Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Settings I Want to Live In.

This week, The Broke and the Bookish have left the subject of Top Ten Tuesday up to us. I've chosen to list the top ten book locations that leave me aching to pack up my bags and board a plane/TARDIS/reality hopper.

Top Ten Book Settings I Want To Live In (or at least visit)

1. 19th Century Prince Edward Island - Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. 
2. Narnia, circa the time of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. This seems to be the best time to be a Narnian, when the land is at peace and adventure is for adventure's own sake.
3. New Zealand - After The Fall by Charity Norman. Even if the story emphasises that you can't escape from your own life, it still makes me want to start a completely new life - and with such a background!
4. London Below - Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Complete with Croup and Vandemar and certain death around every corner? Perhaps not. Yet in many ways London Below seems more real, more alive, than the London I can visit on the train.
5. Middle Earth - The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Yes, even with the deadly, hopeless quest.  It would certainly show what a person is made of. I'd love to see the Elves in Rivendell and Lothlorien, and visit the human lands of Gondor and Rohan, but ultimately I would be most at home with the Hobbits in the comfort of the Shire.
6. Botswana - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Mma Ramotswe has such a joyful approach to life, and such a love of her country.
7. 1920s Lake District - Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. Childhood seems so much freer in this era, with the children camping on a lake island, sailing, mountaineering and adventuring to their hearts' content. And ginger beer and corned beef sandwiches taste so much better when eaten outdoors and called "grog" and "pemmican."
8. Hogwarts - Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Of course. Who doesn't want to learn Transfiguration, Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts instead of maths, science and geography?
9. Beszel/Ul Qomo - The City and the City by China Mieville. Two cities, that live on top of each other like two pictures on different sheets of tracing paper, where you may not even acknowledge something going on the other side of the street, if it is technically in the other city. Perhaps this would be a place to visit rather than to live in - but I'd like to see exactly how it works.
10. Australia - Down Under, by Bill Bryson. 

And 5 settings I'm happy just reading about from the safety of my armchair:

1. Westeros - A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.
2. High School - Every YA novel ever. Once was quite enough for me, thank you very much.
3. Panem - The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
4. The Arctic Circle - Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. Brrrrr. I do not like the cold.
5. The Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. I love the idea of this boarding school in the Alps, but I suspect it would not be as much fun as the stories lead you to believe, with the taboo on slang, having to be trilingual in English, French and German, and the earnestness of the Real Chalet Girls.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Watchmen - Alan Moore

Picture a world where superheroes are real. Really picture it. Pretty cool, huh? Now really think about it. A world where anyone can put on a costume, fight crime with complete anonymity, take the law into their own hands. Where these costumed heroes - for they don't have any superhuman powers - play judge, jury and executioner all at once. Where groups of masked vigilantes are the terror of the underworld. What sort of people would choose that lifestyle, and should they be trusted with the responsibility?

These are just some of the questions posed by Alan Moore in his masterpiece, Watchmen. The title, of course, is a reference to the age-old question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches the watchmen? - Juvenal, Satires) Interspersed between the chapters of the graphic novel are pages supposedly from historical documents, charting the rise and fall of the superhero. The world is not quite the world as we know it, and it is indicated that superheroes had a lot to do with altering the course of history - and not for the better. In the 1985 of Watchmen, America has won the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon is still President, and the world is on the brink of nuclear war.

Superheroes are now outlawed, having arguably done more harm than good. They came into being after the comic books soared in popularity, but the reality was something quite different, and now the costumed heroes have disappeared from the public eye - both from the streets and from the comics. But one remains, if one can call him a hero by any stretch of the definition. Rorschach: bitter, repellent and hate-filled, but driven by his unswerving moral absolutism and crusade against the murkiest specimens of humanity, fighting them on their own terms. The story opens after the death of a former masked crusader, with Rorschach warning his old comrades of his suspicions: that a serial killer is targeting them one by one.

Watchmen is an incredibly dark novel, the two characters with the strongest voices having contrasting but equally bleak views of the world. Rorschach is bitter, violent and horrifying, not at all a likable character, and yet almost sympathetic. His journal entries form part of the narrative, giving a fascinating but unsettling insight into his mind. On the other hand, Dr Manhattan, the only "hero" with superpowers, has a gods-eye view of history, with past, present and future equally visible. He has also all but detached himself from the human race to whom he used to belong. It seems that Manhattan's extra knowledge of Earth has caused him to give up on the planet and those who inhabit it. The two anti-heroes provide a sobering commentary on humanity, all the more so when coupled with the impossible moral dilemma posed in the final chapter of the book. But there are other, quieter voices in the to balance these two harbingers of doom, suggesting that all is not completely hopeless.

Despite the reputation of comic books as a genre, Watchmen is not an easy read, but it is worth taking time over. You benefit from reading the pictures as well as the words, and some mysteries can be figured out before their revelation, if you pay attention to detail. Watchmen is also an excellent deconstruction of the superhero genre. I did not find any of the characters particularly likable - as well as the anti-heroic Rorschach and emotionally disconnected Dr Manhattan, I found the more conventional heroes a bit insipid - and yet the storytelling and world-building kept me hooked. An exemplary work of literature, and one which I suspect will get better with every subsequent reread. I borrowed this from the library, but would consider buying my own copy.

There has also been a movie, which I found to be very faithful to the original work; although it differs significantly in one particular instance, I felt that this was more of a detail rather than a change to the plot or the spirit of the story.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Bout of Books Wrap-Up Post

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books readathon finished on Sunday night, and yet it's taken me until now to write a brief wrap-up post. My apologies!

So, how did I do?

I read a total of 860 pages, which averages out as just under 123 pages per day. Not too shabby, considering that I was working full-time, spent one evening watching Star Trek and another in front of the TV, and was too ill to read on one of my days off. Of the three books I had set myself to read, I have read one and a half, plus one that I had not planned for.

The highlight of the week was definitely The Universe Versus Alex Woods: A charming, funny but sad coming-of-age tale with a narrator you can't fail to love. It's a book that inspires, challenges and gently educates the reader, and I would recommend it to anyone. 

Non-book-related highlights of the week included the Star Trek movie, both the film and the spending time with my friends beforehand. There are a few of us who have formed a sort of unofficial coffee and film group, specialising in science-fiction, superhero movies and kids' films. Several of us work in shops in the town centre, so we go to a late-opening coffee shop (or the pub) for snacks and hot beverages, (or wine) before heading down to the cinema. 

I spent quite a bit of time on the #boutofbooks hashtag on Twitter, participating in the first getting-to-know-you Twitter chat. (The second took place at 2AM here, and the third was while I was at work. I stayed up to date with some of my favourite book bloggers (such as Ellie and Hanna) and discovered others who were new to me (notable mentions go to Riv and another Ellie.) 

So, that was Bout of Books 7.0. Another readathon has been scheduled for August this year, and you can be sure I'll be taking part once more. Here's to a glorious summer, so I can spend my reading time on the beach, in the garden or in the park!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Bout of Books: Saturday and Sunday

Bout of Books

This is how the readathon ends:
not with a bang but a whimper.


Saturday was never going to have a huge page count. I read a few pages of Watchmen over breakfast, before heading off to work. On my lunch break, I popped into Boots and realised that I couldn't focus on the words on any of the packaging. I'd been feeling a migraine brewing for a few days, and had just been relieved that it hadn't ruined my day off. But the time I'd got back into the open air, everything was a grey blur. If I concentrated really hard I could make out words, but forming those words into meaning was another matter entirely. It was terrifying. So reading was out of the question.

I powered through the rest of the day on sheer willpower, and by the end of the day I'd perked up a bit, which was just as well because my friend was coming over to watch the Doctor Who season finale and Eurovision, while eating takeaway pizza.

DOCTOR WHO SPOILERS, SWEETIE. Scroll down to black text if you don't want to read.

I'll be honest, I haven't been overly impressed with this season. After the last series, since the series' return in 2005, the plots have been getting bigger and bigger, whereas the latest season has been a bit more understated, with only single-episode stories, and the big mystery of "how can the Doctor's new companion have lived and died in different times and places?" being the only connecting plot-thread. This mystery hasn't really been grown or developed through the series, just left hanging there, a loose thread for the Doctor to wrinkle his brow at when he thinks to do so. 

But the finale was impressive, with clips and moments involving all the previous Doctors, scenes sliced and reused right back from William Hartnell's days. That was the moment for the nerds, and we loved it. The episode was called "The Name of the Doctor." Because no one knows the Doctor's real name, only the name he chose for himself. And whatever that name is, whether it be Fred or Slartibartfast, it can never live up to the mystery surrounding his identity. 
"The Doctor has a secret; one he will take to his grave. And it is discovered."
I figured out the tricksy wording just a few split seconds before the Doctor said it. (Steven Moffat, you cunning devil.) It is not the secret that is discovered - but the Doctor's grave. Because even time lords don't live forever, and somewhere, somewhen, the Doctor dies and is buried. The series' final confrontation between the Doctor and his foe The Great Intelligence takes place here - a creepy place, even for a graveyard. The mystery of why Clara keeps on turning up in his timeline, not just in the past series, but throughout his life, largely unnoticed by the Doctor, is resolved, and far more satisfactorily than I expected. And then, while the duo are trapped in the wildernesses of the Doctor's timeline - "Everything around you is me." - their attention is drawn to a solemn sillhouette, terrifying even while standing with his back to them. Even the Doctor is afraid.

"He's me. There's only me here; that's the point, now let's - get - back."
"But I never saw that one. I saw all of you. Eleven faces, all of them were you. You're the Eleventh Doctor."
"I said he was me. I never said he was the Doctor."

Because the Doctor is the name the Time Lord chose for himself, the name that he has taken as his identity. This other man - played by John Hurt and credited as "The Doctor" - has done something so terrible that The Doctor has disowned him from himself. Theories abound, but mine is that this person, this non-Doctor Doctor, was a previous regeneration, between Paul McGann (8th Doctor, 1996) and Christopher Eccleston (9th Doctor, 2005) - during which time the infamous, appalling Time War destroyed Gallifrey, the race of Time Lord and many, many other planets. We know of the Time War only from details let slip by the only survivor, the Doctor. The next episode, due to be aired in November, is the show's 50th Anniversary special. It has long been a theory of mine that this episode's topic will be the Time War in the missing years. The cliffhanger supports this theory. But we have six months until then.

After Doctor Who came the Eurovision Song Contest. How does one describe Eurovision to one unfamiliar to it? From a British point of view, at least, it is just a chance to shamelessly make fun of the TV - a European musical competition. Well. I say "musical." It is generally considered a poor evening if there is actually much musical merit in any of the performances. There is a mixture of cheesy pop, dance music with a heavy beat, big inspirational ballads and a few strange acts. The most memorable acts of last night were Finland's song "Marry Me," an infuriatingly catchy ditty ending on a kiss between two women; Romania's falsetto-singing Dracula lookalike (pictured above) and Greece's "Alcohol is Free," which was just plain ridiculous, but had us all grinning all over our faces. The UK always does badly, whether because we are isolated from the rest of the European countries who like to vote for their neighbours, or because our songs seem to be trying too hard. I suspect the British pop industry has been ruined by being dominated by talent shows, (X Factor, Britain's Got Talent and the Voice) whose theme is pursuing one's dreams, and churns out very earnest songs on that subject.

Saturday 18th May:
Books read today: Watchmen - Alan Moore
Number of pages read today: 25
Number of books read in total: 3
Books finished: 2
Today #insixwords: little reading, pizza, Doctor Who, Eurovision
Worst lyric on Eurovision: 
If you don’t know I’m in love with you
When summertime falls it becomes untrue
Because of the shoes I’m wearing today
One is called Love, the other is Pain...
(Culprit: Andrius Pojavis from Lithuania)



I've only read a handful of pages today - worse than yesterday. It is my mother's birthday, so we went out for a meal in a lovely little pub in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, the migraine came back in double strength around that time, and knocked me out completely for the entire afternoon. Probably writing up this blog post is a bad idea. Feeling a little better now, but not great. I expect I'm more likely to spend the evening watching Les Miserables than reading, though I will try to get a little more in before bed.

Books read today: Watchmen - Alan Moore
Number of pages read today: 67
Number of books read in total: 3
Books finished: 2
Today #insixwords: not a bang but a whimper

Friday, 17 May 2013

Bout of Books: Friday

Bout of Books


Good, errrrr, (checks clock.) morning, people. As it was my first day off work in readathon week, it was some time after 10 when I stumbled out of bed - too late for breakfast, perhaps, and too early for lunch. CAKE TIME! (with a small cup of coffee, naturally.)

My plans for today are few: first off to finish Alex Woods. It's clear how this story is going to end, in broad terms - after all, it started at the end, and as soon as it was revealed which country Alex was returning from when he was stopped at Dover, I knew why. But this is a character story, rather than a plot-centred one, and I'm enjoying spending time with Alex and Mr Peterson. The Universe Versus Alex Woods is by turns funny, heartbreaking, intelligent and inspiring. Alex has such a strong narrative voice that you get to see the world from inside his mind, feel what he feels and get very indignant when everyone else misunderstands his motives.

I've set up my old "book chair" book stand so that I can read and knit at the same time. Double productivity! (or it will be if I get off this wretched internet.)


I finished The Universe Versus Alex Woods just in time for lunch. There were moments in the last fifty pages or so which felt like a nail-biting race against the clock, which was a completely inappropriate way to think of what was going on. Author Gavin Extence combines serious subject matter with a sometime uncomfortable humour, which I suppose is what life is - neither comedy nor tragedy, but both, side-by-side. It was interesting to compare my impression of Alex at the beginning of the book (and end of the story) with its ending. He is a fairly distinctive personality even in the first chapters, but the bulk of the book fleshes him out more fully to demonstrate how he became who he is.

Memorable quotes:
 I tried to look up 'celibate' in the dictionary, I couldn't find it. It certainly wasn't where I expected to find it - in between 'seller' and 'sellotape.'Rest assured: by the time I was ten, I had managed to find out what my mother meant. She meant that as far as our family was concerned, only the cat had a sex life.
I knew how many zeroes there were in a quintillion, but I thought that algebra lived in ponds.
Order and chaos are slippery concepts. They're like a set of twins who like to swap clothing from time to time.
We tolerate a certain amount of incompetence in our politicians and public servants, but we should not tolerate it in the death business.
Challenge: Resummarise a cover - hosted at Queen Ella Bee Reads

Today I've decided to take part in a challenge to decide, based only upon the cover, what a book is all about and write a blurb for it. I chose The Age of Miracles, because I had already thought that the hardback and paperback designs gave off different impressions of the book's genre. Personally, I thought that the hardback was a better representation of the novel, while the UK paperback looked more like a Jodi Picoult novel. So here is my new version of The Age of Miracles based upon that cover:

For Nancy and Joe Jennings, the move to a new town is the start of a new life, an escape from a past that threatens to unravel their perfect family. But for their eight-year-old daughter Dana, it is the beginning of a nightmare. Painfully shy, she is plunged into the centre of attention on her first day at a new school, after a playground prank goes horribly wrong. At school, Dana dreams of disappearing, but at home all she wants is for her parents to notice she's there. So she makes a plan...

8.30PM I took advantage of the bright if patchy weather this afternoon to wander around the town, where I avoided the bookshops and bought groceries, socks, knitting wool and more chocolate than I care to divulge, especially since I ate it all. Before starting the walk home (I live uphill from the town) I settled down near Sainsbury's, where there's a friendly green space and a duckpond, and made a start on Watchmen.

It's a bleak story, that much is clear from the start. A lot of the narration comes from the diary of a character named Rorschach, a masked and hate-filled figure in a universe that is subtly but significantly different from our own. Superheroes have come out of the pages of the comic books and into reality, but that's all in the past now. They - more like costumed vigilante figures than the likes of Superman and the Avengers - have fallen out of favour and retired, for the most part. But many have come to sad ends, and Rorshach is convinced that someone is targeting the former costumed heroes, to destroy them all.

Books read today: The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence
Number of pages read today: 175
Number of books read in total: 2
Books finished: 2
Today #insixwords: 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Bout of Books: Thursday

Bout of Books

Today was another slow day at work, with not enough jobs to keep me occupied all day, and for the second day in a row, the weather meant customers were few and far between. Yesterday, because it was pouring with rain and today because the sun was out and no doubt people were all on the beach, in the park or in their gardens. The upside of this was that today, I got to escape the dingy staff room and take my lunch and book out to the nearby park, stopping off at the local bakery, Grace's, for a take-away coffee and a tasty doughnut. I was incredibly lucky: there was a heavy-looking grey cloud hovering ominously over the town, but the sky over the park was blue and sunny. Even when the cloud started to creep towards me, there remained a friendly blue patch right over my bench. Needless to say, it was very difficult to head back to work afterwards.

I'm about three quarters of the way through Alex Woods, and for all its apparent simplicity, it is an extremely profound book. Picking up from yesterday, we've followed Alex through his early teens, his friendship with the curmudgeonly Mr Peterson, his struggles with school bullies, morality and family. Alex Woods is a very cleverly crafted story. Every incident is there for a purpose, though not apparent at first, coming together to shape Alex's character and build up to the main event of the plot. For a long time, I felt that Alex read quite young for his age: he has a lot of book-knowledge, but there was a kind of innocence in his earnestness which, though very endearing, made me think of a twelve-year-old when he was approaching fifteen. Then something happens to make him grow up subtly but quickly. All the little events in preceding chapter that have taught him about himself and the world, come together to show that he is a young man with a strength of will beyond his years.

Tomorrow will be a very welcome day off, and I've made few plans other than reading plenty. I intend to finish Alex Woods either tonight or tomorrow, and make the most of the day to make a start on Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen. I've had this out of the library for a while, but needed the time to really get stuck into reading it. Tomorrow is the perfect opportunity.

Books read today: The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence
Number of pages read today: 120
Number of books read in total: 2
Books finished: 1
Today #insixwords: light, easy read but surprisingly deep
Books added to mental shopping list: 5

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bout of Books: Tuesday and Wednesday

Bout of Books

Apologies for the lack of update yesterday. After work I went out with friends to see the new Star Trek movie. I'm new to Star Trek, having somewhat reluctantly seen the rebooted films (once you get into Star Trek, surely there is no going back!) but it was an excellent film. As with a lot of fantasy, and increasing amount of science fiction, it appealed to my longing for exploration and adventure. I can see that I'm going to have to borrow some of my friend's original series DVDs. Oh dear. What have I done?

Yesterday lunchtime I finished The Age of Miracles. While remaining a fascinating premise, there came a point about three-quarters of the way through when it stopped being fun, and became just plain depressing. If events could go one of two ways: good or bad, bad or terrible, invariably the worst-case scenario would happen. The book was powerful, poetic and eerie, a solemn voice in an unnatural hush, but ultimately it was a relief to reach the end.

Memorable quotes:
"Amid this usual bilge now floated a different kind of gossip, its sources equally dubious. In 1562, a scientist named Nostradamus had predicted that the world would end on this exact day."
I include this quote because when I was thirteen, I remember that exact same rumour going around my middle school. (I can even tell you the date, because I wrote dismissively about it in my diary: 4th July 1999. Of course, this was the year of the Millennium Bug scares - that everything technological would fail on the stroke of midnight because it would think the year was 1900, and stop working because it would think it hadn't been invented yet.)
 "doesn't every previous era feel like fiction once it's gone?"
"Birds have always been messengers. After the flood, it was a dove holding an olive branch that told Noah the flood was over.  That's how he knew he could leave the ark. Think about that. Our birds aren't carrying any olive branches. Our birds are dying."

 As I had forgotten to take a second book to work with me to read on my lunch break, I swapped The Age of Miracles for Gavin Extence's The Universe Versus Alex Woods in the staffroom library. I liked Alex straight away, a bright but innocent teenager arrested on re-entering the country and found with an urn of the ashes of his friend, Mr Peterson, and a large quantity of marijuana. Alex narrates the events with a kind of curious detachment, before deciding to start his story from a strange event in his childhood: when he was hit in the head by a meteorite, and survived.

Readathon statistics:

Books read today: The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker, 
The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence
Number of pages read today: 114
Number of books read in total: 2
Books finished: 1
Today #insixwords: No updates yesterday because Star Trek
Cinema ice cream: mint choc chip

Wednesday 8.30PM

Oh, boy, it's been a long day. Work yesterday was a horrible mixture of manic panic and deadly boredom - all or nothing and everything going wrong which played havoc with my brain. Looking back, I can't think of any one thing that made it a terrible day, but a combination of little annoyances left me feeling dead on my feet, which carried on into today. I spent most of today staring into space while trying to look as though I wasn't just staring into space, but I didn't really have to pretend because we had very few customers. I welcomed the few who wanted to talk at great length about books (not so much the ones who wanted to discuss their medical issues, but even they were a distraction. I must have a face that says you can tell me all your problems. And I do like to get to know my customers as people, and some of the older ones don't have many people to talk to, so if I can lend a sympathetic ear, that's all good.)

Read a little more of Alex Woods at lunch time, where I saw his twelve-year-old self being chased by bullies into a random stranger's greenhouse, being blamed for the destruction of this greenhouse, and being forced to make amends to the stranger by doing various chores for him. Thus begins the friendship between Alex Woods and Mr Isaac Peterson, an elderly Vietnam war veteran and widower.

Mr Peterson has an extensive collection of the works of Kurt Vonnegut, who, by coincidence, is one of the authors of a book on my to-read pile, lent to me by the husband of my friend. Alex Woods has managed to push Cat's Cradle higher up the to-read pile. I love books which make me curious about other literature (also music, film or obscure subjects.)

Readathon statistics:

Books read today: The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence
Number of pages read today: 136
Number of books read in total: 2
Books finished: 1
Today #insixwords: Can't wait till my day off
Length of after-work nap: 40 minutes

Monday, 13 May 2013

Bout of Books: Monday

Bout of Books

Bout of Books starting point:
Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker, p.28
iBoy - Kevin Brooks p.76

8.20AM (BST)

I said that I would be writing my daily Bout of Books blog posts in the evenings, but I thought I might as well start early on my first day. Besides, today and tomorrow I don't start work until 9, (as opposed to my usual 8.30) which gives me an extra half hour sleep reading time over breakfast (fruit salad, a pain au chocolat and, of course, the fuel on which I run: a mug of coffee.)

Currently reading:

Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles caught my eye when it was first published in hardback, but I decided to wait until the paperback release.

UK Hardcover
UK Paperback
It's interesting to compare the marketing of the book between the original release and its paperback publication. It was published around the same time as Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth, and I found the covers similar, which may have influenced my perception of the book as hard science fiction. Though the paperback cover is not actually that drastically different from the hardback, its new design gives it more of a feeling of a "women's literary fiction" novel with a twist of not-quite realism. Perhaps the fact that it has been chosen by Richard and Judy for their book club has had something to do with this: they seem to choose very specific genres of books, and this seems to have been slotted into the Jodi Picoult/Lovely Bones category. The focus has shifted from the strange phenomenon threatening the earth as we know it - hinted at in the flare at the centre of the hardback image - to the child, representing the more intimate crisis at the centre of one family. The crispness of the colours, the change in typeface, even the buildings in the background, have changed subtly but enough to give a very different first impression of the novel.

But onto the story. I'm just a few pages in so far. The news has just been announced that the earth's rotation is slowing down, and mass panic has broken out, which we see in the mother of eleven-year-old narrator Julia. I wonder whether that's a realistic reaction to a weird scientific phenomenon? I would have thought it more likely that people would be quietly a little freaked, but be slow to really grasp the implications of what's happening. They haven't actually noticed anything different until the change was pointed out, and can't really see how it affects them, so business as usual. None of this panic-buying at the supermarkets and staying home taking cover under the kitchen table nonsense!

But then, I am British.


It seems I misjudged the suddenness of the earth's slowing in Age of Miracles. It is slowing faster than I realised, so that in a matter of months days have doubled in length. This leads to an interesting consideration of how to measure days: by the old 24-hour clock, or by the every-growing length of time for the Earth to complete a rotation. These two timetables have divided society, and it brought home how stupid the reasons humans come up with for fearing and hating each other are.

I'm now about two thirds of the way through the book, and as the days grow longer and longer, we see all the different effects of the slowing on wildlife, on people's health, on the tides - I start to realise how frightening it would be if something we took for granted were to change. How many of us have wished there were more hours in the day? The Age of Miracles shows what else would change if that were to happen.

Wondering how this story will end. Will the earth eventually get back to normal? It seems unlikely without Superman getting involved, and I don't think he's going to feature in this story. Either nature, and humanity will adjust to the new way of life, of days being dark and nights being bright, and maybe the earth will fix on a constant, if slower, cycle. This seems the most likely ending. Or else it could slow right down until it stops altogether and everyone dies. (But then, who would be telling the story?)

Challenge: Book Spine Poetry

And now for something completely different: the book spine poetry, a challenge hosted at Escape Through The Pages. I was kind of surprised by the results. I ended up creating two poems out of the books on my bookcases, one uncharacteristically romantic, the other somewhat darker (which is perhaps more me.)

Poem #1

Goodnight, beautiful.
Linger, before I fall.
Never let me go.

You against me, 
warm bodies,
forever stardust

Why did I ever wonder?

Poem #2

What was lost:
plain truth,
It's not the end of the world.

Readathon statistics:

Books read today: The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker
Number of pages read today: 240 so far
Number of books read in total: 1
Books finished: 0
Today #insixwords: What if the days grew longer?
Strangest place to read: Walking to and from work

Sunday, 12 May 2013

After the Fall - Charity Norman

One year ago, the McNamara family left their home in England to start a new life in New Zealand. It seemed the perfect opportunity for a fresh start, but one year later, all is not well. Five-year-old Finn lies comatose after falling from a balcony, and his mother is unforthcoming about what really happened to him. After The Fall switches between the past and the present to tell the story of what led up to the accident.

There are five members of the McNamara family: husband Kit, an artist who struggles from time to time with depression and drink; wife Martha, apparently running from secrets in her own past; Martha's daughter Sacha, aged sixteen, reluctant to leave her school, friends and life in England to move to the other side of the world, and five-year-old twins Finn and Charlie, for whom the entire experience is nothing but an adventure. The descriptions of the family uprooting themselves to start a new life caused an ache of longing inside me, aided by the beautiful descriptions of the New Zealand landscape and culture, the Maori folklore whose presence in the novel colours events with an eerie, unearthly atmosphere. But no matter how beautiful the McNamaras' new home is, no matter how far away from their old life, they can't run away from the darkness lurking beneath the surface of the family, because they brought it with them.

I was slow to really connect with this novel, despite sharing the desire to start life all over again in New Zealand or Australia, because of this darkness. Though superficially Martha and Kit appeared fairly likable, there was a menace in the writing, in the contrast between the flashback scenes and the present day in which the little boy was in hospital. The question was: how did they come to this? Hints throughout the book kept me distanced from Martha and Kit, feeling a reluctant certainty of the way that the plot would develop. Kit would lapse into alcoholism, become violent, and Martha would have an affair with the handsome shepherd who lived nearby, culminating in a horrible confrontation on the balcony which would leave me without sympathy for either and injuring an innocent child. I pretty much have a zero-tolerance policy regarding adultery in fiction. I was side-eyeing Martha all the way through the novel, preparing myself to dislike her intensely, while, against all hope, willing the author to surprise me.

So when the dark secrecy was uncovered, and it had nothing to do with the above predictions, it was all the more powerful for being unforeseen. The revelation was heartbreaking and shocking, coming from a character who I had allowed myself to feel sympathy for. Congratulations to Ms Norman for the genuine twist, and for getting past the emotional defenses I had put up between myself and the main couple.

After The Fall turned out to be a powerful exploration of families and secrets, and the futility of running from the past, at times difficult and upsetting, but ultimately hopeful.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Bout of Books: my goals for the week

Bout of Books

Time spent reading:

Bout of Books starts just the day after tomorrow, so it's time to set out my goals for the week. I will keep my targets modest, because I'll be working full-time. Evening will be my main Bout of Books time, and I aim to roughly follow the following schedule:

Lunchtime: read book, not staffroom newspaper. Not that that will be too difficult as my colleagues tend to get the Daily Mail. *shudder.*

6PM-9PM: Allow 2 hours reading time (also includes time for food and general pottering about.)
9PM-10PM: Online read-a-thon activity, including daily blog update and interacting with other participants.
10PM: Switch computer off, get ready for bed early to allow for another half-hour bedtime reading before 11PM. (This could easily stretch as late as midnight or beyond.)

Friday and Sunday are my days off, so my reading will probably be spread out throughout the day.

Books to read:

The Age of Miracles: Karen Thompson Walker.
I have had my eye on this book since it was first published in hardcover a few months ago. The Age of Miracles is a speculative novel exploring what effect a slowing-down of the Earth's orbit might have on life as we know it.

Watchmen: Alan Moore.
I have already renewed this library book once, so it needs to be read. A dark graphic novel from the author of V for Vendetta, about superheroes who are perhaps not so heroic as all that.

iBoy: Kevin Brooks.
Another library book, this time from the teen section, and another science-fiction novel. After a vicious attack, a teenage boy ends up with bits of his smart phone embedded in his brain, and now he has extraordinary powers...

I may not read all of these books from start to finish in the read-a-thon, and I have another back-up pile if I fancy reading something else. (The three books next on my to-read pile have a science-fictional or dystopian slant to them, and maybe one day I'll be in the mood for something different.)

My goals:

I intend to update my blog daily during the read-a-thon, sharing my thoughts on the books I've read each day, and taking part in some of the read-a-thon blogging challenges. Blog updates will happen in the evenings, (British Summer Time) and I'll be tweeting throughout the day (you can follow me @KatieWhoCanRead) I also hope to discover some wonderful new book bloggers also participating in the read-a-thon.

Daily Updates:

Monday 13th May:
Books read today: The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker
Number of pages read today: 285
Number of books read in total: 1
Books finished: 0
Today #insixwords: What if the days grew longer?
Strangest place I read: walking to and from work.

Tuesday 14th May:

Books read today: The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker, 
The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence
Number of pages read today: 114
Number of books read in total: 2
Books finished: 1
Today #insixwords: No updates yesterday because Star Trek
Cinema ice cream: mint choc chip

Wednesday 15th May:

Books read today: The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence
Number of pages read today: 136
Number of books read in total: 2
Books finished: 1
Today #insixwords: Can't wait till my day off
Length of after-work nap: 40 minutes

Thursday 16th May:

Books read today: The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence
Number of pages read today: 120 so far
Number of books read in total: 2
Books finished: 1
Today #insixwords: light, easy read but surprisingly deep
Books added to mental shopping list: 5

Friday 17th May:

Books read today: The Universe Versus Alex Woods
Number of pages read today: 113
Number of books read in total: 2
Books finished: 2
Today #insixwords:

Saturday 18th May:

Books read today:
Number of pages read today:
Number of books read in total:
Books finished:
Today #insixwords:

Sunday 19th May:
Books read today:
Number of pages read today:
Number of books read in total:
Books finished:
Today #insixwords:

Read-a-thon goal template can be found on the Bout of Books FAQ page:

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Bout of Books Read-a-thon 13th-19th May 2013

Bout of Books

I haven't been setting myself much in the way of reading challenges in 2o13, choosing quality of reading experience over quantity of books or pages read. But my to-read pile is building up faster than I'm reading it, and as an attempt to get it back down to a manageable level I've decided to put devote my free time in the week after next to the Bout of Books Read-a-Thon: an excuse to read, blog and snack to my heart's content in the company of people across the globe. Bout of Books will be my first online read-a-thon, and I'm getting very excited about it.

From the Bout of Books website:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 13th and runs through Sunday, May 19th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 7.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.
- From the Bout of Books team

I don't expect to read a huge amount during this given week as I will be working full-time from Monday to Thursday and Saturday, but, again, quality is better than quantity. How many hours are lost forever on the Twitter-Tumblr-Facebook Bermuda Triangle, when I could be reading a good book? I dread to think what the answer to that may be!

How many of my readers will be taking part in the Bout of Books read-a-thon this year?
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