Book Blogger Challenge!

I think this is supposed to be done over 15 days but I don’t want to spam my blog full of rather dull posts individually, so I’m gonna collect these together!

Make 15 book related confessions.
Oh, this is actually rather hard.  Um.

  1. I kind of enjoyed Twilight.  Morally abhorrent and dull at times yet felt kind of fresh.  Don’t get me wrong – I still hated the rest of the ‘saga’.
  2. I must have read the Harry Potter books around 8 times.  They’re the reason it took me so long to expand my reading tastes!
  3. I’m not actually that great a fan of Shakespeare.  His language is unparalleled, but some stories – like Othello or Romeo and Juliet – I just find absolutely ridiculous.
  4. Though both are preferable, if forced to choose I would favour plot and characters over a skilled writing style.  Hence why I love The Hunger Games so much.
  5. Adding to this, I really hate a kind of ‘literary elitism’ you can get.  “Oh, I thoroughly enjoyed the book… But I wouldn’t say it’s a great piece of literature.”  Isn’t enjoying a book all it needs to be good literature?  Well, that and being thought-provoking, I guess.
  6. I own a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.  It was a dubious birthday present!  And has since been on permanent loan to whoever will take it…
  7. When I was 11 I once cursed at a book and got angry at school for making me read it.  I still blush at the memory.
  8. Since 2011 I have been trying to read more books each year than I managed in the preceding year.  My 2013 target is currently 4o books, and I’m on track – having tallied 21 thus far!
  9. I find much Victorian literature extremely difficult to get through.  There’s just something in the writing style that dulls my imagination.  Though I’ve yet to try Dickens.
  10. I talk about books way too much.  I generally mention one or another in every conversation I have!  It must get so irritating.
  11. The longest story I’ve ever written is 36,000 words, when I was 14 – almost a novel!  Of course I read it now and regret everything.  Now I struggle to even reach 1,000 words – though I’ve recently begun a writing régime that will hopefully rectify that.
  12. I sometimes wonder whether I like the idea of reading books more than the actual reading.  This is usually shattered when I find a truly engrossing book, but that doesn’t happen as often as I would like.
  13. My limitations bother me.  Reading 40 books a year may seem like a lot but it’s barely a fraction of those published in one month, let alone all of human history.  It saddens me that I’ll never get close to reading everything out species has produced.
  14. 9 times out of 10 I would rather read a good book than go to a party or attend most social gatherings.  Of course, a social gathering where you read or discuss books is best of all!
  15. [REMOVED AS A VIOLATION OF RULE 1]

What’s your bedtime reading ritual?
I usually try to read a bit as I lay down in bed, but sometimes I’m too tired and skip the reading bit.  I used to use this as my sole time for reading but I’ve since tried to find time throughout the day, as some texts are just too difficult to read when that tired.

Who are your blogging BFFs?
I’m afraid I’m too reclusive to have made any blogging friends yet!  Though there are a number of blogs I regularly look at and enjoy reading.

What’s the last book you flung across the room?
The last book I *wanted* to fling across the room was Fight Club, but unfortunately it was a borrowed copy.

Recommend a tear jerker
I’ve never cried a book, however I once witnessed a friend cry at the ending of The Road so I guess that’s a proven facilitator of tears!

Describe how you shop for books.
I’m a bit of a scrooge so I tend to mainly go for second-hand bookshops or borrow form libraries.  When I’m older and [hopefully] wealthier I intend to buy lots of books to keep the industry going!

Talk about your blogging quirks.
Do I have any blogging quirks?  My blogs are pretty simply, actually – I really just write down my thoughts and ideas on various topics and leave it at that.  I suppose you could say I sometimes have a thing for unnecessary figures and details, especially when it comes to elections.  And there are select topics I like to rant about given even the vaguest opportunity *cough* First Past the Post *cough*.

Write 15 bullet points of things that appeal to you on blogs.
You’re obsessed with the number 15!

  1. Simply discussing things which interest me: generally books, politics, astronomy or traveling.
  2. A clear, coherent writing style.
  3. Also a semi-sensible writing style.  Humour can really aid a blog but one which drives in too many jokes or forces an ‘attitude’ leave me cold.
  4. Updating regularly – don’t create the appearance of being dead.
  5. Not too regular updating, though – blogs which post more than perhaps twice a day get tiring quickly.
  6. Trying to encourage debate.  Either through polls or questions, ones which make the viewer feel welcome to comment.
  7. A nice design – not too cluttered.
  8. A detailed ‘about me’ page.  Perhaps this is my nosy nature coming out but I like to know a bit about the person behind the blog.  Though it doesn’t matter all that much – I also respect the right to privacy.
  9. Writing from a fascinating country like Iran or Egypt.
  10. Conversely, writing from my own country – either Scotland or the UK.
  11. I naturally tend to veer towards bloggers of my own age – I feel intimidated and inadequate around older, more experienced people – though if the quality is good enough I certainly won’t ignore blogs not written by my peers.
  12. Charitable or humanitarian support – from groups like Amnesty International or projects such as Kiva.org, I enjoy seeing humanity working as one for the benefit of us all.
  13. This sounds terrible, but blogs which have the same opinions as I do.  Like everyone, I like to read things which confirm my pre-existing biases.  That said, it’s fascinating when a particular blogger who I know has similar views to me posts something I completely disagree with, because then I can’t just dismiss the idea as being propaganda for an alternative ideology and am forced to reconsider my views.
  14. Blogs which don’t try to find more things to say than they can think of.  Like this current question is making me do.
  15. Blogs which end segments well.  Also unlike this.

Why do you blog about books?
Because I love books!  And I love talking/writing about books!  And as an attempt to reduce my raving towards Real People, I guess.

How do you choose what book to read next?
I actually have a quite complex system for this.  It goes: “home fiction, library fiction, home non-fiction, very old book; library fiction, home fiction, library non-fiction.”  This way, over a cycle of 7 books I’ll read a mixture of books from both my home shelf and the library but also a rough 2:1 ratio of fiction:non-fiction.  The actual book itself: I try to choose a different genre than the one I read before and I informally alternate between authors I know and those I do not.

Show off!  5 of your best blog posts.
Hm…

  1. Democracies in the World by far is the most popular post I’ve made (it’s been a bit butchered by my recent attempts to remove copyrighted images; I’ll need to fix that).
  2. I’m really pleased with my literary analysis in Cloud Atlas [Novel] Analysis.
  3. Death on Mars is also quite ‘popular’ and one of my better cosmology posts.
  4. Syria: Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War is one of my better posts on international relations, back before I became too exasperated with the situation in Syria to keep updated with it.
  5. Problems with First Past the Post – see above…

How do you fight blogger fatigue?
What is blogger fatigue?  My own?  I generally enjoy writing and blogging – and it’s a less scary distraction from writing fiction – so don’t experience it all that much.  Unless you mean the fatigue of my readers?  In which case, I fail miserably.

Describe one under-appreciated book EVERYONE should read.
There’s many books that fit this category but my decision is easily J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.  I awarded it the position of being my 5th favourite book of 2012 and it really is more special than most critics would have you believe.

Tell us your deal breakers.
Uh… I don’t understand this question!  If someone says they don’t read then I tend to break all deals I’d previously made with them… ?

Who are your book blogging mentors.
I wouldn’t say I have mentors, but there’s a few book bloggers I enjoy following – The Bookshelf of Emily J, to name one.

Well, that was 40 minutes I’ll never get back!

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The Cuckoo’s Calling by… J. K. Rowling?

This story fills me with joy.  J. K. Rowling, known of course for the spectacularly successfully Harry Potter series of novels between 1997 – 2007, and also The Casual Vacancy last year (which I’m in the minority for loving), has released a third book.  Why no hype?  Why did nobody know of this?  It turns out she’s been using a pseudonym.

The Cuckoo’s Calling was quietly published earlier this year in April by an author called ‘Robert Galbraith’.  It’s a crime novel and received wide critical acclaim, with many reviewers expressing surprise that a first-time author could produce a work of such quality.  It has now been revealed that this was, in fact, the work of J. K. Rowling.  Speaking to the Sunday Times, she said:

“Being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience.  It has been wonderful to publish without hype and expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

I find this story incredibly amusing.  It’s boosted my already-high respect for Rowling, disproving any cynical claims that she’s “only in it for the money.”  I can easily understand why she chose to do this; The Casual Vacancy was, wrongly in my opinion, unfairly judged by a comparison to Harry Potter.  Every established artist’s work will be compared to their former work, but this went further.  Despite being a very decent book it received harsh criticism by people who, I suspect, were hoping for another Harry Potter.  How liberating it must have been for Rowling to escape that!  I’m pleased to see The Cuckoo’s Calling getting such positive reviews, which I hope will discredit everyone bent on labeling her a one-hit wonder.   I, for one, look forward to reading it!

The Problem with Reviews

This is an announcement to all 60 of my followers (60!  That’s incredible!  If even a fifth of you aren’t spambots I’d be thrilled) to say that I’m probably going to stop writing reviews for films, TV shows and books.  This is for a few reasons:

  1. Simply, I’m not enjoying them.  I find them a bit of a slog to write.  While it’s fun to completely hammer something I dislike or to highly praise something I love, there’s only so many ways I can say, “It was alright”, and it’s getting boring trying to think of them all.
  2. Perhaps I’m just not great at reviewing, I don’t know, but I found myself generally churning out the formulaic, “I liked this because…” “This didn’t please me because…” making sure to cover Plot, Characters, Themes, Style/Direction, etc.  It’s beginning to feel like if you replaced the nouns of my reviews you’d basically be left with identical templates.  A couple of reviews managed to break free of this mould but most don’t.
  3. They’ve brought out the worst of my obsessive nature.  When starting films or reading books I’ve been thinking, “Oh, I need to review this after.”  Which sort of adds stress and, when I’m busy, has actually discouraged me from reading or watching films – which is always a bad thing!

This doesn’t mean I’ll never write a review again, but I am going to stop churning them out as I have been.  It also definitely isn’t an end to my blog posts on literature and films; these are still some of my favourite topics and, I’m hoping, this will allow me to create more thoughtful and deeper analyses/interpretations of various works.  I still plan to publish at least one post a day until September and these will still largely be divided between the Topic Triumvirate of Social Sciences/My Life/Literature and Films.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012 Film) Review

(Contains spoilers)

I’ve fallen so behind with my posts!  In what became an added stress to a generally fantastic, if busy, week, I only arrived home from the screening of The Hobbit last Wednesday at midnight, so didn’t have time to write up a review.  This will be a very short review, summarising my thoughts, and probably reiterating what many better film reviewers have said.  It’s also from the perspective of someone who’s read the book before, albeit half their life ago.

I was very excited about this film.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy would easily rank among my favourite book/films, and I expected The Hobbit to be just the same.  I had heard that it is nothing like LOTR, which is to be expected.  You don’t even have to read the books to see the vast differences in tone, simply noting the difference in font size gives a clear idea!  The Hobbit is much lighter than LOTR with far more comedy.  So how did it do?

Not bad.  The Hobbit is far from perfect, but it is an admirable addition to the franchise.  Visually, it is possible to see the development of computer generated imagery in the last decade, which is prevalent throughout almost the entirety of the film.  This gives it a very fantastical, sometimes almost ‘cartoony’ feel, which matches The Hobbit’s tone.  However, I feel this sometimes goes too far.  While the landscapes are absolutely stunning, I agree with many critics that the film gains no favours from having computer-generated orcs and goblins.  Particularly in the case of major characters, such as Azog and the Goblin King, who would have benefited by the physical presence of an actor.  One reviewer stated it was watching a video game, and I quite agree.

The acting was, on the whole, brilliant.  I was interested in seeing Martin Freeman as Bilbo, having previously seen him as John Watson in the BBC’s Sherlock, and he did not disappoint.  He will forever be Bilbo to me, and carries on well the character which Ian Holm first developed in LOTR, bringing his own attributes to the part but clearly playing the same character.  Returning characters were excellent as ever, if sometimes clearly 10 years older – there did not seem to be much attempt to hide Ian McKellan’s ageing.  Christopher Lee played Saruman well and had the same presence he always brings to roles, which is admirable considering he turned ninety earlier this year.  The dwarves were much as I imagined them, though few were developed to any significant degree and were mostly used for comic effect.  I’m not a great fan of unnecessary comedy so most of this passed me by, but it was good for what it was.

But the clear standout of both the effects and acting was Gollum.  Andy Serkis gives an astounding performance once again as the deranged, deadly yet pitiful character.  Gollum looks ever so subtly younger, though it is difficult to state how – a tribute to both the acting and animation.  The difference between ‘Sméagol’ and ‘Gollum’ is immediately noticeable; the eyes flash from cute and innocent to calculating and dangerous in an instant.  I expect more awards to come Gollum’s way in the near future.  Gollum also has the honour of providing some of the few genuine laughs I had during the film – particularly, during the game of riddles, his schizophrenic exchange: “Oh, I know, I know!” “Shut up!”  And, put simply, he was so cute!  I felt his despair upon losing the Ring, however wrong I knew it to be.  Easily the most sympathetic and pitiful character in the whole film.

One major problem the film had was pace.  I appreciated the cinematic display of backstory to open the film, giving it the same grandeur feel which LOTR had.  However I felt it was unnecessary to include ‘modern-day’ Bilbo and Frodo.  This assumes the audience has seen the LOTR trilogy and makes it appear to be a spin-off rather than a film of its own right.  The Hobbit was published before LOTR and it feels wrong for the film to be cast along as a ‘younger sibling’ in this way, as it often is.  The film takes far too long to leave Hobbiton and truly get started – about an hour, compared to around 10% through the book.  And once it does leave Hobbiton, despite following the book closely, is simply a series of dangerous situations followed by a fight and victory – particularly once the party enter the Misty Mountains.  I found myself bored by fight scene after fight scene, each one similar to the last, so that the final climactic battle between Thorin, Azog and Bilbo had little effect on me.  I was merely glad once it had ended.

Finally, the film is less realistic than LOTR.  Perhaps this was intentional, but it leads to more potential criticisms of an overly fantastical nature and being like a video game.  The two main examples occur during the fight scenes to escape from the Goblin Kingdom.  Firstly, and this is also a criticism I have of LOTR, the Dwarves must be astonishingly accomplished fighters to take on the entire Goblin army and escape unscathed.  Their invincibility continues as they plummet into the depths of the mines, bouncing from the walls, and again land unscathed.  Are we to assume that dwarves in fact contain several layers of blubber?  There are various other fantasy elements which feel out of place, such as the fight between the giants, which although not unrealistic in themselves – clearly, as this is a fantasy film – the lack of explanation leaves me wondering how it is possible.  Though there are no limits to the imagination in fantasy worlds, they must have rules and explanations, otherwise the story has no boundaries and feels unconvincing.  This is something Tolkein usually achieved to great success within his work, causing this to jar even more.  And most confusingly, why couldn’t the eagles fly them all the way to Erebor rather than planting them in front of a deep, dangerous forest?

I’ve heaped much criticism onto The Hobbit, but I do need to reiterate that I heavily enjoyed the film.  It was never going to live up to the legacy of LOTR, and that aside it didn’t, in my opinion, quite reach its potential.  Despite that, it’s still an excellent film that will long be remembered, if doomed to be eternally shadowed by its older sibling – much like the book itself.

Final rating: 8/10