Um, I gotta book

That’s one Buffy line that I’ve never actually been too sure of… either she means that she has to go sort out her library issues (which is plausible) or it’s valley girl for ‘go’. According to Stephen Fry ‘book’ has become textspeak for ‘cool’, since the young folk are too lazy to deal with the errors of predictive texting.

‘Book’ was also the name of one of my favourite Firefly characters. Maybe I should just say that he was one of the characters, since I can’t really think of anyone on Firefly who wasn’t one of my favourites, including theSpJew.

Anyway, I felt like doing a round-up post about what I’ve been reading in the last month or so.

I’ll start with the book I was reading up to my flight out, Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot. I’d actually read it before, but years ago and I couldn’t really remember much of it. My ailing memory is a bit of a problem! There’s quite a lot of classics that I feel that way about, plus I don’t think that I fully appreciated what was going on when I read them as a tween, like with Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I added a few books like this that I thought were in need of a re-read to my ‘to read’ shelf, and I’d just happened to have got up to Scenes by the time I was leaving. I had intended to bring the next few with me, which I think included Gone With the Wind, but due to my incredibly overweight bag I had to leave them behind.

Scenes of Clerical Life is basically a collection of three, very slightly related, short stories. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with short stories. I think that in the right hands (such as the paws of Daphne duMaurier, Roald Dahl, Philip K Dick or Andrew Davies, and if I can include novellas like St Mawr and The Virgin and the Gypsy in my definition of ‘a short story’ then I’d like to add DH Lawrence to that list) they can be excellent, and provide satisfying ‘bite size’ fiction. However, I’ve experienced quite a lot of fairly rubbish short stories that just make me feel as if I’m wasting my time. I think it can be quite hard for something so short to draw you in and actually make you interested in what’s happening. I definitely prefer reading a load of short stories by one author together rather than a collection of tales from different writers (even if they are on a similar theme) because you at least become acclimatised to the author’s rhythm and style. Also sometimes you get those nice links between the stories which just gives you a little something extra and makes it feel as if the stories are more than just these ‘shorts’. I like that kind of thing anyway, the subtle nod to the careful reader- like in Sharon Creech’s teenage fiction for example, all her books have a different female protagonist, but they’re all somehow linked together even if they don’t know it, and there’s a small mention of one of them in each book (perhaps the heroine’s aunt mentions a girl she might get on with, for example).

As far as short stories go I found Scenes to be a good collection. I suppose it helped that they weren’t particularly short either, they felt meaty enough. The first two stories, ‘The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton’ and Mr Gilful’s Love Story’ were both fairly enjoyable and showcased Eliot’s wit and storytelling ability. Whilst they were often funny, they did both have sad (and kind of abrupt) endings. The third and final part, ‘Janet’s Repentance’ is much, much darker, being about an alcoholic, abused wife. It isn’t really a subject matter that lends itself to humour, but then again Juno was an excellent comedy about teenage pregnancy. I certainly thought that ‘Janet’s Repentance’ was well written and touching, but I found certain parts of it a bit hard to swallow- namely the emphasis on how to be (and how one should be) a dutiful wife. Overall I didn’t feel that this book was necessarily a masterpiece, but nor did I expect it to be- I think that it’s an especially accessible ‘in’ to Eliot’s work and I’m glad that I took the time to re-read it. I certainly want to re-read The Mill on the Floss (I couldn’t find my copy at home anyway but I’m sure I can buy one out here) and maybe eventually actually get around to reading Adam Bede.

I don’t think I need to say too much about my experience of reading Everything is Illuminated for the second time.. Suffice to say that I obviously enjoyed it immensely again, and it still managed to make me sob like a small child. I came away from it with the sense that maybe it wasn’t the slice of perfection I had thought when I first read it though, and that sometimes the ever-so-postmodern literary techniques were a little bit forced. I’d quite like to get around to reading The Time Traveller’s Wife as well to compare how that feels the second time around, as it (like Everything is Illuminated) is a book that I read fairly recently and was just utterly in love with.

The next book I got around to reading was Stardust, my going away present from Naomi. I’d already watched the film, which is a bad, bad way to go around doing things and I heartily disapprove of myself for it. I preferred the book to the film, although I still think that the film is definitely enjoyable and actually rather different from the book (I rewatched it on Sunday in a DVD-bang while scoffing down tasty ice cream, and it was an excellent hangover cure). Neil Gaiman is an author that I’ve always known I’d adore and yet I haven’t read all that much by him; I read Coraline several years ago which was enjoyable enough and had some excellent one-liners, but it is a book aimed at a younger audience and I adore Good Omens which he co-wrote with my beloved Terry Pratchett. I’ve also watched the entirety of Neverwhere which is excellent and comes highly recommended from me (and it’s alright to watch that before reading it, which I will get around to one day, since it was a television show first so ha) even though it does of course look incredibly dated. I’m really glad that I read (and watched) Stardust, and hopefully it will encourage me to read more Gaiman stuff. It was just a really fun and whimsical book, and I’m very glad that it wasn’t just a cut and dry fairy tale with a happy ending, and even though it isn’t a major detail I really liked that Tristan’s mother wasn’t particularly motherly and was instead kind of harsh, proud and cunning.

After that I got into my first batch of book binges (from the seven storey Tesco’s bookshop), starting with The Picture of Dorian Gray. I enjoyed it and I’m glad that I’ve finally read it, it was certainly fun to find so many Wilde-isms in their original habitat. I feel a little weird that so many of his characters’ sayings get attributed to him as a person, obviously they originate from him and often they may very well express his feelings entirely (possibly proven by the fact that he recycled them and put them in the mouths of other characters), I just feel that when people are quoting his characters they ought to at least parenthetically point that out. Reading Dorian Gray was a little uncomfortable for me because although Lord Henry is the obvious avatar of Wilde, I think there was also a lot of him in Basil, and it’s so sad to read about Basil’s obsession with Dorian, and feel how eerily it foreshadows Wilde’s own devastating love for Bosie. I could not help myself from imagining Dorian as looking an awful lot like Jude Law playing Bosie in Wilde as a result. The actual story of Dorian Gray is fairly simplistic (and I wasn’t aware of just how common it was at the time) but it’s a very well-written and well-executed book. I liked the insights provided by the introduction in my copy (although I really think that these analytical introductions ought to be shunted to the end of the book because I never read them first since I don’t want to be spoiled), although I think that counting the amount of times the word “wild” was used and trying to use that as evidence of Wilde’s egotism was stretching things a little far.

My copy also included some very well-written short stories, in fact I think I’d be happy to add Oscar Wilde to my list of favourite short-story authors. ‘The Happy Prince’ was a sweet tale (although I felt a slight objection the almost jarring religious twist at the end), ‘The Birthday of the Infanta’ was enjoyable with a good twist, and ‘Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime’ was brilliant and darkly hilarious. I’d definitely recommend checking out some of his lesser known shorter works like these to anyone who likes short stories and/or his better known stuff, and I would certainly like to read more of his fairy tales.

Next I (finally) read The Catcher in the Rye. I guess it’s one of those books that everyone feels that they ought to read, but I’ve never acted on that impulse (probably because I never found a copy of it in the house). I kind of wish that I had done, because I feel that if I’d read it at the right time in my life I might have enjoyed it a lot more, as it was I could see its merits but it just didn’t do much for me. I can’t personally really understand why people rave about it. It isn’t a bad book at all and it did have some amusing observations but it just wasn’t saying anything particularly earth shattering. It does an excellent job of capturing an annoyed teenager’s voice, but that isn’t enough to make it amazing, and quite frankly it isn’t the most interesting point of view in the world (unless we’re talking about Gossip Girl, natch). I think that I have a bit of bias against fiction written in the first person as well, which probably doesn’t help. The fact that I was a little underwhelmed by The Catcher in the Rye has led me to accept a difficult truth about myself that I’m finding a little hard to cope with: I am not a fourteen year old boy. It’s pretty sad.

Although The Great Gatsby was also written in the first person, I enjoyed it a lot more than The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve always had a complete misconception about The Great Gatsby, I think it’s because I read a (much longer) book as a kid called ‘The Great…’ something, maybe it was ‘The Great Grey’? I’m fairly certain that it was alliterative. So they’ve sort of been vaguely connected in my psyche, giving me the impression that The Great Gatsby had something to do with chases, and possibly mystical creatures of some kind. Those impressions have now been properly debunked and I’m happy to announce that I think it’s a great, and tragic, book. It’s a very touching story, and Nick makes an excellent dry, detached narrator. My interest in J2 AU fic began at about the same time as I was reading this, and it was kind of weird that I was reading this at the same time (please be warned that there’s an awful lot of gay sex, drugs, meanness and prostitution if you click on that link), which although completely different from The Great Gatsby had one very similar element: the idea of a person being completely besotted with someone, and holding on to that for so long instead of moving on. I often find that when I become interested in something, such as a book, I find similarities with it everywhere though, and I’m sure that that happens to other people too.

My trio of first person novels was completed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and I definitely feel that it’s a form that I could do without reading for a little while. Like The Catcher in the Rye, I feel that this book is a little overrated. It is an interesting view point and I think that mostly Mark Haddon writes well, but (again like The Catcher in the Rye) it feels a little ‘light’ and fluffy, it kind of reminded me of Tuesdays with Morrie as well. I think that it’s lazy writing to just create a scenario where your audience is going to feel sympathy for your character/s, I want something more, I don’t know how to define what exactly it is but it makes a book resonate ‘deeply’. I also felt a bit weird about Haddon’s choice to write from the point of view of an autistic boy (especially as it isn’t actually explained in the book that he is autistic, unless you count the blurb), whilst I suppose that it is awareness raising I felt as if he was somewhat exploiting his first hand experience of working with autistic people. I’d really love to force my parents to read this book and get their impressions of it, since they both have experience of working with autistic children (my mother mostly with very young children and my father more with teens). I also felt that the ending wasn’t very satisfying. Overall I thought that it was an interesting and ambitious idea for a book, but it just wasn’t something amazing and not really my type of book, though I can appreciate what other people find likable about it without completely judging them.

I did however feel rather let down when I read Dead Poets Society. Being as I’m not much of a film person it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that I’ve never actually seen the film, so when I saw the book I figured that it would be a great idea to read it. Too late I discovered that the film isn’t based on the book, but the other way around- the book is inspired by the film. When I realised that I didn’t expect it to be particularly great, even so I wasn’t expecting it to be so bad. It’s especially irritating because it could be good, yet doesn’t deliver. I’d still be interested in watching the film because I can imagine a lot of the ideas that don’t quite work in the book being realised successfully on screen, and it’s a little annoying that if and when I do watch it I’m already going to know exactly what’s going to happen. I’m kind of pissed at this book for not being good enough to like, since it does have elements which I really could enjoy- I like passion for writing, and I really like Walt Whitman. It probably doesn’t help that I’m not the biggest fan of poetry though. I certainly think that if this book were fleshed out more and didn’t feel quite so rushed it might be more enjoyable, and I’d definitely veto idiotic teenage boys claiming they’re in love with a girl after meeting her for about 30 seconds, along with idiotic teenage boys running around a cave whooping ‘like savages’ if I’d been in charge. I suppose I really must come to the conclusion that I’m definitely not a teenage boy, and just stick to reading smutty school boy fic.

I’ve also been entertaining myself with comics. I’m not all that much of a comic fan, although I really adore X-Men for example, I’m much more au fait with the cartoon than the actual comics (and also the first two films which were great, and check out this fantastic review for some of the reasons I hated the third one). Even though I obviously utterly adore all things Whedonesque, I’ve never actually read any of the BuffyAngel or Firefly comics, or even Astonishing X-Men. Even when I found out that Joss himself was taking them helm for a Buffy season 8 in comic form I debated whether I wanted to get invested. Silly, silly me.

I was also giggling at the woobie trope post. I especially loved that for both Buffy and Supernatural a blanket statement was needed to explain how much trauma pretty much all the characters face. I really don’t understand how Mulder didn’t make the cut though, there’s a boy who seems like he could really use a hug.

A fairly tenuous leap (which might make a smidge more sense in a sec) brings me to something that I’ve been pondering: is there a term for a love of Jews? Cos if there isn’t, can I please suggest that the word Semiphilia needs to come into effect, like now? Especially so I can describe Kristin Chenowith as a Semiphiliac. This picspam goes a way to proving it, if her love of Aaron Sorkin wasn’t enough to do that anyway. (Did you know that they’re back together? Maybe his overly-revealing, highly disturbing analysis of their relationship and subsequent break up as portrayed by Matt and Harriet in Studio 60 somehow won her back, or maybe she agreed to give him another chance if he swore to never, ever do something like that again. Who knows.) The picspam mentions a lot of the reasons why I adore Kristin Chenowith, but I figure that they can handle being restated a few times: she was Glinda (and that’s just awesome), she’s great in Pushing Daisies, she somehow wasn’t annoying in The West Wing even though she should have been, it is almost impossible to believe that her and Allison Janney are the same species and, yes, her breasts. Since David Duchovny somehow managed to make his way into said picspam (for reasons that I don’t entirely understand), I’m prompted to ask if there’s such a thing as Demisemiphilia? Can I be in charge of all the words now please world?

5 thoughts on “Um, I gotta book

  1. I think you should be in charge of words. And I would like to be your Minister of Puns.

    Short stories! So pertinent right now. I do agree, with all the short story writers you like, except George Eliot and Andrew Davies (BBC guy?), as I have yet to sample them. Check out Richard Matheson (just a reminder), Guy de Maupassant, Angela Carter… can’t thing of others for now. Happy Prince is one of my favorite stories! I often think that Hans Christian Anderson wrote it, its more him than Wilde, really. Did you know that HCA was gay?

  2. I think I leant you the Andrew Davies short story book! He’s the guy who did the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. And he wrote the Marmalade Atkins books! Such a random mix.

    Waaant some Richard Matheson and Angela Carter short stories in my life right the fuck now. I think I’m gonna finish Shades of Grey pretty soon, then will get on with Her Fearful Symmetry. Slowly making a dent in my ‘to read’ pile.

    The Happy Prince does seem like it could be a HCA story… I didn’t know that he was gay! Although certainly that makes the Disney film about him make more sense…

      • It’s called Dirty Faxes, think I leant it to you at the same time as Tom’s Midnight Garden (and your rage related to that might have blocked out everything else), but you did return it to me. It’s still on my bookshelf, unless the pixies that stole Coraline have made off with it too.

  3. Aha! I have dug into the rage haze and located my memory of Dirty Faxes. And I have read it! And I probably did enjoy it. But yea, Tom’s Midnight Garden kinda took over everything! I’m glad I returned it… then again, I doubt you would have let me get away with forgetting! ;)

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