Wednesday, 26 August 2009

RIP IV Challenge

Yay! It's R.eaders I.bibing P.eril time again. Hosted by the lovely Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings, R.I.P IV officially runs from September 1st through October 31st. Covering the genres of "Mystery. Suspense. Thriller. Dark Fantasy. Gothic. Horror. & Supernatural", I'm aiming to complete Peril the First - which is to read four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories by the end of October.

It honestly does not feel like a year since I took part in R.I.P. III and I see, slightly to my horror,
that I managed seven books last year! I'm not committing to read that many this time around but I am definitely aiming to read four and I have a few things in mind. Some of which I planned to read in R.I.P. III but didn't quite get around to. Those were:

The Quincunx - Charles Palliser
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Ghost Stories - MR James
The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
The Ghost-Feeler - Edith Wharton

I've also saved listening to some audiobooks of the short stories of MR James, Edgar Allan Poe & HP Lovecraft for this challenge and last year, when I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I said I would read more of Shirley Jackson's work so I will be hunting out a copy of The Haunting of Hill House too. I'd also really like to get hold of a copy of The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski but at £20 it's probably going to stay on my wishlist instead :(

Most of all though, I'm looking forward to seeing what other participants read and getting inspiration from them!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Twelve Step Poetry Program

Jodie from Book Gazing (who is also the instigator of the Year of Readers) has launched a new challenge called The Twelve Step Poetry Program.

The Rules:
Challenge runs: 1st Sept 2009 – 30th Aug 2010
Option 1: 12 books of poetry, each by a different author
Option 2: 12 books of poetry, each by a different author, with two books chosen from female poets, translated poets, dead white male poets, poets who have held an official poetry post, black/ hispanic/ asian poets, GLBT poets or Great War poets.
Option 3: Option 2 + a poem a day from Poetry Daily until the end of the challenge

I think this challenge ticks so many boxes for me and I am really looking forward to starting. I used to read a lot of poetry and although I do still dip in, and out, of the genre I really don't read as much as I used to and I am not really sure why. In the last few months, I have (finally!) been able to get all my books from the attic and arrange them around the house so for me this is a great excuse to visit, and expand, my poetry shelf.

I'm going to go for Option 1 and read at least one book of poetry each month by a different author. I will do my best to try to make this a diverse selection so that I can tick off some of the categories in Option 2 as well. Now - who to select as my September poet. Decisions, decisions!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

Winner of the 2008 Man Booker prize, The White Tiger was Aravind Adiga's debut novel. I meant to read it months ago, after hearing the very eloquent author talk on a BBC radio show however somehow it ended up in the toppling TBR pile for several months instead...

The blurb (from amazon): "Meet Balram Halwai, the 'White Tiger': servant, philosopher, entrepreneur and murderer. Balram, the White Tiger, was born in a backwater village on the River Ganges, the son of a rickshaw-puller. He works in a teashop, crushing coal and wiping tables, but nurses a dream of escape. When he learns that a rich village landlord needs a chauffeur, he takes his opportunity, and is soon on his way to Delhi behind the wheel of a Honda. Amid the cockroaches and call-centres, the 36,000,004 gods, the slums, the shopping malls, and the crippling traffic jams, Balram learns of a new morality at the heart of a new India. Driven by desire to better himself, he comes to see how the Tiger might escape his cage..."

The novel takes the form of a series of letters written late at night by Balram to Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier, who is about to visit Bangalore to learn more about the city's embracement of the entrepreneurial spirit and experience as a centre for outsourcing industry. Balram explains in these letters how he's managed to crawl his way up from crushing village poverty to becoming a successful entrepreneur and, in doing so, share some of his insights into the challenges that he's experienced getting there that he feels the Chinese could learn from.

Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us (Indians) in every respect, except that you don't have entrepreneurs. And our nation (India), though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs."

Balram is a very interesting central character. He's amoral, selfish, greedy, opportunistic, lacking in family loyalty (although to be fair I don't entirely blame him!) and acts without compunction if he can see the chance to better himself. In many of the stories he is telling Wen Jiaboa, he's bitter about his place in life, he demonstrates that he bears grudges and he's angry at the world for not being able to recognise his intellect and allow him to succeed as he should. This book gives, to my eyes, an unflattering view of modern India and clearly demonstrates the deep divides in Indian society drawn along lines of wealth and caste as well as giving an insight into human nature at its worst.

To sum up-in the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with big bellies, and men with small bellies. And only two destinies: eat or get eaten up."

I should mention that I was not entirely convinced by the device of using letters to Wen Jiabao to tell Balram's story - it felt as if slightly too convenient confessions were being made that would probably be very unwise to commit to paper if you were someone who had an interest in staying off the radar. I do concede though that the format does allow the reader in to experience Balram's reactions to events in his life that may not have been possible in other ways.

This book is well paced, easy to read (the very large font in my edition helped with that!) and Balram makes several very well written observations about those with money's attitudes to the poor and disenfranchised. In itself it's an interesting read that serves as a good introduction to "seedier" Indian literature if you've not really read much before.

Overall though, this was not quite as "good" as I was expecting. If it hadn't won the Booker last year I would, no doubt, be far less critical as I'd be viewing it on its own merits as a debut novel and perhaps that's what I should do rather than inspect it closely for some kind of stamp of literary quality! If I'd just picked it up and read it then I would probably say that it makes some interesting, and pretty damning, observations about India in the 21st century and that the central character is a repulsive but ultimately fascinating one whose circumstances certainly made me think about how I'd react to being in his situation.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

This book counts towards both the Non-Fiction Five and the Graphic Novel Challenges. I think that this might actually make it a Non-Fiction Six but I'm sure that can't hurt!

With my recent (rather tardy) joining in with the Graphic Novel challenge, and in a bid to get enough books read to earn my "Minor" badge, it seemed a good time to read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. My paperback edition contains both The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return.

Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel set in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. At this time, Satrapi is the six-year-old daughter of two Marxists. As she grows up in Tehran she witnesses first-hand the effects that the revolution, and the war with Iraq, have on her home, family, friends and school. The second book in this omnibus covers her adolescence years spent in Vienna as, at the age of 14, her parents sent her out of the country to keep her safe and then finally her return to attend college in Iran which takes us up to her mid-twenties.

Like Maus, which I read earlier this year, the story is told using deceptively simplistic black and white images however this does not mean that the story is a simple one. It's a very personal, and honest, account of a girl growing up in very difficult circumstances. Satrapi uses a very dark sense of humour to skirt a fine line between comedy and tragedy which works effectively in allowing her to tell her personal story as well as recount some pretty horrific events happening around her. The contradiction between public and private life in Tehran lent itself well to depiction by illustration and the nuances of rebellion, whilst her and her friends were ostensibly conforming in dress and behaviour, were fascinating.

I think that condensing the book to standard paperback size, as in my edition, was a shame as sometimes the text was a bit hard to read and the layout felt compromised. Having said that, I still enjoyed it and I think I have been incredibly lucky to have read three such good examples of non-fiction graphic novels this year. I've also tracked down an excerpt which gives a good sense of what to expect from this book.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Graphic Novels Challenge

Fashionably late to the party, I've just seen, and joined in with, the Graphic Novels Challenge!

Hosted by Laza of Gimme More Books, the challenge has four grades to mark achievement and I am aiming for at least a Major by the end of the year but I might even get my Masters!

Minor: Read 6
Major: Read 12
Masters: Read 18
Doctorate: Read 24

So far this year, I've already read two non-fiction graphic novels which are Maus by Art Spiegelman and Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle. I know I have at least four more books lurking in the TBR pile that would qualify for this challenge and my local library has recently expanded it's "Teen" section which, for some reason, is where the Graphic Novels are all kept. Hopefully I'll be able to earn my Minor grade without succumbing to the temptation that my recent purchase of the book 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide has made me very vulnerable to as well...

I'm really looking forward to this one!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

M is for Market!

According to its very own official website, "Norwich Market is unique in Britain. It boasts over 190 stalls and is the largest Monday-to-Saturday open market in the country. There’s been a market in Norwich since Saxon times and it’s been on its current site longer than any of the buildings that surround it."

Cor.I walk past this market on my way to and from work but, for some reason, have not really used it since I was a teenager in search of second hand romantic novels and Mr B hadn't visited it for years so it seemed like a good alphabet activity. We spent absolutely ages exploring every stall and it was fabulous. I honestly had no idea just what an enormous range of products were available in this relatively small space.

Look at all the pretty/tasty things we bought:

These burgers from Pickerings were absolutely delicious and I can safely say that I know where we'll be going to buy any future ones!

I have to say that we were really impressed with our trip and would recommend it as a great place to shop in the centre of Norwich.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

July Reading List

Blimey - another great month's reading and I have to give credit to our new "reading chairs" for this. I just love snuggling up in them with a book and I wish we'd bought them ages ago!

When I was looking through the books I've read this month I was surprised to realise that seven of them were from the library - no wonder my TBR pile never seems to get any smaller! In total I read 14 books this so that means a donation of £14 to Book Aid International. My total so far this year is now £79 which I am really pleased with although other donations are, of course, very welcome ;)

July's reading list:
King of Foxes & Exile's Return - Raymond E. Feist
The Hazards of Hunting a Duke - Julia London
Splendid & How to Marry a Marquis - Julia Quinn
Arabella - Georgette Heyer
The Streets of Babylon - Carina Burman
Burma Chronicles - Guy Delisle
Dreams From My Father - Barack Obama
The American Future - Simon Schama
Sprig Muslin - Georgette Heyer
Lord of Scoundrels & Not Quite a Lady - Loretta Chase
World's End - Mark Chadbourne (first in a trilogy so I will review next month)