Month: October 2013

Monthly Review – October 2013

Posted October 31, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 7 Comments

The Bell JarAs October comes to a close, we have a quick look back at the month of the book club on Goodreads and our book of the month, The Bell Jar.  I don’t know why I put this book off for so long because it was almost perfect. It was nice to experience a novel as good as The Bell Jar for the first time but I’m looking forward to reading it again. There were some interesting conversations about this book over on Goodreads if you’ve missed them.

Next month we will are looking at dysfunctional families by reading The Bone People by Keri Hulme. Followed by a mystery novel to wrap up the year with And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. 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.

For my reading this month I’ve had so much fun reading some great novels and talking books with everyone that listens. I was lucky enough to have a week and a half off work to travel and read so I hope I will feel refreshed soon (still getting over the holidays). Highlights include Barracuda, High Fidelity, Paddle Your Own Canoe, The Year of the Flood and of course The Bell Jar. But I’ve been obsessed with, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. I’ve spent more time re-reading or reading aloud sections and writing quotes on Tumblr. If this wasn’t a library book I would have highlighted the entire book. It has just been a wonderful experience reading this book for the first time.

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Posted October 30, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic / 7 Comments

The Bell Jar by Sylvia PlathTitle: The Bell Jar (Goodreads)
Author: Sylvia Plath
Published: Harper Collins, 1963
Pages: 213
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Esther Greenwood is a young woman from Boston who gains an internship at a prominent women’s magazine in New York City. We follow her personal life and her decline into depression, attempting suicide to being committed into an asylum. We see the bad treatment as well as the good, all the way up to her attempt to re-enter the world.

This is the seminal semi-autobiographical novel of Sylvia Plath and I’m so glad that I’ve finally read The Bell Jar. I want to say she is the female version of Charles Bukowski (even though I’ve only read Factotum); there are differences but I feel like the voice and style feel very similar. Originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas to protect identities of characters she took liberties with, but more  the fact it parallels Plath’s own experiences.

A bell jar is an inverted glass jar that is normally air tight used to display objects for observation, normally for scientific curiosity. For Esther the bell jar is a symbol of madness, when gripped with depression she feels like she is stuck in a jar with no real perspective to the outside world. It prevents her from  making any real connections with people and sometimes she feels like she is on display (especially when she was hospitalised and received all those visitors).

What was interesting for me is that to me it never really felt like Esther Greenwood suffered from depression to begin with. I’m not saying she wasn’t really suffering but for me I think the idea was forced on her by everyone else, just because her thoughts were a little macabre and she was a little different. Almost like she was forced into her descent, because she was a little different to the norm.

Esther has an obsession with death; we get that from the very start with her fascination of newspaper headlines about executions, suicide and death. There is also the blood motif  throughout the book; blood normally represents life but the constant bleeding would point towards death. When she starts to think about killing herself she talks about it at great lengths and even practices slashing her own wrists.

I think this is a novel about the regression into madness, the life experiences that normally have a positive on a person’s live, but for Esther these were partly responsible of her descent. Romance, success in education, finding work and marriage proposals tend to upset or disorient her and in the end instead of finding reasons to live she finds how different she is to others and this cements her choice to die.

Then the book looks into the world of treating mental illness, the good and the bad. This is where the book moves into the territory similar to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in particular a look at 1950 psychiatric treatments. In this part there seems to be three treatment types used within the book; talking, injections of insulin and then the dreaded electroshock therapy. The treatment is meant to clear the mind entirely and after her first electroshock treatment Esther was unable to think about knives. The treatment was doing more damage than good, especially to her intellect.

I went into this book thinking there might have been some psychological elements but  that this was mainly a novel about feminism. It is to some extent but what I got was so much more; I was really impressed with this novel and really enjoyed the journey it took me. I feel like kicking myself for not reading this sooner. A novel about a protagonist slipping into depression is normally right up my alley but I’m a little perplexed about the ending. Overall this is a masterpiece and well worth reading.

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween or All Hallows’ Reads Recommendations

Posted October 29, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Top Ten Tuesday / 10 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: Scariest Looking Book Covers. This is a hard topic and I’m not really sure if I can find ten scary covers. Honestly while we all love covers (some are great and some are tacky) I care more about the book itself. So I’m going to go rogue (again) and instead pick ten books I would recommend for Halloween or to give to someone for All Hallows’ Read.

  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan – default gift; it’s dark, gritty, violent and full of sex. It is also a literary take on the whole werewolf genre
  • I am Legend by Richard Matheson – one of the best vampire novels I’ve read
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James – classic ghost tale
  • Psycho by Robert Bloch – speaks for itself
  • The Call Of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft – classic monster story
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin – literary zombie novel, a little long but worth reading for fans of the zombie genre
  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – for something really weird and messed up
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – do I really need to explain why?
  • The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole – for fans of classics or gothic novels
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – because it is the greatest novel of all time! Or because I think everyone should read/own this.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Posted October 28, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Romance, Young Adult / 2 Comments

New Moon by Stephenie MeyerTitle: New Moon (Goodreads)
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Series: Twilight #2
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2006
Pages: 565
Genres: Romance, Young Adult
My Copy: Library Book

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

The most important thing in Bella Swan’s life is Edward Cullen (eye roll). So much so that college is plan B, but now he is gone, in an effort to keep her safe. But she is not safe, there are vampires out for revenge and since the Cullen’s are no longer around, Bella is their target. In comes Jacob Black; young, handsome and willing to protect Bella.

If you have read my review on Twilight, you must be wondering why I decided to read New Moon. Torture, joining the social commentary or most likely peer pressure. If you follow me on twitter or have read my post on reading Twilight then you know the fun I had with live tweeting the entire book in all its weirdness. This is what happened again with New Moon (see below for a full read of those tweets) and I think this was the only reason why I decided to continue, because truth be told, I hated the books but really enjoyed making sarcastic remarks about them.

Let’s have a quick look at the book. I’m not going to go into deep analysis of New Moon; I would have to read the book closer for that and really I only skimmed it to race through it. This is not to say I didn’t read the book, I am well aware of the plot and the key themes but this book had so much padding that skimming was the only real way to get through it. There was a paragraph dedicated to the voice of Edward Cullen and almost a full chapter where Bella and Alice flew to Europe (nothing else happened on the flight).

Bella is as always so co-dependent that it makes me sick; when Edward left she latched on to Jacob. She tells herself that she is not capable of falling in love again, like a whiny heartbroken teenager that thinks this is the end of her life and yet she is happy to lead Jacob on. There even was a time when it felt like she was going to be co-dependent on Alice; this would have made it more interesting.

Jacob started off as a whiny little lovesick puppy following Bella around everywhere. Then when it was revealed he was a werewolf he turned into a real asshole, too cool to hang out with a girl because he was in a gang. He went from one extreme to another and I just hated Jacob, there was a joke made by one of my Twitter followers of this being character development and it is sad to say this is the extent of development in the entire novel.

Apart from the constant angsty whining (and I normally love angst) this novel never really went anywhere, it was just 500 pages of treading water. The major problems I had with New Moon are (and I’m picking my top couple out of a long list), firstly the lack of consistency. Twilight and New Moon seem to contradict each other in so many ways; in book one Bella got sick at the smell of blood but in New Moon she was bleeding all over the place frequently and never seems to get sick. Then there was the fact that Stephenie Meyer, instead of doing a little research,  ignored any mythology and just made up her own. This really annoyed me, some slight changes in the vampire/werewolf mythology is acceptable if you are going to use it but to make a vampire sparkle so you can spend pages on how much Edward is like diamonds is ridiculous.

I hate to say this but I will probably read Eclipse and Breaking Dawn just to live tweet them, I don’t expect to like the books but I can’t help reading them. Obviously I pay them out but I do try to analyse them to see if there is anything interesting there; wishful thinking. I will need long breaks in between the novels but you can look forward to reading my thoughts in the very distant future. I doubt I will ever like this series but at least I have evidence to back up my claims.

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If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

Posted October 27, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 4 Comments

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo CalvinoTitle: If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Goodreads)
Author: Italo Calvino
Translator: William Weaver
Published: Everyman's Library, 1979
Pages: 254
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Library Book

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

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is an experimental classic that follows two protagonists, the Reader and the Other Reader. The Reader buys a fashionable new book that opens with those famous lines “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought.” Thirty pages or so into the book he realises his copy is corrupt and consists of the same thing over and over again. Returning to the book store he discovers that what he thought was Calvino was a book by a Polish writer Bazakbal. Given the choice between the two he goes for the Polish book, as does the Other Reader, but his book turns out to be yet another novel by a different writer, as does the next, and the next.

Trying to write a synopsis for this book is tricky, there is no way I can do the novel justice in a paragraph.  This Italian surrealist novel (1979) was translated in 1981 to critical acclaim. The novel is best known for its structure. The odd number chapters are written in second person, but you have to ask yourself is it possible to have a novel in second person. As you read along eventually the narrator “you” does something that will take the reader out of the equation and turning them into a character called You. For instance, in this novel You is male, this will rule out about 50% of the readers in one hit.  This doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of this novel but is something I was deeply aware of throughout this book. There were times where I felt like the novel was in first and third person as well, so you end up with characters called You, I and He/She.

This whole book is subjective, I’m sure some people get different things out of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler than I did but that is just what makes for a great novel. I want to talk a little about post-structuralism as I believe this novel is a great example of this literary theory. Firstly you need to understand structuralism, which is a theory that states that in order to understand a piece of literature you need to understand its relationship with the bigger picture, the overarching system or structure. You need to look into its influences, the genre, narrative and any other elements that might be relevant. The problem with this is you going further and further back eventually you might lose sight of the original text. Basically this is a set of specific rules that govern literature. Post-structuralism is basically taking those rules (they often study and analyse the rules) then setting out to critique the premises. It isn’t really throwing out the rules, more demonstrating how the rules don’t always apply.

Italo Calvino doesn’t stop at narrative modes and post-structuralism, the novel explores many more literary themes; the most obvious is the use of metafiction; a book within a book. You won’t find Outside the Town of Malbork by Tazio Bazakbal on Goodreads, I’ve checked. Then you have intertextuality, pastiche, post-modernism and so on. If you are interested in exploring literary theories this novel might be a good way to experience a whole range of different concepts in one hit. I don’t know much about literary theory so I hope my understanding on these concepts have come across as accurate and I haven’t missed it completely. I would love to attend a series of lectures where this book is deconstructed and looked at in real detail; I think that would be incredibly interesting.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a dense or hard-to-read book and I’m aware that talking about literary theory might turn people off this novel but please reconsider. This book is not only devilishly clever but it is beautifully executed. I took my time with this novel because I wanted to re-read sections, write done quotes and just talk about the book to anyone that would listen. If I didn’t borrow this from the library I would have highlighted the entire books (seriously, every line is just that great). I have brought my own copy now (yes, I broke my book buying ban) and I hope to be able to re-read this again. I’m not sure if reading this with others will help but the whole experience of reading this novel is worth sharing.

I’ve heard Italo Calvino is heavily influenced by Vladimir Nabokov which makes a lot of sense to me, the writing style does feel similar, even the humour and wit. A literary labyrinth that is so masterfully executed that the novel needs to be read again and again. I won’t go into any more details as there are a few things you just need to experience. I’m jealous of anyone that gets to read this novel for the first time as that is an experience I will never have again.

 I have to wonder why the Vintage classics cover of the word “Traveller” written correctly but throughout the book it is written in the American (wrong) spelling. I have to wonder if there is anything in that. I wonder if there is a reading companion to If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler that you can read alongside this book (similar to Infinite Jest) to discover the brilliance of this novel. I really enjoy Post-Modern literature but there is so much that I’m probably missing.

All book lovers should experience If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, there is nothing like that feeling of pure joy when you read a beautifully clever novel. You never want it to end, that ecstasy is like a drug and you immediately want to read it again only to find that feeling is just not the same. This is a masterpiece, I know I didn’t talk much about the plot but this was so I don’t give anything away. Go read it.

Hardcover verse Paperback

Posted October 26, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 15 Comments

I wanted to talk about hardcovers and paperbacks because I’m interested to know people’s thoughts on the topic and because Australians do things a lot differently to the rest of the world. Most books (outside Australia) have a hardback release and normally about a year later the paperback comes out. Obviously paperback release often changes and it does depend on popularity and many other factors. Why release a novel in paperback if we can charge more for the hardback edition?

Here in Australia most publishers have rejected this method. There are some hardbacks and there are normally special editions or if you are an author like Dan Brown or Ken Follett they may choose to adopt the same method as the rest of the world. Most releases in Australia come out in trade paperback (for their initial release). Trade paperbacks are the higher quality paperbacks that are normally the same size as the hardcover. Mass-market paperbacks (also known as B format) normally come out a year or more later, but the majority of books remain in the Trade paperback format.

I’m not sure why Australia does it this way but I prefer it. Sure hardcover books look better on the shelf but if I had to choose which I prefer to read I would pick Trade paperbacks. I just think they are more comfortable to read with, not too small and a little more flexible. I like the way Australia does it because really the whole hardcover-to-paperback method is slowly dying and it seems to work better for an indie bookstore. No longer do they have to get two lots of the same book, they just order what they think is the right amount and if it doesn’t sell as fast as expected that’s ok.

Let me know what you prefer and if you have more insights into the hardback/paperback marketing method. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days and honestly I think it is a dying marketing ploy. I just thought I would express my opinion, let people know how Australian publishing differs and hopefully create a discussion in the comments.

Monster by Dave Zeltserman

Posted October 25, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror / 0 Comments

Monster by Dave ZeltsermanTitle: Monster (Goodreads)
Author: Dave Zeltserman
Published: Duckworth Overlook, 2012
Pages: 222
Genres: Horror
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Friedrich Hoffman (also known as the monster) recounts the false accusations of killing his fiancée and the other gruesome ‘crimes’ he has been accused of committing. He awoke hideously deformed on the table of Victor Frankenstein, without any real idea of what is going on. He now embarks on a single minded quest for revenge on Frankenstein for all the damage he has done.

This plot feels completely redundant; if you want to read a book from the perspective of Monster Frankenstein you read Frankenstein; this is nothing new, not interesting, and just cashing in on the same story. Sure this novel is different but there is nothing interesting about it, it is full of the typical horror tropes and doesn’t really offer an interesting perceptive. I cannot help but think of this as something like fanfic and I struggle to work out why I read this one; I seem to pick up all novels that try to do something with the Frankenstein story.

I will admit there were parts of the novel that really fit the Frankenstein plot, tiny little points to prove that the author had indeed read and been heavily influenced by this masterpiece. I am just not sure why this would be published; a re-imagining, change in perspective (assuming it wasn’t covered in the original book), prequel/sequel or modernisation I can understand but this was the exact same story with minor differences. This feels like the author loved Frankenstein so much that he rewrote the book in his own words, like a writing exercise that is never meant to be published. He has a good style even if he follows a very formulaic horror or gothic theme but the novel did indicate his talent. In an original novel he might have better luck but for me this was just ripping off a classic piece of literature.

When it comes to using classic literature as the basis of your own novel, I am normally a tough judge; you better do something unique and interesting or I will hate the novel. If you are trying to retell Frankenstein then I will be strict, this is my all-time favourite; I have read this multiple times and will be reading it many more, and I am more likely to notice every flaw. Monster and This Dark Endeavour have probably been the two novels that I’ve judged the harshest, since starting this blog and you can see the similarities.

When you look at something like The Machine which isn’t really a Frankenstein reimagining but rather you can see the influence. Some themes and messages are the same and I loved this book, it is in my top five for the year. I guess you are better off reading a book like Machine; I really wish I knew why I keep going for Frankenstein remakes. I think people should read Frankenstein and not bother with this book, but I am curious so see how Dave Zeltserman is as a novelist in something original; I hear Small Crimes is good.

The Year of the Flood by Margret Atwood

Posted October 24, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Dystopia, Speculative Fiction / 0 Comments

The Year of the Flood by Margret AtwoodTitle: The Year of The Flood (Goodreads)
Author: Margaret Atwood
Series: Maddaddam #2
Narrator: Lorelei King
Published: Bloomsbury, 2009
Pages: 434
Genres: Dystopia, Speculative Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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

The Year of the Flood follows the lives of two characters, Toby and Ren. Toby is a young woman who lost her family and the corporations are to blame. She is forced work in a burger chain you would never want to eat at, that was until she met the Gardeners. Ren grows up working in a sex club called Scales and Tails. She previously dated Jimmy (Snowman) and found herself locked in bio-containment when the pandemic happened.

This is the second book in the Maddaddam trilogy and happens simultaneously to Oryx and Crake (for the most part). While book one jumped between the dystopian corporations-controlled world and after the pandemic, The Year of the Flood is more linear and set mainly in the pre-apocalyptic world. While it isn’t really necessary to read Oryx and Crake first, I think the majority of the world building was done in the first book leaving this one more open to focus on the characters and plot.

I will admit I loved the way Oryx and Crake portrayed the corporations dystopian world I love so much but I think The Year of the Flood was overall a better novel. I liked the characters more and the portrayal of a religious cult was fascinating. Margret Atwood seems to draw a lot on personal religious experiences and then build on that to create this cult. I’ve been in plenty of churches, have met many religious fanatics and it really feels like Atwood has too.

She even took the religious element one step further by adding 14 hymns; even during her book promotions and on the audio book they have performances of these hymns. I think Atwood managed to balance religious fanaticism and hostile corporation practises just right in the novel. Both never felt overpowering and allowed for character and plot development to take the foreground.

The more I read of Atwood the more I am in awe of her brilliance. I remember reading The Handmaids Tale and never really thought too much of it but now I that I know her style and the messages she wants to get across, I feel like I should try that book again. There are some other Atwood books I want to try as well so they might have to come first.

I’m entrenched in the Maddaddam world and looking forward to reading the final novel in the trilogy. Luckily I have the book on my shelf waiting and I probably read it soon. I don’t normally read a series (or the same author) so close together but I was sucked in and needed more from this world. Fans of both post apocalyptic and dystopian novels should check out the Maddaddam trilogy, there are some interesting themes through the first two books and I’m sure it will continue in book three.

Snapper by Brian Kimberling

Posted October 23, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Snapper by Brian KimberlingTitle: Snapper (Goodreads)
Author: Brian Kimberling
Published: Tinder Press, 2013
Pages: 240
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Hardcover

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

Nathan Lochmueller is a birdwatcher; it is not every day you can build a career around doing something you love. Snapper charts the love affair that Nathan has with bird watching and the seamlessly unobtainable Lola. This is a coming of age, and quite possibly a semi-autobiographical, novel set in rural Indiana, ‘the bastard son of the Midwest’.

This is a bookclub book so it will be a little tricky reviewing this without some of the others’ insights being mixed in with mine. Normally I write a review before attending book club but I seemed to have run out of time. This is a coming of age story that explores life in Indiana as well as the life of a biologist.

Apparently the biology is right and this was important to one of the book club members, who is in fact a biologist as well. For me this felt more like a combination of little stories; just as I start getting into one story the chapter ends and we are on another story. Non-linear groups and the only thing that seems to hold the threads together is the relationship between Nathan and Lola.

I hate to use someone else’s thoughts but one group member hit the nail on the head when she called Lola a manic pixie dream girl. Nathan seems bitter and cynical about everything except when it comes to Lola. He seems blinded about this unobtainable girl, she was never leading him on but he still lived in hope.

I really enjoyed this novel, almost experimental in the style but I felt like the chapters were so disconnected it really took me out of the novel. My major problems with this novel were the editing. I don’t know how this got published with such inconsistencies in the formatting; some chapters have quotation marks, others don’t (I really don’t know why books choose not to have them) and this really annoyed me. If you want to print a book, at least have a standardised format for the entire book. It feels like some chapters were formatted by a different editor to the others and no one compared notes. Even the major mistake where the city Canberra is found in the country Canberra instead of Australia.

Apart from all of this, I enjoyed reading Snapper in all its nuances and will probably read more from this debut author. I’m sure if Brian Kimberling writes another novel it will be autobiographical and to do with biology which are not really my thing but this pretentious, semi-experimental novel is definitely my thing.