Ex Libris

“What a blessing it is to love books, as I love them, to be able to converse with the dead, and to live amidst the unreal.”  – Macaulay

Very disappointed that I had to return this book of essays to the library. I can never express how sincerely I loved this collection or how it has changed my life and the way that I think about books.  A book has not touched me this much in years!

Fadiman goes beyond being a “Common Reader” and makes the bibliophile in all of us feel like the most amazing group of people in the world. Transcending through the ages by describing the reading habits of Gladstone to Virginia Woolf, Fadiman makes her mark in the niche world of the essayist. Making a perfect addition to the literature of “books about books” for lack of a better term.

Fadiman has so many great thoughts packed into one slim volume, which she shares with us in an astonishingly light and conversational manner.  Fadiman is a talented individual who has the most amazing outlook on life and being a bibliophile.  This is a book I will continually go back to for inspiration, and I’m excited to add it to my mini-library I am building. Go out and read this book, not only will you cherish it, but you will want to share it with your friends.



Days in June: A brief look at Mrs. Dalloway

“Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?”

When Mrs. Dalloway states that she will buy the flowers herself she starts in motion a strange day in Post World War I London. Perhaps not everyone will agree with me when I say that I wasn’t enamored with Virginia Woolf’s writing style or Mrs. Dalloway. Admittedly the story was thought provoking and filled with fantastic quotes, but honestly it was a struggle to get through.

“Mrs. Dalloway” was my first time reading Virginia Woolf and whilst “Orlando” has been sitting on my book shelves for over a year now, there have been far too many other books to read. The novel was my first experience with the stream of consciousness style of narration, and in all of my reading I’ve never come across another book like it. While I can easily read Dickens, Trollope, Austen, and Brontë, Woolf’s prose took longer to adjust to, but I found once you understand the rhythm of the novel it becomes more enjoyable.

The description on the jacket of the book had me expecting a totally different story than the one I ended up reading. Never before have I read a novel in which madness and death clings so closely to its pages.  Where the striking of the hour by the numerous clocks throughout the narrative beats to the tune of another second of your life gone; and the thought of the day expresses deep regret and a longing by the characters for their lives to have turned out differently. In a book that questions the small details that make up our lives, it can also show how resilient people can be. Surviving the war, and while not all characters escaped unscathed like poor Septimus, others move on and prove that a nice day in June is sometimes all that you need.

“In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jungle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June”  Virginia Woolf

Edited: Since writing this I have now finished A Room of One’s Own.

The Sword in a Really Boring Stone

My love of the television show Merlin, could not get me through this book.  I finally finished it, and all I really have to say is that I shall not be starting “The Once and Future King” any time soon.
When I picked up this book up at a library book sale I had such high expectations for the story, which quickly evaporated within the first four chapters.  The book was not exactly poorly written (I’ve read worse), but the overall narration, prevents the reader from being fully invested in the characters and overarching story.

Being part of the Arthurian legend, the fantasy and magic one would expect to find contained within its pages just was not there; as the story seemed to be grappling with too little plot and an author who could not make up his mind about their intended audience.  Most of the adventures that Wart went on were both boring and tedious and whilst clever, the addition of modern topics (Eton College, or Nazism) seemed asynchronous to the main plot. However it should be noted that as Merlin lives time in reverse order perhaps it does make some sense to have references to a more modern age.

Perhaps T.H. White improved the story when he included “The Sword in the Stone” as the first part of “The Once and Future King”, but having looked at the latter book very little of the story seems to have been edited or changed. While one can commend T.H. White for trying the story never came off the page as it should have done.  When this book was purchased I was hoping to step into a world of wonder, steeped in the lore of King Arthur, instead the reader is immersed in a book that appears cobbled together and no adventure for Wart has any connection to the chapters that came before it.

The Walking Dead

“Viktor had been very sad about their grandfather’s death, but Flora had intuited that it was less the person he grieved for than the fact of death itself. Death meant that people actually disappeared. That everyone was going to disappear”

Something strange is happening in Stockholm, there is an oppressive heatwave, electrical problems and persistent headaches no one seems able to get rid of.  When these mysterious occurrences end, something has changed – the recently deceased or the ‘reliving’ leave the funeral homes, morgues and even their own graves trying to make their way back home. This is the premise for John Ajvide Lindqvist sophmore novel “Handling the Undead” which is a unique nod to the zombie genre, exploring the limits and desperation of love.

Much like his first novel “Let the Right One In“, “Handling” is an intelligent and philosophical look at what happens when the dead come back to life. Focusing not only on the reactions of the family but also looking at how the government and medical professionals handle this unusual situation.

Lindqvist uses the backdrop of the recently deceased coming back to explore the depths of the human soul.  Showing to what great lengths families will go to stay together, but also how unprepared and fallible family and government officials can act when faced with a major crisis.

The emotional core of the story focuses on Elvy and Flora (whose grandfather and husband has just died), Mahler and his daughter who has lost their son, and finally David who mere hours before the dead re-awaken lost his wife Eva in a horrific car crash.  These stories feel like a breath of fresh air compared to  wave of survivalist zombie movies, television programmes, books and video games that have come out in recent years.

The horror does not come from the zombies wanting to eat human brains, but rather the psychological horror and toll it puts on the living experiencing life among the newly arisen dead. Lindqvist deftly lets his reader experience our relationship to death, and various ways of handling it; from denial, anger, suicide, sadness, religious fervor, and finally government intervention.

Luckily for us John Ajvide Lindqvist continues the story of “Handling the Undead” in a book of shorts called  Pappersväggar, which I am dead excited to get my hands on.   Lindqvist proves yet again, his amazing skill of turning a typical horror genre on its head and making it so much more complex, and interesting for the reader.  The book fills you at equal turns with revulsion and hope.  While the book is never truly scary it makes you wonder how one would react if the dead were to come back among the living.

Red Herrings

“Red blood cells, I remembered from my chemical experiments, were really not much more than a happy soup of water, sodium, potassium, chloride, and phosphorus.  Mix them together in the proper proportions, though, and they formed a viscous, liquid jelly: a jelly with mystic capabilities, one that could contain in its scarlet complexities not just nobility but also treachery.”

The third installment of the Flavia de Luce mystery series; “A Red Herring Without Mustard” has been just as good as its predecessors.  Even though I’m only on page 111 it is  my personal opinion  that the book has been better than “The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag”, which wasn’t nearly as well written or planned out as “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”.

I’ve begun to expect great things from Alan Bradley and so far this book is delivering.  “A Red Herring Without  Mustard” has been action packed and Flavia de Luce is as interesting as ever, with her knowledge of chemistry and detection skills.  Flavia is an eleven year old Miss. Marple, investigating the mysterious deaths that keep occurring in the small English town of Bishop’s Lacey.  While the plot may be preposterous to some, for me it is the epitome of a light, fun and entertaining read.  How can you go wrong with a series of books in which Philately and Anthony Trollope are mentioned within paragraphs of one another?

On Reader’s Block

I’m sure that everyone in the world has heard of the term “writer’s block”, currently I’m suffering from an inability to finish a book. While some would say that reading 9 books last month would be enough to satisfy anyone,  I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed in this achievement.

January seems to have passed very quickly and I suppose that with addition of a new school semester it’s no surprise that I did not do as much as I wanted.  While I admit that school is  partially to blame for the lack of updates there are also a couple of other factors involved:

1) Time, as you’ve guessed is an issue for me.  With classes, knitting, work, volunteering, my time spent cooking dinner, and watching telly and hanging out with friends I seem to have less and less time for myself.  Ergo, I don’t have as much time as I need to properly analyze what I’ve read  let alone finish more books within a month.

2) I don’t always read books that I’m interested in.  Sometimes I pick a book up because I feel I should be reading it, rather than an actual desire to read the story. ( “Portrait of a Lady” is a perfect example of this.)

3) I have this innate inability to be monogamous to reading one book at a time.  In other words I start more books than I end up finishing, and almost always feel guilty over my reading habits.  I don’t like giving up on a book and sometimes I will finish a book years after starting it (I’m thinking of you “Affinity”).  My father told me “Why read a book that you are not enjoying”  but due to my compulsive stubbornness, I try to finish everything I start even if the drudgery of doing so doesn’t outweigh the benefits of reading the novel.

This year I’m making a conscious effort to discuss every book that I’ve read in 2011.  So far I have only written a couple, so I am a bit behind on that, and therefore need to try harder in keeping up with my reviews.

On another note I am taking a break from “fiction and literature” and diving into the seedy underworld of the detective story. By that I mean Richard Castle’s “Naked Heat” the second installment in Nikki Heat series (I read the first one a little over two weeks ago). If you have never seen  ABC’s “Castle”, go and watch it because it is currently the best show on American television

Happy reading!