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

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