Month: November 2013

Monthly Review – November 2013

Posted November 30, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Monthly Reading / 5 Comments

the bone peopleNow that November is coming to an end, I feel like I need to breathe a sigh of relief. I feel like I’ve been in a major reading slump during this month, but on reflecting it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought, there was a period of a few weeks where I struggled to finish anything but in the end I was able to manage nine books; not too bad.

Let’s have a quick look back at the month for the book club on Goodreads and our book of the month, The Bone People.  I went into this book not knowing anything about it, I never heard of it and glad I was able to read it. This was a controversial and confronting book and as readers of this blog know, I do enjoy a confronting read. If you missed the conversation about this book, head over on to Goodreads, there is still time to join in.

Next month we are in for a mystery, when we look at And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I’ve not read any Christie so this will be a new experience for me. I hope it is a nice quick and enjoyable book to read over the holiday period. If you’re not aware, the book discussion and everything else will be happening over on the Goodreads forums, so feel free to join in there.

As I said before, this was a difficult reading month for me; not that I didn’t like the books, just an annoying slump. Check out my thoughts about reading slumps in this post if you are interested.  I had a great month in October; I did enjoy some interesting non-fiction books this month. Highlights include The Know-It-All and Perv. As for fiction, I think I did better with the lighter books, like Moon Over Soho and The Martian. How did you go this month?

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The Bone People by Keri Hulme

Posted November 29, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Book of the Month, Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Bone People by Keri HulmeTitle: The Bone People (Goodreads)
Author: Keri Hulme
Published: Pan Macmillan, 1984
Pages: 540
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

It was a gloomy and stormy night, a mute 7 year old boy, Simon shows at the hermit Kerewin’s tower. The next morning his adoptive father, Joe came to pick him up. Because Simon couldn’t explain his motives, Kerewin has to rely on Joe to tell their curious story. A storm earlier that year sees Simon wash up on a beach with no memory or clue of his identity. Joe and his now deceased wife took the troubled boy in, but the traumatised boy is just too hard to cope with.

The Maori people use bones as tools and for art; they believe the notion of a person’s core is found within their skeleton. The bones are a common theme throughout the novel; each character is emotionally stripped to the bone. It is then we truly see what type of person these characters are. This novel is full of violence and twisted emotions, making this a tense and draining book to read.

Something I really liked about this novel was Keri Hulme’s use of silence as tool that drives the plot. Simon is unable to speak, but we find out this is more of a psychological rather than a physical restriction, as he can sing. I think he is afraid to say the wrong thing, a defensive strategy. He uses notes as a primary form of communication, this way there are no expressions of his emotion and he can protect himself. The book goes a little further, Simon is also silent about the pain, when he is beaten he doesn’t make a sound. Kerewin also uses silence in a similar way, she built her tower to hide away and be a recluse; no one can hurt her if she is in solitude. She is always an artist suffering from a creative silence; not being able to let her creative side flow through her art. You can read this book and find many examples of silences within it; very effective and I spent a lot of time trying to work out the meaning behind it.

Each character has been damaged that their defensive mechanisms make it hard to open up to others. Yet the three main characters spend the entire novel trying to work out what love is and how to find it. They are all isolated themselves from the world; Kerewin in her tower, Simon with his inability to steak and Joe with his grief. There is just so many themes you could look at in The Bone People, the idea of a utopian society uniting Maori and Western culture, Post-colonial discourse, cultural illness, violence as a way to communicate and you can just go on and on.

This is not the easiest book to read, it is confronting and tense. The Bone People left me with mixed emotions; on one hand the writing was wonderful and left me thinking about so many issues but on the other hand the violence just left me with a sick feeling. I often try to leave my emotional opinion of the subject matter out of analysing a book but I just can’t help it with this one. In the end, I think the book has something important to say and worth reading.


Practical Classics by Kevin Smokler

Posted November 28, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

Practical Classics by Kevin SmoklerTitle: Practical Classics (Goodreads)
Author: Kevin Smokler
Published: Prometheus Books, 2013
Pages: 320
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Classics have a lot to say about life, the problem is the ones that are forced upon us during high school are normally hated or forgotten about. Teachers pick books that are designed to teach important lessons as well as develop critically reading skills. Kevin Smokler has decided to reread those classics and try to tell the reader why we should reread them.

Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School is a collection of essays that often remind the reader what these classics have to offer but told in a very accessible and humours ways. I’m not sure where I first heard about this book, I want to say Books on the Nightstand but I can’t be too sure. I’ve always had an interest in classics and what is assigned in English classes around the place.

The only book I remember studying in High School was Romeo and Juliet and I have to admit I never read it, we ended up watching the movie instead; the Baz Luhrmann version was just released. So I never had a chance to learn about the classics and reading critically. These are new skills I’m still developing. When I suddenly gained an interest in reading and education and have often spent time thinking about what books I would want to teach (see this old post where I pick some books to teach).

Out of the 50 books in this novel; I think I only read a small portion of them so Smokler has really destroyed my TBR list with so many more novels. Not that it really is his fault; I will probably read most of them anyway. I’m interested in knowing why some of these books were chosen, I couldn’t work that out at times and really want to learn more about how they pick the books. Kevin Smokler stated that he reread the books he was assigned in high school and then consulted friends, teachers, etc. to get a nice round 50.

This doesn’t help answer the question I had but it was probably the most practical way to pick books. I’m just fascinated in the idea of studying literature and the process behind deciding what to teach. I’m taking the time to work through an English Lit course and I hope it doesn’t squash my passion for the topic to continue further in. I would love to know if there were books that could help satisfy my curiosity; I will continue to search for them.

I wasn’t much of a non-fiction reader for a long time (in fact I’ve only been a reader since 2009), but books about books are my newfound interest. Kevin Stoker’s book really was a fascinating read and I want people to recommend me some more non-fiction books that will help. Stoker mentioned two in his book that I am to pick up and I hope some of the readers of this will give me some more. If you are interested in learning why classics are important, or you are just interested in books about books, this is a nice addition.


The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

Posted November 27, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

The Know-It-All by A.J. JacobsTitle: The Know-It-All (Goodreads)
Author: A. J. Jacobs
Narrator: Geoffrey Cantor
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2004
Pages: 389
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

A.J. Jacobs has noticed an ever widening gap left from graduating from an Ivy League education. His solution, to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, from A to Z. Follow A.J. as he works his way through all 32 volumes, that’s 33 thousand pages and 44 million words. His wife thinks it’s a waste of time, his friends believe he has lost his mind, but follow this unconventional task in this memoir.

I have read an A.J. Jacobs memoir before; I read “Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” and found it really entertaining. This task sounded really interesting, I’m interested in the things people do to increase their pretentious levels. I’m not sure I will ever take up a task like reading the Encyclopaedia, especially with easy to access to Wikipedia.

Knowledge has interested me, and the way to obtain more knowledge is fascinating. The full title of this book is The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World; A.J. Jacobs documents the journey in this hilarious memoir. Not only do you get little snippets of facts that he found interesting but you get a look at his life. I really enjoyed the social impact reading the Encyclopaedia had; you watch his pretentious levels rise but you also watch his social skills fall. Obviously people don’t like being corrected, or want to hear weird related facts but I can’t help thinking that I would do the same thing as well.

A.J. Jacobs is quite a character and reading about the ways he tries to put his newfound knowledge into practise was really interesting. From going to a chess club, a crossword tournament and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, Jacobs tries all sorts of ways to practise often with hilarious effects. Why take the test to join Mensa if you are already in Mensa; why not? Although A.J. Jacobs was entertaining, I really found his dad so much more interesting; he was fascinating.

I love books about books and humorous memoirs about learning, so this was right up my alley. A.J. Jacobs got the balance between trivia and real life. Following Jacobs and his wife as they try to get pregnant and I felt relief when they finally conceived. I’m curious if there are more entertaining memoirs like this worth reading, maybe a year reading classics or just novels, something similar. I think I need to read more books like this.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Am Thankful For

Posted November 26, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Top Ten Tuesday / 0 Comments

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in of this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Ten Books I Am Thankful For. Thanksgiving is such an American event; but I’m going to jump on board with this theme because I want something to post. I’m thankful for the following books because of many different reasons.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – this is my all-time favourite and plays a big part in developing my passion for books.
  • Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! by Craig Schuftan – for developing my passion in learning and books.
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart – I have strong memories of this book and one of the first books I tried to read and critically analyse.
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – I didn’t think much of this book but my analysis of this novel really surprised me and made me think I could be a better reader.
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – still one of my favourite books and still happy with the review I wrote for this one.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – I put off reading Austen but when I finally read this, so much was opened up to me about her style and wit.
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – so romantic.
  • Swimming Home by Deborah Levy – the first book I read and immediately wanted to read again.
  • You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney – for giving me a current thirst for non-fiction.
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – because I found it harder to read than Infinite Jest but I defeated it, I understood it and I got some great stuff out of it.

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Posted November 24, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Fantasy / 0 Comments

Moon over Soho by Ben AaronovitchTitle: Moon over Soho (Goodreads)
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Series: Peter Grant #2
Narrator: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Published: Orion, 2011
Pages: 396
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Constable Peter Grant is back and this time he suspects sorcery in Soho. Jazz musicians in the area are dying; brains scans show they have been magically drained. When the girlfriend of one of the victim’s ends up in bed with Peter, complications are ensured. DCI Nightingale is still recovering so it is up to Peter Grant to handle this one alone.

One of the things I loved about the first book in this series, Rivers of London, was the fact that Peter Grant was a new police officer and new to wizardry. Moon over Soho is a natural progression from that; except that Peter Grant has improved in leaps and bounds. There are still mistakes being made but he is starting to come into his own element, it is like watching him grow as a character.

I’m not sure why the humour has been scaled back in this series but the urban fantasy style seems to be well established and I’m excited to read book three. The series is starting to give Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files a run for his money. While not as dark, the London setting and humour in all its nuance makes for a fantastic read. Ben Aaronovitch’s series may in some parts feel very similar to other urban fantasy novels; I’m impressed with the way he stands apart from the others.

I want to say it is the real English flavour that makes this series enjoyable; I love that style of crime and comedy. This could be because more urban fantasy novels are set in an American or fantastical setting. The uniqueness of the style makes this feel fresh, and then you get all those tropes from urban English novels thrown in as well, like slang.

When it comes to plot, the novel is pretty standard in relation to urban fantasy. I think the characters, the setting and humour is what makes this novel and series interesting. I was in a reading slump when I worked my way through this book. I tried it as a way to break the slump; I was able to read and enjoy the novel but never got out of my slump.

Unfortunately I’m still in a slump, but reading this novel was fun and entertaining. I’m almost tempted in reading book three just to work my way out of the slump. I will talk more about slumps later but reading books like this might do the trick in breaking my reading problems. Peter Grant is a fun character and the series is really enjoyable, I can’t wait to read more.


How to Deal with Reading Slumps

Posted November 23, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 16 Comments

I’m currently in a reading slump and about to start another semester of university. This is not a good combination; I don’t want to struggle through my reading while trying to get good grades. This is not the first time I’ve fallen into a slump and I find it so frustrating and stressful. When I finally do break out of a slump, it is so refreshing and I feel so relieved.

So I want to talk about slumps and see if there are other ways to manage and break them. I’ve looked around and have found some peoples hints and maybe I am missing something. We will find out what works for some and open a dialogue about reading slumps here. So here are some suggestions I’ve found.

  • Read something light: I recently tried reading Moon over Soho which was light and enjoyable and made me want to read the next in the series, if I read the next book does that mean my slump is over? What would happen if I try something heavier?
  • Read a favourite genre: This can be problematic because I’m a literary explorer and sometimes not too sure what my favourite genre is. Maybe it’s hard-boiled crime but this sounds similar to reading something light, assuming they are talking about reading genre fiction.
  • Try something short: Short stories, novellas and short books might work, this way you are not spending too much time in a story and feel like we are making progress. I’m not sure if this works, I’ve never tried it.
  • Recommendations: I’m really don’t think this will work, I’ve got plenty of books recommended to me sitting on my TBR just waiting to be read.
  • Take a break: While this might be the answer, the idea of not reading at all does not appeal to me.
  • Revisit a favourite book: This could work; I do need to reread Frankenstein for this semester of university, so if I break that out now and start reading it, will I get out of the slump? At least I know the book is great.
  • Make time: I’m not sure this would work, this feels like forcing myself to read when I struggle. The stress is already there and being forced to read doesn’t sound like a way to reduce stress.
  • Read a classic: This could work, classics are normally great books, so reduces the likelihood of reading a dud.
  • Try non-fiction: Someone suggested trying some non-fiction as a way to break the slump, instead of looking for a great novel to break the slump, maybe learning something new might help. This is a suggestion from my local indie bookstore, so I’ve been trying it out.
  • Put all books on hold and just read whatever looks appealing: This is what I’m trying at the moment, I had a few books on the go and they have now been put aside and I am just picking up a book that looks appealing. I’m willing to put it aside if it’s not working but at the moment I’m trying to work my way through The Martian and NW.

Now I’ve talked about solutions, I want to see if I can work out the root cause. Is there a way to avoid this in the future? I don’t think so, sometimes life gets in the way or you read too many below average books at a time. For me, I think what caused my slump this time was the fact I read some great books like The Bell Jar and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler followed by some books that I felt were less than average; The Tale for a Time Being and Harvest, followed by some novels I needed to finish in a limited amount of time (due back to the library or for book club).

I don’t think I can avoid average or bad books, but I should try and be better with abandoning books. I’ve never been good at quitting a book, but I’m getting to a point in my reading career where I feel like I now have a good baseline for judging books. I don’t want to fall into a slump again, and now I know the signs of it coming on maybe I can avoid it. How do others manage slumps and try to avoid them altogether.


My Upcoming Reading List

Posted November 22, 2013 by Michael Kitto in What are you Reading / 12 Comments

the sign of fourNext week I start a university course called Literature and Politics. I’m actually nervous and excited about starting this. I’ve been doing an English Literature course part time but work has been pretty full on so I’ve moved to online university. This will mean things will be a lot more flexible and should hopefully give me the time to manage both work and study without them interfering. What I wanted to share with you; the entire point of this post was my awesome reading list for the summer thanks to this course.

  • Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

How awesome it this list? So many great books that I’ve read or excited to read. A reading list like this really does wonders to your nerves.


Why I Read Confronting Books

Posted November 21, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 4 Comments

I listen to a lot of bookish podcasts and one of my favourites is The Readers. This week on The Readers they talked about Comforting vs. Confronting Reading which got me thinking. So I thought I would try to articulate my response about Confronting Reads. I read a lot of confronting books and I have been thinking about why I do this for a while now. When The Readers spoke about this topic I thought it was time to blog about it.

One of the reasons I like confronting reads has something to do with my interest in transgressive fiction. I like to understand the mind-set of flawed characters and how their minds work. I have an interest in psychology, while I doubt I’ll ever fully understand it completely. It is the same reason why I like TV shows where the men always make mistakes. There is something about getting into the mind of someone who is making mistakes so you don’t have to.

Consider this; if you read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Tampa by Alissa Nutting, The Yearning by Kate Belle, Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor and other books with similar themes, does that make you more likely to be a paedophile? I think not. Reading is an emotional experience and if you are part of the suffering and the mistakes of the protagonist, then you probably don’t want to experience it in a more extreme and realistic way. For me, I read about serial killers because I want to understand why a person would have that desire to kill without having first hand experience. Does that make sense or am I missing something here?

There are also many other reasons to read a confronting book; most of these books are satirical and are trying to send a message. Look at Tampa, not only is this a disturbing look at a female sexual psychopath, it is also a look at the schoolboy fantasy of an older woman or the fantasy of getting a boy before he has been corrupted by society; trying to show the reader that these fantasies are extremely damaging. A young boy is not developed enough to handle a purely sexual relationship with an older woman without getting attached or if you get a man before he is corrupted, you are just doing the corrupting.

I find a confronting novel far more enjoyable, I like the macabre and I like a darker plot, but most of all I like that satirical messages in these book (read my post on Satire if you still think it is meant to be humorous). The lessons learnt and the experiences had, may prevent me from making the same mistakes. I’ve made plenty of bad mistakes in my past and the consequences are not pretty. I much rather someone else experience them while I enjoy the book with a cup of tea in my hand. What do you think about confronting reads? Are there more reasons to read them that I haven’t covered here? Let me know in the comments.


Harvest by Jim Crave

Posted November 20, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Harvest by Jim CraveTitle: Harvest (Goodreads)
Author: Jim Crave
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 272
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

A group of strangers arrive in the woodland borders and put up a make-shift camp. That same night a manor house is set on fire. Following that the harvest is blackened by smoke, the strangers are cruelly punished and there is suspicion of witchcraft afoot. Harvest tells the story of the economic progress following the Enclosure Acts that disrupted the pastoral paradise of a small remote English village.

Jim Crave uses the tragedies, pillaging and other disruptions in an effort to evoke the effects of England’s fields being irrevocably enclosed. I never really knew when this book was set but upon researching the Enclosure Acts I’ve since found that this novel is most likely set sometime between 1750 and 1860. This Act basically removed the existing rights the locals had to carry out activities like cultivation, cutting hay, grazing animals, using other resources such as small timber, fish, and turf.

While some people saw these acts as the building blocks to a capitalist future, others thought of this as an attack on the peasantry. You know the old complaint, parliament are only looking after the major landowners; the rich get richer. Sometimes the enclosures were carried out with force and extreme measures were used.

In Harvest we read about a pastoral idyll as it starts to unravel with the major changes in land rights. Jim Crave’s look on the subject is done in an interesting way; I didn’t read this book as a depiction of changes in land rights. I read this as a community so cut off from the rest of the world that it started imploding as soon as outsiders were introduced. Sure, the whole point of the book was the Enclosure Acts; my brain just took a different direction.

While this book felt a little dark, like life was harsh and cruel; all the things I enjoy in a novel, it just didn’t feel right. I felt the grittiness and yet I felt a little bored and disappointed by Harvest. I’m not sure if it was a problem with the novel, I felt like I was in a reading slump and I was forcing myself to complete the book before I needed to return it to the library.

Then again, the first impression is often the correct one. I spent a lot of time thinking if this was a problem with the novel or a problem with me at the time. In any case, it doesn’t matter, I didn’t enjoy it and I’m not sure revisiting it later will change my mind. Well written with the normal historical fiction tropes, but I felt like the novel dragged on. This should have been catnip for me but I just couldn’t find a connection.