Top Ten Tuesday: facts about me

It’s been a while since my last TTT post. I let them slide back in March and have been waiting for a good reason to go back; this week’s theme is ideal since it’s pretty vague and doesn’t involve racking my brains for ten books that tenuously fit the given topic! The general idea this week is for a series of bookish facts about me, but I’m rubbish at following very basic instructions so….

Earlier this week I was thinking about how certain books can end up tied to specific times and places in our memories, so I’ve adapted the question to suit this instead. Here are some books and the memories that they spark for me:

1. I read The Great Gatsby during one lonely night in a Polish convent.

2. I read Primo Levi’s If Not Now, When? when I should I should have been writing my Masters dissertation (and I’m eternally grateful to my then flatmate for hiding the book so I could get some work done).

3. I read Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series when I was far too old and I’m not ashamed.

4. I read Pride and Prejudice over several long days in a hospital waiting room when my nan was sick.

5. I read The Lovely Bones against my better judgement and have regretted it ever since.

6. I read Rebecca whilst hidden in a field of long grass by a river at the height of summer.

7.  I read P.S. I Love You at work and was very nearly fired from the horrible retail job I was doing at the time.

8. I read Jane Eyre three times in a week when I was thirteen and off school for the Easter holidays.

9. I read 100 Years of Solitude whilst lounging by a swimming pool in the south of France with my sister by my side.

10. I read Twilight because my friend hated it so much and I was curious.

That’s it for another Top Ten. I’ll try not to leave it quite so long next time!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Literary villains

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.This week it’s a Halloween themed freebie so I’ve decided to look at some of my favourite villains. We all love a baddie after all.

I’ve not been too enthusiastic about the last few TTT themes so I had a break for a couple of weeks (which roughly coincided with my more general break from reading and blogging). Top Ten Literary Villains is quite a good reintroduction to the meme as I love a good scoundrel. They’re often much more interesting than the heroes.

1, Mrs Danvers in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Mrs D was the first character I thought of when I started this list. Bitter, deranged and spiteful, she lurks in the shadows and sets sly traps to humiliate her new and inexperienced young mistress. Cross her at your peril.

2, The gentleman with the thistledown hair in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke. I bloody love this book and thistledown is the perfect fantasy villain. He presents himself as a sort of magical benefactor to the downtrodden but it’s all a horrifying deception.

3, Count Fosco in The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. Fosco switches from a charming but eccentric friend to an evil monster so easily. Oh the betrayal!

4, Pinkie in Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. The image of the 17 year old gangster prowling the pier with his razor blade and a bottle of vitriol has always stayed with me. You should read this book. It’s awesome. Watch the film too while you’re at it.

5, Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. I know the ‘arch nemesis’ representation of Moriarty is kind of a film/TV by-product but I love it. You know you’ve made it in life when you’ve gained yourself an arch nemesis. I wish I had one.

6, Big Brother in 1984 by George Orwell. Big Brother is watching you.

7, Kevin in We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Is Kevin naturally ‘evil’ or is it all just a reaction to his mum’s obvious indifference? Either way, he’s a chilling character and their relationship is kind of fascinating.

8, Delores Umbridge in the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. Voldemort? Malfoy? Snape? Pffft.

9, The Headmaster in The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross. The demon headmaster is going to take over the world using an army of children he’s hypnotised to do his bidding. Really, what could be more terrifying?

10, Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. One of the things I like about this novel is the fact that you’re never really sure who the real monster is. Victor? Or the being he creates and abandons? I know which side I’m on.

In appreciation of the BBC Big Read Top 100

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I’m trundling through Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow at a very slow pace. It’s not the fault of the book (although my feelings about it are pretty mixed so far). It’s just that it’s full of references to so many things I don’t understand and I keep pausing to look them up on Wikipedia: cryolite, the Inuit, parasitic worms, the social and economic history of Greenland…. and so on. It’s taking a while.

I’m nearly finished but since I don’t have a review to publish just yet I thought instead I’d post a few thoughts on the BBC Big Read, since my friend B and I were discussing it in the pub last Saturday night. B and I have been friends for years but back in April 2003, when the Beeb announced the results of their poll into the nation’s favourite novels, we were at universities on other sides of the country. We didn’t see each other often but we got great enjoyment from working our way through as many of the top 100 books on the list as we could and comparing notes whenever we saw each other.

Back then, when the list was published, I’d already read 32 of the books in the top 100. Last time I counted I’d read 73. B, of course, finished her 100th book ages ago.

Last weekend, over a bottle of wine, we got to reminiscing. We compared notes on our favourite novels from the list, those which were better/worse than we expected, those we would cross from the list altogether… It got a bit silly, this conversation, because we fundamentally disagree on several of the entries, but here are my answers to some of our questions:

RebeccaThe first new book I crossed from the list: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, borrowed from my university library shortly after the results of the poll were released. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, it was a perfect book to start with: full of suspense and just the sort of thing to spur you on.

CaptainCorelliMost surprising: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (completed in 2004). I blame my dread of this book entirely on Nicholas Cage… but you know what? It’s actually a great book and doesn’t deserve the crappy film it spawned. I feel a bit resentful on de Bernieres behalf.

AlchemistMost disappointing: The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho (completed in 2004). I’d looked forward to reading this and my initial impressions were good… but wore off quickly. I read it twice to make sure I didn’t like it and concluded that I’m turned off by books that are supposed to be profound.

MagusMost infuriating: The Magus by John Fowles (attempted in 2007). I got nearly two thirds of the way through before the rage kicked in. I don’t like to give up on books but I was really struggling with this and never really felt like I understood what was going on. It made me feel like I must just be very stupid.

SuitableBoyMost daunting: Ulysses, which I’ve still not read. Also Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy (completed 2005). This was a whopper, by far the longest on the list. I took it on holiday so I could read without distractions (ha!) and fell in love with it. Of all the books that I was introduced to by the Big Read it’s the one I remember most fondly.

The last books I crossed from the list: I’ve crossed two new books off the list this year. They are Persuasion by Jane Austen and Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. Both were worth waiting for.

Books I’m still looking forward to reading: War & Peace, Perfume, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists…. there are quite a few. I’ve not yet tackled any of the Terry Pratchett books on the list and I intend to read at least one of them (I’m not going to commit myself to reading all five – what if I hate them all?).

I’m not sure that I’ll finish all the remaining books in the top 100 and I’m fine with that. In fairness, I think I’ve grown out of reading from ‘best’ book lists and I’m not sure that I like the idea of this one as much as I did twelve years ago. But the Big Read introduced me to many books I would never have touched otherwise and I’m grateful for that.

I still have a copy of the list in my purse although it’s now been upgraded to include the full 200. I don’t use it much but it comes in handy sometimes when I’m stuck for a book and need inspiration!