Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Unpopular Opinions

Sometimes you read a book, and for whatever reason, you just don't connect with it. That's fine - not everyone loves every book, and if we all liked the same thing then we'd all get bored of each other really quickly. However, every now and then you read a book that you dislike intensely, or get bored by, and it's a chart-topper that is sending everyone else into a spin. Everyone is reading it, or about to read it, or talking about it, and quite often the press for it is good. So your friends like it, the critics like it, the award-givers love it and you're indifferent at best, met with a chorus of 'What?!' every time you sheepishly admit that you gave it a go but you're not a fan. Sometimes, it's easier to just keep your unpopular opinions to yourself so you don't have to explain - usually at length - why you disagree with what appears to be the rest of the world. Well NO MORE, I say: it's time we all stood up and said what we really thought about those authors/books we're not keen on (yes I know some of you don't need encouragement but others do). I'll go first then - here's my less-than-popular opinions on some of the bigger books of recent years.

I Read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS By John Green, And Felt Nothing. 
Everyone seemed to go nuts for this, the story of Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace, teenage lovers who find each other through a cancer support group. It's a bittersweet romance about appreciating your life and living it to the full, regardless of how much time you've been allotted, which is certainly a good message. It's also apparently a guaranteed tear-jerker - except, my tears remained unjerked. I read this book TWICE and there was nary a wet eye in the house, despite scenes I know I would have found emotive in another book, with characters I liked more (whilst I really liked cynical-for-a-reason Hazel, I found Augustus insufferably perfect for much of the story, and a bit smug). Sorry guys, it just didn't get to me. Maybe that makes me a soulless harpy, but I just couldn't take the love story seriously. Also, whilst I'm at it, I'm not that much of a fan of John Green generally (possibly more on that later).

I Couldn't Finish I AM PILGRIM By Terry Hayes.
Much like Under The Dome by Stephen King, this book started so well for me, with a murder that wasn't as straight-forward as it seemed, and a ex-Special Forces type trying to avoid getting sucked back into a life of deceit whilst helping solve the grisly murder. Except, for me, it went downhill pretty quickly after that, with a plot that jumped all over the place, really long exposition-y passages and not an awful lot of direction - yet everyone was talking about this book! I hardly heard anything negative about it, and it even won the 2014 Specsavers Crime/Thriller of the Year award. So was I really the only one who couldn’t get on board with it? Actually, no, I wasn't - I know of one other person, crime author Paddy Magrane, who agrees with me, but I feel we may be the only ones:

I'll have to be really honest here and say I have only read this once, and that was about two years ago, so it may not be entirely fair for me to include this here, because I may change my mind if I re-read it... but whatever, I'm writing it now and right now, I'm not keen. Anyway, I bought this on the strength of the reviews and the title, which at the time I found charmingly eccentric, but now just responsible for the plethora of annoyingly-long titles that are everywhere. All I can remember about this book, beyond the basic plot, is disappointment: whatever I was expecting, I didn't get. The thing with this - and with other titles on this list, actually - is that when I realised I didn't like it, I felt a bit stupid and heartless, like it was my own fault for not liking it. But then I thought about it and realised that I just thought that the whole thing was just a little bit contrived, deliberately - and obviously - aiming for ultimate charm and whimsy.
Plus, the more I think of it, the more I really loathe that does-what-it-says-on-the-cover title.

Now let's get something clear: I’m not saying Curious Incident isn’t good, so you can get those hackles down. It is very good - an elegantly told story with the right amount of humour and emotion, raising many questions about the lengths we go to for people we love, and how everyone copes differently with various types of stress (also, go see the play if you can. It's truly fantastic). But A Spot of Bother also has many of those elements: it's about a recently-retired man who discovers a skin condition on his thigh, becomes convinced it is cancer and begins to quietly lose his mind whilst his family fall into disarray around him, with everyone struggling to deal with their own problems. To me it’s funnier than Curious Incident, sweeter, more foreboding, scarier, and just generally better.
Incidentally, I tweeted about this a while ago and Mark Haddon himself replied (also saying he liked my mug), so I feel vindicated by this:

I Don't Think The Death Scenes In HARRY POTTER by J. K. Rowling are very well written.
Possibly THE most controversial thing in this post, but I stand by it. Now, I love Harry Potter - I re-read the series probably once a year, and it never fails to have an impact on me. However, I don't think very good things about some of the various deaths that occur in the latter half of the series: Sirius Black and Cedric Diggory in particular. The problem I had with these was that, when they occurred, I had to go back and re-read the scenes - not because I was shocked by them, or horrified, but because I actually didn't fully register that these were death scenes I was reading. I remember very clearly that I didn't even realise that Sirius had died in Order of the Phoenix until a few pages later when Harry thinks 'Sirius couldn't be dead' or something like that, and I was genuinely shocked, having to rifle back through pages to confirm that I had, indeed, completely missed the death scene of a major character. Admittedly Rowling did get better at writing these scenes in later books - I realised a lot quicker that poor old  Fred Weasley had copped it in The Half-Blood Prince (you know you love a book when you're sobbing hysterically at 2am over the death of a fictional character) - but I just don't think the earlier deaths were clear. Maybe that's what she intended, but when you're sat there going 'So are they actually dead?' it doesn't strike me as a huge success.

Alright, let me have it...

Thursday, 5 February 2015

A Harry Potter Summary

A re-read of the Harry Potter books last year - and a tumblr post of Harry Potter from Draco Malfoy's point of view, as tweeted by J. K. Rowling herself - got me thinking how the Harry Potter books can - more or less - each be broken down into one sentence. Luckily (depending on your point of view), despite not blogging at the time, I remembered to write down what I thought, and seeing as it's Harry Potter Book Night today I figured now was as good a time as any to share. WARNING - GIFS (that aren't always fully appropriate) AND SPOILERS AHOY (if there's anyone left who hasn't read these books/at least watched the films...)


 The Philosopher's Stone
Harry's a Wizard

 The Chamber of Secrets
Harry can talk to snakes

The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Harry's got a Criminal Godfather

The Goblet Of Fire
Harry's in a Tournament

The Order Of The Phoenix
Harry's in a Prophecy

The Half-Blood Prince
Harry's got a Book that's cleverer than him

The Deathly Hallows
Harry's a Horcrux


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Harper Lee Is Releasing A New Book

This is BIG FREAKING NEWS, people. Harper Lee, reclusive author of my favourite-ever book, To Kill A Mockingbird, is releasing her second ever novel this year, Go Set A Watchman, and it will feature Scout as a grown woman returning to Maycombe to visit Atticus. Considering To Kill A Mockingbird was first published in 1960, that's a hell of a break between books - fifty-five years, in fact, so I'd say she's done an excellent job of trolling us all. I never even imagined she'd ever write another a book, so for her, aged 88, to just basically turn around and say, 'oh look, what's this that I've found lying around? Oh wait, it's only ANOTHER FREAKING BOOK ABOUT SCOUT!' is just... it's big. To me, it's as big as when they found that Shakespeare folio in a village library in France.

Go Set A Watchman, due to be published in July 2015, was actually written before To Kill A Mockingbird, with Scout looking back on her childhood. But when editors advised Lee to write from Scout's point of view entirely ("My editor... persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told."), the original manuscript got set aside and was believed lost until her it was rediscovered last year - according to The Bookseller, "the original manuscript of the novel was considered to have been lost until the autumn of 2014, when Carter [Lee's friend and lawyer] discovered it in a secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird". Can you believe it? It's like stumbling up in to the attic and finding your dad had forgotten he has a mint condition, first edition copy of Superman. Except bigger. I can't even begin to imagine how Tonja Carter felt when she realised what she was holding. I hope it was reverence and an overwhelming desire for a stiff drink.

I'm not yet sure how I feel about this news - actually that's a lie, I'm so excited I can barely sit still. I'm on the same kind of high I usually only get from booking holidays. But obviously, as many people have been quick to point out on Twitter, she's got quite a lot riding on this, a lot of hype to live up to:

But I don't really think we've got anything to worry about. I've not been expecting, or even hoping, for another novel from Harper Lee - let alone one that features Scout -  so it's not exactly like expectations are riding high. I think most people are just delighted, like I am.

So sorry Jonathan Franzen and Kazuo Ishiguro - I know it's been a while since your last novels came out, but your thunder has officially been stolen. Tough break, guys.

In the meantime, I'm just gonna be doing this on repeat:

UPDATE (04-02-2015):

My excitement over this news had been somewhat tempered by this article on Jezebel, which speculates on the inconsistency between Lee's previous stance on publicity and publishing, and the news that she is now releasing a new title. This is just one article, collating several points made in various corners of the internet, but now my initial excitement has died down a bit there is the nagging concern that maybe Lee hasn't actually consented to the publication of Go Set A Watchman. Read the full article for more, but the points made relate to Lee's declining mental health, her tendency to sign whatever is put in front of her, and the coincidence that this news comes three months after the death of her fiercely-protective sister, Alice. I'm not saying this news is fact, not by a long shot, and I'm really hoping it's not true, but now I think on it, it is a massive coincidence and certainly concerning that an old woman might be being taken advantage of.