Friday, 27 October 2017

Mini Reviews #1

The weight of my required reading for university feels a little crushing right now. It feels like there are so many more books I need to read this year. Thankfully it's more fiction than theory, but at least when I was assigned theory, even when I couldn't understand it for the life in me it was never more than 20 pages. But I have 27 novels/stories/poetry collections I need to read by the end of December, and reading for necessity rather than pleasure does crush the fun out of reading a lot of the time.

Having said that, not everything I've read so far has been bad! There are some I've genuinely enjoyed and am looking forward to learning more about as I try to determine which I will be writing my essays on. So to help myself keep track, and to recommend some books that may be out of your comfort zone as well as mine, here is a series of mini reviews for the reading I've done so far!

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (audiobook) - ★★★★☆
First published in 1907, The Secret Agent has been referred to frequently in modern times due to it's focus on terrorism. I did struggle to follow the story for the first half of the novel, even whilst listening to the audiobook. Usually with audiobooks my attention to the story is more focused, but I had to read chapter summaries online to make sure I didn't zone out in plot points vital to the story. But it all came together for me in the second part of the novel, where I was better able to understand the character dynamics and some of the more twisted mindsets of the secondary characters. It's a very dark novel that addresses the unchanging injustices of the world, but Conrad is able to poke fun at many extreme ideologies at the same time and highlight the flaws in certain ways of thinking. It is a dramatic and depressing book, but ultimately very interesting and thought provoking.
Warnings: gore, bombs, blood, death, murder, suicide, ableist language

Howards End by E.M. Forster (audiobook) - ★★★★☆
I can't quite place what it is about this book that I really liked, but for a book that I assumed to be all about privileged middle class issues of marriage and romance, it did surprise me. It's about sisters Helena and Margaret and their interactions with the neighbouring Wilcox family and their differing ideas regarding society. The sisters are more concerned with and fascinated by the poor and equal rights for women as well as the arts and literature, but the Wilcoxes are more interested by business and success. What interested me about this dynamic was how easily Margaret would be swayed by the Wilcoxes ideas, but also how the circles the sisters were a part of would discuss ideas about improving life for those poorer than themselves, but only regarding specific instances as though only a handful of people struggle, and never actually acting upon their discussions, as though it is simply a way to stimulate their minds with 'difficult' problems that did not really touch them. I also loved how a book such as this published in 1910 discuss the disgusting double standards between women and men when it comes to affairs and how they govern their bodies. Not much comes of it - the woman who calls out her husband is still believed by him to be acting on her irrational femininity, but I loved seeing this theme throughout the novel.
Warnings: murder, death

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx - ★★★★☆

Edit: Upon a second read I appreciated this short story much more and moved it up from a 3 star rating to a 4 star rating.
This short story is one of the most deeply tragic things I have read. To go into details would almost be to ruin it, and I think that's what partially happened for me. I already knew almost word for word what was going to happen to Jack and Ennis and their relationship, and I think that ruined it a little bit for me. It is an amazing story with so much to analyse, but either the shortness of it or the language or the fact that I knew the story already stopped me from fully connecting with it. I'm definitely going to read it again to see what I missed, and I'd highly recommend it for what it represents.
Warnings: death, murder, gore, violence, blood, homophobia

Open Secrets by Alice Munro - ★☆☆☆☆
Not a single one of the short stories in this collection made me feel a thing. I don't blame the nature of the short story as a form, but I really struggled to care about any of the characters in Open Secrets. They all felt painfully long, dragged out, and repetitive. Although I liked how they had shared themes and a shared setting, I cannot for the life in me distinguish between the stories. They all blurred into one, and quite frankly none of them interested me.
Warnings: death, blood, gore

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks - ★★☆☆☆
I aggressively avoid reading any form of horror novel, but as The Wasp Factory was assigned I powered through it. I'll admit I found Frank's mind a very interesting place to explore. He clearly saw a logic to his psychopathic actions, yet the different but equally horrifying actions of his brother unsettled him. All of Frank's actions were written in such a logical way, and although the language was simplistic, it did help in conveying this. I do wish the story elaborated on societal perceptions of gender and how it shapes behaviours. It feels like a key theme to the story but I don't think the narrative was powerful enough when encountering these ideas. Ultimately, the main reason I couldn't rate this book any higher was because it was kind of sickening. I understand that is the point, and I like literature that can make me a little uncomfortable, but the graphic and senseless nature of the actions in this book were too much for my stomach.
Warnings: graphic animal and human killing/slaughter/gore/blood

Did Not Finish
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (audiobook) - DNF at 51%
What Maisie Knew by Henry James - DNF at 19%

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