Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Holiday Collection, Part One: First Impressions

Following on from my previous post on judging books by their covers, I thought it'd be a good wheeze to take in a first impression of the books I am taking with me on me jolly 'olidays in a few weeks' time, and do a bit of a compare-and-contrast when I get back. I haven't read any of these before, although in some cases I know a bit about them, so I will be attempting to divulge the contents based entirely on the cover, the blurb and just the general feel I get from the book. So, to business!


Why I'm taking it: It is, of course, about to become a major movie franchise, in the vein of Harry Potter and Twilight, and I've decided I want to read the book before I see the film. I learnt this lesson with the first in the Twilight series; if I had read the books first, I may have realised that it is, in fact, a horribly misogynistic depiction of the deeply unhealthy infatuation a young girl has for a dead man, and death. I may have noticed earlier on that, while the relationship between Bella and Edward probably seems deeply romantic to a fifteen year old girl, it's actually a very bad example to set to young girls, especially New Moon, where Bella goes off the rails because Edward dumps her. It's a bit sick, this portrayal of 'love'. As it happens, I saw the film first, promptly got all girly over Robert Pattinson and his brooding good looks, devoured all the books in a single week and took longer than I'd care to admit to realise that they are, in fact, rubbish. I would like to avoid such a fate with The Hunger Games, and give the book a chance first.

Previous knowledge: From the trailers that I've seen for the film, it's about a big tournament in which young people compete for the entertainment of millions of people watching around the globe... But I think it's a bit more serious than The X Factor, because no one seems to want to take part in this one. I also know it combines elements of the Theseus myth, which involves the hero travelling to Crete as part of a retinue young of men and women, who are a tribute to the Cretan king, Minos, who will then feed said tribute to his pet, the Minotaur. It seems to be like an Olympic Games where you don't want to be in it, because if you lose, you get eaten... Or something.
What the cover says: Well it... it doesn't give much away, does it? I'm assuming that  the gold symbol is that of The Hunger Games, much like the big red X of The X Factor. I can't work out what kind of bird that is, though I am reminded of the myth of Procne, Tereus and Philomela, all of whom were turned into birds... but that's probably just because I've got myths on the brain. The arrow though, that's got to mean something, as I know from an exerpt from the film that Katniss - the heroine of the novels - is a pretty nifty archer. Aside from that though, it's anyone's guess. It's quite a sophisticated cover though - you wouldn't need to publish adult-covers for this one, as with the Harry Potter books.

What the blurb says: 'Winning makes you famous. Losing means certain death.' Blimey, that's a bit harsh! I'm already hooked though. The rest of the blurb gives very little away - as expected, The Hunger Games is a television show in which 'there is only one rule: kill or be killed.' Katniss is also appearing to be a bit of a bad-ass; I suspect in a Twilight/Hunger Games fight, she'd take Bella out in seconds. 

How I am feeling about it: Quite excited. The movie hype is starting to get to me, and I'm really glad I won't get a chance to see the film before I go away. Before I go, I may even buy the other books to take with me, because I suspect I will be wanting to read them as soon as I finish this one. I also love a good series of books - I am only full of admiration for authors who are able to write not one, but several, books about the same characters, and have come up with plots for each book, whilst also tying the whole series together. I even include Stephenie Meyer in this, whom I disagree with strongly over what exactly 'true love' is.

How much am I looking forward to it: On a scale of one to ten.... 9

Order of Reading?:  Second. I'd like this to be one I read only on holiday,  and not on the plane or anything, as I want my reading of it to be as uninterrupted as possible - no tannoy announcements, no air hostess offering me a beverage, nothing. I want to give this one my full attention.


Why I'm taking it: I always have to take a fat book with me on holiday, because it's pretty much the only one I can guarantee that I won't finish in a day (I once read three books in one day on holiday one year... true story), and this is the fat book. It's also slotting pretty nicely into the 'Da Vinci' mould, and I do like one of those on holiday. You know the ones I mean: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Angelology by Danielle Trussoni, The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne... These are all psuedo-historical thrillers, involving some far-fetched plot, a few bizarre references to real texts or paintings, and a wildly speculative outlook on some unproved theory or myth. They're excellent fun to read, require hardly any extra thought, are easy to pick up and just as easy to put down, and invariably overlong, so perfect for lolling by the pool or on the beach.

Previous knowledge: None. I pretty much picked it up because I saw it and thought, 'Ooh, that's a good-looking book, and it's fat too.'

What the cover says: It's all old-looking and parchmenty, so I guess that must be representative of the titular Map. It's also got a tagline, 'Decipher the clues, Discover the truth', so I'm bang on track with comparing it to The Da Vinci Code and suchlike. I can't even guess, however, what that symbol in the middle of the page is - I'm reminded of the Vitruvian Man, bizarrely, and a helix, so to be blunt about it, I've no idea what's going on. 

What the blurb says: Yep, this is seeming more like another Da Vinci Code with every glimpse. Typically, there's a few portentous statements such as 'A band of black magic worshippers has gathered... An ancient mystery is calling...' The main character is, it seems, a man called August Winthrop, who's name I quite like, who is guarding a map that leads to labyrinths, and as usual, he has to keep it out of the bad guys' hands. Sounds fun. Oh look, and the last section says a bit about Dan Brown - 'a sophisticated, relentlessly exciting thriller in the tradition of Dan Brown, Robert Harris and Kate Mosse.' Well, I like the use of the word 'sophisticated' as it implies it's as clever as it's predecessors, but 'relentlessly exciting' sounds a bit desperate. 

How I am feeling about it: It's hard to tell, as I am looking forward to it, but I'm not currently desperate to read it.

How much am I looking forward to it: On a scale of one to ten.... 7

Order of Reading?: Most likely to be third. This will be because, if I stick with the current reading order, I'll probably steam through the first two by the mid-week point of my holiday, panic, and grab this one to try and delay finishing all my books before the holiday ends (although it always happens, and I always have to get started on my boyfriend's books).


Why I'm taking it: I've read the first two of the Thursday Next series, which is set in an alternate universe where literature is held in extremely high esteem, one can 'read' themselves into a book (literally, and physically) and dodos have been re-created, so it seemed a logical progession to move to number three. I enjoyed the first two immensely - although I did enjoy the first novel, The Eyre Affair, more than the second, Lost In A Good Book, so if this is a sliding scale then maybe I shouldn't get too excited. However, I am considering this my 'safe' read, the one I am almost guaranteed to enjoy, so fingers crossed it'll pull through.

Previous knowledge: Well, without giving too much away about the previous two novels, I know that Thursday is currently trying to get her husband back, whilst attempting to avoid both an evil corporation that's after her and the consequences of changing the ending of Jane Eyre. I also know that it's a quirky, fun, referential series that focuses on all things bookish and bring characters from other books out into the world - imagine the Cheshire Cat as a librarian, for example, or Miss Havisham as a petrolhead - so I'm expecting some laughs at the funny bits and some snobby smirks at the literary bits.

What the cover says: Not a great deal, actually. The previous two books in the series both feature cars streaking through an unusual landscape for a car to be in, so this is just in keeping with the theme, I guess. The first book's car cover was related to the story (in a way) but the second one wasn't, so whilst I'd hazard a guess and say that I think the person in the car may be the aforementioned petrolhead, Miss Havisham, beyond that - and the fact she's driving through a library - I've got no idea what's going on. It looks fun, though.

What the blurb says: The Well Of Lost Plots actually crops up in Lost In A Good Book; we are told it is the place where all literary ideas are, even the ghosts of vague background characters (like Terry Boot in the Harry Potter series, for example). The blurb reminds the reader of what happened in the previous book, and why our heroine, Thursday, is now living in 'an unpublished novel of dubious merit entitled Caversham Heights'. We're also told that there's some killing going on in this one, so I'm a bit nervous as it sounds like a few characters are going to get the chop. It's shaping up to be like it's predecessors though, which can only be a good thing, considering how enjoyable they were.

How I am feeling about it: Pretty good - I'm feeling like it's meeting up with a new friend that I'm getting to know, so I'm looking forward to it.

How much am I looking forward to it: On a scale of one to ten.... 8.

Order of Reading?: First, probably - don't want to ruin continuity by having too many books between this and the previous!


Why I'm taking it: It's a book I've never read (obviously), but always thought I should... And seeing as I plan to have a verrrry lazy holiday, it seems as good a chance as any to read a book I've never really found the time to read.

Previous knowledge: Barely any. I cannot stress this enough - not only have I never read this book, but I genuinely have no idea what this is about. I mean, I know that it's set in what was Orwell's future, in a dystopian world where everyone was governed by an all-seeing authority. I also know this is where Big Brother comes from, a concept which I naturally find uncomfortable, and a programme which I found equally unsettling. I think it's also where Room 101 comes from, but funnily enough I'm not expecting it to be an amusing talkshow with Paul Merton. Also, having read Animal Farm, and being aware of what a disturbing novel that was, I'm expecting something else unsettling. That is pretty much all I know about it.
What the cover says: It's a creepy-looking edition, isn't it? All those eyes, all over the place... they're obviously representing Big Brother always watching, and I can see some propaganda-type writing scrawled faintly over the eyes; I can make out, 'Ignorance is Strength', which is ominous, and the words 'War' and 'Freedom' but that's it, so there's some politics in here somewhere. I'm pretty sure the red symbol must mean something too but I can't work it out, so that's something I'll look out for in the book. Finally, I can see something furry in the corner, by 'George', which could be a rat but is too faint for me to be sure. Rats are associated with dank, dirty places, and can squeeze through tight holes and get pretty much anywhere; they're also evil, as anyone who's seen Lady and The Tramp will tell you. So far, this is looking like an intriguing, but terrifying, read.

What the blurb says: Well, it's told me that a man called Winston, who works at the (evidently ironically named) Ministry of Truth, is re-writing history to 'suit the needs of the Party'; so there is some politics then. Apparently he doesn't like this job much as he is 'inwardly' rebelling - what does that mean? Assumedly he can't outwardly rebel due to Big Brother always watching. Winston, it appears, also falls in love, which seems to be the point at which the novel truly begins. Already I'm asking questions to myself - 'is love banned in this world? What is being rewritten in history by Winston? Why did Orwell fear for such a world?'. I think it'll make for an interesting read, though not an enjoyable one.

How I am feeling about it: Kind of resigned, actually. I'm reading it because it's an opportunity to read it, and because I feel I should, not necessarily because I want to. I'm not really a fan of 'futuristic' novels and this is one of the best-known ones out there.

How much am I looking forward to it: On a scale of one to ten.... 4

Order of Reading?:  I'm going to say fourth, because I know I'm not looking hugely forward to reading it, but I may have a change of heart and try to get it out of the way early on.


Why I'm taking it: I'm not, actually; my boyfriend is currently reading it, and since I'll probably run out of my books, I'll be reading this when he's finished.

Previous knowledge: Not a whole lot; I do know it's an American classic, focusing on a family travelling across America to try start to afresh in California, during the Great Depression, and like 1984, it's a book I feel I should read, but that's pretty much the extent of it.

What the cover says: A surprising amount, actually; there's the outline of an eagle, America's representative creature, and a long, stretching road through a somewhat desolate-looking landscape that disappears into the horizon. It's already a transparently American novel, involving a road trip of sorts - something that America does better than anyone. I'm getting a feeling of both possibility and fear from the landscape, and I'm also finding it a bit intimidating.

What the blurb says: Well, it covers the journey to California element, and the reason why they're leaving, but also hints at disappointment, arguments and  'uncertainty about what awaits their arrival...' Frighteningly, though, there is a little afterword from the author himself : 'I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags, I don't want him satisfied.' This does not sound like a relaxing read, but unlike with 1984, for some reason this piques my interest.

How I'm feeling about it: Intimidated; it sounds a bit heavy going, and like I'm going to be confronted with issues I've never encountered before. My knowledge of American history is pitiful, so I think I'm going to learn a lot, and not all of it I'll want to know. I am looking forward to it, strangely.

How much I am looking forward to it: On a scale of one to ten.... 7

Order of reading?: Fifth, seeing as I'll have to wait for the boyfriend to finish it first.

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