Thoughts

‘Out Fishing’

To everybody, or anybody (!) who might be wondering about the lack of updates or where in the world I am, I’m finally on my first solo overseas trip! And I’m in Vienna to be precise :-). So far, I haven’t done anything bookish- yet.

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End of Year Wrap Up

It’s that time of the year where we do a bit of naval gazing. I’ve pinched the first half of this meme from Other Stories and the second half from Shelf Love. I steered clear of challenges this year, except the ever on-going 1001 Books and my own completist reading list (list also a work in progress). My only goal was to read 52 books which I have achieved! Hurrah!

How many books read in 2010? 58

Fiction/Non-Fiction ratio? 54/4

Male/Female authors? 27/31. It’s pretty even which is a surprise. I’ve never really had a preference for authors of a certain gender which I find very unnecessarily limiting.

Favourite book read? Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. It broke my heart and made me appreciate my education that much more. Hardy is a misery but his stories are so captivating.

Least favourite? The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

How many re-reads? Just one ‘real’ re-read which is a surprise since a lot of the books I read last year were re-reads. This year, only Wuthering Heights is the re-read which was something I had been meaning to do from the moment I finished the book for the first time many years ago. Throw in a couple of Agatha Christie re-reads (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) and Tintins.

Most books read by one author this year? Surprisingly, Susan Hill with her three short ghostly novellas.

Any in translation? Around seven titles. I can’t remember if Unbearable Lightness of Being was translated or not. If it is, then it is eight. There were a lot of French and Swedish translations this year.

And how many of this year’s books were from the library? 34 from the library and only a ghastly 24 from my own shelves. I’ll have to start reading from my own shelves more particularly since I’ve bought more books this year than any other year.

Favorite New-to-Me Author: Shirley Jackson and her sumptuous We Have Always Lived in this Castle. M.C. Beaton also comes a close second. Something to snuggle up with when after a comfort read.

Favorite Classic: I can cheat a bit here since I already named Jude as my favourite 2010 read. For this question, I’ll have to say The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre. It was so enjoyable and stimulating and the prose wasn’t stuffy at all or wrapped up in theory which was what I was afraid and intimidated by.

Most On-the-Nose Title: Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Harbour, as in the docks by the sea, and harbour, as in harbouring someone or something, both which the book was all about.

Most Disturbing: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Disturbing, yes, but also unexpectedly very funny. I was surprised to find myself chuckling through the first quarter of the book constantly … until the first eyeball popped.

Most Accessible Author Who Intimidated Me for No Good Reason: Again, I have to say Sartre, whose very readable prose, I think, is underrated but I wouldn’t go as far to say he intimidated me for no good reason! Also Emile Zola, who I conquered this year by reading Nana although I was never interested in Zola until I wanted to read Nana.

Most Discouraging Realization: That whatever was haunting the house in The Little Stranger was not going to be revealed and also the foreboding that Maggie Tulliver’s life would not end well in The Mill on the Floss from the moment she is introduced. Anybody with an uncontrollable mass of dark hair did not have a bright future ahead in those days (see also Aurora Floyd).

Most Reassuring Realization: That the Queen was not going to let anybody stop her from pursuing her recently discovered love of reading in The Uncommon Reader.

2011 Reading Goals: Lots of chunksters to look forward to such as Anna Karenina, The Mandarins, Our Mutual Friend and possibly Doctor Zhivago because I want to go and see the new stage production of it.

Reading Notes: “Vanity Fair”

Well, it’s been a marathon and after several stop-start attempts last year (and sadly languishing by my bedside for most of the year), I finally dived right into Vanity Fair and I’m on the home stretch. It’s a mammoth of a book so here are some of my impressions:

  • It’s epic. I don’t mean the size of the book but the story. We follow the two lead characters, Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley, from the moment of their graduation from Miss Pinkerton’s finishing school and their rise and fall through life and society.
  • William Thackeray really meant it when he subtitled the novel with “a novel without a hero”. There really isn’t one, no matter how virtuous a character may seem. While this doesn’t mean that every character is a villain, it means that no character merits the label of ‘hero’ (or ‘heroine’, I suppose). Well, not yet. That might change yet at the end of the novel.
  • Vanity Fair resides in us all – we blind ourselves with our own pain, troubles, trial and tribulations. That is not a bad thing – it is simply human nature, our means of survival, which are all exaggerated (slightly) in the novel.
  • The soldiers featured in the novel actually do have to go and fight! I’ve read some regency novels where soldiers feature (such as Pride and Prejudice), having purchased their places by their rich fathers, but who then simply lie around chasing girls. Imagine my surprise when they are called to arms and commanded to go off to Waterloo for battle.
  • I adore Becky Sharp.

Reading Notes: Nana

There always seems to be a lull in my reading habits during this time of the year. Although every year I tell myself I’ll get into the more meatier and chunkier books during the yearly break, when December/January rolls around, I always remember why I never do: the extreme summer heat kind of puts one off Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Foucault. They don’t exactly make for light summer reading.

At the moment, I’m reading Nana by Emile Zola and it’s a strange sort of book. For starters, the chapters are very long so it’s not the type of book that you can pick up and put down. It’s not a plot driven or pacey novel since it’s more of a slow examination of ninetenth-century Parisian society, of hedonism and debauchery, of sex and social double-standards. It’s a really fascinating read.

I’m not particularly well-read in French literature and classics. I got through half of Madame Bovary a few years ago before I got distracted and haven’t yet returned to it. But I did remember the stark differences between the French classic and English classics. Reading Nana has reminded me of the differences, or perhaps it might be the books I pick. The French classics are so much more about the sex and frivolous lifestyle and the characters are much more liberated in certain senses. For example, Nana is an unmarried young woman/high-class prostitute/actress and has a young toddler son who is sometimes in Nana’s care. And yet nobody bats an eyelid when they find out and Nana happily claims him as her own. Of course, this may be so since she is essentially a prostitute but the fact doesn’t deter the men. In Victorian fiction, the illegitimate child would have been disowned, hidden away and hoped that it would never be discovered.

The edition I am reading is OUP and I suspect that the translation is slightly off. Expressions seem too English. I’m not quite sure if the French said ‘old chap’. I’m also unsure if the the text has been modernised. Did the French say ‘comfy’ in the nineteenth-century?

The Curse of the Bookworm?

I go, I go away, I walk, I wander, and I wander to no purpose: this is the University vacation, everywhere I go I bear my shell with me, I remain at home in my room, among my books, I do not approach an inch nearer to Marrakesh or Timbuctoo. Even if I took a train, a boat, or an autocar, if I went to Morocco for my holiday, if I suddenly arrived at Marrakesh, I should be always in my room, at home. And if I walked in the squares and in the souks, if I gripped an Arab’s shoulder, to feel Marrakesh in his person, well! – that Arab would be at Marrakesh, and not I: I should still be seated in my room, placid and meditative as is my chosen life, two thousand miles away from the Moroccan and his burnous. In my room. For ever. – p. 186

The passage is taken from Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Age of Reason and I find it incredibly sad, beautiful and startling precise. It is one of my favourite passages in the book. Are we bookworms doomed to be isolated?

Best Reads of O-Nine and Reflections

The end of the year, and decade, is nigh and it is time for some navel gazing and reflection. I was going going to do a ‘best reads of the decade’ thing but I realised that would simply be impossible. Ten years is a long time, particularly for somebody who has transited from teenage years to a young adult (or ‘adult’). But it would have been interesting to watch the changes in my reading habits, if only I had kept a reading journal.

Compared to last year, I have read much more, more than double the amount. This is largely due to not focusing on research material and assigned literature. This is also the first year, in more than a decade, that I was not dictated what to read since I was no longer (sadly…) taking any English Lit. classes, both high school and university, so that was an unusual position.

I didn’t set out a number of books I wanted to finish this year because I don’t believe in that sort of thing. I’d rather savour books slowly and ponder rather than rushing through volumes. Being a rather slow reader comes into play here. I’d signed up for two reading challenges but I didn’t complete those either. I’ve decided readings challenges aren’t really for me but I do like the 1% of 1001 books challenge although I’m just working off the list rather than strategising and planning.

This year, I’ve read a wide variety of books, from classics to very hyped up crime thrillers (which is rare for me). I re-read several books, something that usually occurs once every four blue moons. I also read quite a bit of French existentialist novels and I’m making a conscious effort to read more Australian writers. I managed to get to the Melbourne Writer’s Festival for the very first time and even got the lovely M.J. Hyland to sign my book after making embarrassing random and inane comments to her, trying to think of something cool and witty to say. 🙂

Finally, I think I’m slightly Vampire-d and Austen-ed out.

Top Reads 2009 (no particular order)

  1. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s & other short stories – Truman Capote
  3. The Ghost Writer – John Harwood (re-read)
  4. Lucky – Alice Sebold
  5. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  6. She Came to Stay – Simone de Beauvoir
  7. The Outsider – Albert Camus (re-read)
  8. The Plague – Albert Camus
  9. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  10. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  11. A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams
  12. Disgrace – J. M. Coetzee
  13. Carry Me Down – M.J. Hyland
  14. The Millennium Trilogy – Stieg Larsson (yes, I know it’s three books)
  15. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (re-read)
  16. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  17. The Child’s Book of True Crime – Chloe Hooper
  18. The Garden Party and Other Stories – Katherine Mansfield

I know – that’s a pretty long list, almost half the titles I read this year. But I did read some pretty good books.

No More Larsson

Well, I’ve finished Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I tried to read slowly but I ultimately finished it too fast. It was not only the last book in the series but also the last completed book by Larsson. There are rumours that he has an unfinished manuscript of book 4 and sketchy outlines for a further six books but they’re not the same. If anything, they’ll just make it harder. No more Larsson. Boo. 😦