Books I've read

Sandra's book montage

The Catcher in the Rye
The Great Gatsby
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Romeo and Juliet
Lord of the Flies
Little Women
A Tale of Two Cities
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Lovely Bones
The Secret Life of Bees
Under the Tuscan Sun
The Da Vinci Code
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The Hobbit
The Golden Compass
Pride and Prejudice
The Time Traveler's Wife
Jane Eyre
The Notebook

Sandra's favorite books »

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Books, Boilers and Broken Locks

So reading week is over and we're back to normal timetable.  I managed to hand in my first essay yesterday - we had to write a critical commentary of two passages of someone's work and boy was I critical.  I did feel yesterday that the author should have the opportunity of taking apart two paragraphs of something I have written - I'm sure he would have a lot of fun.  Of course I reached that point where I didn't want to submit the essay at all - it looked so nice: pretty front cover; nice double-spacing and lovely footnotes as opposed to the in-text referencing that the OU wanted.  It's just a shame that anyone has to look at the content!  Anyway four weeks 'til we get them back so three and a half weeks of bliss and then a few sleepless nights.  How mean are King's that this counts?

Course-wise we are looking at The Secret Agent and The Ladies' Paradise this week. 

Although I enjoyed Apocalypse Now I really didn't like Heart of Darkness so I wasn't looking forward to this at all.  I actually found The Secret Agent much better.  I thought the story was more engaging and I was interested in the characters.  The theme for this week is 'Terror at the Heart of Empire' which, without giving away what the story is about, is the theme of the book.  Of course this has a contemporary resonance for us as I'm sure I wouldn't have to look too far to find something about domestic terrorism in a tabloid newspaper.  Perhaps that made the story more appealing?  My only concern with Conrad is I feel a certain sense of distance in his writing - he seems to stand back from his characters - but that could be because he is writing in his third language which is a pretty amazing feat!  I would recommend this book as a good introduction to Conrad, certainly much more worthwhile than Heart of Darkness in my opinion (although if you are looking for a critique of empire then HoD is obviously your book!)

I don't know if you can see this properly but this is the cover of Zola's The Ladies' Paradise.  I really like Zola.  He wrote what he described as 'naturalistc' books, that is to say he felt you should just put characters into a situation and see how they got on with it.  I'm not sure I can agree with his view that the novel is an experiment and the novelist doesn't have much to do with it.  After all he is creating the characters, the environment into which to put them and what happens to them.  Zola wrote a series of 18 novels, describing two families and their adventures.  I've read Germinal which is ostensibly about a mining strike in northern France but is actually about how people live and love.  It's excellent.  The Ladies' Paradise is superficially about a much more gentile subject, the rise of the department store in Hausmann's Paris but is again about people's lives and loves and decisions.  I really enjoyed this also and would definitely look for more of Zola's work.  Both books are fully recommended to you.

On a less pleasant matter I'm still having issues in the non-Uni world.  Yesterday I managed to lose my keys and, as T is away at the moment, I locked myself out.  Luckily the locksmith came quickly and fitted a nice new lock for me.  I must have looked very suspicious, just standing outside a door as it got darker and colder but at least it wasn't too cold and it was dry and I was back inside within an hour of calling the locksmith.  About two hours later I realised my boiler wasn't working so no heating or hot water.  Because of my schedule the first time I can get British Gas out is Friday morning.  I can cope without the hot water (lots of kettles) and I've persuaded myself that it isn't that cold so I don't need the heating (and indeed this morning seems to be as bad as it will get) but please keep your fingers crossed for me it's only a little part that's needed and not a new boiler!

Thank you for reading & hopefully the next entry will be more cheerful.  I'm hoping to finish Vile Bodies and the new Stephen King so will try and update on those.  Thanks again ...

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reading Week

It's 'Reading Week' this week. I thought that this would be a staple of all universities but as I have found out it doesn't happen everywhere let me explain that this is a week when you do exactly as it says on the tin; catch up on your reading.  It's a real luxury and enabled me to write the first draft of my first essay yesterday.  I'm suffering a bit from a cold at the moment so I'm anticipating that I wrote a load of old rubbish but I'll find out when I start to edit tomorrow.  The thing that is worrying me most is King's reference differently from the Open University so I will have to pore over my MHRA stylebook tomorrow and see if I can make sense.  I always think the worst thing about an essay is that blank piece of paper staring at you so at least I have plenty to edit (or so the theory goes).

My other goals are to do some reading about T.S. Eliot to help me think about my MA dissertation and enable me to start talking to someone about a PhD proposal (how scary is that - we're only 6 weeks into the MA!)  I've identified who I think could be a supervisor if King's will have me and will need to approach him next week but I want to be able to say something sensible to him.  In addition I need to sort out my thoughts about one of my module essays particulalry what texts I will use & what approaches.  I feel a bit muddled at the moment so hopefully that will all be sorted by next Tuesday (yeah, right!)

But I have taken the opportunity to read some books which aren't on the course - yay!

Meritocracy was written by Jeffrey Lewis who used to be one of the writers on Hill Street Blues.  It's part of a quartet but this is the only one I have read and I think it stands alone well.  It's summer 1966 and a group of Yale graduates meet at one of their family summer homes in Maine.  The family gravitates around a golden couple: Harry, the son of a California senator, and his new wife Sacha.  Our narrator Louie is not old money and, perhaps, a little in love with both Harry & Sacha.  Harry has volunteered for Vietnam although no-one is sure if it is because he thinks it his duty or he will need it to look like he did his duty when he enters politics later in life.  Louie is looking back on this trip and constantly compares Harry to George W. Bush who they knew at Yale.  It's a decent enough read, I don't think you're going to be shocked by what happens but I think if you are looking for something to while away a couple of hours it's good enough. 

As you may know I'm really interested in the Kennedys and have read a lot about them.  T saw this in our local library and thought I would be interested.  If you are interested in the Kennedys too you might want to read it but I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading it without a healthy dose of cynacism.  Heymann claims that Jackie and Bobby had an affair after JFK's assasination - perhaps they did, certainly from everything I have read they were very close.  This is a seedy enough assertion in itself but then he backs it up using interviews with family members and close friends.  I find this difficult to believe.  This is a family that protects itself (and has the money and contacts to do so) as fiercely as any mother with her cub.  Would they really be willing to spill the beans on something which would ruin the reputations of both Jackie and, probably more importantly to them, Bobby?  Heyman aims to show Bobby in as bad a light as possible and so even leaves out some of his dying words (I have read in a number of accounts that he asked if everyone was alright) to make him less likeable.  Now, I'm a biased reader and you may want to take that into account when reading this review but I don't like an author who seems to veer off at any given moment to add another few lines of, irrelevant, malicious gossip.

I love Pride and Prejudice.  It would be one of my desert island books and I have read some sequels most of which aren't up to it and one which was verging on soft porn, Mr. Darcy takes a wife if you must know, although I gave that up after a few chapters (honestly.)  I haven't read any P.D. James, as I'm not particularly a fan of murder mystery unless I'm interested in the setting or the period, but T is a fan of hers and wanted this for completeness.  I have to say that I think I enjoyed it.  I think James captures the world of Pemberley in a way that I can buy into easily.  She has changed some of the characters and I'm not sure I liked that but, it is her book.  She focuses more on Darcy and less on Elizabeth which is interesting.  She also introduces some new characters and does that well.  Mrs. Bennett is absent from Pemberley so if you are a fan you might be disappointed.  James does use characters from Persuasion and Emma briefly in one character's backstory and I found that slightly jarring but not enough to put me off.  I felt the mystery was almost incidental, just a device to get everyone together but that was OK - I liked being with them, for whatever reason.  I think a fan of Pride and Prejudice would find this more enjoyable than a P.D. James murder mystery fan but not if they hate someone making any alterations at all to Austen's characters or world.  I think it's a great Christmas present.

Anyway I must get back to T.S. Eliot so thank you for reading.