Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Moorland Cottage, Elizabeth Gaskell

I really enjoyed this short and sweet novella.  I'm a bit of a Gaskell fan, so it wasn't difficult to like.  The best part was doing it as a readalong at Gaskell blog, with all the lovely details this added to each chapter.

This is a simple story, with some unproblematially good (and bad) characters, and a bit of melodrama thrown in.  It's a quiet story, despite some of the big action in it.  A nice time-passer, but no North and South.  I think I like Gaskell more when she holds forth a little, and explores people and situations in more detail.  Moorland felt more like a practice story.

A couple of favourite quotes: I especially liked this reference to Australia, '"But, Maggie, I don't give up this wish of mine to go to Australia - Canada, if you like it better - anywhere where there is a newer and purer state of society."'  That's us Down Under: newer and purer! ;)

And this on the law: "Frank had entertained some idea of studying for a barrister himself: not so much as a means of livelihood as to gain some idea of the code which makes and shows a nation's conscience..."  Which is almost exactly why I like the law, and one of the reasons I studied it (though, I digress, I am more interested in how law is enacted - as in lived, not as in passed by a governing body - as compared to how it is encoded, but I do like encoding as a reflection of a social standard or norm).  /end digression :D

This was a delightful little novel, definitely worth a read, particularly if you're a Gaskell fan.  The characters are charming, the messages are simple, but complex enough to hold interest, the ending is happy (mostly).  If you're not expecting more, then you'll like it.  Good for a rainy day.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

What an amazing book!  Never Let Me Go is so subtle and tightly wound, Kazuo Ishiguro crafts an amazingly real and chilling world, so close to our own.  His writing draws this line of narrative where everything is contained, oppressed, obedient, and doomed.  Well, doomed is too exuberant.  There's doom coming for each of them, but doom is too emotive a word for the passive acceptance of the horrible slow death that waits for all the characters.

Most of the novel is a finely told story of love and friendship among children and teens as they transition into adulthood, with the added twist of the dystopian wider situation they are all in.  As a tale of teen-dom and childhood, it's an impressive portrayal of that difficult and fraught time.  Ishiguro has captured the difficulties and casual cruelties of those friendships, particularly for girls.  Kids are cruel, and are the best enforcers of social norms and behaviour out there.  It's a big part of learning society, and this has been closely observed by Ishiguro.  The opressive and secretive, yet everyday nature of their childhood in Hailsham, at first glance a boarding school, does its work indoctrinating all the children to their "duty" as donors, keeping themselves and each other in line.  This eventually makes them all turn up, repeatedly, for their slow deaths. 

I could tell it was going to end badly, and it did.  This matched the contained tone of the rest of the book, it was simply obvious, and could not be struggled against.  Finishing the book was like waking up, it was so convincing and oppressive.

I've been thinking a lot about this novel since finishing it, which in my opinion is a sign of a great book.  I wanted to struggle on behalf of Kathy and Tommy, I wanted one of them to rebel, try to escape, make a wider appeal to the society that was doing this to them, something!  The passivity that binds the book together, making even the appeal for a "deferral" to Madame seem a struggle too great, was frustrating, but intentionally so.  And while we would all like to think, as readers, that we would be different, try to escape, change the mind of society, or something, the truth is that in the same situation, with the same background, how many of us would do the same as Ruth and Kathy and Tommy?  Their fate just is.  No point struggling. 

Never Let Me Go is a powerful statement about what becomes acceptable in society, and how social indoctrination works on each of us.  It's not really about the horror of donation, or the morality and issue of cloning, or any of it's dystopian elements.  This book is about how society works on us, and how we work on each other.  It is about how, at the heart of it, we humans do this to ourselves.

I really liked this book.


Another one not on the current, or the core list, it was on the 2006 list, so that kinda counts?  I don't think it should have been removed, I was very impressed.  I read this as an ebook on Kindle for iPad.

ETA - I was googling reading reviews of this book, and found this list of Books that made a difference to Kazuo Ishiguro, at Oprah magazine, complete with Ishiguro's explanations, worth a look!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More pretties

I had a book voucher, courtesy of my awesome Mum, and spent it today.

I *heart* decent books about eating disorders, okay, that sounds strange, I can't say I *enjoy* it, but I...get a lot out of it, to use a clunky turn of phrase - and I have always liked Portia De Rossi, so was keen to get her memoir, it's why I got the voucher in the first place (birthday requests rock!).  The Penguin Classics are books that caught my eye, and Cold Comfort Farm is on my 1001 list.

Unbearable Lightness, Portia De Rossi
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibson
Obernewtyn, Isobelle Carmody (despite being a sci-fi/fantasy lass, I've never read this! I was interested to see it on the Classics list.)

Nice pretties!  I wish I had a shelf to put you on, other than my piano in the spare room.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

War and Peace - Read Along Check In #3


I am just NOT enjoying this book.  Quite honestly, it's the only thing I've been reading as I know if I start something else, I will never finish War and Peace, so it's sending me quietly crazy!!  I have moments of not minding it quite as much as other times, but overall I am simply not enjoying it.  Reading it is a chore, not a pleasure. 

I feel I am getting the point of what Tolstoy is doing, and even am sympathetic with it, I want to like this book!  I admire it as a work of fiction/history, as an attempt to give both the broad strokes and minutiae of history, as a philosophical treatise, and so on and so forth, but I still don't wanna read it. I don't look forward to reading it.  I've read more blogs and online articles than ever before in an attempt to amuse myself (pre-bedtime reading-wise) so I don't turn on Kindle on my iPad to continue War and Peace.  I am very grateful to be doing this as a read-a-long so I am accountable and have kept going at it!

Kindle cruelly reports that I am 74% of the way through.  That last 26% seems very. very. long.

Okay, the bits I like: the philosophical explainations of war and human action:

"But what is war? What is needed for success in warfare? What are the habits of the military? The aim of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country's inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft. The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is, discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and drunkenness. And in spite of all this it is the highest class, respected by everyone. All the kings, except the Chinese, wear military uniforms, and he who kills most people receives the highest rewards.
"They meet, as we shall meet tomorrow, to murder one another; they kill and maim tens of thousands, and then have thanksgiving services for having killed so many people (they even exaggerate the number), and they announce a victory, supposing that the more people they have killed the greater their achievement. How does God above look at them and hear them?" exclaimed Prince Andrew in a shrill, piercing voice. "Ah, my friend, it has of late become hard for me to live. I see that I have begun to understand too much. And it doesn't do for man to taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.... Ah, well, it's not for long!" he added.


I like Helene more and more, though her characterisation as "stupid" is offensive, she is pretty clearly a cluey soul.  Tolstoy also explains her independence as a masculine trait, or as her foolishness and ignorance.  This is annoying, I would far prefer her to be unapologetically a strong and smart woman. 

I'm still a fan of Andrei/Andrew, and NOT a fan of Natasha - she is insipid and continues to be flighty and dull. 

So: I get the point, I like the point, I just don't want to be reading the point.  But either way, this book has made a big impression on me, I find myself thinking about it and my reactions to it often, and so it has definitely been a reading success.

Trudging off to finish the rest of it.  Slowly. 

See other read-a-long posts here, care of A Literary Odyssey.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Where, oh where, have all my books gone?

We're renovating.  Slowly.  We got new carpet, and are rearranging and painting.  Our living area/dining room used to look like this:

This is a shot from last year of my daughter "catching possums" while standing on the dining room table, :D.  It also shows most of the bookcases, there are another two on the near wall (you only see one in the shot) and another two like this in the lounge.  *looks embarassed*  

I have *ahem* a lot of books.  This isn't even all of them.  There were several boxes in the shed when we cleared that out late last year.  I also culled heaps of my old work books.  

The precious books are now upstairs, and look like this:

Sad books in boxes.
Poor books, locked away from sharing your awesomeness with me!  Who knows when we will paint the walls, put up the shelves, and get you out again?!

I miss you, books.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

New Pretties!

I rarely buy new books these days, though I confess I did buy a few when I first got Kindle for iPad.  But I had a few hours kid free today, took myself out for lunch and a quiet coffee (during which I attempted to catch up some more on War and Peace), and then *just happened* to walk past one of those bargain shops that spring up where they have temporary tables out and heaps of books for cheap.  So, I HAD to have a look, it's like some kind of Bookish Law!!, and I came out with these, all for only $5 each!

Books, glorious books!
I got four that are nominally part of my 1001 books read, though 3 are actually not on the Core list, but are in various editions, so may or may not count, depending on which list I go with (sigh).  But Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernières, is on the Core list, and the others are books I'd like to read anyway.  I've decided to just go with what I feel like reading, from the list if I can, but other books, too.  So here are the others:

Nocturnes, Kazuo Ishiguro.
Beloved, Toni Morrison.
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert
Never Cry Wolf, Farley Mowat

I also picked up the Sears' Vaccine Book, Pinky McKay's Parenting By Heart, and an Olivia pack for Lolly.

And the time off was nice, too.  Coffee by one's self always equals bliss.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

War and Peace - Read Along Check In #2

I'm not finished up to the set point for the check in (over at A Literary Odyssey) yet!  I've just been busy and distracted, and War and Peace has been taking a back seat.

I will say that I'm enjoying it a little more in this part than the first one.  Some of the war scenes weren't as dull as I found the first lot, and there was some interesting stuff on how the army worked, and on the hospitals (blerg!) in wartime.

The random masonry was odd but interesting, Pierre's conversion fervour, marriage issues and duel had a deft touch to it.  I'm enjoying the parts with Andrei/Andrew in them, he's an aloof fellow, but I like him!  He's one of the few characters that I'm interested in, to be honest.  I like Rostov as well, despite the fact he's a bit of an idiot.  He's got a kind of charm that is appealing.  Boris is a manipulative self-serving bounder, but he's not bad as a character, I feel relatively invested in his success.

The women are not so well drawn. There's not much on them, certainly not as individuals, and what little there is is stereotypical to the extreme.  Loyal maidens, cruel heartbreakers, innocent virgins.  Sigh.  None are as thoughtfully drawn as even the more minor male players.  They are ciphers, to be acted upon by the real protagonists of the story.  It's kinda irritating, to say the least.

According to my Kindle (oh cruel Kindle, how you constantly let me know how behind I am and how very far I have to go!!) I am 37% of the way through the book.  I think I'm several chapters behind the read-a-long, in my edition I'm up to Book 6: 1808-1810, about a third of the way through that "book".  Prince Andrew/Andrei is making his way in society and worshipping at the altar of Speranski.  Pierre is doing Masonry things. 

I'm trying to catch up, but at least the book is passing by.  Unless something radical happens, I'm pretty certain it's not going to be one I love, or re-read.  But it's on the bloody list, so it will be done, at least!

I love this pic from the classic film - I'm going to have to watch this again when I'm done reading it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Elizabeth Gaskell Read A Long

Sounds just lovely, and as you can get this book for free as an e-read, cheap too!  Sign up here at Gaskell Blog.

I've read the first three chapters so far and am really liking it, it's a finely drawn story of a girl and her family.  At Gaskell Blog there are several great posts on the region, history and writing of the novel for the Day One Readalong, it's been great getting so much information about a book (so easily :D).

This one isn't on the 1001 list, the Gaskell books are North and South (which I've read) and Cranford (which I'm pretty sure I've read, but can't really remember for sure, so when that happened I left it as unread).  I'm hoping Cranford comes up as a readalong too.

At least it's a nice change from War and Peace, which I'm still wrestling with *sigh*.