Tag: Middlesex

ArmchairBEA 2014: Introduction and Literature

Posted May 26, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in ArmchairBEA / 30 Comments


This is my third year participating in the Armchair BEA event. While I am not an American I do like the opportunity to join with book bloggers around the world and talk about our favourite subject, books. I am sure most people know already but just in case; BEA is the Book Expo of America, held in New York, where people in the book industry of America get to be enticed with new books from publishers. There is an event now known as BookCon where book lovers can experience the same enticement, however they won’t get any diversity. Putting aside the problems with BookCon, I’m pleased to join all the fun with Armchair BEA. This is a virtual conference for the book bloggers that can’t make it to BEA. Over the next few days I will be joining in with this event and their daily blog post topic suggestions.

For the past two years I’ve been enjoying this event, it is a great way to meet new bloggers and show off your own book blog. As this is the first day of Armchair BEA I probably should move on to the topics for the day. Today we are introducing ourselves and talking about my favourite topic…literature. As a way of introduction Armchair BEA has provided ten questions and asks everyone to pick their favourite five and answer them.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

My name is Michael, I hail from North Queensland in Australia and I only became a reader in 2009. I started blogging not long after that over at Knowledge Lost as a way to sort my thoughts and explain what I had learnt along the way. I know I need to spend more time on that blog and I’m hoping to get back into it now that I’m forcing myself to write every day. I started Literary Exploration as a way to document my book journey and soon discovered I’m very passionate about books and book blogging. There is one thing I hate about book blogging but for the most part I really enjoy the whole experience.

Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. — so we can connect more online.

Literary Exploration is documentation of my bookish journey as I explore literature in all its forms.

You can normally find me on twitter: @knowledgelost or my blog @litexploration as well as Facebook, Instagram, sometimes Tumblr and Pinterest. I’m also very active on Goodreads (also check out the Literary Exploration Book Club), Literally and Booklikes.

What was your favourite book read last year? What’s your favourite book so far this year?

Highlights of 2013 include;

For more books check out my best of 2013 post

Highlights of 2014 (so far) include;

What is your favourite blogging resource?

One of the best investments I’ve made for my blog is the Ultimate Book Blogging Plugin. This one plugin has saved me a lot of time and makes my life so much easier. I can collect a lot of relevant information thanks to this plugin and it automatically updates my review index. It has a lot of cool features and I highly recommend it to all book bloggers. Of course you’ll all have to move to a self-hosted WordPress platform but that is a good idea anyway.

Spread the love by naming your favourite book blogs:

I’m always happy to recommend some great book blogs; here are some that I’m always happy to see updates from;

Time now to look at that all important topic of Literature: I’m a bit of a pretentious reader, so I’m always interested in reading books that are considered high literature. I’ve even set myself a life goal of reading the entire 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List, I might even try to review them all too. I find myself drawn to literary more as I become a better reader; there is something about the prose and structure that stands out. As a literary explorer I try not to entrench myself in just one genre, but luckily there is plenty of great literary genre novels out there. I don’t have to sacrifice quality in order to read genre fiction.

However there are so many classics out there that I still have to read and I feel bad for not having read books like Middlemarch, The Brothers Karamazov, The Woman in White, The House of Mirth and so on. I want to catch up on all these great novels and I think classics are an essential part of the reading journey. I recommend every reader try to read more classics and to help you along, I suggest joining something like The Classics Club is a great way to challenge yourself to more classics. I want to take to the conversation to the comments but I’d like to ask some questions of the readers to help the conversation along;

  • What is your favourite literary novel (in any genre)?
  • Which classic would you like to read but are dreading?
  • What genre do you spend most of you time reading?
  • What genres tend to scare you?
  • Finally, are there classics that just seem too hard and why?

ArmchairBEA is a virtual convention for book blogger who can’t attend Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention. Button by Sarah of Puss Reboots

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Posted March 30, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Literary Fiction / 6 Comments

Middlesex by Jeffrey EugenidesTitle: Middlesex (Goodreads)
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: Bloomsbury, 2002
Pages: 529
Genres: Literary Fiction
Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When Jeffrey Eugenides set out to write Middlesex he wanted to “[tell] epic events in the third person and psychosexual events in the first person”. He had decided that the voice “had to render the experience of a teenage girl and an adult man, or an adult male-identified hermaphrodite”. This was no easy task; he had to seek expert advice about intersexuality, sexology, and the formation of gender identity. His motivation came from reading the 1980 memoir Herculine Barbin and being unsatisfied by the lack of detail about intersex anatomy and his emotions.

”I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

If you’ve read Jeffrey Eugenides before you will know he doesn’t just stop at one issue, Middlesex is also loosely based on his life and is used to explore his Greek Heritage. While the book’s main protagonist is Cal Stephanides, Middlesex is a family saga that explores the impact of a mutated gene over three generations. Starting with Cal’s grandparents, the novel looks at their escape from the ongoing Greco-Turkish War and emigrating from Smyrna in Asia Minor to the United States. This section has similar themes to most immigration stories, looking at Greek and US culture in the 1920’s as well as their efforts to assimilate into American society. However this is overshadowed by the fact that Cal’s grandparents are also brother and sister.

Middlesex continues to follow the Stephanides family through the story of Cal’s parents and eventually his life. While the reader gets glimpses of Cal’s life throughout the novel, the last part is where we really explore how the 5-alpha-reductase deficiency (a recessive condition that caused him to be born with female characteristics) impacted his life. While I got the impression that this was the main focus of the novel and to some extent it is, I was expecting to explore the struggle and emotions behind his condition to a greater extent.

Jeffrey Eugenides has a lot going on his novels and you really need to be a literary critic to enjoy Middlesex to the full extent. I love Eugenides because he is too smart for his own good, on a basic level you can enjoy his novels but there is so much going on underneath that rereading is almost essential. Middlesex is a family saga but there are elements of romance, history, coming of age and, because of his Greek heritage, tragicomedy. You could spend hours exploring the hysterical realism and metafictional aspects from this book. For example; does Cal’s condition have any bearing on where he is narrating this novel from? Berlin, a city that also was divided into two (East and West). Also, why does the narrative style switch between first and third person? Some parts of the story are told in first person but Cal would never have been able to recount what happened in that kind of detail. Is this to evoke confusion within the reader, forcing them to just feel a fraction of what Cal must be feeling?

This is an incredibly complex novel and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what Jeffrey Eugenides has done. This is in fact the third of his novels I’ve read and sadly that is all of them for now. While I did enjoy Middlesex I found more joy from The Virgin Suicides (which deals with suicide) and The Marriage Plot (dealing with mental illness). I really appreciate the themes Eugenides explores and the complexities of his novels, but personal opinion is going against the norm here. Middlesex is probably his most recognised novel; it even won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Don’t let the complexity of Middlesex put you off reading this fantastic novel; sure, there is a lot there but it still worth picking up. You can spend as much time as you want exploring its depths but in the end you’ll come away with something. It is a compelling read that will stay with you well after finishing it. This is the perfect type of novel to pick up for a book club.

Monthly Review – February 2014

Posted February 28, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

And the mountains echoedThe Literary Exploration reading challenge is going so well; almost 2000 books have been read from the group so far. I’m so happy with the response and pleased to see people still had time to read And The Mountains Echoed. Some interesting thoughts have come out of this book from the group and while there were people that didn’t like the book (me included), I’m so glad to see so much great constructive criticism in the threads; this is what we live for. For those who don’t know about the reading challenge, there is still time to join in the fun, so check out my post here.

I’m so happy to see that the book club continues to be entertaining and as we move into March, I’m looking forward to seeing what people will say about Middlesex for our literary fiction theme. I’ve not read this book yet but I’m a fan of Jeffery Eugenides’ other book, so I’m excited to try this one. Currently I’ve read eleven books towards the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge and you can find my own record of the challenge here.

I thought I had a quiet month reading but I’m still happy with my effort of seven books (plus a few comics). Highlights this month include My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey, a post-modern take on one of the biggest literary hoaxes in Australia and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy which I’ve been reading since October. One book I will most likely be talking about continuously for the rest of the year is The Dark Path by David Schlicker, a memoir about the battle between his desire to become a priest and his attraction to women. How was February for you and your reading life? Let me know in the comments below.

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An Open Letter to my TBR

Posted July 29, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 14 Comments

tbrDear TBR Shelves,

Why do you insist on growing faster than I can read? You seem to have a way of collecting more and more books and I am never sure what to read next, is there a system? Or do I need to cull some of you? I’ve noticed that you get me reading new releases and classic but what happens to all the books in the middle? Sooner or later those new releases will just be lost in the void forever, I don’t know what kind of black magic this is but I need answers.

While I’m still talking to you can you tell me how I manage to be excited about books that I want to read but never get around to reading? You know those books, they get put onto your shelves with excitement and desire but you work some kind of voodoo and I never read them. It’s not like the desire to read them is just gone, you have me distracted with a shiny new book. You don’t believe me? Here is a quick list;

  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  • Ask the Dust by John Fante
  • Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  • Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
  • The Book of Emmett by Deborah Forster
  • The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

You can’t claim you have nothing to do with me not reading these books; I do try really hard to fight your evil ways but you are just too powerful. Always adding more books and distracting me with the shiny new ones. You are just too powerful and I’m losing the battle but rest assured that I will keep looking for ways to defeat you, there must be a way and if there is I will find it.

With all my love

Michael @ Literary Exploration

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Posted April 9, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey EugenidesTitle: The Virgin Suicides (Goodreads)
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: Bloomsbury, 1993
Pages: 249
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

The town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan are fascinated by the death of 13-year-old Cecilia Lisbon and then eventually her four older sisters. All five suicides have been the subject of much confusion as everyone tries to piece together an explanation for these acts. The girls seemed so normal and twenty years later their enigmatic personalities are still the subject of much speculation as the boys recall their adolescence and infatuations with the Lisbon girls.

The Virgin Suicides is told by an anonymous narrator in the first person plural as he and a group of men recall their obsession over the Lisbon girls. This is an interesting way of showing the story because you never really find out their motivations and all you can really do is speculate based on the evidence these boys have collected. At times I think the girls suffered from depression, being in an overly protective home and being avoided at school. While their parents were overly protective, there is never really any signs of abuse and they are just trying to raise the girls up in a way they thing is right. Then at school it never seems like the girls have any friends and just stick together; there is no indication that any of the other girls in school talked to them and all the boys seemed too obsessed with them that they never really socialise with the girls either. Does this mean they suffer from depression? I don’t know but being treated like a prisoner at home and a leper at school would be difficult.

Cecilia (13), Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16), and Therese (17) all have their own personalities and this never comes through in this book. The idea of the boys worshipping them all without really knowing how to tell them apart is an interesting concept. High School infatuation really doesn’t give way to really understanding the girls and that was one of the major problems the girls had. As they reflect on what happened they refer to themselves as the “custodians of the girls’ lives” but none of them really took anytime to truly know them when they were alive; they just piece together based on their memories and the evidence they took from their house. To me this is the key to this whole book; they can never really know what the girls felt because they were too scared to find out and the parents kept them on a tight leash.

I love this book, it’s deliciously bleak and Jeffrey Eugenides is just a wonderful writer. I’m surprised how well thought out and polished this is for a debut novel; it outshines a lot of other books.  Eugenides is fast becoming a favourite of mine; I adored The Marriage Plot and now only have his most talked about novel, Middlesex to read. I love the combination of darkness and elegance in this book, mix that with this thought provoking concept you really do get a sense of why Eugenides is such a great author.

While the subject matter of suicide is difficult to approach, I think Jeffrey Eugenides did a masterful job at showing just how devastating it is for everyone around. He adds that intrigue that never quite goes away and then he also questions the town’s people and even the reader into what we can do to recognise this pain and maybe help prevent it. No matter how many clues you search for in this book, can you really know the true motivation behind the girl’s suicides? This is what makes this book so great; it doesn’t give you the full answer but leaves you with some many options. I think this is the point, there normally isn’t one clear answer to why someone would take their own lives; it is collection of little things the build up until they can’t take it anymore.

I’ve not seen the movie adaptation of this book and quite frankly I’m a little scared. I don’t know how it would work as a film. I know it could probably convey the heartbreaking concept of this book but the beauty of this book would be almost impossible to translate onto the screen.

It is a weird concept to think of a book about suicide as beautiful or gorgeous but I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Sure the subject matter is dark (which I love anyway) but the way Jeffrey Eugenides approaches it is first class. There is no finger pointing and no reason to play the blame game, it focuses solely on the Lisbon Girls and just how much the town didn’t know about them. A haunting read but never really going too dark, the balance between tragedy and understanding is just perfect.