Saturday 22 November 2014

A Mini Readathon, in 50 Steps

1) Locate snacks, make cappuccino. Instagram them.
2) Go on Twitter.
3) Consider reading.
4) Text Hanna.
5) Go back on Twitter.
6) Pick books - completely different from planned reading or current reads, because fuck it.
7) Instagram them.  Peek at what other Instagramming minithonners are doing.
8) Text Hanna again.
9) Read first line of Charlie Brooker book.
10) Stare at wall.

11) Baaaack to Twitter. Pin hot Spencer Reid photo on profile so I can look at it and smile like a smitten teenager later.
12) Eat first snacks: mini rocky road bite, cappuccino (now cold).
13) Go get on bed, away from laptop, determined to read something.
14) READ SEVEN PAGES. Success!
15) Twiddle thumbs.
16) Reply to Instagram comments.
17) Use up new Candy Crush lives.
18) Cat climbs into arms for a cuddle. Instagram it.
19) Pop downstairs to make food. End up watching telly with mum and stepdad.
20) Show mum and stepdad cute Instagram of kitty cuddles.

21) Make tea.  Instagram tea.
22) Look at book. Watch Criminal Minds instead.
23) Use up new Candy Crush lives while tea 'settles'.
24) Pick up novella. Carefully read back cover.
25) Equally carefully read the 'critical acclaim' pages and author bio.
26) Congratulate self on getting back to quality reading.
27) Tweet about it so everyone knows quality reading is happening.
28) Use up new Candy Crush lives to celebrate.
29) Read 10 pages of novella like a FUCKING PRO.
30) Go downstairs to fetch copious amounts of coffee and popcorn. Pat self on back for deserving such a treat.

31) Instagram coffee and popcorn.
32) Look to see what snacks other people are Instagramming.
33) Read another handful of pages while shoving popcorn into face.
34) Decide to make bed for later.
35) Get distracted using up new Candy Crush lives.
36) Actually make bed for later.
37) Fuck it, put on pyjamas as well. LIVING THE THUG LIFE.
38) Devour entire bowl of popcorn while reading actual pages, for the first time since the minithon began six and a half hours ago.
39) Just one little game of Candy Crush.
40) Cat arrives for more purry snuggling time. Commence kitty smushing.

41) Send Snapchat of cat to sister.
42) Instagram cat for good measure.
43) Read more actual pages.
44) Instagram picture of bookmark in book to prove that pages have been read.
45) Use up new Candy Crush lives.
46) Imbibe huge mug of coffee.
47) Pause to consider that 11:30pm is probably not the best time to be imbibing huge mug of coffee.
48) Baaaack to the book.
49) Okay, one more game of Candy Crush.  Sneak it in there before midnight.
50) Just a couple more pages and - THEY THINK IT'S ALL OVER!  IT IS NOW...

Monday 3 November 2014

October: What I Read, What I Watched, What I'm Reading

Another month comes to an end, ALREADY.  I mean, Jesus, where the hell is 2014 going?  Summer's dead (R.I.P. Summer), the clocks have gone back, my winter coat has been brought out of retirement for another cold season, and wintery drinks like chai tea and hot chocolate have suddenly started to feel very appealing.  Even more scarily, the first 2015 reading challenges have appeared on A Novel Challenge.  IT HAS BEGUN.

So, let's get to the books and movies I consumed in October, shall we?  It's actually been a fairly slow reading month (it hasn't felt like it), but I DID watch quite a few movies, which is something I love but tend to let slide when I'm in a reading fever.  I think it balanced out okay in the end!
~ What I Read ~
Lord of the Flies
by William Golding
This was the second of the two books (the other being To Kill a Mockingbird) that I was determined I would definitely read this year - so hooray!  I've had it on my bookshelves since I was a young teen, so it was about time really.  Unfortunately for such a highly anticipated read, I wasn't as blown away by it as I'd hoped.  I wanted a kind of Coral Island-esque adventure that gradually descended into savagery and violence; what I GOT was a disappointingly jerky, uneven allegory that glossed over the survival element almost entirely, skipped forward in time in unspecified bounds, and grew quite repetitive at times.  As a result, some of the most important and moving scenes didn't have that much impact at all, and the hunters' savagery was less "diminishing sense of civilisation" and more "well, that escalated quickly".  It took me a surprisingly long time to read such a short novel - well over two weeks - and sadly the cover remains my favourite thing about it!  2 stars.

Austenland (Austenland 1)
by Shannon Hale
This book's been drifting on and off my reading radar for a while, when it first hit bookshop shelves and then again when the movie came out, but I finally picked up a copy from The Works this month and devoured it pretty much whole.  It was a nice break from the relentless misery of LotF, and FAR better than I expected.  It's about a Darcy-obsessed woman who travels to England to visit a holiday estate which promises a complete Austen experience - manners, men, a grand ball, and a happily ever after.  Jane hopes to use it to purge herself of her life-squashing romantic fantasies - only to find that maybe she's not quite done with love and the Austen magic after all.  I really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the sequel - same premise, new character - which I bought at the same time.  A cheery 4 stars.

Our Zoo: The Real Story of My Life at Chester Zoo
by June Mottershead
I was midway through the TV series when I found out this existed, and I bought it on the spot.  I actually read JUST this for the whole of the most recent Dewey's readathon (not something I normally do during a 24-hourer) because it was such an easy read, so charming and interesting and generally lovely to immerse myself in.  It's different to the BBC drama - that portion of the story is done within a couple of chapters, and the book moves on to the development of Chester Zoo from a tiny idyll to the world-famous force it is today - but the tone is just right, enthusiastic and entertaining, sharing stories from a magical childhood yet not shying away from the inevitable sadness that comes with working with animals, wild or otherwise.  June's voice is so warm and it's rather nice that now, in her eighties, her family's dream and decades of hard work are finally being recognised by a wider audience.  3.5 stars.

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This was a buddy read with Bex from An Armchair By The Sea (who is also hosting a readalong of The Pickwick Papers before Christmas, if anyone's interested), and it provided an excellent excuse to FINALLY read it!  It's so many people's favourite book, it's a classic I missed out on at school... it just had to happen, sooner or later.  Most people probably know the basics - the yearning love of the enigmatic Jay Gatsby for his old flame Daisy, set against a backdrop of moneyed twenties life in all its bittersweet glory.  It didn't have as high an impact as I'd hoped, admittedly - the end was spoilered for me, for a start - but it had all the alcohol, parties, wit and style I could possibly have wanted from my first Fitzgerald.  3.5 stars, and you can read my full review here.

I Remember Nothing, and other reflections
by Nora Ephron
Just sneaked this one in under the wire before midnight on Hallowe'en, whew.  And oh Nora.  How I love you.  In much the same vein as I Feel Bad About My Neck, which I read last year, this is a loosely-linked collection of wryly humorous sketches and vignettes, of various lengths, about family and getting older and life in New York.  It's not hysterically funny, it's not deeply profound, it's not life-changingly memorable - but it is warm and real and lovely to read.  Considering that I read a large portion of it alongside the decidedly less-than-lovely Beloved, that was exactly what the doctor ordered.  3 stars.

~ What I Watched ~
Seann to be Wild (2012)
 Stand-up comedy, by Seann Walsh
Not much to be said about this one really.  Seann Walsh is a young comedian who appeared on things like Stand Up for the Week and Live at the Apollo for a while, made me laugh hysterically every time, and that was that.  He sort-of reminds me of a bewildered lion, like he should be in Oz when he's not on stage.  His stand-up is of the 'everyman' observational comedy type, particularly aimed at 20-somethings and students I'd say, and I love him.  Yaaaay! (watch a clip)

Harold and Maude (1971)
Starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon, directed by Hal Ashby
Guys.  GUYS.  This movie is amazing.  Barry recommended it in a film video aaaages ago (possibly even before I started watching him - I binge watch BookTubers when I first find them to see if I like their stuff) and I spotted that it was on Netflix, so I gave it a go and IT WAS SO GOOD.  It's about a boy obsessed with death (mostly to try to get his ridiculous mother's attention) and an almost-eighty year-old woman overflowing with life, and their unlikely friendship-turned-romance.  It sounds so icky, but it's not, it's bittersweet and hilarious and I laughed and cried and the characters are wonderful and the soundtrack is by Cat Stevens and YES.  I want my own copy now, I adored it.  (watch the trailer)

Lost in Austen (2008)
Starring Jemima Rooper and Elliot Cowan, written by Guy Andrews
I was really fancying a little Jane Austen time in the middle of the month, but was already reading other things - so I went on a mini Austen TV and movie binge instead.  Rather than watching straight-up adaptations I first went back to this TV series, in which feisty Londoner (and die-hard Pride and Prejudice fan) Amanda Price finds a magical door into Longbourn in her bathroom and switches places with Elizabeth.  It's actually better (and funnier) than I remembered, watching Amanda completely screwing over the original plot and desperately trying to get everybody's storylines back on track - and Elliot Cowan's Darcy is seriously fine, WET SHIRT OR OTHERWISE.  So much fun!  (watch the trailer)

Austenland (2013)
Starring Keri Russell and JJ Feild, directed by Jerusha Hess
Hanna mentioned really liking this when I met up with her in September, hence buying the books and the DVD soon afterwards.  I watched it as soon as I was done with the novel, and I LOVED IT.  It's smart and cheesy and ridiculous and romantic, and JJ Feild is basically what would arrive on Earth if Tom Hiddleston and Alan Cumming had a love child, so...  Yes.  GREAT fun for Austen fans who aren't too precious about modern twists on the original stories, which I'm not.  Interesting fact: Jennifer Coolidge was actually on Shannon Hale's fantasy cast list before the movie was made, so it's nice that what's on screen at least partially matches up to what the author had in mind on the page! (watch the trailer)

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, directed by Jim Jarmusch
FINALLY!  It feels like I've been waiting for this movie forever - buzz started early, festival fever fanned the flames (ALLITERATION), the rest of the world saw it, we finally got a limited release (which meant nowhere round here bothered), and then forever and a day later the DVD arrived...  It was worth the wait.  I think.  The immortal and slightly weary characters are beautifully portrayed (Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Tilda Swinton and John Hurt, come on), the cinematography is dark and interesting, and the soundtrack is one of my favourites of recent movies.  It's definitely a slow-burner - not much really happens - but it's gorgeous and intimate and I had a deep feeling of satisfaction when the end credits rolled, which is always a good sign for me.  Definitely one for a rewatch sometime soon. (watch the trailer)

Our Zoo (2014)
Starring Lee Ingleby and Liz White, written by Matt Charman
This is actually a TV series rather than a movie, but since I'm planning on acquiring the box set at some point I thought I'd include it here like I would any other series I own on DVD.  It's basically the story of the creation of Chester Zoo - a dramatized and enhanced version of the earliest part of June Mottershead's story (see above).  George Mottershead, a shell-shocked WWI veteran, and his young family move to a large house in Upton with the intention of opening a zoological gardens, a 'zoo without bars', where animals can live comfortably and safely while also providing an educational opportunity for visitors.  Unfortunately, the conservative residents of Upton have other ideas...  It's a beautiful BBC period piece, with superb acting across the board, a great cast, adorable moments and some really nail-biting ones, even though obviously you know it all came good in the end!  Lovely cosy cold-weather viewing.  (watch the trailer)

Catching Fire (2013)
Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, directed by Francis Lawrence
Do I really have to explain this one?  No, probably not, but here we go.  I rewatched the movie at the end of the month, because I want to finally read Mockingjay in November before the first instalment hits the big screen.  Unlike last year, I don't want to reread the first two books - not yet - so I watched the film instead.  It was as brilliant as I remember, from the thrilling moments of rebellion to the ingenious arena to that incredible Mockingjay dress.  I've heard bad things about the last book, but my love for the first two and their corresponding films goes undiminished! (watch the trailer)

World War Z (2013)
Starring Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos, directed by Marc Forster
First up, can I just say that this movie was NOWHERE NEAR as awful as I expected it to be from the dreadful reviews and tirades of abuse I've seen around the internet.  It was never going to be a straight-up adaptation of the book (which I read in September), because an oral history-style novel by its definition has no cohesive narrative or prominent character to root for - but I thought the compromises made to bring the overall story to the screen were excellent.  The tone remained quite faithful: the emphasis was on military intervention, and the zombie apocalypse as a contagion, rather than on gore and cheap thrills.  It did manage to cram in plenty of horror-movie staples - terror on a plane, terror in a military facility, terror in an apartment building - but although they were noticeable, I didn't mind.  It just added to the feeling of zombie saturation and the fact that literally nowhere was safe.  It's not going to be my favourite movie of the year, but I'm really glad I gave it a try and formed my OWN opinion.  Definitely one I'll be returning to next time I fancy an easy-to-watch sci-fi action movie of an evening.  (watch the trailer)

~ What I'm Reading ~
This has actually changed a tiny bit since I started writing this post (and took the photo for it), but let's go with it...  I've finally remembered that I'm working way my way through The Pleasures of the Damned, the collection of Bukowski's poems, so I've read a few more of those recently.  I picked up Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, a cute graphic memoir that I'd originally planned to read during the Dewey Readathon but set aside in favour of Our Zoo, so I'm a couple of 'chapters' into that as well.  It's very cheerful and chirpy, providing the perfect happy-break from my final current read, Beloved by Toni Morrison.  I've actually finished it this evening and Jesus, it's brutal.  Beautiful, but brutal.  More on that in next month's wrap-up...  I haven't picked my next novel yet, but it'll probably be something from that groaning library pile that never seems to go down, haha.  Or Mockingjay!  Must read Mockingjay... *wanders off to have a look*

Aaaaand that was my October!