Saturday, 23 October 2010

Reading Round Up: Project Fill in the Gaps

Looking for Alaska

As I mention here, I actually started Project Fill in the Gaps in June.  At first it was manual, this crazed list in the back of my reading notebook, but now I've actually taken it to the proper site I thought I'd do quick reviews of the books I read before September - these will be quick because I read them some months ago and only have my copy of Looking for Alaska with me (and that's been forced on lent to a friend).

Pyramids - Terry Pratchett
I'd started reading this as a teenager when I first discovered Pratchett but didn't get very far.  Rereading, I thought I'd find it the same struggle now as I did then - was I wrong.  While I didn't enjoy it as much as some of his other early Discworld (like Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards!) it's still a great read.  I can't really talk about it without spoiling, but once again there are all sorts of arguments about human nature going on in a novel that, on the face of it, is merely a piss take of Ancient Egypt complete with walking mummies.

Eric - Terry Pratchett
Have to confess: I'm not the biggest fan of Rincewind, so I really wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy Eric.  It is a slight read (because of it's start as, I believe, a graphic novel) and is basically a reworking of Faust.  Eric himself isn't meant to be likeable and he really, really isn't.  The concept of be careful what you wish for is taken to its logical conclusion.  There were some great bits that were basically The Iliad: If Everyone Had Been Sensible and Listened to Odysseus's Sneaky Ideas From Day One, and the ending is dark and bleak (especially for the villain) but it's definitely a very slight tale for all that.

Small Gods - Terry Pratchett
Another that I'd tried and failed to finish when younger.  Introduces Lu-Tze, who is so instrumental in two of my favourite later Discworlds, and takes a look at fanatical religion.  Again, the villain's fate is very bleak, which is fitting as the villain is one of the scariest/creepiest in the Discworld series - there's something about madmen acting for the best reasons which is very Pratchett and very scary.  Again, not going to knock any of my favourites off my list but I enjoyed it (that sounds like damning with faint praise but isn't).

Skellig - David Almond
On the list because it's one of those books which is always highly praised and which I thought I ought to read.  I enjoyed it more because I thought I should than because it gripped me - does that make sense?  The ideas, style, writing, everything is there and while I do give it 4 stars I'm still not sure how much I actually liked/enjoyed it from a purely Reading Is Fun sense.  This is very muddled, and possibly makes me sound like I hated it; I think the best way to describe it is that I probably would have loved it if I'd read it 10-15 years ago, but now I was reading it from a different perspective of "oh, this is a good bit of writing" which may have detracted.

Looking for Alaska - John Green
Having said that about Skellig above, I was also viewing Looking for Alaska as "oh, this is a good bit of writing" but I was also loving it the whole way through.  The book made me cry, that should be enough to show how much I became invested in the characters.  And I read this and his other two novels (An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns) over three consecutive days, wandering round the house with my nose stuck in them, making coffee one handed*.  Possibly my favourite of the Project so far, I again can't really talk about it without spoiling so will just close with: read it, for it is awesome.

*Less of a disaster than might be supposed.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Month in Review: September 2010

Making Money (Discworld, #36)
New reads
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane - Andrew Graham-Dixon
I love Caravaggio's paintings, and this book not only has plates of most of them (which I ran around showing my housemates) but also goes into detailed exploration of them.  There was a lot of flicking back and forth between text and image and saying of 'oh, I hadn't noticed that'.  It's also one of those biographies - like Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life - where even though you know how it ends you're still willing it not to happen, especially as his death (there, spoiled it) is both a mystery and lonely.  Definitely recommend the book, even to those who know nothing about him.  

Scott Pilgrim 6 - Bryan Lee O'Malley
Read because I was planning to see the film until illness and hectic schedules got in the way.  I read the first three at uni, in about 2007, and had a quick power through the last three in August/September this year.  It deserves more than a quick power through, though, as the series is brilliant.  The end is awesome.  And Wallace is the best.  

Making Money - Terry Pratchett
Didn't enjoy this as much as Going Postal (see below) but it was still good because, well, it's Pratchett.  I can't detail the parts I really did enjoy without hideously spoiling, though if they ever try to film it as a sequel to Going Postal I can see some problems - especially with what Mr Fusspot was running round with in his mouth.  Not my favourite Discworld, and not one I'd give to someone starting on the series, but still a damn good read.   

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Everyone and their dog has read this series but me.  I started reading The Hunger Games because Mockingjay was out and I wanted to read the trilogy in one go (I'd rather not have to deal with cliffhangers and waiting for next volumes if I possibly can).  However - as the fact that I have yet to pick up Catching Fire even though it is right there on my To Be Read pile shows - I stopped after the first one.  It's so intense.  And, as I texted a friend repeatedly, fucked up.  Every time I thought it couldn't get any worse, it did.  This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it: it's well-written, unputdownable and gave me a deep urge to skip to the end so I could check everyone I wanted to made it out alive but I couldn't jump right into Catching Fire afterwards for fear of my brain dribbling out my ears.  

Read for Project Fill in the Gaps, because, y'know, it won the Booker.  The style took a bit of getting used to, but after the first few pages I was hooked.  It's an easy read, despite being so densely packed with detail (and big enough to brain a person).  The main issue I had was entirely my own: I don't know the Tudor period half as well as I thought I did.  I've studied it, I've watched David Starkey walk round Hampton Court proclaiming about it, but I couldn't remember when Ann Boleyn fell (spoiler) or when Thomas More was executed (and another).  I was tempted to look it up online, but decided against it because I was enjoying Mantel's take on events too much - I actually liked Thomas Cromwell, who I've usually seen presented as a good organiser but dastardly destroyer of monasteries, oh the bastard.  I need to write a fuller review of this, because it deserves it, but I highly recommend it.

Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
Another for Project Fill in the Gaps, and my choice for Banned Books Week.  Read it in one sitting, right after finishing Wolf Hall, so I was up till 2am and didn't care.  I can't think of an adequate way to describe the book, except that I was often laughing and getting angry at the same time.  And now I want to read as much Vonnegut as I can get my hands on, starting with Mother Night.  Possibly my favourite of everything I read in September, and therefore hardest for me to define - it was amazing.  There, inadequate but it sums it up.

Going Postal - Terry Pratchett
Reread this before reading Making Money, as needed to remind myself of Moist's backstory.  I could remember not enjoying the book much the first time I read it, but on reread I couldn't work out what the hell I was thinking.  It's fantastic.  Maybe not as much my favourite as Night Watch or Thief of Time, but still bloody brilliant, especially the resolution - which is, marvellously, the right resolution.  And I snorted on a train at "[h]ere's that damn enormous fiery eye again" (p330 in my edition).

Maurice - E.M. Forster
Read again after my housemate and I spent a day perving on Rupert Graves watching Merchant Ivory adaptations of Forster.  I'd read the last third or so (Scudder!) a lot but hadn't reread the beginning with Cambridge and Clive and things that make me want to beat my head against a wall.  I still skimmed some of the middle sections, because they're so awkward, but the book as a whole is still awesome, and the adaptation is very faithful.  Also Rupert Graves.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Project Fill in the Gaps

100 books in 5 years.  Fill the list with books you either should have read ages ago in your role as totally educated, intelligent, literary person - or, as I also did, to fill in those gaps of favourite authors' bibliographies.

The list was compiled in June 2010, which is why the Discworld series only goes as far as Unseen Academicals.  I gave myself till the end of the fifth calendar year to complete this, with a 25% margin of error, so I have to read at least 75 books from the list by 31/12/2015.  Easy.

Success: 13/100 (at time of writing this post - for further updates see the Fill in the Gaps page).

The list is below the cut:


Quick intro post while I sort out what I'm actually doing with this (note to self: never play around with blog titles first thing in morning when running on one cup of coffee).

I read a lot, and I collect books faster than I can read them.  As this shelf at Goodreads shows, I am unlikely ever to clear my to be read pile, but it's going to be fun to try.

I mostly read children's, young adult, fantasy and mystery.  I have a not-so-secret love of school stories.  Every so often I try to read 'proper' books that I probably should have read before (a lot of these I ought to have read for various exams/courses over the years; blagging is a beautiful thing).  I've studied Classics and English, with a focus on the eighteenth-century thanks to Jane Austen.

Favourite authors:
Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, Antonia Forest, EM Forster, Dorothy L Sayers, Neil Gaiman, John Green

Favourite books (not by the above):
The Changeover* - Margaret Mahy
The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate - Nancy Mitford
The Hours - Michael Cunningham
Blackbringer and Silksinger - Laini Taylor
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
The Eye in the Door - Pat Barker
Devil's Cub - Georgette Heyer
Matilda - Roald Dahl

* Just realised have no idea how I plan to format titles within posts.  Excellent
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