Tag: Reading Life

How Frankenstein Changed My Life

Posted June 14, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

Two hundred years ago, a book was published that literally changed my life. It is very rare to say that a book could have such a life changing effect on someone but in my case it is actually true. It happened about nine years, without going into too many details, I was not happy with myself. I was directionless and went through a self-destructive phase. While it was not just literature that saved me, I do have to give credit to my wife as well. Books ignited the spark in me that made everything else click into place. I am a very different person to who I was back then, I suddenly turned into a passionate and voracious reader thanks to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

It all started with when I discovered a little radio show called The Culture Club by Craig Schuftan. This show explored similarities between music and the art world. This peaked my interest and I started reading his book Hey, Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone which looked at the similarities modern rock had with the Romantic period. Looking at bands like My Chemical Romance, Weezer, and The Smashing Pumpkins. The Romantic poets were the rock stars of their time, and their angst felt very similar. I knew I had to read Frankenstein and it all fell into place from there. Reading this classic, I quickly identified with the creature Victor Frankenstein had created. Although his pain was far more real than my angst, I have people who care about me, I was just an outsider.

My feeling of not belonging in this world was similar to what I was reading in this novel. Frankenstein was the first book I picked up because of Hey, Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone and I did that because of one of my favourite Smashing Pumpkin songs, Disarm. In this song Billy Corgan fantasises about cutting his parents limbs off, because he hated them for bring him into the world.

“It’s about chopping off somebody’s arms.. The reason I wrote Disarm was because, I didn’t have the guts to kill my parents, so I thought I’d get back at them through song. And rather then have an angry, angry, angry violent song I’d thought I’d write something beautiful and make them realize what tender feelings I have in my heart, and make them feel really bad for treating me like shit. Disarm’s hard to talk about because people will say to me ‘I listen to that song and I can’t figure out what it’s about.’ It’s like about things that are beyond words. I think you can conjure up images and put together phrases, but it’s a feeling beyond words and for me it has a lot to do with like a sense of loss. Being an adult and looking back and romanticizing a childhood that never happened or went by so quickly in a naive state that you miss it.”  — Billy Corgan on Disarm (RAGE, 1993)

This tenderness that Corgan reflects in Disarm is not dissimilar to the creatures own feeling. One of the most common themes I get while re-reading Frankenstein is this feeling of how society treats people who are different. For the creature, he came into this world and was immediately rejected by his creator. He was also rejected by everyone he encounters. He pleads with Victor Frankenstein to create him a companion; that is all he wants. He came into this world with love in his heart, but was denied it at every turn. Most of my early reading life focused on this idea of an outsider and how the world treated them. Books like American PsychoPerfume by Patrick Suskind and the Dexter Morgan series all deal with these monstrous characters and how the world and their situation has shaped them. I found comfort in the exploration of the outsider in literature. The idea of blaming society for the way I was felt good, but with my new found thirst for literature came a better understanding of myself and the way the world works. Nowadays I like to read transgressive fiction because it is very different to my own life but while writing this article I cannot help but wonder if it was originally because I identified with them more than with a protagonist that gets a happy ending.

Re-reading Frankenstein again I cannot help but reflect on how different each reading experience really is. There are so many different ways to read Frankenstein, commonly there is the idea of science taking things too fast, or the dangers of playing God. Or perhaps Mary Shelley wants to simply say actions have consequences. When I studied Frankenstein in university I knew a little more about Mary Shelley, so I was looking at Frankenstein with some context.

Before Shelley wrote Frankenstein she had given birth to a daughter, two months premature. This daughter only lived a few weeks, a year later she gave birth to William Shelley. After the birth of her son she suffered from postnatal depression. The birth of William happened a few months before the story of Frankenstein was conceived, so it wasn’t too surprising to see William’s name in the novel. William was Victor Frankenstein’s youngest brother, who was strangled to death by the monster. So, either Mary Shelley’s depression manifested an urge to strangle William, or there is something far more complex happening in the novel. Looking at the story arc of William’s death, we know a young woman is accused of the murder. So maybe there is something here to be said about the mother-child relationship, especially with the idea of maternal guilt and thinking about her lost daughter.

Maybe you want to explore this idea of creating life without the need of a woman, or maybe this is just a parody of creationism. Even the subtitle of ‘the Modern Prometheus’ means you can look at the similarities between this novel and Greek mythology. Paradise Lost by John Milton is another piece of literature that is often explored in relation to Frankenstein. I am struck by how many different ways we can look at Frankenstein and as I develop my own skills in analysing literature, I often return to this classic and see what I can find with a re-read. Mary Shelley is a very interesting person to read about, and I have picked up a few biographies on her, including The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler and Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay (my next one will be Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon). I find knowing the context only enhances my enjoyment of a book. I know people read for many different reasons but for me it is all about educating and improving myself. I do read for escapism but I tend to enjoy a novel more if there is some interesting themes to explore.

For someone who has only been a reader since 2009, I feel like I have a lot of literature to catch up on but I still feel the urge to revisit my favourites over and over again. I started off wanting to re-read Frankenstein every year but that quickly faded away, but I still like to revisit the text, it still remains one of my favourites. Did you know there are two different editions of Frankenstein out there? The book was originally published in 1818 but it was then republished in 1831 with revisions made by Mary Shelley. While the 1831 edition is commonly the one that gets published, I like to switch between the two different editions.

I have lost count of how many copies I own of Frankenstein. I own some beautiful editions including a new hardcover of the 1818 text from Oxford World Classics which I am currently reading. The book means so much I have copies all over the house, and one at work. Plus there is the ebook and audiobook edition I can access from my phone at any time. Literature plays such a huge part of my life, even I have trouble imagining my life without them. Frankenstein played a big part in my own transformation. All I can hope is that people continue to find something in this piece of classic literature. I will be re-reading this for years to come and I hope it continues to make an impact to people over the next two hundred years.

This beautiful edition of the 1818 text of Frankenstein was sent to my by Oxford World Classics

This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati


The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Posted September 28, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy MillerTitle: The Year of Reading Dangerously (Goodreads)
Author: Andy Miller
Published: Harper Collins, 2012
Pages: 252
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Hardcover

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

It is no secret that I am a fan of books about books; I especially enjoy a bookish memoir. The idea of reading and learning about someone’s bookish life is fascinating to me. Let’s be honest, I blog about books because I think I have an interesting bookish journey to talk about and I want to capture that for posterity sake. I would love to learn how to write a bookish memoir, so I read anything I can get my hands on. I have even written a post asking for recommendations for books about books and I am always on the look out for more.

I am not sure how I discovered Andy Miller’s memoir The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life but I do remember being really excited about it. I ordered the book and it sat on my shelf for a little too long. With a holiday to America planned, I packed the book in my suitcase and was determined to read it. Turned out Simon Savidge from Savidge Reads started talking about this book about the same time and now I look like I was just following him in an effort to be as cool as he is.

Andy Miller worked as an editor at the time of writing this book (I assume he still does) and found himself only reading for work. On impulse he picked up a copy of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and something just clicked for him. He set out to read ten books, which he called The List of Betterment, which consisted of books he has once lied about reading or felt he should read. This list obviously expanded over the course of the year but it was his starting point into rediscovering a passion for reading.

My discovery for reading was not unlike Andy Miller’s except mine involved Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the 1001 Books Before You Must Read Before You Die list and it wasn’t a lost passion. I loved this book, I was so happy to read about all the awesome books Miller was reading in the course of the year. While this memoir is not healthy for my TBR and judging by Andy Miller’s glowing praises for Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes, I really need to get onto this novel first.

My only problem with this memoir is that Miller didn’t spend enough time talking about my favourite novels, like Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Iwas happy to see that The List of Betterment not only includes canon but also involves books like The Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1 by Stan Lee. It is just good to see a memoir that doesn’t just involve highbrow literature. He even considered calling this book How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life referring to Dan Brown.

There is so much to talk about within this memoir, especially when talking about the fifty books mentioned in the book. I’m hoping that I can find some more great bookish memoirs to follow this one. The Year of Reading Dangerously is essentially a book about connecting with great books and the positive effects reading has on a reader. I highly recommend the book and I hope the Andy Miller will write a follow up about his continuing bookish journey.


Book Juggling

Posted October 19, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

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I’m curious to know if you read one book at a time or juggle books and if you do read multiple books, then how do you do it? I know some people prefer to read one book at a time and I’m not sure how they manage that; sometimes I wish I could be that focused but I read in multiple locations so it is easier to have a few books on the go at a time.

Here is how I go about juggling books. I have one book on the go while at work (normally an ebook) and an audiobook in the car. At home it depends on what I’m reading but normally a physical book and sometimes a short story collection as well. I just can’t read a short story collection the same way I would read a normal book. This is the general formula but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Sometimes a book is so heavy or slow (theoretically a big book as well) that I have two books on the go at home, as I spend most of my time reading there. Then there are those times where I dip into a book as I want to see what it’s like and then put it aside for a while. This isn’t because I didn’t like the book but I just get distracted with other books.

I’ve been very conscious about the amount of books I have on the go at once. I don’t want to fall into a trap where I have ten or more books on the go at the same time. I have had this happen and when I finish one book I always seem to prefer to start a new book than focus on the ones on the go. So I have to be careful. I would love to know how others read and what traps they seem to fall into, whether it is reading multiple books or not.


My Experience with the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List

Posted October 27, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 29 Comments

One of my favourite bookish podcasts is The Readers; if you haven’t heard it before go and subscribe, it offers random book-based banter which has been both enjoyable to listen to and offers some interesting ideas for future blog posts. This post is inspired by the latest episode about the “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list.

With the newly revised book being released earlier this month, I thought I would share my experience with this list. As most people know I was never much of a reader, I think I read about one or two books a year. In 2009 something clicked in my head (thanks to Craig Schuftan) and I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on. But I had a problem; I really didn’t know where to start. I found plenty of books that looked interesting but I wasn’t sure if they would fulfil my yearning.

So with no idea of what my literary tastes were and not knowing what books would be required reading. I turned to a “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list which I found while searching books that were considered required reading for everyone. The thing I loved about this book was the fact that it was a combination of old and new books ranging from all different genres. This helped start my literary journey and find a real joy in being a literary explorer.

While I don’t read many books from the list now, I discovered the types of books and genres I really like and what hasn’t worked for me. Personally I would love to read every book on the list but as I discovered there are now four different editions. Do you read the entire list from one edition or combine the lot and read every book ever mentioned? I’ve come to the conclusion I would rather use the list as a guide in addition to discovering new books on my own accord as well.

I will always hold this list close to my heart because it did nurture my newly formed love of reading but it also helped my pretentious level as a book critic. I wish the publisher released a list of the books that have been removed from the new edition, I know there was a spread sheet that had the first three lists on it, so you can see which ones disappeared from each update and tick off all the books you’ve read but sadly that was taken down for copyright violations.  The publisher should look into something similar as I’m sure there are people out there that are willing to pay a small fee to have access to all the lists for referencing.

As a point of reference since beginning my reading journey back in 2009, I’ve now read over 400 books and seventy six of them were from the “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list. The list is still a point of reference for me when I feel like I’m not reading books that are literary enough. While the list covers most genres and offers an interesting perspective on your reading life, it never really felt like it was full of highly literary novels. For me it was just a way to explore and cover the essentials in reading. Here are ten books from the ones I’ve read that I loved and highly recommend;

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  6. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  7. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  8. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
  9. Perfume by Patrick Süskind
  10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess