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my soul is dark

book & fic recommendations

2008 in review (part two)
Mighty Boosh: Electro Boy
imbeiaiel
Antonia Fraser

By far the best novel I read this year was Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture (what on earth were the Booker judges thinking about?). I have always admired Barry's work, both on stage and off it, but I feel this is the finest thing he has done. The book has two narratives, one being the story of a very old woman indeed, possibly over a hundred, and the other the doctor who has to assess her when the mental asylum where she lives is being shut down. Dr Grene's life is woven in to hers in a way the reader does not foresee (and should not), but the real narrative is that of Ireland in the 20th century, a romantic Ireland indeed, but a cruel one to its outcasts - thankfully or hopefully it's dead and gone.

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2008 in review (part one)
Beatles: J/P just peachy
imbeiaiel
Annually The Guardian does a feature where they ask people from a diverse range of arts and a few random celebs/influential figures to pick their favourite books of the year and these are the choices for 2008.

Season's readings
A novel about cricket in New York, interviews with a Nobel poet, and a Hollywood memoir by a chimp . . . writers and politicians pick the best of 2008

Compiled by Ginny Hooker, The Guardian, Saturday 29 November 2008

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The top 100 books of all time
Beatles: George intense
imbeiaiel
Mostly for personal interest.

The top 100 books of all time

Full list of the 100 best works of fiction, alphabetically by author, as determined from a vote by 100 noted writers from 54 countries as released by the Norwegian Book Clubs. Don Quixote was named as the top book in history but otherwise no ranking was provided

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I have read 28 of the books/titles listed and have read other books by some of the authors. I love the eclectic nature of the list and it may go some way towards becoming my "to read" list for the year.

Bad Blood by Rhiannon Lassiter
Robots In Disguise: Sue
imbeiaiel


Bad Blood takes at its starting point the tensions of living with step-siblings and a step-parent and twists an intriguing tale. I found the comparison between these tensions with the rules and escapism of the game the children find themselves drawn into a clever and well executed centre to the story. The game is anything but benign:

The bed was covered with dolls.

They weren't soft toys like John's bear. They were naked, faceless, hairless imitation people, even their eyes were gone and only gaping holes remained. Spread out across the bed and the floor they looked like a minature massacre, lying like puppets with their strings cut. In the middle of the bed, sitting cross-legged, was a single girl doll with long hair, china blue eyes, and smiling red lips.


I would have liked to hear more about the original three girls who began the game and what their creations meant to them but I suppose it does add to the sense of creeping unease not to have all your questions answered. It would be wrong to give away too much about the plot but I would recommend it as a curious yet pacey read.


Wonderfully macabre and with a twisted and unnerving sensibility which suits the story perfectly. Don't expect the most scares of your life and I think it will make an enjoyable diversion.

3.5 out of 5

Book list 2008
Beatles: George intense
imbeiaiel
The beginning of this year was very Age of Sail dominated :).

Updated 05/03/08:

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Tags:

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (The Brothers Grimm)
Jean Shrimpton 2
imbeiaiel
I still have the copy of The Brothers Grimm's fairytales that my mum got me when I was eight. I have always loved fairytales, myths and legends and something about the darker element of the Grimm tales has always resonated with me. In the Grimm stories the ugly sisters cut off their toes and heels to try to fit into the shoe in Cinderella and I find these versions to be an interesting counterpoint to the Disney versions that so many children are familiar with. It would be wrong however not to treat them with caution as they are not from our modern world of political correctness and they are not revisionist like later authors such as Angela Carter; they are however well worth investigating and as wrongdoers get punished, in often horrific ways, and the good prosper they are still an excellent distraction.

Their Household Tales are here - and these are some of my favourites:

They were all shocked but the twelfth, whose good wish still remained unspoken, came forward, and as she could not undo the evil sentence, but only soften it, she said, "It shall not be death, but a deep sleep of a hundred years, into which the princess shall fall."
- Little Briar-Rose (Sleeping Beauty)


When, therefore, the King’s daughter saw that there was no longer any hope of turning her father’s heart, she resolved to run away from him. In the night whilst every one was asleep, she got up, and took three different things from her treasures, a golden ring, a golden spinning-wheel, and a golden reel. The three dresses of the sun, moon, and stars she put into a nutshell, put on her mantle of all kinds of fur, and blackened her face and hands with soot. Then she commended herself to God, and went away, and walked the whole night until she reached a great forest. And as she was tired, she got into a hollow tree, and fell asleep.
- Allerleirauh


Once when they had spent the night in the wood and the dawn had roused them, they saw a beautiful child in a shining white dress sitting near their bed. He got up and looked quite kindly at them, but said nothing and went away into the forest. And when they looked round they found that they had been sleeping quite close to a precipice, and would certainly have fallen into it in the darkness if they had gone only a few paces further. And their mother told them that it must have been the angel who watches over good children.
- Snow-White and Rose-Red


Alas, young Queen, how ill you fare!
If this your tender mother knew,
Her heart would surely break in two.
- The Goose-Girl

Elizabeth Gaskell
Jean Shrimpton 2
imbeiaiel
I first came across the work of Elizabeth Gaskell after reading her biography of Charlotte Brontë then her novels Wives and Daughters and North and South when I was at school. Her work often has a political or socio-economic subtext but she never does this with a heavy hand and possesses a deftness of touch in her work. Brief biography under hereCollapse )

Margaret had been on the point of telling her cousin of some of the plans and visions which she entertained as to her future life in the country parsonage, where her father and mother lived; and where her bright holidays had always been passed, though for the last ten years her aunt Shaw's house had been considered as her home. But in default of a listener, she had to brood over the change in her life silently as heretofore. It as a happy brooding, although tinged with regret at being separated for an indefinite time from her gentle aunt and dear cousin.
- North and South (1855)

Their faces were not remarkable for beauty; indeed, they were below the average, with one or two exceptions; they had dark hair, neatly and classically arranged, dark eyes, but sallow complexions and irregular features. The only thing to strike a passer-by was an acuteness and intelligence of countenance, which has often been noticed in a manufacturing population.
- Mary Barton (1848)

Her life at Haworth was so unvaried that the postman's call was the event of her day. Yet she dreaded the great temptation of centring all her thoughts upon this one time, and losing her interest in the smaller hopes and employments of the remaining hours. Thus she conscientiously denied herself the pleasure of writing letters too frequently, because the answers ( when she received them) took the flavour out of the rest of her life; or the disappointment, when the replies did not arrive, lessened her energy for her home duties.
- The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857)


Other works by the author:
Cranford (1853)
Wives and Daughters (1866)

Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones
Jean Shrimpton 2
imbeiaiel


Witch Week is the third book in The Worlds of Chrestomanci Series and though having read the first two might help to find your feet in the world she creates; it isn't completely necessary though as her previous work is only alluded to later in the book.

"One of the long windows of the hall flew open with a clap and let in a stream of birds. Most of them were ordinary birds: sparrows, starlings, pigeons, blackbirds and thrushes, swooping round the hall in vast numbers and shedding feathers and droppings as they swooped. But among the beating wings were two curious furry creatures with large pouches, which kept uttering violent laughing sounds, and the red and yellow thing swooping among a cloud of sparrows and shouting 'Cuckoo!' was clearly a parrot."

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A complete joy from start to finish and utterly charming in all respects.
Five out of five

Other books in the series include:
Charmed Life (1977)
The Magicians of Caprona (1980)
The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988)
Conrad’s Fate (2005)
The Pinhoe Egg (2006)

Links:
Author's bibliography
The Profession of Science Fiction - Answers To Some Questions

H.P. Lovecraft
Jean Shrimpton 2
imbeiaiel
I've been reading quite alot of H.P. Lovecraft's work recently including The Call of Cthulhu: And Other Weird Stories (which describes the book as: A collection of stories from HP Lovecraft, the unrivalled master of early-20th-century horror. Frequently imitated and widely influential, Howard Phillips Lovecraft reinvented the horror genre, discarding ghosts and witches and envisioning instead mankind as a tiny outpost of dwindling sanity in a chaotic and malevolent universe) and The Thing on the Doorstep: And Other Weird Stories; they have an unnerving and nightmarish quality which I love despite my initial reservations. I'm not overly fond of anything in the horror genre but I definitely make an exception for this author. I didn't know much about his personal history or what drove him to write but after a little research I've found him to be a fascinating man.

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form. Against it are discharged all the shafts of a materialistic sophistication which clings to frequently felt emotions and external events, and of a naïvely insipid idealism which deprecates the æsthetic motive and calls for a didactic literature to "uplift" the reader toward a suitable degree of smirking optimism. But in spite of all this opposition the weird tale has survived, developed, and attained remarkable heights of perfection; founded as it is on a profound and elementary principle whose appeal, if not always universal, must necessarily be poignant and permanent to minds of the requisite sensitiveness."
- Supernatural Horror in Literature

I'd recommend trying any of his short stories as the format suits his style well and the Penguin Classic collected editions of his work are excellent.

Some of his work:

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (excerpt)
Jean Shrimpton 2
imbeiaiel
I read this book about the same time that I read The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs so that makes it when I was around 16. It's a strange book and paired with the Burroughs it makes for a weird yet oddly fulfilling combination.

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Read the rest of the book, published in 1915, here or download it to read later.

Other work by the author:
- The Trial.

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