Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 3: Thursday Next

Day 3: My Favorite Series (current)

Since I'm currently on the track of, and because it is a pretty darned good series, I am going to say the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.
Set in an alternate England, this is every book lover's dream come true, encompassing everything that is literature, British literature specifically, and all that is cool. You go into books, see how a book is constructed and projected to the reader, be read by a reader, drive with Mrs. Havisham, conduct help-groups for characters, jump between books, kill grammasites and mispeling vyrus, mark a minotaur with slapstick, die and be not-dead, trap Supreme Evil Beings in glass jars, make money killing zombies and vampires, travel through time, deal with snarky politicians and curb apocalypses by winning a Croquet Superhoop final, keep dodos as pets, experience mammoth migrations and be friends with neanderthals, meet cloned Shakespeares and Napoleans, bring Hamlet into the real world, be the bellman of JurisFiction - the policing agency within books, take on a multi-national corporation, Goliath, and still live to tell the tale, have a father who was eradicated, be your own Granny, and so forth.
Make sense? Probably not.
I love it. The Eyre Affair, the first of this brilliant series, had me hooked. I'm on the 5th book, currently, and penning my review (see here) of what I've read so far. I love the play on words, and people, and the general smooth flowing storyline, unless a ChronoGuard comes along... ;) So definitely, one of my favorite series.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 2: North & South

Day 2: A Book I've Read At Least 3 Times

Apparently I have a thing for books by authors who are no longer living. Quite naturally they are all at least a century old. Pro-feminist novels of the time definitely have my attention, but it is the literature that keeps me.
North & South by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (see my previous review) is an industrial novel set in the fictional town of Milton, in northern England. The main aspect of this book, and the writing, is the passion in it. The passion for life, or the lack of it.
The class and cultural differences of the time are clearly laid out before the reader. There is descriptive power in every word and all of the characters are uniquely defined. It is one of my all time favorite books, so it is no wonder that I've read it more than 3 times.
Mr. Thornton is an amazing man and I love this book more for him.
The story might drag along for some, but almost every aspect of living in an industrial town is covered. Beginning from the dark and dreary environment, to the cold, unforgiving weather conditions, and the workplace (mills, here) itself. The demeanor of the people in the town are in sync with it all. There is drama and tragedy. There is love and the loss of hope. And there is life.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 1: Captain Wentworth's Diary

Day 1: Best Book I Read Last Year

This is Persuasion from Captain Fredrick Wentworth's point of view, from the time he first sets foot into Anne Elliot's life as a penniless naval officer, to the acceptance and eventual refusal of his offer of marriage by Anne, his returning as a somewhat wealthy captain of the Navy, and his struggles as he decides to 'settle down'.

I'm not very certain if this book deserves the title of 'best book I read last year' but it definitely is one of my favorite in the past 10 months. It is filled with enough detail to stay honest to Miss Austen's narration. I found the beginning most interesting, the initial courtship when Wentworth falls in love with Anne. It is so pure and just. *sigh*

30 Day Book Challenge

I did this once before, but due to lack of review writing on my part, I thought of redoing the 30 Day Book Challenge on my blog :)
It's going to be a month, one book a day, and some amount of description about the book, or something related to it.

Day 01 - Best book you read last year
Day 02 - A book that you’ve read more than 3 times
Day 03 - Your favorite series
Day 04 - Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 - A book that makes you happy
Day 06 - A book that makes you sad
Day 07 - Most underrated book
Day 08 - Most overrated book
Day 09 - A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 - Favorite classic book
Day 11 - A book you hated
Day 12 - A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 - Your favorite writer
Day 14 - Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 - Favorite male character
Day 16 - Favorite female character
Day 17 - Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 - A book that disappointed you
Day 19 - Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 - Favorite romance book
Day 21 - Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 - Favorite book you own
Day 23 - A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 - A book that you wish more people would’ve read
Day 25 - A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 - A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 - The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 - Favorite title
Day 29 - A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 - Your favorite book of all time

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fitzwilliam Darcy: Gentleman

If the reality that I've read nearly 10 Austen spin-offs (I will not take into account the Austen books I have read this year), of which 8 are based on P & P, in 9 months doesn't cement the fact that I am addicted to Jane Austen, and Mr. Darcy is my idea of a perfect gentleman (and my man, of course), then I don't know what will.
Though Jules Verne is undoubtedly the one who opened to me the gates of literature, Jane Austen will always be credited as the one who held me, inspired me, and fascinated me. This, not just because she is one of the best authors ever, or the fact that she had strong feminine lead characters - being a feminist I quite naturally like that -, but more because of her way with words, which I am sure all book nerds will agree with.
And because I am such an addict and Austen nerd, and because I love the English language and mannerisms of the 19th century, I've always been a bit wary of reading spin-offs. Some have disappointed me hugely, others have had me nodding my head in approval. This trilogy, Fitzwilliam Darcy: Gentleman, by Pamela Aidan has my approval.
Aimed to provide the reader of one of the most well known literary romances through the eyes of Mr. Darcy, it is split into three parts: An Assembly Such As This - which deals with Darcy's arrival in Hertfordshire unto the point when Bingley departs for London; Duty and Desire - covering all that happens in Darcy's life in his absence from P & P; These Three Remain - taking off from Darcy's arrival at Rosing's to the end.
It portrays Darcy as the man he is supposed to be but with much more depth. His thoughts and feelings are rampant throughout the series. His words, whether of normal conversation, anger or of love, are passionate, with intelligence and the good-breeding he is proud of. His relationship with other people, those from P & P and new characters, Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Lord Dyfed Brougham, his aunt and uncle Matlock, some friends from university, an old flame, are all explained with careful detail as Darcy comes alive in the mind of the reader.
The first book of the trilogy, An Assembly Such As This, is insightful in that we understand Darcy's feelings towards Bingley and his sisters, his devotion and love for his sister, as the seeds of regard and affection for Elizabeth are sown. His life as a wealthy gentleman who took up the reigns of master to his father's estate as a young man, his responsibility to society and his family name, are given ample importance as his character is constructed with care. His involvement in separating Bingley from the Bennet family serves as the end to this part of the story. The writing in this novel is heavily borrowed from P&P; it retains the original narrative but inserts Darcy's point of view quite like what a die-hard reader would expect. There are no bumpy dialogues, no stupid implications, just the first part of the story from a different perspective.
The second novel begins with him deciding to find himself a wife, to get Elizabeth out of his system. Mr. Darcy is on the hunt and there are many that are willing prey. The machinations of his valet, who proves to be a good friend and confidant to his master when his friends are not around, are commendable as he serves as a reminder to Darcy whom his heart truly desires. I found this book a little tedious. There's the insertion of a mystery as Darcy is taken in by the charms of a sister of an old friend, though his prowess as a swordsman and a gentleman show. As someone who thinks Darcy is the example of a perfect man, his intelligence in this novel are questionable, though his intentions remain noble. For most part. While the story is not what you would want while wading through P&P, it helps you understand what we think may have been Darcy's life.
The third book, These Three Remain, is partly my favorite of the series. I particularly loved how the author takes us through Darcy's process of proposing to Elizabeth. His courting of her, his anticipation of the moment, his pain and utter desolation at her refusal are brilliantly portrayed. I felt his pain as my own. Through the first two books you are aware of Darcy's growing feelings towards Elizabeth, and for his sake want her to know and understand him. He places his life in her hands, and makes no excuses for having wanted to do so. His road to accepting her refusal and yet denying that he had been wronged by her is very sentimental and passionate even, but the repetition of certain emotions - like those of Elizabeth's refusal of him - is rather tiresome. Once you wade past those sentences, it is all very romantic. I grew to love Darcy more through the course of this novel, if that's even possible. The ending was a bit quick, in my opinion - he proposes in one page and two or three turns later, they're married and all's done. I would've loved to have more banter between Elizabeth and Darcy, no matter how taciturn he is considered. But I am content with the number of times I felt butterflies in my stomach as I read through the series.
I think Mr. Darcy is perfection itself, for all that he is, and this series definitely does justice to it. While nothing can ever compare to the original, Mr. Darcy came to me more alive and real in Pamela Aidan's words. For all the flutters and swings of sentiment, this remains one of the best spin-offs of any book I've ever read.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

When I hear the word 'gulag' I first feel incredulity, horror, pity and then resignation. Natural, don't you think? Imagine bitter cold, working like dogs, probably worse, almost to your death - or at least for the sake of survival, in the middle of nowhere, making the best of what you have, protecting what you own, knowing that all that matters is that you get your day's worth of ration to sustain you for another day. Unimagineable? Not so much, because One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn tells you almost all you need to know about it.
This simple, yet vastly informative book, is one in existence that gives an inside view of life in the gulag. Drawn from Solzhenitsyn's own experience at one of this labor camps, it is aimed at chronicling a singe day, from reveille at 5 a.m. to bed time at 10 p.m., in the life of a prisoner. The story mainly concerns Ivan Denisovich Shukov, though parts of it are narrated by an omniscient observer.
It begins with Shukov waking up late and sick. After washing the guardhouse, his punishment for waking up late, he goes to the dispensary to ask for a 'sick day' but is sent away because there are  no more slots open (essentially). He goes away to face the day with his squad, the 104th, lead by Tyurin, a strict but kind 'zek' who has earned the respect of his squad. Shukov, one can tell, is liked by most of his squad. He is an efficient and skillful worker, does not slack off, doesn't expect that others will help him more then necessary; he lives in the moment for the day. All that matters is that he's able to get a good serving of food. The only way to ensure it, is to do/complete whatever work the squad has been assigned. Food in the belly makes a contended zek. Most of the zeks work sincerely, some slack off, but they all know that if they do good, they will be rewarded - even if it's just an extra bit of bread at the end of the day.
Trade in tobacco is ripe within prison walls, with the bargains being struck for the exchange of goods that one might receive in packages from the outside world. Friendship lasts as long as one does for the other what he would want for himself. There are those prisoners that have no dignity in them and would almost beg for a cigarette butt, but Shukov holds himself above the rest. He has no qualms, however, in tricking the guy at the cafeteria in giving his squad an extra tray of food.
Squads race against the 'warmth' of the day (they're exempt from work only if temperatures reach -41C or -42F) to finish their assigned work before a somewhat warm meal and bed. Shukov calculates every bit of food he receives, he also plans out his work so that he might complete it properly. He makes no complaints against the administration and is resigned to his fate in the gulag. But, fact remains that the solidarity shared by these men is the only thing that gets them through each day of their lives.
This day in Shukov's life, the one that we are privy to, is considered one of his 'lucky' days. He'd avoided being caught for having a hacksaw blade in his boot, had received some food from Tsezar's package, saved some of his own food and had completed a lot of work. He goes to bed in content, having just lived through another day in his term of ten years.

The writing is simple and invokes outrage and pity in the reader. All you can imagine is replaying this one day, every day, in a loop for the term you are meant to serve. A monotonous cycle to which you must give in to. If you don't, you probably will not survive. I admire the resilience of each of the characters in this novel. They have some semblance of hope for the future, what they might do when released, but they do not dream of it. They just live one day at a time.