Thursday, 24 March 2016

March: What I Read

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (4*) - FINALLY, I HAVE CONQUERED THE BEAST.  Yes, fifteen years after my teenage self combed through this book for 'good bits' and nearly lost her lunch, my adult self read it in its entirety and to her surprise, rather enjoyed herself!  This book is not going to be for everyone, or even for most people.  The eponymous Patrick Bateman's relentlessly monotonous cycle of brand names, outfit descriptions, expensive restaurants, pill-popping and bed-hopping will put many off before they even GET to the torture, murder, sadism and frenzied cannibalism - but actually, I ended up finding the repetitive detail quite soothing, and found that not only did this shallow everyday rhythm counter the (incredibly) graphic scenes beautifully, but it also allowed Bateman's black humour and moments of sudden wisdom and humanity to shine through with unexpected brightness.  I got quite fond of him by the end - like somehow as reader and character we had been through the wringer together, each inside the other's psyche - and I still can't quite work out how much of his narrative was 'real' or whether some interactions and moments were purely the product of his increasingly desperate mind.  Now I'm going to allow myself to revisit the (much tamer and more obviously funny) movie, and my mastery of this novel will finally be complete!

Little House in the Big Woods (Little House 1) by Laura Ingalls Wilder (4.5*) - I'm waaaay behind on Bex's 2016 Little House readalong, so this month I finally picked up the first book to get started - and it was wonderful.  Set in the early 1870s in Wisconsin, it's an autobiographical year in the life of four year-old Laura's pioneer family - Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura and baby Carrie - and their log cabin in the woods.  What really struck me was how connected the family is to its surroundings: how the shifting seasons are enjoyed; how the natural world is respected and seen as something to coexist with, not conquer; and how each meal, each foodstuff, each item for the house is carefully planned and created from scratch, often with help from Laura's wider family.  It's a wonderful antidote to modern living, with charming illustrations to add to the reading experience, and I loved every minute.  It's a rose-tinted tale to be sure, and it lost half a star for a couple of slightly muddled descriptions of the objects and processes Laura observed - but they were minor gripes.  Roll on book 2!

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (4*) - I'm not a massive reader of historical fiction, but when the film buzz first arose (with a bunch of my favourite actors attached to the project) it really whet my appetite for this one.  It's the story of a young Irish girl, Eilis, who travels from Enniscorthy to Brooklyn in the 1950s to start a new life full of expanded opportunities and interesting people.  The novel explores her growth from a timid girl to a poised young woman, and the way she is torn between her Irish roots and American lifestyle.  It's written in a slightly detached tone, and the ending was a bit too abrupt for me (albeit realistic), but I loved Eilis's journey and the many little details that brought her experiences to life, whether it was the rough crossing to New York, working in a department store, Christmas at the local parish hall, or spending the day at the beach with friends.  A compelling, subtle little novel that didn't rock my world, but made me very glad I picked it up and gave it a chance.  Just one word of warning - don't (re)watch the movie trailer if you plan to read it; it spoils (and therefore ruins) one of the most important plot points of the whole novel!

P.S. I watched the movie last night and it was BEAUTIFUL.  The music is to die for, it streamlines some of the fussier strands of the original, and the slight air of detachment in the novel gives way to a deeply emotional screen adaptation that ends on a perfect note.  My only issues with it were that some of the key characters lacked the depth and spark they had on the page, and it skipped over most of the novel's romantic scenes that served to heighten the stakes in Eilis's dual lives and make the necessity to choose between them all the more poignant.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (4*) - Yup, I finally read it - which is good, because I was starting to feel like the last person in the universe to pick it up, and it's been on my shelves for TWO AND A HALF YEARS already.  I didn't like it as much as Attachments, but I appreciated the slow-building and refreshingly joyful nature of the relationship between Cath and Levi, and I loved Reagan's sass and Mr Avery's dry wit (I was imagining him as Stanley Tucci all the way through!).  The focus on the Simon Snow fandom brought back some great Potter memories, and given my Carry On purchase last week it's probably a good thing that I preferred Cath's fanfiction to the 'real' Simon book excerpts peppered through the novel.  Overall I think it was maybe a little longer than it needed to be, but it finally succeeded where Anna and the French Kiss (and others) failed for me - it's a fun, bookish college novel full of interesting and multifaceted characters and different types of relationships and issues, and has a self-awareness and charm that help to excuse its more clichéd moments.  Bring on the next Rainbow! 

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (5*) - This book's been on my radar for the longest time (you know how much I love a good mental health novel) and HOORAY, it was so worth the wait!  First of all, let me say that it's quite refreshing to read one of these stories from the perspective of an average guy; not a painfully innocent or shy boy, or a kooky girl, but a regular, testosterone-driven, vaguely worldly fifteen year-old who likes video games, pot and jerking off.  Craig's description of his five days in a mental hospital, which he checks himself into after a long battle with depression and a night of suicidal crisis - is not only pithy, warm and very realistic (it is drawn from Vizzini's own experiences), it is also, as the title suggest, really kind of funny.  It's filled with wonderful characters and it's possibly the most relatable mental health novel I've read yet; I've scrawled so many notes and hearts and stars in the margin to mark passages to go back to next time I need to feel that I'm not alone and that other people have had the same weird thoughts as I'm having.  I also watched the movie adaptation, which is quite faithful to the book and put a big smile on my face by the time the credits rolled.  Highly recommended!

Gold by Dan Rhodes (4*) - This is an odd little book.  Nothing much happens, and yet it completely won my heart back in 2009 with its mixture of small-town characters, gentle charm and earthy British flavour.  It opens with three friends - short Mr Hughes, tall Mr Hughes and Mr Puw - chatting idly in their local pub.  Septic Barry is sitting across the room with his band, and Mr Edwards is pulling pints behind the bar.  All is as it should be.  And then a Japanese-looking girl walks in, orders a pint and sits down in the corner.  "Welcome back," everyone says.  But who is she?  Every year she arrives in this little Welsh coastal town and stays for a fortnight, alone, walking and drinking and reading.  Why is she here?  The book meanders through each day of her stay, adding little by little to the quirky tapestry of the town and the people in it as their stories unfold, and reaching deeper into Miyuki's life back home.  It's funny and delightful and strangely beautiful, and I loved reconnecting with it - and its sweetheart of a protagonist - all over again!

Biblioholism: The Literary Addiction by Tom Raabe (4.5*) - Another reread for me - and one I would wholeheartedly recommend to a large swathe of my fellow book lovers, be they LibraryThingers, GoodReaders, bloggers, BookTubers or just die-hard lifelong readers.  It could have been written for us - or by us, for that matter!  In short, this is a comprehensive guide to biblioholism and all the various quirky traits and habits that go along with it.  It is evident that Raabe is 'one of us' and he drives right to the heart of our affliction with humour and insight.  Alongside chapters on book buying, reading, collecting and storage, he also includes a hilarious alternative history of the book and a section on the extremes of bookish behaviour - eating books, stealing them, burying them and even destroying them.  With a wealth of interesting and amusing examples of biblioholic behaviour drawn from literature and history, this is a definite keeper for me - and I was delighted to find that when it came to the self-help-esque quiz (just how bad DO you have it?) I had actually increased my score a few points since my last reading; I can now rest assured that I'm still on my chosen path to eventually dying happily under a collapsed bookcase.  Good to know.  :)
Aaaaand that was my March...  Hope you all enjoyed your reading this month too!