Rambles, rants and raves

A lot of opinions spilling out of my brain


Books you HAVE to read

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while but never seem to give justice to the brilliance of these books. As a result I delete the entire thing and write about something else. Reading, I understand is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is my form of escapism. I am always shocked to find that people do not like to read or would rather watch television than pick up a book. However, this post is not a rant on my disbelief at people’s lack of love for books. I’ll leave that for another day and fellow book lovers will probably know what I would say, while people not interested in books will have heard it all before.

If I had endless supplies of money, I would buy the house next door to wherever I was living and it would look like this.

If I had endless supplies of money, I would buy the house next door to wherever I was living and it would look like this. It would, however, be a lot neater. I can’t handle wonky piles or shelves.

I have two favourite books. Both are incredible and I couldn’t decide on which is better if my life depended on it. I also have another few which I think are pretty special and definitely worth reading even by those who don’t enjoy it. The thing with being a bookworm is that once you find the right book it does not seem all that difficult to fall in love with reading.

So for book lovers, this is my small but special list of must-reads. For those who do not enjoy reading, I promise you that if you read any one of the books on this list, you’ll at least become a reading fan if not a die-hard book lover. If I’m wrong I’ll send you chocolate (NOTE: by chocolate I mean happy thoughts to make you feel warm and fuzzy).

Without further ado here is my list of five books you have to read (which technically speaking includes eight books but whatever, this is a literary post not a numbers one).

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Technically speaking I shouldn’t be putting these books on my list because I haven’t finished reading them all. BUT they are so addictive and consuming my brain that I had to. Aimed for teenagers but some of the best books are, I think it has something to do with the fact that writers feel they are able to be more creative and that improbability can be used more. Oh and the pressure of being an adult novel is removed.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

This is one of my favourite books, in league with another that is also featured on this list. It is one of the most amazingly, wonderful books I have ever read and words are not enough to express my absolute joy and love for this book. It is a book that leaves you breathless and the world a little changed after you’ve finished reading it. That’s pretty epic reading if you ask me. If you haven’t yet, read the book before you watch the film. The book is so incredible that it deserves a blank mind (in terms of having little to no idea of what to expect).

The Shadow of the Wind book coverThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Just writing the title of this book made me happy. It is my other very favourite book along with Life of Pi. Carlos Ruiz Zafon likes to lead you one place and make you think one thing and then spin everything around. It is full of mystery, love, death, danger and intrigue. It also all surrounds a book. In a word: perfection. If you choose to do nothing else this year, read this book.

The Great Gatsby and May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Okay, I’m cheating because these are two different books by one author. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories though are short and so I feel justified in putting them together. These two books are a smorgasbord of descriptions, details, colour and vibrancy. Everything is rich, even when Fitzgerald is describing something ordinary. Reading these two short books is a little like being wrapped in colourful dreams and fantasies.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I read this a few years ago whilst on a family holiday to Malta. It was a brilliant book and because of its size I thought it would last me a little while even though I’m a fast reader. It didn’t. It was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down and it’s written in a way that makes it easy to read without being overly simple. It’s entertaining, and emotional. A book that is nothing like you’d expect and would be loved by young and old alike.


I sometimes judge books by their covers

Black Beauty book cover from Penguins. It’s actually embroidered! Amazing right?

I love books. I am a book fan, a book worm, and a lover of the written word. Going into Foyles is one of the best things about shopping in Westfield, London. When I went to New York, on the top of my ‘must see’ list was The Strand Bookstore. If I ever go to antique fairs, or markets I always keep an eye out for any books that may take my fancy.

I sometimes use the cliche of not judging a book by its cover even though I hate cliches. It’s usually to illustrate further a point that has already been made, like that extra punch. I use it, but I don’t actually agree with it.

I judge books by their covers a lot. Especially if I haven’t heard of it, or read any thoughts or reviews on the book or the author. If the cover doesn’t appeal to me, then it’s more than likely that I won’t buy the book. The blurb, if good enough, can change my mind but it rarely does.

I can’t help it. I love my books. But I don’t just love the words written inside them, I love the care, consideration and art that goes into what protects those words: the book cover.

It may make me superficial. In fact, I think it probably does a little. I see books, my reading, as an experience – an escapism. Some people watch films, I read books. A tiny bit of that experience comes from the book cover. It is like the beginning sentence, maybe not as important, but just as valid.

A bad cover will not take away from an amazing story. However a brilliant book cover may add to an incredible story and may make you read a book that isn’t as good. A book cover, to me, helps make my books more of a visual art to hold what’s inside.

A picture paints a thousand words; the introduction of the book could, in essence, come from the cover itself.


The bookshelf

I have been an avid reader since my mother bought my the Ladybird books in Woolworth’s when I was too young to remember details. When my sister and I were little and shared a room, my mum would read to us every night before we went to bed. As we both got older, we began reading alone and choosing our own books. It was exciting, and it still is.

My favourite shops are book shops. The huge Waterstones just off Piccadilly Circus in London makes me weep for joy. I could spend the whole day in a bookshop, time stops when you’re there. I was lucky enough to go to The Strand Bookstore in New York when I was there this summer. It was indescribable: 18 miles of books: old and new. It was heaven. A book lover’s dream. I added at least 100 new titles that I want to read to my ever growing reading list.

As a book lover, I am in love with my bookshelf. To me, my books are like children – silent, beautiful, well behaved, continually entertaining children. I have tried to give many up during various clean ups of my ever growing pile of ‘stuff’ and my books are always saved. Each one has a memory, each one reminds me of a moment in time when I was reading that book. Most of my books I’ve read at least twice apart from a couple of handfuls that I read only once and deserve a medal for the feat. I have bookshelves inside my wardrobe and one in my room and a load of books in boxes stored around the house.

I am very proud of my bookshelf. Mainly because I love the books on it. I read on The Guardian website about your bookshelf saying a lot about you. You can read the comment piece here. I agree insofar that your bookshelf says a lot about you, mainly due to the titles on that shelf. After all, it will show your interests and your likes. However I don’t think that my bookshelf is my chance to show off: I would never think to organise my bookshelf, and my books, in a way that would be appealing to somebody else in order to instigate a conversation or brag about having read certain books considered more ‘high brow’ (some of them not as special as many lecturers would have you believe).

My bookshelf and the books that I read are solely for my enjoyment. Much like the clothes I wear and the food I eat. I do it for myself. It seems illogical that I would need to organise it in an aesthetically pleasing way to someone that does not have the emotional connection to my books as I have.

It seems that in society now, we are developing a sentimentality of having to always impress, of needing to brand and improve our outer selves to show people just how great we are. I may sadly conform to some of this (for example I don’t pop my blackheads in public or swear like a sailor around strangers) but things such as reading, fashion and food are things that are scared to the individual. They provide escapism, inspiration and a little individuality in a world where we are unsure as to how unique we should be while still being part of a majority.

The bookshelf is a humble piece of furniture that holds some of the most precious possessions I own. Books that have been brought for me by the boy and have been some of the best reads of my life; books I purchased when I was feeling lonely; books I was given for inspiration; books that encouraged me to keep going; books that took me away from my cold, student housing; books that made me grateful and opened my mind.

When I’m grown up enough to be able to afford my own mortgage; I plan on having a room dedicated to all my books. Ceiling to floor bookshelves filled with books and picture frames. Two big, comfortable chairs, one bright light to read when it’s dark and a super comfortable rug for those days when I like to lie and read. That is perfection, and I could not care less about what my bookshelf says to the outside world about me.

Reading for me is an internal, personal things. It has been ever since my mum began reading to my sister and I before bed. As a result, my bookshelf is a little like my body I guess. I’m very proud of it but I’m not going to show the whole world what it looks like just in the hope they’ll think a little better of me.

Oh, look heaven. Let me live here. Please. Maybe with a few windows for some natural light. But still. Please.

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Dystopian Societies

I love a good old dystopian society. I love the idea of an alternate reality; of a possibly entirely different society if everything goes in a continual downward spiral for long enough, and there are sufficient power hungry opportunists around to take control.

I finished reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley yesterday. It’s a good read. Huxley begins the story in a way that makes the reader have to sprint to catch up but it works. In my opinion it’s not as good as George Orwell’s 1984. This is probably because there’s a glint of hope in 1984 that just doesn’t seem to materialise, though it is spoken about in Brave New World. I’ve read a few other books surrounding the idea of a dystopian society, some featuring a utopia instead; all critique the world we live in (or lived in). All produce a suffocating conclusion of our continued actions.

There are no happy endings in dystopian societies. There’s a lot of sharing, a lot of ‘unity’ and a serious lack of knowledge. Reading dystopian societies, although interesting (when well written) are depressing. Anyone that tries to break out of it, suffers.

There is no true freedom, if the word is used like we would now. Having freedom to do as we will creates, according to the majority of dystopian societies, wars and chaos. A world that has no hierarchy and so, apparently no control. For everyone to be equal means no pride in yourself, no individual. But there still is no such thing as an equal society, in today’s or a dystopian one. There are still the elite that are able to control things. That tell the majority that a minority need to be in charge to ensure stability and no anarchy. But the minority always become rich and powerful, something the majority are not. With power and money, especially to the extremes that the people in control have makes them lose sight of reality. How can you know what’s best for the majority if you are not experiencing it or even seeing it?

Dystopian societies show an extreme of today. Brave New World with consumerism, The Hunger Games with our de-senstivity to death and destruction, 1984 with our constant surveillance, Noughts and Crosses with the racism: to name just a few. They are extremes but each show a tenuous link to the world we currently call home. With ever growing populations, and longer life spans (at least in the Western world) we will never have the perfect balance between peace, stability, happiness and freedom. There are just too many people to satisfy. There are also too many people that want more and are not satisfied with equality.

Dystopian societies work because they make us feel better even if the ‘hero’ never wins. We see ourselves in the main character of the story. He’s usually isolated or seeks individuality or is questioning the world in which he lives in: he is us. He always fails in his quest to change things or in his need to find out why the world has to be the way it is. He isn’t really important. You, the reader are, the hero has to be like you so you can question this dystopian world has much as he does. He has to fail so that the warning of the dystopian society is relevant. After all, if he succeeds in changing things and in trying to make them better or more ‘normal’ then the threat of dystopia is lost.

Dystopian societies make us appreciate our own world more as well as warning us to not continue on the path that the writer thinks we are on. A book about dystopian societies will always be relevant even if some of the ideologies are a little dated. This is because the majority want to better ourselves, there are lots of people that are wary of the future if our politicians, our bankers and our other people of power continue as they are. There are sceptics and optimists and a dystopian society is relevant to all these people because it shows possibilities and warnings. The reader, depending on what type of reader you are, can derive countless things from these new worlds shown to us in black and white; warnings and promises.


I watched Twilight

I watched the second film in the Twilight franchise last weekend. I have been deliberating ever since if I should talk about it as I know there are a LOT of fans out there that would probably strongly disagree with my views regarding the film. But I realised I couldn’t not talk about it, not because it’s so good that it needs promotion (it gets enough of that) but because I’ve never seen a movie where absolutely nothing happens in such a bland way.

I should say that I have read all the Twilight books. They’re not great but I guess I can appreciate the appeal a story like that would have on the audience. Meyer’s writing leaves a lot to be desired I feel, but if you’re a reader you tend to also have an imagination; therefore the books can be forgiven if they’re not as great as some of their other fantasy-young adventure counterparts. A film however takes away that imagination aspect because it gives you the images. A film hands you the story on a silver platter, if it’s a good film it’ll make you work for the platter and even then won’t give you the whole thing. Twilight, New Moon doesn’t do this but I feel it’s important to point out anyway.

The book is the weakest in the collection anyway but I was intrigued to watch the film when it was on TV purely to see why it had divided opinion so harshly. Well, I watched it. It was boring, worse than the book in fact. Which is strange because from watching some of the actors in other films I believe they’re okay, some good, actors. I think it was a combination of the wrong music for the atmosphere they were trying to create, bad scripts and wrong timing on the part of the actors as well as a really poor delivery of almost every line. Fair enough they didn’t have much to play with but surely that would mean they would have scope to create something brilliant. The CGI wolves weren’t very good either, although I agreed on their size: werewolves are big, they just shouldn’t look like they belong in a CBBC cartoon.

I know many loved the films but when you’re a fan, you make that thing like family be it a band an actor – whatever. You love it and accept it, warts and all. Twilight, New Moon is definitely one of those warts. I was never moved, not when Edward leaves Bella or when they’re reunited. It doesn’t help that I find Kirsten Stewart’s character really bloody annoying. What kind of self respecting woman behaves like such a zombie. You want him, go fight for him or get a hobby and move on. Don’t just sit in a room, do something! Which shouldn’t include trying to kill yourself so you can hear his voice, or see his face. Geez.

The fact is Twilight, New Moon is dull. The most emotion I was able to give to the film was when I realised I still had an hour and a half left. I’m no quitter and watched it until the end but I wasn’t happy. The film just seems to be lacking that something that makes you take something from it; be it a thought, an idea, a feeling; I don’t know, something.

Twilight, New Moon just shows you a depressed eighteen year old that has a fear of ageing (could be because of society, as well as her want to look as young as her 100 and something year old boyfriend). She is stupid enough to believe he is leaving her even though he says he loves her all the time. This means one of two things: she thinks he’s lying about loving her which means she’s happy dating a liar and she’s happy to love someone that she doesn’t think loves her back. That’s weird. I know love makes you do stupid things (I’m one of those suckers in love) but come on! That’s just ridiculous.

In the books, obsession rather than love is depicted, at least in the second book. I don’t know if this was done on purpose or if it was accidental to make Bella such a needy individual but still, that’s the way it is. The film isn’t able to conjure feelings of love or obsession – friendship is barely made clear.

The reason I know it’s a bad film and why I know I will never be watching it again is quite simple. Firstly nothing happens, which is obviously something that you hope won’t actually transgress in a film: nothing. Secondly, it’s boring. Everything is bland, like it was created by uninspired people who wanted to get to the better books. Nothing stirs anything in you, it doesn’t move you, it’s just there. A moving picture on TV saying something that goes in one ear and out of another. Lastly I don’t feel anything for this film, I don’t hate it and I don’t like it. It’s that bad that it hasn’t actually stirred an opinion in me (arguable considering I wrote this post though). I don’t really know what to think of it. It’s just there, a film I watched. In a word, it’s just meh.

So yeah, um I watched Twilight.

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The Best Reads of My Life so Far

I have loved reading for as long as I can remember. My mum says I used to read books and my own stories to anyone that would listen including Panda (a toy panda, I wasn’t creative with names then clearly, who still has a presence in my room). My love of books has never diminished, it’s only grown with all the amazing, awful and admittedly average books I have read.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs with a lot of top and worst tens or sevens or whatever covering a range of subjects. I’m partial to the good old list and curiosity combined with my love of list making means that I was bound to write something like this sooner rather than later. Inevitable really.

So here are my top ten best books I’ve ever read. I already feel guilty for all the magnificent books I have left out. To ease my conscience I have included a little acknowledgement at the end. And due to my ability to judge everything bar books this list isn’t in order. If it had been you wouldn’t see this list for at least ten years.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

These should not be under the Children’s Fiction category. They’re simply astounding. Philip Pullman paints a picture with words like no other. Out of the trilogy I couldn’t decide which was my favourite book, that’s testament to how much I adore them. Everytime I read them I fall in love with the story, the characters, the adventure all over again. Exhilarating.

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

I read this for the first time when I was feeling lonely, took a trip to Waterstones and The Great Gatsby called for me. It’s a great, short read. Fitzgerald creates such a layered story with this that as a reader you can’t help but become completely engrossed. I think I fell in love with Gatsby slightly; he’s a electric character and his loneliness and wanting spoke to me in volumes. Subtle and beautiful.

The 10th Kingdom by Kathryn Wesley

Not widely know sadly but something I have been recommending to those that don’t read and those that don’t like magic; I always promise them this epic will change their minds. Fairytales that we all know like they were our own story are interwoven into modern life. Traipsing through different worlds and kingdoms it’s just a great escapism novel. And you can’t help but smiling when you recognise a character or a breath of a fairytale that you know so well.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Whoever reads this will become a book lover. I wanted to be friends with Jem and Scout – I still do and Atticus is just amazing. His calm, his strength makes him one of the most admirable characters that I have ever read about. I will always be in debt to my secondary school English teacher for telling me to read this book. It’s themes, motifs and fantastic narrative make it an obvious classic and a worthy addition of any top ten list.

Run by Ann Patchett

It’s such an emotional read. I’ve read Run about four times and each time it’s a riveting read. The twists are brilliant and you can see that the narrative as been carefully thought of. The characters are part of an unlikely plot that seems to be a snapshot of real life in a beautiful and thought provoking. Her description of the movement and the senses in the novel is just intoxicating.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

I love Ian McEwan. I think the man is amazing and one of the most talented writers of today. Atonement is just rich. Rich in detail, rich in colour, rich in emotion. It’s simply wonderful. I cried like a loser by the end and to make myself feel better began reading it all over again. It’s an understated masterpiece: what isn’t there to love?

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

It’s a love story but in the most strangest of ways. I love the way the narrative follows tenuously Clare’s life, not the love between her and Henry. Henry’s time travel is the main concern and it is fascinating. I love that the narrative flicks meaning that you really get a sense of Henry’s blessing and curse. For her debut novel, she set the standard high. It’s just a fascinating story, a brilliant concept and a great read. It’ll never get boring, no matter how many times you read it.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

It’s fantastic. Twists and turns, stories within stories; there is so much to sink your teeth into. There’s no opportunity to get bored with The Thirteenth Tale. It’s a deeply layered novel that is engrossing, thrilling and shocking. You’ll become addicted to it, a page turner like you’ll never imagine. But once I finished reading it all I could do was sit and think. The story and its characters stayed in my head for ages. It’s like the most vivid and exciting dream you’ll ever have.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

It’s an easy read in terms of the fact that it is written so well and flows so beautifully that you lose your concept of the real world and real time. It deals with the subject of a racist 60s America is a comedic way without detracting from the seriousness of the themes. You walk alongside many of the characters, you feel their pain and you celebrate with them. It’s angers you with the injustice and stupidity of some of the ignorant characters, you cry and laugh all in the same book. It’s emotional and it’s fabulous. I recommend it to everyone.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

This is my favourite book in the whole wide world. It is just magnificent. It’s written wonderfully. The concept is unique, individual and inspiring. Pi is a fascinating character and it’s a book that you can’t help but fall in love with. It’s deep and hugely entertaining. Life of Pi takes you on an adventure that you couldn’t even dream of. It is an utterly original novel. It’s for the dream seekers, the ambitious, the curious, the inspired. It’s for those that want more than just a book. You’ll never forget it. It will be THE best book you ever read. I promise.

And the rest: The Notebook, The BFG, Shadow in the Wind, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Romeo and Juliet, Kensuke’s Kingdom, The Outcast and Small Wars (both by Sadie Jones – a brilliant writer!)

The books I’ve mentioned, if you haven’t read before I definitely recommend them all. They’re fabulous books, entertaining and emotion in abundance. It would be criminal not to read them.

I’m about to start The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, which I’ve wanted to read for ages bought by the boy as he knew my reading list (apart from all the academic things) was low. I’m a very lucky girl.

If anyone has any recommendations for me then let me know. I’d love to hear about favourites that I could add to my list of loved reads.


Still no internet…

It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have the internet. It’s marvellous to find out you don’t actually miss IT, just the convenience it brings you when needing to complete university work.

I forgot what it was like to have time; I forgot what it was like to sit in silence without hearing the buzz or drone of my laptop being forever switched on. I now only turn on my laptop to do work or something along those lines, it’s a whole new world for me. I have been without internet for about four days, five by the time I get to post this tomorrow morning when I trek onto campus. Want to know what’s crazy? I don’t feel deprived. I almost, wait for it, like it.

I have more time to sit and chill, I am not checking Facebook, Pinterest or Tumblr all the time (I’m a fan of all now, an ashamed and hateful fan of Facebook, I should add, but pathetically still a fan).  I am preparing my coursework, work and paper schedules WAY early. Why? Because I can. Because I figure once the internet arrives, this calm state of bliss, organised mind and ability to spend my time doing useful things may come to an end. It makes me a little sad.

I am preparing, like those charming pessimists, for the worst though, which is reverting back to my once internet addicted state. Hence my preparation at organising my work and starting everything early; this second term at university is always an extremely busy one and with the distraction of the internet, things take that little longer to get started. (Thankfully, once I’m on a roll with work, nothing can stop me. Not even the internet, like those cheeses they roll down hills somewhere in England. I would tell you the correct name and form it into some kind of joke but I have no internet to Google it).

So I’m writing this the night before I’m posting it, after reading a chapter of my book and about to read some more. Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading onto campus to do some work and will make the most out of the internet the university provides and put this post up on wordpress, do a little research and send some emails that need to be sent. I can already tell you that I won’t check anything out on Facebook, Pinterest or Tumblr like I would normally. I’ll check my emails, grab a few references for books I need and then I’ll head on home.

Geez, this no internet thing has really changed me.