Category Archives: Fiction

Thursday (Without) Tea: A Room With a View

I still love the idea of Thursday Tea, so I have been thinking that if I cannot get an actual bookish post written, I might just settle for an update of sorts through this format. Until I arrived back home from work today and realised that there is one problem: The water boiler I use for tea has been moved to the new house already, and here, in this apartment with only the bare essentials (and all the books in boxes) left, I cannot drink any tea anymore!

So instead, I give you: a thursday without tea.

Fortunately, I have been reading in between packing and preparing for a paper presentation (Seriously, WHY did I figure it was a good idea to attempt to write a paper for a conference in between pregnancy and moving, even if the conference theme is perfect?!)

These past few days, I have been reading A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. Another one of those classics that has lingered on my shelves for years and years and years. I never knew quite what to expect of it, but then I read the back cover while packing and decided that I simply must give it a go.

And it is turning out to be rather lovely! The writing is wonderful. The plot might seem predictable, but it is executed very nicely. And I love the themed critique of the power of what imagery of women can do to curtail women from being individuals and instead constantly aiming to live up to an image that society imposes. I also like how it shows that this imagery harms both women ánd men, because both struggle to look beyond it to the person behind the facade that is expected at every turn. The image of the room, used in discourse between Lucy and Cecil as a metaphor for this kind of relationship and between Lucy and George for what might be found beyond societal expectations: it’s simple, but it really spoke to me.

Conclusion: I am enjoying my time with this book very much. Even if I have to read it with plain water instead of tea.

101 and Counting..

I have passed the 100 books mark in the combined 1001 Books Your Must Read Before You Die List. There are times when I do not care about the list at all, there are others where I find it quite a nice challenge to read something that is on there.. Very often I find myself discussing with the list: Why is this book on there and not this one? Why so little fantasy? Why still an overrepresentation of “white men”? Etc.

Nevertheless, here are some brief thoughts on the three books I recently read that were on the list.

Diary of a Nobody - George and Weedon GrossmithThe Diary of a Nobody – George and Weedon Grossmith*
Penguin Books, 2003 (first published: 1892)

Basically, this quote sums it all up:

“I fail to see – because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’ – why my diary should not be interesting.”

Diary of a Nobody is the (fictional) diary of average middle class(?) Mr Pooter. We follow his everyday adventures and observations, as he renovates parts of his house, some of his friends come to visit, and his son starts living at home again after losing his job. It is a humorous book that at once proves that the life of an ordinary person can make for worthwhile reading, while simultaneously poking fun at the habits of people like Mr Pooter and the idea that their lives might be interesting at all.

While Diary of a Nobody is a fast and perfectly entertaining read, I wasn’t as enraptured by it as I expected from some of the reactions that I have seen on the internet. I mostly blame me though. I tend to find humour a little tiring after a while, and I might have liked this better had I not read it in one sitting, but in several.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan DoyleThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle*
Oxford World’s Classics, 2008 (first published 1892)

Many years ago [I cannot believe it was back in 2010!] I won a complete set of Sherlock Holmes books through a twitter competition held by Oxford World’s Classics. Being me, I continuously planned to start reading them and yet never did. I finally picked up one of the books last week.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of 12 stories about Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, many of these are considered widely known, but uneducated Iris did not know any of them. I cannot say that these mysteries had me riveted and on the edge of my seat, but I do not think that is what these stories are supposed to do. Instead, they are very entertaining stories, and that is exactly what I was: entertained  much more so than I expected to be. Perhaps it is time to read one of the novels next?

The White Tiger - Aravind AdigaThe White Tiger – Aravind Adiga*
Atlantic Books, 2008

The White Tiger is the story of “entrepreneur” Balram and how he came to be succesful. He writes the story of his success to the Chinese minister who is supposed to visit India to learn about entrepreneurship. Balram, who has adopted the nickname White Tiger because it indicates a very rare species, is not a very reliable narrator, nor is the reader ever sure if we should be on his side. Pretty early on in th story (the last sentence of the first chapter), we find out that Balram’s vision of entrepreneurship entails something that very few of us would capture under that heading. He then continues to explain why he did what he did. Meanwhile, he portrays the stark divides between the rich and poor in India, and the manner in which corruption works to keep this divide in tact.

Again, The White Tiger is a very readable book. I read this in one sitting (which seems to be my reading mode lately). I had expected this one to be difficult, both in style and theme, but really it is not. The theme is heavy but is wrapped in a deceptively lighthearted style. And somehow this works? Even though I would never have expected it, and it still bewilders me a little after finishing the book. I wish I could offer you a more in-depth opinion than this one, but honestly? bewildered seems to be a key word in how I feel about this book. It was entertaining, and cruel, and a little horrid at times. The narrator is fascinating but occasionally entirely unsympathetic. I feel as if I could never say I loved this book, yet it is hard to pinpoint why except that its topic is.. well.. difficult? And I did think it a good book? Perhaps a little bleak… But then again, that hardly seems a reason to detract from the quality of the novel.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Sometimes you are in the mood to read books that have lingered on your shelves forever and yet always skip over because you want to like them too much. Or is that just me? Anyway, that mood struck this week, which meant I finally took the time to settle down with a book (it had been far too long!).

Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie // Harper Perennial, 2005

Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie // Harper Perennial, 2005

One of these was Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie*. It was the last unread Adichie I had on my shelves (I still need to buy Americanah) and I kept postponing reading it.

Part of that had to do with the fact that this is the story of Kambili who grows up in a religious household. Her father is a strict Catholic who is beloved by the community, but is authoritarian and abusive at home. When Kambili and her brother go to stay with their aunt after a military coup, they slowly learn to live outside their father’s rules a little.

I do not know why I am always so nervous about reading books that have religion as a central theme, while these are the books that are very fascinating to me at the same time. I guess I fear I will have to engage with them too much on a scholarly level, taking away from my enjoyment of the actual story. And I am always a little afraid that authors won’t do justice to the complexities of religious life (now that I think about it, that probably has to do with the way religion is so often treated in the media nowadays).

Of course, I might have known that I needn’t fear that Adichie would not acknowledge said complexities. Yes, the father is abusive and it is hard not to see how religion serves to provide the reasoning behind his strict hand (side note: there are definitely other circumstances mentioned in the book as well, it is more that all of his life functions within a religious worldview, not that “religion says you should hit your family”). But that’s just the thing, Adichie shows that this is what a religious worldview becomes for the father. She contrasts this with the lives of the aunt and their religious “father”, where religion is often about laughter and freedom. By also introducing a grandfather who keeps to his tradition beliefs, “a traditionalist” in the words of Kambili’s aunt, and showing how for him religion means being grateful, loving, and hopeful, she does not create a stark divide between Catholicism and other religions, but instead shows how religion can take on the same and different meaning across denominational divides. Moreover, Kambili’s father is not simply a “bad man”, he is also a very socially engaged man who, in the name of religion, donates generously to others.

I also found it fascinating how colonialism as well as the flowering of Pentecostal churches intertwined with the narratives about how the characters shaped their religious lives.

As always, Adichie drew me into the world of her fiction and wouldn’t let me go until I had finished the book – which is why I read for 3-4 hours straight until I had come to the end. I need more books by Adichie in my life. Or by authors like her.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Catching Up #1: Brief Thoughts on Some YA Books

Since we definitely found out that we are moving, and given the fact that my concentration span is not always as good lately, I decided to take a somewhat different approach to reading from my shelves. Instead of picking up books that I had wanted to read for forever, I tried to read the books that I knew I wanted to read someday, but was not entirely sure I would enjoy anymore. The manner of justifying this was that having read them, I might more easily decide whether to keep them or get rid of them before the move.

I am not saying that this is entirely fair to all of the books I read lately. Nor have all of my choices been based on this premise, since I have also picked up quite a few that were very high on my “I want to read and love it” list lately. However, I think this was the idea with which I picked up the books I shall briefly give you my thoughts on below.

If these mini-reviews seem super short, it is because I am trying to get back into the flow of blogging. Of course, I am already worried that I am selling any books short by giving them this introduction, and not paying full attention to them, but.. I think I should stop worrying and allow myself to post something already.

Before I Fall - Lauren OliverBefore I Fall – Lauren Oliver
Hodder and Stoughton, 2010

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

I can hear you thinking “but every one loved this, how come she wasn’t all that keen to pick this up from her shelves?”. The fact is, after reading Oliver’s Delirium, and then becoming more acquainted with the dystopian genre, I was quite disappointed in the book and I wasn’t sure whether the same disappointment wouldn’t go for Before I Fall. 

 In Before I Fall, Samantha Kingston relives the last day of her life over and over again. And by doing so, she comes to reconsider the way in which she lived, the manner in which she treated family and friends, and finally figures out how to do what is best for those she loves and for herself.

I admit, I was skeptical about this book during the first half. Samantha Kingston simply seemed the kind of person I couldn’t hope to connect with and I was terribly annoyed at reading some of her considerations and self-indulgences. I only stuck with the book because I felt that these annoyances might serve an actual purpose. And they did.. In the end, the book swayed me. I liked how it approached topics like popularity and bullying and facing the consequences of your actions without losing your sense of self.  Before I Fall is a very powerful book that I think will speak to teenagers across the board. I, of course, cried all over the last few chapters.

Having said so, I admit that in the end, every time I think of this book, I cannot help but be reminded of the doubts I had while reading the first half of the book, next to the emotions and power of the second half. So yes, I am still a little bit tentative about what I actually think about this one. It might merit a reread someday to see how I actually feel about it.

Reunited - Hilary Weisman GrahamReunited – Hilary Weisman Graham
Simon and Schuster, 2012

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

Reunited is about three former best friends who grew up together as fans of the band Level3. Having separated with a fight years ago, they reunite as they undertake a road trip to see Level3 at their reunion show.

I wish I could say I liked this book better. Road trip stories can be so much fun. Instead, a lot of what happened here seemed a little too farfetched. And the three girls all seemed a bit too much like caricatures of the kind of high school girl they were meant to represent to make them work as characters you could care for. Moreover, the song lyrics seemed a little too prominent in a book when they, in my opinion, were not all that good or meaningful. Entertaining, and a fast read, but the book dragged a little too much for me to really enjoy it.

The Alchemy of ForeverThe Alchemy of Forever – Avery Williams
Simon and Schuster, 2012

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

I picked up The Alchemy of Forever when I visited the Boekenfestijn together with some other Dutch book bloggers last year. We all bought a copy of the book, as we intended to make it a first joint read. However, following that day, most of us quickly lost interest in it. William’s paranormal YA has lingered on my shelves since, and I decided to finally pick it up this weekend.

In The Alchemy of Forever, we follow Seraphina who has been alive since the Middle Ages when her boyfriend Cyrus found an alchemic way to separate soul from body, enabling Seraphina to switch bodies at will. However, centuries later, Seraphina has become uncomfortable with Cyrus’ demanding ways and her need to kill the souls of innocent people in order to take over their bodies and stay alive. Deciding to flout Cyrus’ authority, Seraphina does not take over the body Cyrus has selected for her and instead intends to die. However, she ends up in the body of teenager Kailey by accident, and for the first time in centuries, starts to care deeply about the possibilities that life brings, and the family and friends of Kailey.

In the end, this book wasn’t at all as bad as I had expected it to be. I blame my reluctance to pick it up on the large amount of paranormal YA that we have seen in the past few years. Admittedly, The Alchemy of Forever does not bring that much that is new (although it does consider the immortal vs guilt trope from a somewhat different angle), but it is well-written and the romance is not as prominent, or at least not as overwhelming, as to become the whole point of the book.

I finished this in a few hours (something that hadn’t happened for months!) – which I think is what made me appreciate this book. A definite downside to the book is that what makes the idea of incarnates (of which Seraphina is one) and Cyrus so scary, could have received a little more attention. And, of course, it appears to be part of a series – of which I am not sure I could be bothered to pick up the second book. I might just decide that what was meant as a “cliffhanger”, could function as an ending – albeit ambiguously – to the story as well.

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Expect quite a few of these posts in the upcoming weeks (if I actually write them as I intend to do), since I have read quite a few books on which I’d like to share my brief thoughts.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My edition (in poor lighting, alas) of A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
Puffin Books, 1971 (First published 1968)

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

I read my first Ursula Le Guin, everyone!

Not having written many posts about books lately, I am a little lost for words, really..

A Wizard of Earthsea is the story of Ged, a boy who we are told will be a great wizard in later years, but of which very little is told about his earlier ones. In A Wizard of Earthsea we follow his training during his first years, as Ged aims to become a wizard. This is training in skills, but also in character. As Ged is tempted by pride, he unleashes an evil that he subsequently has to chase through the archipelago of Earthsea, in order to set his mistake right.

The thing is, I was happy to remember that Ana told me that while this is the beginning of the series, it might not really portray what is so great about it. That later on, more would be done with gender assumptions etcetera that would make it more enjoyable.

I did enjoy reading A Wizard of Earthsea. The prose was wonderful, felt a little lyrical – and yet remained very readable. It drew me in, and the world building that came along with it felt utterly natural.

What remains is the question of immediacy. While I felt for Ged, I missed a certain compunction to really care, that rush that makes you want to turn page after page.. Instead, it were the words and the prose that kept me reading through the first half, while it was only during the second half that I was pulled in by the story (even though, I admit, the sorcery school in the first half was intriguing, as these settings, I think, will always be to me).

The ending was satisfactory, and I liked the exploration of fear and finding the true nature of yourself as empowerment.

I fear there is little more to say, but I am happy I have a few more books left in this series, and a whole lot more of Le Guin. I am very much looking forward to reading more about Ged, and hopefully finding some challenge to the idea that “these are just women” in subsequent novels – which seemed to be voiced by characters a few times during the first half of the book.

Other, much more articulate, opinions can be found here.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.