Friday, 25 December 2015

#FridayReads

It's Friday,  so it's time for another #FridayReads!  This week, I'm reading two easy and thin books, because I don't want to have to carry over books from one year to the next. So hopefully, and probably, I will finish the following books before next Thursday.



About two weeks ago, I saw the trailer for the new BFG film that's coming out next summer and I decided to pick up the book by Roald Dahl  it is based on. I hadn't read it since I was a very little girl, so I remembered little of the story. It follows a little girl who is taken from her home by a giant, but it turns out that this big man is actually friendly, whereas all other giants are evil and eat children. I'm just reading a few pages every night, so it's taking me a while to get through, but it's really fun.

I'm also reading a Dutch book, Het jaar dat ik 30 werd (the year I turned 30), by Aaf Brandt Corstius, which is just a sort of chicklit kind of book about a thirty-year-old woman. I'm really enjoying this simple little book.

What are you reading? Are you also trying to fit in a few short and easy books before the year ends?

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brody

This review contains mild spoilers.


“Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.” 

Title: The Prime of Miss Jean Brody
Author: Muriel Spark
Year: 1961

Through the eyes of Sandy, Rose, Jenny, Monica, Eunice and Mary, the character of Jean Brodie is introduced. She was their teacher all throughout their teenage years. A remarkable teacher, one they will never forget. At first this seems to be because of her strange way of teaching, not bothering with the curriculum at all. The six girls were also Miss Brodie’s favourite which meant they were invited to all sorts of activities outside of school. As a reader our insights grow along with the girls, and as they get older, they become aware of their teacher’s strange behaviour, manipulations, and fascist ideas.

Spark based the character of Miss Brodie on her own teacher, Christine Kay, “a fiercely independent Edinburgh school ma’am, determined to tell her charges all about life’s pleasures, rather than teach them the boring curriculum” (Roberts). The character of Sandy represented Spark herself, who was obsessed with her teachers’ personal life (Roberts).

The novel starts out whimsical and cute, both in plot and in writing style. The former in the sense that the children are so excited and loving towards their teacher as well as the other way around. The writing style fits in this due to the comical repetitiveness, mostly when people are introduced, and later described again as if they had never occurred before. Moreover, the title of the novel is constantly emphasised – Miss Brodie was in her prime. This, unfortunately, became too repetitive, to the point of annoyance. This style changes, though, just as the plot does. It turns darker and darker as we learn about Brodie’s secret agenda as well as Sandy’s betrayal. This makes for an engaging dynamic between style and plot.

Another interesting shift takes place, namely one in focal point. The character all action revolves around throughout the first part of the novel is Miss Brodie. Around two thirds of the novel, the focus turns to Sandy and it turns into a story about her unmasking of the teacher. At that point the novel transforms into a much more difficult and layered piece of literature. The reader is pro Miss Brodie, not fully aware of her faults just yet. Sandy is despised as her actions seem solely driven by jealousy. As a consequence of the shift, though, these ideas are juggled and shaken. The real importance of the story becomes clear and one is left feeling cheated. Just like the Brodie set.


All these changes in the story made me want to read the story again, right after I finished it, trying to see if I could read the novel trying to detect all unethical aspects to Miss Brodie’s teaching, and this way allowing me to be more judgemental towards her. This is what Judy Suh also addresses in her study of the novel, and she states that “the novel does not as a result of featuring such a magnetic character posit the impossibility of judgement” (87). While presently I cannot fully agree with this statement for as I said before, I feel the novel tricked me into liking Miss Brodie too much, but I am interesting to see how I would view her the second time around.


Saturday, 26 September 2015

Review: The Robber Bride

"Where to start is the problem, because nothing begins when it begins and nothing's over when it's over, and everything needs a preface: a preface, a postscript, a chart of simultaneous events." 


Title: The Robber Bride
Author: Margaret Atwood
Year: 1992
Pages: 564

Zenia is dead. As she has caused for enough drama in their lives, Tony, Roz and Charis are relieved. But five years later she reappears. The story evolving from that is one of a dark past. Each friend explains how Zenia infiltrated and influenced their lives prior to her death. The question is whether the knowledge about Zenia’s manipulative nature prepared them enough to deal with her one more time.  

The title of the novel alludes to a Grimm’s tale, “The Robber Bridegroom”, on which the basic plot is loosely based. However, there is much more intertextuality present in the novel, and in an article in which she tries to uncover these references as well as figure out why Atwood used those particular ones, Donna Potts states that “The Robber Bride relies on intertexts that, by Atwood’s own admission, are atypical either of popular contemporary accounts of women or of Canadian Literature” (282-3). By creating the character of Zenia, Atwood feels she has brought the tabooed subject of strong supernatural women into Canadian literature. “When people in Canadian fiction die, which they do fairly often, they usually stay buried” (283), Atwood once said. Her purpose thus, with this novel, is to use non-Canadian interext in order to break Canadian conventions.

While reading the novel, what struck me was the way in which almost every name in the novel has been changed at one point. Characters such as Roz, Tony, Charis and West were first called differently, but also shops and magazines undergo a change of name. This immediately had me think of a completely different novel: Beloved by Toni Morrison. Here, former slaves made up words and names: slavery had destroyed their identity, and allowing them to rebuild part of their lives helped them establish autonomy. In The Robber Bride, the changes are not always explained, but some that are, fit into this category. Right before changing her name, Charis explains that “[a] lot of people were changing their names, then, because names were not just labels, they were also containers” (315). Changing her name would allow her to escape a horrible past. Outside that container she was a different girl. For Roz, the name change also allowed for a proper identity forming: she regained her Jewish name as soon as her parents gained enough confidence that they were safe. 

Novels written by women are often looked at through feminist eyes. This novel, though, does not allow that vision. Even though at first hand, because of Atwood’s elaborate description of the women, we assume they are strong and independent, giving it a closer look, we see this is not at all the case. They are, in fact, entirely dependent upon their men. Zenia successfully shatters the women’s lives by taking away these men, even though throughout the novel it becomes clear that they, too, are weak. The only strong, independent character in the novel is Zenia, and she manipulates everyone by pretending to be just like them: vulnerable and reliant.

[If you have not yet read the novel, I’d suggest you stopped reading here, read the novel – because it is absolutely brilliant – and read the next couple of paragraphs afterwards, because they will spoil!]

Perhaps even more disconcerting is the fact that there seems to be little change, even though many years have passed. In those years, they have confided in each other, telling the others everything Zenia is capable of. Yet, when Zenia reappears and again tries to manipulate them into believing a tragic story for why she needs their help, most of them hardly hesitate to lend a hand. This made me wonder about the character of Zenia, and throughout the novel I kept hoping for a chapter from her perspective. But there is none. While at first I was disappointed, the New York Times review left me with a satisfying answer: “perhaps Ms. Atwood intended Zenia, by the end, to be a symbol of all that is inexplicably evil: war, disease, global catastrophe. Zenia is meant to have no voice of her own: she is only a mad reworking of everyone else's” (Moore). But still, why are the other characters so incredibly weak?


I do not have an answer to that question, and I can imagine how some feminists may be annoyed with this book for this very reason. However, I still feel that The Robber Bride is a highly enjoyable novel. Not only is it mainly plot-driven, which allows the reader to fly through it, the writing is also beautiful and the characters are extremely well fleshed out.


Friday, 21 August 2015

#FridayReads

Happy Friday!

It's time for another #fridayreads, and this week, I have little of interest.
Firstly, I'm still reading my buddy read book by Kafka, which I'm sort of enjoying but not really understanding..
Then I'm also reading The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, a story about a fifteen-year-old boy, who falls in love with a grown woman. I do like the novel, but I am waiting for some more progress in the story, or some development in the characters. I'm about half way through, and I'm pretty sure I will finish it over the weekend.

What are you currently reading?


Purchase books on Bookdepository via this link, and I'll receive a small commission. 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Review: Perfume

"...Talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything."

Title: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Author: Patrick Süskind
Translator: John E. Woods 
Year: 1985

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille never was anyone’s favourite person. Growing up in an orphanage where he was always seen as the odd one out, he never really learned how to love and be loved. But Grenouille is gifted. He can identify every single odour, and he finds a perfumer so he can be his apprentice.

Now, the subtitle of the novel does not hide the fact that this is not a happy story. Grenouille becomes obsessed with distilling every single smell, and when he smells the scent of a beautiful virgin, he decides what the odour of his perfect perfume is going to be.

Confession time: I saw the movie well before I read the book. I saw it twice. Loved the weirdness of it. Unfortunately, it ruined the novel for me. First off, because I knew what was going to happen as the film is quite true to its source. Secondly, because it had left me with high expectations: to be weirded out, yet love it. And I was disappointed.

The story itself is sublime: so clever, so original, and so mesmerizing. But I didn’t enjoy the writing at all. I understand there have to be many descriptions in order to understand what Grenouille is feeling, and more importantly smelling, but to me, it was too much and it felt it slowed down the novel. Also, the novel focusses very little on the moral choices Grenouille has to make and doesn’t seem to judge this culprit. Now I sort of understand that, as it is written from his point of view, but it angered me to some extent. This was probably influenced by the film as well, because there we do get to see several points of view.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the novel but I do want to add that I didn’t like the ending. In its own way, the entire novel is at least slightly realistic, and I felt the ending lacked this.  

If I hadn’t seen the film, the reading experience of Perfume would have probably been a lot different. So if you’re still interested in reading it (and I must say, I would still be – the premise is beyond intriguing), please take my advice and don’t watch the film beforehand.


The main theme is love. Everything Grenouille does is instigated by his desire to be loved. Perhaps that is the creepiest part of the novel: sometimes we may feel for Grenouille, because, who doesn’t want to be loved?


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

"There is only love to save this world. Why would I be ashamed to love?"

Title: Blue is the Warmest Color
Author: Julie Maroh
Translator: Ivanka Hahnenberger
Year: 2010
Pages: 156
Purchase this graphic novel

In this graphic novel, we follow Clementine and her journey of growing up. It's a love story, but also a story about friendship and about finding yourself.

Boy, this was an emotional ride and I loved what it did with my emotions. Happy, sad, angry, annoyed, happy, sad, angry, sad, angry, sad. I really liked the art style as well, and I’m always hesitant of judging a writing style in a graphic novel, but in this one it really worked because the conversations felt very realistic and not at all forced.

But unfortunately I didn’t love it as much as other people did. For one, there was instalove. That’s a deal breaker for me because it just does not make sense. A crush at first sight, sure, but this level of obsession? No. I also wasn’t sure of what I thought of the main characters. I understand that they are confused and they feel like the odd ones out, but this theme seemed too repetitive. It’s like young adults in literature aren’t allowed to explore who they are slowly – they have to figure it out there and then, and easily come to terms with it.


Still, though, the over-all story did impress me. As I said, no feelings were spared and I thought was very well structured and beautifully drawn. 


Monday, 17 August 2015

Review: The Dinner

"All these heads, I thought. All these heads into which everything disappears"

Title: Het Diner / The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Year: 2009


The setting is a family dinner. It’s tense, and we know that something is off. Gradually, we figure out what it is.

I don’t read much Dutch fiction. This mostly stems from my predilection for English literature, and as I was an English student until recently I honestly only really read books in English. I’m trying to switch things up a little, because I started to notice a decline in my ability to read and write in Dutch. The Dinner was my first serious attempt to restore this.

So I expected a lot of this novel. Everybody loves it, not only the Dutch. Both for the plot – which is not something Dutch books are known for – and for the writing style.

The first half of the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed. It was mysterious, yet nothing much was going on.Dutch fiction, I may have to explain, is generally not plot-driven. Characters, themes, anything else but plot, drive the story. Here, plot was certainly the main focus. The characters were all quite fleshed out, but they didn’t necessarily stand out from each other: they were all kind of the same. Moreover, the writing style seemed to change at the half-point, as if the author didn’t care about his prose anymore and merely wanted to get his story out into the world.

The writing was interesting and refreshing. But suddenly everything changed. What I thought was a novel classified as literary fiction suddenly became a thriller, and an intense one at that. Everything exploded and out of nowhere there’s a whirlwind of events. Although extremely cleverly thought out and well-structured, I did not like this shift. I can’t fully explain why, but I think it was mainly because I was expecting an amazingly written work of Dutch fiction. Now,

It may be just because I wasn’t prepared, or in the mood for it. It doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the read. I finished it quickly, and I didn’t want to put the novel down. But I didn’t feel satisfied upon finishing it. I felt it lacked something, and I was disappointed at the change of genre and pace towards the middle.




Friday, 14 August 2015

#FridayReads



It's time for another #FridayReads!

I'm not reading too many books at the same time now. I'm still reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which I am enjoying, but not loving immensely. It is a novel narrated by ninety-something old Jacob, who is remembering his days working at a circus.
This weekend I'm also going to start Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Kafka, which I'm going to be buddy-reading!

What are you reading?

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Review: Frankenstein


“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishments of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet”

 Title: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus
Author: Mary Shelley
Year: 1818
Pages: 240

Through the letters the seaman Robert Walton writes to his sister, we get to know the scientist Victor Frankenstein. In an attempt to create a perfect creature, he creates a killing monster. But as we also learn the point of view of that monster, we start to doubt Frankenstein’s motives and methods.

Frankenstein fits into two of the most important literary traditions of the beginning of the nineteenth century, as both Romantic and Gothic elements are at the base of this story. Firstly, the novel is very nature oriented, which is according to Romantic conventions. Scenery is described many times, but nature also influences the character’s moods – when a horrible winter has passed, for example, the monster feels happy when spring finally arrives. When Frankenstein chases the monster through the Arctic desert, this scenery symbolises his useless efforts. Gothic ties in with this in the sense that the locations are generally gloomy. Moreover, gothic literature focusses on the supernatural as well as the mysterious, and these aspects are certainly present in this novel.

Steven Lehman argues that “[in] Victor Frankenstein, Mary Shelley created a male character who yearned for the existential security of elemental procreative power in the same way that she herself did” (50). This reading would thus mean that Frankenstein is somehow a mirror of the author herself.
More likely to me, though, is that his desire to create life, and his failure at doing so, is in fact fed by Shelley’s feminist thoughts: men cannot procreate without the help of women. Frankenstein tries to, but fails. This way, even though there are few women of importance in the novel, this highlights their significance.
An important theme in this novel is the impact of science. By creating a character like Frankenstein’s monster, Shelley expresses concern towards the developments in this area, and in the end of the novel Robert Walton – who was the man whose letters we’re reading – is convinced that scientific ambitions should never be the main focus of one’s life. Rather, family, friendship and solidarity should always come first.

By most readers, the monster is seen as a helpless, misunderstood creature. He is ugly and hence people are appalled by him, even his own creator rejects him. While in exile, he tries to learn the ways of the world, teaching himself how to speak and read – so in terms of that he becomes equal or even superior, to the general human being – but still, people are scared of him, merely because of his appearance. This aggravates him and he turns violent. Consequently people become even more afraid of him. While I understand that the monster’s narrative grants us insight into his motives, I could not fully sympathise with him, and did not feel that being misunderstood justifies his actions. That does not mean I’m on Frankenstein’s side, because even though he did not deserve to be treated that horribly, I feel he could have been more active in protecting his family and helping his creation.
           
Now, don’t misunderstand my dislike towards the main characters as dislike for the book. If you’d happen to read more of my reviews, you’ll learn I quite often like unlikable characters in novels – mostly in classics. In Frankenstein, the characters were all interesting, and especially the monster and the professor did not lack depth. Though I have to admit towards the ending, they did start to bother me a little bit, but this also had to do with the slowness of the novel. Although for the first say 85 per cent of the novel this did truly not bother me at all, probably because I was warned beforehand not to expect an action packed horror story, towards the ending I was waiting for a conclusion, for the whining to be over. That is why I couldn’t rate the novel five stars, but it’s surely worth four stars. The story is original, interesting, layered, and the writing is beautiful, especially keeping in mind Shelley was only eighteen at the time of writing this!



Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Warning: this review contains spoilers. 


“With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.”

Title: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Year: 1886
Pages: 144



I had heard of the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I was convinced I knew the entire plot as I had seen part of the BCC mini-series Jekyll. I knew thus, that Dr Jekyll suffered from some sort of dissociative identity disorder. What I was expecting was a ground-breaking psychological novel.

Clearly, one should not base their knowledge of literature on adaptations, especially not on only partly watched ones. Here is the real story of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Through the eyes and ears of Dr Jekyll’s lawyer Mr Utterson, we learn about Mr Hyde, a man who abuses a young girl and pays off the girl’s parents. It is quickly found out that there is a link between Jekyll and Hyde, as the former has written a will which would leave all his possessions to the latter. Years pass and nothing happens, until Hyde strikes again and kills a man. Slowly but surely similarities between Hyde and Jekyll are uncovered, and eventually we learn that Jekyll had developed a potion to which he became addicted, which transformed him in character and physique, into Mr Hyde.

The novella fits very well into its time and plays with the tradition of this Victorian era. In the late 1800s, one “sought to fix and pin down events” (Middleton x), while this story challenges everything that is thought to be fact. Moreover, it is a prime example of Gothic fiction, which was the popular genre in this time. Gothic literature “throws into question the idea of a fixed, stable individual identity”(Middleton xii), of which Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is of course the epitome.

This idea of double identity really only surfaces at the end of the novel, after confessional letters explain everything. This is also the case with the theme of addiction, as well as with some motifs such as the contrast between Dr Jekyll’s house and his laboratory. Only when we know how the story is set up, we understand these layers. Therefore, to me the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of those which really only becomes interesting after having studied it for a while.

In his review of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Emmet Early shows that Jekyll is described positively, but is granted much less description than Hyde, whose evil character is highlighted over and over again (32). He writes “Hyde is obviously a constellation of a variety of vices, the most prominent of which is violent anger”. While little can be argued against this, I do feel that this completely disregards the fact that Jekyll is the true instigator, as it is his addiction which allows Hyde to even exist. Somehow it feels as though Stevenson disregarded the protagonist’s misdoings and only criticises the consequences of addiction rather than the addict himself.

I am quite sure my apathy towards this novella is fed by my confusion regarding the plot. I was constantly annoyed by the fact that Hyde looked so much different from Jekyll, although I thought they were supposed to be the same in appearance. Moreover, I felt it took the characters too long to figure out what was really going on. Perhaps I should give the novel a reread, now with the correct expectations, and perhaps I will be able to appreciate it better, and give it a fairer judgement. 


Works Cited
Early, Emmet. “The Strange Case of Ego and Shadowman: A Review of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.” The San Fransisco Jung Institute Liberal Journal 4.3 (1983): 28-36. PDF.
Middleton, Tim. Introduction. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with The Merry Men & Other Stories. By R.L. Stevenson. Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1999. vii-xvii. Print.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Tag Tuesday: Unpopular Opinions Tag


This tag was originally created by TheBookArcher

1.       A popular book or series that you didn’t like
I was awfully disappointed by If I Stay by Gayle Forman. When I heard a film was going to be made, and Chloe Moretz was to play the lead, I decided I wanted to read it. I’d heard so many positive thoughts I was convinced I’d love it. I didn’t at all. I didn’t like the writing style everybody was raving about, and the characters annoyed me. I did rate it two stars, just because the premise intrigued me.

2.       A popular book or series that everybody seems to hate but you love.
I couldn’t think of one at first, but scrolling through my goodreads, I found Seeing by José Saramago. This is the sequel to Blindness, which I haven’t read. Seeing was a required read at uni, and it was stylistically challenging and in terms of plot it was difficult in the way that it focussed on politics, which is not a particular interest of me. Although I ‘only’ rated it three stars, I remember everyone else in the course hated it and many people didn’t even finish it, while I was quite intrigued and interested in reading more of the author’s work.

3.       A love triangle where the main character ended up with the person you did NOT want them to end up with.
Luckily, I’m not reading too many books with love triangles, because they generally annoy me. The series that pops into my mind when thinking of them, is The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare. I still haven’t finished the series, and I’m really not in a hurry to do so. Anyway, I remember really wanting Clary and Simon to end up together in the first two books.

4.       A popular genre that you hardly reach for.
Paranormal.

5.       A popular or beloved character that you didn’t like
Frankenstein’s Monster. (Which does not mean I didn’t like the novel)

6.       A popular author that you can’t seem to get into.
Jane Austen. I’ve read Emma and Mansfield Park and tried to read Persuasion. I did not enjoy them at all. I do still want to give her one more chance by reading Pride and Prejudice. Some day.

7.       A popular book trope that you’re tired of seeing.
Instalove/Love triangles. Both insanely annoying and unrealistic.

8.       A Popular series that you have no interest in reading.
The Selection Trilogy.

9.       The saying goes ‘The book is always better than the movies’, but what movie or TV-show adaptation do you prefer more than the book?
Bridge to Terabithia. The movie touched me so much more, but I must admit I saw the movie first..

Monday, 10 August 2015

Review: Brave New World

“But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Year: 1932
Pages: 177

Mothers and fathers no longer exist. Children are mass-produced, and are conditioned to agree with the government from the moment they are born. They are divided into groups, some learn to hate nature and books, others are taught to be promiscuous. There are even children who are treated with medicine or are allowed less oxygen just so they can be the way the government wants them to be. People are not religious, rather, they worship Henry Ford, who introduced the assembly line. Though to the reader clearly a dystopian world, most characters seem to be happy – for them, the government have created a utopia. The protagonist, Bernard Marx, turns out to be less susceptible to the conditioning, and he questions the ways of the world. When he goes to a savage reservation and meets Linda and her son John he learns about the idea of free thinking. As he takes the two savages back into the city, the two worlds collide and the main question this novel poses becomes apparent: is it better to be happy and ignorant, or to be knowledgeable but unhappy?

The society in Brave New World may seem far-fetched, but in essence, the aspects that are so much different from the world as we know it, are extreme but logical consequences of the consumer society: everything is based on satisfying (materialistic) needs and having a prosperous economical system. Modern interpretations of the novel often look at the novel as a ‘wrong’ prediction, as does Mark Frankel in his essay in which he proposes a different version of the future of consumerism. He argues that the ‘real’ future will be based on the infinite number of choices people will have, rather than the limit of choices (32). While this is a well-argued essay, I believe Brave New World deserves to be looked at as literature and a critique rather than a scientific work. Moreover, the future Frankel describes is not at all so far removed from Huxley’s ideas: consumerism still feeds the world.



Not only is Brave New World great food for thought – in the end you almost believe that ignorance is bliss – it is also a brilliantly written novel both in structure and prose. We are introduced into the world through a tour in a factory, which allows us to understand how people are made and how they think. Because of this structural element the focus is only on understanding the world for a very short time and we can start forming our own opinions quite early on.


Friday, 7 August 2015

#Fridayreads



It's Friday, and that means it's time for a #Fridayreads! In this post, I'll share with you what I'll be reading over the weekend / next week.

The physical book I'm currently reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. It follows Jacob, an old man, recounting his days working for a circus. I'm really enjoying it, but I'm only about 70 pages in. I'm hoping to finish it before the end of the week, but I probably won't because I'm working Saturday and Sunday.

I'm listening to Yes Please by Amy Poehler as an audiobook. I was trying to find the perfect audiobook last Tuesday, and spent the entire day listening to snippets of books I really didn't enjoy. Finally I decided to try this memoir, even though I don't really know Amy Poehler, or like SNL. I'm enjoying it greatly. I'll probably finish this next week while cleaning and doing laundry.

Lastly, I'm reading Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh, which is a graphic novel. It's a wonderful but enormously sad love story, and I'm excited to finish it tonight.

These are the books I'm currently reading, and although I'm sure I won't finish them all by the end of the weekend, I think I will pick up another one, just because I read ebooks while in bed and the current ebook is Blue is the Warmest Color and I am finishing that today. So I've been browsing through Scribd to find the perfect e-book, and I think I'm going to be reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry by Gabrielle Zevin. All I know is that it's well-loved and about books. Sounds exciting!

What are you currently reading?

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Review: Alice in Wonderland


"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"

Title: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Author: Lewis Carroll 
Year: 1965/1971
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 327

7 year old Alice is sat under a tree in her garden and she’s bored. A white rabbit wearing a jacket and checking its pocket watch of course immediately grabs her attention and she follows it, even down into its rabbit hole. Curiously, upon entering the hole she starts falling, and keeps falling, and falling, and falling. So begin Alice’s adventures in wonderland.

 When it was first published in 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland mainly received bad reviews because it was seen as nonsense. By the time Through the Looking Glass was published in 1871, though, it had gained critical acclaim. Up to this day it’s one of the most widely known children’s stories. Often both of Alice’s adventures are bundled in one volume, as was mine. This review will thus be of both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

This novel works on so many levels, and all these layers are worth exploring and studying, making it a book that can be read over and over again. And you have to, if you really want to understand it. Linguistically, it is so interesting, it makes you think about language, it makes you consider every word you’re saying. However, sometimes the language is incredibly difficult to understand, it doesn’t always make sense. This is mostly so when reading the poems integrated in the story. They’re very hard to understand, but they do add to the story.

In terms of the main plot, a lot happens as well, and many things can be analysed in very different ways. I feel like Alice’s discomfort – never being quite the right size, is something that likely alludes to puberty, meaning the target audience is slightly older than children. But it also speaks to me as a young woman who’s just finishing up her master’s degree and has to venture into the real world, but doesn’t really know how to fit in. This ties in with Alice’s realisation that not all puzzles seem to have a solution – some things just don’t make sense, and you have to give in to that. This struggle is continued in Through the Looking Glass where Alice learns that she cannot control everything that happens to her, which is represented by the chess game. Hashtag relatable!

I myself had interpreted the mushroom as a kind of drugs – allowing all the weirdness. But I read somewhere that people see the caterpillar as a symbol for sexuality because of its phallic shape, and the mushrooms – given to her by this caterpillar – would help her gain control of puberty as it helps her change sizes. This all worries me slightly, as Alice is seven… but I am interested in hearing whether people agree and have evidence from the novel for this claim?

All in all, I really loved this novel. It intrigued me in terms of language, and I didn’t expect its themes to relate so much to my situation. I was a little annoyed by Alice in the first book, but in the second she was much less of a brat.  What did bother me greatly were the lousy endings to both novels. 


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Review: Station Eleven

"The more you remember, the more you've lost"

Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Year: 2014
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 333



I recommend going into this novel without knowing what it is about, so I’m not going to give a summary. It’s even difficult to classify it as one particular genre, but to give you a general idea of what the novel is about, I’ll tell you this: There’s a pandemic which could have apocalyptic consequences. We learn about the world before the disease, during it, and many years after.

This is the only book I was able to get through in the month of June as it left me in a major slump. I don’t really know why, though. Writing this review now makes me realise I have forgotten quite a bit of the story, it hasn’t stuck with me as much as I thought it would. I have to admit the feelings it made me feel, the impressions it made on me, they did last. However, because the story didn’t, I can’t rate five stars, which is what I initially wanted to.

Still, four stars means it is a brilliant book nonetheless. Its structure is so clever and well thought out – we get to know our characters through many years and even though it jumps back and forth, it never becomes confusing. Moreover, it is very original in the way it handles the potential apocalypse. Generally, books surrounding an apocalypse focus on the actual downfall itself and direct survival, leaving to the reader’s imagination how the world will continue. Mandel offers much more insight, leaving out the tumultuous years right after the pandemic, skipping quite a few years. For this very reason, many people whose reviews I read, actually disliked the novel. I feel, though, that this is just the originality needed in such a popular genre. It’s even more original because it also focusses so much on how the characters lived and developed many years before the disease.

I would say the main themes of the novel are memory and nostalgia. The story is driven by nostalgia, because our main character collects things associated with the past and the story builds around this. We’re constantly reminded of the past, as are the characters in the future parts of the novel. Those who remember the past are nostalgic about it, yet focus on moving on. The past is not a taboo, but they’re also aware that they can’t go back. Because of this positive spirit of moving on, Station Eleven is not as bleak as other apocalyptic stories. I’m not saying it is a happy one, though, a lot happens in this book, and hardly anything will make you smile. 


Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Tag Tuesday: On My Shelf #1



As I'll never really do a bookshelf-tour kind of post, I thought another way of showing off what books I own is the On My Shelf tag, originally created by Iain Broome. The idea is simple: random numbers which form coordinates will determine what book on which shelf you’ll be talking about. So if the numbers are 3 and 5, you’ll talk about the fifth book on the third shelf. I used random.org to generate ten numbers, so I’ll be talking about 5 books.


18,3 – Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
I bought this after I’d read and loved Fangirl and read it immediately after I received it. I absolutely adored this book. I thought it was better than Fangirl, less cheesy, even though this one’s quite cheesy too. I rated it five stars, cause for a young adult love story, it’s perfect.

7,19 – Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
Almost two years ago, I saw an advertisement on a Dutch version of Craigslist for a huge box filled with old Wordsworth Classics for very cheap. So I got it and now I have over 50 books in this old series. This is one of them, I haven’t read it yet, and although I’m excited to get to it, I doubt it’ll be soon.

22,8 – Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Another one that I got in that big box. I own many of Verne’s books, because as a kid I had this abridged version of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, which I loved. So as an adult, I decided to buy his books. Never got around to reading them though..

1,4 – Little Women & Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott
Yet another Wordsworth Classic, but not one that belongs to the older series. I bought this about a year ago, and have always been avoiding any kind of spoilers of Little Women. One day, a few weeks ago, my friend was talking to me about spoilers and how an episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. talks about spoilers and this book. In recounting the episode, my friend spoiled Little Women. I tried reading it about a week ago, and couldn’t get into it. Now I don’t know if it was because I was spoiled, though, because I wasn’t enjoying the writing either..

1,11 – The Complete Novels of Jane Austen
I’m not a Jane Austen Fan. But you may have noticed I do collect Wordsworth Classics (because they’re cheap, not because they’re pretty). I own all of The Complete Novels collections they have brought out so far, I think, and I haven’t read much from them. I prefer owning the separate books as well, because these huge books are difficult to read. 


That's all for today! Be sure to check back soon, because I have a ton of reviews to post!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Review: Grapes of Wrath

"You're bound to get idears if you go thinkin' about stuff" 

Title: Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Year: 1939
Pages: 536
Purchase this edition 




We follow the Joad family who were forced to leave their home in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. One of their sons, though, has just been released from prison and is on parole. For that reason, he is not allowed to leave the state. Nonetheless, the whole family head to California, where they hope to find a better future.

     The setup of this novel is interesting. We read chapters from the Joad family's perspective alternated with chapters in which we see a nameless family (or families?) struggle. This allows the novel to be read as a bigger chronicle: the unnamed characters show us the issue is omnipresent and concerns anyone, and the chapters zooming in on the Joads evoke sympathy.

As a novel which was written and published during the Great Depression it is more often read as a history than a fictional piece of literature. However, reading reviews from the time of publication shows us that people protested against its legitimacy as they felt it was an exaggeration of the situation as well as of the people. I can see how at that time this resulted in much criticism especially by groups of people represented in the novel such as the Okies. However, I disagree with this approach as I think this was part of Steinbeck's purpose. I feel like he may have altered the facts slightly to come across better, to emphasise on how important the issues were. This is also the case with the character descriptions, as they're almost caricatures. This may be seen as annoying or unbelievable, but as a consequence character development is much clearer which in its turn highlights the impact of the Great Depression. Accurate or not, The Grapes of Wrath is a social commentary which makes you think about the way society works.

I say here 'society', but one might think a novel like this is more about politics. While it cannot deny how the government deals with the issues in the 1930s, the novel much more focusses on the importance of community and family in times of need. For Steinbeck, this seems an important theme, as his novella Of Mice and Men also deals with how friendship defines a person's fate. That is not to say that his works are sweet stories about companionship, quite the contrary, especially in the case of Of Mice and Men in which betrayal is a major theme. In this aspect, The Grapes of Wraths can be seen as at least a little bit positive: while not all bonds are strong in the novel, the Joads illustrate that both family and comradery can at least bring us one step further.

While there are many layers to the novel - many different themes and parallels to the story of Exodus - it can also be read as 'just a story'. It is both plot and character driven: if there is no action there is immense character devleopment. Consequently, the novel is never boring. Moreover, as a result from some themes not being very sublte, such as the importance of kindness, it does have you think about life and about yourself, even if you are just reading it leasurely.
   
   


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Hyped books I've never read


Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly meme created by brokeandbookish.com. This week's topic is hyped books I've never read. So here's my list.

10.  A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
9.    Any Percy Jackson book by Rick Riordan
8.    The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
7.    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
6.    Any Charles Dickens (only read some of his shorter works)
5.    Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
4.    My Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
3.    Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguru
2.    Interpreter of Maladies  by Jhumpa Lahiri
1.    The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (only read the first three 😰 )

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Excuses

l could say I haven't been posting because I've been busy. But to be frank, I've been lazy. Yes, I've been working and I'm still writing my dissertation, but those things are not requiring as much energy as I've been claiming. Honestly, I'm writing this as a kind of reality check. Trying to get my life back on track.  No, it hasn't been awful, I haven't been 'depressed', all I'm saying is that I'm not happy with how I'm spending my hours off. I can't even tell you what I've been doing because it's plainly nothing. You'd expect I'd be up to date with all YouTube subscriptions, seen all the newest episodes of every tvshow I've ever followed, read all books on my tbr, and have had my apartment cleaned and tidy every single second. Quite the contrary on all those statements. I haven't really watched many of my favourite youtubers, I haven't seen any shows, haven't read at all , and my apartment was often a mess. Picked up any new hobbies, then? Nope. Nothing. So. No more excuses. Let's make these days / weeks / months count, step up my game, and live life a little better.
But for now, sleep tight and I'll see you soon
xx

Monday, 8 June 2015

Thank you

Dear readers,

I just wanted to thank you all for patiently waiting. I haven't been posting at all since my April wrap up, which is all because I've been very busy with uni, writing my dissertation, trying to obtain my Master's degree. Today I handed in my prefinal, which means I'm at least nearing the end. This also means I will have time to read books again and write about them on here! I'm super excited to publish reviews of books I read for uni in the past 4 months, because I've read some amazing novels. But I'm also excited to have time to read for pleasure, continue my Harry Potter challenge (reading all the novels and novellas in the year 2015), explore more genres, try to get through my TBR. And although it's scary, nearing the end of my academic carreer, it is also a gateway for new opportunities and fun experiences, and most importantly it gives me a chance to catch up with friends - yes, uni has robbed me of much of my social life.
Anyway, expect more of me here soon.

Love, Suzan.

Friday, 1 May 2015

April Wrap-Up

Here's a recap of all the books I read in the month of April. Most novels will be reviewed on here in the future. 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A novel written from a little girl’s perspective, set in 1950s America. It is a coming-of-age story, but even more so a novel which explains the conflict of racism. Not the first time I read this, and loved it again. *****

Perfume by Patrick Süskind
A man with an incredible smelling sense wants to make the perfect perfume. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the film’s ruined this experience for me. Still did enjoy it though. ***

I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak
About an under-aged cab driver who suddenly receives a playing card with instructions. I loved the book throughout, but am still not sure what I think about the ending. ****

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman wants a girlfriend. Having never really gone on a second date, he devices the Wife Project: a form women fill in which help him write off women who are completely unsuitable. Sometimes unrealistic as the characters are all quite hyperbolic, but I really enjoyed it. ****

The Nose and The Carriage by Nikolai Gogol
Two short stories which both deal with Russian politics. The first one being very allegorical, I did enjoy it for its humour: a man loses his nose, and the nose seems to lead a life of his own, but the second story I can honestly barely remember. ***

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
The second book in the Harry Potter series – about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard. Slightly slower than I wished it was, but still amazing and magical ****

Ik hoef niet op te letten, ik weet alles al by Meester Bart
A Dutch book with quotes by children written down by their teacher. The teacher is incredibly pretentious, but some of the quotes were funny. **

All I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher
Part memoir, part guide. Carrie writes down her own journey of growing up, hoping to help teenagers who are now going through the same thing. Wonderfully written, highly enjoyable, but I mostly enjoyed the biography parts, as I’m quite a bit older than the target audience for the ‘tips’ parts. ****

The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows and other short stories by Rudyard Kipling
All short stories set in India. Some I loved, some I didn’t. ***

Peter Pan by J.M Barrie

A boy who never wants to grow up takes some children on a journey. Lovely story, but reading it as a grown up makes me much sadder and more weirded out by the story. ****

Sunday, 26 April 2015

14:00 - final hours




What I've read.
159 pages
I've finished All I Know Now and a collection of short stories by Kipling

How I spent these hours.
Mostly eating and trying to find another book to read. Didn't read too much.

How I'm feeling. 
Tired and I feel lazy,

What's up next.
Perhaps a little bit of sleep, need to read lots for my dissertation, but also need to clean the house.

Total amount of pages read: 1361
Total amount of books finished: 7 


It's over! Although I thouroughly enjoyed the past 24 hours, I'm dead tired and I need to get on with normal life :p Thanks to the hosts for organising everything!


11:00 - Hours 19-21



What I've read. 
370 pages
I've finished Peter Pan
I've read the first three chapters of Watchmen
I'm about 200 pages into All I know Now

How I spent these hours. 
Reading.

How I'm feeling. 
Good, sad it's almost over though!

What's up next.
The final three hours! It'll probably take one more hour reading All I Know Now, but I really don't know what I'll be reading next. I may just make a start in a big book.

Total pages read: 1202
Total books finished: 5


8:00 - Hours 12-18


Okay, so maybe I slept for a little bit too long.. but this will only improve my productivity for the day! I didn't fall asleep immediately, though, so I did do a little bit more reading


What I've read.
97 pages
I'm now on page 134 of Peter Pan

How I spent these hours.
Sleeping, a tad of reading, waking up and drinking coffee.

How I'm feeling. 
Rested.

What's up next.
Reading, reading, more reading. Also eating.
First I'll finish Peter Pan, then I'll read a couple of chapters of Watchmen, until I'm no longer behind on my readalong for that one.

Total pages read: 832
Total books finished: 4

00:20 - hour 11. time for bed

I'm sorry to announce I'm not even capable to read for 12 hours straight. I'm going to bed now, but I will try to get up early again. For those still reading, GO YOU!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

23:00 - Hours 7-9


What I've read.
363 pages
I've finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Ik hoef niet op te letten, ik weet alles al. 
I'm on page 36 in Peter Pan and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

How I spent these hours.
Reading. Just reading. 

How I'm feeling. 
It's not even been twelve hours yet, but I'm quite tired. I don't know if I'll be able to read the full 12 hours before going to bed. But we'll see. 


What's up next. 
Reading for as long as I can, but going to bed when I'm too tired. As I mentioned in my TBR-post, I cannot afford to be ill as a consequence of this read-a-thon :p 

Total pages read: 735
Total books finished: 4

20:00 - Hours 4-6


What I've read.
215 pages
On page 200 of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I've finished "The Carriage" by Gogol 

How I spent these hours.
Mostly reading, but did take a fifteen minute break for dinner

How I'm feeling. 
Quite tired, but I've just made some tea, hopefully that'll help me get through many more hours.

What's up next. 
Finishing Harry Potter and perhaps making a start in a next book. But I could decide to go on a little walk the next few hours too.

Total pages read: 372
Total Books finished: 2

17:00 - Hour 1-3.





What I've read.
157 pages
I've finished The Rosie Project , which I'd already started before.
I've also finished "The Nose" by Gogol, which is the first short story in a collection of two by Penguin.

How I spent these hours.
I was planning on just reading, but honestly also already had to take a ten minute nap. Oops!

How I'm feeling. 
Good, excited to continue but also curious to find out how other people are doing, so I'm gonna check out Twitter and some blogs before reading on.

What's up next. 
The second story by Gogol, a start on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and dinner. Fortunately, I have a lovely boyfriend who'll prepare dinner, so I don't have to waste any time doing that ^^

Talk to you in three hours!

Total pages read: 157
Total books finished: 1

13:00 - One hour until take-off

I spent the morning working on my dissertation and doing grocery shopping. In the next hour, I'll eat lunch, get everything ready, take a shower, get dressed in comfy clothes, and settle down.

Here's a picture of today's food! Excluding the rice crackers which I forgot to add to the stack. Also excluding dinner and lots of tea and water.



Now, lets get started on my first read-a-thon!

(next update in 4 hours)

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Dewey's 24-hour Readathon

Dewey's 24-hour-read-a-thon is this Saturday, and I'm participating! The read-a-thon starts at the same moment all around the world, and for me, being in the Netherlands, it means mine will start at 2pm. As I cannot afford a hangover because I have quite some uni-work to do, I will not read for the entire 24 hours and try and get some sleep in.

Anyway, I wanted to post a TBR, but I'm really not sure what I'll be reading, so the books I've picked will be quite a few too many. Moreover, a few of these books need an explanation. 


Watchmen is a book I've been reading for a readalong, but I got a bit behind because of finals. So I'll be catching up, but not finishing it, cause I don't want to get too far ahead. 
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This is part of a project I'm trying to do this year: read all Harry Potter books - one every month for the months of January, April - December. Yes, that's 10 months, but I included the Hogwards Library books as well. 
All I Know Now. A book by one of my favourite Youtubers, Carrie Fletcher, which came out today. I had planned this for Saturday, but as I got it in the mail I realised it may be a bit too big for the day, and I might not want to rush it either. So I'm not sure about that one. 
The Little Black Penguin editions. I got these the other day, and I thought they'd be perfect for a day of reading. However, I'll most definitely not read all four of them. 
The Rosie Project.  I've been reading this for the past few days, but I'm pretty sure I won't have time to finish it before the read-a-thon, so I'll finish it in the first hour or so. 

Saturday, I will try to update every, say, three hours. But we'll see how it goes. If you're participating too, please let me know what you're reading! 


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Review: Ada or Ardor


“What are dreams? A random sequence of scenes, trivial or tragic, viatic or static, fantastic or familiar, featuring more or less plausible events patched up with grotesque details, and recasting dead people in new settings.”

Title: Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Year: 1969
Pages: 479

Ada is a family chronicle and spans one hundred years. It tells the story of Ivan ‘Van’ Veen, and his life-long love for his cousin Ada. Although at first glance you’d say this would fit in the genre of romance, it is at the same time a fairy-tale, but also philosophical, epic, historical, erotic, and maybe even science-fiction.

It is set in an alternate version of our earth. There are slight differences in world events, and, in short, consequently North-America is a country in which people speak French, Russian, and English. Very convenient for the author, who was fluent in these languages, and felt being able to speak all of these allowed him to express himself best – if a word lacked in the English language, he’d use the French word, etc. (Very contrasting to the way language is used in the dystopian 1984). Although all Nabokov’s novels mix these languages, in Ada it is most prominent and important. At first glance, too, he has provided us with a glossary. Unfortunately, there are no notes, so whenever you stumble upon a foreign word, you’d have to go to the back of the book, and find out whether it’s been translated or not. Quickly enough, you’ll find that you’ve put too much trust in Nabokov. Of course, the easy phrases are the only ones translated, and for the difficult passages, you’d have to use Google Translate. Even more so, there are some words or phrases which are glossed several times, with different meanings. When then you see the notes were written by Vivian Darkbloom , someone who’s read Lolita will understand that this is a character (and a persona of our author – it’s an acronym, you see). Language is the first of many features which makes this novel interesting and dynamic, but at the same time tedious and difficult. Much time is spent trying to figure out what the characters are saying when speaking Russian – French I could often understand - up until the point when you can no longer be bothered checking each and every word, hoping you’ll understand the basic premise without looking it up.

While at first hand the plot seems quite straight forward, it becomes weirder and more morbid throughout. What probably should have creeped me out properly, but frankly only interested me, was the fact that for thirteen-year-olds, Van and Ada know much about sex, and are slightly too interested in it. In my opinion, this resulted mostly in funny or awkward scenes. While I admit, at some parts it could be viewed as erotic, I could not forget about their age which sort of obstructs this genre, in my opinion. There are more instances when the novel gets weird, but I want to remain spoiler-free here. When you get to the very last sentence of part 1 you’ll know what I mean (Although, the very attentive reader will merely regard this as a reference to Madame Bovary, rather than a plot-twist – this had to be pointed out to me, though).

When discussing this in class, I found out most people found the novel boring and too long. While it is indeed the longest novel we had to read, to me, it was the most exciting one (disregarding Lolita here as I’d already read it a year before), mostly because it was so plot-driven. This allowed you to read on, remain interested in what happened, and care for the characters. This also helped me getting through the more confusing and philosophical chapters. I have to agree with most critics that at some point these chapters seem superfluous and make the story drag, but knowing the plot will continue in just a few pages motivated me. I would also be interested in finding out how exactly those chapters fit in - I cannot wait to reread the novel for this purpose.

One last quality I’d like to talk about is the form of the novel. In essence, it’s a memoire, written by Van, reread by both him and Ada, which we can see sometimes when at the end of the chapter there’s a note by either of them. This made the novel even more dynamic.

As I mentioned before, though, it lost me sometimes. Also, the amount of references to other literary works or historical figures became exhausting. You don’t want to come across as ignorant, so in the very beginning of reading Nabokov, you try to understand every single reference. I was lucky enough that I read this novel at the end of a course on Nabokov, which meant I had by now become somewhat familiar with his style. Hence, I did not bother to understand everything. But how much more fun would it have been if I understood every reference? Yet another reason to reread this (in ten or twenty years).

Along with Lolita, my favourite Nabokov.  Also the last one I’ll be reading for a while now. I’ve had my fair share of this author for the year.