Sunday 30 January 2011

Pride and Prejudice (well, sort of)

I came late to Pride and Prejudice. I think I was in my late 30s when I first read it. Older than most I suspect. Naturally I was aware of the myth and aura surrounding this book. Actually I don't think I was all that bowled over by my first reading. It took me a while to get into, but eventually I did get the felicity of her language, and enjoyed it well enough. I've reread it twice I believe since then, and like it more each time. I'm not usually one to reread so this is a rather new experience for me. The story is becoming more familiar and more comforting with each rereading.

My local library held a Jane Austen bookgroup for a while, inspired by the book and film of the same name, and I got to read all of her major works except for Sense and Sensibility ( a gap that I must rectify at some stage, hopefully in 2011 as it is the bicentenary of publication), and many of the minor works. I've watched most movie versions that are available (again except S&S) of her works, and enjoyed them, even up to modern remakings such as Clueless , which, dare I say it? I enjoy more than the original Emma! Like every woman of a certain age I sat there agog, captivated by the small screen as Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle brought Jane Austen's most famous tale to life in the mid 1990s.

I was then greatly interested in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies when it came out in 2009. Which is odd. I'm not into the zombie movie genre at all, but for some reason I loved the cover, even whilst being vaguely disturbed by it. I was compelled to buy the book the first time I saw it in a shop. No pondering, no reading back covers- just snatch and grab.

It seems the perfect mix of Austen and Zombie. Even now I can't help but think how wrong that sentence is. It's a completely ridiculous pairing. So why is it that it works? I don't know that I'll ever be able to explain why I like this book. Why I so  enjoyed the experience of reading this book. I didn't expect to. But I did. It is funny what pulls you up though. I can suspend disbelief and imagine that the Bennet girls have all been trained in the deadly arts in China, and that they revel in the beheading of the undead. But that Lady Catherine de Bourgh is equally famed for her deadly combat skills? Well, that just seems wrong! And certainly Seth Grahame-Smith has done a fabulous job with this homage to Austen's most famous work. It was to become a publishing sensation, and rightly so. I don't know that I'll read any of the other zombie works, but this one taste was certainly rewarding and fun.

My other recent P&P experience was watching the original 1940 movie version with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier.

Interesting to read that Aldous Huxley was the scriptwriter. What an interesting experience. Of course there has been widespread condemnation over the costumes, which are not right at all for the regency period, although it would be intriguing to see the colours of the frocks.

There are also major discrepancies from the plot of the book of course. There is what amounts to a car chase scene early on between Mrs Bennet and Mrs Lucas. Mustard plasters (sinapisms) whilst fascinating aren't true to Austen. A garden party that never existed. And gross liberties have been taken with the dialogue. Such as Darcy's remarkable comment that "Every Hottentot can dance."

It's funny but I don't remember Mr Bennet saying "They're all silly and ignorant like most girls." But, on checking he certainly does.

And the ending! What a shocker. It is a fun movie to watch though (even if I did fall asleep through most of it the first time, and have to watch it again- without wine- to see the movie through), and is one that easily counts as a Movie Made Before I was Born.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Top 100 Children's Novels List

I've known about this list for a while, indeed I watched it come to life on Fuse #8 last year. Somewhat surprisingly, I've never tallied up my total. Until now. After a little nudge from my friend Laura. She didn't mean to nudge me, but she'd done her tally, and now I have to do mine.

The one's I've read are in RED.

#1 Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

#5 From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E. L. Konigsburg 
(see my review)

#6 Holes - Louis Sachar (see my review)

#7 The Giver - Lois Lowry 
(see my review)

#8 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett 
(see my review)

Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin

#12 The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien 
(see my review)

#13 Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson

#14 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling

#15 Because of Winn-Dixie - Kate DiCamillo

#16 Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh (see my review)

#17 Maniac Magee - Jerry Spinelli

#18 Matilda - Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

#20 Tuck Everlasting - Natalie Babbitt (see my review)

#21 Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan

#22 The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread - Kate DiCamillo (see my review)

#23 Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder

#24 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

#25 Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

#26 Hatchet - Gary Paulsen 
(see my review)

#27 A Little Princess - Francis Hodgson Burnett

#28 Winnie-the Pooh - A.A. Milne

#29 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland /Alice Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

#30 The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

#31 Half Magic - Edward Eager

#32 Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - Robert C. O'Brien

#33 James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl (see my review)

#34 Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 - Christopher Paul Curtis

#35 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling

#36 Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume (see my review)

#37 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred Taylor (see my review)

#38 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling

#39 When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead

#40 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum

#41 The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Elizabeth George Speare

#42 Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder

#43 Ramona the Pest - Beverly Cleary

#44 Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Judy Blume

#45 The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman

#46 Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls

#47 Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis

#48 The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy - Jeanne Birdsall

#49 Frindle - Andrew Clements

#50 Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell (see my review)

#51 The Saturdays - Elizabeth Enright

#52 The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick (see my review)

#53 Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame 
(see my review)

#54 The BFG - Roald Dahl

#55 The Great Gilly Hopkins - Katherine Paterson

#56 Number the Stars - Lois Lowry

#57 Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Beverly Cleary

#58 The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken (see my review)

#59 Inkheart - Cornelia Funke

#60 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi

#61 Stargirl - Jerry Spinelli

#62 The Secret of the Old Clock (The Nancy Drew mysteries) - Caroline Keene

#63 Gone-Away Lake - Elizabeth Enright

#64 A Long Way from Chicago - Richard Peck

#65 Ballet Shoes - Noah Streatfeild (see my review)

#66 Henry Huggins - Beverly Cleary

#67 Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Bruce Coville

#68 Walk Two Moons - Sharon Creech

#69 The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart

#70 Betsy Tacy - Maud Hart Lovelace

#71 A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning - Lemony Snicket

#72 My Father's Dragon - Ruth Stiles Gannett

#73 My Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George 
(see my review)

#74 The Borrowers - Mary Norton (see my review)

#75 Love That Dog - Sharon Creech

#76 Out of the Dust - Karen Hesse

#77 City of Ember - Jeanne DuPrau

#78 Johnny Tremain - Esther Forbes

#79 All-of-a-Kind Family - Sydney Taylor

#80 The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman 
(see my review)

#81 Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Grace Lin

#82 The Book of Three - Lloyd Alexander

#83 The Thief - Megan Whalen Turner

#84 Little White Horse - Elizabeth Goudge

#85 On the Banks of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder

#86 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling

#87 The View from Saturday - E. L. Konigsburg

#88 The High King - Lloyd Alexander

#89 Ramona and her Father - Beverly Cleary

#90 Sarah, Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan

#91 Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Louis Sachar

#92 Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine

#93 Caddie Woodlawn - C. R. Brink 
(see my review)

#94 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome 
(see my review)

Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren

#96 The Witches - Roald Dahl (see my review)

#97: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - Kate DiCamillo

Children of Green Knowe - L.M. Boston

#99 The Indian in the Cupboard - Lynne Reid Banks

#100 The Egypt Game - Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Hmmm, 28/100. I've started a few other ones, but these are the ones I know that I've finished. It just means that I have 72 fabulous books to go! 

And now 6 months of fabulous reads later, I've only managed an extra one taking the total to 29- The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Somewhat sadly, after nearly two years of continual reading, I've only managed to up my tally by 5 to 34/100. Clearly, Holes and The Giver need to move up my TBR. 

March 2013, have added 3 more, now up to 37/100, becoming more respectable. 

Sept 2014, 39/100

August 2015 40/100

September 2015 41/100

December 2015 43/100

June 2017 46/100

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday 26/1/11

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a wonderful weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. It's hosted by Kathy at bermudaonion.

It's Australia Day. I should be celebrating some Australian words I suppose, but instead have some classically British words for the day instead. I recently read Matilda for the first time, one of Roald Dahl's classic books for children.

Matilda is the story of a brilliant, young girl who teaches herself to read age 3. She has then read an extraordinary range of classics including Dickens, Hemingway, Austen and The Brontes by the time she starts school at 5. There are many wonderful words in Matilda that I was already familiar with- piffle (although I use this much too rarely, and am planning to take it up with vigour, you have been warned), twerp (also underutilised) and brigand.

The words that I want to highlight though are words that I sort of knew, but didn't really know the meaning of them when I thought about it. I knew vague meanings, and the sentence made sense, but knew they could benefit from further consideration.

1. Wormwood. Matilda's surname is Wormwood, and wormwood came up in the very last book that I read (Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth). Few things grew, and those that did were bent and twisted and their fruit was as bitter as wormwood.

I love synchronicity, so it was inevitable that it had to come up here. Wormwood sounded familiar, but I wasn't sure. Then the absinthe meaning came flooding back.

worm·wood  (wûrmwd)
1. Any of several aromatic plants of the genus Artemisia, especially A. absinthium, native to Europe, yielding a bitter extract used in making absinthe and in flavoring certain wines.
2. Something harsh or embittering.

[Middle English wormwode, alteration (influenced by wormworm, and wodewood, perhaps from the use of its leaves as a vermifuge) of wermod, from Old English wermd, from Germanic *wermdaz.]

2. Borstal. 'Welcome to borstal' she added, spraying bits if crisp out of her mouth like snowflakes.

I had vague notions of Borstal Boy as the title of a book and a term. But not what borstal really meant.

borstal [ˈbɔːstəl]
1. (Sociology) (formerly in Britain) an informal name for an establishment in which offenders aged 15 to 21 could be detained for corrective training. Since the Criminal Justice Act 1982, they have been replaced by youth custody centres (now known as young offender institutions)
2. (Sociology) (formerly) a similar establishment in Australia and New Zealand
[named after Borstal, village in Kent where the first institution was founded]

Not a great way for your village to be immortalised.

3. Seraphic. And then suddenly, click went her face into a look of almost seraphic calm.

I knew it had something to do with angels.

ser·aph  (srf)
n. pl. ser·a·phim (--fm) or ser·aphs
1. A celestial being having three pairs of wings.
2. seraphim Christianity The first of the nine orders of angels in medieval angelology.

[Back-formation from pl. seraphim, from Middle English seraphin, from Old English, from Late Latin seraphn, seraphm, from Greekserapheim, from Hebrew rpîm, pl. of rpfiery serpent, seraph, from rapto burn; see rp1 in Semitic roots.]

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Oscar Wilde Reading Challenge

I wasn't going to sign up for any other reading challenges. I have so much non-challenge reading to do that already puts me under pressure- but Oscar- come on, who can pass him by?

Not me. So I got myself over to Armchair Archives Wilde Reading Challenge. And signed up for a Wilde Card entry. I only have to read two works by Oscar to get there. Maybe this will get me to finally finish the beautifully illustrated book of his fairy tales that I bought about 10 years ago and have only read The Happy Prince from.

After all a mere few months ago I was trekking all over Dublin chasing Oscar. Seeking his birthplace and the house he grew up in

And the most disturbing, disrespectful homage ever

Monday 17 January 2011

Book Blogger Hop: My genre

The Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Crazy for Books each week, as a way to find out about other book blogs. I'm coming in on the tail end of this weeks blogger hop, but wanted to give it a go anyway.

Book Blogger Hop

This weeks question comes from Barb at Sugarbeat's Books:
 "Why do you read the genre that you do?  What draws you to it?"

I'm not totally convinced that I have A genre. I like to read all sorts of books. Literary fiction. Science fiction. Crime fiction. Cookbooks. The I-moved-to-France- met-some-crazy-French-people-with-their-crazy-French-ways,-but-now-it's-all-ok-because-Paris-is-so-amazing books. Non-fiction ( I always want to read so much of it, but am not very good with the follow through). I don't always get to read the variety that I want to read it's true, mainly due to time constraints (why oh why do we have to work for money?). Increasingly though I do read a lot of childrens books. Not just YA either. I like reading books for younger readers, and picture books too.

Why? I find them endlessly fascinating for one. Perhaps they've become a form of escapism? Although I think the authors of books for kids can often display greater imagination and ingenuity than those writing for adults. My interest started growing after my son was born. Initially I was wanting to read great kids books to him, and for him. But then my own interest took over. I wanted to read more of them. Then in late 2009 this book was published, and it changed my life. 

I aksed for it as a Christmas gift that year. Before that Christmas week was up I had started a yahoo group dedicated to reading all 1001 books. My tally is up around 150 now. I think that's pretty good. It's such a fun journey, and has been so interesting on so many levels, it's making me so very happy, and I just want to keep going. I've got to meet some great people (online and in person) who are participating in this journey too. And it turns out childrens authors are a rather fascinating subset of humanity- very interesting in their own right. At the moment I'm on holiday in New Zealand, and one of my happy tasks has been to source the more obscure Kiwi books that are part of the list. It's taking over a bit, but that's ok with me. 

Thursday 13 January 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday 12/1/11

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. It's hosted by Kathy at bermudaonion.
I only have one word this week but it's a cracker- widdershins. From Pond Magic by Angela Sunde- a clever, rather modern kids book where the main character is trying to undo a spell that is turning her into a frog. She uses an online translator to translate a spell from French into English. The first line is translated:
Looking-glass widdershins the turn
The meaning is given to us rather promptly within the text 
'Widdershins? That's not English.'
'It means anti-clockwise.' said Lily. 
My Shorter Oxford defines it (originally from Scotland)
1. In a direction opposite to the usual one; the wrong way round.
2. In a direction contrary to the apparent course of the sun (considered unlucky or associated with occult rites); anticlockwise
Cool. I'm going to try to drop it into conversation sometime soon, so beware. 

Saturday 1 January 2011

Post Seasonal Reading

I don't think anyone, least of all me, would be surprised to hear that my Christmas reading extended beyond Christmas and not just in the lead up. On a beautiful Australian Christmas Day when I feasted on prawns and salmon and slugged back some Ruinart (one of my favourite French bubblies) I started Augusten Burroughs's You Better Not Cry. A book about the most "dysfunctional day of the year".

My day didn't seem all that dysfunctional, it was rather orderly and placid really. Any day that starts with a bottle of French is going to go pretty well I reckon. I've not read any of Burroughs's writing before. I've heard of his many books, but tales of dysfunctional families aren't really my cup of tea. Well, not to read on purpose. Although I am quite happy to watch it on tele. I guess I hadn't avoided his books as such, but they'd never fallen into my path before. This one did, as I was browsing the small Christmas section of my local library, it all but leapt off the shelf into my arms. And casting around for something to start on Christmas day it again seemed the perfect thing. I've not long finished David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice, and this seemed to somehow continue the theme, with the promise of being light-hearted and fun (although perhaps I don't know what is about to befall me). A similar format- here with seven short stories, breaking the book up into bite-sized chunks perfect for whiling away those rest times before post-prandial naps take over. And a perfect size for testing the bookseat that my sister gave me for Christmas (on initial testing it does appear to have a major flaw in that it doesn't appear to keep the user awake whilst reading!).

You Better Not Cry is the titular first story. A highly amusing tale of young Augusten's confusion between Jesus and Santa. I haven't read enough of Augusten Burroughs's work to know how much of this might be true, and how much is artistic licence. It was easy and fun to read. It had never occured to me that young children my confuse Santa and Jesus- after all their one big day a year is on the same day. We get some early glimpses that everything isn't perfect in Augusten's house:

When Joseph just kind of vanished, I figured he was probably just in the basement drinking, just like my father. 

My Mother ..... was taking so much Mellaril that when she spoke, it sounded like her tongue had swollen to the size of a hog's and also like she'd been drinking since the day before yesterday. 

In And Two Eyes Made Out of Coal a young, enthusiastic Augusten sets out to make a gingerbread house as a surprise for his mother. Claus and Effect has a manipulative young Augusten working his parents to get all the stuff he wants for Christmas. His parents are still squabbling frantically with each other. "Christmas is for children, not sorry, raging alchoholics."

Ask Again Later is a sudden jolt into an adult Christmas world. Augusten wakes up on a Morning After the Night Before, and his Christmases will be changed for ever more. 

Why Do You Reward Me Thus starts off with an hilarious interpretation of The Twelve Days of Christmas. I've commented on a few interesting interpretations of this carol before, but Augusten Burroughs take on it is rather unique, and particularly funny. 

"And what's the message? Did you ever notice that a lot of the alleged 'gifts' are people? Eight maids-a-milking, so that's prepubescent girls forced into labor, probably inserting the underwire in bras. And then nine ladies dancing? That's the sex trade. I won't even go into the five golden rings. But somebody's paying somebody off for something.

"Human trafficking and birds? That's a good Christmas song? Oh, and swans, which are the drunk, violent ex-boyfriends of the bird world. Because what would any holiday be without a little domestic violence?"

I wonder what it is about that particular carol that captivates everyone so? Wiki says it is possibly French in origin, and was only brought to the US in 1910 (from England).

Why Do You Reward Me Thus is even more curmudgeonly than the preceding tales, and is I think my favourite story of the book. At one stage Augusten is receiving advice from a person who he has met over Christmas, who doesn't inhabit his typical world, she makes him "Promise me that you will- every once in a while- watch a movie that was made before you were born." I love that I already watch the occasional Movie That Was Made Before I was Born, and they always have a different perspective. I'll make more of an effort now too, and remember Shirley's advice to Augusten as I do it. Shirley goes on to do an amazing anti-drinking soliloquy on the next page. Very powerful. 

The Best and Only Everything seems more a relationship story that is only tangentially related to Christmas. I found it confusing and not as enjoyable as the book overall. Silent Night is the last story and is written by an adult, sober Augusten. "I'd even had my first colonscopy. It doesn't get more grown up than that." Augusten has made a new life, with a new partner and two dogs. He explains his rather inexplicable life-long love of Christmas:

"I have always loved Christmas. Even when I was in my twenties and trying to be very cool and anti-Christmas, secretly I still loved it. And I know that's kind of idiotic, but there you go. I mean, I buy all of it: the cheesy music, the gaudy lights, and the spray snow, especially the spray snow. So the thing is, I have loved Christmas my entire life, and yet? Every single one has really been kind of hideous. Or maybe hideous isn't the word. Maybe it's more like, catclysmic. It's like I have a genuine Christmas curse of something."

You Better Not Cry is not your average Big Crosby White Christmas kind of Christmas fare. But if you like you Christmas reading with alcoholic blackouts, sleazy Santa, and genuinely funny writing you might enjoy this book as much as I did. At the end it's padded out with two stories from Running With Scissors. Which is ok in a kids book, but really annoys me in an adult book- no, I don't know why that should be. Naturally though by the end of You Better Not Cry I was interested enough in Augusten's other books that I read it. And so now Running with Scissors has been lobbed onto the TBR too.