My Top Ten Non-Romantic Loves in Fiction

FezzikInigoThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about Valentine’s Day, but since I’ve always been a bit of a cynic about a commercial holiday which demands that lovers be nice to each other for one day (thus allowing them to be perfectly horrible to each other for the next three hundred and sixty-four days in the year), I’ve decided to make this Top Ten Tuesday list all about my favourite examples of non-romantic love in fiction. The following relationships are not without their struggles and complications, but I think they all show that non-romantic love can be just as messy, affectionate – and ultimately uplifting – as romantic love.

My Top Ten Non-Romantic Loves in Fiction

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Eugene Onegin (1825), in One Really Terrible Sonnet

Eugene OneginThis book is #35 on my Classics Club List.

Pushkin’s Euegene Onegin, what can I say?
He was a great looker, a fine young dandy;
an aristocrat, all work and no play,
danced the mazurka and drank much brandy.
Most readers, they prefer Tanya though;
lovely girl, Pushkin’s finest creation,
‘Russian spirit’, quite why I don’t know
Just the thing to inspire an emerging nation.
Pushkin, he loved Byron and Shakespeare;
Russian aristos they knew English and French
But not their mother tongue, it’s decidedly queer
an appetite for Europe, Pushkin wanted to quench.
How to sum up this novel in just one word?
All the characters are wealthy and extremely – bored.

The atrocious poem above took me far longer to compose than I care to admit. But although it’s quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever written in my life (seriously – I’ve got some stories about seahorses that I wrote when I was seven years old; this poem makes them look like Shakespeare), it was a useful exercise. Continue reading

This Will be the Life and Death of Me: Reading Stephenie Meyer’s Gender-Swapped Twilight

imageStephenie Meyer’s new offering, Life and Death (2015), is intended to be a kind of addendum to her problematic series about teenage love in the age of vampirism, Twilight (2005). According to Meyer, the story is a kind of fictionalised response to the plethora of accusations of sexism that have been levelled at the Twilight series. By swapping the genders of almost all the characters in the original story, Life and Death is meant to show how problems with gender in the original series are actually problems that can be attributed to the main character’s humanity rather than her femininity.

Life and Death has been branded a lot of things: bungling, lazy, and just plain greedy. Most have greeted it with a rightful degree of cynicism, seeing it as a rather cheap way to make a bit of extra cash and rejuvenate a series that, ten years on, is beginning to look a little tired.
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How I Became Less of a Grinch About Christmas

IMG_20151224_002447-1Now, I realise that this is not strictly a book-related post – hence my vague Dr Seuss reference. Consider this me branching out a little, one small step at a time.

I wanted to discuss something that I’ve discovered since I’ve been in the UK. Something I wasn’t quite expecting. It has to do with sleigh bells and turkey and Michael Bublé.

Yes, like the famous Dr Seuss character, I have found my heart growing two sizes (metaphorically, of course, or else I’d be having some far from jolly health complications) and embracing the spirit of Christmas. And I think it perhaps has quite a lot to do with setting, with the weather and general atmosphere of Edinburgh in early December.
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Why I Re-Read the Twilight Series

TwilightIt’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the world was first introduced to angsty love triangles, whiny heroines, and vampires that sparkle in the sunlight. It’s hard to believe that Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight is into the double-digits. It seems like only yesterday that nobody had ever heard of the amusingly named town of Forks, Washington, and the mention of a shirtless Robert Pattinson didn’t fill us all with dread and horror.

So why did I decide to re-read the Twilight series? Couldn’t I have found a more constructive use for my time, like making paper aeroplanes, or teaching myself to draw cartoon iguanas, or learning how to make my own hummus? (Seriously, am I the only person who just cannot seem to get it together on the homemade hummus front?)

The ten-year anniversary of Twilight caught me by surprise. After all, I remember when it came out. I remember reading it. There’s nothing like a little anniversary to make you wonder where the decades go. Still, nostalgia wasn’t the reason I revisited Meyer’s hit book. I wanted to know why people talked about (and still talk about, but less loudly and with a lot less violent gesticulating) these books. More than that, I wanted to know why I – oh boy, here comes the shameful confession – why I loved the book when I first read it, if only for a little while. Continue reading

In the Mood for a Little Victorian?: Lark Rise To Candleford (1939-1943), by Flora Thompson

Lark RiseThis book is #87 on my Classics Club list.

A couple of years ago I began watching a hugely enjoyable BBC series. And then, one season in, I discovered that it had in fact been based on a series of books.

As a person who hates watching the movie before reading the book, you can imagine how much this irked me. So although I’d been given a box set of the series for a recent birthday, I resolved not to watch any further until I had read the source material for myself.

Two years later, and I have finally finished Lark Rise to Candleford. It’s taken me a while and one abortive attempt, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve read this trio of novels about the Oxfordshire countryside. Whether it was worth the two-year wait will probably become apparent when I finally finish watching the BBC adaptation next year. Continue reading

‘Members Of One Another’: South Riding (1936), by Winifred Holtby

South RidingSamantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine has certainly opened up doors for me when it comes to 1930s and 40s English literature. The literature of the twentieth century has always eluded me before now, mostly because I was convinced that it would be, based on my limited experience with it, either a) depressing, or b) mad, confusing, and experimental. Or possibly both.

But one thing I’ve found, reading Cold Comfort Farm and re-reading I Capture The Castle, is how contemporary these texts can feel. And they’re so easy to read, flowing like Victorian novels – only with telephones and cars thrown in. The same can be said of South Riding, another of the books that Ellis discusses in How To Be A Heroine.

South Riding is set in the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire, and its main character is a forty-year old spinster called Sarah Burton, who comes up from London to become the headmistress of the girls’ high school. She brings with her boundless energy and a desire for reform. She’s a character who believes that “The proper technique of headmistress-ship was to break all rules of decorum and justify the breach” (Book I, Chapter V).

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Lit Major Abroad: Edinburgh – First Impressions

Edinburgh CastleYep. I know I’ve dropped the ball again when it comes to blogging (although, let’s face it, when it comes to my blogging habits, I have all the athletic skills of – well, of me, really). In my defence, it has been a crazy time: new city, new people, new bookstores to discover and spend way too much time in…. But now that winter has begun to sink its teeth into the city, and tourism seems distinctly less appealing in the biting wind (seriously, what is up with the wind in this city?) I thought I’d share some of my first impressions of Edinburgh. Because to be honest, I haven’t had all that much time to stop and reflect on my experiences here so far. Also, it’s essay-writing season over at the university, and I’m a tried and tested procrastinator.

So… where to begin with this famous city of literature? (And I’m not just saying that, by the way – Edinburgh really was named a City of Literature by UNESCO.) Continue reading

‘A Life of One’s Own’: Lolly Willowes (1926), by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Lolly WillowesDo you want to read about an old, respectable English spinster who moves to the country and sells her soul to the Devil to become a witch in the heady days of the 1920s?

Of course you do. It’s a fantastic idea. Forget great parties at Gatsby’s, I want to see an old English lady drop her drop-waisted dress and do Satanic dances on top of a hill. I want to see her chat with the Devil over tea and biscuits. I want it to be kind of like The Master and Margarita only less confusing.

And who knew that in between the two World Wars such a book was actually written? I couldn’t believe that this book existed, but I knew the minute I read about it in Samantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine that I had to find it. Quite how Lolly Willowes came into existence I have no idea. But I’m glad it did. Continue reading

Top Ten Bookish Habits I Want To Quit

ReadingParisWe all have reading and book-related habits we’re proud of. Whether it’s a reading plan of such mind-boggling complexity that it makes government spending plans look like a toddler’s crayon drawings, or a meticulously designed reading room that required years of planning, blueprints, and trips to IKEA to get right, we’ve all got them. But for every reading habit we’re proud of, there’s also those habits we’d rather not have. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is devoted to just that.

Top Ten Bookish Habits I Want To Quit

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