, I'm 'doing uni work' so they haven't really been bothering me, lol. There's been a few times I've had to get up to tend to my cats, but even they're being surprisingly good, and are currently curled up sleeping under my bed :)

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-Thon so far?
How I've actually been able to sit down and read! I figured I'd get bored/distracted by hour 4 or so. But no, I'm actually pretty focused today for some reason.

Update: 1.15 pm (Hours 12-24)

Reading: The Monk by M G Lewis, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Villette by Charlotte Brontë
Pages read: 256
Total pages read: 573
Books finished: none
Total books finished: 1, plus 2 articles
Snacks consumed: cereal, orange juice, yet more coffee, yet more Starburts

It's the end! I finished my section of The Monk and then read The Haunting of Hill House until about 3 am or so. My cats woke me up early (I knew they were being suspiciously quiet last night...) and I got some more Villette in this morning before the end. It's been a blast.

Closing meme!

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
Probably at some point this morning, when I wanted to go back to bed but also wanted to read more Villette... so I made some coffee and ploughed on through. Worth it.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a reader engaged for next year?
See, I always end up reading difficult/long books for readathons- I don't necessarily agree with the wisdom that short books are best for readathons. But The Haunting of Hill House is a good one I guess- it's quite short and definitely high-interest. I really want to go back to reading more!

3. What do you think worked really well in this year's readathon?
The challenges- I didn't participate in any of them personally but I liked looking at other people's responses.

4. How many books did you read?/5. What were the names of the books you read?
- last 78 pages of Orlando by Virginia Woolf
- article: "Context Stinks!" by Rita Felski
- 79 pages of The Monk by M G Lewis
- article: "The Unfinished Historicist Project" by J Kuchich
- first 195 pages of Villette by Charlotte Brontë
- first 184 pages of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

So, I finished one, read two articles and read from three others.

6. Which book did you enjoy the most?
Probably The Haunting of Hill House- I'm dying to get back and finish it. Villette was also unexpectedly awesome.

7. Which did you enjoy the least?
If we're including articles, the Kuchich. If not, The Monk. I'm never sure whether I love or hate that book... it's just getting steadily more ridiculous.

8. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-Thon again?
Oh, I'm sure I'll be here again in April, no matter what! I had a great time. It was nice being able to do it properly and not having to work for once. I'm so happy with how much reading I got done!

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Moby-Dick Read-a-Long: Week Zero

I'm late to the party! I started this post ages ago, but I'm only getting to post it now. Better late than never though, right?

In the time since I started writing this post I've actually read most of the first week's reading... but let's pretend I haven't, sshh.

1. What were you expecting from the novel? Do you have any preconceptions?
I've heard two things: that it's really good, and that it's really boring. So, I'm not really sure what to expect. I've read some of Melville's other stuff (Benito Cereno and Bartleby the Scrivener) and really enjoyed those though, so I'm hoping we'll get on okay.

2. What do you already know about the plot or character?
1) There's a guy called Ishmael
2) There's a guy called Captain Ahab
3) One of these characters (?) is obsessed with hunting a whale.

That's... basically it.

3. This book, unlike War and Peace isn't a translation? Do you think that will make a difference?
Although the War and Peace read-a-long was before I had a blog, I was reading along at home. Consistency of character names is one thing that comes to mind! Plus, we'll be judging Melville more than any translator. So no room for excuses like, "Well, it probably sounded better in Russian..."

4. Have you read Moby-Dick before? What prompted you to read it now?

I've been considering reading it for some time, but was always scared off by all the reports that it's really dull and full of whaling terminology. I downloaded it in a free Kindle book binge about a week before Hanna put up her poll, so it seemed like fate.

5. Show us a photo of your book!

Y'all have such pretty editions, but as I said, mine is just the free Kindle edition.

Blah. But, having it on the Kindle is actually a good thing because it lets me look up any obscure nautical/whaling words that will inevitably come up. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Monkalong, Week 2 or Yes, This is What I Signed Up For.

Hey! Well, it didn't take me long to fall behind in updates, but better late than never, right? This week I started my MA and worked eight days in a row. Five of which were overnight shifts.

Literally me this week

I enjoyed this week's reading! A lot of you seemed pretty bemused by Raymond's 'let me tell you how I tried to seduce your sister and ended up pledging my love to a ghost, whoops' but I really liked it. Bands of murderers and creepy ghost nuns are far more up my street than hormonal monks. I have a thing for the slightly-OTT gothic, what can I say. Though I TOTALLY saw the Agnes/ghost switcheroo coming. If your loved one is in a costume, check it's them first before you do anything drastic.

If Vivien had read The Monk, a lot of shit could have been avoided.

Raymond's name is bugging me. Matthew Lewis, you should have just stuck with Alphonse for his name, if only because it goes with Lorenzo better. I have an uncle Raymond. He's in his fifties, wears jumpers and rarely leaves his farm. Raymond is not the name of a Marquis's son.

Also, I think Raymond's a bit of a drama queen. So, he gets in the carriage smash and dislocates his arm and breaks two ribs and his "left leg was shattered so terribly, that I never expected to recover its use". I mean, that's pretty serious stuff. But he seems to recover remarkably quickly from such serious injuries and doesn't even mention his leg again. I'm guessing he scraped his knee and the peasants were just like, humouring him.

Everyone else picked up on the diatribe about writing: "In short, to enter the lists of literature is wilfully to expose yourself to the arrows of neglect, ridicule, envy, and disappointment." I'm taking that as permission to poke fun at this book as much as possible. JK, Matthew Lewis, I like you really, despite your ridiculousness.

Some stuff about families allowing/not allowing the marriage blah blah, and then we find out that Agnes is dead! Or is she? I'm guessing either she's not dead at all or the nunnery has had her quietly disposed of. Either way, it's all very suspicious.

That's it for this week! I've already read next week's reading so hopefully my post will be up on time. Because I have feelings about it. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

September mini reviews

I read nine books in September, which is pretty good! I was helped a lot by Bex's re-readathon and a nice run of high-interest library books which kept me reading. My MA starts this month so I'm expecting life to get crazy again, but here's some mini-reviews of things I read in September!


Four of my nine books were re-reads- the first two Harry Potter books, as I reread the series pretty much every year, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which I only read a couple of years ago and is still wonderful, and Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which I read when I was fourteen-ish and was desperately overdue for a reread. So that was great fun, and hopefully there'll be another re-readathon before long! 

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood

I'm working my way through Margaret Atwood's books, and while I didn't like this one quite as much as Oryx and Crake or The Handmaid's Tale, it was still a great read. As I wrote in my post back when I was still at the start of it the plot is really hard to describe- a woman's sister dies and the story is a remembrance of their upbringing during the Depression and her unhappy marriage, interspersed with newspaper articles and extracts from the sister's famous novel- which is itself a story within a story. Wonderfully unique and interesting.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I still maintain that this book is really badly named, since Bernadette doesn't even disappear until two-thirds of the way through the novel, but there you go. It's a satire on the hipster-yuppie life of a family and a community in Seattle, where the characters are concerned about the appearance of each other's backyards and who participates more in the PTA. It's weirdly interesting. It's also told in a mixture of emails and Bernadette's teenage daughter's point of view, and there's parts of it set in Antarctica. Definitely an interesting one.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

So this is one of those books that I kept hearing about, and even though it sounded a bit rom-com-ish for me I eventually had to check it out. I actually really liked it! In case you've somehow managed to avoid hearing about it, it's about Don, a very socially awkward/ambiguously disordered geneticist who tries to find a partner by way of a detailed compatibility survey. Of course, as you can probably expect the Rosie of the title shows up and predictably fails the survey in every way. But it managed to avoid being too formulaic due to the subject matter and it made me laugh, so, pretty great actually.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

Ohhhh, this book. So, if you've spent any time on my blog at all, you'll know that I love Jo Walton's Among Others more than life itself, but I hadn't read any of her other books. I picked this up from my local library and it probably wouldn't even have interested me if it was by another author, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I loved it so hard. It's about Patricia, an elderly woman suffering from dementia who remembers two different lives, branching off from a proposal in her early twenties- in one, she says yes and is Trish, housewife, and in the other she says no and is Pat, who goes to Italy with a friend and becomes a travel writer. And at first you think Pat's life is clearly the better of the two- Trish's marriage is definitely not a happy one- but both of their lives are so full of good things and tragedy and just, life things basically. Pat and Trish also live in subtly different alternate universes- like, in one JFK is never assassinated and the Cold War is a much bigger deal, in the other JFK is assassinated by a bomb. Little things like that were really interesting. And, yeah, this whole book was just life-affirming and made me cry so much. Highly, highly recommended. I have a couple of Jo Walton's other books lying around that are now going to have so much to live up to, whoops.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Honestly, this was a little underwhelming. I love John Green and this was the last of his books that I hadn't read, and I think I get now why no-one talks about this one as much as Looking for Alaska or The Fault in our Stars, say. So, Colin is an ex-child prodigy who has been dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl called Katherine, so he hits the road with his best friend and ends up in a tiny town in Tennessee, where he works on a mathematical theorem for break-ups. I liked this book- some of it was quite funny and I liked seeing Colin being called out on his bullshit in the end (seriously, Colin is the worst) but there was nothing very special or memorable about this book, to me anyway. And all the maths just made my eyes glaze over. Tut tut John Green, I expected better ;)

At the moment, I'm reading The Monk by M.G. Lewis for the readalong, The Martian by Andy Weir (which I've had for ages but have finally started since I want to see the movie but I want to read the book first!) and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. I'm expecting my life to get basically swallowed up next week when my MA starts, but hopefully I'll still have a bit of time for reading!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Monkalong- Week 1, or What The Hell Am I Reading?

The Monkalong is hosted by Alice at Reading Rambo. Join us!

Before we begin, can I just mention first of all the author's name?


I just keep thinking of this sexy bastard. Though I'm sure he would never write something like The Monk. Probably.

First impressions? This book is crazy.

So, in our first chapter, we get Antonia and her aunt and Lorenzo, so I'm all, okay, these are our protagonists, except it turns out Ambrosio is the actual protagonist. Which, I suppose, makes sense given the title of the book. Kind of a shame though- I was enjoying the banter compared to the sheer ridiculousness that is chapter 2.

Well, then again, chapter 1 does have mysterious gypsies. Hooray for that!

Speaking of which, there are a lot of songs so far, aren't there? I wasn't expecting this. Now I want it to be a stage musical.

Anyway. Chapter 2 is scandal and controversy. We've got a nun who turns out to have a lover and be pregnant, and then we've got a monk who is secretly a lady and seduces Ambrosio. Is there some sort of theme here about women and religion? It's the lit student in me that's drawing these conclusions. But we will see!

Oh, and I knew going in someone in this book was secretly crossdressing, so I was suspecting everyone until hey, it's Rosario/Matilda. Slightly disappointing, I was holding out for Ambrosio. Or Antonia.

Ooh, and I have two suspicions/predictions:

1) Someone's told their son is dead and then Ambrosio is mysteriously found at the convent as a boy? I think we all know where this is going.

2) Let's leave aside the implausibility of Matilda sucking the poison out of a wound and curing Ambrosio, and let's not forget that she was the one who suggested he pick a rose in the first place. I'm suspicious of that. Admittedly, I'm not really sure what she was trying to do, but I think she was doing... something. We'll see.

That's all for this week!