Monday, January 25, 2016

January Round-Up: Part 1

I've been reading pretty well so far this year, mostly thanks to the Bout of Books read-a-thon which really kicked me into getting into the habit of reading in little odd moments throughout my day. It's crazy how those pages add up. So, I'm dividing my January Round-Up/ mini-reviews thingy into two parts!

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

I've read the odd Terry Pratchett book- I read Mort and Hogfather a few years ago, and I may have read a few others as a child- my brother had loads of Discworld books when he was younger, I'm sure I picked one or two up at one point... But the lack of Terry Pratchett in my life has always been an embarrassing oversight on my part, and I'm attempting to redress that. So I went back to the very beginning! Even I can see that this is really different from later books in the series- it's much more of a parody of tropes of fantasy novels, which I found hilarious. I really enjoyed this, and the consensus seems to be that this one isn't even among the best Discworld books, so I'm looking forward to continue the series. Maybe in order, maybe not. Libraries NI has a disappointing lack of Discworld books, so I'll just pick up whatever I can find!

Pretties by Scott Westerfield

I'll make this short: basically, I did not like this book. It's a shame- I liked Uglies enough that it held up on a re-read, but this was just didn't fire my imagination the same way. It's also kind of badly written and the plot just didn't work. I don't know if it's middle-book-syndrome but... I won't be continuing with the series. Bleh, disappointing.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

This is one of those books I've had on my shelf for ages and knew I should have got around to earlier, and when I read it I still thought I should have got around to it earlier. Anyway. This is a great collection of Plath poetry- some of which I was already familiar with, some not. Pretty dark in places, but pretty diverse in themes. It's hard to talk about poetry because I feel like it doesn't really impact you until you've read it a few times, but yeah, this is a keeper.

Opal Plumstead by Jacqueline Wilson 

I'm a lifelong Jacqueline Wilson fan- I could talk for hours about how much of an impact Secrets and The Illustrated Mum had on me as a child- but I haven't read any of her books in quite a few years. So I found Opal Plumstead in the library- about a suffragette girl in 1913- and yep, that was me sold. Opal's a scholarship girl who's forced to leave school after her father goes to prison and has to go to work in a sweet factory, where she gets involved with the women's suffrage movement. I liked this a lot, but it was really heavy- despite being a children's book it's one of the saddest books I've read in a while. There's also class stuff and gender stuff and it's definitely worth a read if it sounds like your kind of thing.

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

So, I'm a big fan of Jo Walton in general. This is a collection of her blog posts on centered on the theme of re-reading. Few of the books she talks about are very well-known- many are obscure and out of print. I haven't read maybe 90% of the books she talks about, but this didn't bother me as much as I thought it might- Walton talks so engagingly about books, I ended up adding scores of them to my mental wishlist. What I love about Jo Walton is that she is such a reader, one of us, and she throws in little anecdotes like 'I first read this in a cafe while eating a poached egg' and 'I got this book out of the library just before Christmas in 1988' that just make everything so real. Most of the essays are dedicated to specific books, but there are more general ones too which I got more out of- everything from whether you 'sip' or 'gulp' books to how George Eliot would have been a terrific science fiction writer. So, I really enjoyed this. My love affair with Jo Walton continues!

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides 

This is actually a re-read- I first read it when it came out and I was in my first year of uni, but since it deals with post-college life I figured it was due for a re-read at this point. Also, I have now had the pleasure of being exposed to semiotics, so I get a lot more of the jokes now. Anyway. So, Madeleine is an English major, classical literature lover; her boyfriend Leonard is a biology major who struggles with bipolar disorder; and then there's Mitchell, a religious studies major with romantic history with Madeleine, who goes travelling after college and ends up in India. A lot of this really rang true to me- the characters resemble people I remember from uni, and the post-college oh-my-god-what-am-I-doing panic is spot on. Then there's Leonard's painful struggles with his illness, and Madeleine's struggles with dealing with it, and Mitchell's religious crisis... there's a lot in this book, and I think I liked it even better on a second reading. Also, this was literally my third audiobook ever (excepting when I was a child...) and I got on pretty well with it! So that's good. I'll be converted to audio format yet :)

Harry Potter: Film Wizardry by Brian Sibley/Warner Bros

So this isn't strictly a traditional book- it's a companion to the Harry Potter movies, with all the lovely pictures and design sketches that you'd expect. There's more writing than you'd think, too- explaining how they did this and that effect; interviews; random anecdotes. I love how generally speaking, the crew preferred making things to just using computer effects- things like Fawkes were mechanical instead of CGI, for example. Also, all the little cast notes that we love hearing about, like when Alfonso CuarĂ³n asked the Trio to write essays on their characters and each ended up approaching it like their character (Daniel Radclyffe wrote a page or two, Emma Watson wrote pages and pages, Rupert Grint never handed anything in). And that's not all! This book is also full of little removable facsimiles of things like the Marauder's Map and Umbridge's proclamation posters. All in all, this is a wonderful book if you're a HP nerd (and isn't half the internet?)

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Funny story: when I was in first year of uni it seemed like half the books we were assigned dealt with student/teacher (or lecturer) relationships- J M Coetzee's Disgrace, David Lodge's Changing Places, Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal... we used to wonder whether this was our lecturers' way of encouraging or discouraging us from dating them. So, I got pretty fatigued with this whole theme and actively avoided any book (movie, fanfic...) involving student/teacher relationships. So I nearly skipped Tampa, about a female teacher who has an affair with a fourteen-year-old male student- but I can't resist controversy, so I thought I'd give it a go. Turns out it was totally different than I'd assumed. This isn't about a student-teacher relationship so much as it is about a female paedophile (ephebophile, if we want to split hairs) who is deeply, deeply unpleasant. The book's told from her point of view and the whole thing is just... really uncomfortable. Fucked up stuff happens. I'll say that much without spoiling anything. So... I enjoyed this book, I think? In the same way that you can weirdly enjoy books that horrify you and make you very uncomfortable. I've definitely never read anything quite like this.

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

I have a lot of feelings about this book. Complicated feelings. So, I love books about depression, especially YA. I've had depression on and off since I was eleven and have a few people very close to me who are suffering/have suffered from very severe depression, and I like books that help me make sense of it all. I'd heard great things about this book, about an over-achieving teenager who nearly kills himself and spends five days in a mental hospital. I liked how Craig basically has it all- he doesn't seem to have any real problems, supportive parents, friends, goes to a good school, family is well-off, etc etc. Because sometimes depression does strike people with no simple 'explanation'- like I've seen in some books about depression. The book is really about Craig's time in the hospital, and the people he meets there, and doesn't really deal with Craig's depression as much as I would have liked. It's very much 'hey, look at all these quirky characters in the hospital!' and I'm not so sure I liked that. I especially didn't like the treatment of a transgender patient, and that really soured the book for me to be honest. Still, bits of the book were really good and really realistic depictions of depression, so I'm still glad I read it, even if it's not going to be one of those books I really love.

So, there's the nine books I read in the first fifteen days of January! January reading did not stop (and is not stopping there). Rest of January reading will hopefully be up in a prompt fashion at the start of February... although the university term starts up again by then, so, we'll see ;)

How's your month been for books?

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