Friday, December 30, 2011

For Review: Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia ~ Blake Butler

Nothing is officially the last book I will read this year. Tomorrow I'm working my delightful checkout job all day, and then it's an evening of wine until 2012 begins. Nothing was, actually, a great send off for the year. That sounds weird, and that is weird, but it makes sense.

Nothing is, as the subtitle somewhat hints at, about insomnia. Butler examines lack of sleep through so many layers - he gives a history of sleep deprivation, statistics on how the condition is considered now, how it is dealt with, and he does so from an interested but speculative point of view. More especially fascinating, I found, was the history of his own insomnia. Butler describes how he coped without sleep as a child, how that affected his waking days, and how these patterns morphed and changed as he grew up but how, essentially, the not sleeping was always there. This book was terrible to read before bed. I found myself tossing and turning, trying to get to sleep but remembering sentences and images from Nothing that all too well described what it was like not being able to get to sleep. It's a book for reading when awake. Seriously.

Reading when awake also makes the reader more likely to appreciate the sentences too. Butler's goodness. Each line, each clause, delivered with such a tight precision. Some times, it was almost sexy how good those sentences were. Even those 12 page long sentences (yes, they happen), are executed perfectly. Through the layers of different threads of insomnia, Butler explains scientific research neutrally, he explores his childhood with a rational nostalgia, and he falls into streams of consciousness that run all sorts of tangents. Somehow, it's always great. There were points were it felt too relentless, too endless, and though that might have been part of the point, it also made for a tiring read. But that's when sitting down to sections for hours at a time. Digesting it in smaller pieces might be easier in places.

Still, Nothing has everything. I'm pretty sure most people in the world have experience small periods of insomnia in their life or, at least, everyone knows what it's like not to be able to get to sleep, to want sleep, and so much of what Butler says makes so much sense and is so true to a whole colleciton of human beings. But in some ways, it's not what he says, it's how he says it, and that man is one eloquent insomniac.

For Review: The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories ~ HitRECord & Joseph Gordon-Levitt

So that blog I just posted with that video about The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories that I was really excited about?

It was worth the excitement.

To recap, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is full of just that - tiny stories that accompany some of the sweetest illustrations you'll have seen all year. Each little story tells a small, succinct, but very cute tale. Some are amusing, some are sad, and some make you smile, but there's a special charm and wit to each of them.

See what I mean? Each couple of pages is something lovely like this, and the whole tiny collection was just a bittersweet joy to read.

This was volume 1. 2 & 3 are coming, and I bet they'll be just as delicious.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011. A Blog In Review In First Lines.

Found this little bit of fun over at Reading With Tea who found it over here.
The idea is to take the first line of the first post of each month and to see what it says about my blog.

 January - Victorian Literature Challenge
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!

February - For Review: Glamorama ~ Bret Easton Ellis
Bret Easton Ellis. Yup, we're back to him again. Let's not pretend that I'm not in love.

March - For Review: The Girl on the Landing ~ Paul Torday
My first novel was written on the theme of relationships and mental illness.

April - White Rabbit
01 April: Rabbits and April Fools

May - My Life in Book Titles

Just a little meme I found floating around the web.  Complete the statements with the titles of books you've read this year! {Or if you haven't read enough to match all the answers, just chuck in some of your favourites!}

June - For Review: Tiny Deaths ~ Robert Shearman
Pretty much turned on just by the title and the cover. Not judging the book from its cover, but it's a pretty exciting place to start!

July - For Review: Seeds ~ Richard Horan
Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers: it does what it says on the tin, and that keeps me happy.

August - For Review: Everyone Loves You When You're Dead ~ Neil Strauss
Everyone is interested in celebrity.

September - For Review: The Incomplete Tim Key ~ Tim Key
Not everyone likes poetry. I know, right?

October - Scotland is for Book Lovers
Scotland is pretty great, and there are some lovely bookish types in this country. I like talking about books. So do lots of other people. So do the Scottish Book Trust. So what have they come up with? Book Talk!

November - National Short Story Week - What to Read
7 - 13th November is National Short Story Week. The celebration? Short stories! Short stories are fantastic - bitesize bits of literary greatness.

December - For Review: Jamrach's Menagerie ~ Carol Birch
My trade paperback copy of Jamrach's Menagerie is so beautiful, and the cover and title combined make this a book that is begging to be read.

So... from that we can gather that I love Bret Easton Ellis, that I read a bunch of books, and that I reviewed a bunch of books. Huh. Is it boring that my book blog is so bookish?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: 27 Dec

There's nothing here. That's the frustrating thing with proof copies - no quoting.

Suffice to say, I could take any line or sentence from Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia and it would be perfect.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

 Wishing you a merry Christmas, and a very happy 2012 when it comes.

Bethany xox

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tiny Stories! It is Cute!

I don't think I've ever had a video on this blog before. But this is way too exciting.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Whoa, 2011 - Your Books Were Crazy!

I'm not nosy, I'm just curious, and I love lists like these at the end of the year. There's nothing better than perving on what everyone else has been reading all year. So feel free.

1. Best Book You Read In 2011? 

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers. This book was everything in the whole world of literary that a book should be. It does everything, including what it says on the cover.

2. Most Disappointing Book/Book You Wish You Loved More Than You Did?

The English German Girl, by Jake Wallis Simons. It was supposed to be amazing, it was supposed to do so much. It did nothing, least not for me. Oh, and Lord of the Flies.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?

The Gospel of Anarchy, by Justin Taylor. It just popped through my postbox, so it was in itself a surprise. And it was good.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2011?

Other than the usual Jude the Obscure?  Definitely Robert Shearman's Tiny Deaths. Amazing short stories - read them!

5. Best series you discovered in 2011?

Only The Chronicles of Narnia! Took me long enough, eh?

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011?

Blake Butler. What a guy. Currently half way through Nothing, and it's beyond incredible. There Is No Year was an interesting one too. I'm sold. I'm keen to read more Dan Rhodes too.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Eh... That would be Angel, by Katie Price. It was out of my comfort zone because it was so awful. Probably people like reading that crap. In fact, they do, because it hits the bestsellers lists. But it's probably read by illiterate people. I did it for research for a novel I was working on. Never again.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?

Doug Johnstone's Smokeheads had that aww-naw-what's-gonnae-happen-now factor. And I devoured Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in one bite.

9. Book you most anticipated in 2011?

Chuck Palahniuk's Damned, which in turn was only semi-pretty-good. And Alan Bissett's Packmen, which in turn was really good.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011?

11. Most memorable character in 2011? 

The wee old guy in Little Hands Clapping, and Don Lennie from And The Land Lay Still.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2011?

Dave Eggers, Blake Butler, Roberto Bolano are the winners.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011? 

Generally, these are the books that make it into those 'best' categories that have been mentioned above. I'm in danger of repeating myself a lot here. So whatever I've said was good before, and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

14. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read? 

Those Narnia ones. Oops. Why didn't I read them when I was eight like I was supposed to?

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2011? 

Too many. My books are marked with sticky notes at favourite passages of mine. But this one, this one comes to mind so often in my life:   

'What's wrong with you? You sound so depressed.'
'Maybe I am. Or maybe I'm just Scottish.' (And The Lay Still)

16. Book That You Read In 2011 That Would Be Most Likely To Reread In 2012? 

Probably none, because my life is like that. But if I had to reread something? Probably Tiny Deaths again. Or Room.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

This happens frequently during every reading of Jude the Obscure, naturally. There was the exhaustive emotion at the end of And The Land Lay Still. But there were several eh? moments in many of the books I read this year. It was the kind of year for books, I suppose. But what a year it was.

I wonder if my reading in 2012 will be any less obscure/absurd. Somehow, I'm doubting this already. Hurray!

Cheers to the Perpetual Page Turner for hosting this survey - looking forward to next year's already.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

For Review: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman ~ Haruki Murakami

Once I'd finished this short story collection I was faced with concerns about how to review it and get it right. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is just intensely Murakami, but not everyone reading this review will know what that means.

This collection features odd bouts of sickness, frustrated writers, and thieving monkeys. I've said it before in previous reviews, and here it is the same; what makes Murakami's fiction so tantalising is the natural presence of the surreal in ordinary lives. The unexpected can take the form of unlikely consequences, which are perfectly possible if improbable, or it can manifest itself in the form of an aunt permanently attached to your back. The outright absurd is readily accepted by many of the characters, which in turn creates some curious protagonists, bizarre stories, and a thoroughly entertaining read. Murakami exploits and manipulates these elements to even better use in his short fiction. His short stories are, in essence, condensed and concentrated versions of his novels, and his ability to weave and tell such yarns is masterful.

These short stories were a comfort to read, and yet Murakami isn't afraid to introduce the completely unexpected. The man's mind must be a veritable Wonderland. Reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman was like drinking a cup of tea on a rollercoaster with a parrot on my shoulder.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

For Review: The Marbled Swarm - Dennis Cooper

This is literary fiction. This is a novel about words, how they work, what they mean, what they do. It is, quite deliberately, a pretentious piece of work, but there's a sliver of plot in there too - violent sex, underaged boys, murder, and cannibalism.

Dennis Cooper's protagonist tells a story of complication relationships based on peculiar ideas of trust and open sexuality. Really, there's nothing more about the plot that needs to be said, other than pointing out some very curious familial relationships. Transgressive is a word, and it's probably not everyone's cup of tea.

The Marbled Swarm itself is the narrator's ridiculously highfalutin and convoluted way of speaking. Initially, it brought to mind a similar experience of getting to grips with Nadsat for the first time. My eyes rolled in their sockets more than once over the first few pages, but it became something to be used to.

You'll have noticed I tell stories in a high-strung, flighty, tonally unstable rant, no sooner flashing you a secret entrance than pretending no such route exists, twittering when there's bad news, and polishing my outbursts. Flawed and mutually shortchanging as the method may be, this is the only way I know how to engage what I've done with due respect and keep you somewhat agog simultaneously. (47)

The result meant a novel whose language clouded and flirted with events and themes that were really quite harsh and dark. The Marbled Swarm, for this reader, was very seductive indeed. Oh, but that it was set in France was a bit of a turn on too.

Do not read this book with a hangover. Do read this book with a strong cup of Earl Grey.

[Many thanks to Harper Perennial for sending this book to review]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Victorian Literature Challenge - Epilogue

2011 is drawing to a close. It was quite a long year. Technically, no longer than a usual year, but it felt long. I was going through my list of books that I've read this year and found myself vaguely remembering stories and characters that I thought I'd read centuries ago.

So it seems that the Victorian Literature Challenge has been going on for a good long time, but in fact it hasn't reached the end of the year. But we're nearly there. It was my first time ever hosting a challenge, and I was more than pleased at the response. I had some issues with the linky but the response was overwhelming. Initially, I set up the challenge to basically force everyone ever to read Victorian literature. It's a passion of mine, and I felt that so many readers were missing out on some great reads.

Did it work? I think so! I've had comments from bloggers telling me that they've enjoyed the challenge, that they were glad that they started reading Dickens, or that they were able to realise that a big fuss is made of the man over nothing. Whether the books were loved or hated, at least readers are now able to have these genuine opinions. Overall, though, I think the response has been pretty positive. I've thoroughly enjoyed it myself, and I hope all participants have too.

The idea of my book blog was to share my thoughts and ideas about literature, reading, and writing. But what I really enjoy here is the interactive element and getting folks buzzing about books. So, the Victorian literature challenge was great fun for me. Sad that it's ending, but I'm planning on hosting a new challenge next summer.

To all those who took part - many thanks! Hope a good time was had, and that you found something really special.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

For Review: And The Land Lay Still ~James Robertson

It's not uncommon that I'll cry at the end of a book. Not that I cry easily, but I'm a tragedy fan and a lover of beautiful words. But on turning the last page of And The Land Lay Still, I was swiping away tears and feeling not a little bit stunned. The last couple of pages were just beautiful, and there was the fact that I had at last reached the last page.

And The Land Lay Still is epic: the novel spans half a century of Scottish history and politics. My family were shipbuilders and soliders and though I know their stories, I knew very little about what was really going on around them at those times. With such an immense novel, James Robertson has helped me out a lot with this. In the way that it functions, And The Land is almost a contemporary, Scottish Anna Karenina. Tolstoy would love it.

The novel weaves together the stories of several very different Scottish people who are linked across place and generations. Mike is a photographer struggling to make something both of his creativity and his sexuality in a country that doesn't really have space for either. Ellen has to make a place for herself in a society that isn't yet sure what to make of its women. And then there's Don Lennie, an absolute hero. Don battled wars in his youth, made a living by hard labour, and yet has a son who will be the first in the family to go to university, who will be active with the CND, and whose ideas of life are so different from his own. Don has another son who takes the rough way out and thrives in Scottish gang culture. Don is, essentially, the changing face of Scotland, living through decades of change that he struggles to get used to. And he's a good, good man. Not perfect, of course, because each of Robertson's characters are too real for that.

'What's wrong with you? You sound so depressed.'
'Maybe I am. Or maybe I'm just Scottish.' (618)

So there's a lot going on in And The Land. There were pages of condensed politics that hurt my brain, a lot of history that, in all honesty, I never even thought about. Fortunately for my mind, the novel is split into parts so I could read it slowly. Call me stupid, but each part needed to be properly digested before going onto the other. Reading it this way, personally, was a really good idea; the influx of facts and fiction would have been quite overwhelming otherwise. I'm just an ignorant girl who grew up in the 90s and, like Kirsty in the novel, politics never really concerned me and I never thought that they did. But if I'd known exactly what was going on while my mum, my grandparents, and great grandparents were growing up - it's a different country. And The Land has actually given me a better understanding of where my country's at and of what is going on here - politics has a way of repeating itself, it seems.

And The Land Lay Still is, like I said, just epic. It was a stunning novel to read, and the stories of each of the characters were nothing short of fascinating. Every Scottish person really ought to read it, and any person who can appreciate a really, really good book should also read it. I'm more than glad that I did: it was a very important read.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Writing is a Waiting Game

My mum has a lot of patience - she's a primary school teacher, she quilts, and she had to deal with all my teenage angst. Unfortunately, that patience didn't pass down to me. Knitting takes too long, I panic in excessively long queues, and sometimes my own pace frustrates me.

Writing, however, takes time. I'm fine with that. I can scribble plans and plots in a notepad (all with different colours of pen, of course) or I can sit at my computer and see the letters pop up as I type them. Essentially, with writing, I can put my thoughts into some kind of physical being - I get product for my effort, and this pleases me.

But what about the aftermath? The novel is written. It was finished months ago. It was edited, edited, re-edited, re-re-re-edited, and eventually the impatience kicked in. It was time for that dreaded sending out of the manuscript, time for someone else to read and make their judgements. So several months ago, out went my little baby.

I'm waiting. And I'm still waiting. And there are colleagues at work who ask how it's coming along nearly every time I see them and I have to tell them that 'I don't know anything yet, I haven't heard back from them.' Them being, of course, the big bad publisher I'm trying to woo. By now, I've had two responses. Of several many. Rejections, naturally, because I have to get those out of the way before I get to the good stuff.

Really, I feel like I'm on some kind of hiatus. Waiting to hear back about so many things, all potential possibilities. They say that you shouldn't wait for things to happen, that you should make them happen. But there's only so much making happen that I can do by myself. Thank goodness that it's Christmas, and the whole world is waiting for something to happen with me.

Friday, December 02, 2011

For Review: Jamrach's Menagerie ~ Carol Birch

My trade paperback copy of Jamrach's Menagerie is so beautiful, and the cover and title combined make this a book that is begging to be read. Apparently, lots of people did read it and love it, hence the shortlist for the Man Booker. I've had Jamrach on my shelf for a while, before the Man Booker longlist, but I only recently plucked it from its place. It had a lot to live up to.

Jaffy Brown is an eight year old in 19th century London when he's picked up and carried in the mouth of a tiger belonging to Charles Jamrach. He's offered a job looking after the various animals until many years later when a teenaged Jaffy is offered a space onboard a whaling ship, charged with finding and bringing home a dragon. The result is a sea voyage that turns from exhilarating and exciting, to down right horrendous and heartbreaking.

Jamrach's Menagerie isn't what I expected. I'm not sure what I did expect, but it wasn't this. There are some really vivid scenes which Birch has clearly enjoyed painting for her readers, but it lacks the bite I was hoping that it'd have. Jaffy was the real saving grace of the novel which, by the end, should have probably been called Jaffy at Sea. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it. Jaffy is a gorgeous character, especially as a child, and he was what really kept me reading. Jamrach is told from Jaffy's perspective in retrospect, and it's interesting how his language grows and develops to reflect his age and maturity. Again, as I said, expectations meant that I was waiting for some real punch. But though there were some heartwrenching scenes, the narrative just didn't turn me on.

Jamrach's Menagerie was a cute read, and an unputdownable kind of fun, but there was something in the core of it that was missing, unforunately.