Friday, 31 March 2017

March Wrap-Up

...And that's March over. Spring has sprung. Can someone hold it back a moment? This year is getting away from me.

News from the Reading Front

This month, I've read four novels:
  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - 3 stars
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  3. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson - 4 stars - Review here.
  4. The Maze Runner by James Dashner - 3 stars
...And three manga books.

(Since we're three full months into the year -)

Don't say that!

(- Let's take a look at the Ivyclad Reading Challenge.)

Read a Classic - Persuasion
Read a Book with a Male Protagonist - Bright Lights, Big City (If we're going to get technical, it's written in the second person, but it's definitely a bloke telling the story.)
Read a Book with a Female Protagonist - We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Read a First Person Narrative - We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Read a Third Person Narrative - Persuasion
Read a Book with No Romance - We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Read a Book from the Dreaded Adult Section - Americanah
Read a Play - The Cripple of Inishmaan
Read a Book Set in the UK - Persuasion
Read a Book that is Also a Film - Bright Lights, Big City (And yes, the book is better.)
A Book with Less Than 200 Pages - The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (48 Pages)
Read a Book with Pictures - Pick a manga book, any manga book

That's bingo already.

(You're using the same books!)

I'm allowed to use the same books.

(A loophole that I should have closed when we were finalising the rules, but it's of no consequence. You'll never make it to Full House.)

You keep telling yourself that.

News from the Writing Front

I'm giving Camp NaNo a go. My goal is 20,000 words. I know it's not a lot, but, between essays and reading, I'll be really glad if I reach it.

News from the Blogging Front

The most popular post this month was In Defence of "Trashy" Literature.

Are you taking part in Camp NaNo? And how are you doing on your reading challenges? Tell all in the comments!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Writers Don't Owe Us Anything

 Writers don't owe us anything.

(Louder, for the people at the back!)

At the end of the day, it's their story. Their world. Their characters. So maybe they killed off your favourite character, threw someone across the moral event horizon, or gave the "wrong" couple a happy ending. Maybe you're unhappy with the way a character is written, disagree with how a plot point was handled, or thought the sequel was apocalyptically bad. You're perfectly entitled to your opinion. What you're not entitled to do is attack the writer.

You see it on every social media platform at some point, the idea that the writer should cater to our every whim. That we're entitled to complain when they don't. Newsflash. We're entitled to Jack squat. 

You buy the book. You read the book. You enjoy it, or you don't. Either way, you stay in your lane. Write your bad review, moan about it as much as you like, but don't direct it at the writer. Don't send them hate just because you dislike the direction they took your favourite character, their character, in. Don't tweet at them or direct message them. It's the equivalent of throwing a paddy in the middle of a supermarket because somebody told you you couldn't have a toy. Don't issue a call to arms for people who haven't even read the book to give it one star on Goodreads (and yes, I really have seen this, on Tumblr, in response to Half Lost). There are actually people out there who won't buy books that have low ratings, so dragging the rating down will have real life repercussions. It'd be like Twilight fans starting a real life war over Team Edward and Team Jacob.

A good book will make you feel. It'll upset you, make you smile, turn you bright red with rage. What would be the point of it if it didn't? You're entitled to your emotions, but that's it.

(Whilst we're here, this goes for ALL creators. Writers. Artists. Actors. Voice actors. They're not their characters - just because they write a serial killer, or they play one on TV, that doesn't mean that they are one in real life - and some of them won't necessarily have any power over the plot. Writers do, obviously, but a lot of actors won't even see the script until it's finalised. Their opinions might be taken into account, but they're unlikely to have final say in who their character ends up with, or if they betray the main cast. It's not their fault, so STOP YELLING AT THEM ABOUT IT ALREADY.)

Finally, something we agree on.

If you really don't like the book, the show, or the film, then put it down. Turn it off. Move on. 

Rant over.

If you have anything to add, drop it in the comments.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

A Tale of Two Sisters (We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson) Stars

"Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you'll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard, ten feet deep." - Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, page 16

(A book review? What's it doing here? Must be lost.)

It's not lost. It's always lived here.

Meet Merricat. She has a cat named Jonas, likes to bury things, and spends her time fantasising about the deaths of her enemies.

Merricat's sister, Constance, hasn't left her home since she was acquitted of murdering her family six years ago. 

The sisters live in relative isolation, shunned by the majority of the town, and visited by only a couple of women. But everything changes when cousin Charles arrives. 

And Merricat doesn't like change. She doesn't like change at all.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a Gothic novel with all the usual trimmings. There's a big, old house, a dark family secret, and morality as grey as the British sky. Are we supposed to root for Merricat? For Charles? Merricat's life goal is to have her sister all to herself. She's keeping her trapped.

(So...I'm Merricat, and you're Constance?)

Pretty much.

I'd guessed the big reveal by page ten, but I was drawn in anyway by Merricat's voice. She's eighteen, but, most of the time, she sounds like a petulant child. She describes food in great detail, resents people who take her sister's attention away from her, and seems to practise her own superstitous form of witchcraft. Whether it works or is all in her head is up for interpretation.

What's the best novel you've ever read with a dark family secret?

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Ten Books I Read in a Day
Behold, my Read-in-a-Day Goodreads shelf. This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic was an absolute snap for me, because I already had all my answers tucked away on my virtual bookshelf.

1. All Fall Down and See How They Run by Ally Carter

I read the first two Embassy Row books in an afternoon, and I hope to continue the tradition with the third. 

2. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The suspense in this novel is brilliant. Putting it down would ruin it.

3. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

It was read it in a night or wait until term ended. 

Sleep is for the weak anyway.

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

...It was a long car journey.

5. The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

(No surprises here.)

If you've been hanging around this blog for more than a couple of weeks, you'll know that this is one of my favourite books. Joanne Harris writes the best Loki.

(Fight us, Marvel fans!)

Please don't fight us, Marvel fans, for you are many and we are two.

6. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

I will fight anyone who says that The Lost Hero wasn't any good. I loved it, and spent the next year desperately waiting for book two.

7. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Pro tip: Do not read Hamlet in a night. Just don't.
It's three hours long (which I wasn't told until just after I'd finished reading it) and the regret might just kill you.

8. John Dies at the End by David Wong

This book. This book.
...I cannot explain this book.

9. Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

I picked it off the shelves and sat down in the library.

Four hours later, I'd finished the book. Emily Koll remains one of my favourite first person narrators. And the ambiguity! Oh, the ambiguity! I love books that leave things a little ambiguous. They always keep me thinking long after I've finished reading. Heart Shaped Bruise tie up every loose end barring one. And that one will drive you insane.

10. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

What? It was light, fun, and fast-paced.

What's the last book you read in a day? And don't forget to link me to your TTT posts!

(Apologies for the lack of images - they kept messing up the formatting.)

Thursday, 16 March 2017

In Defense of "Trashy" Literature

"Pulp fiction." "Trashy literature." "Genre fiction." I've heard it called many, many things, all with the same derogatory curl of the lips, by people who believe that there's no depth to popular fiction. All they're proving by turning their noses up is that they read to impress others rather than for their own enjoyment.

The way we write today is very different from the way that Austen, Dickens and the Brontë sisters wrote - no writer today, for example, would get away with having their heroine just happen to collapse on the doorstep of her long lost cousins - but different is not synonymous with better or worse. Novel writing was in its infancy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Spelling had barely begun to be standardised in 1755, thanks (or not, depending on how you look at it) to Samuel Johnson's dictionary. Dickens could open A Tale of Two Cities with a seemingly endless sentence, because it was the done thing at the time. Many writers from the past wrote paragraghs in a single sentence. Language, spelling, and grammar are always evolving. If you came across a novel that was written in 2017, but read like it was written in 1817, it would be criticised for everything, not least an abundance of adverbs and the use of speech tags like 'enunciated' and 'ejaculated'. Comparisons between classic and modern literature are rendered almost meaningless by the chasm between writing styles then and writing styles now.

Literary fiction is itself a relatively new concept. Today's classics were not considered high-brow back in their day. In fact, novel writing was thought of as a low-brow art. In Austen's Northanger Abbey, she talks about how the novel as a form is abused, describing how reviewers 'talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans'. Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was not the Beloved of its day, but The Hunger Games. Today's classics were yesterday's 'trash with which the press now groans,' paling in comparison to poetry, which was considered the superior literary form at the time. The majority of our classics were popular novels, plain and simple. They sold because people enjoyed them, not because they thought they sounded intelligent when they could drop a reference into a casual conversation.

At the end of the day, stories are first and foremost a form of entertainment. Reading should be about enjoyment. Some people genuinely enjoy classics, and that's fine, but it's just as fine to like your YA contemporaries, and your urban fantasies, and your comics. They're not shallow just because critics don't write about them, just because decades haven't been spent unpicking every possible meaning in every sentence. Every story means something to someone somewhere. A story isn't 'trash' just because somebody held up as a paragon of good taste dislikes it. That's their opinion. It doesn't have to be yours. Maybe you relate to the shy nerd, or the dying boy, or the schoolgirl witch. Maybe the story reflects your own experiences with love, or loss, or trying to fit in. Everyone who picks up a book brings a different eye to it. A different interpretation. Yours is as valid as anyone else's. 

Which of today's popular books do you think will become tomorrow's classics?