Since my last cry for help I have not really advanced on completing my books to read before I turn 30. I realise I have just over three more years to get this done, but I feel I should be at least tackling one of these a month.
My Books Before 30 list is looking a little sparse; I have checked six off my list now, finishing The Wasp Factory and Rebecca this year, I need some further recommendations to keep me motivated.
I would love some more suggestions (non-fiction as well as fiction) so if you could comment with your favourite books I could add that would be marvellous; you can see what I have already read here.
I am not usual one for these sorts of post, but I have been informed that a more personal touch is generally a pleasant way of engaging readers. So, in the spirit of wanting to engage people and actually listening to advice, this is October’s overview.
I have seen quite a few blogs that I follow post monthly overviews (Judith and Charli for example) and in the case where I have missed, or want to return to, something they have written, I have found these posts a wonderful addition to their blogs.
Of the books I have read this month one has been a ‘Book Before 30′, another an anticipated arrival and one a wondrous surprise:
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
Wonderfully written and hopelessly depressing; I had difficulty concentrating on reading when all I wanted to do was write down the mess it was creating in my head. John Dowell narrates us through his life over a period of almost two years. His narration is fascinating as when he begins writing he is in shock, which changes to anger, realisation and eventually sad acceptance. The reliability of his unfortunate tale is constantly in question and you never really know whether to sympathise with or be critical of, his ignorance.
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Possibly one of the coolest people I will never meet, Caitlin has a friendly and optimistic approach to showing women how feminism is not the stigma it is made out to be. Think you are female but not feminist? Unless you fancy having your right to vote revoked or getting your dad or husband to sign your credit card form, think again.
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
I discovered Kate Morton was releasing a new novel completely by accident. Finding myself unimpressed by her last novel, The Distant Hours, I stopped following her progress as an author. It certainly was fortuitous, and a thoroughly wondrous surprise, that I happened upon The Secret Keeper. Morton is back on form, darting between 2011 and war time London, which was both heartfelt and mysterious. Well worth the read, I look forward to her next.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Another book I picked up from my love of The Paris Wife, much as I had with The Sun Also Rises. Published posthumously, Hemingway makes a sentimental journey through his life in 20s Paris. Overly romantic about his first wife and overtly spiteful of his second, Hemingway often neglects to mention his failings or find himself culpable for his actions. His fall-out with Stein, close bond with Pound and fondness for Fitzgerald are all discussed, giving you a small insight into the life of a genius.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
I had been anticipating The Casual Vacancy from the moment Rowling divulged she was to write a novel for adults. Perhaps this anticipation soured my reading experience, perhaps I expected something on the level of Potter genius, however, The Casual Vacancy was not as I expected. Fantastic story, amazing characters, but an appalling writing style, no different from the tone used in her children’s literature. Although, as a Potter fanatic, my standards were possibly unrealistically high.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
On my ‘Books Before 30′ list, Jane Eyre has been that one classic I could never pick up with ease, something always replaced it on the to-read list. Having read it I can only comment that Charlotte Brontë is both awesome and in need of a good editor. It casts a fascinating light over the female power, creating the perfect man and colonialist perceptions.
And that, is October in Review.
I have not come a long way since my last post; two books have now been crossed of the list, one which I loved, and another I could not finish. The first, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, was marvellous; more enjoyable that expected. In contrast Dune by Frank Herbert, while fascinating and beautiful constructed, failed to keep me occupied long enough to get into it the story. I ended up reading a chapter at a time, failing to grasp who was who, what was what and where the hell was I; unable engage with what Dune was developing.
Oddly, Dune was a novel I was sure I would love; it came highly recommended. So I felt disappointed when I reached the point where I needed to move onto another book. If it took me two weeks to get 30% into the novel, God knows how long it would have taken to finish. At my current destination Paul and Jessica have just escaped death; I will not completely give up on Dune, it is always there to come back to, but for now I am done.
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”1
Oh, but Dumbledore, it can be happier to dwell.
There is something to be said for fantasy, not the Mirror of Erised sort (which always felt more like regret than desire) rather, the blank canvas for self-improvement sort of fantasy. I think this is why I enjoy reading so much, the beautiful escapism that is a good book. Yet, in every story there is the character you would like to be and the character you probably are. I would like to be Condor in the Divergent series, but I would probably be Abnegation; I would want to be Slytherin in Harry Potter, but I would probably be Gryffindor; I would like to be a Stark or Targaryen in A Song of Ice and Fire, but I would probably a Lannister and I would like to be Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, but I would probably be Mary Bennett. Fiction is master of reflection and desire.
Pride And Prejudice, the story of Mrs. Bennett’s attempts to marry off her five daughters is one of the best-loved and most enduring classics in English literature. Excitement fizzes through the Bennett household at Longbourn in Hertfordshire when young, eligible Mr. Charles Bingley rents the fine house nearby. He may have sisters, but he also has male friends, and one of these the haughty, and even wealthier, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy irks the vivacious Elizabeth Bennett, the second of the Bennet girls. She annoys him. Which is how we know they must one day marry. The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and Darcy is a splendid rendition of civilized sparring. As the characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, Jane Austen’s radiantly caustic wit and keen observation sparkle.2
I would estimate that throughout the first 60% of Pride and Prejudice I disliked Elizabeth Bennett. I found her judgemental (although not prejudice) and presumptuous, taking pleasure in her dislike of others. While predominantly correct in her assumptions Elizabeth is incorrect in her expression of them. For example, Mr Darcy is proud and cold; however, Elizabeth expresses this with mockery and disdain. This is never to the same embarrassing extent as the rest of her family, however, it is still of that vain. Yet, even with these imperfections Elizabeth Bennett is still an interesting and enjoyable character. In her dislike for Darcy, Elizabeth throws herself (in a very Austen era, reserved, non-Lydia Bennett sort of way) at Wickham, believing him when she should have questioned his actions. What girl has not trifled with unworthy men while annoyed with another? Elizabeth Bennett is a timeless representation of a young woman learning the effects of her actions. Once Elizabeth visits Pemberley I finally found her a character to be admired; she matures so rapidly, moving smoothly from misinterpretation to complete understanding of her situation.
Prior to reading I had watched the BBC 90s adaptation (which I would estimate I have watched around 200 times since I was 10) so I rather enjoyed having more of Darcy’s point of view, which is missed. Darcy and Elizabeth compliment and improve each other; they are each other’s benefit and good side, a perfect partnership. However, Pride and Prejudice is not just about the romance, it has secrecy, and intrigue and scandal, fascinating padding to a beautiful story and entirely better for it. You want the ignorant, rude and sneaky characters to get their comeuppance; Lydia marrying Wickham, what perfection that he should be stuck with her!
“[...] it is a comfort to think that whatever of that kind may befall you, you have an affectionate mother who will make the most of it.”3
Romance and good fortune aside, it was Mr Bennett who truly made this book such a marvellous read. He is not bitter about his lot in life; he accepted his fate and enjoys seeing the humour in it. He reminds me a lot of my own father; I believe Mr Bennett and my father would enjoy giggling in the corner over their silly daughters. Mr Bennett may have failed to sire a son, be responsible for three particularly silly daughters and have his estate is entailed to a fool, but he can laugh at himself and those that surround him, he does not dwell on the past, he hopes for a more fortuitous tomorrow.
“About a month ago I received this letter, and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention.”4
Reading Pride and Prejudice was a constant need to read more quips from Mr Bennett, watch Elizabeth and Darcy change each other, and see Wickham suffer. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed a book I thought I would find mundane; another hit from Miss Austen.