Saturday, 19 December 2015

How to Read a Book | Adler & Van Doren

Rating: 6/10

What? How to Read a Book? Surely if you’ve read this book, you already know how to read a book? Yes and no. It all depends on what you mean by 'read'. The authors distinguish three different types of reading, reading for pleasure, reading for information and reading for understanding. This book deals with the latter.

This is a real back to basic guide on how to fully understand a book (the classics of fiction and non-fiction) unaided. It has a lot of good pointers. Some explanations are a bit long winded; I’m not sure if I feel that because I’ve understood it or it is just needlessly long. 
The authors do not dress up what the guide as some magical tour de force; they make it quite clear that what it contains is common sense. 

I’ve had a quick glance over other reviews and I feel some have been unfairly harsh in this respect. The authors are very clear from the outset what their aims are and they stick to them. As long as you read the blurb, you should have a pretty good indication of whether the book is worth your time to read. Humanity students and people following programs like the Well Educated Mind are the ideal audience for How to Read a Book.

I do have to say that I have already read a condensed version of this book in How to Write Essays. It is also has Plato’s Meno’s Paradox as a subtext (very basically, it’s the problem of ‘How do I know x? If I already know x, I don’t need to learn it but if I don’t know x, I can’t learn it because I don’t know how’). My subtext is that you should never believe that you know everything already, but rather that there is always potential in anything to learn something new. 

Overall, I would say that the blurb acts as a good indicator for whether this book will be any use for you. You can buy How to Read a Book here, affiliate proceeds help fund giveaways!  

Book facts
Original publication: August 15th 1972
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Pages: 426
Book cover for book review of How to read a book Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Best Books of 2015 | Top Ten Tuesday

Each week The Broke and The Bookish provides a topic for a Top Ten List. This week the theme is:

Top Ten Best Books I Read In 2015”

1. Nora Webster, Brooklyn* (Colm Tóibín) *Can't decide between them
2. Guards! Guards! (Terry Pratchett)
3. American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
4. Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates)
5. Man and Superman (Bernard Shaw)
6. Reasons to Stay Alive  (Matt Haig)
7. How to Write Better Essays* (Bryan Greetham) *Helped with my MA essay(s) 
8. Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys)
9. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind* (Yuval Noah Harai) *Still being read
10. Life and Fate* (Vasily Grossman) *Still being read

The reasons behind the choices is that the book has been engrossing/hard to put down and has had a lasting impression. They're not in any particular order. What about you? Happy TTT!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

New Authors I Discovered in 2015 | Top Ten Tuesday

Each week The Broke and The Bookish provides a topic for a Top Ten List. This week the theme is:

Top Ten New-To-Me Favorite Authors I Read For The First Time In 2015”

1. Colm Tóibín (Nora Webster, Brooklyn)
I had been pining for Toibin’s latest novel Nora Webster for ages and all I can say is that I wish I bought it sooner. Whilst his plot may sound mundane, his writing skills are truly divine. I can’t wait to watch Brooklyn in the cinema and to read the rest of his works.

2. Terry Pratchett (Mort, Guards! Guards!)
Arguably this is not ‘new’ as I read The Nome/Bromeliad Triology as a young girl, but this is the first time I've read the Discworld series (and as an adult). Like Tóibín, very addictive and a future go-to author.

3. Iris Murdoch (The Bell)
Having studied Kant at university, Murdoch’s name came on my radar. The Bell was written in the 50s and was clearly ahead of the time with its themes. Again, I’ll be looking to read more by Murdoch next year.  

4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hounds of the Baskervilles)
The epitome of the detective novel and very enjoyable. What else is there left to say?

5. George Bernard Shaw (Man and Superman)
I was super lucky to be able to see Ralph Fiennes as Jack this year and I read the play beforehand so I could follow the play better. I loved the play; it made me laugh and it made me think. (If I ever see Ralph Fiennes I am going to shout “Marriage!” in a shocked manner at him. It also had Indira Varma who you might recognise from the Game of Thrones TV show.) Normally I avoid plays but I’ve read quite a few this year. I had the common prejudice that plays were to be acted rather than read but I don’t think that’s true at all. 2015 was definitely the year I discovered the value of reading plays.

Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma in the National Theatre's adaptation of Man and Superman

6. DH Lawrence (Sons and Lovers)
I read this for the Classics Club and I’m definitely a fan. If you like William Somerset Maugham then consider reading Lawrence (and vice versa).

7. Philip Roth (American Pastoral)
A rather rude lady in an Oxfam charity shop made a huge fuss about the lack of Philip Roth on the bookshelves. My first thought was puzzlement at her attitude. My second thought was ‘who is Philip Roth?' After a quick search online, I purchased American Pastoral and devoured it straightaway. She might have been rude but she had good taste in books.

8. Chris Hadfield (An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth)
I really enjoyed Hadfield’s memoir. I would really recommend it for anyone faced on a long journey (be it academia, sports or whatever); it would make a great Christmas present anyway. I don’t think I would read anything else by Hadfield as sequels don’t tend to be as good.

9. Vasily Grossman (Life and Fate)
Although I’m still reading this, Grossman is one of my favourite finds. Of all the Russian writers, I think he is very underrated and like most Russian writers, he lived a life worthy of a novel’s protagonist.

10. Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go, The Buried Giant)
Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go was brilliant; The Buried Giant less so unless you are willing to put in a lot of effort trying to create some ulterior meaning from it all. I think I am going to stick to the more seminal Ishiguro works in future. (Also, Never Let Me Go has Domhnall Gleeson in, who plays a main character in Brooklyn. 2015 has been a year of Brendan and Domhnall Gleeson as far as new actors is concerned.)

So, that's my list. Who is on yours? Who are you looking to try in 2016 as well? If any of those books have tickled your fancy you can buy them here, any money raised goes into running the blog. Happy Tuesday! 

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Monday, 7 December 2015

On Writing | Stephen King

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Rating: 9/10
If I ever had to write a list of books that had an impact on my life, On Writing would definitely be featured on it. This book wasn’t what I expected; I thought it would be prescriptions on how to write. Rather, this is more an exploration of what it means to be a writer – what it involves and what it takes.

I enjoyed the brutal nature of King’s writing. He makes it clear that writing takes effort and practice. It isn't easy by any means. He doesn’t sugar coat it and it’s a very clear take it or leave it approach. For me, one of the most striking piece of advice was his recommendation to spend an equal amount of time writing and reading. Hand in hand with this, King also recommends dissecting those books you loved (and those you despised) to learn about crafting a story worth reading. I think this emphasis on continuing to read, especially outside of your writing genre, is overlooked. Exposing yourself to different writers and styles can only improve your writing.

If I am honest, without this book (and arguably my blog too) I would never have enrolled for my English MA. I’ve always wanted to be a writer ever since I was little and if I can’t break into academic writing then my MA will still help my creative writing.

I also appreciated King telling his experience of (literary) rejection. It is devastating to have your work rejected but King suggests two things.
         (1) Know your market
         (2) Keep writing
I would expand on these but I really think you should read it ‘from the horse’s mouth’ to get the full effect. I did enjoy the anecdote of a young Stephen King collecting all his rejection slips (a rarity these days unless you want the faff connected to printing rejection emails).

One warning for potential readers may be that they find it reductionist. King’s approach could arguably be denigrated as too mechanistic. He talks like an engineer or a carpenter with his discussion of having a toolbox of writing skills/tools and 'deconstructing' novels. Personally, I enjoy this because it isn’t vacuous and tepid but offers something tangible and concrete. For those who have read King, they should know not to expect anything overtly floral. King’s voice in On Writing doesn’t differ much from his fiction (including the swearing).

There was also interesting background information on King’s personal life and the inspiration for some of his stories like Carrie that provide a welcome break. It is an easy cover-to-cover read but probably not something you would go back to reference (for technical advice for instance).

On Writing is a great book for preparing you for what it takes to become a credible writer. Whilst it doesn’t give much practical advice, it provides great fodder for the mind. For those who have read On Writing, what did you think? Does anyone have any go to recommendations for creative writing or do you believe they should be avoided? Comment below! 

Pages: 238
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: 2000
Buy it here.

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