Tag Archives: books

Too many pies, not enough fingers…

Well, I went on holiday…and came back. As you do. I was a veritable reading champion and managed to make my way through no less than four books. Hurrah! I read the aforementioned In The Woods by Tana French, I Have Waited and You Have Come by Martine McDonagh; I also read The Gunslinger (Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King, and The Case of Mary Bell: a Portrait of a Child Who Murdered by Gitta Sereny. I was EXTREMELY naughty and read The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule BEFORE I went away. Self control=zilch. My holiday reads ran the gamut from fantasy, crime, post-apocalyptia (is that even a word..?), and true crime (though Sereny’s analysis of the Mary Bell case is far from sensational. It’s more a sensitive deconstruction of the nature of ‘evil’; an approach Sereny mastered in her biography of Albert Speer whom she met on many occasions).

Aside from reading, I’ve been pursing an altogether different past-time…indoor gardening! That’s right!

My little kitchen garden

My little kitchen garden

Seemingly unstoppable mint cutting...

Seemingly unstoppable mint cutting…

I planted a garlic clove and this is the result after a week

I planted a garlic clove and this is the result after a week

Scooping the guts out of aloe vera leaves...

Scooping the guts out of aloe vera leaves…

I find it all very relaxing. The results also speak for themselves. I am currently growing garlic (possible even in erratic UK climate…), basil, parsley, mint and lettuce. I also just planted some coriander seeds. Jamie Oliver I ain’t, but it’s fun and really easy. I am currently drinking a mint tea of my own making. I don’t even like mint tea but I have so much of the stuff I have to do something with it…I also made a face mask from some of my wilting aloe leaves. Even a fool of Took like me can manage to keep some plants alive. I am quite proud…

Other news:

-I have just finished a two-week unpaid work placement scheme in the Richard Burton Archive on the Swansea University campus. It was a fantastic introduction into the world of archives, and my placement partner and I produced some pieces of writing on our experience here and here. We also produced a web guide on a church in Swansea and how WW1 affected the lives of its congregation; information uncovered from primary sources such as logbooks.

-I am currently editing my next review for LSE Review of Books, The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters: Gender, Secrecy, and Fraternity in Italian Masonic Lodges by Lilith Mahmud. It should be available for you to read online from the 19th of this month (June).

S’about it for now.

I’m currently reading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and Mr Mercedes by everyone’s favourite literary uncle, Stephen King.

I’m currently listening to The Handsome Family (thanks True Detective!), the Night Vale podcast (how I never discovered this before is a mystery to me…).

 

Look Who’s Back!

Yes, that’s right, me.

In October I took a little break for the sake of my sanity, and now I’m back, refreshed and raring to go.

I’ve been working, studying, and generally making a nuisance of myself. Occasionally I found the time to read some books and write some reviews.

Here they are (in case you can’t be bothered to scroll over to the relevant tab at the top of the page…):

-A conflict profile of the Nanking Massacre for the Women Under Siege Project

-A book review of The Tattooist by Louise Black for The F-Word 

-Two reviews for FWSA; Female Suicide Bombers by Rosemarie Skaine, and Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War? Perceptions, Problems in the Congo and Beyond by Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern.

-Two reviews for LSE Review of Books; The Killing Fields of Inequality by Goeran Therborn, and Voicing Demands: Feminist Activism in Transnational Contexts by Sohela Nazneen and Maheen Sultan (eds.) (UPCOMING!).

Really, I haven’t had much of a break at all but I very much enjoyed reading and writing about all the lovely books I’ve had the privilege of being sent. Writing for Women Under Siege was a great experience so thanks to Shazdeh and Lauren for accommodating my rookie academic ambitions.

So that’s it for the moment, folks. I will keep you updated on any new reviews or exciting news that may come my way.

Library Luuuurve

I haven’t really had the time of late to write a proper blog post/review as I have been RATHER  busy.

I am actually starting a new job at the end of this month so I have been sorting that out, handing in my notice at my old place, etc etc. I feel kinda sad at leaving friends behind but I think it’s time to move on. Tonight is my last night shift, in fact. Wish me luck!

As I am going to experience a little bit of a pay-gap in-between jobs, my boyfriend and I have been thinking of ways to save on cash. One of my new money-saving resolutions will be to use the library more often.

I think it’s all well and good to wax lyrical about how great libraries are and what a valuable resource they are for local communities and then not actually use them…well, it takes the biscuit, really. And I for one am sorry that I haven’t been utilising this fabulous local service as much as I should have.

I started my new library resolution this week with these choice titles:

IMAG0042

As a (former) rampant book-buyer, I will expect I will find this a little difficult. But that’s okay. There’s a couple of new titles coming out soon that I would really like to buy and I guess I will have to assess the situation at the time to see whether my finances allow it. One per month is hardly a problem. My former buying rate was 2-3 per week! Crazy.

But, to atone for my many, many sins, I have actually given away a lot of books that didn’t survive my must-make-some-space-to-live cull. It’s nice to give, innit.

Speaking of giving, I promise to pay my outstanding library fines as soon as is humanly possible (sorry)…

 

 

Stephen King and Feminism

Over the course of a 40-odd year career, Stephen King has published over 50 titles; novels, short stories, graphic novels, e-books and newspaper serialisations. Some of his most popular book-to-film adaptations include The Shawshank Redemption (‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’), The Green Mile, Stand by Me (‘The Body’), The Shining, Carrie and Salem’s Lot. There are undoubtedly some duffers too; I found Insomnia impenetrable to read, Cujo a little dull and Dreamcatcher a bit rubbish. But that is the beauty of being a Constant Reader (a SK in-joke there, readers…), you love the great ones and dismiss the poor ones as momentary lapses in an otherwise enviable literary career. What’s a bad book between friends?

Is Stephen King a feminist author? Does it matter? Well, my answer would be yes, it does matter, and at the same time, it is an irrelevant question at best. Being a feminist and a lover of popular fiction is not without its conundrums. I have had friends recoil in horror as I reveal my love of all things SK. But he’s not feminist, they say…his books portray women negatively, they protest…he’s a bit naff, they all concur. Must we read academia all the time? Does this guilty pleasure of mine negate all the positive feminist mobilisation I am involved in? Of course not.

Let me tell you something, as a Constant Reader, I believe that as an author, Stephen King is demonstrating to us that both men, and women, are capable of anything. Both sexes are scrutinised as having all too human flaws. Is this not an accurate analysis of the world at large? Should female characters in literature be placed on pedestals? Men commit unspeakable crimes, women commit unspeakable crimes. But men and women are also portrayed as brave, determined, fearless, strong and committed to their ideals as human beings. Reading between the lines of these seemingly scary works reveals to the reader the true strength of both male and female characters in SK’s literary world, so effortlessly created and so deliciously layered. Life, fictitious or not, is not without its complexities.

Dolores Claiborne (of the book of the same name) murders her husband after it emerges that he molested their daughter. Darcy Anderson (of the novella ‘A Good Marriage’) is left in a predicament when it is uncovered that her husband, whom she adores, is discovered to be a murderer of women and children. Tess (of the novella ‘Big Driver’) is raped and left for dead at the side of the road and seeks her revenge against the perpetrator. Carrie White, in every bullied girl’s fantasy, wreaks havoc at the High School prom when she is humiliated for the last time. Frannie Goldsmith (of ‘The Stand’) is one of the founders of a new ‘society’ after a super flu, created and accidently released by the military, wipes out nearly all of America’s population. Lisey (of ‘Lisey’s Story’) rises to the challenge when faced with a predicament after her husband’s death.

In his vast repertoire, Stephen King has created some fantastic female characters. Some are quintessentially ‘good’ people, and some have less than desirable personal characteristics. Don’t we all know people like that? Naturally there are some bad guys and gals; Annie Wilkes of Misery, Jack Torrance of The Shining to name but two. However, both of these characters have their own all-too-human follies; mental illness and alcoholism.

In essence, you could say that Stephen King is inclined toward feminism in his works, whether this is a conscious effort or not. This is, of course, a simplistic piece of personal opinion, but I hope I have demonstrated to you, dear reader, that appearances can often be deceiving. Why deprive yourself of a good story for fear of it not being deemed feminist enough?

If we want to go down that route, lets propose a metaphorical question; if feminism should influence works of popular literature then why isn’t Hermione Granger ‘the girl who lived’? A strong female character she may be, but no matter how you dress it up, she is still just one of Harry Potter’s sidekicks.  Would the Hermione Granger books be as popular as the Harry Potter series? I don’t have the answer to that unfortunately, but do you see my point? (Before anyone starts hating on me, I love the HP books, though I am not particularly fussed on the films…)

The whole ‘should we feel bad about reading Stephen King’ debate rages on. To cast our critical eye over popular literature is something we should do more often, but how about we just take it easy and enjoy reading what we love?

Review of ‘Sorry’ by Zoran Drvenkar

*spoiler/trigger alert*

‘Sorry’ by Croatian German author Zoran Drvenkar is a complex, multi-narrative assault on the senses.

The book follows four friends in Berlin, Kris, Wolf, Frauke and Tamara, as they struggle to make sense of their aimless, and often complicated, lives.  Kris has just lost his job and his dreams of becoming of a journalist, Wolf is still coming to terms with the death of his drug addict girlfriend, Tamara is reeling from the emotional consequences of giving up her unwanted baby daughter and Frauke’s mother has been in an asylum for 14 years and counting. One drunken night, they decide to form an agency that apologises on behalf of other people, hence the title, ‘Sorry’.

One of their first cases includes apologising on behalf of a company that has dismissed a man found to have images of child pornography on his work computer. As it happens, the man is innocent. Needless to say, his life has been wrecked and the perpetrator is still at large, prompting the company (who are feeling extremely guilty) to apologise and offer a huge sum of money in order to recompense for their false accusation and appease their conscience.

The friends are soon living in the lap of luxury in a renovated villa on the shore of Berlin’s Wannsee and business is booming. However, the peace and relative tranquillity of their news lives is soon shattered. They receive an assignment from one Lars Meybach; upon following his instructions they find the corpse of a woman nailed to the wall in an abandoned apartment. Who is Lars Meybach, what does he want, and why do corpses keep turning up all over the place? The dead woman, Fanni, is eventually revealed to be part of a group of paedophiles being relentlessly pursued by the mysterious Meybach.

Suffice to say, the friends, drawn into this sticky web of personal revenge and dark desires, do not fare well.

Frauke dies in suspicious circumstances; Wolf is buried alive by Samuel, aging leader of the paedophile ring; Kris obsessively tracks the elusive Lars Meybach and Tamara eventually incapacitates Samuel and drives around with him trussed up in the boot of her car.

Despite the gruesome nature of ‘Sorry’, the book presents a wrenching account of the devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse. Themes of guilt and abuse are intricately woven to produce a compelling tale of revenge; albeit one where no-one appears to get their happy ending. Such a premise runs the risk of being overtly sensational but ‘Sorry’ deftly handles the sensitive subject matter whilst maintaining an almost objective stance to the events that play out throughout the book. The multi-narrative approach gives essential insight into the minds of the characters, yet it almost serves to keep the reader at arm’s length; thus the objectivity of the narration allows the reader to draw their own conclusions at the devastating events that unfold.

 
‘Sorry’ is a dark one, not for the faint-hearted, but it is definately a page-turner and well worth a few hours of your time (you won’t be able to put it down, anyway!).

‘Sorry’ was translated by Shaun Whiteside

New Read: ‘Sorry’ by Zoran Drvenkar

I was perusing the internet, as you do, when I received an email from Think German; a lovely website dedicated to the promotion of the German language in the UK.  Every so often, in collaboration with New Books in German, Think German recommend and review translated German literary fiction titles. This time, it’s the turn of ‘Sorry’ by Zoran Drvenkar, a Croatian German novelist. 

In ‘Sorry’ a group of friends in Berlin who are down on their luck, decide to establish an agency that apologises for misdeeds on the behalf of other people. Soon, a shady underworld gang gets in on the action and the friends find themselves embroiled in a series of gruesome events; from which there appears to be no reprieve.

When I read the review from New Books in German, I knew I had to read it. So I casually downloaded it onto my Kindle (I am a Kindle fan, folks. I find it very useful for a number of reasons and I still buy as many print books as I ever did…) and suffice to say, I am very excited to get stuck in.

I think there are a great many young (-ish) German authors who are pushing the boundaries of modern literary fiction (depending on your personal tastes, of course) and I for one, am excited to get in on the action. I would recommend, for those not faint of heart, ‘Feuchtgebiete‘ and ‘Schossgebete’ by Charlotte Roche and ‘Axolotl Roadkill’ by Helene Hegemann. ‘Feuchtgebiete’ (‘Wetlands’ is its translated title) is widely available in English, and I believe, though don’t quote me, that ‘Schossgebete‘ and ‘Axolotl Roadkill‘ translations are set to be released in 2013.

‘Das Maedchen’ (‘The Girl’) by Angelika Kluessendorf, an unflinching story of a girl’s brutal and uncompromising upbringing, also looks excellent. I shall have to save my pennies, methinks, and order in a lovely brand-spanking new print edition from Germany.

(p.s. for non-German speakers the use of ‘ae’ in ‘Maedchen’ and ‘ue’ in ‘Kluessendorf’ represents the German Umlaut, you know, the two little dots that go over certain vowels…i’ve just figured out how to insert an umlaut in WordPress but to be honest, I would have to change some of my links, so thought this explanation would suffice!)

Ta!

 

 

Upcoming Short Story Competitions

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy spinning a good yarn, especially on those cold, rainy mornings sat at work.

Why not utilise your passion for story-telling by entering a competition? The Book Trust has a comprehensive list of short story competitions running all year round.

This September, there are two I am planning on entering in the vain hope of one day making my millions 😉

The Costa Book Awards is running a short story competition for the first time this year; the deadline is the 7th September and there is no entry fee.

For Book’s Sake posted details a little while back about the Asham Award 2012; a short story competition for women; the deadline is the 21st September with an entry fee of £15.

Follow the links for more info, and happy scribbling!