Thursday, 27 December 2012

12 Most memorable books of 2012

I don't know how many books I have read this year as I don't tend to keep count. I would assume the numbers would be pretty high considering I was reading two a week for my course and then a crazy amount for my dissertation. Only one book I read for my MA has made it into this list (William, An Englishman) because I always find I enjoy books less when I am told to read them. What a poor attempt at rebellion! Anyway, on to my favourites, in no particular order...

Resistance - Owen Sheers
The premise of this book is mind-boggling and so very interesting. I don't think I have ever thought so much about my own opinions of war. It is also beautifully written, as you would expect from a poet. I will be rereading this in the not too distant future.

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Wow. Actual sobbing occurred as I was reading this. So simple, yet so haunting. I have the standard novel edition but I think I may splash out on the illustrated edition now.

The Collector - John Fowles

Disturbing and chilling but ever so good.

My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You - Louisa Young

This novel introduced me to another side of the First World War, that of facial reconstruction. Very informative and an enticing storyline. After reading this I then moved on to Pat Barker's Toby's Room which explores the same ideas. I love Barker's writing but out of the two I prefer Young's treatment of the issue.

William, An Englishman - Cicely Hamilton
A brilliant look at the effects of war on the 'Everyman'. Harrowing at times, but unforgettable and definitely worth while.

Painter of Silence - Georgina Harding

If you want to be able to imagine what it would be like to be blind/deaf then read this. I will never take my sight for granted again.

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

I am pretty much obsessed with anything Ancient Greek/Trojan War related so this new release very quickly made its way on to my kindle. Wonderfully written with all the recognisable characters but with a slight twist to the tale.

The Lifeboat - Charlotte Rogan
Amazingly written. One of those plots that make you think 'what would I do in that situation?'

The White Lie - Andrea Gillies

This is one of those novels that is completely full of twists and turns. I read it on holiday and was absorbed into the story non-stop for an entire day.

The Rescue Man - Anthony Quinn 

I discovered Anthony Quinn this year when I read Half of the Human Race which is, incidentally, another favourite. I love how he creates such well-rounded and detailed characters. The Rescue Man beats Half of the Human Race just because of the subject (WWII blitz rescue).

The Etymologicon - Mark Forsyth

Never laughed so much at a book. I kept it hidden on my lap under the desk at work so I could keep reading it.

Howards End is on the Landing - Susan Hill

I love reading about reading and this gets the balance just right between discussing books and discussing life. My TBR list grew significantly as a result of this book.

I have read so many wonderful books this year, these being just a selection. Have you read any of these? Are there any books you have really loved this year?


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Christmas Experience

This Christmas I am working a lot. I have the big day off but that's pretty much it for like five days either side. I don't mean to moan, because I do love my job. But for me Christmas time means family time and now my brother and sister have moved away, the few days they are home are precious. Whining aside, one of my favourite things about Christmas (that I will miss this year) is spending a few days just reading. It was more or less tradition at one point that I received a book in my stocking which I would inevitably have read by lunchtime. Since my reading tastes have matured somewhat since the good old days of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and everything by Jacqueline Wilson, I now like to choose a book as a Christmas treat. Some years I will reread old classics, others I will choose a book to read slowly and really savour. This year I am torn. I cannot decide whether to reread To the Lighthouse or Persuasion, or whether to discover something new. Maybe I will finally go and buy The Light Between Oceans. (I am sensing a water theme here...). Maybe I'll finally read The Old Curiosity Shop or Vanity Fair. Maybe I'll even take a step backwards in time and fish out some Jacqueline Wilson (Bad Girls, anyone?!).

Whichever book I choose I am looking forward to one blissful day of reading, relaxing with my family, and stuffing myself silly with smoked salmon on crackers. Yum.

Anyone else have any Christmas reading traditions? I'm intrigued!

Merry Christmas!


Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Translation Challenge

I have always been an impulsive reader. I buy lots of books with the intention of reading them immediately but something else always catches my eye first. I'm basically a magpie and books are shiny things. Recently I have decided that I have too many books just sat there waiting for me to pick them up and show them some love so I have decided to reign in the impulsive Ellie and try to tease out the structured Ellie. When I was browsing some blogs the other day I came across (another Ellie)  Curiosity Killed the Bookworm who is hosting a challenge for 2013. This challenge involves reading one book in translation per month. I can do that.

I have yet to do some proper searching for books I will aim to read but I do already have one set aside for January. I am going to Paris for New Year so sticking with the French theme I will be reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It just so happens that this has been sat on my shelf collecting dust for a couple of months. Now I shall wipe it off and put it ready in my hand luggage.

I also have a couple of books by Primo Levi hanging about and this gives me the chance to read them. Wonderful! I guess it's no exaggeration to say I'm pretty excited about taking part in this challenge.


Review: The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman
John Fowles

'An easterly is the most disagreeably wind in Lyme Bay...'

One of the first books I read when I finished my MA was The Collector by John Fowles. I think I read it in two sittings I was that engrossed. The characterisation was stunning and the plot line was just disturbing enough to make me think but not too disturbing it was a struggle to read. The last couple of pages chilled me to the bone and I was dying for someone to discuss it with. Based on that experience I searched through my mother's endless bookshelves (I know where I get it from) for other books by Fowles. I came across The French Lieutenant's Woman and Mantissa. I went for this one first because I live near Lyme Regis and whenever we go there Mum mentions this book and the film adaptation. I certainly went into with high expectations which would explain why I feel so dissatisfied now I've finished it.

The novel is set mostly in Lyme Regis, Exeter and London and tells the story of Sarah Woodruff (the French Lieutenant's Woman), her relationship with Charles Smithson and his relationship with Ernestina Freeman. At a horrendously basic level it is a love triangle without much love. It would be difficult to summarise the plot without giving everything away as it is one of those novels which does not stop moving and the plot is a slippery thing to grab hold of.

I must admit I found this book a challenging read. After four years of English at uni there aren't many books I find difficult but this one I did. I think I was thrown partially by the writing style. It has been a long time since I've read such a self-conscious novel. The author is actually there within the story and not even just as a spectral presence, he becomes a physical presence towards the end. Though it was quite entertaining at times reading the author's motivations for writing certain episodes, it was occasionally quite off-putting. I'm sure an argument can be made though for it being Fowles's intention to disconcert the reader. The puzzlement and sense of manipulation I felt whilst reading it mirrors Sarah's manipulation of Charles.

I also have to admit that I still do not know what happens in the novel. There is a story line there but the constant tangents and authorial interruptions confuse it somewhat. The writing is brilliant and makes it one of those books you just want to sit and slowly read to take it all in. One of my favourite lines that also demonstrates quite well the overall style of the novel ends the twenty-fourth chapter: 'There was thunder in the offing, as in his heart'. Utterly amazing. But if you're after a fast-paced, plot heavy historical novel I would look elsewhere.

I can see what Fowles has tried to do (satirise, almost, the Victorian novel and the Victorian way of life) and I can appreciate it because I have studied so many Victorian novels. Fowles must be an extraordinarily intelligent man because he certainly knows his stuff. It was interesting and I know in time I will re-read it in an attempt to make more sense of it but for the time being it can go back on my shelf and I will move on to other things. I have, however, ordered the film adaptation from amazon to see how it compares so I will let you know my thoughts on that.


The lit nerd guide to Christmas gifts

I love browsing literary gifts at this time of year but in typical lit nerd fashion I usually end up buying more gifts for myself than others. Here are a few of my favourite finds this year.

eReader case £14.95
I'm planning on buying this for my sister to jazz up her kindle a bit. These are so much nicer than a plain case I think and not easily lost in the depths of a bag. I rather like the Frankenstein one myself.
poster £11.95
I love these poster reproductions of book covers. One would be perfect for anyone who loves judging books by their covers or collects books for their covers (like me). I treated myself to the To the Lighthouse poster when I handed in my dissertation. They could even be framed to make it extra special.

book clutch etsy seller chicklitdesigns
Etsy has the most amazing range of literary luggage. Not cheap but these books made into bags are pretty darn unique. How about matching a Gatsby clutch with a flapper dress? This could work.

Waterstones £8.00 (on offer)

Red, the inaugural Waterstones anthology, has some interesting contributors. Pieces from Emma Donoghue, Max Hastings, Andrew Motion and Hanif Kureishi promise to make excellent reading. According to the description it is a collection of writing in response to the cultural highs and lows of the past year. Plus the actual book is lovely, definitely a gift for someone who loves the look of a book as well as the content.

Literary Rubber Duck
Rubber duck £3.95
The picture just says it all really. Amazing. Who wouldn't want the company of a fellow reader in the bath?

Twitterature RRP £7.99
As an avid tweeter I find the concept of this book most intriguing. I think it will be like the Guardian's Digested Read but so much better. Alot can happen in 140 characters. My twitter is @elliebaggley if you're interested but be warned I tweet alot and it is generally star wars related.

Any browse of the Internet uncovers some brilliant literary gems perfect for lit nerds of any age. I love it. No doubt I will end up buying most of these for myself as rewards for something or other. I'll be working very hard over Christmas so I think that deserves at least something...


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Arty war books

Two things I love: art and war. Odd choice of words, perhaps;I do not love war, if anything I'm pretty much anti-war but there is something about the two world wars in particular that fascinate me. Mostly I think I am interested in the way people reacted to war, the literary and artistic responses and the general cultural responses to such massive catastrophes. Recently I have rekindled my love of all things art related and browsing amazon one day I came across an Imperial War Museum/Tate publication called Women War Artists by Kathleen Palmer. Now, war in general I find interesting but start me off on women and war and you will have trouble trying to shut me up. This book explores the role of women war artists up to the present day. It is engagingly written and contains some interesting facts but I did find the placement of the images a bit irritating as they are not always on the page where they are discussed. The images themselves are very powerful and really give an insight into the role of the woman artist in a world where the female role in war is still questionable. Definitely worth a read or a quick flick through the pictures (I know I'll go back and do this occasionally).

I visited Tate Britain a couple of weeks ago and found another Imperial War Museum publication in the bookshop there. Tate Britain has a Paul Nash on display and I find his war art particularly striking. This book has reproductions of some of his work with accompanying discussions. Again the information is engaging and has introduced me to some new artists. The layout is much more concerned with the pictures themselves rather than a critical discussion of the war artist so it did irritate me less. Always a good thing! I found it to be a good introduction to art from the First World War. I've found that frequently art history books will skim the war and not always give it the detail it deserves but this is focused and most fascinating.

I'm really pleased with these purchases and I think the Imperial War Museum has done a good job of identifying the most striking and most significant artworks created in wartime.


I've been having too much fun

I missed doing my Friday favourite this week but fear not, you can read it now.

This week I have been loving...second hand book stalls (with particular reference to the one in Spitalfields Market)

This week I have visited London twice for two separate gigs (Alexisonfire and Florence and the Machine if you were wondering. And yes, they were brilliant). While I was there I took the opportunity to pop to Spitalfields Market for a bit of Christmas shopping and a visit to my favourite book stall. It is no exaggeration to say this stall is one of the best I've come across. It is packed full, mostly with Penguin classics, some first editions, which are all utterly gorgeous. If it wasn't so busy I could spend hours just flicking through the piles and piles of well-organised books (split into categories which is a delight for the obsessive in me). I've cast aside my attempts at a book ban and picked up a couple, but in the circumstances I was still very restrained. I almost grabbed an old guide to Somerset just to skim and have on my shelf but resisted. Maybe next time.

I decided to get whatever took my fancy instead of searching for authors I already know I like so hopefully I have discovered a few gems.

Carson McCullers The Member of the Wedding Susan Hill mentions Carson McCullers in Howards End is on the Landing and I must admit I was attracted to the name. Shallow probably, but who's going to judge. I think I was also attracted to a challenge Hill subtly proposes in regards to gendered writing. She claims that a man could never be mistaken to have written Anita Brookner's novels but McCullers's could easily be mistaken as having a male author. We shall see.

Robert Graves Selected Poetry As a First World War enthusiast (wrong word?), I am ashamed to admit I have never read any of Robert Graves's poetry. I didn't take much persuading to pick this one up to rectify that blatant hole in my WW1 knowledge.

John Cheever The Wapshot Scandal Finally, a guy doing his MRes at the same time I did my MA gave a paper on Cheever and it all sounded very interesting so thought I'd give this one a go.

I'm certainly looking forward to cracking on with these. Anyone read any of these?

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