‘An Infinite Multitude of Chickens’: Reading Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) in 2017

UtopiaThis book is #39 on my Classics Club list.

2017 has dawned with the words ‘dystopic future’ hovering on more than a few people’s lips. ‘Dystopia’ and ‘utopia’ are loaded terms, of course – one man’s ‘post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland created by the greed of power-hungry and irresponsible capitalists and world leaders’ is another man’s ‘strategically-managed relocation solution with wonderful future prospects following the end of the nuclear winter’, although I’m not sure I’d really want to meet the person who thinks like that.

Amidst all this talk of a dystopic future, where greedy capitalists have succeeded in grinding down the poor and middle classes and filling the rising oceans with plastic and ring-pull cans, 2017 seems like a good time to revisit the origins of the terms Utopia, and consequently Dystopia. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels like Thomas More’s 1516 work Utopia, which gave us the term and presented us with one of the earliest examples of a utopian text, is still remarkably relevant today. Continue reading

Top Ten Most Memorable Mothers in Literature

Happy belated Mother’s Day, Mums! Hopefully your kids remembered that Saturday was the big day, and bought you lots of nice presents and didn’t forget, like Steve always does. Nice job, Steve.

(Full disclosure: I did forget.)

So to make up for it, Mum, here are ten memorable mothers from literature for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. Thank you for having all the qualities of the good ones and none of the qualities of the bad ones. Continue reading

Top Ten Book Turn-offs

Last week’s Top Ten Tuesday was all about things that will instantly make you want to read a book. But I love this week’s topic even more: things that will instantly make you not want to read a book. Advance Warning: This topic will require the use of frequent 30 Rock GIFS. Because Tina Fey gets it, man. Continue reading

In Which I Have Nothing Original to Add to the Discussion on: Howards End (1910), by E.M. Forster

Howards EndThis book is #65 on my Classics Club list.

Right. I didn’t have a whole lot to say about Howards End, so I decided to go away and read some reviews to see what other people are saying about the book. And it seems like all the reviews, positive or negative, seem to more or less agree on a few main points:

1. The novel is about class. Some other stuff too, but people mostly seem to agree that it’s about class. Because there’s three families, and two of them are rich enough and marry one another, and one is not. This is all very sad and tragic and allows Forster to make some profound comments on the way that class works in the twentieth century. Don’t ask me what they are, I just know they’re profound. Continue reading

Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book

I’d like to think I’m not particularly fussy when it comes to picking books to read. That I like to read widely and experimentally. And while this is broadly true, it’s also fair to say that I am a judgemental bitch who definitely makes snap decisions about books without sufficient evidence to back up said decisions. So, in the interests of calling me out on this terrible habit of mine, here are my top ten book turn-ons for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday: the things that will make me want to read a book straight away, laid bare.  Continue reading

Dracula’s Domain: A Visit to Whitby

Whitby

My recent trip to Manchester was followed by a few days in the sweet seaside town of Whitby. On the surface, Whitby seems like a strange place for a random visit: it’s a small seaside village on the east coast of Britain, and it’s not exactly the easiest place to get to. But Whitby did have one very attractive claim to fame that drew me there, despite a Megabus journey from Manchester and a two-hour, bumpy local bus ride: it’s reputed to be the birthplace of Bram Stoker’s late-Victorian ode to typewriters and phonographs (also it has a few vampires in it). I’m talking, of course, about Dracula. Continue reading

Two Days in Manchester: Plus, Mr Darcy Fangirling

Manchester Night

Welcome back to Lit Major Abroad, everybody, the segment where I post stories from my literature-inspired travels, usually about seven to thirteen months after said travels actually took place! Up next: an extremely belated description of a trip through Northern England. Warning: I will not divulge exactly when this trip took place. Suffice it to say that several seasons (as in, leaves falling to the ground, turning brown, and then growing on the trees all over again like those sped-up montages from the movies) have passed since this trip took place.

Like many readers of North and South, I had an idea of what Manchester would be like. Dirty and smoky, full of cramped streets and ugly factories that attested to a cruel age of economic power and social irresponsibility. I was influenced by things like the TV adaptation of Gaskell’s novel, and the experiences of family members who had been to the north of England (admittedly, several decades ago, when the English were considerably less on top of things as far as the aesthetic appeal of their cities goes). So when I decided to take a Gaskell-inspired detour through the north of England last year, I was sure I was heading towards a dirty, depressing industrial city. Continue reading

William Shakespeare’s STAR WARS: Verily, A New Hope (2013), by Ian Doescher

william-shakespeares-star-warsWilliam Shakespeare’s STAR WARS seems to be written with a very specific audience in mind: one that both loves and knows the Star Wars movies (sci-fi nerds, myself included), as well as the works of Shakespeare (history and lit nerds). Which would seem to be a weirdly specific demographic, but in actual fact just goes to show how both Star Wars and Shakespeare can cross boundaries of genre and appeal to readers/viewers with all kinds of different tastes. Let’s face it, a lot of time it just isn’t helpful to make assumptions about what preferences for certain genres say about a person, because it’s almost always a lot more complicated than we’d like to think.

A mashup of Shakespeare, traditionally seen as the epitome of olde-worlde England (despite how often his plays are re-imagined in various contexts), and Star Wars, a seemingly futuristic story nevertheless set “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” (or, as Doescher has it, “In time so long ago […] / In star-crossed galaxy far, far away” [Prologue]) would seem to be a weird combination. Continue reading

All the Things I Remember About The Moonstone (1868), by Wilkie Collins

the-moonstoneMystery fans beware! SPOILERS ahead!

This book is #63 on my Classics Club list.

I’m not exactly known for being the most up-to-date when it comes to posting my book reviews. This is usually because I’ll finish a book, write a review, and then let it sit on my hard drive for months, until I finally remember to post it up, usually about two years after I wrote it (and that’s not even an exaggeration). In the case of The Moonstone, however, I made the crucial mistake of reading it in November last year and avoiding the writing of the review itself (and only about ninety-five per cent of the reason is because I didn’t have anything particularly interesting to say about it. The other five per cent is, predictably, that I’m just lazy).

So when I finally came to write this review, I couldn’t remember a darned thing about the plot, characters, or themes. Which is especially concerning considering I also watched the 2016 BBC adaptation of the novel, and still can’t remember anything beyond the fact that the guy who plays Godfrey Ablewhite has fantastic cheekbones, and that Sarah Hadland can still make me laugh. So if you’re hoping for an in-depth postcolonial reading of Collins’ novel, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint. But if, like me, you are a newcomer to The Moonstone, you may find the following facts, dredged only by dint of great effort from the quagmire of my brain, to be quite useful. Continue reading

Despite All Evidence to the Contrary, I am Not Dead

I wish I could give some extraordinarily compelling excuse for my extended absence over the past few months: alien abduction, Freaky Friday-esque body-switching, or an improbable scenario in which I somehow discover that Jules Verne was right all along and the earth is indeed hollow and inhabited by dinosaurs, and I end up shacking up with Brendan Fraser and making it all the way to China through the Earth’s crust. But sadly the excuse is, as ever, an extraordinary banal one: a new job, the kind of cold that’s so persistent that after a few weeks it brings along a few of its friends and turns your sinuses into its own personal party bus, all combined with the usual leg-dragging laziness. Continue reading