I can't stop reading. Not that reading is a bad thing. But it's like an addiction; of the good kind. This is the first time I've felt completely surrounded by good books, and that I'm making the time to read what I want since I was trying to avoid my Leaving Certificate exams through novels.
Anyway, here's a round-up of what I've been reading over the last few weeks...
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There - Lewis Carroll
I remember being very confused when I first read Alice in Wonderland. Where were Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum? Where was the famous Jabberwocky? Where were the cruel talking flowers? Well, they were here – in Through the Looking Glass. Seen as I was now reading The Story of Alice, I thought I’d better finally get around to reading the follow-up to Alice in Wonderland. While missing the presence of big stand-out characters like the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Queen of Hearts, this book does offer two queens, a game of chess, and Alice’s new found familiarity of a dream-like world. I felt there were much more plays on the English language this time around, but that might be a reflection of my age and awareness of them more than anything else. It’s also a shame that readers know Alice is dreaming throughout this book, as the suspense of what and where is this was quashed in the last page of Wonderland.
My personal favourite part is the Walrus and the Carpenter song; it’s my favourite scene from the Disney animation version as well. The book reminded me of the wonders of being a child and the obscurity of dreams, but there wasn’t the same sense of magic as in Wonderland. Have I grown out of my childhood wonder? Uh-oh.
Why Not Me? - Mindy Kaling
I love Mindy Kaling. I don’t know how to explain other than, she’s relevant, on point with her pop culture jokes, and has a really cool ‘normal girl’ vibe off her. Basically, I want her to be my best friend. Why Not Me? is a step forward from Kaling’s first book ‘Why Are People Hanging Out Without Me? And other concerns’. Gone is the wishful dreaming of a comedy obsessed teenager hoping to make SNL someday, replaced by an insight into her post-fame life, so to speak. She shares fashion and red carpet secrets with the tongue in cheek humour we expect from KAling. She takes us back stage on The Mindy Project. She even shares her long-distance brief romance with a member of Obama’s White House staff. My favourite chapter though is when Kaling finally opens up on her relationship with The Office co-star BJ Novak. I think I have time to infiltrate Kaling’s friend group in time for her future wedding with Novak. I’m aiming for bridesmaid status.
Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
There’s no explanation, no scientific theory, not even an attempt at reasoning in Kafka’s book when poor Gregor wakes up as an insect. Rejected by his family, a reflection of Kafka’s personal life, Gregor tries to come to terms with his transformation, as best an insect can. What’s most interesting of all is that Kafka never wrote for other people. Upon his death he had asked that all his writings be destroyed, a wish that was clearly not granted much to the thanks of Western readers. In this context we have to read his work as an attempt to understand his own existence, his own alienation, and his own sense of meaningless.
When I finished, I had to ask my family to promise they wouldn't treat me like that if I ever turned into a giant bug.
Guns - Stephen King
In this essay, King examines America's access to guns and the reality of a violent culture. As an anti-gun person, it was interesting to read King’s piece from someone who is pro-gun, but anti-gun violence. He owns three guns himself. For what purpose, if any, I still can’t be convinced of. He’s for stronger legislation, a limit to the types of guns people can freely buy, and background checks in the hopes that people will change their minds. An early novel of King’s was cited as an influence in a number of school shootings. One must feel a pressing sense of responsibility after something like that – to the extent that King pulled Rage from publication. While the essay is well written, particularly the excellent first Chapter and his attack of the media’s focus on a non-existent ‘violent culture’, I still don’t think it goes quite far enough. But coming from a gun owner, I guess I’ll take it.
Corlaine - Neil Gaiman
Coraline is not a book for the faint hearted. Yes, it’s a children’s book. But when the child is at risk of losing her parents, her eyes, and her soul, it strays slightly into horror territory. Even if you’ve seen the movie version, where Coraline’s mum is excellently voiced by Teri Hatcher, the book is extremely enjoyable as it differs enough from the film to be an excellent addition. While Gaiman does slide into the dream territory of a child’s worst nightmares with Corlaine’s ‘awakening’, some of the horror (like a disembodied hand crawling through the grass) takes place when we know Corlaine is wide awake. How much is a dream of Wonderland, and how much is realism? Who knows, but it’s chilling.
The War of the Worlds - H G Wells
Most of us have heard about the infamous radio production of this story that caused mass hysteria in America (or so we like to report today when thinking back on simpler times). Most of us have seen the Tom Cruise movie; if you haven’t, give it a miss in favour of this book. But the original is something else. Set in England, and narrated by an unnamed man at the turn of the century, there’s an invasion from Mars. Science Fiction was born; or at least the most common version of science fiction we think of today. Sometimes when I read ‘classic’ literature I leave disappointed. There is more than one ‘classic’ that’s over-hyped, or at least not as relevant and startlingly new in today’s world. But I was more than impress by H G Wells; I was blown away at the tension, the factual narration, and the honesty of the admission that ‘I killed a man to survive’ to paraphrase the text.
It’s a reflection of the era at the time; slow communications, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and survival of the fittest, and the very ending where the new science of discovering bacteria is used as a masterful plot point. It taught me one thing; never judge the book by the movie.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
I had put off reading this book for a long time. I guess I feared reading about Plath’s depression and suicide attempts when I knew her story didn’t have a ‘happily ever after’ ending. The memoir takes place over a six month period in Plath’s 20th year. Between the beginning of summer and the beginning of winter Plath finds herself, a girl who she says has everything and should be happy, in an asylum experiencing Electroconvulsive Therapy. She’s painstakingly honest, helped of course by the original publication of the book under a pseudonym. It makes tough reading, I make no qualms about that, but it didn’t bring me to the dark place that I imagined it might. If anything, Plath’s story teaches us that recovery is only progress, and that despite help and healing a lot of mental health problems don’t just go away. Well worth a read!
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Because I know Martin Freeman played Arthur in the film version a few years ago, he’s exactly how I pictured the character which made it rather more entertaining to read about a bumbling Earthman to be honest. The narration was funny and entertaining; and the book is compact enough to finish in a day. I don’t think I’ve ever read any sci-fi books before and now look; two in the space of a couple of weeks! Am I convert? Not quite. Space left for too many unaccountable and unexplainable twists and turns for my liking. Oh look, another wormhole/blackhole/wibbley-wobbley plot line. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and I enjoy Doctor Who for doing precisely the same thing, but I just can’t read anymore sci-fi for a while. I prefer my books to be rather linear, somewhat realistic, and less jokes about depression. I’m being too harsh; it is a good book!
The Mark and the Void – Paul Murray
How do you write a book about the biggest economic downturn in Ireland’s short history? By writing about an author writing a book about the banking crisis, that’s how. Murray’s attempt to capture the greed, the cynicism, the disillusion, and the anger of those working in and affected by the banking sector is surprisingly funny – in a black comedy sort of way. I had no idea what to expect when I started this book, but I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get caught up in the interwoven stories of large ensemble of characters. The novel also serves as a reminder that Ireland isn’t just full of the Irish anymore; we’re a multi-cultural society, and only two of the cast of characters are identified as being from Ireland. Murray has certainly found one way of documenting the modern human experience with The Mark and the Void.
What have you been reading lately?