Month: December 2014

Monthly Review – December 2014

Posted December 31, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

A Christmas CarolNow that 2014 is officially coming to an end it is time to do some reflecting on the year. I think 2014 has been a great year for personal growth for me as a reader and a blogger. I have pushed myself to improve and read more critically and I believe it is starting to pay off. While I am not fully satisfied yet, blogging and reading are passions of mine and I will continue to work towards improvement. One of the biggest steps I made this year was actually joining BookTube and in the New Year, I am curious to see if that will help me in my reading and blogging.

I have already posted a ‘Best of 2014‘ post a few days earlier but I want to also point out the introduction to ‘What I Think About When I’m Not Blogging‘ on my blog which is where I am trying to push myself and my writing with some bookish personal essays. I love this section and I plan to do it more often in the coming year; hopefully this will allow people to see the natural progression of my writing and watch it improve. Other highlights on my blog include; My Vacation (the Literary Highlights), Plot, Character, Style, and Themes, A Rant about my TBR, and Contemporary Fiction Vs. Literary Fiction. Of course I wouldn’t be that pretentious if I didn’t mention that this year I also wrote My Bookish Manifesto, in which I set out some goals to help me improve as a book blogger and critic. I haven’t been keeping to those goals too well but it is still a very important post and I should reflect on it some more.

As it is also the end of the month so I should also talk about my December reading. This month I have been reading a lot of classics and books in translation; after almost six months I finally finished Middlemarch by George Eliot. I loved this book and taking my time with it allowed me to reflect and absorb everything that was happening. Obviously taking your time with a book isn’t always an option but this is the kind of book you can dip in and out of and still experience everything that is wonderful with this classic. To aid my reading of Middlemarch, I used a reading guide called Eliot’s Middlemarch by Josie Billington and I think this was a huge help and allowed me to get historical and personal context into George Eliot’s writing. I wasn’t ready to leave the world of Middlemarch so after this book I picked up Rebecca Mead’s memoir called My Life in Middlemarch, but sadly it didn’t work for me.

I realised that I hadn’t read much Russian literature this year and after enjoying Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky in November I knew I had to rectify this situation. Most people who read my blog or know me will know that I love Russian history and literature. Thankfully I spent ten days with In The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which allowed me to learn so much about the Soviet era, since most novels I have read on this subject are not by someone who lived through it. I also read The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy because it was a short read and finished off all the Tolstoy I need for the ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die‘ list.

More books in translation included the German novel Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, the Norwegian book A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgård and a French graphic novel in Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh. I even read a few more classics in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. But it wasn’t all older book, I also read some contemporary novels including The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Authority by Jeff VanderMeer and All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.

It has been a great year and I hope that 2015 will be just as great. Please let me know what books you read this month.

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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Posted December 30, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic / 4 Comments

A Christmas Carol by Charles DickensTitle: A Christmas Carol (Goodreads)
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1843
Pages: 438
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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

When it comes to Christmas books, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is probably the first book that comes to mind. Published in 1843, this novella was an instant success and has been a beloved classic since then. I am not going to go into a plot summary because I believe most people know the story but if you don’t, go watch A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Told in five staves (similar to stanzas or verses) this book has been adapted so many times that A Christmas Carol has just become a part of the Christmas period.

While compassion, forgiveness and getting into the Christmas spirit is the major theme of this novella, one thing that really stuck with me is Dickens’ ideas of isolation and loneliness. While it is true that Ebenezer Scrooge never indicates he is feeling alone, since the death of Jacob Marley seven years earlier there is a sense that he has falling in despair. Marley died on Christmas Eve and appeared to be Scrooge’s only companion, which leads to a disdain for the holiday period.

Charles Dickens wanted to emphasise the importance of being with friends and family, especially during Christmas. However I got the sense that he may have treated the idea of isolation poorly. Sure, Scrooge was a grumpy old man who was tight with his money but I got no real indication that he was unhappy to be alone. Scrooge could have been an introvert and enjoyed the quiet solitude; is that really such a bad thing?

Then all of a sudden Scrooge is cured from his rationality and becomes an extravert. This is a little strange, Scrooge’s emotional and psychological makeup might not be pleasant or agreeable to the popular worldview but they were his own thoughts. Scrooge was a financial supporter of The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and didn’t want to give money to a charity that worked against his political ideology.

I am not bagging out A Christmas Carol, I do enjoy it but as I was re-reading this novella I kept wondering what this story is saying if we take out the element of Christmas. Basically this is the story of curing someone of his or her personality. I had a lot of fun looking at this book from another point of view, it just gave me a lot more to think about. A Christmas Carol is a nice quick story about the importance of being with your friends and family during this holiday period. Next year I might try Truman Capote’s collection of stories about Christmas.

My Top Five Reads of 2014

Posted December 29, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Top 5 / 18 Comments

top-5It is that time of the year where we talk about the ‘best of’ 2014. When I say ‘best of’ I am referring to my favourites of the year. I have once again divided my list into books released in 2014, the backlist and non-fiction. I have done it this way because I have had a strong focus on non-fiction this year and want to recognise my favourites. I also don’t want my ‘best of’ list to be dominated by classics, thus the reason for the first two lists.

Top Five Reads from 2014
5. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
3. Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
2. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
1. All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

Top Five Reads from the Backlist in 2014
5. In The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
4. The Odyssey by Homer
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
2. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1. Middlemarch by George Eliot

Top Five Non-Fiction Reads in 2014
5. What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
4. Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
2. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
1. The Dark Path: A Memoir by David Schickler

Now it is your turn to let me know of your favourite books, the new releases and the older books. It doesn’t matter; just what you discovered and loved.

Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann

Posted December 28, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 4 Comments

Measuring the World by Daniel KehlmannTitle: Measuring the World (Goodreads)
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Translator: Carol Brown Janeway
Published: Quercus, 2005
Pages: 259
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Measuring the World reimagines the life of German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and geographer Alexander von Humboldt. The book follows a fictionalised account of their journey, along with Aimé Bonpland as they measure the world. Their methods where ground-breaking and this novel entangles their lives to explore their effects on science today.

This is not a book of science, this is historical fiction that explores the lives of two German scientists. While the subject matter may sound dull and fact heavy, Daniel Kehlmann handles the topic with skill. It is an impressive feat to make a subject that sounds boring come across exciting and interesting. Kehlmann’s writing skills turns the subject of science into a novel of elegance and beauty.

The two plots revolving around Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt worked well together and I found myself fully immersed in the whole experience. Having said that this is a book of science and German history so I feel hesitant in going into more details because I worry I will get the information wrong. That does make for short review but all I can really say is; read it.

Published in German in 2005 under the title Die Vermessung der Welt, Measuring the World turned into a huge literary sensation for the country. This book knocked bestsellers like Harry Potter and Dan Brown off the list. The only other German book that has achieved that (that I know of) was Perfume by Patrick Süskind.

This was a wonderful book and I learned a little about German and Prussian history. Carl Friedrich Gauss has sometimes been referred to as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time and Alexander von Humboldt as the second Columbus. Two great people of history I knew nothing about and I think the opportunity to learn something new while reading beautiful prose made for a wonderful experience.

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

Posted December 27, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 6 Comments

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca MeadTitle: My Life in Middlemarch (Goodreads)
Author: Rebecca Mead
Published: Crown, 2014
Pages: 293
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Rebecca Mead grew up in a coastal town in England and often dreamed of escaping to somewhere more exciting. She gained admission to Oxford and later become a journalist in the United States. When she was young Middlemarch was a favourite of hers and now as she re-reads this classic she is sharing her story along with it. My Life in Middlemarch is told partly as a bookish memoir, but also explores the life of George Eliot and her novel Middlemarch.

This book started off really well; in the prelude the reader gets to discover a bit about the life of Rebecca Mead. Beginning like a bookish memoir this insight into the author gave a fascinating look into her relationships with books, especially with Middlemarch. However as I progressed with My Life in Middlemarch, the memoir elements became fragmented and I found myself yearning to return to this style. I love bookish memoirs, I have been reading so many of them lately and this had the potential to be great but it had two other strands to weave into this book.

My Life in Middlemarch also looks at the life of George Eliot, which allows some perspective about this author. Though I had already done some extensive research. I know that the life of Eliot played a big part in understanding Middlemarch so my autodidactic nature kicked in and I learned a bit about her. I was reading Middlemarch with a reading guide as well, so I had the added advantage of gaining some insight as I read. Apart from access to George Eliot’s journals, I didn’t gain much information; it was a very broad strokes look at her life and I would have gained that information from Wikipedia. I would have been better off reading a biography or her journals instead.

Finally we come to the literary criticism within this book and yet again I felt a little disappointed. I would have liked to know what Rebecca Mead got from the book but instead she just referenced others people’s criticisms on the novel. Having smarter people’s insight into Middlemarch is useful but I would enjoy a personal opinion mixed in with all the references. It reminds me on how I write a research paper for university; I pack it with quotes and references that say what I want it to say but don’t offer much in the way of personal opinion

Combine these three parts and you have an accessible look at Rebecca Mead and her life with Middlemarch but it felt like a huge generalisation. There are some interesting elements worth exploring in this book and I feel like it could have done so much more. We have three interwoven strands within the book but nothing of substance from any of them. This would be an enjoyable book for someone that has not read Middlemarch but for me, I had just finished the classic and I picked this book up because I was not ready to move on.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Posted December 24, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 2 Comments

The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsTitle: The Girl on the Train (Goodreads)
Author: Paula Hawkins
Published: Transworld Publishers, 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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

Every day Rachel takes the train into London and at a particular stop she likes to look out to the street and observe the row of back gardens. One house in particular is of particular interest to Rachel; she likes to imagine the lives of the couple living there, in which she has named ‘Jess and Jason’. They seem so happy, compared to her on life, she views them as a perfect couple. Until one day the minute stop allowed her to see something shocking, which leads Rachel to become a part of their lives. Rachel becomes more than The Girl on the Train.

I have to admit that I was a little hesitant going into this book; I thought it was going to try and replicate what Gone Girl did. While in the same vain with the multiple perspectives between Rachel and ‘Jess’, whose real name is Megan, The Girl on the Train stands on its own. While this book is already being compared to Gone Girl, I would just like to say that The Girl on the Train shares more similarities to The Silent Wife than anything else.

This novel plays a lot with the ideas of relationships and perspective; what may seem like a perfect couple on the surface can be a deceiving. Without going too much into the plot, I want to look at the way ‘Jess and Jason’ are perceived by Rachel. Obviously Rachel is an unreliable narrator, she only sees the couple’s house for a minute or two a day and not always the couple. To pass the time on her commute, she makes up this whole idea of what is happening in their lives.

The Girl on the Train does go a little deeper with exploring ideas of relationship, with a focus on abuse. Emotional abuse becomes a key component in the book and Paula Hawkins dives into the previous marriage of Rachel and even adding a couple of chapters from her ex-husband’s new wife. This thriller mainly happens on a psychological level and the reader gets an insight into the effects of emotional abuse.

There is a lot to be said about The Girl on the Train and I think this would make an excellent pick for a book club. Unfortunately reviewing a book like this makes it difficult, I am too worried about giving out spoilers and this restricts me from diving deeper into the themes within the novel. This debut by Paula Hawkins is not without its flaws; I think there was a missed opportunity to dive deeper into the major themes, however I did enjoy my time with this novel.

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

Posted December 20, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Graphic Novel / 2 Comments

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie MarohTitle: Blue is the Warmest Color (Goodreads)
Author: Julie Maroh
Translator: Ivanka Hahnenberger
Artist: Julie Maroh
Published: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010
Pages: 160
Genres: Graphic Novel
My Copy: Borrowed from a Friend

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

Blue is the Warmest Color (Le bleu est une couleur chaude) took French graphic novelist Julie Maroh five years to complete. She started it when she was 19 and thanks to the support of the community she was able to finish this coming of age story. It has since been adapted into a movie directed by Abdelatif Kechiche and went on to be awarded the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Blue is the Warmest Color takes place in 2008 following the death of Emma’s partner Clémentine. At the request of Clémentine, Emma has been granted access to her dairies. The diaries start in 1995 when Clémentine was a fifteen old girl, confused about her sexuality. It is within the diaries we discover her struggle with her sexuality as well as the relationships she had with Emma.

This graphic novel takes all the nuance of a relationship and plays it out within the pages and it does it in a way that is never cliché. This depiction plays on the highs and lows of the relationship between Clémentine and Emma, which allows it to explore the struggles as well as all the tender moments they share. However before the relationship starts and even as it blossoms there is also the coming of age story where Clémentine is trying to find herself as well as understand her own sexuality.

I am not a lesbian so I could not speak to this struggle with sexuality, however it felt so raw and emotional. I could not help but think the struggle or the emotions experienced were all real and possibly autobiographical. Julie Maroh has a real way with capturing the emotions of this relationships and she allows the readers to experience them along with the characters. This makes for an intimate experience and I was able to empathise with both characters even when they were making silly mistakes.

Julie Maroh is also the artist for this graphic novel and the art is the highlight of this story. The line work Maroh has drawn on to each page captures both expression and details beautifully. Then with the added colours, the pictures in each frame just pop. I love the way Maroh draw this comic and the sparing use of colour, each frame felt breathtaking and I think I spent more time admiring the art work than actually reading the story. Blue is the Warmest Color was originally written in French so I have to compliment Ivanka Hahnenberger for the translation. It is a real skill of a translator to be able to present the text in a beautiful that allows the reader to forget that they are reading a work in translation, but Hahnenberger pulled it off.

I am not sure how autobiographical this graphic novel is, but it is hard to imagine anyone writing these emotions without first experiencing them for themselves. It is interesting to experience a life that is different to your own and I want to read a lot more graphic novels like this one. This is at times beautiful and at other times heartbreaking. Blue is the Warmest Color had plenty of tender moments and by the end I think I had a little dirt or something in my eye because they were leaking.

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Posted December 19, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror, Science Fiction / 4 Comments

Authority by Jeff VanderMeerTitle: Authority (Goodreads)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Series: Southern Reach Trilogy #2
Published: Fourth Estate, 2014
Pages: 341
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

For thirty years, the clandestine government agency simply known as the Southern Reach have been sending expeditions into an isolated area known as Area X. Twelve expeditions have been sent to this unspoilt stretch of the US coastline but they are no closer to unlocking the mysteries of Area X. John Rodriguez, or as he is better known, Control is the newly appointed head of Southern Reach and he is determined to sort out this agency from all its disarray.

While Annihilation focused on Area X and served as an exhibition into nature, Authority is more about the bureaucratic nightmare of a secretive government organisation. The story follows Control, who serves as more of an outsider trying to make sense of everything that is going on within the Southern Reach. While this novel focuses on the organisation rather than Area X, readers can still expect to experience the same building of tension and terror found in Annihilation.

Even though it is a different cast of characters, I am very mindful of giving spoilers to the series so I will be a little vague and won’t be able to say everything I would like to say. Having said that, I tend to view Authority as a novel that parallels Annihilation in many ways. This makes me believe that the effects of Area X is not just a physical anomaly but also psychological. Yet again the reader is left with more questions than answers; What is going on here?

While I don’t think Authority was nearly as exciting as Annihilation. I am still very curious how this series will end with the last book Acceptance. I do have the last book from the library and I will probably read it sometime in January; I just need to know the answers. These books are a fun departure from the types of books I normally read but I do hate how vague I have to be in the reviews. Go out and read them; that is pretty much all I can really say.

A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgård

Posted December 18, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 4 Comments

A Man in Love by Karl Ove KnausgårdTitle: A Man in Love (Goodreads)
Author: Karl Ove Knausgård
Translator: Don Bartlett
Series: Min Kamp #2
Published: Harvill Secker, 2009
Pages: 528
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

Karl Ove Knausgård’s six volume autobiographical novel, My Struggle (Min Kamp) has been dubbed a literary sensation more often than I can count. Despite what the critics think, I often look to the book blogging community to help measure the success and popularity of a book and sadly this series hasn’t really become the sensation it should be. It has been compared to Proust but I think that is mainly because of the large autobiographical nature, My Struggle tells the story of Karl Ove Knausgård’s life in a non-linear way; A Death in the Family (My Struggle #1) focuses on the theme of death, while A Man in Love (book 2) looks at love.

When Karl Ove Knausgård leaves Oslo and starts his life afresh in Stockholm, it is because of a messy breakup with his wife. His move to Stockholm is aided by Geir, in which he develops a deep friendship with. He also meets a beautiful Swedish poet, Linda Boström, who captivated him and becomes the object of his affection. A Man in Love is the story of Karl Ove and Linda’s blossoming romance, eventual marriage and children.

As stated in my review of A Death in the Family, this series of books have been met with massive controversy and his friends and family have been none too pleased. His ex-wife has stated in an interview that he has made a “Faustian bargain”, sacrificing relationships for this series of books. Karl Ove Knausgård is brutally honest and doesn’t paint the best light on himself or others, despite the fact this is considered an autobiographical novel.

Compared to A Death in the Family, A Man in Love is a linear story that focuses on the relationship between Karl Ove and Linda. Knausgård writes with such affection and love towards Linda and there is such a tender and sweet tone to the book. However because he wants to remain viciously truthful there are moments where she isn’t portrayed as the sweet woman he feel in love with. Knausgård airs all their domestic disputes and Linda sometimes comes across as aggressive, angry and stubborn. In contrast, the reader will also notice that Karl Ove Knausgård is flippant, arrogant and narcissistic.

I loved the dark themes and what Knausgård had to say on bewilderment and grief, so I kind of felt like this was a little light and flowery for me. Don’t get me wrong, there are some dark moments here and Linda Boström Knausgård’s outbursts make their relationship rough but there was just something that bugged me about this novel. Karl Ove kept threating to leave Linda every time she had an outburst and that bothered me but I realised that was his style of arguing and at least he was honest about his flaws as well. After a little bit of research I found out that Linda suffers from bipolar disorder, which I don’t remember being revealed in the book but helps put things into perspective.

A Man in Love is a novel about love and Karl Ove’s relationship with Linda, which is an important part of his life but doesn’t always make for a compelling read. I did enjoy this novel and I am looking forward to picking up book three in the Min Kamp series, Boyhood Island. It sounds like the majority of the story has been covered in A Death in the Family but I will find out soon. The fourth book in the series is set to be released in March next year, but then I will be stuck waiting for the last two books. Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle is well worth checking out and I am disappointed that not many other people are reading it, but maybe they are just waiting till the entire series is released.