Thursday, 30 April 2015

Poetry Month: A Collection

Although national poetry month is October for the UK, I thought I would join in the American poetry month.  Do you have any go-to-classics? Do you think lyrics are a form of poetry?  I would love to hear from you! Here are a few of my go-to-classics and lyrical poetry:

“We did the soft wind.

We danst slowly.

We swrld

We danst soft.

We lisin to the mozik.

We danst to the mozik.

We made personal space.”

Without You by Hermann Hesse
My Pillow gazes upon me at night

Empty as a gravestone;

I never thought it would be so bitter

To be alone,

Not to lie down asleep in your hair.

I lie alone in a silent house,

The hanging lamp darkened,

And gently stretch out my hands

To gather in yours,

And softly press my warm mouth

Toward you, and kiss myself, exhausted and weak-

Then suddenly I'm awake

And all around me the cold night grows still.

The star in the window shines clearly-

Where is your blond hair,

Where your sweet mouth?

Now I drink pain in every delight

And poison in every wine;

I never knew it would be so bitter

To be alone,

Alone, without you.

Sweet Thing by Van Morrison (Song)
And you shall take me strongly
In your arms again
And I will not remember
That I even felt the pain.
We shall walk and talk
In gardens all misty and wet with rain
And I will never, never, never
Grow so old again.

Lover You Should’ve Come Over by Jeff Buckley (Song)
Lonely is the room, the bed is made, the open window lets the rain in
Burning in the corner is the only one who dreams he had you with him
My body turns and yearns for a sleep that will never come

It's never over, my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder
It's never over, all my riches for her smiles when i slept so soft against her
It's never over, all my blood for the sweetness of her laughter
It's never over, she's the tear that hangs inside my soul forever

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Characters who have/had an Existential Crisis

The Broke and the Bookish hold a weekly meme.  Every Tuesday(!) you write a top ten list(!) on their given topic.  This week it is Top Ten Characters who ____.  For my list I have chosen 'who have/had an existential crisis.  By this I mean coming to terms with feelings, beliefs, situations etc. that makes life look bleak and leaves them feeling empty.  I'm ignoring the philosophical form by Sartre etc. and I'm also including various stages (e.g. beginning, middle, resolution).

So, here is my list.  Do you have any additions for this list? What did you choose for the Top Ten Characters who ____?

Cause: jobs, pressures of modern life.
1. Death from The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett
Death is trapped in a job he isn't that keen on and he doesn't really know what he wants from life.  A surprisingly common situation.

2. Veronika from Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho 
Obviously, Veronika decides to die and this is the story of what follows after her failed suicide attempt (also a very good film; I think this is far better than The Alchemist too).

Cause: love
3.  Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
All Heathcliff wanted was to be loved and when he couldn't have this the pain consumed him.

4. Jude Fawley from Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Jude struggles to find a place for love between his naïvety and the rigid confines of society.

5. Humbert Humbert from Lolita
This may be controversial but I feel sorry for Humbert.  I feel as though he is desperately trying to relive his dreams through Lolita and his actions are motivated by a deep sadness and a transference of feelings.

Cause: loneliness
6. Stephen Gordon from The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall 
Gordon is pushed out of society because of her sexuality and has to come to terms with this rejection whilst trying to find love.

7. Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Charlie suffers a lot of pain from loneliness and an unresolved trauma, but I think he is well on his way to a far happier life.

Cause: poverty
8. Christine from The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig
Christine is plucked from an emotionally bleak and poverty-stricken existence and lives an extravagant life for a few weeks, but she struggles to return back to her previous lifestyle.

Cause: death and evil
9. Alyosha and Ivan Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This for me is probably the most poignant case; an examination of how do deal with all the evil in world.

10. Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
How he coped with all the death and destruction of WWII; what I liked was possibly the suggestion that we can't make any sense of it, all we can just say is "So it goes" and so it goes, the end of the list.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Favourite Authors

The Broke and the Bookish hold a weekly meme.  Every Tuesday(!) you write a top ten list on their given topic.  To qualify for the list, I'm only going to include authors where I've read at least two of their books. 

1. Thomas Hardy
His books are beautiful and engrossing. Hardy doesn't ponder to fairytales, they are gritty expositions of romance and its consequences.

Portrait Author of Jude the Obscure

2. Jon McGregor 
How McGregor structures his writing is unique; I first read his book several years ago and I still remember how I felt reading it. 

Portrait Author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

3. E.M. Forster
If I could describe E.M. Forster's books it would be through 'rose water'.  It is a delicately perfumed sweetness which you can never really physically hold that leaves you wanting more. 

Portrait Author of A Room with a View

4. Vladimir Nabokov
"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." The most beautiful thing I have ever read; it's like poetry. Need I say more?

Portrait Author of Lolita

5. Fyodor Dostoevsky
Sometimes Dostoevsky's writing is so upsetting it is hard to carry on reading; his books push boundaries but contain stories that need to be told.

Portrait Author of The Brothers Karamazov

6. Stefan Zweig 
Stefan Zweig is one of the few authors I know who can describe every last millimetre of a characters feelings and thoughts.  If you like to understand a character, Zweig is for you.

Portrait Author of Beware of Pity

7. J.R.R. Tolkien 
Middle earth; easily a second home. 

Portrait Author of The Hobbit

8. J.K. Rowling
The mother of Remus J. Lupin and Severus Snape. 

PortraitAuthor of Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban

9. David Thewlis 
Whilst he has only written one book, I felt compelled to have him on this list.  Most of you will probably know him as an actor but he deserves to be known for his book: a dark comedy on an artists life. Since 2007 I've been waiting for his second book (so hurry up).

PortraitAuthor of The Late Hector Kipling

10. David Hume 
Technically a philosopher, Hume is someone who can rip up the threads of everything you know and makes you look at the world in a whole new light.  He questions everything with a fearless tenacity whilst maintaining a small undercurrent of humour about it. It's a very love-hate relationship between us. I would like to have had bigger pictures but the sizes didn't work out. 

Portrait Author of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Well.  Those are mine. Who are your favourites?? 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Maurice by E.M. Forster

"There has been, is, and always will be every conceivable type of person." - Maurice

Rating: 4 stars out of 5 (This book was really enjoyable)

Recently I read Maurice, whose titular character is a middle-class suburban man in the early 1900s who happens to be gay.  It follows Maurice coming to terms with his sexuality and his relationships with men.  I found this book through recommendations for LGBT reads and I soon added it to my LGBT reading challenge (you can read more about this here).  I read Forster's A Room With a View in January and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I couldn't wait to read this.  This book was very enjoyable and I will certainly be reading more Forster in the future.

Obviously, the main theme of this book is homosexuality.  We see how homosexuality was viewed in the early 1900s.  Maurice was living in a time when homosexuality was a criminal act, where a homosexual was almost unconceivable and taboo.  A time when the beginnings of gay-therapy existed, the notion of visiting various doctors to be 'healed' from the 'perversion'.  Maurice also briefly touches on homosexuality and class, something that is rare.  As Forster writes in his Terminal Note: "and Clive on the bench will continue to sentence Alec in the dock. Maurice may get off."

What I found interesting was that not only we saw how people 'outside' reacted to homosexuality, i.e. heterosexual people, but also the reaction of those on the 'inside'.  I found this aspect very sad but believable/understandable.  I found it fitting that social prejudice can influence LGBT people so much that even gay people themselves can be homophobic.  Clive himself was certainly hostile to the notion of 'consummating' the relationship, which could be interpreted as a reflection of Clive's own hostilities towards homosexuality.  Clive certainly goes a long way to present homosexuality as 'intellectualised' act with his copious references to the ancient Greeks.  Even when Maurice was talking/thinking about his homosexuality, he rarely called himself 'gay' or 'homosexual'.  Maurice said of himself, "I am an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort."  So unspeakable he distances himself from the fact of being 'gay' through a comparison.  I find this sad that he has to deny, or at least reframe, who is he not only for others but also for himself and engage in a self-deception.  This issue of self-prejudice is still an issue today (cf. Russell Tovey's controversy who was glad he was not an 'effeminate' man, although he did later apologise) as is gay-therapy.

This book could have been 5 stars but something bothered me about the relationship with Alec.   Forster saw the downfall of his writing as the ending.  Forster desperately wanted a happy ending but felt that what he wrote was unrealistic fairytale.  I understand why a happy ending was essential; to give hope for homosexual relationships and to help dispel the false shame attached to homosexuality.

“A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn't have bothered to write otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense, Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood.” - E.M. Forster

I think the issue isn't the miraculous ending.  I think that the relationship with Alec feels rushed and this is the real issue.  Perhaps I am a sceptic of love happening in this way but I don't think the relationship has developed properly.  I don't feel like Maurice has a reason to trust Alec (vis-à-vis blackmail) and I don't feel like Alec has a reason to trust Maurice (vis-à-vis having respect).  I think how Alec and Maurice met should be changed to have a more healthy beginning and then this book would be superb.

Forster completed the first draft of Maurice in 1914 but it was only published after his death in 1971, a whole 57 years later.  (For those interested in the semi autobiographical aspect of the book, here is a brilliant piece but beware of spoilers.)  I found this book very hard to put down, but saying that it took me a week to finish.  This was mostly because the book kept getting lost, which was my subconscious saying I didn't want to finish the book.  They say that the sign of a great novel is that it is too short.  I agree with this about Maurice.  If I am honest, I doubt I would read a sequel to the piece.  It ended in a natural place and anymore would diminish this excellent tale.

Book facts
Original Publication: 1971
Pages: 222
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 1972
It shows EM Forster looking sad, he is in a tweed suit with a moustache, well-groomed

This book is available to buy here.  This is mostly an experiment to see whether anyone does buy.  Any money raised will be used to fund giveaways.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Creative Writing Advice "This next bit's really nice" (April ed.)

Once a month, I will post a few nice things I have seen online about writing.  Mostly for amusement.  Mainly as a scrapbook.  This idea was taken from Channel 4's The Book Group (well worth a watch) Kenny reads out Jack Kerouac's writing advice at the book group for On the Road.  As always, here is the picture meme for the monthly meme:

Character reading a book, saying "This next bit's really nice."

Let the madness begin!

The Writers Helper Q&A

A: Make them real. Give them likes, dislikes. A background, a future. Desires, goals. Friends!

Matt Haig:

7. A first draft is the beginning of the end.  But the end lasts for ever.

8. It isn't the words you choose to use.  It's the words you choose not to use.

10. Raise your effort.  Lower your expectations.

13. Write as though your mother will never read it.

14. Forget about what you want the book to achieve.  Think about what you want the words to achieve.

18. Jeanette Winterson once told me to change the phrase 'epiphanic moment' to 'moment of epiphany'.  That is the single greatest piece of advice anyone has ever given me.

19. Write the book you most want to read.  That will be the best book you can write.
Source: The Book Trust.
4. Never ask a publisher or agent what they are looking for.  The best ones, if they are honest, don’t have a f*ing clue, because the best books are the ones that seemingly come from nowhere. 
7. Ignore the f*ing snobs.  Write that space zombie sex opera.  Just give it some fucking soul. 
9. Don’t be the next Stephen King or the next Zadie Smith or the next Neil Gaiman or the next Jonathan Safran f*ing Foer.  Be the next f*ing you.
Source: Matt Haig.
Maya Angelou
"What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, 'Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'" 
Barbara Kingsolver 
"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer."

Writing Apps

The Writers Circle have put together a list of free apps that help with writing.   I am trying Ommwriter and Evernote.  Ommwriter doesn't support footnotes/endnotes and doesn't save as a .doc so it is pretty disappointing.  I haven't used Evernote yet, I am still using a mix of my Filofax Clipbook and the Word Notebook Layout.  Have you used any, what do you find helpful for writing?

Neil Gaiman
As always, excellent advice

How is your writing going?  What advice has helped you?  Feel free to share them :-) 

Previous editions:
March 2015

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Do Authors Influence Us? A Reaction to the Time's 100

Time's list of the 100 most influential people is out.  The fact that only two authors have been included has caused a mild stir on the internet.  One particular criticism was over the fact they are not really called authors.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is listed as an artist and her description' references the fact she is quoted by Beyoncé (listed herself in 2013, 2014) and Adichie's TedTalk.  There is a mild reference at the end to her books through Adichie being praised for her ability to create good characters.  The second author, or icon, is Haruki Murakami, who has a far better summary written by Yoko Ono.  The other disappointment over the fact that there is only two authors.  

If I am honest, I think the whole debate has been a bit oversimplified and I don't think that books are getting that bad a deal overall.  Is it not true that Thomas PikettyJanet Yellen and Pope Francis have written books?   None of these have been acknowledged on the LA Times as authors.  Are not all books worthy of merit and being classed as influential?

Also, what is it the reason for authors making the list?  Are they being listed for their visibility, their book sales, how many followers they have or the actual content of the book (writing style, themes)?  Donna Tartt was listed in 2014 but her books are not groundbreaking.  That isn't to say her books aren't good, but why not include other writers of just plain-old good books too then? John Green, who also was listed in 2014, has a few million followers on various social platforms and so his influence isn't solely from his books.  It would be great to have more authors listed, but only for the right reasons.  Content should take priority over book sales or followers but saying that, we already have lists dedicated to the most influential books.  One thing I have noticed, authors tend to be included if they had a successful book published/film-adaption that year.  (Who knows, maybe Harper Lee will make next years list if all goes well.)

Futhermore, there is a subtle difference between the influence of a person who is an author and the influence of their book.  Consider this example.  To Kill a Mockingbird has had considerable positive influence over civil rights.  Harper Lee on the other hand has chosen to remain private, as is her right too, and so Lee as a person doesn't use her own voice to influence people.  Let's consider it further.  Compare Lee with J.K. Rowling.  Rowling has much more influence as an person due to her social media presence, charity work etc.  This list is a list of people, not books, so it is harder for authors who just write to make the list.

Let's not forget that books are not all about authors.  Celebrities also influence book sales.  Oprah Winfrey's book club has a phenomenal impact (i.e. influence) on book and has encouraged people to read.  Films adapted from books also encourage reading.  Julianne Moore who won a Best Actress Oscar in a film adaption of the book Still Alice is listed.  I am sure Moore has brought a lot of much needed publicity to the book.  Whilst they haven't written the book, their influence includes bringing awareness to books.  I personally find a lot of book recommendations through actors etc. and this is overlooked.  It is OK to write a book that could profoundly impact someone's life, but if no-one knows about it then the book isn't going to impact many people.  The criticism of the list doesn't take into account the books that have been inspired by people on the list.  The list still has a place for books.  Shouldn't they have some praise too?

Also, it may not be a bad thing that authors are not listed.  One, authors have the benefit of being a household name without being recognisable on the street; they are able to keep a private life if they want.  Two, with fame comes pressure.  Being listed isn't necessarily a good thing for a person.  A lot of authors feel pressure over whether their next book will be as good.  Three, there is also the issue of whether a person wants to be defined as an author - perhaps Adichie wants to be seen as a feminist first and foremost.

Basically, the Time's list is just that.  A list.  A list of people who have had little direct influence on our lives.  I think the main issue is the lack of disclosure over what is classed as being influential.  What is it that is influencing?  The book itself or the author?  Is this list measuring qualitative or quantitate influence too?  What are your thoughts?  Do you even care?  Look on the bright side, the list includes people who have either positive/negative influences so at least we don't have to debate about E.L James' 2012 listing.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

LGBT Book Reading Challenge 2015

This reading challenge is hosted by nijifeels.  One of the reasons I started blogging was to discover more about books and people, LGBT is one of the things I know little about and so this is a great way of learning more about LGBT issues and how to be supportive.

So, back to the reading challenge.  'LGBT' includes the whole spectrum, not only lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans, but also queer, questioning, asexual etc.  The books can also be in any genre. There are also levels, these are:
YA ALLEGIANT: read 3-10 YA LGBT books 
GENRE HOPPER: read 3-10 LGBT books from any genre 
OMNIVOROUS BOOKGLUTTON: 10+ LGBT books from any genre
I am hoping to get Genre Hopper.  This is my book list so far, it will probably be added to as I find more books.  If you have any recommendations, I would be super grateful for them!!

LGBT List:
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson - 17/7/15
Naked by (Library)
Maurice by 
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir by 

You can follow the reading challenge in general through the twitter hashtag #LGBTChallenge2015 Also a cool info graphic courtesy of @chescaleigh

Easter Book Haul

 Maurice by E.M. Forster – Lyme Regis holiday buy
This book is on my LGBT Reading Challenge, so far it is an excellent.  I was reading The Humans by Matt Haig however I was struggling to get into it (I think I found it a bit repetitive after reading Reasons to Stay Alive).  I started reading this almost straight after I bought it a second hand bookstore in Lyme Regis.  I sat out in the sun and have been struggling to put it down (very unwise, I now have slight sunburn…).  In fact, I reckon by the time this post is up I would probably have finished it.  I really enjoyed A Room with a View so I will definitely be looking out for more works by E.M. Forster.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton – Lyme Regis holiday buy
Everyone seems to be a massive fan of this, especially the followers of the Classics Club! I only have a copy of The Age of Innocence (TBR) and so I wanted to have The House of Mirth on hand ready when I had a time to read it.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – Sidmouth holiday buy
I really enjoyed Never Let Me Go, and so this seemed like the next natural step.  

White Tiger by Zadie Smith – Sidmouth holiday buy
There is heavy praise for Zadie Smith - she is called a literary titan by fellow authors.  Admittedly this is more of what I call a ‘pop-culture’ buy.

Mort by Terry Pratchett
This is my birthday present from me-to-me.  I really enjoyed Diggers growing up and I want to read the Discworld books in (some) order.  I am hoping to collect the hardback collection too.  The next one on the cards is Guards! Guards! or perhaps Wyrd Sisters.

Disclaimer by Renée Knight
I was very lucky to win this in a book giveaway on Twitter from Transworld publishers.  There have been lots of rave reviews on blogs so it looks good.

The Happy Reader by Penguin
The Happy Reader is a seasonal magazine produced by Penguin; it has two parts: an extensive interview and an extensive book feature.  They are super enjoyable and produced to a high quality.  They also comes with a handsome bookmark.

I also have four ‘late’ additions:
Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
This is a birthday gift from my father.  I was also able to pick up double points at Waterstones as part of birthday week – although I missed the opportunity to pick up my free Krispy Kreme (I need a Krispy Kreme to cheer me up now…).

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Maisie Williams mentioned this book in an interview and it certainly seems interesting.  I saw this in a charity shop in Chester and used my birthday money from my Gran (thanks Gran!).

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs

I bought this along with Tuesdays with Morrie; the blurb intrigued me.  It is semi-autobiographical as the main characters run into trouble with the police over their connection with a murder, like Kerouac and Burroughs.  I am still keeping an eye out for The Dharma Bums.

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick
I was super lucky to be able to get this 'eGalley' for review.  Matthew Quick wrote The Silver Linings Playbook and this book follows a few lost souls.  It definitely sounds good!

Have you read any of these books?  Any other subscribers to The Happy Reader or another similar magazine?  What books have you bought this Easter?

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The Sign Of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign Of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Sign of Four is the second Sherlock Holmes novel.  It centres around a young Miss Mary Morstan who is looking for help to find her father.  He has been missing for several years, but recently she has been receiving rare pearls from a mysterious benefactor.  Now Miss Morstan has a note requesting her presence if she wants to find out what happens to her father.

I really enjoyed the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet so it was little surprise that I loved this one too.  What I mostly enjoy is the unique voice that ‘Dr Watson’ provides in his narration.  It has a lovely flow and it made me pay attention to every single word.  This is one of the few books I have read in a day.  Some aspects of the crime I found predictable but overall I enjoyed ‘the chase’.

It will be interesting reading further books in the series to see whether it has the same template where nothing happens, there is a crime, Sherlock goes off doing detective work, they chase the criminal, capture them and then the criminal gives his side of events.

Original Publication: 1890
Pages: 224
Publisher: BBC Books
Edition Published: 2012
Sherlock stands in an intimidating way, Dr Watson stands behind him, waiting