Friday, 25 April 2014

Lit Nerd Recommends: The Bard

I have many nicknames for the Bard - Willy-Shakes being my most used - but it seems I'm not alone in renaming Mr Shakes. Reading The Bookman's Tale last week I came across a quote from Robert Greene (who hardly seemed an angel himself), who said that Shakey-baby was an 'upstart crow' and 'the only Shake-scene in the country'. Cool your feathers, Mr Greene!

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Shakespeare's works. I enjoy reading them, studying them and seeing them performed - either in their original state or in various adaptations. In honour of Shakespeare's 450th birthday this week I'm going to share with you fifteen of my favourite and most highly recommended Shakespeare related goodies. I've got a whole host of exciting things including plays, non-fiction, gifts, and other related works.

The Bard: A Mixed Top Fifteen

1. The Winter's Tale

With the famous 'Exit, pursued by a bear' stage direction, this is a tragicomedy perfect for spring. I would have to say it's my all time favourite Shakey play.

2. Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

Kind of an oldie in the world of Shakespeare now but it's a goodie. A short and sweet look at the man himself.

3. Titus Andronicus

Titus is violent, bloody and full of horrendously wonderful puns (usually about Lavinia's lack of hands). Lavinia is a feminist's dream to critically analyse. I saw it performed at The Globe when I was about 15/16 so I'm pretty stoked to see it's coming back this year.

4. The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber

This is a novel in verse based on the argument that Kit Marlowe was actually the author of Shakespeare's plays. It is phenomenal.

5. Play on a page posters

I have the Much Ado poster adorning my wall (a lovely gift from my sister). I also really fancy this poster. I've clearly moved on from boy band and cuddly animal posters...

6. Everybody Dies poster

This also came as a sheet of gift wrap which I bought instead of the poster because, well, it was so much cheaper. I'm still going to hang it. Though perhaps it isn't the cheeriest print I could put on my wall.

7. The Taming of the Shrew

A witty, funny, and slightly questionable play in feminist terms, but it is brilliant. It has spawned some equally brilliant adaptations - Ten Things I Hate About You being the best thing ever.

8. The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

This was a recent read all about forgery, Shakespeare and the usual Shakespeare authorship question. A fast-paced novel full of literary intrigue.

9. Shakespeare's Insults Pyjamas

Because, well, why not?!

10. Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer

Yonks ago I saw Germaine Greer do her stage version of this book and it was so good I rushed out of the auditorium and bought the book from the very handily situated vendor by the door. Love it.

11. Shakespeare Star Wars

Did you know there was a second? Neither did I until one turned up on my doorstep sent by my best friend. The perfect gift for a Shakespeare and Star Wars nerd.

12. The RSC Complete Works of Shakespeare

This book is so beautiful I'm speechless when I look at it. It's also pretty heavy but I can look past that.

13. Macbeth

No list would be complete without Mac-B. An atmospheric and chilling play to read and watch. I loved the BBC Shakespeare Retold version with James McAvoy.

14. Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor

This is one of those 'in a 100 objects' books (it's not 100 objects here, but around 20). It is detailed and so very interested. The physical book is a beaut too.

15. Baz Luhrmann does Romeo and Juliet

One of my favourite film adaptations EVER. Someone give Leo an Oscar dammit! Shakespeare and guns is a tricky one to pull off but Luhrmann does and with some serious pizazz. 

So there we are, my top fifteen Shakespeare related goodies. I could quite easily have filled this list with Shakespeare's works but I think we can often enjoy the genius of Willy-Shakes through other means. Would you agree?

Do you have any recommendations to add? 


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Art of Curiosity #WBN2014

This evening I walked down to the Southbank Centre after work to attend 'The Art of Curiosity', an event in association with the Wellcome Book Prize. The Southbank Centre had a number of events on tonight for World Book Night and, although I couldn't get a ticket to 'Letters Live' which I really wanted to see, this event turned out to be a brilliantly bookish way to spend my World Book Night. 

'The Art of Curiosity' consisted of the judges of the Wellcome Book Prize - Andrew Motion, Lisa Appignanesi, James Runcie, Hadley Freeman and Michael Mosley - discussing curiosity and what it means to be curious in relation to the books on the shortlist. The shortlist by the way, is a juicy one. For the unacquainted, the Wellcome Book Prize is designed to celebrate the topics of health and medicine in literature (non-fiction and fiction). The tagline for the award is 'books for the incurably curious', which just says it all really. I came across this prize through Centenary News because (yes, you guessed it), there is a WW1 book on the list. Looking past the obvious war-related pick for me, the entire shortlist piqued my interest and, I should say, my curiosity. 

The two books pictured above - Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise and Wounded by Emily Mayhew - formed part of the discussion this evening and are the two I own from the shortlist (I did not buy one of them immediately upon leaving the auditorium...). The minute Hadley Freeman mentioned Wilkie Collins as she talked about Inconvient People, I knew I was a goner and the book would have to bought. To be fair, it has actually been in the notes on my phone since October 19th last year (I checked), so it's only right I finally bought it. All the judges were impressed by Wise's writing and how 'fun' she managed to make such a nasty subject to read. Wounded has been sat on my shelf for about a month waiting to be read and reviewed for Centenary News and I think it has just bumped up the list to the much coveted spot of 'next up to be read'. It addresses a different aspect of the war and has discovered some originality in a subject that is much written about. I'm setting Lolita aside for the evening and I'm going to start Wounded right now...well, in a few minutes.

James Runcie opened the discussions by asking the judges what place curiosity has in their lives. Their answers were detailed and fascinating - one of them said that you wouldn't really be living if you were not curious. When I think about this in relation to my own life, I find I'm inclined to wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I am infinitely curious - about people, places, things, cultures, life - and I think I read to satiate and feed this curiosity within me. I love how books can both satisfy and pique curiosity. If I'm reading around a certain subject, let's say WW1, each new book I read satisfies that curious part of me but also opens up a huge selection of possibilities for more knowledge which ends up making me more and more curious with every page. It's an endless cycle and no matter how much I want to read all the books, there will always be more books. Curiosity may have killed the cat but I think it is a powerfully positive force. I don't think I'd have read half the books I have or discovered the subjects I am passionate about without being curious. So basically, here's to being curious! 

The entire evening was full of interesting, lively and engaging discussion from the judges (I totally have a nerd crush on James Runcie), as well as some complete gems from Andrew Motion (I never thought I'd hear Motion talk about a fellow writer's 'mojo' but he definitely discussed Oliver Sacks'!). For the second year running I've spent World Book Night at the Southbank Center and frankly, I'm hoping for many more years of the same. This event and the one last year made me think about the reasons why I read and in discovering how my approach to reading changes and, dare I say it, matures, my ridiculously over enthusiastic passion for reading grows that little bit more. World Book Night - I salute you!

How did you spent World Book Night 2014? Tucked up reading or spreading the bookish love? Do you read because you're curious?


Monday, 21 April 2014

A Bookish Confession

I have a confession to make. It's very serious, potentially life threatening (ok, maybe only financially threatening), and very hard to admit to. 

I am a secret ebook addict.

There, I said it. I buy ebooks. All the time. A furtive browse on amazon quickly slides into a iniquitous book binge. I get the shakes, sweaty palms, an overriding fear of being found out and then...that thrill of owning a new book. I hide it away in my (obsessively) categorised kindle, hoping that anyone who cares to have a peek will get lost in my many folders before discovering quite how many ebooks I own. And then I carry on with my day, forgetting after a while that I've bought new books. Until that dreaded email - 'thank you for ordering with amazon'. Duh, duh, duhhhhhhhhhh. 

Now, aside from my penchant to overly dramatise everything, I can't be the only person who buys ebooks on a whim. Just because they're cheap, or you really want it but it's only out in hardback, or perhaps it's not a shelf-space worthy book, or maybe it's a book that you're a tad embarrassed to own in physical form. I've used all these justifications (excuses) at one time or another. My current go-to excuse is 'it's for holiday reading'. Yes, I'm already collecting ebooks for my holiday in August and have been since January. I think there are more 'holiday' ebooks on my kindle now than I could possibly read in a week. But then (ever sneaky) my brain will convince me that I need choice on this holiday. Why only take 10 ebooks when I could have a whole library of choice. Never mind that half of them will languish on those metaphorical shelves until I reach kindle capacity and realise that I've spent a small fortune on 'cheap' books that I'll 'get to eventually' but eventually never came.

So when I announce on twitter or smugly tell my Mum that I've not bought books in forever, then perhaps give me a nudge and remind me that ebooks count too, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that they don't.

In the spirit of candour, I'm going to list below the ebooks I have purchased from amazon in the last few weeks. Don't judge me too harshly.

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee (read)

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (read)
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
The Story: Love, Loss and the Lives of Women: 100 Great Short Stories ed. Victoria Hislop
Perfect by Rachel Joyce (read)
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (read)
The Unseen by Katharine Webb
The Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
Catastrophe by Max Hastings
The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The End of Alice by A.M Homes
Paris Requiem by Lisa Appignanesi
The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher

Don't leave me alone in this pit of bookish iniquity - who else is a secret ebook buyer?


Sunday, 20 April 2014

This Week in Books: Easter Edition

Happy Easter guys! It's a very wet day here in London which is thoroughly putting me in the mood for some cosy bank holiday reading. The rain pretty much always has that effect on me. 

This weekend I am reading Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer as per Ellie's recommendation, Titus Andronicus by Willy-Shakes and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Quite the varied selection, I feel. 

I've been off work since Wednesday as I booked a couple of days holiday for some extra chill time and, although it has been a busy weekend, I've been getting a good amount of reading in. I finished Audrey Magee's The Undertaking sat on the South Bank on Wednesday afternoon and then started Mercer's memoir that evening (it did not have the start I expected). I then drove back to Somerset on Thursday which took absolutely forever and was greeted by my pooch and some slobbery kisses. After some quality time with the pooch which turned my black outfit into a furry shade of yellow (she is a yellow Labrador), I settled down to dive into Lolita. It was so nice to be in Somerset for a couple of days - I did two brilliantly long runs through the countryside and spent a lot of time in the fresh air (manure filled, yet still fresher than London air). 

I'm loving all my reading choices but Lolita is definitely taking the lead in the stakes for favourite. Nabokov's writing is so lyrical and beautiful and slightly incongruous to the twisted and perverted world of Humbert Humbert (what a creep). Mercer's bookish memoir is adding a needed element of lightheartedness to counteract the perversion of Lolita and the sheer violence of Titus Andronicus (Lavinia has to be the unluckiest girl in literature, and one of the best).   

It's a shame there is only a day and a half left of this Easter weekend. I could so get used to this lifestyle...

How have you spent your Easter weekend?


Friday, 18 April 2014

Review: The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookman's Tale
Charlie Lovett
Alma Books
July 2013

I saw this book reviewed by Lindsay at The Little Reader Library way back in July. It stayed in my head for some time and then, inevitably, fell off my radar until I found it on sale one day when I was browsing the Alma Books website. I probably don't need to say that I was pretty excited by this find as I'm sure you can all imagine that I was (it is my standard response to books, after all). Fast forward around five months and I've finally got around to reading it. Here's the description from Goodreads because I would murder it if I tried to write a synopsis...

'Guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who truly loves books, The Bookman’s Tale is a former bookseller’s sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession.

Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.

As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.'

I was kind of expecting a 'lovely' read from this. The sort of thing that isn't crazy thrilling or mind-blowingly amazing. Whilst it never did quite reach those peaks, it did surpass all my expectations. 

I love a story with twists and subtle links that give you that 'ah-ha' moment and The Bookman's Tale is full of just that. There are a number of different narratives running parallel throughout the novel which follow the journey of the mysterious copy of Greene's Pandosto. The main story and where the mystery comes out full force, is in the present as Peter sets out to determine the authenticity of the document. There is nothing new in this mystery - it has all the general tropes and excitements - but why mess with a good thing when it works so well. The thing that did keep me going (it is a page turner) is the literary allusions and links. You can tell that Lovett is truly passionate about books and Shakespeare and this made reading The Bookman's Tale even more enjoyable. Particularly for me as The Winter's Tale is my favourite and it is heavily weaved into the novel.

The Bookman's Tale is a wonderfully nerdy piece of literary intrigue. It is well-paced, with a good balance of the literary and the thrilling. It had a tendency to slip into cliche and the relationship between Peter and his wife was a bit exaggerated for my liking (I get it, he really super loved her) but those are the only slight issues I have with the novel. Overall, it was a thoroughly entertaining read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes literary intrigue, Shakespeare and the great Shakespeare authorship debate. 

Reading The Bookman's Tale in April was clearly a subconscious nod to the fact of Shakespeare's birthday (and death day). It usually comes upon me before I've even had a chance to think about commemorating his death and birth by reading or rereading one of his plays. This year, rather pleasantly, I've become aware of it much earlier than usual. I'm going back to Somerset this weekend so I think I may pick up one of my much-loved and battered copies of The Winter's Tale or The Taming of the Shrew and have myself a cheeky read. 

What are your thoughts on literary intrigue? Love it? 


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

When I'm Not Reading...

I'm pretty chatty on this here blog and I've never held back from sharing my various enthusiasms in life so I thought I'd share with you a few things that I do when I'm not reading (or working).

1. Watching Movies - who doesn't love a good film night? I don't really watch television any more  but I do treat myself to the occasional cinema trip or movie night. This weekend I was desperate to watch a Bond movie after going to the Bond in Motion exhibition at the Film Museum so I spent my Sunday night watching Casino Royal. Ah, Daniel...

2. Running/Walking/The Gym - I usually spend my weekends doing all of these. I love to walk and run around London and I recently rejoined a gym to strengthen my hips (which could easily be mistaken for the hips of a ninety year old). My usual haunt is the length of the South Bank, but that can have dangerous consequences given the book market under Waterloo bridge and the Foyles at the Festival Hall.

3. Visiting Museums and Art Galleries - I'm lucky enough to have a pliable boyfriend who loves cultural exploits as much as I do. We tend to do something most weekends which is good because there is so much London has to offer. The plus side is that most London museums are free. Can I get an 'AWESOME'?! 

4. Mooching - I love a good mooch and a wander, it's something I do frequently. Sometimes just mooching around with no particular purpose can yield the most wonderful finds. I know I've come across a fair few bookshops from exploring in this manner.

5. Going to the Theatre - there are so many reasons why I moved to London, and the number of theatres is up there in the top 5. I've always adored the theatre and I go whenever I can (finances depending!). I see a lot of fringe shows but do occasionally treat myself to other things. A highlight recently was seeing Simon Callow in 'Being Shakespeare'. So many nerdgasms. 

6. Writing/Trying to Forge a Career - pretty boring as things go but I do spent a lot of time writing for various things (Centenary News, for example) and filling out application forms. I've gots to try!

What do you do when you're not reading? Do you like to make the most of the place where you live? 


Friday, 11 April 2014

Lit Nerd Recommends: Prequels, Sequels and Re-Writes

I don't know about you guys, but I love it when an author takes on the challenge of writing a prequel, sequel or re-write of a classic. There is something about meeting favourite characters in a different setting and under different circumstances that is just really quite satisfying. Particularly when they are characters that are memorable and lovable (or even hate-able, actually). I thought I'd share 10 such books which do just that and have been particularly memorable - one of these novels I read when I was about 15. If you hang about to the end there are also a couple of bonus recommendations!

1. Havisham by Ronald Frame
A prequel to Dickens's Great Expectations which focuses on the character of Miss Havisham. The writing style is rich and rewarding and the story intriguing.

2. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Feminist retellings of fairy tales - vicious, violent and so so good.

3. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

A prequel to Jane Eyre focusing on 'the madwoman in the attic' and the background to her madness. It seems to be a marmite book but I enjoyed the writing even if the story didn't grab me as I expected it to.

4. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

I guess you could call this a sequel - Horowitz has written another Sherlock Holmes mystery that is full of twists, turns and all the phrases you expect to read. Elementary.

5. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

A retelling of Homer's Odyssey. This is one of the most amazing retellings I have ever read, so much so that I reread it every couple of years. 

6. Mrs De Winter by Susan Hill

Hill's sequel to du Maurier's Rebecca has been much slated (so I have just found out) but I liked revisiting the story and Hill's writing is always top notch.

7. Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin

A retelling of Jekyll and Hyde from the point of view of Mary Reilly, Dr Jekyll's servant. As with everything Martin has written, the story is engaging, enthralling, riveting etc. etc. (you get that I liked it?).

8. William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher

I don't think this needs any explanation. Shakespeare and Star Wars is a marriage made in Lit Nerdy heaven.

9. The Innocents by Francesca Segal

This is roughly and loosely based on Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence and was longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2013.

10. Not So Quiet...Stepdaughters of War by Helen Zenna Smith

Commissioned to write a satire of All Quiet on the Western Front, Smith thought 'screw it' and wrote a harrowing 'female' version instead which looks at the lives of a group of female ambulance drivers just behind the front line.

Bonus Recommendations:

Movie - 10 Things I Hate About You
Based on one of the best Shakespeare plays (in my opinion, at least), The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You puts Shakespeare in an American high school with hilarious and heart warming results. There is Heath Ledger. And he sings. I rest my case.

TV Series - Shakespeare Retold

This mini series of four Shakespeare plays retold in new settings was aired way back in 2005. Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Taming of the Shrew were adapted and modernised by the BBC with an all-star cast for each 'play'. As much as I love Willy-Shakes, I always enjoy a modern adaptation and these are some of the best I've seen.

Have you read/seen any of these? Can you recommend any other prequels, sequels or re-writes?


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Mini Reviews: Mental Health in March

Completely unintentionally, March ended up being a month spent reading novels about mental health issues. First I caved to peer pressure and read The Shock of the Fall (I think Hanna's tactics of persuasion did the trick), and then I moved on to Perfect by Rachel Joyce (this time encouraged by Charlotte's review). 

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

This is narrated by Matt Homes, a 19 year old schizophrenic, who is conducting his own version of writing therapy. Matt is riddled with guilt for an accident that caused the death of his older brother during a camping holiday when they were children. The circumstances of this accident are not revealed until the end when the reader has already been on an incredibly gripping and heart wrenching journey through Matt's life - his past and his present. I couldn't bear to put this down once I'd started it and I would highly recommend it to anyone (and everyone). Matt's narrative is unreliable but he is perhaps the most loveable narrator I have read in a while. You know when you just want to reach in and help them out? Yes, that's how I felt reading this.

I think I missed out on a bit of the reading experience by using my kindle as the book itself is filled with doodles and typographical details. Perhaps it's one to add to my collection at some point - the cover is a beauty after all.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Perfect is such a, well, perfect follow-up novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It is much darker, more honest and raw at times but it is equally as hopeful and uplifting to read. The novel opens with Byron Hemmings, the main character, worrying about an extra two seconds being added to the clock (the earth is out of kilter with time). His anxiety about this event and when it will happen threatens to overcome Byron and leads to an astonishing series of events. As well as the health issues, Perfect also addresses the issue of class and how dangerous class distinctions can be if dealt with wrongly.

There is a second narrative strand to this novel which tells the story of Jim, a former psychiatric patient, and his growing relationship with Eileen. The two strands come together in such a brilliant way that merges past and present and reveals things previously hidden. Let me just say that I finished the book as I walked home from the tube station (nearly falling over on more than one occasion) because I just could not wait to eat up those final few pages.

As much as both of these books made me cry, I don't think I can say that these books are particularly similar in scope, resonance or characterisation. They share a similar subject matter - mental health - and I found reading both together was quite an educational experience. I will hold up my hand and be the first to admit that I am sorely ill-informed when it comes to mental health. These novels went some way to rectify that and, though I am still ill-informed, I feel like I get more of a sense of the variations of mental illness and what it can do to a person. 

Have you read either of these? Was it an emotional experience for you too?!


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Baileys Prize Shortlist

After the failure that was last year's attempt to read the longlist of the Women's Prize for Fiction, this year I decided not to even attempt it. And yet the announcement of the shortlist last night (in rather delicious vine form on twitter),  had me all of a flutter with desire to read the final six. It is after all, a pretty delicious shortlist.

Anyone else love that vine too? 

Some thoughts on the list:

I bought The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt in the kindle sale after Christmas and have been meaning to get to it since then. But the hype and the sheer size of that beast has meant I've put it off and off. It does look brilliant though, and I can never resist a book that has art as a subject.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride has been on my radar for yonks. I've groped it many a time in Waterstones and nearly bought it on several occasions but something has always stopped me. I think it's the stream of consciousness and experimental style. I've become lazy when it comes to experimenting with styles in recent months and I think this has always tipped over into the 'ain't nobody got time for that' bit of my brain. I'm going to pull it out. A book that is on that many prize lists has got to be worth something, surely.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri are the two books that I find the least appealing from the shortlist. There isn't a huge amount that's logical about my thinking so again I can't really articulate why I find these two in particular unappealing in comparison. Still, I have read many glowing reviews of both so it will be interesting to see if my illogical preconceptions hold up.

Let's all just take a minute to consider how I (being a person with fairly predictable reading habits) would feel about The Undertaking by Audrey Magee. I'll give you a hint - The Undertaking is set during war time. Yep - want to read, need to read, dying to read. It sounds dark, twisted and utterly thought-provoking. 

The one that tops the list for me is Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. The hype around this book has felt almost subliminal - I know it's been there, but it's been so subtle I didn't realise how desperate I was to read it until I found it on sale on kindle (kindle sales are basically my crack). I'll be starting Burial Rites the minute I finish my current read.

Will you be reading the short list? Have you already read any or all of these?


Monday, 7 April 2014

Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker

Penguin English Library edition

'There's something in that wind and in the hoast beyont that sounds, and looks, and tastes, and smells like death.'

When I announced in my March Reading post that I was aiming to read Dracula this month, I received mixed responses. Some of you were disappointed by it, some of you felt a bit 'meh' about it and some of you loved it (I think Sam even said it was one of her favourites). With this reaction I had no idea what to expect, and so determined to read it purely for the experience if not for enjoyment. It turns out I was pretty safe anyway as I fall in the 'love it' camp.

I loved the vampires in this novel. There is none of that pointless sparkly crap going on, these are the vampires that we know and love (or are terrified of, if you're me). They've got deathly pale skin, red eyes, sleep in coffins, hate garlic, turn into bats and seriously suck all kinds of blood all the time (except when they're in their Undead sleep in their coffins). They add the perfect amount of horror to an already atmospheric tale. I must say, I actually found Dracula much more exciting than I expected. There were points when I couldn't put it down and towards the end I'm certain my heart rate rose. 

Now, onto Mina Harker. Oh Mina, Mina, Mina...what's a feminist to do with you? I loved you at the beginning - you were so strong (if a bit lovey-dovey), intelligent and quick. And then you just decided to quit. You lay down and took it when the men said that from then on the fighting and killing of Dracula was man's work. I would have loved to study this at uni because I could analyse this stuff to death (pun semi intended). Let's just say it's pretty telling that it is women and lunatics that fall prey to Dracula's dark and brooding charms...

Mina is set up as some sort of wonder woman from the start. The way Jonathan talks about her in his diary as smart, sexy and the kind of person who will not take shit from anyone, made me really excited to meet her (so to speak). She lived up to those expectations and in comparison with the overly feminine Lucy, she is pretty awesome. The men love her and she is raised on to a pedestal by the whole vampire-fighting crew. And then what happens? Her 'woman's heart' is considered stronger than her 'man's brain':

'Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man's brain - a brain that man should have were he much gifted - and woman's heart. The good god fashioned her for a purpose, believe me, when he made that so good combination. Friend John, up to now fortune has made that woman of help to us; after tonight she must not have to do with this so terrible affair. It is not good that she run a risk so great. We men are determined - nay, are we not pledged? - to destroy this monster; but it is no part for a woman. Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer - both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleep, from her dreams.'

Don't hold back, Van H, my old chum. I find this amusing considering it is Jonathan who is clearly suffering from a nervous disorder for most of the book. Even if these bits of Mina's representation grated, I still found them entertaining and - as a supporter of not reading out of historical context- revealing. I also got terribly excited when there were references to the New Woman:

'Some of the 'New Woman' writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the New Woman won't condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself.'

In short, I loved Dracula. It was a surprising, engaging and thoroughly entertaining read. The gothic horror elements were suitably atmospheric and chilling and the characters were so well rounded. It works well as an epistolary novel mostly on the strength of the characterisation and the varied voices that are included. It's one of those novels with multiple narrators that really does have multiple, wholly distinguishable narrators. I have a couple of quibbles with the female aspects but, hey, this is the 1890's so I can deal. 

Have you read Dracula? Do you sit in the 'love it' camp?


Friday, 4 April 2014

April Reading

Yes, I bought the most Lit Nerd appropriate diary I could find.

Even if I didn't accomplish all the reading goals I set for March, I still really liked having something to work towards. And who doesn't love crossing something off their to do list or a book off their TBR pile? I for one find it intensely satisfying. Intensely. So, in an attempt to achieve that satisfaction on a monthly basis, I'm going to make another set of goals for April.

Bookish goals...
  • Start reading either Lolita or Crime and Punishment. Both are practically waving maniacally at me from my shelf and I think it's time...It is so hard being bookish - I want to read everything but there is just not enough time (I feel like Liam Neeson when I say things like that). The other evening I spent around half an hour trying to decide what to go for next #litnerdproblems
  • Read Books, Bedbugs and Baguettes by Jeremy Mercer. Ellie keeps dangling this right in front of my nose (I think she's trying to say something), so I'm going to take the bait and read it this month.
  • Knock something off the TBR Pile Challenge list - I'm thinking of hitting The Scarlet Letter because it vaguely links to the Classics Club theme this month (Transcendentalist Literature). At least it links in that it doesn't because Hawthorne was not a follower of the ideas. Either that or maybe I'll finally get to The Book Thief. 
Life goals...
  • Get back into daily exercise - I'm almost there already on this one, having bitten the bullet and joined another gym whilst I wait for mine to reopen. It'll be good to get back into this wonderfully stress relieving habit. 
  • Make the most of my evenings and DO things. No more curling up in bed at 8pm - I'm 23 not 93.
  • Make a conscious effort to devote more time to blogging and to Centenary News. I've been slacking big time recently on both fronts and considering how happy it makes me to discuss books, I need to spend more time doing it.
I think these goals are semi-achievable. Check back at the beginning of May to see how I did!

What are your goals for April? Any books you're planning on reading?


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Classics Spin #5: No Name by Wilkie Collins

No Name
Wilkie Collins

'I tell you she would shrink from no means which a desperate woman an employ, to force that closed hand of yours open, or die in the attempt!' 

I was terribly excited back in February when the spin number was announced and the lucky number 20 was pulled from the hat. Number 20 meant that I was being handed the opportunity to spend even more time with my one and only, Wilkie Collins. If you've been reading this blog for a bit, you'll be more than familiar with my love for this cheeky chappy and will probably be able to imagine my delight upon realising which book the spin number corresponded to. I can't deny that there was squealing.

ANYWAY. I was super excited to read No Name so I found myself a Penguin Classics from the 90s (pictured) which I love, and dove in head first. 

'Shall I tell you what a lady is? A lady is a woman who wears a silk gown, and has a sense of her own importance.'

No Name is an epistolary novel that tells the story of the disinheritance of the Vanstone sisters. Their illegitimacy is revealed early on in such tragic circumstances that are spot on in terms of plotting. The majority of the novel in concerned with Magdalen Vanstone's relentless struggle to reclaim her identity and her money. There's death, disguise, deceit, sailors, Somerset and a giantess - what more could you want?

As ever with Wilkie, it is the characters that are the stand out element of the novel. All his characters are imaginatively and sympathetically devised in such detail that you can almost see them in the room with you (that might just be me...). We have the conniving Mrs Lecount, the giantess Mrs Wragge and her sly and cunning husband who is 'on the wrong side of fifty'. Then there's the standard governess character Miss Garth, and Kirke, the knight in shining armour. Finally there is the sickly, whiny and tightfisted Noel Vanstone. It is almost a month since I finished this book and they're all still there. Magdalen is perhaps the least tangible character because of her marvellous penchant for disguise, but it is this element of disguise and her ability to create and recreate herself as situations require that make her such a subversive character. 

This is another Victorian Sensation novel, of the type that Wilkie invented, but for modern readers it is perhaps less sensational that his others. Although I could see how it could be labelled as such, and my own senses were frequently on the verge of unravelling, the element of sensation really comes from the context. Magdalen is a young, unmarried and illegitimate woman who goes to really quite shocking lengths to recover her inheritance and her name. I think the reason I enjoyed it so much even without the sensational factors that The Moonstone or The Woman in White have, is how educational it is. It is yet another example of the female role in Victorian England and demonstrates how entirely dependent they were on male relatives. Magdalen's actions seem a bit pointless to the modern reader and she can seem seriously martyr-ish at times, but if I was in her circumstances, I like to think I'd go to the same lengths.

No Name hasn't been my favourite Wilkie Collins novel to date but it was a thoroughly entertaining read and I'm surprised by how much of it has stuck around in my head. I'm planning on making The Law and the Lady my next Wilkie pick, though I could be persuaded to go for Armadale instead. We shall see.

'It's like a scene in a novel - it's like nothing in real life.'

How did you do with your Classics Spin?


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

March in Books

Happy April, everyone! It is sunny (ish) and really quite mild in London at the moment so I'm definitely feeling ready for Spring. There's something about the sun that puts me in the mood for reading so, if the weather stays like this, I think April will be a very bookish month. Enough about April, let's have a look back at March.

In my March Reading post I set out a load of reading goals for the month. Did I achieve them? Not likely! 

March Goals...

  • Read Dracula
  • Spring clean (finish) books at my bedside
  • Read feminist literature for Classics Club: Herland, Wollstonecraft, Awakening
  • Finish No Name
Let's say I made a good stab at it...

March Reads...

14. No Name by Wilkie Collins
15. Fagin's Boy by Christina E. Pilz
16. At Break of Day by Elizabeth Speller
17. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
18. Dracula by Bram Stoker
19. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
20. Perfect by Rachel Joyce

I'm pretty impressed with the number of books I've finished this month. There was a moment where I thought I wouldn't finish anything at all (slumpin') and then BAM, the reading mojo hit me hard. Aside from being disappointed by Fagin's Boy and wanting to scream at the representation of Mina Harker in Dracula, I have loved every one of these. I have to thank the classics in there for being such good palate cleansers for all the emotionally draining reading I've been doing (I'm looking at you Filer and Joyce). 

I've been pretty quiet on the blog front this month. The words have not been flowing when it comes to reviews, as they haven't been all year, but I've been enjoying creating other posts - I hope you've enjoyed reading them.

On the blog...

Even if March was an odd one in terms of blogging, it has been a wonderful month for reading. Long may it continue!

Was March good to you? Have you read any of these books?

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