Friday 28 October 2011


Firstly I need to apologise for never putting up my Classics Circuit post on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This past couple of weeks it’s felt like if it’s not one thing, it’s another. We’ve been going through a bit of a stressful time, and the blog has (as usual) suffered because of it. I know I keep saying I’ll stop letting it happen, but I think that I probably need to accept that, for the moment at least, this is just the way I operate. That said, I have got a little way into The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and while I’m not loving it like I expected to, it is definitely getting more gripping, so hopefully I’ll be able to stick with it and let you know what I thought of it when I eventually reach the end! People have asked me why I don’t like it as much as I thought I would, and if I’m honest, it’s probably mostly down to the rambling pages of descriptions of Paris, which feel fairly similar to all the interminable descriptive passages in Frankenstein, which are still the one thing I despise about an otherwise awesome book, and which my first inclination is still to just skip over. That, and the fact that it’s not a Disney movie. There are no songs, and I know this is horribly blasphemous of me, but I sort of feel that so far, the story suffers from the gargoyles not talking back to Quasimodo. I am sure that by the time I finish the book I will have re-evaluated and retracted most of these opinions. Anyway!
In other exciting news (for me, anyway), after nearly a year of hearing me talk about my blog, and seeing how much keeping it has helped and inspired me, my wonderful husband has finally caved and started a blog of his own! He’ll be talking sporadically about music (he’s a singer and music graduate), drama, and all theatre related things, at If it sounds like the kind of thing you’d be into, go visit him, I know he’d appreciate it! J
I’ve been reading a lot lately, but not quite finding the time to write about it, and I really do hope to be rectifying that soon, but for now, here’s a quick update of my recent reading life:
Last weekend I took part in my first ever 24 hour readathon! Despite work and family commitments keeping me from a lot of it, I still managed to read for 7 hours, enter two mini – challenges, win a prize, and finish three books! Reviews of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (which was good), Whip It by Shauna Cross (which was very good), and Franny & Zooey by J.D Salinger (which I’m still trying to figure out..) will be forthcoming, and I will most definitely be participating in the next one, in April!
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been doing my annual Christmas pre-reading of people’s presents before I give them to them thing (I know people think this is cheeky, but in my defence, I’m always very careful with the books, and I do need to make sure they’re suitable for the person receiving them!). Every year I buy my mum a new Elizabeth Peters, Susanna Gregory, Alexander McCall Smith, or (if such a thing still exists!) an Agatha Christie she doesn’t already possess, because these are the things she likes. This year, it was A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters, which I read in two days and thoroughly enjoyed, as always. It’s the latest in the Amelia Peabody series of detective novels, and if you’re into either detective fiction or historical fiction (they’re all set late 19th/early 20th century England and Egypt and are about archaeology and feminism), I’d recommend checking them out! For my dad, it’s always the latest Terry Pratchett, and Snuff arrived in the post today, so I’ll be starting that next and I’m excited. Sir Terry has never let me down yet!
Lastly, I just wanted to share something I’m super excited about! A couple of weeks ago I was sent a gorgeous hardback copy of The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry by the lovely people at Penguin. The anthology is gorgeous, very informative, and contains a host of poets I’ve never read. I used to read a lot of poetry when I was a student, but since then, not so much, so I’m hoping that the arrival of this beautiful book will help to rectify that! The book is out in the States pretty much now. As some of you may know,  I have been trying for a while to get a regular poetry feature going on the blog, so maybe this is my chance to do that! Watch this space!
That’s all for now. It’s getting colder here by the sea, winter is most definitely on its’ way, and I’m off for a big hot chocolate and to curl up in a corner, under my first (ever) knitted blanket, with a book. Hope your last few weeks have been less stressful than mine!!

Sunday 23 October 2011

End of the 24 Hour Readathon!

So I've managed to post at the beginning and at the end of the event. I loved my first readathon, and I will definitely plan to participate more fully the next time around! With work, the theatre, and family commitments, I only managed to read for around 7 hours, during which time I read 3 books, so I'm fairly proud of myself. I just had a bit of a nap to recover from going to bed late and getting up early, and I'm now feeling lots better, so here's my end of event survey:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? probably the last hour or so between 12 and 1pm - I started to feel really rushed and wasn't really taking in what I was reading...
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? graphic novels (I wish I'd read more of these this year!), stuff like the Percy Jackson novels with quite fast paced plots, short books in general. 
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? I think it was brilliant this year!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? cheerleaders were brilliant, cheering me even when I wasn't actively there... 
  5. How many books did you read? 3
  6. What were the names of the books you read? The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, Whip It by Shauna Cross, & Franny and Zooey by J.D Salinger
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Whip It was a really enjoyable read
  8. Which did you enjoy least? Franny and Zooey I think.. I'm still processing it, it was a very strange experience.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? n/a
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'd love to participate again, and I may well sign up to be a cheerleader next time :-)
Next time, I will take both days off work, make sure I have loads of snacks and drinks, and attempt to get my internet to work better so I can update more consistently. Hope everyone else had a great readathon!

Saturday 22 October 2011

Readathon - I'm finally here!!

Hey everyone, it's hour NINE of the 24 hour readathon, and I am finally able to actually just sit down and read!! This may be the only post I will be able to put up for the duration, as my internet, as some of you will know, is ridiculously temperamental. Please come see me on Twitter (@fairybookgirl) where I will be tweeting my progress via my phone. Since the start time, I've actually read about 50 pages of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, and I'm aiming to finish it at some point very soon. 

I know (and knew before I signed up) that my participation in this awesome event will be nowhere near as total as I would like it to be, however I'm hoping to use this experience as a learning process for the next one! Very late, here's my introductory meme so everyone knows some stuff about me!

1)Where are you reading from today? Broadstairs, Kent, UK
2)Three random facts about me…1) i don't like coffee 2) I just bought a really bright patchwork rug 3) this is my first readathon!
3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? a very ambitious 8...
4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? nope, just to do at least a few hours of uninterrupted reading (believe me, not easy in my house!)

If I don't manage to post again, I will be tweeting, I will be commenting, and I will be updating the books I've read on the readathon website, so see you there! :-)

Friday 21 October 2011

The 24 Hour Readathon is Coming!!

Soooo for those of you who have been living under rocks, this weekend is the return of the 24 hour readathon! It runs from 12 noon GMT on Saturday 22nd October, until 12 noon Sunday 23rd October, and despite the fact that I’m working till 5.30 on Saturday AND going to the theatre straight after, I’ve signed up to participate! This seems like it’s probably going to be madness, not least because my internet will almost undoubtedly not work properly the entire way through, and thus prevent me from writing update posts. However, I’m trying to prepare myself for this eventuality, and the performance on Saturday is only a couple of hours so after that I should have a good few hours of reading left before I eventually need sleep, and then plan to get up early on Sunday and read until noon. I just love the idea of being able to use books as a legitimate reason to get people to leave me alone, rather than feeling guilty for not talking to people... I know, I'm a terrible, antisocial human being, and to be fair, my husband is generally very good at knowing when I'm really engrossed, but still. With so much going on lately, I feel like I just need this time to destress and switch off for a while. If we had a bath, I'd be reading in it to maximise the relaxation, but I don't think it would work so well with a shower... After all the events and craziness going on when the readathon took place back in April, I couldn’t not join in this time around. If anybody wants to join in, sign up is here. It’s going to be great!!
Here’s a picture of the pile I’ve complied for reading:

After my recent post on the effect that reading The Night Circus had on me, I did one of my super –geeky amazon searches, and The Magicians and The Girl with the Glass Feet were both recommended as being similar books, so we shall see how good Amazon’s ‘people who like this also liked’ facility is... Also, I need to read them as they are both library books! The Percy Jackson series has become a bit of a readathon standard for me. I was given the first one as an RAK, and read the second during my first ever readathon. Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse is the third in the series and I’ve had it ever since the last readathon. I’m hoping it’ll be perfect, as the other two have been really light, easy, fun reads. Whip It was lent to me by my friend after we watched the awesome film, starring Ellen Page, who’s one of my current favourite actors, and will apparently take me no time at all to read and is amazing, so I’m looking forward to that, as I am to Franny and Zooey. I’ve never read any Salinger other than The Catcher in the Rye about five hundred times, so I’m excited to expand my repertoire, especially since Adam from Roof Beam Reader is always raving about him. Finally, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society has been on the shelf for ages, and I keep hearing people saying good things about it, plus, it’s a little book, and I need little books to keep me motivated! I also have Bill Willingham’s Fables: Legends in Exile, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home on standby in case of a graphic novel emergency.
I know it seems like a lot of books, but I like to give myself a variety, and it’s likely that I’ll dip in and out of lots of them during the time. There’s a lot of personal stuff going on right now which makes it a bit difficult for me to concentrate, so I’m partly doing the readathon as a distraction, but at the same time, I think it will probably be difficult for me to settle down to it. I’m super excited about all the mini challenges that will be going on during it, and I’m soooo hoping I can convince my internet to work properly at least part of the time, otherwise I will probably write all my update posts and then just have to condense them down into an overall one to post after the event! Wish me luck!

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Are there any books as good as this one? - A Quest for something to follow The Night Circus

I've been reading rave reviews of Erin Morgenstern's first novel, The Night Circus literally everywhere on the blogosphere for months now, so I was super excited when my husband came home with a copy of it. Because I'm lovely, I let him read it first, and he absolutely loved it. Then I read it, and words literally cannot describe how much I adored it. Since I finished it I've not been able to stop thinking about it. I read other books, and I feel like I'm cheating on The Night Circus. There will be a full review of it soon, whenever I get my head around its pure, undaulterated awesomeness, but for now, I need to find something that won't suffer hugely by comparison to it. So I'm calling on all you bookish/bloggy type people out there. If you've read it, how did you follow it? If you haven't read it, what was the last book to blow you out of the water?

I need your help, or my reading may never be the same again. Seriously, it was *that* good.....

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Top Ten Books Whose Titles or Covers Made Me Buy Them

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every Tuesday there's a different topic to make a top ten list about! 
This week, the topic is:

Books Whose Titles or Covers Made Me Buy Them!

I will admit to having a weakness for pretty covers and awesome titles, so this list is a good one for me :-) 

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - This one was for the title. I didn't (and still don't, actually) have any idea what Persepolis meant, but it's a totally cool word and an absolutely amazing book!

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll with Illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia - We didn't actually own a copy of this, as the one I read as a child belongs to my mother, so we had to get it! It's just so beautiful and quirky and I love it :-) 

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett - I know some people object to these covers, which is why the lame and boring (in my opinion) black ones have been issued, and yes, I know that some of the women are very scantily clad, but I think that Josh Kirby's covers go brilliantly with the tone of the Discworld series, and it was what first impelled me to buy The Colour of Magic, so thank you very much, Mr. Kirby!

Howard's End is On the Landing by Susan Hill - it was a little bit of both with this one. I love E.M Forster, and particularly Howard's End, and referencing a book I love in your title is pretty much a sure-fire way to get me to read said book. Also, the cover of the hardback edition that caught my eye in a charity shop is just gorgeous, and covered in books. It had the added bonus of being a brilliant read! 
The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas - I got sucked into the whole mental marketing craze that surrounded The End of Mr Y when it first came out. 'Oh look, it's the book with the orange cover and the black pages! I must have it!'. Can I just say, although I deplore marketing strategies in general and really despise the opacity of many bookshops' crusade to get me to read what they want to sell, in this case I am so glad I got sucked in, for without Ms Thomas's books, my life would be a very different place...

Gem Squash Tokoloshe by Rachel Zadok - this was a title thing. I liked the way the words sounded. I've still not read it, despite it being on my shelf (and my 'For Challenges - must be read this year!' list) all year, but now I look at it, it also has a very pretty cover. Maybe I'll get to it before December...

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.W Dahlquist - Another one I've not read, but it again caught my eye in the Oxfam bookshop and I was intruiged by the title. When I picked it up, I was even more intrigued by the cover... Since buying it I've heard a lot of interesting things about it, so I do hope to get to it at some point soon!

Only seven on my list this week I'm afraid. I'm sure there are more, but currently I am unable to remember what they may be!

Friday 14 October 2011

Why I'm Giving up on Ratings...

I've been trying to tidy up the blog a bit lately, as it's feeling a little bit ignored, and as I was thinking about how I'd like it to be, I reached a decision. I'm giving up my rating system.

Lately I've kind of hated the idea of assigning an amount of stars to a book, unless I really really loved it. It feels like I'm trying to simplify the experience of reading it too much, and I'm finding it very restrictive. Therefore, I've decided to stop doing it, to scrap ratings altogether, and instead to have a page that contains a list and links to the reviews of just my favourite reads of the year. All the books I would without a doubt give five stars to on the old system will be on here. The others will remain in the archive of stuff I've read this year, but this way I hope I'll feel less pressured and more able to explore my thoughts in a less restrictive way.

I know a lot of people have been saying similiar things lately, and I'm trying to understand what it is that makes us want to give stuff a mark out of five/ten? I think maybe as a kid it helps you to sort things out in your head. To maybe clarify the degree to which you loved or hated something, and I know that as a kid reading, I usually did either adore something or despise it. There weren't a lot of grey areas for me, but as I've grown up (ish) that's changed. This year I've read books that I've been completely meh about except for maybe one scene that was just beautiful, and I've read books that I loved except for one particular character that I just couldn't stand. It's not black and white. For the most part, I can't say that I loved a book or hated it - I can say 'I loved x about it but disliked y'. It's a balance; often a discussion with myself when I'm writing a review, and a working through of all the things I felt and thought while reading the novel.

Anyway! That's why I'm giving up on ratings. Does anybody else have any thoughts on what makes us want to rate? Do you rate things, and if you do, do you find it helpful?

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Review: - The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

Back at the beginning of the year, I set myself a challenge to read all of the books in the Canongate Myths series. I have spectacularly failed at this – out of the 12 books in the series, I’ve read a grand total of three. However, I am planning to carry the challenge over into next year I think.

Before I start the review proper, I'd just like to say firstly that I am on a ROLL this week! So far I've posted every day. I'm back, and I love it :-) Secondly, I love that this book has been published both in the black and white covers. It's a great representation of the two separate personalities of Jesus and Christ. I had the white version, but if I'm honest, I probably prefer the black cover. 

I’m really unsure as to how I felt about this book. I’ve given it three stars on Goodreads, and if I’m honest I think that I wanted to like it more than I actually did. A friend of mine got hold of a proof copy for me as she knew I wanted to read it, and I’m glad I did, but it was a very bizarre experience. I was raised and still consider myself to be a Christian, and Philip Pullman obviously and vocally is not, so I was intrigued when I first found out that he had written a book about Jesus.

The basic outline of the book is that Mary and Joseph had, rather than just the traditional one baby, twin boys. Jesus and his brother Christ were both born in the stable, but Jesus was a strong baby and Christ a weak and sickly one. When the shepherds and kings arrived Mary told them that Christ was the messiah, because she thought the attention would do him good. As they grew up, Jesus was always getting into trouble and Christ getting him out of it. Christ had some kind of amazing abilities, such as the ability to turn birds made of mud into real live birds, but Jesus eventually became the more well –liked one. Eventually, Jesus started preaching and gaining disciples. When he went to be baptised by John the Baptist, Christ was there and heard the voice of God. Because of this, an angel visited him and told him to write down everything that Jesus says and does. It follows the general outline of the New Testament, but with some rearrangements....

I will admit to being a little confused by the story. While I liked the basic idea, I wasn’t sure about what Pullman did with it. The character of Jesus is kind of mean, but I think that it’s Pullman’s way of exploring the inconsistencies with some of the things Jesus said and his actions. I found him to be quite a harsh character, and fairly selfish, only caring about the people who were following him, and he was really mean to his brother. Also, the way that it is reinvented casts Christ in the Judas role. Throughout the book there is a discussion between Christ and the angel regarding ‘history’ and ‘truth’. A lot of the things Jesus says and does have been reinterpreted by Christ, into ‘truth’ rather than ‘history’ – i.e what he thinks should have happened as opposed to what did happen -  to make the stories that people know so well from the Bible. In the novel, Christ is basically Jesus’s spin doctor, and at the end of it he is convinced that he needs to betray Jesus in order for bigger things to happen. Ultimately Pullman portrays the resurrection on which millions of people base their faith as a sham, substituting one brother for another following the death of Jesus.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ was very interesting from an objective point of view, and I loved the concept of a novel about religion. It’s a great way to get people talking about religion and their ideas about faith and rationality. I also loved that right across the back of the book, it says in big, gold letters ‘This is a STORY’. It’s always a sensitive subject to write about, especially when you are writing your own version of something which means so much to so many people, but I think personally that it’s important to be able to have the debate. From my own religious perspective, there were a lot of things I disliked about Pullman’s version of the story of Jesus, especially the handling of the resurrection, but I think that it’s important for an author to be able to turn around and go ‘hand on, but what if it happened like this?’. In some ways, everything is just a version of everything else, and everybody has their own ways of dealing with inconsistencies and problems in religion. That’s why it’s called ‘faith’, not logic. I love the power that books have to ask questions about things, and to make you think about them. I read about everything, and I don’t think that religion should be a taboo subject just because so many people believe in it. Surely that’s even more of a reason to talk about it?

Stylistically, the novel was great. As all of the Canongate Myth series are, it was a short book and a very easy read. It was thought –provoking, although not as absorbing as I’d hoped it would be, and there wasn’t a character to love for me (which, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is important). Jesus was mean, Christ was confused, and I’ve still no idea whose side the angel was on. In a lot of ways it felt like a very bitter novel, but definitely an interesting one. I’m a big fan of Philip Pullman, and while I think this is the weakest of his books so far, I wouldn’t let it put me off reading more of his novels in the future.

Anybody else read it? Got any thoughts?

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome weekly event hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week features a different list of ten books. I don't participate every week, but since I'm very into lists, I'd really like to start doing it on a more regular basis. Also, it's a great way to remind yourself of a lot of great books!

Here are my Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time:

  1. Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling – I adore these books and read them at least once a year. I remember how awesome it was reading them the first time around, before everybody knew what happened, and although every re-read is still brilliant, I miss the tension and magic of the first time.
  2. Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott – I go on about this book enough for everybody who’s ever read the blog to know how much I adore it, and how it was my first experience of reading an entire book in one sitting. To this day, it’s pretty much the only book I’ve read that I can tell you every detail of what was happening the first time I read it, and during my biannual re-reads, some of the experience of being seven, sitting on the back porch, barefoot in the sun, comes back to me.
  3. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – Even though I have a total love/hate relationship with these novels (what is wrong with Bella? Why the hell is she so needy, whiny, and as my little sister pointed out, so ‘anti – feminist’? If you try to explain the plot of Breaking Dawn to a person who’s never read it, you just end up sounding like a total moron..), the first time I read Twilight, I did so in one sitting. I was ill that day and it was the absolutely perfect thing to read. I was totally absorbed, and I kind of wish every book I read provided me with that experience.
  4. The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett – Hilarious. That is all.
  5. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Kind of similar to the Harry Potter feeling, except that I have a lot more admiration for Tolkien’s writing style. And just before everybody lines up to kill me, I’m not saying I don’t think J.K Rowling is a total master of storytelling from a plot point of view, but her style? Not so much, for me. Why does everybody ‘say’ things all the time?? Anyway, Tolkien rocks.
  6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – See above.
  7. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton – I remember these books being the most magical when I was a child, and no matter how much I try when I re-read them now, I just don’t believe them like I did back then. And I wish that I did.
  8. If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor – When I read this for the first time, it blew my mind. Stylistically it was different from pretty much everything else I’d ever read, and it was (and is) so beautifully lyrical and poetic that it just sucked me in.
  9. Ravenheart by David Gemmell – I cried. I cry every time I read it, but I never cry like the first time. Now I cry in a pre-emptive manner because I know what’s coming, and every time I miss the shock of having it suddenly happen. This is a big deal – it’s one of only two books to make me cry on a regular basis. Also, I had no idea at the time how much of a bonding experience Mr Gemmell's books would provide for my siblings and I. I think I pretty much owe mine and my brother's relationship to him. 
  10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I remember the feeling of reading this novel for the first time more than the actual novel, but after reading Tender is the Night and adoring it, I will be re-reading this, and part of me wishes I could go back to my old college library and read it at the corner desk there, watching the sun go down. 
Ah I love lists! Unfortunately this has just made me want to go curl up in bed with any one of the above books for the rest of the day, so that seems like a bad thing for all the housework/ dinner prep I was going to do, but oh well, I'm sick anyway, so I should be resting, right? :-)

Monday 10 October 2011

Monday Spotlight: - The Annotated Peter Pan by J.M Barrie & Maria Tatar

It’s been a while since I featured a book in the Monday Spotlight, so for people who don’t know Monday Spotlight is a feature I started to talk about books and authors I loved as a child, and to give myself an excuse to re-read some of them. I got sent an advance copy of The Annotated Peter Pan: The Centenary Edition, which comes out tomorrow, and it seemed like a great excuse to start this up again! I know it’s a bit more formal than I usually am, but I seriously geeked out on this one, and have enough notes to pretty much write my own book on the subject, so apologies in advance!
Every time I read “All children, except one, grow up”, I get a tingle. Peter Pan has one of the most magical openings in literature; right away it hooks the reader and draws them into Peter’s world. From that one sentence, multitudes of questions are formed; it is, as Maria Tatar says in her introduction to The Annotated Peter Pan, “the consummate bedtime story”. It was read to me in this capacity as a child, but I already knew the story, somehow it has been in my head ever since I have existed. Peter Pan goes above and beyond the call of literature. It doesn’t just entertain, it teaches, moralises, enthrals, inspires, and utterly transports you. It has so many layers and lessons and asks the reader so many questions that you can read it over and over and take something different away from it every time. As a child it transports you from your everyday life into a world where it is possible to fly, and I think that having Peter Pan read aloud to you is one of the greatest reading experiences there is. My own feelings on the book are many and varied, but can best be summed up thus:
“the best thing about Barrie is he takes you beyond the earth, into the stars, but it isn’t scary or alien, it’s just like all the imaginary treasure islands I used to make up as a child – it’s exactly like anything that would come out of a child’s head, and so it feels like home”
The Annotated Peter Pan:  The Centennial Edition is a beautiful reading experience. Not only does it contain the text of Peter and Wendy, the title the novel of the play was originally published under; it also contains essays, biographies, and many of the original illustrations, along with the history of the story. The book itself is exquisitely done, with such attention to detail, and is full of a wealth of information, making it not just a book to be read and enjoyed, but one to be treasured and returned to time after time. The annotations and factual information enable it to be read from a cultural, biographical, and social standpoint, and knowing some of the story behind the story is intriguing to say the least. Reading this new version gave me questions that reading other versions would probably never have raised. Because the hardback is so beautiful it is easy to read the text as you would any other novel, rather than purely as a children’s story. In her Introduction to J.M Barrie, Maria Tatar describes Neverland as having “narrative sorcery”. I would say that not only Neverland, but the entire of this beautiful hardback, contains a kind of magic.
One of the big questions raised from this reading of the novel was whether Peter Pan could truly be classed as ‘children’s literature’ if it holds such deep questions about the joy of life and the inevitability of death that can make you read it differently time after time? And if it is children’s literature, do these questions lessen or increase its value in our culture?
Barrie’s writing style and description really are a delight, and to this day I’ve not discovered another author who writes quite like he does. Maria Tatar’s analytical style works well with Barrie’s musing, lyrical, and somewhat inconsistent narrator, and the thing that the annotated edition does more than anything is to emphasize the conflict of Barrie’s life – how he didn’t want to be a grown up, and never really felt that he was one, but at the same time was trapped into behaving like one by physically being one. I can totally sympathise with this, and it’s probably the idea of never having to grow up more than anything else which brings people back to the book and its many varied adaptations time and time again. This edition also provides more depth to some of his beautiful passages, by providing them with context, and informing the reader about the aspects of Barrie’s own life which often inspired them.
When I first watched the biopic Finding Neverland, a character makes a comment about how the ticking crocodile represents time, which eventually catches up with all of us. For some reason I’d never thought of it in that way, and it opened the text up to completely new interpretations. Tatar develops this with her comment that “Peter’s story walks a fine line between indulging the fantasy of eternal youth and menacing readers with the specter of death”. I had a revelation of similar magnitude in reading The Annotated Peter Pan, as I had never before thought that the ‘lost’ boys are lost in the context of being dead. I’ve read previously the passage about how Peter Pan accompanies dead children part of the way, and thought it was beautifully heart-wrenching, but never before associated it with Neverland, and having realised it now I feel totally stupid, as it makes so much sense.
There have been so many versions of Peter Pan over the years that it is often difficult to remember the original, which contains so much more than any of the adaptations, not merely in terms of the actual scenes which occur, but also for the depth of writing, the beauty and uniqueness of the description, and the reminder to the readers of how it feels to be a child. The Annotated edition has a brilliant feature on The Cinematic History of Peter Pan, and among its adaptations are some incredibly well –known films. The four which I go back to time after time are Disney’s animated version, Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, Hook, P.J Hogan’s more recent ethereal Peter Pan (starring an actual boy as Peter!), and the amazing Finding Neverland. HookIn all of these films there is something of the beauty of Peter Pan and the magic of Neverland; of staying young forever and never having adult cares or responsibilities. The book notes, quite rightly, that “the story has moved from the literary to the mythical, with each generation creating its’ own Peter Pan”. For my siblings and me, Peter Pan is and will ever remain Disney’s feisty red-head, but this is the kind of question which can be debated in pubs for hours. Personally the importance of Peter Pan in my reading life cannot be underestimated, as it was one of the books which formed my early imaginative life, and I hate the idea of any child growing up without knowing about the boy who never grew up. This book has provided me with many things I didn’t know, interestingly that the film Hook was actually based on an idea which Barrie had but never wrote, about Peter falling in love and leaving Neverland. The most interesting thing I picked up from my reading of Peter Pan this time around was that everybody thinks it would great to be a child forever and to always have fun, but Barrie shows children in general, and Peter in particular, as being selfish, heartless, and cruel. Peter’s lack of memory is a curse of a kind; he has many adventures, but never remembers any of them, because it is only by growing older and moving on that we are able to have memories of times gone by.
The rights to Peter Pan were gifted to Great Ormond Street Hospital by J.M Barrie, and the centenary edition will fittingly also benefit the institution. One of the major things which stuck with me through reading this book was in discussion of Barrie’s bequest to Great Ormond Street, which said that through the gift of the boy who never grew up, Barrie had allowed hundreds more children to do just that. I think that if anybody is still in doubt as to the practical power of the imagination, they need look no further than this.
The universality of the story is something that has been appreciated time and time again. Peter Pan was one of the first novels, along with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, to be written not just to entertain children, but also adults. It crossed boundaries and mixed genres. On its’ opening night, it gained huge approval from its primarily adult audience, and while providing the ultimate fantasy world for children, it offers the utmost in escapism for adults. You cannot help but be enthralled and absorbed by Peter’s adventures; by his callousness, forgetfulness, and utter charm, by the way he casually disregards anybody’s feelings but his own, by his love of fun and make – believe. In him, Barrie has captured all the extremes of childhood, and he is enchanting, if somewhat disturbing, a character to watch.
There is so much in Peter Pan to talk about, and anybody who hasn’t read the book, I really do hope that you will, whatever your age, because there is so much beauty, adventure, and pure joy to be gained from it that I guarantee you will come away from it with a different perspective on ‘children’s literature’.
This was one of the best experiences I’ve had with a book in a while, and without doubt it’s now one of the most beautiful books in my collection!

Sunday 9 October 2011

The Sunday Salon - Advent with Austen and the Readathon!

Hello everyone! It's finally starting to feel wintery by the sea, and I have to admit that I totally love it, although I did *somehow* manage to leave our big umbrella in the pub last night... no idea how that happened...*shifty eyes*. Anyway, I've been disgustingly rubbish at posting lately, and I really am planning to be better. The internet isn't behaving itself lately, and we still have a lot going on so it's been difficult to find the time. However, it's getting scarily close to the end of the year, and so in desperate hopes of motivating myself, I've signed up for a couple of exciting events!

The first is coming up in a couple of weeks. Back in April, I jealously watched as the blogosphere went absolutely MENTAL for 24 hours with posts about the readathon. I hadn't quite geared myself up to that sort of level of reading back then, though, but when I heard it was coming up again, I had to sign up!

The readathon runs from 1pm London Time on Saturday October 22nd, and runs for (shockingly) 24 hours from then :-) I'm working that day, but I finish work at 5.30, so from then on I will be alllll in, and I'm really excited! I will post a proposed reading list closer to the time, and will just have to keep my fingers crossed that my internet behaves itself that day! It sounds like it will be amazing, with all kinds of mini challenges and events going on. If you want to join in (and you should!), go here and sign up! You can also sign up to host a mini challenge or to be a cheerleader.

The other thing I've signed up for and am hugely excited about its this:

This event is hosted by TeadevoteeThe Sleepless ReaderIris on BooksThings Mean a Lot, and Reading Fuelled by Tea. Starting on the first Sunday of Advent, 27th November, and ending on Christmas Eve, the event celebrates the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility. There will be lots of events and different levels of participation, but basically all you have to do is read Austen and related books, and/or watch Austen inspired, adapted or related TV shows and films. It sounds brilliant, and I'm going to be reading A Walk with Jane Austen by Lori Smith, as well as attempting a possible re-read of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and possibly watching the Pride and Prejudice TV series starring Colin Firth for the first time ever! (Yes, I know it's shocking).

If you want to join in the festivities, go and sign up here, and wait with growing anticipation for December!

Sunday 2 October 2011

Review: - An Autumn Crush by Milly Johnson

I got An Autumn Crush in the post the day I came back from honeymoon, and it was very fitting. It helped me to keep the happy, buzzy, I just got married feeling through my first few days back at work. The basic premise of the book is;

Juliet Miller is recently divorced and looking for a flatmate to help her out with the mortgage. After meeting several unsuitable people she is about to give up, when Floz appears. Obviously the perfect candidate, Floz is just what Juliet has been looking for, but not so her for twin brother, Guy. Although he is instantly smitten with Floz, unfortunate circumstances conspire to make her think he hates her, and vice versa. It is then up to Guy to turn her feelings around, while his best friend Steve has been in love with Juliet for years, and may finally be able to get what he wants...

It sounds, basically, like what it is: a bit of a girlie romp, similar to the likes of Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde, and Jane Green (all of whom I love). For me, it definitely falls into the ‘guilty pleasures’ category – the kind of book I’m likely to read with a bar of chocolate and some wine. One of the things that I liked most about the book was that although it played of a fairly typical – for – the –genre cast of characters (a girl and her brother, his best friend, her best friends...), there were little twists which kept them from being typical characters. For instance, Juliet is not your typical, starry –eyed girl with an ambition. During the course of the novel unexpected things happen to her, and she deals with them, and I liked that about her. She does the absolute bare minimum of sitting around moping and feeling sorry for herself, which there is often a lot of in this kind of novel. Floz is secretly living through heartbreak, as she reconnects with an old internet based flame, who is apparently dying from cancer. Instead of lying around the house weeping and wailing about it, she just deals with it and moves on, as she does with the tragedy that occurs during her earlier life, which Johnson unravels very neatly throughout the story.

The ending was gigantically predictable, but to be honest, I didn’t mind. An Autumn Crush is the kind of book you read because it is about people overcoming the problems in their lives and living happily ever after. It would have been a huge disappointment if it hadn’t ended the way that I thought it would. I finished it with a smile on my face, and at the moment smiles are limited around here, so it was much appreciated.
Although I liked the twists in the plot and the ending, I did feel that the characters were occasionally a little underdeveloped, and that some of their actions felt a little contrived. The Floz and Guy storyline played out very nicely and very naturally, but Juliet’s hatred of Steve throughout the first part of the novel never felt natural to me. I felt like it was being overplayed and put on to give the shock factor when she finally gives in to him and realises that she loves him, and I didn’t like it.

Overall, however, although the book did have its flaws, it is one of the better examples of (dare I say it?) chick lit that I’ve read in a long time, and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants something light and fun to read that will leave you smiling.

Apologies for the shortness of this review, I will eventually get back to the full length ones I promise!