Friday, January 28, 2011

From Glasgow To Saturn

Borrowing the name from Edwin Morgan, the Glasgow University creative writing magazine is up and running again! The project was resurrected by some of my fellow MLitt buddies, and I'm so glad it was. It's a fantastic online creative writing magazine featuring the best in prose and poetry.

Oh, my modesty. Where is it?

Here's my story. Just click this link, and go ahead and read Harlequin Dreams by yours truly. Then, go read the other tasty pieces on show. That, and author Louise Welsh has a lovely little column there, helping and saving writers and their writerly problems.

Comments are more than more than welcome - either here, about my story, about FGTS, or there, about my story, or about FGTS.

For Review: A Wild Sheep Chase ~ Haruki Murakami

Sensational. Murakami has me hooked from the word 'go', right to the word 'end.' When you're in love with a writer, it's hard to pick up another novel - I still have that little bit of anxiety that the book's just not going to be as good as the others. Really, I needn't worry with Murakami any more. A Wild Sheep Chase is the third Murakami novel I've read - and I think so far it's my favourite.

Putting forward the plot isn't an easy task. Not to say that the plot is a struggle to follow, it's not, it's just that there's a lot of different things to take into account. So here's the blurb from my Vintage edition:

His life was like his recurring nightmare: a train to nowhere. But an ordinary life has a way of taking an extraordinary turn. Add a girl whose ears are so exquisite that, when uncovered, they improve sex a thousand-fold, a runaway friend, a right-wing politico, an ovine-obsessed professor and a manic-depressive in a sheep outfit, implicate them in a hunt for a sheep, that may or may not be running the world, and the upshot is another singular masterpiece from Japan's finest novelist.

See? Told you it wasn't simple. But it is. As far-fetched and crazy as that all sounds, A Wild Sheep Chase is a beautifully simple story. That, and the philosopher in me really enjoyed the thinking bits - the questions of what is and what isn't, how we define the things in our life.

As per, Murakami's characters are strong, distinctive individuals. There's something incredibly magnetic and endearing about every character he conceives. I'd love to be one of Murakami's women - they're probably the most attractive species of the female; at once attractive, compelling, beautiful through the way they think, the things they say, their movements. Instantly-in-love women. And the men too. The unnamed protagonist is someone that I'm instantly attracted and repelled by. I think 'repelled' is too strong. Mostly, I feel that he's too frail and fragile to touch.

I'm a fan. The Vintage translation of Murakami's writing is nothing short of stunning, and wow, that man really has some imagination. I'd like to spend the day in his head.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Rabbie!

Some hae meat and cannae eat
Some would eat that want it
But we hae meat and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Night Is For Pimping

Well, what other things are you gonna do with your Saturday night? If you're reading this on your Saturday night the chances are that you had no parties to go to, in which case you need something to do. If not, maybe (like myself) you have parties to go to but can't afford to go to them/have work on a Sunday. Either way, it's nice to have something nice on a Saturday.

Let the pimping commence!

Alan Bissett's Moira Monologues - easily the funniest thing I've seen at the Fringe Festival. No lie. And look what Cargo publishing have brought for us! Now, I'm personally a little creeped out by the whole eBook thing. I think I love it, then I'm sure I hate it. And I just don't know how I feel. It's all a little uncomfortable.

But for those who embrace technology: get the eBook AND audio version. Oh my!

For those traditional folks: PAPER! ACTUAL PAPER!

So read it, listen to it, love it, laugh.

Take a peek at the website and order yours now!

For Review: Under The Greenwood Tree ~ Thomas Hardy

Who knew Thomas Hardy could be so cute? Under The Greenwood Tree is one of the sweetest and funniest books I've read in a while. A much needed read after Jude!

In this little novel, the Mellstock parish choir lose their place to schoolmistress Fancy Day. Tanter Dewy's son Dick falls in love with Fancy, but she's not without several other admirers. The result is a beautiful little love story that is so funny at  points - Hardy's insights into love and a woman's mind are very clever, and true! I don't know if I've ever laughed out loud so much, or ever, with a Hardy novel.

What makes this book so brilliant is Hardy's characterisation. His portrayal of rural characters is just so authentic and amusing. Again, the characters of the two young lovers is just spot on. They flirt, they spend long times longing after one an another, they doubt, they argue, they flirt. Love is essentially the same ball game now as it was then.

Under the Greenwood Tree also features a little scene that I loved so much in Tess. There's twenty years between the two books, and I wonder if Hardy ever thought that any reader would notice. I'm quite sure that after publishing this book, Hardy had no idea of the popularity or notoriety his books might receive. Still, the two lovers washing their hands in the same basin is so gorgeous. Fancy proclaims, as Tess will later, that beneath the water she cannot tell the difference between their hands. Ah, I love it!

Also, Hardy seems to have a love of the word 'perpendicular' in this book. I didn't want to stop my reading to count how many times he uses it, but it could be interesting.

SO! For you people out there who ignore Hardy on the basis of heartbreak and trauma, pick up Under The Greenwood Tree. It's nothing short of delightful!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Urgh. Do I Really Have to Read This?

This week's Literary Blog Hop question asks:

Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university.  Why did you dislike it?

Simple answer: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

1. It was a massive disappointment. I've a friend who swore by Hemingway and claimed him the biggest literary genius of all time ever etc etc etc. So I was excited. And disappointed.

2. Where are my adverbs? My adjectives? The language was just far too bare for me to care. It was semi interesting to read the relationship between the old man and the boy at the start, but beyond that I lost all interest. I only finished it because it was super short, and because I had to read it for my postgraduate course. Bleh.

I've not disliked many books that I've had to study over the years. There have been books that have been slightly disappointing (Kafka's another one of those guys) but usually I see merit in them enough to warrant a reading. Ah well.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

For Review: Survivor ~ Chuck Palahniuk

Yay! Another Palahniuk! I've stopped reading the blurbs of Palahniuk books and do my best to ignore reviews or conversation. I like the surprise. With Fight Club, for example, a book turned film, it's famous, it's referenced and everyone knows that the first rule of Fight Club is... I know the basic idea behind his other novels, but I'm happier being surprised.

So I picked up Survivor, knowing only that it involved a guy who runs a hotline to convince people to commit suicide. Tender Branson becomes the last known survivor of a religious cult and turns from cult boy to celebrity icon. He's marketed as a messiah, a spiritual leader and a miracle worker. With the help of his future-seeing friend Fertility, Tender Branson goes from strength to strength to ruin.

Survivor is full of all those juicy little details that I love about Palahniuk's work. The tiny things that he describes about a particular character or scene can flavour it immensely. The man certainly knows what he's doing. Survivor is Palahniuk's second novel, and as with other authors, it's always interesting to backtrack and see a master at work in the early days, noticing the bits and pieces that become so important and iconic to Palahniuk's style.

Style, and there's the depths of knowledge that he posseses. Many of Palahniuk's characters are obsessed with something with which they know an extreme amount about. With Survivor, it's Tender Branson and flowers, false flowers, cleaning, and the Bible. It's almost very OCD. Tender's mind is such an interesting one to enter into - from his opinions of life based on cult teaching, to what he's learned in the big bad world, to the way that celebrity shapes and changes him; it's character transformation to the extreme. I love it.

The only difference between suicide and mratyrdom is press coverage.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: 18 January

"The craving inside of me is to be clutched at by some dead girl. To put my ear to her chest and be hearing nothing. Even getting munched on my zombies beats the idea that I'm only flesh and blood, skin and bone. Demon or angel or evil spirit, I just need something to show itself. Ghoulie or ghosty or long-legged beastie, I just want my hand held."

Survivor - Chuck Palahniuk (253)

Loving this.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

For Review: Jude the Obscure ~ Thomas Hardy

It took me twice as long to read Jude the Obscure than I had anticipated. I read it for the first time about six or seven years ago, and it was tragic then. But reading it now, later, wiser (I hope) and after my university experience, every misfortune in this book really struck a blow. At about fifteen pages in, I had to put it down. It was breaking my heart to read how Jude felt as a child, only knowing that he'd feel that way and worse as he got older. Oh Jude, bless you.

Hence Jude the Obscure is considered Hardy's most tragic novel: orphaned boy in rural England dreams of a university career. Makes his way as a stonemason but gets no closer to achieving his dreams. Marries a bitch of a woman. She leaves. Goes to Christminster. Still no joy on getting into university. Meets his cousin Sue, falls in love, she meets Phillotson, marries out of principle (if not a little spite, because Jude is already married). Sue jumps from window so she doesn't have to sleep with Phillotson and begs for separation. Sue goes to Jude. They don't get legally married. Little Father Time (Jude's son from previous marriage) is sent from Australia. Society hates Jude and Sue for their apparent child, their living together, their cousin loving, and their lack of marriage. Bad things happen to them. Sue leaves for Phillotson, Jude gets wasted and remarries Arabella. Jude dies.

That's it. That's 400 pages of heartbreaking genius right there. Jude the Obscure is Hardy's swan song, a stunning send off of all that he was capable of as a writer. All the themes that I love in Hardy are there - Ancients and religion, the complexities of society, gender and sex, death and life and everything. It's all here. And every sentence is so beautifully rendered. Pick any line and it'll be full of the poetry that Hardy was just itching to write. Jude the Obscure is the Victorian classic - painfully Victorian, revolutionary (oh, because Hardy admitted that humans have sexual desires tsk tsk) and so gorgeously put together. Rave, rave, rave.

Everyone should read Jude the Obscure before they die. It's harrowing, it's awful, it will break your heart into a thousand pieces, but it is so worth the while.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Show Me Something Good

Hardy/Ellis/Palahniuk - it's no secret that I love the darker side of literature. I'm a realist, a stoic and a lover of tragedy. Always have been; nothing lost, nothing gained.

But it's all fun and games until someone loses a mind.


I need to crawl out of my dark comfort hole and get myself some carpe diem.

Recommend some happy, lively, fun, life-affirming, humorous, cute, lovely books.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: 11 01 11 (look at all the ones!)

'Knowing not a human being here Jude began to be impressed with the isolation of his own personality, as with a self-spectre, the sensation being that of one who walked, but could not make himself seen or heard. He drew his breath pensively, and seeming thus almost his own ghost, gave his thoughts to the other ghostly presences with which the nooks were haunted.'

Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy (73)

Jude the Obscure is breaking my heart for the second time.
I love it.

Friday, January 07, 2011

How Did I Even Get Here?

How did you find your way to reading literary fiction and nonfiction?
When I first saw the question over at the literary blog hop my immediate thought was, 'How is this even a question? I like good books. End of.'

But then I realise that some people don't know who Jane Austen is. Some people haven't heard of Thomas Hardy. Some folks think that literary means boring tiny text.

So I owe it all to my mum. My mum is an avid reader, and I'm pleased that her habit rubbed off on me too. My earliest memory includes an Alfie and Annie Rose picture book. At any point in my childhood, books were a big fixture. When I was younger, I used to look at Mum's bookshelves and browse her fancy novels. She has some very cute old editions of Shakespeare and a massive book of all Austen's novels. I just liked to carry them around and pretend that I could read them, imagine that I understood it insight out and had passionate opinions about the characters. It happened - here I am.

Though a teacher recommended Thomas Hardy to me when I was 14, I already knew it was something I'd enjoy because of my mum's love of him. I even attempted Les Miserables at 14, but didn't get beyond page 40. That tackle comes this year.

So - thank you Mum for reading to me, for teaching me how to read, for buying me new books every summer, and for keeping them safe in boxes for me now. Who knows how different my life would be without you? Doesn't bear thinking about!

For Review: The Shipping News ~ Annie Proulx

Yet another book that entered my TBR list after watching the film. Brokeback Mountain was my first point of Proulx call, but I was keen to read The Shipping News. I even had several comments here on my blog with people saying that they hoped I enjoyed it, how great it is. Yes, it's great. Did I enjoy it? Hmm... 

There's no pretending that Proulx is clever with words. She's cheeky with The Shipping News, leaving out pronouns, skipping verbs and running with short sentences. It's quite exciting and delightful to read. Her use of language is, as per, fantastic. But what I really noticed in The Shipping News was Proulx's amazing way of linking two images that the reader would never guess would go together. At points it feels like she's gone too far out of her way to avoid cliches, but in other places she would use a metaphor that was so unique and so striking that I had to stop and think, "Wow, actually, that is very like that/that is that kind of colour" etc.

But half way through, I'd wowed myself out and was starting to get bored. The sentences stopped being quirky and occassionally were quite annoying. I think I had a huge case of OldManAndTheSea syndrome - I really couldn't care less about the book, and now I'm beginning to see a pattern. The world of islands, fishing, boats, water; I don't think it's for me. Much as I love it in really life, it just can't hold my attention in a book. Which is a shame. But that's just a personal and picky thing. 

If the fishing life is your thing, then you will really enjoy this book. Proulx paints the coast in such a fantastic way and, naturally, the characters are superb. But I think I'll keep to her cowboys.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Victorian Literature Challenge - January

I'm overwhelmed by the response to my Victorian literature challenge. Nearly 100 people have signed up to get reading some 19th century deliciousness this year. Wow!

So, here is the linky tool for January. Every month I'll make a post where participants can link to their reviews or make comments on their progress. Sharing reviews is a great way to decide what book to read next - or what book, Heaven forbid, to scratch from your TBR.

Good luck everyone!