To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

My rating: 4.7/5.0

This book is an absolute classic, and a completely unmissable read. I read it before for my GCSE English Literature class, but being fourteen at the time I returned to it now, suspecting that it might mean slightly more to me six years later. And it did.

It’s heartbreaking, thought-provoking and totally page turning. I think I read it in the space of two days. The characters have such depth to them, and through the eyes of seven/eight year old Scout Finch (Jean Louise if we’re being formal!), they all come majestically to life. One thing that struck me is that I was still a little scared of Scout’s initial impression of Boo Radley! I guess the idea of an unseen phantom that one can’t put a face to is infinitely more terrifying than something you can quantify, hence the extensive imaginations of children.

Moving through the book and seeing the trial of Tom Robinson from Scout’s perspective makes it seem even more abhorrent. The innocence she has, which her brother Jem loses, becomes all the more precious in light of the outcome. One almost begins to detest the machinations of adults, purely because of the effect it has on children.

I cannot begin to this book justice here, but suffice to say that if you have no read it you must; and if you have read it, return to it, I almost guarantee you it will provide you with something new.

B

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An Elegy To English Literature

Well not really, because I suck at writing poetry – but here are some of my thoughts on the discipline as I leave it behind.

Okay so today’s the day. Today was the last day where I was technically a student of English Literature. Of course, if anyone loves reading and continues to love it then they are always, in some way, a student of English Lit. I have studied English Lit, properly, since I was 14 at GCSE level. I don’t really count what you did before that as studying it, before that level you’re kind of just placing the building blocks for what is to come later.

I then went on to A Level English Lit which I absolutely loved – exploring the contexts and connections between authors and their works. It fascinated me to look for hidden clues in either a poem or a novel (or any other form for that matter), as to what a writer was thinking, or trying to put across as they did so. What I liked the most however, was not the analysis of the actual text itself, but to look at how it’s context had so affected it. I think this is why A Level was so awesome for me, it was about developing an understanding of where authors had got their influence from, discussing how intertextuality was rife throughout literature and making links between different themes etc. I was lucky at A Level that we got one topic which I find interesting; the literature of the First World War, and the second topic was so open ended (Love Through The Ages) that we could basically study what we wanted – within reason.

I liked Lit so much then that I decided to take it on to University in a joint major with History. And this is where the downward slide began. I was made to study texts that I didn’t care for, by writers whose style I really didn’t like. This is hardly surprising of course but it really got me down. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed various aspects we did; Renaissance Sonnets, Hamlet, British Romanticism, Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter etc. but some just drove me to distraction (I’m looking at you Virginia Woolf and Seamus Heaney). I just couldn’t bring myself to care about what they had to say, and I figured that this wasn’t a good thing when studying at University! Even though I love reading, and I love exploring contexts, influences and literary devices that authors and poets used, I realised that I had to be on my terms. It had to be books that I had chosen because I wanted to read  them, not because they fitted well into the section of literary theory that I should be coming to grips with at that moment in time.

So I changed my major to straight History, with a minor in Philosophy. History is one of those subjects that I am so passionate about, that even when we were studying Victorian social surveys, I still found myself moderately interested. I have a burning want to know everything there is to know about a History (even though that’s impossible), and I found my love of English wasn’t quite up to this. I figured that I should rectify this now whilst I still had the chance, before diving into ENG201 Literary Theory module next year (ew!).

I sat my last ever English exam today. I think it went alright. I feel as if I passed at least which is always a plus point! And tonight, I am going to curl up with my kindle, download something totally new (I’ve been wanting to read some Oscar Wilde for a while now) and enjoy just for the sake of it. Yes, I may wonder if Wilde’s Victorian/Edwardian context influenced his work, and how his unique position as the author affected the text… but at least I won’t have to memorise any quotes!

Until next time,

B

XO

The Kingmaker’s Daughter – Philippa Gregory

Enjoyment/Story Rating: 3.0/5.0

Style/Language Rating: 2.8/5.0

 

Okay, well this another classic Philippa Gregory story, telling the tale of Anne Neville; daughter of the Earl of Warwick, the “kingmaker” of the late Plantagenet era. It’s a good tale if all you want is a simple story of a vaguely historical nature, but that is all it seems to provide. I was expected something a bit more, because I’d been told that it was better than her other recent novels, but I found it sitting quite comfortable alongside them in terms of mediocrity.

Now don’t get me wrong, Philippa Gregory has written some really great books, I loved her Tudor Series, but the things she’s written lately seem to just have been the same story and all she’s done is edited the names before sending the book to the publishers – it seems one dimensional and fairly flat with little new to offer regular Gregory readers. I found myself skipping pages as I got bored with the repetitive nature of the style, diving back in again when I stumbled across something that it felt like I hadn’t read before.

I would recommend this if you like comfortable historical novels and just want a light and easy read. Otherwise, if you want better historical fiction, go for Gregory’s earlier novels, in my opinion they are far superior to her later works.

 

B

XO

Teachers Top 100

So, apparently teachers in the UK have chosen their top 100 books for teaching and enjoyment. Top of this list is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen which I have to confess, I haven’t read. I read Persuasion at A level and I think it’s a great book but the few times I’ve attempted to read about the escapades of Mr Darcy and Ms Bennett, I’ve been overcome by the cliched nature of what’s been done to it since Austen penned the thing. I’m also pleased to see a lot of Tolkien on the list, I adore Tolkien and I wish there was a module on my course to do with 20th Century fantasy writers, but alas alack there is not. Reading down the list I am genuinely liking what is on the list, although I do take issue with one: Twilight (series) by Stephanie Meyer. WHY? This book is truly, truly terrible; the story is not great and the actual use of language/plot development/sentence structure/character development ain’t good either. I guess one of the reasons it could be on there is it might make more kids want to take up reading? Maybe? I don’t know, but the day that that series shows up on the official syllabus is a very very sad day indeed.

Also, it makes me a sad English Literature student when I read down that list and realise that I haven’t even heard of some of them, never mind read them. Worse still when I thought it was film and not a book. Whoopsie. I am pleased to say that I have read lots of the novels on that list, and I think I might use it as a reference to tackle more. I have The Independent’s ‘1001 books to read before you die’ tucked away somewhere, but I always find that slightly overwhelming. Maybe 100 is a better place to start. And before you ask, yes I know they’re books recommended by teachers, but look at that list there are only a few that I was designate as “children’s” books, and even those are fun to read so… why not?

I might even try and tackle that world renowned piece of literature next… might take me a good while to get through it though: Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar… 

Book Review: ‘Cross Stitch’ by Diana Gabaldon

(re) Read: March 2013

Enjoyment/Story Rating: 4.5/5.0

Style/Language Rating: 3.6/5.0

Note: As you can see there’s been a slight change to the way I rate things. This is due to the fact I did not think it entirely fair to lump the rating of the content/story in with the author’s ability to write/usage of language, because one might be extremely different from the other. If someone can think of a better, all-encompassing, word for the above categories please comment and let me know! I’ve got a lovely head-cold at the moment and my brain isn’t working properly…

Anyway, on with the review!

I have always loved this story, hence the reason the enjoyment rating is so high. It’s fast-paced, it’s sexy, it’s dangerous and it’s intriguing; all wrapped up into one novel. I must have read it at least four times, and every time I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it, wanting nothing more than to go into hibernation with my book and a never-ending flask of tea. I told you I have a habit of returning to things I’ve already read…

The story itself concerns a young woman, Claire Randall, dragged through a circle of standing stones in Scotland from 1946 to the world of the Jacobites in 1743. She is in a world torn by conflict, suspicion and clan-feuds. Having been a nurse in World War Two she is more than equipped to deal with the bloody wounds and carnage that face her as she struggles to return to the stone circle to get back to her own time. What she isn’t prepared for is the passion and attachment she will develop for a young Scotsman called Jamie Fraser; who offers who equal passion, love, protection and fierce loyalty. She is torn between two worlds; the one she has come from and the one she finds herself in; where she knows the impending disaster of Culloden field is looming…

In my opinion the book is definitely more aimed at those who enjoy a “romantic” novel, but it does have scope to be enjoyed by all. It is not a historical-novel per say, more bordering on fantasy with touches of reality here and there. The two main characters are well developed and their relationship is continually interesting as we see how the events around them effect themselves and each other. I enjoy that fact that even though Claire adapts to the world she is living in, she doesn’t lose the independence afforded her as a twentieth century woman. When you juxtapose her with the character of Jenny (Jamie’s sister), you can see that even though they are both strong and independent, there are major differences between them. Clair certainly has some fairly twentieth century ideas when it comes to eighteenth century discipline, the patriarchal society and also the “proper” place for a woman. The language is approachable – even when it’s written in broad scots! I attempted to read some of the lines written in a Scottish accent (i.e. “dinna fash yerself lassie”) but for some reason always ended up in an Irish one… oh well!

I think the reason I enjoy this book so much, is that whilst it is a romantic novel and does seem to make every woman fall in love with Jamie Fraser, it does also have the blood of the Jacobite Scotland, the historical touches, the fantasy/sci-fi aspect and also the many many plot twists and turns which leave the reader wanting more. This is the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series and I will be fairly shortly embarking on number two A Dragonfly in Amber. If you’ve read this novel; please let me know what you thought about it!

‘… da mi basia mille, diende centum,

dein mille altera, dein secunda centum…’ 

(Then let amorous kisses dwell,/On our lips, begin and tell/A Thousand, and a Hundred, score/A Hundred, and a Thousand more.’

Thanks,

B

Book Review: ‘The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous’ by Jilly Cooper

Rating: 3.7/5.0

Read: March 2013

Yes, I read chick lit too. And, unlike some people who claim to like Literature, I am not ashamed to admit it. This is the second Jilly Cooper novel I have read and both have been extremely enjoyable. A little silly in a lot of places, but still interesting to read and very addictive!

The novel begins with the introduction of Lysander Hawkley, the horse made protagonist with Adonis-like good-looks and the ability to attract women as if he were a magnet. Underneath this, however, the reader quickly comes to realise that he is dealing with loss of his own and is also hopelessly naive, thus open to the manipulations of others. His best friend soon realises his talents for attracting women, and the jealousy this causes their husbands, and so sets up a business around this skill; having women hire Lysander’s services for as long as it takes to get their erring husbands back.

Lysander goes through women as if it they were water, falling in love with each of them in turn, only to have his heart broken when he realises he just a tool in getting their husbands back, or that the women themselves are not quite who they seem. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, and I couldn’t begin to some up the ins and outs of the plot because it is quite a long book (738 pages). One thing that does, however, constantly annoy me with the novel is that the women throughout are trying to get back husbands that made them feel awful. Okay, so I agree there must be something very satisfactory about seeing a straying boyfriend or husband come running back once you’re a size 10 and fabulous again, but the indignant part of me asks; would you take him back? I think I’d kick him to the curb to be honest. Another reason this novel didn’t score a 4 or higher was because, whilst some of Cooper’s characters are well developed, others are fairly two dimensional and flat, behaving the same in every situation presented to them.

On the whole though, this was a very enjoyable read, it made me laugh and kept me entertained for 3 or 4 days. Definitely worth a go if you’re in between serious texts, or are just looking for something fun to read!