Monday, 31 December 2007

50 book challenge 2007

My last book of 2006 (for pleasure) was Emile Zola's Doctor Pascal.

So far I've read 3 books! yay!

1. Richard Dawkins - The Blind Watchmaker
2. Roald Dahl - My Uncle Oswald
3. Roald Dahl - Switch Bitch

Roald Dahl is such a brilliant writer for adults. He's probably the only writer to have consistently held my attention from childhood to the present day.

Anyway – what I have decided with regards to my list for this year is that I am not going to include rereads, as frankly I consider it cheating. I also said previously that I wasn’t going to include stuff that I have to read for my course. However, since then I have concluded that I will include these for the interest of others, but that I will put CB (course book) by it in brackets and then deduct these at the end of 2007 to reveal what I consider the ‘true’ total.

I have three more books to add to my list:

4. Roald Dahl – Someone Like You (can you tell I got given a Roald Dahl box set for Christmas?!)
5. Alexander McCall Smith – Espresso Tales
6. Colm Toibin – Blackwater Lightship (CB)

I cannot reiterate enough the brilliance of Roald Dahl. He’s very macabre and can be very racy too, all laced with his ever-sharp wit. And just as you think you know where he’s going with the story, he seems to delight in the final twist of the knife. Sheer genius.
The McCall Smith is also an excellent read. Some parts drag, but even though I bought it not realising it was a sequel, this didn’t really matter as it stands well as a story in its own right. By far the most amusing bits are those concerning Bertie and his hippy mother Irene, who insists on dressing the precocious six-year-old in pink dungarees, sending him to Italian, yoga and saxophone lessons and packing him off to a psychotherapist to help him ‘get over his expulsion from nursery school’ (which doesn’t seem to have harmed him in the slightest to begin with). Trust me, it’s comedy gold.

I’d only read one Colm Toibin novel before Blackwater Lightship, and as you can see, this one’s for my course. I remember feeling apathetic about the first novel of his that I read, so I approached this one with no particular feelings, but I must admit I’ve been blown away. The prose is incredibly taut and the characters so realistic. It’s a cosy but slightly harrowing tale of illness and family relations, and although sad, the final result is uplifting.

Another novel I’d recommend (which I read in 2006) was Joanne Harris’ “Gentlemen and Players”. It’s a great departure from her usual stuff (particularly Chocolat), but I found it amusing and macabre and all in all a rattling good yarn. Please pick it up, you won’t regret it!

I can now add a seventh book to my list of Books Read So Far.
7. Sebastian Faulks – Pistache

A pleasant departure from Faulks’ usual premise of historical fiction. Here he proves himself to be extremely witty and a fine satirist. If he wasn’t already so high in my estimation from his previous works he now would have broken the time barrier with this. For your pleasure I give you the blurb (cheating slightly, I know, but it sums it up perfectly):

“pistache: pis-tash n. a friendly spoof or parody of another’s work. [Deriv. uncertain. Possibly a cross between pastiche and piss-take.]
From Thomas Hardy’s football report to Dan Brown’s visit to the cash dispenser, the work of the great and not-so-great is here sent up with little hope of coming down. Most of these pieces began their life on Radio 4’s The Write Stuff, but have been retooled for the printed page. Others, such as Martin Amis’ first day at Hogwarts, have been written specially for the collection. Philip Larkin’s Lines In Celebration Of The Queen Mother’s 115th Birthday, first banned, then cut by the BBC, appears in its entirety for the first time. This is not a book for the faint-hearted or the downstairs lavatory. It is a book for the bedside table of someone you cannot live without.”

So yes. 7 down, 43 to go. I plan to read some Terry Pratchett this year as I was put off greatly in Year 6 by the crapness of “Truckers”, one of our set books that year and my first ever experience of Terry Pratchett. Am determined to give him another go as I gather from fans of his that I am missing out. I would also like to read some Toni Morrison as I don’t believe I’ve ever read any of her novels.

I forgot to mention another book that I finished on January 7th, so I have in fact read 8 books!

8. Martin Knight - Common People

OK, I admit it. I picked this one up in the library purely on the basis that it had a bright yellow cover and mentioned Blue Peter in the blurb. Me, easily pleased? Nevarrrrr.

Ahem. So, about the book itself. The tagline on the front cover reads 'if you didn't have a wasted youth, you wasted your youth'. I suppose the actual plot was quite predictable - young kid grows up on a council estate, makes life hell for his teachers at school and then falls into a life of drink, drugs, unemployment (or at best very crooked employment) and petty crime. However, it was very humorous (albeit blackly) and quite well-written. The conclusion was going the same predictable way as the rest of the book - protagonist is now divorced, in his 40s, effectively going through the mid-life crisis where all you do is contemplate your own mortality. But then Martin Knight delivers a shocking twist that leaves you closing the book thinking 'whoa. I actually didn't see that one coming'.

Knight is a very good writer and it surprises me that he isn't better-known. He'll have to get out of the predictability cycle and deliver more surprises if he wants to be more well-known, though.

My ninth book of 2007 was Richard Branson's autobiography, Losing My Virginity. Probably written by a ghostwriter, but oh well. I really enjoyed this one. It was quite a quick read, despite being 572 pages long. In the first few chapters he sounds a bit self-righteous, but as the book goes on you start thinking 'hey, he kind of has a right to be...'. As well as building up the multi-million/billion-dollar business known as Virgin, he's also taken several death-defying ballooning trips around the world, rescued several hostages from under Saddam Hussain in the Gulf War (and had plans that would have helped prevent the Iraq War if Bush hadn't just bombed Baghdad without permission of the UN), and took on British Airways in the 1990s and won. Not bad.

My tenth book was even longer at 718 pages - the text was also quite dense, making it even more difficult to read, but it was definitely worth it. The Musical Companion , edited by A. L. Bacharach, is a collection of 6 books and 1 extended essay, written by several experts in the field. As individual pieces and as a collective they proved excellent - cohesive, lucid, at times quite witty and for the most part written with flair. The dullest book was probably that on chamber music, written by Edwin Evans, which tended to just list developments in this field chronologically rather than expanding on them with opinion or analysis. However, the rest of the book reminds anyone, whether they're an accomplished musician, just starting out as a classical music lover or somewhere in between, why music is worth our attention and worth knowing well. It reminds us why we do it. The only major disadvantage is that it is quite an old book, written in 1934 - meaning, of course, that it only goes so far, as well as that it is in all likelihood out of print. I picked mine up in a charity shop for 3 pounds 49 pence - copies are probably still to be found in libraries too. The date of publication means that the style is somewhat quaint and archaic; it also means that some eerily accurate predictions are made, proving that these people do know what they're on about:
"[Purcell's Dido and Aeneas] is fairly often performed by schools nowadays, but if we possessed a national opera house in London, it ought to be one of the standard works in the professional repertory."
"At the moment much is expected of a very young composer, Benjamin Britten, whose quartet for oboe and strings was performed at the last festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music."
Even for the inexperienced musician there is a good section at the start on the theory of music, phrased in accessible language, with a decent glossary of musical terms. Definitely to be recommended if you can come by a copy - even if only to laugh at the authors' unanimous hatred of (at the time quite newfangled) jazz. 

I was given The Space of Joy, by John Fuller, to read for my university newspaper. It's a series of long poems recounting the endless desire for love (and the failures and compromises that accompany that desire) in a number of writers and musicians who fatally prioritise their art. It begins with Petrarch, who created great lyric poetry out of an impossible infatuation, and moves through Coleridge's self-induced guilt within domestic happiness, Matthew Arnold's disbelief in mutual love, Brahms' self-delusion and the complexities of Wallace Stevens's marriage. It so happens that both Brahms and Arnold found themselves contemplating their art and their lives in the small Swiss town of Thun, and it is Thun that provides the setting for the wonderful concluding poem of this collections in which Fuller thinks back to his own boyood and his parents' marriage. If there is any resolution in this sequence of magnificently playful and thought-provoking poems, it is the conviction that while 'poetry may be the only heaven we have', it is life itself that must create the 'space of joy' which art wishes to celebrate. While it is beautiful and lyrical, it isn't really very accessible, and it's so shrouded in its imitative purpose that it's difficult to get a sense of the poet's individual voice.

Following this, another book for my uni course. In Utopia, Thomas More tells us, through the character of Raphael Hythloday, about an ideal state contained in the island of Utopia. While the first part of the book relates More's encounter with Hythloday and a conversation had with him, the second part is what Hythloday says about Utopia itself, from the island's geographical proportions to the ideals upheld by its people. It's a serious and subversive analysis of the failings of More's own society, and it's interesting to discover that 'utopia' means 'no place' and that 'Hythloday' translates as 'dispenser of nonsense'. While Utopia seems the most plausible of all the utopian texts available, it's clear from this that More only means it as satire (i.e. like Plato, he doesn't intend the ideas to be implemented). A challenging read, but a very interesting one.

The History of French Literature, by Geoffrey Brereton, was another charity shop find, but if you want to read it, it's available on Amazon. Printed in 1954, it covers the history of French literature from mediaeval times to the twentieth century. This of course means that contemporary poets such as Jacques Prevert and contemporary novelists such as Marcel Pagnol are not covered. While the book is lively and concise, the focus is uneven, with the middle ages being given only a superficial treatment while over half the book is devoted to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Victor Hugo and Moliere are also given the treatment they deserve whereas Pierre Corneille's greatest play (Le Cid) is not even mentioned. While some knowledge of French and French literature is certainly desirable, it is by no means necessary as the book is quite accessible. It certainly reawakened my interest in French literature and made me want to know more.

It worries me slightly that all the books I've read so far have been by men. Not very balanced! I thought I was doing quite well, having read 10 books by the end of January. However, due mostly to uni work and general laziness, as well as the sheer length of book number 16, I'm now only at a total of 17 books by the end of March. Curses.

So, here's the lowdown:

14. William Irwin, Mark T Conrad, Aeon Skoble (eds) - The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh of Homer

Someone on here recommended this, and I thought it sounded like a larf. Plus, the philosophical nature of it gave me the perfect excuse to do a presentation on the Simpsons for my Plato class :p
I really enjoyed it, although some of the writers need to learn that inserting "mmm...(insert pleasurable substance here)" at random intervals for no apparent reason doesn't make you cooler/funnier/less of a crusty academic. Plus, seeing as the Simpsons is an international show, I was a bit annoyed that all of the contributors were American or Canadian. I would have liked to see a British and/or other European perspective in there. Having said that though, the essays were readable and made me laugh, and the book itself turned a lot of heads, with people saying "hey, is that book actually serious?" ("Yes and no" usually being my answer...)

15. Janice Barringer and Sarah Schlesinger - The Pointe Book: Shoes, Training and Technique

I found this book really useful. I bought it because I'm currently learning to dance on pointe and it gives all the information you could ever want about shoes, the anatomy of the feet, classes, decent shoe manufacturers with full contact details, and podiatrists worldwide and what kind of injuries they deal with (again with full contact details). It really is a mine of information for any dancer, whether they've been doing it for years or whether (like me) they're just starting out with pointe work. The only thing to minorly disappoint me was that while the book was very good on other international topics (dance manufacturers etc all over the world), I would have liked to see more of a mix of dancers interviewed at the end of the book (they were all American) and my favourite dancer here in Britain (Darcey Bussell) wasn't even mentioned, despite being one of the best British dancers of the past decade. Seriously, we live in the age of email. They could have interviewed more dancers worldwide.

16. Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace

As I'm sure you can understand, this took me a while to read. I read the first couple of hundred pages or so in dribs and drabs, but I've been on holiday recently so was able to whiz through the rest. It's actually more readable than it appears (even though it's 1000 pages long), particularly once you get into it. For the first couple of hundred pages you're like "wtf?" because all of the names are so similar and so it's difficult to know who's said what and what's happened to whom. Luckily my edition had a handy list in the front of how the main characters are all related. It's misleading of the blurb to say that Tolstoy peoples the novel with over 500 characters, because while this may be true, most of them appear as 'extras', if you will (random soldiers and maids and whathaveyou) and the main characters really draw you in, so the hundreds of minor characters fade into the background very quickly. I have to say I liked the parts set in the grand aristocratic homes better than the parts on the battlefield, but I think everyone has different preferences. Some of the characters were amusing (like Denisov) and others were lovable and others were just damn frustrating (Natasha!). You know it's a good book when you're so drawn in that you find yourself thinking "Nooooo, don't do that you silly bint!!" when a character makes a bad decision and you find yourself skim-reading the small talk because you want to know, badly, whether Prince Andrew cops it or not. Overall I'd say I prefer Gone With The Wind (if we're comparing novels of similar length here), but I really did like reading War and Peace, and now I can say to people in all honesty "yes, I've read it".

17. Donna Tartt - The Secret History

I read Donna Tartt's second novel, "The Little Friend" several years ago and didn't like it one bit. The characters really annoyed me and I didn't see anything special about the writing. People urged me to read "The Secret History" as it was far better, but I didn't get round to picking it up until now. I'm so glad I did though! It truly is fabulous. The characters are so well-drawn and distinct, it's packed with twists and turns and yet you don't feel it's at all unrealistic. And best of all, it's the sort of novel where you know you'll notice new things about it every time you read it. I absolutely loved it and I'll definitely read it again.

18. Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky
This book hasn’t really been out for long in the UK, and I don’t know how long it’s been floating around in Europe for, but all I knew about it before I began reading was that it was about Paris during the Holocaust, and this was enough to interest me. I had assumed that the author was a Holocaust survivor, but sadly, she died at one of the concentration camps, and her writings were only rescued by her daughter, Denise Epstein, who did survive. The other thing I discovered was that Irène was actually a well-known writer before she was taken to the camps, whereas I’d assumed that this was a one-off work. At first the book comes off as rather fragmentary, but the short chapters are wonderful, vivid snapshots of Parisians of all classes during the war, and as time goes on, you start to really care about and wonder about what happens to them. Sadly, you never find out, as Irène died before she was able to finish her work – which, according to the appendices, she had planned to be a great written cycle based on the great musical cycles of the time. This particular edition also includes various epistolary appendices, which allow insight into Irène’s professionalism and her family life. I found it a touching, eye-opening read which stands head and shoulders above many other accounts of the Holocaust (both fictional and autobiographical).

19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Admittedly, after all the hype attached to this novel by the press, I was feeling rather cynical about reading it as I hate to be disappointed. However, there was really no need for me to feel this way and my concerns soon dissipated. It’s a wonderful tale of love and time travel, which is fabulously well-written, and constructed with believable characters. In fact, it almost made me cry, and books so very rarely do this.

20. Cloud Nine – Caryl Churchill (CB)
I’m working on this play as part of my dissertation, and I love it so much that I’m actually really enjoying writing my dissertation. Caryl Churchill is an excellent writer (I was already familiar with her play Top Girls prior to now) and it really shows in this political satire, where she takes gender-bending, social commentary and racial issues to the extreme. She breaks the continuities of time and place to produce a didactic, erotic and highly comic piece, which is heavily layered so that you can go back and find new things in it time and time again.


University final exams mean that I have not progressed nearly as well as I would have liked - I'd hoped to be at least halfway through by now. Still, I guess I have the whole summer to catch up.

21. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (CB)
I had to read this one for my course, and this was probably a good thing, as I'd never read it before but always wanted to. I just loved it. It was creepy, imaginative, poignant and well-written. Go and read it. Now.

22. Campus Conspiracy - Anonymous
Written by an anonymous academic at a UK university, this is a tale of political correctness gone mental. I know it sounds straight out of the Daily Mail, but it was actually really good. The bureaucracy of the RAE was well depicted and I had fun trying to guess the university involved (I couldn't - it was really difficult!). My only bugbear was with the ending - it was an attempt to make the book come full circle, you could see it coming a mile off, and it seemed a bit of a cliche. Shame, because the rest of the book was actually very good.


23. Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan
I wasn't planning to read this one - my sis got it out of the local library and left it lying around, so I picked it up because it looked interesting. It was definitely worth it. It documents very well life inside an ever-more bureaucratic mental health system, how to cope if you're meant to be there, and how to cope if you're not meant to be in there. Poppy Shakespeare (who's convinced she's not meant to be in there, but how are we to know?) is shown around the institution upon her arrival by an inmate referred to only as N, who has been in and out of the system for as long as she can remember and is convinced that this is her fate. Surprisingly, both of their fates twist and turn to create outcomes for them both that neither of them would have thought possible. It's extremely well-written and the dialect is spot on; and as it's written by someone with experience of being a patient in the mental health system, it's an incredible eye-opener.

24. One Red Paperclip: How A Small Piece of Stationery Turned Into A Great Big Adventure by Kyle Macdonald
I picked this up in Luton Airport yesterday to help me while away some time, simply because of the eyecatching cover and the insane premises for the book's genesis. It looked like an easy read too, and it was. It's the true story of Kyle Macdonald, who (recalling one of his favourite high-school games, Bigger or Better) decided on July 12 2005 to see how far he could get trading up from one red paperclip. The only condition of the game was that anything he traded had to be bigger or better than the previous item. Following a throwaway remark, he finds himself on a quest to trade all the way up to a house. The story is incredible and (mostly) matched by the prose itself. Think Danny Wallace's Yes Man, but far far better.


25. The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg
If he was attempting to tell it in an adventure-story style then he didn't do it very well. Plus, there were some very strange moments where his style crossed over. One minute it was like an academic essay, the next minute he'd throw in a personal comment like "it is so moving". I don't friggin care. Is this a history book or a personal essay? Make your bloody mind up. Nevertheless, the bits (i.e. most of it) where he actually stuck to what he set out to do (to tell the history of the evolution of English) were interesting, insightful and on the whole well-written.

26. So Many Ways To Begin by Jon McGregor
Now this one really was moving. Anyone who's read and loved "If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things" will love it and if you've never heard of him, I recommend you go out and buy both books, sit down, read them and don't stop until you've finished. They're written poetically but lucidly and make you look differently at yourself, the world around you and other people. This book was a particularly touching memoir of human relationships, written from a very intriguing perspective (each chapter featured an object, which became the title of the chapter, with the title being written as if the object was an artefact in a museum). The narrative is taut and the characters believable. Good work.

27. Salmon Fishing In The Yemen by Paul Torday
Another book with a unique layout - this one was written entirely in the form of documents (letters, emails, diary entries etc). It took me aback when I started reading but I was nevertheless fascinated by both the layout and the subject matter. I don't even completely know why I picked this book up. I'm not interested in fishing, it wasn't recommended to me by anyone, I'd never heard of the author before or even of the book itself. Maybe it was the out-of-kilter title that got me. I'm glad I did pick up the book though - this book made me laugh out loud with the things that some of the characters came out with, it was an excellent satire of political bureaucracy and it was impossible to guess where it was going. The second you thought you'd got it, the author proved you wrong. The ending was an absolute tour de force and it really was a perfect end (i.e. unpredictable and not ridden with clichés as you may expect). I thoroughly enjoyed it, will be reading it again, and recommend that everyone keeps an eye on Paul Torday. He's really quite fabulous and this is a stunning debut.

28. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Set in the 1980s, this depiction of teenage life is far from the somewhat stereotypical Adrian Mole and the gritty and violent This Is England. Although it's probably closer to Adrian Mole, this is an excellent depiction of 1980s adolescence in its own right, and it's quite a fresh change from what is probably David Mitchell's most famous work, Cloud Atlas. He keeps up the standard of his previous works, impressing the reader on every page and giving them a kick in the nuts occasionally with something that really resonates with them. Unlike Adrain Mole (and what I loved about Black Swan Green), the main character truly blossoms, and it was wonderful to watch. Probably the best thing about this "blossoming" was that it was utterly believable - it wasn't clichéd, the main character didn't get over-sentimental, he didn't "find" himself, he didn't "find" God, and the mixture of his blossoming with his awareness of peer pressure made the whole thing very endearing. An excellent read.

29. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
An utterly horrifying story of addiction and life in rehab. Not a cheery read, this one. While it's well-written to the extent that you can visualise the characters and situations and find yourself empathising/sympathising with them, the style is very American, some parts were clichéd and/or badly-written, and I couldn't go so far as to agree with the Evening Standard, whose reviewer said Frey wrote brilliantly (I can think of loads of other writers who can write far better). Nevertheless, it's a harrowing, eye-opening tale that's definitely worth reading at least once.

30. The Snapper by Roddy Doyle
Written in Doyle's typical style of speech without speech marks, this novel is the pithy, bellicose, humorous and touching tale of an unmarried 20-year-old who still lives with her Irish Catholic parents and one day finds herself pregnant as the result of a one-night stand. If you like Doyle's style normally (author of The Commitments), you'll like this.


31. Music of Chance by Paul Auster
I picked this one up on impulse in the library as it looked vaguely interesting. I don't normally read crime novels, so I don't know quite what made me pick this one up. I liked the characters in it and the storyline was quite atmospheric, but the writing style made it so entirely forgettable. Shame really. I did like the ending though as it was very unexpected.

32. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Now this one was far, far better. I'd never read any Henry James but I'd heard of this book, so I thought now would be as good a time as any to read it. It was very, very creepy and really got under my skin, so from that point of view it was extremely well-written, but the style is really very dense, so make sure you persevere with it to get the full effect of the psychological horror. I also liked the way it was told as a ghost story at a dinner party. The only character I didn't like was the male child character, who seemed to have too high a register of language for his age.

33. The Human Stain by Philip Roth
I borrowed this one off my boyfriend as he said he'd enjoyed it and the blurb on the back of the book seemed encouraging. The first half of the book, however, was extremely slow, and then just as things seemed like they were starting to pick up, it all fell flat at the end. I wasn't satisfied with the book's conclusion and I thought the protagonist's "big secret" was lame and (with my limited biological knowledge) biologically implausible. I obviously won't say anything more about it here in case it spoils the book for someone hoping to read it, but if you've read it and think I've missed the point entirely, please feel free to comment. I felt that the Bill Clinton link was tenuous and could have been left out completely; there's also a review on Amazon UK which sums up how I feel about another aspect of the book, and I quote: "the fundamental flaw in this book: Namely, that the author (as narrator) casts himself as a character involved in the action who then goes on to tell the reader information about other characters (personal history, private thoughts, etc.) that he (as character) is not privy to and cannot possibly know. This is particularly jarring in the case of the French woman who lectures at the University - someone he actually never meets!" On the whole I didn't think this book was worth my time - strange, because I enjoyed "The Professor of Desire" (also by Roth) very much.

34. Inconnu à cette adresse by Taylor Kressman
I found this book in the hotel room where I stayed with my boyfriend a couple of weekends ago. It's composed entirely of letters between two good friends who run a business together in the Hitler years. One is a German Jew living in America; the other is a non-Jew who has moved back to Germany. The non-Jew soon becomes a member of Hitler's Secret Service and his attitude towards his Jewish friend becomes increasingly hostile. As the letters rattle on, a startling twist takes place which gives the name of the book. It's pithy and poignant, but sadly only available in French, so unless you can read French, you won't be able to experience this book.

35. Retour d'Uruguay by Pascale Kramer
I got this book from the library in our Parisian suburb, and I just picked it up because it looked intriguing. It centres around the protagonist Adrien's relationship with a family who he knows through his uncle. Raphael and Béatrice have three children, Fabienne, Nina and Pablo, and they have returned to France after several years living in Uruguay. The blurb on the book implies that the main focus will be Adrien and Raphael's mutual fascination with one another, but I found that this aspect of the novel was only minimal, and I found Adrien's relationship with Nina far more interesting. The novel's style is mysterious, sensual and luxurious, taking place over several years. In many ways Pascale Kramer seemed to contravene the 'show don't tell' principle that is always hailed as being so important in writing, and yet this only seemed to enhance the book's positive qualities. The ending was appropriate and left me feeling satisfied. I'll definitely be reading some more of Kramer's books (which, sadly for those of you who only speak English, are only available in French and German).


36. Méfie-toi des fruits by Anna Rozen
This book is an interesting meditation on the obsession with finding one's Prince Charming and on maternal instinct. The fruits of the title, I believe, refer to the phrase "fruits of the loins" (i.e. children), but could also refer to forbidden or unobtainable fruits or temptations. It's very surreal and minimalistic, and I disagree with some reviewers who found the book flat. I found it very intense, even if we didn't find out everything about the characters. It's an eccentric novel which presents an original take on its subject, with characters that were utterly believable even if the protagonist was slightly mad, and even though the ending is slightly abrupt, it's still worth a read.

37. Elle sera de jaspe et de corail by Werewere Liking
While I enjoyed this post-colonial novel, I often found it rather preachy, going off on mini-rants. I've just finished an English Literature degree and thus am rather fed up of being told what to think - therefore, in my mind, there's no place in books for passages like these (no matter how 'relevant'), though I suppose that depends how you feel about authorial intent. However, the language is rich, has much to say about gender, identity and race, and stylistically draws much from Ancient Greek drama, which greatly interests me. I'd also be most interested to read this novel in English, which is available as a two-book set from Amazon (It Shall Be of Jasper and Coral/Love Across A Hundred Lives).

38. The Rose and The Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block
I've always liked books like this one. I suspect it goes back to a gift of a book entitled "Greek Myths and Legends as never told before" at the age of eight. There's always a lot to be said for Hearing The Other Side Of The Story. The book comprises 9 very short stories, all in very widely-spaced (albeit small) text on widely-margined pages. My 'easy' read to bulk up the numbers! Having read War and Peace this year, I think you can cut me some slack. However, I've been disappointed by this short story collection. It's not amusing, the observations aren't particularly sharp, and the writing style is slushy and ridden with clichés, in many cases without even the slightest twist. Disappointing.

39. Bush At War by Bob Woodward
Written by one of the most prolific political journalists of the current world climate, Bush at War is written unusually. While it is based on extensive research of real events, including interviews with President Bush himself, it reads like a novel, and while this is difficult to get used to, it works well. While some of Bush's actions and thoughts are surprising, in other places he becomes aggressive and impatient and lives up to his portrayal in the media. This detailed and accurate insight into post-9/11 government is extremely well-written and I wouldn't hesitate to read more of Bob Woodward's work.


40. How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper
For the most part I enjoyed this book. It was extremely poignant in places and it all fitted together extremely well. The characters were well-drawn and believeable, and occasionally it was blackly humorous. However, it wasn't exactly a non-stop run of laughs, which you'd expect from the blurb and from the comment on the front that it's funny. I also wouldn't agree with the comment that it's brilliant - it's a good read, but I feel that calling something brilliant should be reserved only for a few books in this world rather than being bandied about like it is (much like A grades at A Levels, but that's another issue, non?). Still, it was a good way to pass a few hours, and I'd definitely be interested in more of this author's work.

41. Ghosts, A Public Enemy and When We Dead Wake: three plays by Henrik Ibsen

Tricky deciding whether to count this as one book or three, but since it was a collection of three plays, the first option won out.
I'd only ever read "A Doll's House" by Ibsen previously, so I enjoyed being able to pilfer this collection of an unfamiliar three from my college library. The first thing I noticed was that all of the plays were in a very similar style and setting to the one I'd read previously: so if you don't like Ibsen's style from the first play you read, I wouldn't recommend that you go any further.
The final play, "When We Dead Wake", probably had the least effect on me. It was insipid and really quite forgettable, although the characterisation was good.
"A Public Enemy" addresses the issues of censorship, and of ostracisation from one's community. While I enjoyed it, the ending was cliched and abrupt and thus disappointing.
The first play of the collection, "Ghosts", was far and away my favourite. It's Ibsen doing what he does best: addressing issues that his contemporaries didn't dare to face, and doing it tautly and thoroughly deadpan at that. The effect is striking and the play is worth many rereads.
While all of Ibsen's oeuvre is worth exploration, be prepared for very long, detailed Stanislavskian stage instructions. These plays are not recommended for those without patience or those who are not fans of middle-class literature; however, if you are fine with these somewhat minor aspects, feel free to get hold of this collection and enjoy.

Sooo I didn't make my 50. But then again I wasn't counting course books or rereads. Quality not quantity, friends.

42. One For My Baby by Tony Parsons
Parts in the beginning were too schmalzy for my liking, but it soon got going and parts of Parsons' descriptions took my breath away. As an amateur writer myself it's almost enough to make you stop trying when you don't think you'll ever produce anything that good. The characters were well-drawn and the plot was taut, with a suitable ending. Awesome as ever from the ever-consistent Parsons.

43. Moab is my Washpot by Stephen Fry
While in many ways this autobiography fulfilled my expectations - it was well-written, funny and intelligent - it was also a little too self-pitying in places for my liking. However, on the whole I really enjoyed it and I hope there will be a sequel.

No comments: