Let’s Talk Bookish – The Writing Styles of Classics & Contemporaries

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

You can find more details about it here.

I haven’t read lots of classics this year, but this is actually what I tend to prefer reading. I think it’s mostly due to the fact that I love history, and so there’s no better way to immerse yourself in a historical period than to read a book written then. There is also something about the language that is completely different. Yes, it is a little trickier to read but I find the writing style so much more beautiful, in general. It’s often that I read a chapter from a Victorian novel and don’t really pay attention to the plot because I’m too engrossed in the lyrical quality of the text. Of course, this is not always true and I can feel the same way for book that were recently published. Also, I love descriptions, context, backstories, and lots and lots of insignificant details – which is something that I can really only find in classics, in general.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

That being said, I love reading contemporaries as well but for different reasons. I get different things from different books, which sounds obvious I know, but it’s so true! Contemporary novels allow me to find characters I can relate to a little bit more, and they allow me to get in touch with the world that surrounds me. I like to read them to make sense of my own experience as well, and understand why I feel the way I do. They also enable me to see our society through someone else’s eyes, someone from a different background or country. 

Even though classics are my absolute favourites, I don’t think they should necessarily be prioritised at school. Literature should be made enjoyable to students, and I know that it’s difficult to get enthused about books after studying the same five old dead white men all your life. Of course, authors like Shakespeare and Dickens are at the basis of the English-speaking world’s pop culture, but would it not make sense to also study more contemporary writers who represent another part of the population? We need to introduce more varied texts in the curriculum, written by women, working class and BAME authors. I think we also need to make sure that each of this text is compelling and thought-provoking. Reading is so, so important and needs to be promoted a lot more at school because it teaches us to think critically – something more important than ever.

Well, I got a bit carried away there, but this is  a topic I’m really passionate about! I was really thinking about this when I read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, earlier this year. I think it would be such a great book to study at school since it tackles so many important topics. I think this is a book that could potentially become a classic in a few decades, but maybe I’m biased because I loved it so much.

Do you prefer classics, contemporaries or both? I would love to know everyone’s thoughts on this topic and if you do too, you should definitely check Rukky’s and Dani’s posts to find out more.

Let’s Talk Bookish – Romance as a subplot

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

You can find more details about it here.

This week’s topic is very interesting, and not one I’ve ever thought about, to be honest. Love is such a central part of our lives, for most of us, that I never really thought of whether a romance subplot was always necessary in a story. I guess I never question the need for a romance if I think it’s well done. Also, I love love stories.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

There is something fascinating about people falling in love and I enjoy finding this in books – whether that’s the main story or not. I can’t think of a romance subplot that I didn’t enjoy… but then, I realise I read a lot of Victorian novels which are mainly to do with marriage. And it’s so natural to have a crush on someone or have feelings for someone you’re attracted to, so I’m okay to find it in books where characters go through crazy adventures together as they’re brought closer by the hardships they have to face.

That being said, I’m sure that there are lots of romances that feel forced and strange but I can’t think of any. I’ve either been lucky in never encountering one of those, or I have decided to erase them from my memory.

I don’t mind books where there isn’t any romance, though. Especially if the author is trying to make a political point, or verging on social commentary. Not that I don’t think love is serious, just that it can take the reader’s attention away from the main point of focus. In The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead for instance, there isn’t any romance –  a character gets married as he gets older, but that’s it – because the author is trying to bring our attention to something else. In The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson, which I reviewed last week, there’s the beginning of a romance, but it’s a sort of prop for the main character to question why men never challenge their elders and condemn their crimes openly. I thought this was very clever, and I did like the two characters falling for each other as it added to the plot, without becoming central to it.

I guess it’s important to show readers (especially young ones, and even more especially women) that characters can do amazing thing without the aid of a man and that love, and therefore marriage, is not the ultimate goal in life – you can do so many more things. But I still love romance as a a subplot, especially when it’s weaved in the narrative in a subtle way that doesn’t undermine a hero’s personal growth.

I’m sorry, I ended up rambling aimlessly about this topic! Anyway, I would love to know everyone’s thoughts on this topic and if you do too, you should definitely check Rukky’s and Dani’s posts to find out more.

Let’s Talk Bookish – What makes you DNF a book?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

You can find more details about it here.

I have already talked bout this topic in my article ‘On not finishing books and other bookish sins‘. Basically, I don’t really mind giving up on a book because life is too short to read boring books.

An accurate representation of me trying to read Middlemarch – Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I always try to read about 100 pages before I decide whether to DNF a book. I feel like this is enough for me to know whether it’s worth it. That being said, the other day I DNF’d an audiobook after a few minutes because I knew that the tone and the historical inaccuracies would drive me mad very quickly. I am very particular with writing styles, it’s true, but I just can’t stand when I can see the author at work – if they’re trying too hard to write a certain way or the characters do something that make no sense just so that the plot can move forward, for instance.

A trope that tends to drive me mad is the love triangle, or when characters don’t tell the truth or speak up when they should. Most of the time, it makes me want to throw the book across the room but I have to say that it’s sometimes so well done that I can bear it (but it’s rare). However, if I don’t like the first book of a series I will never read the rest because… why would I put myself through that? Haha! Again, there are so many things we must do every day that are really not enjoyable, so when I open a book on my free time I want to get something positive out of it.

I never count the books I DNF as read on Goodreads, but I do have a specific shelf for those books on my profile. Sometimes, I go have a look because it happens that I hated a book at some point because I just wasn’t in the right mood and would like to revisit it. This is exactly what happened with Charlotte Brontë’s Villette: when I first started it I thought it was the worst book in the world because I was not in a good place mentally, I read it a year later and it’s now one of my absolute favourites!

I would love to know everyone’s thoughts on this topic and if you do too, you should definitely check Rukky’s and Dani’s posts to find out more.

2019 – A Year in Reading

As I have done for the past two years, I want to take the time to reflect on the books I have read this year thanks to the Year in Books page on Goodreads. Here are my previous posts:

2018 Year in Reading

2017 Year in Reading

I wanted to read 40 books this year and I ended up reading 42 so that’s pretty cool. I have not read so many whole books during a good chunk of the year since I was researching and writing my dissertation. I did reread Villette and Jane Eyre for the occasion as I was working on the portrayal of men in these two novels. I have published an excerpt on here, a paper that I presented to a conference and which is a summary of a chapter of my dissertation. You can find it here: Charlotte Brontë’s Rochester as A Hero of Romance. From April to August, I think I mostly read journal articles so of course, that does not count in a reading challenge but really, I have never read so much in my whole life as I have in 2019. At one point, my eyes got so tired I thought I was going to need glasses! Thankfully, that was not necessary, I just had to calm down and set myself a proper reading schedule – especially of Victorian texts, the font is always too tiny! After my Master, I took a month to completely relax and recover from the stress (and anxiety) which allowed me to read great books I had been waiting to read for a while. Now, I am unemployed so of course, I have time to read but I’ve recently found it hard to focus because I have not been feeling so good in my head. This will be for another post though, so let’s get cracking with the books.

bartleby

The shortest book I have read this year was Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener (1853) with 80 pages. I doubt this result as I have just finished The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892) but as I intend to write a post on it later, I’ll stick with Bartleby. I first read it during my undergraduate degree when we were studying Antebellum American Literature. I hated it. I absolutely hated it and told anyone who would listen that that was the most boring story I had ever read. I found it so boring I could not focus on a paper copy so I downloaded an audiobook which would make me fall asleep very quickly. I can still hear the voice of the narrator saying ‘I prefer not to’… But this time around, I actually really enjoyed it. Bartleby is the new clerk at a law firm and just refuses to do any work. In the 1850s, in a time of industrial revolution and intense activity where the utmost sin was idleness, that could not go down very well. I actually read this novella because I read the Vegetarian by Han Kang (2007) for a class and was reminded so much of Bartleby (he too refuses to eat and speak whilst everyone around him gets angry and even violent with him) that I thought I would write an essay on it. I think I could but it was way too ambitious a project for a 4,000 words MA essay! In that context, I really liked Bartleby’s silent and peaceful revolution against the capitalist obsession with productivity and I find it still quite relevant to this day.

The longest book I read was 922 pages and a combination of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor (1857) and Shirley (1849) as I have that Everyman’s edition:

shirley and prof

I definitely want to write more extensively on these two novels as I love Charlotte Brontë so much and could talk about her work all day long. To make it short, I loved The Professor and think it deserved more interest as it is such a beautiful way to see the evolution of her writing and storytelling. Shirley however, not such a fan. I would definitely need to read it again but I found it very bland and banal unlike all her other novels. It’s a good book, but there’s no power in it – I think.

friendship

The least popular book I read this year was Friendship: a History, edited by Barbara Caine (2010) and I really wanted to mention it here because it was that good. I used it for research as I wrote an essay on Rousseau’s views on friendship (fell in love with Rousseau btw… only took me to cross the Channel to do that!) and ended up reading most of it out of sheer pleasure and interest. Even though it’s an academic book, it’s very accessible and so fascinating as friendship is a fundamental part of being a human being. Highly recommend if it’s in your library or if you can find it second-hand as I know scholarly books can be very expensive.

I read lots of different varied things this year, and overall it was all quite good apart from two which I can remember not liking at all. Both are going to be controversial because they are well-loved works of literary fiction. The first one is Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) because, in spite of getting the message of the book, enjoying the Spanglish, and loving to learn about Dominican history, it really didn’t work for me. It was too much for me, too rough, too vulgar and I just could not deal with it. It made me angry. I would read it and then violently close the book to throw it at the other end of the bed. I see the point of the book, but I just don’t like that kind of literature.

oscar wao

Second one is, I know, very controversial as it Sally Rooney’s Normal People (2018) aka the book that everyone loved this year. I have very little patience with people who relish in self-destruction and I don’t like to read about unromantic and messy relationships as something good or even okay. I did not find an ounce of love in Marianne’s and Connell’s story, they’re just having sex. Marianne is messed up because of her unfunctional family and she needs help that I don’t think Connell brings her at all. By the middle of the novel, he doesn’t love her, he is used to her; she is familiar and that’s why he feels attracted to her (that’s how I read it anyway). Marianne’s confession that she’s a masochist read for me as a confession that she is definitely not, but does not know how to deal with tenderness because she’s never encountered it. I think it was all too messy for me, and I couldn’t deal with the mess for personal reasons, maybe. I loved the writing, though, so I will try to read Rooney’s other works (past and future) in the hope there is less sex and more actual feelings.

normal people

So as I said, I read lots of good things this year and it’s been tricky to just pick a few of my favourites so here is my top 5 (in no particular order):

  • Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2011)

my brilliant friend

Someone had told me this book was not what it seemed and that it was quite bad. They were certainly right in that it is the opposite of what it is marketed as, but immensely wrong with regard to the content of the book. What a powerful story! It is so complex and addictive, I haven’t read many things like that. From the cover, I imagined a romance which would make me travel to Italy. Rather, I was transported to a popular neighbourhood of Naples where everyone is unhappy and violent and where there is very little room for romantic dreams. Instead, the relationship at the centre of the story is Lila’s and Elena’s friendship, which you see grow from childhood. It is a beautiful, awful thing of attraction and repulsion, something very real and very difficult to come to terms with, I think. There are not any really likeable characters in this novel, but somehow, they gripped me and stay with me once the book is closed. This is the first volume of the Neapolitan series and I have read the second one, The Story of a New Name (2012), this Summer and loved it just as much. I really want to read the two other tomes of the series next year.

  • Leïla Slimani’s Chanson douce (Lullaby) (2016)

lullaby

I should start by saying that this is not a book for everyone. The novel begins with a nanny murdering the child and the baby she is in charge of. I don’t think I could read that if I were a mother, and I hope I won’t think of this story too much when that time comes! After this intense beginning, we go back in time to try and uncover the reason for such a terrible crime. The sense of superiority of a middle-class Parisian couple, the isolation of a working-class nanny, a naughty little girl… these do not explain why the nanny did what she did, but Slimani draws a great portrait of different categories of people whilst keeping you on the edge of your chair. The author was interviewed on the High Low last year, which you can listen here (all in English) and I found this podcast really interesting.

  • Ian McEwan’s Nutshell (2016)

nutshell

I was quite interested by abuse on babies this year apparently… But Nutshell is lot funnier. McEwan rewrote Macbeth from the perspective of an unborn baby. His mother and uncle are having an affair and plot to kill his father. It is incredibly funny because the foetus sounds like a middle-aged man rambling about wine and the state of the world, all the while seeing his parents as semi-Gods. In reality, the adults are mediocre at best and none of them seem to actually care about the baby to come. His mother rarely mentions him, she drinks – a lot – and she is just terrible. Her lover never acknowledges the fact that she is pregnant. The father is bad poet who lets his wife basically steal his family home. A strange family portrait but such a great book!

  • Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1869)

little women

It was obvious I would love this novel. Nineteenth century, women, writing, sisterhood and just sheer kindness all throughout – that sounds a lot like me. Yet, I had never really wanted to read it because I remember the TV adaptation being shown every Christmas and my mum complaining about it, saying it was too corny and boring. I can see why some people would say it’s cheesy, but it is also such a cute story of sisterhood! I cannot say too much as I got my copy from a Church book sale and didn’t realise it was just the first part of the story. I got a beautiful edition with the whole thing in it for Christmas so I will start reading it straightaway, and watch the film adaptation by Greta Gerwig which looks quite exciting.

  • Vladimir Nabokov’s Le guetteur (The Eye) (1930)

the eye

Finally, I read Nabokov for the first time, and absolutely loved it. The narrator is a Russian emigrant in Berlin in the 1920s (I think) and after a failed attempt of committing suicide, he thinks he might be a ghost but lives a very normal life nonetheless, amongst other Russians living in Berlin. Up until the end, this novel seems to have no meaning, the narrator lives like a ghost because nothing ever happens to him and he only describes what others do. At the close of the book, you realise you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator and that this is a story about identity, finding who you are and where you belong. I found it all very poetic, beautifully written and as someone who lives in another country and struggled for a while to find myself, this novel really resonated with me.

I hope you too had a great year in books! x

2018

Well, it was about time I did my annual summary of my readings on here! 2018 was a pivotal year for me; I recovered from a very dark time and I started my Masters degree in England – which I still can’t quite get my head around.

I thought I would reflect on the books I have read this year with the great Goodreads tools ‘My Year in Books’ as I did last year. I wanted to read 35 books in 2018 and I have read… 60. I haven’t read much at all between March and August if I remember well, but I have been reading so many texts every week for uni that I ended up reading about 40 books in three months. I am very happy with how much I have read because it means I have discovered many new stories and authors, which is my main motivation. However next year, I won’t set a very high number in my reading challenge either because I don’t want to feel pressured.

malachi550Anyway, let’s begin with the books. The shortest one I have read this year was Malachi’s Cove by Anthony Trollope (1857), which is about 40 pages long. So it’s not really a book but a short story, but in any case, it was very good. It’s set in Cornwall and Malachi is a young woman who pulls out seaweeds out of the beach in order to sell them. She lives with her very old grandfather, and this is their only income and way to survive. She’s a rough girl, in her manners and appearance, but she is also very endearing. It was a very nice story, but what especially interested me was the characterisation of the landscape. Very different from the Yorkshire moors but it was not that far from reading Emily Brontë.

Vanity Fair by William Thackeray 001

The longest book was William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847), which was 912 pages. I have already written on this one earlier this year, but I will repeat myself and say that it is a very hilarious read and although it’s quite long, it’s really worth the commitment – and it felt way less long that Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right (1869), my god.

fruits basket

I have read a few mangas this year, as well. I love to borrow from my sister’s shelves when I’m back in France for the holidays, it’s such a nice way to unwind. The one with the highest ratings on Goodreads is Fruits Basket Perfect Edition vol.1, by Natsuki Takaya (2016) – it’s a collection of the first 3 or 4 volumes of the series. Fruits Basket is the first manga I have ever read when I was 13 and I absolutely loved it. It was very nice to rediscover this lovely story of humans who can transform into zodiac animals.

 

orange

As far as mangas are concerned, I read the six volumes of the Orange series, by Ichigo Takano (2012-2017), and this was one the best things I have read this year. A young high school student receives letters from her future self, giving her advice on how to prevent the death of one of her friends. It’s very moving but also very sweet, I just love everything about this series. And also, it’s not long at all so there’s no excuse not to read it.

 

Is it time for my favourite book of the year? I think it is. This will come as no surprise, I think. Obviously, Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853) is the one. I wrote about the power of this book on here, already, and that’s really the most important thing to remember about this book in my opinion. Lucy Snowe is poor, obscure, and plain (possibly more than Jane Eyre), but she has a will and an inner-power that I had never found in any character before.

Villette book cover

2018 was a good year, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what 2019 has in store for me. I know it will be a challenging one, but I have high hopes it’s going to be a good one too. I wish everyone the best for the year to come, no need for silly resolutions, just do you! x

2017

I am so glad 2017 is behind us, now! This year has been like the opening of A Tale of Two Cities for me: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ Sheer bliss and utter despair have cohabited this year and it did not feel amazing.

As for books, this has not been a fantastic year at all. In 2015 and 2016, I read a bit more than 50 books so I set my Goodreads challenge to 60 books for 2017… That may have been a bit too much for me, or that may just have been the wrong year to set such a challenge to myself. In the end, I read 32 books – which I know is still pretty decent. I also realise that it’s a bit silly to count your love of reading in books read, because it just depends on the size of it and the pace at which you read. I was just a bit disappointed because I know that I can do better than that…

But that’s exactly the point of 2018 for me: this year will be the year of self-love, or at least an attempt at being softer with silly old me. As a result, I decided to go easy on me and set my challenge for this year to 35 books whilst keeping in mind that the important thing is to read anyway. And if possible, to read fulfilling books that make me react and think.

Anyway, I thought I’d do a little summary of my reading year on here because I just love to read that sort of articles, and like to reflect on the things I read.

The shortest book I read this year was The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan, which is 128 pages long. I don’t remember every detail but I still have the feeling of proper weirdness I had when I read it. It’s about a couple who’s on holiday and they meet a very strange man and the story becomes very weird, indeed. The sort of weird that you can’t really let go but that you can’t fully make sense of. The writing was beautiful, though!

comfort

The longest book, with 590 pages, was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. This book is absolutely amazing and whilst I was reading it, I thought ‘I can’t wait to re-read it.’ – which I’d like to do this year, maybe. It’s the story of this mysterious woman who arrives in a village with her child. No one knows who she is or where she comes from, but she seems to be over-protective of her child which raises the villagers’ curiosity. Especially that of Gilbert, the main narrator, which is one my favourite male character ever, hands down. I cannot recommend reading this novel enough, it is just perfect.

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I re-read six books this year, including one of my all-time-favourites: L’écume des jours (Froth on the Daydream), by Boris Vian. This is the most poetic and creative book I have ever read, but it is also bleak and dreadful. Colin meets his wife, who quickly becomes sick and he has to spend all of his money in order to cure her. Meanwhile, his best friend Chick gets more and more obsessed with philosopher Jean-Sol Partre (yes it is a not-so-subtle reference to the one and only Jean-Paul Sartre) and spends huge amounts of money in fake relics. With a very jazzy soundtrack, there is also a vivid criticism of the world of work which Vian despised. I first read it when I was 14 and I am quite happy I have re-read it as an adult because I have been able to understand things a lot more and make more sense of the different messages Vian tried to convey.

Boris-Vian-L-Ecume-des-jours

It is quite funny because the book I read in 2017 which has the best ratings on Goodreads is also the book I enjoyed the least. I am talking about Coleen Hoover’s It Ends with Us. It deals with very serious issues like domestic abuse but I was just not convinced. First, I thought it was not really realistic and I could see the writer behind every plot twist or things like that. Besides, there were a few sex scenes which made me cringe a lot. I am not a big fan of sex in novels for I often find them unrealistic and just badly written, but here it was particularly the case. I went to the London Girly Book Club to talk about it in August, and I feel like most of the girls there thought about the same as me – which I found quite comforting.

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My two favourite books of 2017 are Clair de Femme (Womanlight) by Romain Gary and How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis.

9782070296064-usRomain Gary is one of my favourite authors and I remembered why by reading Clair de Femme. It’s about this man who runs away from home because his wife is very ill and has decided to commit suicide. He thus decides to stay away whilst she does that and reminds himself of all the time they’ve spent together whilst he slowly loses his mind. This a sad, sad story but this is beautiful. Sometimes, it doesn’t make much sense because the narrator is going absolutely nuts – and you can understand why – but it is filled with poetry. I saw there is a film adaptation with Romy Schneider and Yves Montand, so maybe that can be good, who knows!

 

how-to-be-a-heroine-by-samantha-ellisLater on this year, I felt deeply in love with non-fiction thanks to Samantha Ellis’s book, in which she goes through the heroines she had when she was younger and re-evaluates them now, as an adult. It is fascinating, and very easy to relate to if you’re obsessed with books. But the reason why it made me fall for the genre is because I just loved hearing somebody’s story. Ellis comes from a very background and tells her story in such a natural and realistic way, I feel like I learnt so much with her. And she also provided me with a massive to-read list, which is always a nice bonus.

 

Anyway, 2017 was the year of massive ups and downs and I am very glad to start afresh with lots of things to look forward, and hopefully, many more fascinating books to come.

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