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review 2018-09-23 08:21
Worst best luck and a tourist
The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett

This is my first Pratchett, and I had so much fun.

 

It was all the elements: the zanny world, all the stabs at our world's and several sub-types of fantasies usual conventions, Rincewind's quality of Luck's plaything and Twoflower's perfect embodiment of the "too oblivious and exited to get it tourist". And the luggage. The luggage was awesome, and the way it kept coming back the gift that kept on giving.

 

It ends in a cliff-hanger, but I'm not too anxious over it, because I was on the ride for the humour more than closure.

 

And apparently, this is not the best to be had in the Discworld... Sold on the author.

 

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review 2018-09-18 07:43
Rebecca
Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, I saw the PBS production of Rebecca really, really late at night. I only remember enough to picture Emilia Fox and Diana Rigg in their respective roles as the second Mrs. De Winter and Mrs. Danvers. As for the story, I didn’t remember much beyond the broad strokes. I’m glad. Reading this book wouldn’t have been nearly as much torture/fun if I’d remembered more of the story.

 

In the beginning, I felt like I was reading the excruciating tale of an introvert struggling to fill the shoes of an extrovert in a position she was completely unqualified for, and I identified with the unnamed narrator on a deep and uncomfortable level. Soooooooo uncomfortable. Totally introverted? Definitely. Hiding when someone rocks up to the house, unexpectedly or otherwise? I do that. Fantasizing endless scenarios and possible outcomes? I do that too. Giving inadvertent outward signs that I’m engaging in said fantasizing? Yep, that’s happened once or twice. That’s about where our similarities end, but I saw enough of myself in her that the secondhand embarrassment was frequent and intense. I didn’t know whether I wanted to hug her or slap her. Or both. The first note I made while reading the book was “Holy Hand Grenade, am I going to cringe ALL THE WAY through this book?” with the addendum of “(Yes. Yes I am.)”

 

Boy. Did I ever.

 

The writing is fantastic. The characters on the page can be having the most banal conversation ever recorded (which they frequently do), and all the time du Maurier is tightening the screw, building tension and stretching nerves past the breaking point. It is beyond atmospheric. I know I’ve already used the word excruciating, but IT IS SO. VERY. EXCRUCIATING.

 

Ahem. Sorry for shouting. Anyway, despite the excruciating excellence of this novel, I can’t give it five stars. Spoilery reason under the tag:

 

This is very much a me thing and not a book thing, and it’s one of the same problems I had with Jane Eyre. I HATED Maxim. Just as I wanted to see Mr. Rochester die in that fire, I wanted to see Maxim done up for murder. And I never wanted to slap the unnamed narrator harder than when he basically said, “I hated my wife and I murdered the bitch!” and she responded by going “Squee! He hated her! I’m so happy!” I swear she’s the type who would fall in love with her serial killer prison pen pal. I WAS ACTUALLY ROOTING FOR SKEEVY JACK FAVELL TO PROVE THE MURDER. But all he managed to do was tip Danvers over the edge and get her to burn the house down. Or so I infer from that super-abrupt ending. Meh. Whatever. I hope the dogs made it out okay.

(spoiler show)

 

I read this for the Halloween Bingo 2018 Terrifying Women square.

 

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review 2018-09-15 06:04
David Copperfield (Audiobook) (DNF @ 48)
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

Whelp, that's 0-2 for me and Charles Dickens. I was going to try to power through this - I had 8 more days on the audiobook loan from my library - but every time I thought about listening to this for another 8 days, it was like those dolly zoom shots. I just can't. This is so boring! The first quarter or so was decent, and I thought it was going to go somewhere, like maybe Davie wasn't all that he seemed or something. And I thought for sure something was up with Steerforth, but nope! Davie finds refuge with his aunt and the story grinds to a halt and never recovers. It's just chapter after chapter after chapter of Davie meeting a friend and talking to them, Davie meeting another friend and talking to them, Davie corresponding with friends and then meeting them again and talking to them. Talk, talk, talk, blah, blah, blah. So, I'm done y'all. I'm going to spend the next 8 days doing something that's actually interesting. Like watching paint dry. Or watching grass grow. Or listening to Ben Stein read the dictionary.

 

2 stars because the writing here was a vast improvement over the self-indulgent A Tale of Two Cities. But this turned out to be a different kind of self-indulgence, just dressed up in pretty prose. Simon Vance does a great job with the narration, but even he can't make these characters interesting.

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review 2018-09-11 20:05
The more things change
North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell

How to tag this.

 

Know this though: if you expect a romance... well, there is romance, but it's not really the meat of the story. More like a sprinkled seasoning to give the excuse, and a happy ending I guess.

 

What this is about is industrialization, the theme for most characters was the failure point of their principles or what they considered their cornerstones, and the running one on interactions was misunderstandings arising from lack of enough knowledge to "wear another's shoes" (and no, I do not mean empathy), and it was masterfully done (if long-winded). So masterfully actually, that I had a raging fit and had to stop reading at one point (workers vs owners/strikes), because it is still such an on point analysis today.

 

The vehicle for all that is us following Margaret Hale through a three-year-long trauma conga line, through which she carries herself with so much poise and holding herself to such impossible standards that I could not help but want to shake her.

 

I'm a bit addled still by how packed this was, and I confess I'm downright intimidated by the prospect of her other books. I think I'll leave Wives and Daughters for another year's reading project.

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review 2018-09-10 19:52
My Life In Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
My Life in Middlemarch - Rebecca Mead

Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people," offered Mead something that modern life and literature did not. In this wise and revealing work of biography, reporting, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece--the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure--and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of Eliot herself, My Life in Middlemarch is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Journalist Rebecca Mead uses My Life in Middlemarch not only as a platform to revisit George Eliot's classic novel, one that proved to be one of the pivotal reading experiences of Mead's teens and twenties, but also as a way to get better acquainted with the famous author herself. Because Mead provides a respectable amount of thoroughly researched material, though this work initially presents itself as a memoir inspired by a great writer, the biographical portions on Eliot are nothing to scoff at. 

 

A book may not tell us exactly how to live our lives, but our own lives can teach us how to read a book. Now when I read the novel in the light of Eliot's life, and in the light of my own, I see her experience of unexpected family woven deep into the fabric of the novel  -- not as part of the book's obvious pattern, but as part of its tensile strength..."The secret of our emotions never lies in the bare object, but in its subtle relation to our own past," Eliot wrote in Adam Bede. The bare object of a book -- of a story -- might also have a subtle relation to our own past. Identification with character is one way in which most ordinary readers do engage with a book, even if it is not where a reader's engagement ends. It is where part of the pleasure, and the urgency, of reading lies. It is one of the ways that a novel speaks to a reader, and becomes integrated into the reader's own imaginative life. Even the most sophisticated readers read novels in the light of their own experience, and in such recognition, sympathy may begin.

 

 

Born Mary Ann Evans (though she preferred going by "Marian" in her youth), George Eliot grew up in the rural region of southwest England. A whip-smart girl, she was already working her way through the works of Sir Walter Scott by the age of seven! Letters she penned during her teen years show a kind of forced maturity. Her opinions are markedly prudish, pious and judgmental. Surprisingly, she claimed to find dancing and novel reading silly frivolities. But Mead has a theory: she points out that at about the same age Eliot was when she wrote these bold opinions, Mead herself would also strongly preach on topics she actually knew little about -- sex, feminism, politics. Mead suspects that at this point in her life, Eliot was likely just a teen working through the standard growing up period of trying to figure out who you are exactly. Part of that means maybe sometimes making claims you might not necessarily whole-heartedly believe in, simply for the sake of trying the idea on for size. 

 

 

Mead might be onto something, as she goes to show that later on in life Eliot swapped out her religious fervor for an equally intense passion for pseudosciences such as phrenology. Around this point in the book Mead also throws in an interesting bit of relevant trivia: turns out the very term "agnostic" was coined in 1869 by a friend of Eliot's! Eliot goes on to settle into what we'd now likely view as a common law marriage with George Henry Lewes. They weren't officially married (by church standards) but cohabited and behaved as an established married couple would, and many a neighbor gave the two a heavy dose of side-eye for it. Eliot & Lewes were both described as being quite ugly by the times' standards (even Eliot's friend, Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev claimed she "made him understand that it was possible to fall in love with a woman who was not pretty"), but haters be damned, they had the ultimate swoon-worthy bookish beginning to their romance when they met in a bookshop!

 

Henry James on Eliot (in a letter to his father): "She is magnificently ugly -- deliciously hideous. She has a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth, and a chin and jaw bone qui n'en finissent pas (never-ending)...Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a few very minutes steals forth and charms the mind, so that you may end as I ended, falling in love with her. Yes, behold me literally falling in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking."

 

Mead's words on Lewes: Lewes, who was two years Eliot's senior, was "the ugliest man in London" according to one member of his literary circle. He was slight in stature, with a receding jaw, protruding teeth that were concealed by a bushy mustache, and dark, intense, intelligent eyes. Jane Carlyle unkindly called him "The Ape," though her husband gave testimony that Lewes was "ingenious, brilliant, entertaining, highly gifted and accomplished." He was quick and clever. The novelist Eliza Lynn Linton, who was not fond of Lewes and thought him coarse and vulgar, nonetheless said that wherever he went there was "a patch of intellectual sunshine in the room." Lewes' bohemian manners and radical precepts were partly inspired by (Percy Bysse) Shelley, of whom as a young man he had described himself as a worshipper, and whose biography he had tried to write when he was just twenty, a project that foundered because he could not get the approval of Mary Shelley, the poet's widow.

 

 

Image result for George Henry Lewes

Lewes & Eliot

 

 

Eliot hoped to find friendly support in her older, married half-sister Fanny Houghton, but Fanny -- having been displaced from her home as a child by their father when he took up with Eliot's mother -- ended up severing communication with Eliot altogether. 

 

Also incorporated in this work are some extra booknerdish gems where  Mead shares details on Eliot's literary friendships or at least run-ins with other greats of the era. Not only is there a discussion on Eliot's friendship (mostly through correspondence) with Harriet Beecher Stowe, but Mead also ties in connections to the works of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. here and there throughout the whole book. 

 

She (Eliot) was sometimes satirical, as in her secondhand report of Dickens' house on Tavistock Square: "Splendid library, of course, with soft carpet, couches, etc. such as become a sympathizer of the suffering classes," she wrote. "How can we sufficiently pity the needy unless we know fully the blessings of plenty?"

 

So yeah, not quite a full biography of Eliot, not entirely a traditional memoir for Mead, but somewhere in between. I will say it seemed to be closer to an Eliot bio than memoir, thought the title and synopsis would suggest something different. Mead DOES have her own personal connections in here, just maybe not as much as you might expect. Some reviews suggest this was a disappointment to a percentage of readers, but I myself wasn't hung up on that so much. Mead at least keeps things consistently interesting, which, for this book at least, was good enough for me.

 

 

 

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