Wednesday, May 22

Reading Challenge 2013, Update #1 (January - March)

 After a successful, easy year with last year's reading challenge, I've had a bit of a shaky start this year; With all the family stuff that happened at the beginning of the year, trashy TV became a better escape than reading a book, but I'm slowly getting back into books and working my way through the huge pile on my bookshelf. 

My biggest goal after last year was to try to read a few more classics and dramatic novels. Like films, I tend to gravitate towards contemporary novels or something that will make me giggle; As someone who cries at the drop of a hat, I'm never really enthused to read something I know will make me sad. Nevertheless, I think I'm doing reasonably well towards that particular goal with a couple of classics and a Murakami.



1. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Beginning at Brown University in the early 80's, The Marriage Plot follows English student Madeleine Hanna, who is writing her thesis on the authors of the great marriage plots (Austen and Eliot); whilst also dealing with her own conflicting romantic plots; Scientist and charismatic loner Leonard Bankhead and theology student Mitchell Grammaticus. 

I was so excited to read this, I'd heard nothing but good things about it from friends and it sounded like my kind of book. I was however a bit disappointed. It's a complete literary geek's type of romance (or romantic) novel - with Madeleine being a self professed Austen geek and both male lead characters bonding with her over books and philosophical discussions - but I just didn't really like the characters, particularly main character Madeleine. I found myself speeding up my reading in order to get to the only character I liked, Mitchell, but even his character felt a little bogged down by his various theological interests and epiphanies. 

In all it was quite disappointing, not at all helped by the ending which I found a little anti-climatic and a bit of a cop-out really. I do however want to try and revisit it at a later date, I just have a feeling that it's one of those books that gets better with a few more reads.

“She wanted a book to take her places she couldn't get to herself.”

(more after the jump)

2. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami.

Sumire is an aspiring writer who survives on family money and  spends hours on the phone talking to her best friend (and the story's narrator K). Sumire is also in love with Miu, a woman seventeen years her senior, who does not return her feelings. 

I'll be honest, before watching Paris, Je T'aime when it came out I had never heard of Murakami (I had seen Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on my mum's bookshelf), but I heard it mentioned in one of the segments of the film (Bastille) and immediately added it to my 'to-read' list. 

As someone who has never read any Murakami I wasn't aware of the magical/surreal element that most of his books have, I'll admit it came as a bit of surprise - I actually re-read a couple of pages as I thought I'd accidentally missed a bit. However once I'd realised, I really enjoyed the surreal element. The story raises a lot of questions and leaves a lot plot points open-ended, which normally I'd hate, but it is so beautifully written that the open-endedness almost makes complete sense.
“We're both looking at the same moon, in the same world. We're connected to reality by the same line. All I have to do is quietly draw it towards me.”


3. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov

Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, who he'll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster?! Or is he all of these?

I'll admit that since completing Lolita, I've been a bit confused. Perhaps it's my view through cynical eyes or perhaps it's the whole Yewtree investigation happening in the UK at the moment, but at no point whilst reading this, did I think it was a romance novel, nor did I believe that Humbert Humbert is truly in love with 'his Lolita'. Lust and fetishisation, definitely. Love, not so much. I've also read a few reviews where they even feel compassion for Humbert Humbert by the end of the book, again, that wasn't the case for me. It wasn't simply because of him being a pedophile, but aside from that he came across as being incredibly insufferable. 

Ignoring that I actually did enjoy the book, it was one that I had started and re-started reading over a couple of years; with most books I'd normally give up, but I'm really happy I persevered. It's another well written book, the language is incredibly poetic, even down to the names - Lolita (Dolores Haze), Humbert Humbert, Clare Quilty - regardless of the themes, it all rolls of the tongue so beautifully.
"Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita."

I had to split my reading update into two posts because it was getting a little bit long. So look out for April/May in the next few days!


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