Wednesday, February 27, 2008

BTT: Quirky

(From 31 January 2008): Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?

The most outrageous characters I have ever read would have to be in Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Every single character is completely mad...and this is what makes the book so wonderful.

Having a quirky character in a novel can add a lot of interest to the story and there's more chance of such a character staying in the reader's mind long after they've finished the book. However, I think the author needs to be careful that they don't overdo it, otherwise the character will end up completely unbelievable, and the reader will become irritated by the 'try-hard' attempt by the author.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Banned Books Challenge


In honour of Freedom to Read Week, I've decided to embark on one final challenge for 2008: a Banned Books Challenge (BB). I've based my choices on a list I found at a Canadian public library's website. It turns out that I already have quite a few of the books on my TBR pile, and a lot of them will also count for other challenges. I'm setting myself a goal of 5 books for the year.

BB reading in 2008: (currently reading)
Truman Capote: In Cold Blood
Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time
CS Lewis: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
George Orwell: Animal Farm
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

TBR books that qualify for the BB challenge:
Note: Books in italics have been read.
Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles
Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
Stephen King: IT
DH Lawrence: Sons and Lovers
Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time
CS Lewis: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Henry Miller: Tropic of Cancer
Boris Pasternak: Dr Zhivago
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
John Steinbeck: East of Eden
John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath
Mark Twain: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Other BB books I'd like to own and read:
Note: Books in italics have been bought.
VC Andrews: Flowers in the Attic
William S Burroughs: Naked Lunch
Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tales
Ken Follett: Pillars of the Earth
Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner
Victor Hugo: Les Miserables
James Joyce: Ulysses
Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon
Norman Mailer: The Naked and the Dead
Katherine Paterson: Bridge to Terabithia
Jodi Piccoult: The Tenth Circle
Phillip Pullman: The Golden Compass trilogy
Annie Prioux: Brokeback Mountain
Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses
Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom's Cabin
Alice Walker: The Color Purple

Freedom to Read Week

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. - Joseph Brodsky
Yesterday heralded the beginning of Canada's annual Freedom to Read Week. And just because I'm not Canadian, I don't see why I can't jump in and help them celebrate! Book censorship is an issue that's close to my heart and I believe that people (yes, that includes children) should be able to make their own decisions as to whether or not a particular book is suitable for them to read.

You wouldn't think that in these times it would still be an issue, but Harry Potter still gets banned in schools for encouraging children to practice witchcraft (don't get me started on their misguided views of Wicca!) Children shouldn't be so mollycoddled by their parents. The books in question usually contain important issues that the child will inevitably come across in life. Isn't it better to arm them with knowledge and information concerning the subject beforehand? Otherwise they'll grow up to be intolerable adults (goodness knows we have enough of them already!) and go into situations totally ignorant of facts.

So join in the fun and help fight back against those who believe a book should be censored just because it contains material that offends them (the individual, who sometimes hasn't even read the book in question).

In honour of this week, I'm going to start up a new challenge (which will actually last the rest of the year). Details to follow shortly!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

10 Signs a Book Has Been Written by Me

Found this somewhere else and thought I'd give it a go. Here are '10 Signs that a Book Has Been Written by Me'.

1. It will be a dystopian novel - cleverly written (I wish) and well thought out and researched.

It will be 450+ pages in length.

One of the main characters will be a young man - perhaps mid 20s. He will be the 'hero' of the story, but he'll also be a regular guy.

It will have a memorable closing line.

My main characters will have enough of a backstory that readers will be able to identify with them, but not get bogged down or bored by too much detail.

There will be a club of some description (possibly secret) where important (and perhaps sinister) business will take place.

People of extraordinary intelligence will play an important role.

Music will be involved somehow.

My readers will be reduced to tears.

My book will be compared (favourably) to George Orwell's 1984. :)

That's about all I can say without giving away too much! I have more details written out in a notebook, which would make it all sound more interesting, but this'll have to do.

Z for Zachariah by Robert O'Brien

Rating: 7/10

Published: 1975
Number of pages: 188

Started: 17 February 2008
Finished: 20 February 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):

Lone survivor after a nuclear holocaust, Ann Burden sees her solitary peace threatened by this unknown intruder. She hides, he watches, they both wait. Is he a friend and ally, or the terrifying near-maniac she begins to suspect? Just as Adam was the first man on earth, so this man must be Zachariah, the last...

This is a quick and interesting read aimed at young adults. It's a story concerning the end of the world and the survival of a 16-year-old girl who believes she may be the last person alive...until she sees someone else entering her valley. I wouldn't necessarily call this a dystopian novel - it's more post-apocalyptic. Still, I'll count it as dystopian because it's on Wikipedia's list of dystopian literature.

I thought the main character was a little too naive (or maybe just too optimistic) but I always love an ending that leaves something to the imagination. A pretty good read!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

BTT: Huh?

(From 24 January 2008): What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”

There are a couple of books I love that people have generally never heard of. Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith is one of them. It's actually a classic and I think it's more well-known in England, where it originated, but it's not something that a lot of people have heard of around here.

And in reverse, I love a series of books by Australian author John Marsden, beginning with Tomorrow, When the War Began. They're very well-known in Australia but not so well overseas, I don't think (at least, I don't get much of a reaction when I mention them).

I was once given a book for Christmas called These is My Words by Nancy Turner. It wasn't a bestseller or anything, but it's a remarkable story of a young American woman who travels with her family from New Mexico to Arizona in the 1880s. A terrific story full of triumph and tragedy. It's been high up on my 're-read pile' for quite a while now.

Also, I'm a bit behind the rest of the world in the fantasy genre, but one overlooked author I love is Jonathan Wylie (aka Julia Gray). Both names are pseudonyms of a husband/wife writing team and I've always enjoyed their books. I think I now everything they've written but haven't had a chance to read most of it yet, having only tracked most of the books down in the past 12 months. Of the books I've read, I particularly love the Unbalanced Earth trilogy and Dreamweaver.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1966
Number of pages: 336

Started: 31 January 2008
Finished: 17 February 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote's comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible, yet entirely and frighteningly human.

The book that made Capote's name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative.

In Cold Blood is a terrific blend of journalistic skill and creative writing. Capote begins the story by introducing the reader to all of the main players: the Clutter family (the victims), and Perry Smith and Dick Hickock (the killers). We get to know them very well - their personality traits and quirks, their views on life, and basically all of their background stories. Other characters, ranging from local gossips to detectives, are introduced equally vividly.

Although the reader knows what's going to happen, Capote masterfully builds up the story and draws out the suspense, leaving the reader with numerous questions as to the 'why's and 'wherefore's of what's about to happen. Of course, they're all answered in time, but it's an intriguing journey and well worth the read. The story is never dull, and I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a work of fiction.

Truman Capote worked tirelessly to gather his information (along with the aid of his friend, Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird) and put it together meticulously to create this incredible, true story. It's chilling and scary, but absolutely terrific! Highly recommended!

Friday, February 15, 2008

BTT: Let's Review...

(From 17 January 2008): How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading? If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it? If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?

I love reading reviews of books before I read them myself. If I've heard of a book that I think sounds OK, I'll usually head to Amazon and read a selection of reviews. I'll also check out what fellow members at the BCF have to say about it. Bad reviews rarely put me off reading a book, but sometimes it will push a book lower down my wish list.

Two recent cases in point: I saw Patrick Suskind's Perfume going cheap in a bookshop. Before I bought it, I went back to work and read up on a thread at the BCF that had been devoted to this book. Opinion seemed very much divided and I decided that the only way to know for sure was to read it myself!

The second case is Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I must admit that the title alone put me off for a little while because it sounds very new age (something that might have once attracted my attention, but nowadays doesn't). I had read some good reviews and was thinking of buying it, then read more reviews, this time bad, and now I'm sitting on the fence again :)

I don't think one should let bad reviews completely dictate whether or not they read a book, because often what one person loves another person will hate. The only person who can ultimately decide whether or not a book is any good is the individual themselves. I like taking into account other people's views and then comparing my own once I have read the book myself (which means I usually read reviews twice over!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Recently Acquired Books

Nine more to add to the TBR pile. According to LibraryThing, that brings my total number of TBR books to 318 (or 309, according to my profile - I wonder where that discrepancy is coming from?). A good 6 years worth of reading there!

Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart
Albert Camus: The Outsider
Albert Camus: The Plague
Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany's
Cervantes: Don Quixote
Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings
John Rhys: Wide Sargasso Sea
Patrick Suskind: Perfume
Lynne Truss: The Lynne Truss Treasury (With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed, Tennyson's Gift, Going Loco, Making the Cat Laugh)

I wish someone would keep me away from this bookshop! So much choice and such small prices!

Monday, February 11, 2008

BTT: May I Introduce...

(From 10 January 2008): 1. How did you come across your favorite author(s)? Recommended by a friend? Stumbled across at a bookstore? A book given to you as a gift? Was it love at first sight? Or did the love affair evolve over a long acquaintance?

I have come across some of my favourite authors through recommendations by others. Because I read a lot of classics, they're more or less a recommendation unto themselves. I came across one of my favourite fantasy authors by accident (indeed, he's pretty much the only fantasy author I read). I was spending a bored lunchtime in a school library when I randomly plucked a book off the shelf and began reading. I was hooked from the first page and now own every book written by this author - Jonathan Wylie (most of which I haven't gotten around to reading yet!)

Another favourite author of mine is John Marsden, who wrote the incredible Tomorrow series, which is aimed at young adults. I was given the first book to read for English class when I was about 13. That book was then part of a trilogy but it then grew to 10 books. I was also hooked from the first page of that one and have become the proud owner of each successive novel within days of it being released. These 10 books are among the most frequently re-read of all my books - I love to re-read the entire series at least every 2 years.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Recently Acquired Books and Books Added to Wish List

I bought the following books recently:

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game
Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Matthew Pearl: The Poe Shadow
Marisha Pessl: Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Alexander McCall Smith: The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom
Peter Temple: The Broken Shore
Hunter S Thompson: Hell's Angels

And I added a few more books to my wish list:

Lois Lowry: The Giver
Lois Lowry: Number the Stars
Jacqueline Susann: The Valley of the Dolls

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

BTT: Anticipation

(From 3 January 2008): What new books are you looking forward to most in 2008? Something new being published this year?
Not being one to read much in the way of 'modern' literature and authors, I don't think there is anything coming out this year that I would be particularly interested in (not for another 10 years anyway - which is about how far behind I am in my reading!)

Something you got as a gift for the holidays? Anything in particular that you’re planning to read in 2008 that you’re looking forward to?
I got The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield for Christmas, which I'm really looking forward to. Hopefully I'll get around to reading it in a few months. I'm also really looking forward to reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Hopefully I'll get through most, if not all, of them this year!

A classic, or maybe a best-seller from 2007 that you’re waiting to appear in paperback?
Yes! Last year, Penguin published On The Road: The Original Scroll by Jack Kerouac. It is, according to Penguin, 'the first ever publication of Kerouac's original draft for the book - transcribed from the famous 'scroll': hundreds of typed pages which constitute the manuscript taped together by Kerouac himself'. It was released in hardback so I'm waiting for it to come out in paperback, which may not be until 2009. I have the 'other' version so I can't wait to get this new version in order to compare them.

There was also a hardback book published last year called Northern Songs by Brian Southall, which 'traces the story of how Lennon and McCartney lost the most valuable song publishing catalogue in the world' (from the Dymocks website). This is an area of The Beatles endlessly fascinating story that I've always been interested in but never known much about - can't wait to get my hands on this one!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

BTT: The Nominees Are...

(From 20 December 2007): 1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was probably the only fiction novel I read in 2007 that was actually published in 2007! It probably would have won regardless as it was a wonderful finish to the series.

2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
I don't think I read any! All the non-fiction books I read were published prior to 2007.

3. And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?
Yes, they do influence my reading choices occasionally. I love looking at 'best of' lists and counting up how many of the books I've read although I'd never aim to read all the books off a list. Sometimes the lists will inspire me to pick up a book that I had heard of but didn't necessarily have an interest in reading. Other times they'll help bump a book up my list so I'll read it sooner. And of course there are the books I've never heard of but after seeing them on a list I'll look them up to see what they're about and often add them to my wish list as a result.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Recently Acquired Books and Books Added to Wish List

A few books have recently come into my possession:

ER Braithwaite: To Sir, With Love
Anthony Burgess: 1985
Vladimir Nabokov: Nabokov's Dozen

And a few more books have been added to my wish list (all are dystopians except for Hell's Angels):

Patrick Califia: Doc and Fluff
Andrew Keogh: Twentytwelve (author's blog here - buy his book!)
China MiƩville: Perdido Street Station
Hunter S Thompson: Hell's Angels
Jack Womack: Elvissey

Califia, MiƩville and Womack have all been inspired by reviews I read at the Epic Dystopia blog. It's an excellent blog and an awesome quest to undertake! If I didn't have so many 'other' books to read as well, I'd dedicate myself exclusively to dystopians. It's fascinating reading other people's views on what the future will bring.

I'd like to try my hand at writing a dystopian novel one day. I already have a few ideas floating around; it's just a matter of piecing them all together into a coherent story (it would be for my eyes only of course - I would never expect to get it published!)

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Rating: 7/10

Published: 1939
Number of pages: 215

Started: 27 January 2008
Finished: 30 January 2008

Summary (taken from

Novel by Nathanael West about the savagery lurking beneath the Hollywood dream. Published in 1939, it is one of the most striking examples of the "Hollywood novel" in American fiction. Tod Hackett, a set designer, becomes involved in the lives of several individuals who have been warped by their proximity to the artificial world of Hollywood. Hackett's completion of his painting "The Burning of Los Angeles" coincides with the explosion of the other characters' unfulfilled dreams in a conflagration of riot and murder.

This is an interesting story, full of vividly written archetypal Hollywood characters. There's the wannabe star with platinum hair, the vicious dwarf, the big-shot producer, the child star and his stage mother, etc. The characters, scenes and settings are all very nicely written: West does some lovely descriptive writing, and he takes his time in setting up each scene so that the reader has a clear image of it in their minds before he continues on with the story.

There's not really much of a plot happening here; it's mostly a series of interactions involving one or more characters. There are several funny moments and the story builds up at the end into a frightening scene of mob hysteria...and then it ends very abruptly, leaving the reader curious as to the fate of several characters. It's not a book that I would necessarily recommend to everyone, but it's an interesting read nevertheless.

My edition also came with a second, shorter story called The Dream Life of Balso Snell. I wasn't very impressed with this one - it was bizarre and difficult to follow. Lots of ramblings from random characters on religion, art and love. I didn't take this story into consideration when deciding my rating, otherwise the rating would have gone down a point or two!