Reading and Reviewing

Last time we spoke, I was making my way through The Tree of Man, by Patrick White. Well, I finished it, and I loved it. There were a couple of chapters three-quarters of the way through that saw my interest wane a little, but then it picked right back up again. You can read my glowing review of it on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

Speaking of 1001 Books…if you’re a reader, and have read any of the books on the list, or fancy reading any of the books on the list, could you be convinced to write us a review?? It doesn’t have to be scholarly and it doesn’t even need to be a glowing review (for instance, you can read about how much I didn’t like Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad!). If you’re at all interested, flick us an email. We’d be forever grateful!

I’m currently reading Wild Sheep Chase, another Haruki Murakami novel. Loving it so far, although I am preparing for the moment when I suddenly find myself thinking, “Whaaaaat? I don’t get what’s going ooooooon!”, like I did when reading Kafka on the Shore. This doesn’t stop me from enjoying it though; the anticipation merely adds to the experience.

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Reading and Reviewing

imageLast week, I posted this picture on Instagram, with the comment: “This book! Can’t put it down!”

And I can’t. It’s SO GOOD. I’m caught up in pre- and post-war rural Australia; I’m suffering through floods and bush fires, scandals and everyday family life. I’m reading it slowly, savouring it, loving it.

I reckon there’s a good reason this book won the Nobel Prize for Literature!

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I finally finished Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. You can read my review on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I’m glad that one is now shelved and I don’t have to look at it ever again!

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After a self-imposed short break, I picked up another of Haruki Murakami’s works, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Completely different to Kafka on the Shore, this is a memoir of sorts, touching on Murakami’s running with small glimpses into his interesting life.

He runs a marathon every year and is in his 60s…I’m inspired!

Reading and Reviewing

~ I finished ‘Heart of Darkness’. Ugh. Didn’t like it. May have skim read a couple of pages. Will write a review at some point, but phew – I got to the end. And it saw me knock another off my BBC Big Read challenge, yehaaa.

~ Haven’t picked ‘Moby Dick’ up in a while, and have most likely forgotten what’s going on. I’ll get back to it. Some day.

~ I managed to stay away from another Haruki Murakami for a few weeks…but now I’m enjoying ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’. It’s so different to ‘Kafka on the Shore’, but having been a keen runner once upon a time, it’s an interesting read.

~ You can read my review of ‘Kafka on the Shore’ on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. Needless to say, I loved it, and still feel all squishy inside when I think of it. Sigh. I love the power of a good book.

~ Speaking of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, I’ve recently joined the editorial team (yey!). If you’re a lover of books, why not take a look at the list, and if there’s something on there you’d like to review, let us know!

A Little Light Reading

Not really. Light reading, that is. It’s been a summer of big, get-your-brain-whirring novels for me. I left The BBC Big Read for a while, and it was nice to read a couple of my own choices, to be honest.

‘Last Night in Twisted River’, by John Irving, was lent to my by my best friend; we share a love of Irving’s books. Actually, we share a love of all books; I don’t personally know anyone else who inhales the printed word in the same way as the two of us.

This story certainly isn’t up there with Irving’s best – comparing it to, say, ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ is a bit like comparing leaves and concrete – but it was still an enjoyable, identifiably-Irving read. I loved the way it began, and the way it ended, and the way it came full circle (the main character is writing a novel, and his starting lines are those of this story, which is clever and so fun to read). I loved the commentary on the main character’s prolific use of semicolons, one of Irving’s own quirks, and I loved that it featured bears, like every good Irving story should. I found the middle tedious and a bit long-winded and in some parts, unnecessary; my friend felt the same, but we both agreed this didn’t detract from the good bits.

Next up was my first-but-definitely-won’t-be-the-last Huraki Murakami novel, ‘Kafka on the Shore’. Wow. Just…wow. Talk about a metaphysical workout for the brain!! I won’t claim to have “got” it all, but it made me think in a way I haven’t done in a very long time. It took a few chapters to grip me, and then I was consumed by a need to read it. I’m currently working on a review for 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, at the same time as letting myself digest it a bit more.

For the first time in…probably ever, I didn’t rush straight into a new book once finished; I took a couple of days to savour it, to think it over and relish the way it made me think.

And then I got back onto the list with ‘Heart of Darkness’, by Joseph Conrad. I’m struggling to get into it, but have high hopes from reading the blurb on the back. Poor book has it tough, following Murakami though.

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Linking up with lovely Simone and other book lovers

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BBC Big Read update

As of yesterday, I now have just 39 books left to read from The BBC Big Read Top 200. Just 39. That’s light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel stuff, that is.

The 40th book was the wonderful ‘I Capture the Castle’, by Dodie Smith, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Written in the first-person by 17-year-old Cassandra, in the form of her private journal, this is a beautifully-told story of poverty, family, unrequited love and growing up. I loved that I could really feel seventeen again, and that the rich descriptions of the surroundings conjured up such strong pictures in my mind. I also loved that there were elements of predictability mixed with loose ends. Definitely a novel worthy of all the praise!

Now I’m allowing myself to deviate from the list for a while, starting with Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest’, followed by John Irving’s ‘Last Night in Twisted River’, and Hakuri Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore'(which I will be reviewing for 1001 Books to Read Before You Die – go check them out if you haven’t already, there are some fantastic reviews already written, with many more to come).

A couple of chapters into the final of the Millenium Trilogy, and I’m hooked once again. When I finished the second in the series, back in March, I planned on reading this one straight away, but life – and other books – got in the way. I half expected the start of this book to be all about re-hashing what had happened previously, but Larsson has very cleverly written gentle reminders into the start of the story without the usual, boring re-cap.

I don’t see this one lasting very long on my bedside table, that’s for sure.

Book Review: Sons and Lovers

This was my first experience of reading Lawrence, and now that I’ve finished, I can happily say I was pleasantly surprised. Initially, I found the chapters to be incredibly long and rather monotonous, but as the story progressed, it became more of a page-turner than I expected. It wasn’t, however, the gripping plot that kept me interested, for there really wasn’t much of a plot at all. It was the characters, and the intensely woven relationships between them, that had me wanting more.

Sons and Lovers is said to be semi-autobiographical; if this is true, then Lawrence certainly had a very interesting relationship with his mother. The novel’s protagonist is Paul Morel, a young man with an intense, passionate love for his mother, and an intense hatred of his father. As I read, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the story of Oedipus, such were the relationships between them.

Initially, I felt some compassion for Paul, sorrow for the power his mother had over him, and pity for the choices he made. However, by the end of the novel, I didn’t like him at all. He seemed spoiled and pathetic, incapable of thinking for himself at the same time as incapable of thinking of anyone but himself. He was selfish and arrogant, unfeeling and rather nasty at times. I think Lawrence made him out to be made this way through his mother’s influence, but I simply didn’t like him.

I feel a bit “meh” about Mrs Morel. A less-than-ideal marriage, the death of a child, living beneath her station…everything points towards a woman unlucky in love and life. Her actions didn’t seem malicious or cruel; I don’t believe she set out to ruin her sons’ potential love lives, but instead she wished for them to be happier in their marriages than she was.

Miriam, Paul’s childhood love, seemed to be the sweet girl-next-door kind of character; meek and supplicating, she came across as being willing to do, and put up with, anything for love. However, by the end of the novel, it was evident that despite her apparent meekness, she was incredibly strong and perceptive. Her ultimate realisation of the truth of her relationship with Paul made me want to give a little sigh of celebration; I was proud of her.

I didn’t like Clara Dawes, Paul’s older lover, initially, but as her relationship with Paul developed, and her character along with it, I found her to be rather endearing and likeable. She was strong in character, but possessed a fragility in stark contrast to this strength, which made her brashness seem like a front. She was quite a different character to Miriam in this regard, and in the end, I liked her best.

As I mentioned above, there wasn’t really much of a plot to Sons and Lovers. However, Lawrence is said to have summarised it in a letter to his editor in late-1912:

It follows this idea: a woman of character and refinement goes into the lower class, and has no satisfaction in her own life. She has had a passion for her husband, so her children are born of passion, and have heaps of vitality. But as her sons grow up she selects them as lovers — first the eldest, then the second. These sons are urged into life by their reciprocal love of their mother — urged on and on. But when they come to manhood, they can’t love, because their mother is the strongest power in their lives, and holds them. It’s rather like Goethe and his mother and Frau von Stein and Christiana — As soon as the young men come into contact with women, there’s a split. William gives his sex to a fribble, and his mother holds his soul. But the split kills him, because he doesn’t know where he is. The next son gets a woman who fights for his soul — fights his mother. The son loves his mother — all the sons hate and are jealous of the father. The battle goes on between the mother and the girl, with the son as object. The mother gradually proves stronger, because of the ties of blood. The son decides to leave his soul in his mother’s hands, and, like his elder brother go for passion. He gets passion. Then the split begins to tell again. But, almost unconsciously, the mother realizes what is the matter, and begins to die. The son casts off his mistress, attends to his mother dying. He is left in the end naked of everything, with the drift towards death.

I love this summary, and think it explains everything so perfectly without spoiling anything, that I don’t feel the need to expand further. Besides, Lawrence used the word “fribble” (used here to refer to a frivolous, wasteful, materialistic person), which isn’t a word you hear…well…ever, really!

Sons and Lovers gets 4/5 stars for me; it loses half a point for the first few chapters which sent me to sleep, and half a point for the lack of any real plot. Definitely worth a read, and the effort of persevering through the first part to get to the good bits.

Reading and Reviewing

I’m currently one-third of the way through ‘Sons and Lovers’, D.H Lawrence’s semi-autobiographical novel.

I think I’m enjoying it. There have been a few chapters (and boy, are they long ones!) which have literally sent me to sleep, but for the main part, it’s been an interesting read. I’m curious to see where the relationship between the mother and the main character, Paul, is going, and to see how every other strange relationship plays out.

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Prior to reading ‘Sons and Lovers’, I read George Eliot’s ‘Silas Marner’. It is a fairly short novel, at just 157 pages, but is supposedly one of Eliot’s “most admired and loved works.”

Well, I didn’t think it was all that special. It meandered so slowly in the beginning, and got increasingly predictable, until I felt I could almost have written the ending myself.

It’s essentially a tale of love, sin and repentance, of loyalty and prejudice. The main character, Silas Marner, is endearing, and the briefly-mentioned cad, Dunstan Cass, is highly entertaining, but the remaining cast are all a bit bland for my liking.

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We are also reading, a million times a day, ‘I Love Tractors, Trucks, Diggers and Dumpers’. Tiny loves tractors, trucks, diggers and dumpers. Mummy doesn’t. But when your two-and-half-year-old pleads with you to read it again, what else do you say but, “Of course, buddy”? And when it’s a cause of tantrums at bed time because neither mummy nor daddy wants to read it for the fifth consecutive night…well, we pick our battles, right?

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My goal is to have 40 books or less left of The BBC Big Read Top 200 to read by the start of 2013. I think I’m down to 43 already, so that gives me two months to read three or so books. Achievable? I think so. I’m putting off reading the last installment of The Millenium Trilogy to reach this number, which is taking an immense amount of willpower!

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Have you been checking out the awesome reviews being submitted over at 1001 Books to Read Before You Die?? They’ve just published their 100th review – congratulations!! And to celebrate, they are running a little competition which I’d love you to help me win 🙂

All you need to do is (a) visit the blog and leave a comment saying that *I* sent you, and (b) subscribe to their blog, so you get notified every time a new review is published. It’s a great source of inspiration if you’re looking for new things to read.

What might I win? A copy of my choice of book on the 1001 List! And if this sounds like something you want to win for yourself, then you need to get your family and friends on board too, so they can do (a) and (b) for you.

All the details can be found here. Check them out on Facebook too.

What I’m Reading

‘The Once and Future King’ (T. H. White) is full of beautiful and humourous imagery. My favourite so far has been:

“…all around the castle the snow lay as it ought to lie. It hung heavily on the battlements, like thick icing on a very good cake…

It hung on the boughs of the forest trees in round lumps, even better than apple-blossom, and occasionally slid off the roofs of the village when it saw the chance of falling on some amusing character and giving pleasure to all.”

I loved the first part about the good cake, and then it just got better. If I was reading this on public transport, I would be getting odd looks due to my constant sniggering!

For more amusing or evocative lines from novels, check out Top 10 Opening Lines on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die – there are some beauties!

Blogs I’m Loving

What is it about someone else’s blog that makes you go back for more? Is it their catchy name and quirky writing style, or their amazing photography skills? Perhaps it’s the delicious-sounding recipes they share, or their creative talents? Or maybe it’s their honest, insightful posts that reach you at the best possible moment?

Whatever it is, we all have blogs we love to visit on a daily basis; blogs that have struck a chord and grabbed our attention more than once, requesting our attendance at each new post.

There are lots of blogs I like to read when their post title grabs me as I’m skimming through the Kiwi Mummy Blogs website, but I’m a bit more selective about the ones I follow (either via Google Reader, Facebook, or email notification). This is mostly because I don’t have the time to read every single post on every single blog I even remotely like, and partly because I’m a bit OCD about clearing my email inbox!

I try and visit and comment on every blog if someone new comments on one of my posts – that’s only fair and polite, right? And I try and visit every blog who has joined a linky before me, and leave a comment, even if I’ve never visited before. I think that’s the purpose of joining a linky, but correct me if I’m wrong! I know that for some people, blogging is a profession and I don’t expect a personal reply, but it is nice to know your comment has been read and appreciated, which is why I think it’s important to repay the favour.

Today, I’m going to share with you some of my NZ favourites. I think these blogs (and their bloggers) are pretty awesome; no doubt you’ll have stumbled upon them at some point already, but if you haven’t, go and give them some love!

~MNMs~
I love the way Meghan writes; she has an eloquent, evocative style that really draws me in. I love her brilliant photography (seriously, the girl has talent!), her obvious smitten-ness (yes, I just made up a word, so what?) with her boys, her generous heart, and her commitment to getting out and exploring and enjoying her little slice of New Zealand.

~Create Hope Inspire~
Miriam’s posts about her wardrobe are addictive – I love seeing what she’s come up with week-to-week, and am always astounded that she’s still rocking clothes from 15 years ago. Her Becoming the Mama I Want to Be posts are inspiring, and she’s got more creative talent in her little finger than I possess in my entire being. She’s another wonderfully generous mama to two very cool dudes, and she’s the first to offer words of encouragement to anyone.

~Sophie Slim~
Not only do I adore seeing photos of Sophie’s adorable little daughter, but I enjoy seeing what awesome things she’s been crocheting lately (I can’t wait to see her latest blanket finished!), and reading about all the amazing, generous things this young woman has been doing. You’ve possibly been living under a rock (in New Zealand, anyway) if you don’t know that she’s the mastermind behind The Sisterhood, a project that started as a simple idea and has snowballed into something even more fantastic than anyone dreamed.

~Catching the Magic~
I love visiting Sarah’s blog to see photos of her three cutie-cutie daughters, read her poetry and admire her lyrical prowess. She writes with an honesty that is sometimes missing from other blogs, and I admire her greatly for that.

~To Find a Silver Lining~
Elizabeth is another blogger whose honesty in her beautiful, insightful writing really captures my attention – not to mention the regular updates on Button and ‘Lil M, who are pretty darn cute! She’s written some pretty thought provoking stuff, and I feel a special affinity with her as our babies are very similar in age. By her own admission, Elizabeth isn’t a crafty type, and I find this refreshing in a world seemingly filled with super-creative types – she makes those of us who aren’t feel normal!

~1001 Books to Read Before You Die~
I love books. This blog is about books. ‘Nuff said.

What are your favourite blogs to visit? Recommend them to me, and I’ll be sure to pop on over and say hi!

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Linking up with beautiful Meghan for

What I’m Reading

I did it!! I finished ‘The Gormenghast Trilogy’! Hurrah!

Now, if you’ve never heard of this series (like me), my immense sense of joy and relief will probably mean nothing to you. However, if you have heard of them, you will probably be sighing right along with me, and for that, I thank you.

Sitting somewhere on the fantasy spectrum (although unusually so, as these novels feature no magic, no fantastical creatures), Mervyn Peake has created a world unlike any other inhabited by humans. It’s as though he’s combined an ancient world with a futuristic one; the man’s imagination was certainly a wild one, with more than a touch of madness thrown in for good measure.

‘Titus Groan’
Young Titus, the long-awaited seventy-seventh Earl of Groan, is born into a family controlled by a long tradition of rituals and customs. From the moment he arrives, every action is governed by a pre-determined set of rules; rules which Titus very quickly desires to flout. From the very start, it’s apparent that the characters – the inhabitants of Gormenghast Castle – are a quirky, crazy bunch. Sepulchrave, the seventy-sixth Earl, is obsessed with his library of books, and descends into madness following a fire which destroys every volume. His wife, Gertrude, is surrounded by swarms of white cats and birds, and appears to love them more than her own children. Titus’ sister, Fuschia, is a moody young girl who comes to love her brother as they bond over the madness of their family. Flay, attendant to Sepulchrave, is consumed by his love for the Groans and Gormenghast, and his fatal hatred of the fat cook, Swelter. Steerpike is the young kitchen apprentice with evil designs on the running of the castle; his mastery of Sepulchrave’s gullible twin sisters leads to their ultimate destruction.

‘Gormenghast’
The second book follows Titus as he grows from a boy of seven to a young man of seventeen. From an early age he dreads the pre-ordained ritual that governs every aspect of castle life. His desire for freedom is all-consuming, and he makes various attempts to escape the castle; however, he always returns to his sister, with whom he has developed a strong and loving bond. When Steerpike is eventually unmasked as traitor and murderer, a timely flooding of the castle leads to his death at the hands of Titus. The death of the novel’s main protagonist means Titus is free to reign over the castle, but his desire to leave is so strong that the end of the novel sees him determined to leave.

‘Titus Alone’
The final in the series, this novel was completed and edited after Peake’s death, but if you didn’t know this, you wouldn’t be any the wiser – the editor has captured Peake’s imaginative style (and therefore the main characters’ madness) perfectly. It follows Titus’ abdication from his family home and his role as Earl of Groan. He flees from Gormenghast and finds himself in a foreign land where no one has heard of Gormenghast, or can tell him how to get back there. Through meetings with another bunch of insane characters and unlikely situations, Titus begins to doubt his own history and questions his own sanity; his seeming descent into madness mirroring that of his own father. The overriding impression is that Gormenghast is lost in the past, among traditions and rituals the origins of which have been long-forgotten; the contrast with the advanced city in which he finds himself alludes to this.

Did I enjoy the trilogy? I’m not sure.

Am I quietly stoked that I made it through? Most definitely.

Would I recommend you read them? Um…doubtful.

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I’m currently lost amongst the pages of an amazing memoir: ‘Bloom’, by Kelle Hampton. This book follows Kelle through the birth of her second daughter, Nella, and their first year dealing with Nella’s Down syndrome. I’m finding it impossible to set this aside, and have been thankful for a few moments where Pickle will only sleep on me, forcing me to stay on the couch with babe in one arm, this book in the other. It is beautifully and honestly written, and I’ve been moved to tears countless times. You can get a taste of the book by reading the story of Nella’s birth on Kelle’s blog, Enjoying the Small Things.

(I won my copy in a giveaway of Meghan‘s; she wrote a little review which says it all)