Summer Reading Challenge – August Part 4

Beach Bum: Read a book that could be considered a ‘beach read’

This is a very short review because annoyingly I didn’t understand this book at all. I can’t even remember why I thought it would be a good choice for this category, to be honest, I just picked it up in a charity shop and by that justification thought it would be a good ‘beach read’. How does anyone define a beach read anyway? Take a book to the beach and read it? I didn’t take this book to the beach: In Evil Hour by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

So I can’t say much about this book, I’m too frustrated with myself and I feel like I’m missing this huge chunk of knowledge and that really really annoys me. What I’m going to do is make a note of it and once this reading challenge is over I will research Gabriel Garcia Marquez and read up a little bit on South America and reread this book at a later date, with a bit of context. I’ve already started a list of to-read after this month (I’m itching to do some planning), so this title is going right into that spreadsheet.

So whoops! On to the next one!

Let’s Get It On: Read a book that features falling in or out of love

Wow. I’ve just had one of the most amazing reads of my life. It was beautiful, it was sad, it seems like such a simple story but feels so much more than that.

I’ve just had one of the most amazing reads of my life. It was beautiful, it was sad, it seems like such a simple story but feels so much more than that.

For this prompt I read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I think I already knew that I would like this book because I splashed out and bought my very own copy alongside another one which I’m planning on reading later. I read the introduction by Zadie Smith first, and instantly made me worried about how I would perceive it myself since she was mentioning how Hurston can sometimes be disregarded when it comes to great African American literature, brushing her novel off as just a love story, giving voice to a perhaps unconventional woman, and so on. Smith describes her first reading of this story, how she was reluctant at first to read this book given to her by her mother, but afterwards loving it so much she cried for the ending and clung to the book even after finishing, which, as a reader, is something I can relate to extremely well. I have what I call a ‘comfort book’, a book I read as a teenager that I keep coming back to again and again, particularly if I’m feeling down. I do the same with Harry Potter, but being in Edinburgh and surrounded by Harry Potter shops and merchandise, it’s not as extreme.

So in the same way as reading strongly opinionated reviews before a novel can make you nervous, this introduction made me nervous about Their Eyes Were Watching God. There are mild spoilers in the next paragraph.

I needn’t have worried because this was a wonderfully heartfelt book. I found it a little slow starting at the beginning, I wasn’t sure what to make of Janie, but I think she was a little unsure about herself at the beginning too. Her relationship with her second husband baffled me mostly, and it wasn’t until she met her third, Tea Cake, that I began to really sink into it, into Janie’s life, and particularly into their relationship, which was just the most genuine and loving relationship I’ve ever read in a book. I myself have only ever been in one relationship, and that’s because my partner happens to be sweet and loving and kind and all those good things that you would want in a relationship, and Tea Cake fulfills those things too. I was getting butterflies in my stomach reading the interactions between him and Janie. I feel so sad that they only got to enjoy a couple of short years together, they were the happiest of her life, and the end was probably the most harrowing end between a couple I’ve ever read about.

This book will now be on my favourites shelf forever. I’m going to be telling everyone I know to read it.

I would also recommend Zadie Smith’s introduction, I loved this book because of it’s love story, but it’s also on my favourites because of the voice of the novel. In the same way that stories of the Suffragettes makes me overwhelmingly grateful for the freedoms they have given me, so too do these voices of those who have lived, those who have fought, those who have given our future respect and equality. The world is getting better every day.

And on that positive note, see you next time.

Isla

xx

Summer Reading Challenge – August Part 3

The Colours of Summer: Read a book that features a yellow, green, or sandy cover

For this prompt I read The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende, another author that has been on my bookshelf for a very long time, since I was maybe fifteen, probably the longest time out of any of them. I remember receiving one of her books as a gift, although I cannot remember which one it was, but this one I bought more recently, an almost brand new charity bookshop find.

I was initially thinking of reading this for the ‘falling in or out of love’ prompt, but I’ve found something better for that one. I’m not sure if this would have been the perfect candidate for that anyway, since even though there is a lot of love in this book, the actual act of falling in love, or out of love, isn’t the main point of the story or of the characters. It’s an account of Alma Belasco’s life, from the age of five or so when she leaves Poland and is sent to her Aunt and Uncle in San Francisco to escape the Nazis, until her death many years later. She spends her last years in an eccentric nursing home where she hires Irina, a care worker there, to be her assistant and this begins a friendship between Alma and Irina, and between Irina and Alma’s grandson, and the fascinating mystery of Alma and the secret letters she receives regularly.

This was a beautiful story, and had many tragic elements in it, but many beautiful and strong characters that you couldn’t help but fall in love with yourself. I read somewhere that out of Allende’s works, this one is perhaps not the best, it feels rushed, apparently. But I had a great time reading the stories of each character, and I can only imagine what wonders her other books might be if this one is not-so-good.

Possibly I would have found the endless mysteriousness of both Alma and Irina a bit tiring if Allende’s writing hadn’t been so beautiful, and the structure of the book hadn’t been laid out as it had. I could imagine some people getting frustrated at the back and forth structure between Alma’s childhood, adult life, and life as an old woman, the relationship between Irina and Seth, and the breaks where we dove into the lives of the Japanese lover, Alma’s husband, her friend who turns up at the nursing home… That’s a lot of stories to tell. Her writing was very caring though, I felt deeply for all her characters, sympathised with them, and wanted them to succeed. I was curious about Alma, but in a way we knew where her story was headed, in the eccentric nursing home, so the dips and snippets of other lives, connected lives, and definitely interesting lives, were welcome.

Funny Bone: Read a humorous book

For this prompt I decided to read something a bit different. I am trying to be as varied as possible in all areas for this reading challenge, mostly because that’s what I like to do with my normal reading, and I felt like I was missing a play.

So I read this play, Fleabag, by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I had actually already read part of this when I visited the Women’s Library in Glasgow many many months ago. I got cut off halfway through because I had a train to catch, so I reserved it in the National Library of Scotland here in Edinburgh and spent an hour or so reading the whole thing through (it’s only 38 pages long, short even for a play).

As always when reading plays I try to slow my reading right down, create voices in my head, and imagine the movements and human pauses that might be seen if I was actually watching it on stage, it often reveals more about the story and the writing than just reading it like a novel but at the same time I love reading plays as opposed to seeing them on stage because that reveals more to me than trying to take it all in from a performance. I am definitely someone who learns and absorbs information from reading rather than watching or listening. If possible, I would always recommend seeing a play performed though, because you get to see the creativity of not only the writer but the actors, directors, stage designers, basically everyone involved in production and I love seeing the results of collaborations. Everyone’s so creative and wonderful I love it!

The introduction in Fleabag explains how the play came about: an exercise in writing with an aim to answer certain questions such as how do you get the audience to care about a character who has committed a terrible crime and how do you make an audience uncomfortable about the fact that they are laughing? I initially chose to read this because when I read it months ago I was really laughing at it and admiring the creativity of shocking laughter, or guilty laughter, the main voice in the play had suffered a tragedy and was grieving, but handling it using her absurd and blunt humour. My second time reading was much more melancholic, partly because I had read the majority of the funny parts already, and partly because the ending really does put it in perspective and makes everything very sad and even horrifying. I definitely didn’t see the revelations about the character beforehand, but then again this was one of the rare occasions where I didn’t read the introduction before the book, I waited until afterwards.

This play has been adapted by the BBC, which I haven’t watched, though I may try to in the future. (I’m torn between not really enjoying the BBC but wanting to learn more about the talent they pick up, because they are quite good at spotting talent).

Til next time!

Isla

Xx

Summer Reading Challenge – August Part 2

I Feel a Breeze: Read a book that takes place at a nudist colony or features nudists

I seriously cheated at this prompt. I don’t care though because I literally could not find a book that I thought I’d like which actually had nudists in it, or had nudity as a central theme. Does anyone even have any suggestions that aren’t porn or nudist manuals or something?

Anyway, yeah I gave up on this prompt and just threw in a book that I’ve wanted to read for a long time now: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. At the time I argued to myself that there’s bound to be some sort of nudity in a poetry book or even if there’s not there will be stripped bare emotions or something like that, but really it’s just because I had it in my mind and decided that even though I’m doing a reading challenge I really don’t want to be reading something I have no interest in at all. There’s a difference between forcing myself to finish a book I might not be enjoying as much as I thought and forcing myself to read a book that I know I won’t like.

I’d read a few of Rupi Kaur’s poems here and there, online and while leafing through her books in bookstores (I do this often), so I knew that I’d already like them. I love short poems, short poems done well, and how they can be so powerful, so perfect and precise, in their phrasing and construction. I keep critiquing poetry through comparison (I’ve always said that out of the main forms of literature – novels, short stories, poetry and dramas – I am the least knowledgeable, or the worst at understanding poetry, so comparison for me is the easiest way to judge how I like poetry) and I actually went to a poetry reading the other day at the Book Festival here in Edinburgh so I have lots to compare. The poets on stage seemed quite forced, strained, and their poems were very chronological. They were more like very short stories which happened to have a line that rhymed or a particularly pleasant phrase somewhere within them. There was also a moment where I realised I could hear the amount of punctuation in the poems, there was that much in them. Kaur’s poems have absolutely no punctuation in them at all, not even capital letters, it is just the words on the page and the breaks between them which hold almost as much importance as the word-filled space.

Not that punctuation is bad for poetry: I remember analysing a poem by Philip Larkin in High School and how I could write a whole page on the use of full-stops, commas and dashes and the meaning that structure brought to the poem. Now that I’ve gone through the whole uni process I could probably write more than just a page if I really tried.

As I expected, I loved Milk and Honey. It wasn’t as I expected in terms of the subject matter, because I go around in a little optimistic bubble, but it was how I expected it to make me feel. I knew it would hit me hard in some places because I knew already that she could write simple, purifying, truthful lines that do just that.

This was a terrible review, if you could even call it that. Please go read a proper review if you’re looking for something like that, or just read her poems and judge for yourself.

Sand Between My Toes: Read a book that takes place in or around a beach/ocean

Here I go with yet another book that’s been made into a film. This time I haven’t seen the film, but this book was in my head because me and my mum tried to go and see it and unfortunately were unable during the time that she was visiting.

This is also a book that I wasn’t going to read initially, but with the end of August approaching I quickly picked this up since it’s so short. My first choice for this prompt was also recommended to me by my mum but she also said that it was such a fantastic read that I should take my time, instead of rushing to meet a deadline. For the record, I have been trying to take my time in reading all these books and absorbing as much of the writing and the story as possible, I am just a very fast reader and have been sacrificing my tv watching, my obsessive planning and my other useless ‘hobbies’ in order to read. I’m also incredibly privileged to have a job which allows me a book during the down, quiet times. Another thing that helped, although unintentionally, was being on holiday and my partner being sick, I kind of just left him to it to sleep it off for five days while I read beside him.

So this book was On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.

I’ve never read Ian McEwan before, but he is a really beautiful writer. I was also sceptical about how entertaining a book about two people trying to have sex on their wedding night would be, but turns out that is an entertaining topic! I found it also very fun just getting so frustrated at their inability to properly communicate with one another and actually get down to business.

This next bit may contain a wee bit of spoilers but in a very vague way if you’re planning to read it, but I loved how the climax of the book was a, y’know, climax, and how as the reader you don’t really get that much relief at the end, it is an unsatisfying ending, although a fair ending to the story and the characters. *spoiler* I think if they did end up having sex at the end of the book it would have made the rest of the story tired, if that makes sense? You would have this feeling of ‘Finally!!!’ and wouldn’t be able to focus on the rest of the story.

There are a lot of possible sexual interpretations of this book, I didn’t realise until I started writing them down.

Summer Reading Challenge – August Part 1

I’ve finally reached my August Reading! Yay! I’m still a bit behind and am not even sure if I’ll get to finish it before the end of August, ten days left and nine books still to read.

I’m also behind on my writing, but I’ve been productive recently and mostly just need to edit what I’ve already written. I don’t often have the motivation to edit, I think this challenge has been good for me.

Red, White, and Blue: Read a book that has the words red, white, or blue in the title

I’ve been reading a lot of books that have been made into films recently, I think because they’ve been jumping out at me from bus stop adverts, and also because it means I get to speak about them to my partner – a definite non-reader. These next two I’ve read have been very recently released in cinema: Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews and Ready Player One by Irvine Cline. One I have seen the film of and the other I haven’t, one I enjoyed immensely and the other I didn’t.

Red Sparrow was a struggle. I mainly did not enjoy it because of the way the female characters were written. I’m actually surprised because I can’t think of any other author who has annoyed me in this very specific way that you often hear about (or I do at least) from the usual social media outpourings about how horrible the world actually is, the extreme feminist rants with countless examples of male directed sexism. I’ve mostly brushed it off as I’ve never encountered much of this in my intake of literature (very ignorant of me I know) which is why I think this riled me up so much.

This is also the one which I haven’t seen the film and can only guess that the film is much much better since it stars the great Jennifer Lawrence. The book, however, had constant references to Dominika’s (the sparrow) ‘secret self’, which I interpreted as her sex or her desire (it was all fairly unclear) and the repeated phrase just made me want to roll my eyes every time. I think it was this that made me super aware of the unnecessary nudity and almost lurid descriptions of the female characters. I know the book is about a ‘sexpionage’ spy, but is it necessary to hear about the sexual lives of every female character, even those not included in the sparrow school? I especially noted that pretty much all of the male characters bar one (the love interest obviously) seemed to have no sex life at all or at least it wasn’t deemed important enough, they were impervious to any sort of sexual or romantic distraction, they couldn’t possibly implicate their jobs by doing something as pitiful as fall in love or succumb to desire.

Looking back, Red Sparrow was a strange novel. I’m a bit of a newbie when it comes to these spy thrillers and there was definitely not enough interesting conversations or thrilling action sequences to keep me hooked through the massive size of this novel. What was also weirdly bizarre was the obsession with food which seemed to have no relevance to the novel at all but instead provided some sort of decoration within the chapters. The characters were always eating something – a traditional home-made delicacy, an extravagant restaurant meal, a must-try quick cafe grab – and at the end of each chapter was a little recipe box describing how to make one of the meals mentioned. At first I found this absurd and kept reading thinking that maybe the food had some importance to the story, but by the end it turned out to just be a little detail that I actually found myself enjoying, despite it’s irrelevance.

I don’t know, maybe it was important in comparing the consumptive pleasures of eating to that of sexual espionage or sexual desire, but I feel like I’m reaching for a more interesting theme.

Embrace Your Inner Geek: Read a book about geek culture

For this prompt I did a little research looking for the perfect book but wasn’t really sure about any of the suggestions I found, especially as after 547 pages of Red Sparrow I was in the definitely in the mood for something short. I was struggling though so I decided to ask my partner. Even though he’s not a big reader he is a big geek. He literally couldn’t wait until I’d finished my question before blurting out Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, one I had dismissed for being too long, but one that he was so insistent on that I eventually gave in and borrowed the ebook from my library.

Once I had decided to read it, however, he then seemed to change his mind and want me to watch the film first (which was not out on DVD yet). He obviously knew of the book from watching the film in cinema (I greatly offended him by not wanting to go with him back then) and had heard that people who had read the book first didn’t like the film and he really wanted me to like the film. Well good news: I read the book first and absolutely loved it, and watched the film second and also really liked it (maybe if I had reversed the order I would have loved both, but liking it is enough for my partner).

Ready Player One (the book) is chock-a-block filled with 80s and all manner of gaming, tv, film and anime references. It seems that Ernest Cline packed as much as he was humanly possible to cram into this book. I maybe understood about 7% of all the tidbits and trivia, although this was much better than my understanding of the films references which was perhaps only about 55%. Reading it was a proper all-out geek-fest, and was a lot of fun! And I just have to boast about the fact that I got the answer to the first clue before any of the characters in the book even had an inkling! But I won’t post the answer here for spoilers, you’ll just have to trust me.

I would say that my enjoyment of both the book and the film is because they are very different from each other. There are different clues, different tasks, very different references used (probably because of the permissions the film could get), so altogether the book and the film are very different pieces. There was a lot more substance in the book and the clues were of a more problem solving, research-based variety, whereas in the film they were mostly physical (as much as the game could be physical). There was also a greater chance for the reader to challenge themselves at solving the clues from the book since there was also the opportunity to provide the reader with a large backstory for James Halliday, the creator of the Oasis. While watching the film you have to trust that the characters are actually right when they suddenly jump up saying ‘I’ve solved it!’

See you next time with August Part 2!

Isla

xx

Summer Reading Challenge – July Part 5

Finally, we’ve reached my last July post. I’ve already read two books in August so there will be another post very shortly after this one.

In the meantime…

Get Your Grill On: Read a book that features summer recipes or outdoor summer activities

For this I read Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris, who also wrote Chocolat. I actually picked this book up from a box of books left backstage by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra so it was a nice little freebie from work. And it fits the reading prompt so well: definitely the act of making and drinking wine can be considered a summer recipe and a summer activity.

I really loved this book. It was dreamy and reminiscent and all the sorts of things an absent-minded reader like me enjoys. The main character was a writer, the narrator was a bottle of wine, there was romance and heroism (of sorts). Just a really good read.

I like Harris’ writing: right from the very start it’s full of this delicious descriptions which made me feel like I needed to sit with the sun shining on my face and a glass of wine to sip between paragraphs. I swear I could smell the fruits in the wines, in the gardens, just from reading them. I might just have to re-read it with an actual bottle of bramble wine. I think my usual cup of tea broke the bubble a wee bit.

Backyard BBQ: Read a book that features a family reuniting or hanging out for the summer

I cannot remember where I found this book, it was probably on a list of books to read somewhere online, but I read that it was about two generations in a family trying to come to terms with their own beliefs and the generational differences between them and thought, that sounds like the right sort of book. The characters weren’t really hanging out for the summer, but the younger brother did turn up after a 3 year absence to his sisters wedding, so it definitely counts as a reunion. For this prompt I read A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

I found this book okay, it certainly wasn’t as thrilling as I was led to believe. I also made the mistake (as I usually do) of reading the reviews afterwards and being almost magnetically drawn to the most negative ones. Unfortunately, there was one review that kinda swayed me towards not liking it as much as I thought I did, although I did have some problems with some things the reviewer complained about. Throughout the novel there were a few words and phrases in Urdu, which makes sense as the family were Indian and that was their primary language at home which they used when speaking to each other. I loved hearing (reading) these words, and often they were accompanied by a little definition or emphasis on the meaning (of both the words and the intent behind speaking in Urdu), but this reviewer seemed to think that it detracted from the story since she couldn’t understand Urdu herself. There was not one word that I can remember not having some sort of contextual or explicit detail behind it to explain it’s meaning. Sorry, but out of all her complaints, this was the one that I personally found the most annoying. I’ve actually just finished another novel which had many words and phrases in Russian and barely any were translated for the reader. But even then, we have the whole internet to look up phrases if we’re that curious.

Anyway, I think this reviewer had a personal vendetta against this book: something along the lines of the most boring thing she’s ever read. From my experience, I was interested in what was going to happen, I enjoyed hearing about the lives of the characters, but I can admit that it was a fairly flat read. The drama that was included in the novel was barely drama at all but was that really frustrating thing of people just not talking to each other in the first place. All the characters were good people, there was no real antagonism between the older, perhaps more traditional and religious parents, and the children, just what they made up themselves in their heads. It was even revealed later on that the most rigid figure of the family, the father, was exceptionally proud of the progress his daughter had made.

So, to summarize, it was one of those books that made you want to yell out loud ‘just talk to each other!’

Ttfn

Isla

xx

Summer Reading Challenge – July Part 4

I know it is now August, but this isn’t even my last July post. In my last blog post I said I’d taken a breather from reading, and almost immediately after writing that I lost my motivatioin to keep writing. So I’ve recovered from my reading blog but couldn’t find the energy to write about the four or five I’ve read since. In my defence, I’ve been too busy being on holiday, spending time with my partner, swimming and walking and exploring beautiful Scottish castles and countryside. I’m back at work on Friday and jumping right into the craziness of the Edinburgh Fringe so I better get back to it and write up these blog posts before I have a proper excuse for not having time.

I read these next three sporadically from about mid-July until the end of August since they are all either short story collections or poetry. I have one more post of my July reading to go and then the start of my August reading: I’ve already read two books since the 1st August.

Sick Day: Read a book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t

Now again, I can’t remember the books that I either read or was supposed to read in school so I’m going for another option from university. I’m also possibly cheating a little because for this prompt I’m reading a fairly short poem, took me less than half an hour to read, an that is The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it back when I was studying because it was so short, but I do remember attending an hour long lecture about it which gave so much detail maybe I felt like I didn’t need to read it. If you’re wanting something short and sweet to read, this is a great choice, especially with the long, sweet, sensual descriptions of the goblins fruit. There are lots of connotations you can glean from the fruit and the story which are fairly easy to read into so I won’t go into them here.

Campfire Story: Read a book that scares the bejesus out of you

For this prompt I read a beautiful collection of stories and poems by Edgar Allen Poe that my wonderful partner bought for me years ago and I’ve never gotten round to reading anything further than The Raven. After reading the whole thing front to back (with some jumping around in between) I have to say The Raven is definitely the best of them all. I struggled with a lot of his stories in particular, although I think that was mostly my frame of mind at the time as well as just coping with the outdated language and his lengthy, convoluted word choice and sentence structure, I often got past this quickly though and found myself drawn deeply into the stories. My favourites of his stories included all the ones in which a character was buried alive, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Premature Burial, they were just too much fun to read! The ones I found most disturbing were the ones from the point of view of a murderer, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat. Berenice is also a brilliant story which may or may not contain all or some of my favourite elements, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Out of the poems, only The Raven really resonated with me, but all are much better if you read them out loud (as with all poems, you could argue). I also have to mention the version done by The Simpsons, I watched it about three times in between Poe’s stories, I kept going back for more.

Forefathers: Read a book about your country’s independence

I thought this could be a really interesting reading prompt because, as you may know, we obviously had an independence referendum in Scotland just a few years ago, so I was looking forward to findinng a recent book written by someone local with interesting or conflicted characters discussing the referendum. Unfortunately, all I could find was lists of political non-fiction books (which I had absolutely no interest in struggling my way through), and a couple of kindle books. I am alway sceptical of Kindle books since my experience of them has been extremely hit-and-miss, and these books definitely seemed like more of a ‘miss’ kind. Ultimately, I decided to take a different approach to this prompt and look for writing which was heavily Scottish or celebrated Scotland in some way.

I actually am really pleased with what I found, in more ways than one. I was thinking of my usual plan of looking up lists and lists of books online and debilitating over the choice before finally picking one at random and then having to go through the process of trying to find some way of reading it, checking libraries and bookstores and ordering it and picking it up, etc, etc, etc, when I thought instead that what I’m looking for is some sort of gem, something that maybe not many people have heard of before but truly reflects Scotland, embodies the characters that we have here. And here I am in this beautiful city full of excellent second-hand book shops. And literally, I went out that afternoon, not intending to seriously find something, but thinking I might as well check my local charity shops while I’m picking up food for dinner, and I found this collection of short stories for 1.50: Crimespotting: An Edinburgh Crime Collective.

Crimespotting is a collection of crime stories all inspired by Edinburgh and written by various authors including Irvine Welsh, Margaret Atwood, Christopher Brookmyre, Isla Dewar and many more who I can’t recall off the top of my head. The collection was put together by ONECITY Trust, and I happen to have read and highly enjoyed another one of their (three so far) short story collections many years ago. What made this particular copy I found so much more special though, was that most of the short stories had been signed by the author, with the only exceptions being Margaret Atwood and Isla Dewar and I think one other.

The problem with me being on holiday is that I have no brought my entire bookshelf with me, so I can’t remember enough detailis to sufficiently write a review foor this brilliant collection of stories. I may write something more detailed in the future but for now all I can do is recommend it, the stories are amazing and varied and I don’t know why you would expect anything less coming from a collection of extremely talented writers.

I have to go now because my wordpress app on my tablet keeps crashing and I’ve already written far more than I intended just now.

Til next time,

Isla

xx