Tag Archives: Aldous Huxley

Catching Up With Myself and All of You…

Blimey it has been a bonkers week or so. I swore to myself that I would get some more reviews up on the blog last week and this week but it seems I am slightly delusional, or I just think overly hopeful which is much nicer, as with trips to Paris and back, fireworks for over 15,000 people, the installation of the stunning poppies and then Remembrance Sunday and today, the shortlist for the Green Carnation (annouced 2pm on the 12th of November) to sort and administrate, my mothers 50th and another trip to London for a few days of meetings in the morning… I have run out of time. Phew! It does give me a reason to share a picture of the Poppies Weeping Window now housed in Liverpool until mid January again though, this was taken by me on Sunday as over 13,000 poppy petals showered down to remember all those who lost their lives in WWI from Liverpool. Stunning and incredibly moving, do come and see them…

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…Anyway, whilst I catch up with myself (and I have Monday off next week so am planning a lovely long weekend at my mother’s partying then coming home and chilling for two days) I thought I would catch up with all of you and ask you how everything was going on and what is going on in your book worlds!

So what is new? To steal from one of my favourite sections on The Readers… What have you read, what are you reading and what are you thinking of reading next? I have read Sophie Hannah’s The Visitors Book,  I am reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (I have literally read about three pages) and am planning on turning to Margaret Atwood’s collection Stone Mattress  next. You?

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40 Books Before I’m 40 (Redux)…

So today is my birthday and I have turned the ripe old age of thirty one, which means I officially can no longer pretend I am in my ‘very late’ twenties, rather like at New Year I use my birthday to put the last year into perspective and focus myself for what I want in the year ahead. As it was the big 3-0 last year I pondered looking a decade forward and choosing forty books to read before I was forty. I promptly then went off the idea and popped it on the back burner for another time.

Well that time has arrived. I have spent the last few days whittling over books that I feel it would be good to give myself, albeit rather loosely, a nudge in the direction of reading. Some of the books were ones, like ‘Middlemarch’ which will get a special mention shortly, which I have been simply meaning to read, other more modern books I have been intrigued about. I was also greatly helped with my new edition of ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ (not that I am suggesting this will be on my 40th heaven forbid) which I have spent long periods mulling over.

1001 40

The rules, for there must always be some guidelines or things just get silly (see I even sound older), were simply that the books must be published by an author that I hadn’t tried before – thought I better throw that in there before I get some emails/comments telling me I have missed some absolute gems. Simple as that! And here is the list…

  1. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  3. Before Night Falls – Reinaldo Arenas
  4. Nightwood – Djuna Barnes
  5. The Heat of the Day – Elizabeth Bowen
  6. Wild Swans – Jung Chang
  7. Claudine’s House – Colette
  8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  9. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  10. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  11. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  12. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  13. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
  14. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  15. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  16. Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Hoeg
  17. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  18. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  19. Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally
  20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
  21. Independent People – Halldor Laxness
  22. Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt
  23. The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
  24. Embers – Sandor Marai
  25. Fugitive Pieces – Anne Micheals
  26. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  27. The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
  28. Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym
  29. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  30. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
  31. Pamela – Samuel Richardson
  32.  Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
  33. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  34. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  35. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  36. Restoration – Rose Tremain
  37. Myra Breckinridge – Gore Vidal
  38. The Colour Purple – Alice Walker
  39. Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
  40. Therese Raquin – Emile Zola

So there they are! I have also made sure I miss some famous classics (‘The Leopard’, ‘The Iliad’, etc) and some lesser known ones (‘The Odd Women’, ‘A Crime in the Neighbourhood’) but those are on my periphery too plus I also need to have some for when I do my fifty before fifty don’t I?

Now you may have noticed that there is one book which breaks the trend slightly and that is ‘Middlemarch’. Which leads me to a little announcement, and I hope those of you joining in with Classically Challenged won’t be cross, as I have decided to postpone writing about it on the last Sunday of March and am moving it to the end of June. I know, I know, June is ages away. However after some thought, and having only got eight chapters in so far, I decided I don’t want to rush this read (and I am enjoying it so far) because of a deadline and with a fairly long trip to London next week, plus a literary festival to prepare and read for, oh and those solo podcasts too… you get the picture. I simply want to enjoy ‘Middlemarch’.

So what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which have you been meaning to? Let me know and I promise I will be back next week, well tomorrow, catching up on all the comments that I have been meaning to for ages. In the meantime there are things to unwrap, candles to blow out, cake to eat and some serious applying of anti-aging cream to be done!

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In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood

I am quite surprised that I have not seen more mention here there and everywhere, though I could have been looking in the wrong places, about Margaret Atwood’s latest book ‘In Other Worlds’. Those of you who visit Savidge Reads will know that I am a huge fan of Atwood’s (indeed with both my mother and Gran loving her it was only time really until I would feel the same) both for her ‘literary fiction’ and for her ‘speculative fiction’ so I was instantly looking forward to this as a read, especially with its subject matter.

Virago Press, hardback, 2011, non-fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It’s this very thing that lies at the heart of ‘In Other Worlds’ I can’t think of anyone or anything, apart from possibly the Man Booker, which causes such debate about science fiction and ‘literature’ and the divides or lack thereof. I know some people who love her writing and yet feel slightly disappointed she has gone off into these speculative worlds like ‘The Handmaids Tale’ and that she is writing a follow up to ‘Oryx and Crake’ and ‘The Year of the Flood’.

 I remember reading a very negative piece somewhere that claimed Margaret Atwood didn’t want to be labelled as a science fiction writer and thought ‘that’s a bit snobby’ but this was taken out of context. Then came the Ursula K. Le Guin review of Atwood’s last novel ‘The Year of the Flood’ in which she quoted from (are you keeping up) Atwood’s essays ‘Moving Targets’, which I now really want to read, saying that Atwood didn’t believe her books were science fiction because the things in them were possible and may be happening, therefore they are speculative. Longer story shorter, ‘In Other Worlds’ is Margaret Atwood’s response to this and is even dedicated to Le Guin. It is so much more than a simple SFF vs. the rest of the literary world book though.

The book is set into three sections. In the first ‘In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination’ we are treated to three long essays. The first of which Margaret Atwood discusses her love of science fiction, based on the fact that growing up in rural Canada she would read anything and everything and this meant a lot of her father’s science fiction, comic books, pulp, noir, you name it. She went on to draw and create stories of her own superhero’s… flying rabbits, and looks at the myth of the superhero and compares it to science fiction. The second looks at the myths and religions that make up science fiction in varying ways and the third how Margaret Atwood created ‘ustopia’s’ based on merging utopias and dystopias. I loved this section, in part because the way Atwood writes makes it feel like you are sat having a conversation about these things with her (if only), there is a humour and knowingness as you go along, secondly because it shows the forming of a writer which I always find fascinating and thirdly because it made me think. A lot. This isn’t writing you can rush, you need to read it, pause, think a bit, make some mental notes, read on, have a bigger pause, think more. I loved that this was the effect it had on me.

The second section entitled ‘Other Deliberations’ is a selection of reviews and essays about novels or writing that people see is either definitely science fiction, definitely literary fiction with a science fiction twist or seen as speculative fiction. One of the books she covers is ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro (another book I love) and it’s here I think she shows that really does it matter what genre or pigeon hole books are pushed, good and thought provoking writing is what matters. “Ishiguro isn’t much interested in the practicalities of cloning and organ donation… Nor is this a novel about future horrors: it’s set not in a Britain-yet-to-come but a Britain-off-to-the-side.” Not only did I want to rush and read that again, I found all the books she discussed which i hadn’t read such as H. Rider Haggard’s ‘She’ and ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley are going to be racing up the TBR and being borrowed from the library.

The final main section of the book ’Five Tributes’ are works of Atwoood’s which she believes are truly SF works of fiction, they are all slight but all wonderful, I loved everyone of these. I also thought it was particularly clever of her to choose ‘The Peach Women of Aa’A’ from ‘The Blind Assassin’ as the final one. This is a fictional tale written inside her fictional tale at the heart of ‘The Blind Assassin’ and not only reminded me of what an incredible writer she is but how diverse, I smiled to myself that a book which won the Booker does indeed have a science fictional twist in it’s heart and then felt a little cross people forget that. It also reminds the reader that reading shouldn’t be about boundaries people confine them to, in fact all literature should celebrate the fact that the boundaries are endless full stop, so why are we so obsessed with defining it?

I hope that you come away from this long ramble that forms a ‘review’ or set of ‘book thoughts’ with an inclination to pick up this book when you can. It’s a book for book lovers in the fact that it’s overall theme is the celebration of writing, and then looking at the way we take writing in and pass on our thoughts. It also shows once again what a wonderful writer Margaret Atwood is regardless of whatever genre of writer you might feel the need to put her in. ‘In Other Worlds’ is certainly one of my books of the year without a doubt.

So where do you sit on the Margaret Atwood Speculative vs. Science vs. Literary fiction debate and why do we feel the need to pigeon hole and then get defensive over those pigeon holes?

P.S Small note to say this was a hot topic between myself and Gavin on this weeks The Readers podcast which you can listen to here.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Margaret Atwood, Non Fiction, Review, Virago Books