favourite books

Review: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, Penguin English Library Edition, 1905, 400p.

5 out of 5 stars.

House of Mirth is sensational. A true classic in every sense of the word, it immerses the reader deep into the world of Lily Bart and drags you down with her. I’m only just discovering Edith Wharton, I loved my read of Ethan Frome earlier this year, but felt like the style was a little sparse – looking back on my review, I noticed that I wrote,

I felt like I could have enjoyed Ethan Frome more if it was fleshed out into a fleshier novel, the novella length generally doesn’t satisfy me when there is so much potential for a good story.

House of Mirth answered my question brilliantly – Wharton does pen a truely singular novel, and the extra wordage, the flowing quality of her writing certainly does not take away from the plot – the plot in The House of Mirth is full, lively and engaging.

I really felt for Lily Bart. As far as female characters go, she would have to be one of my favourites I have read up to this point. I’ll avoid spoilers, but some of the things that she allows people to do and say to her are just appalling, but she seems to be out of her depth most of the book. The issue is that she thinks she’s able to cope with everything until her whole life comes crashing down around her. As someone who feels sometimes like life is conspiring to bring me down, reading about Bart’s trials makes me feel a little better about my own life. The way that Lily thinks about problems and especially, financial issues, is very close to the way that I myself consider these problems – I’m always anticipating the lucky event around the corner, always counting and spending money that I should be saving. It’s a problem that I’ve recognised in myself – one that I still battle with to this day, and watching Lily Bart come to the same realisations is painful but enlightening.

As far as male characters go in this book, I’m lukewarm on all of them. My least favourite would have to be Selden – and I feel like he was saved by Lily’s grace and love. I felt like we were meant to be rooting for them to get together, but that idea was repugnant to me, and I hoped that Lily would come around to living in poverty, despite it being so against her character. Rosedale was actually somewhat more to my liking – despite being crass and inelegant, I felt that he was most honest. The last scene with Rosedale turned me with disgust, but up to that point I kinda liked the guy!

Wharton’s writing style is lyrical and flows naturally, the plot seeming to meander along as a slow pace, but when you look back, you see that it’s actually been close to breakneck. It’s an interesting feeling, one that I’ve rarely noticed in early 19th century books, but as I read more from this era I feel like it might come to me more. Wharton’s descriptive style is interesting – there’s little description of landscapes, clothes and houses and more description of people’s thoughts, motivations and actions. I find other descriptive authors, like Dickens, to be weary and dull, but I think that is because his style is more about things that to me do not further the plot.

I will be adding the rest of Wharton’s work to my next classics club list – I’m not even half way through this one and I’m already considering what will be on the next one!

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Review: Dispatches by Michael Herr

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Dispatches by Michael Herr, Picador Classics Paperback, 1977, p. 272.

5 stars.

It is really tough to review those books that touch you on such a deep level, change your thinking regarding a topic and leave you a different person. I read a lot of war and military themed fiction and non-fiction, and consider myself not an expert, but an enthusiast in this field. I had become jaded – since reading Matterhorn a couple of years ago, no war novel (covering a real life war) had come close to romancing me – and no non-fiction about war was as engaging anymore. Until I picked up Dispatches. It was a Classics Club Spin – and it just proves that sometimes you need a little encouragement to read books that might become favourites in the future.

I will try to offer my opinions and impressions of this book, but I can assure you that they will be childish, trivial and kitsch in comparison to the actual work reviewed. Dispatches starts with a chapter entitled “Breathing In” and as I started reading it I thought it was about literally breathing in the air in Vietnam. Herr uses the senses in exquisite ways to convey the story, and I just thought the chapter was alluding to that. Once I realised the final chapter was entitled “Breathing Out” I became sure that these chapters were in reference to death, and the writers’ brush with death and his survival. Dispatches talks about death in a unique fashion, treating it as a gruesome reality that is viewed by some as a spectator sport. It was only when I sat back and thought more about the book and the final chapter that it became clear that Herr was talking about things on a much grander scale, a much deeper scale, then I could fully appreciate.

The book holds its breath from the first page to the last – and it reflects the way that Herr sees his time in Vietnam.

He held his breath, and he ceased to exist outside of Vietnam, his time in the war there meant he had lived two different and completely disparate lives – the life ‘back home’ and the time in country, when he was holding his breath.

I also think it is in homage to the fact that the young men who were over in Vietnam stopped living as soon as they were in Vietnam, to the Americans at home they were fighting an unpopular war and were almost invisible – and soldiers deaths were often under-reported. They stopped living in the minds of their commanding officers, the brass and the politicians – they became bodies to be utilised in a grand-scale and ultimately doomed chess game. Most horrifying of all however, is that they stopped living in their own minds – Vietnam came to consume them, and for so many, death or serious injury was a welcome vacation away from their horrible reality, Herr describes more soldiers dealing with insanity and mental illness than soldiers processing their time healthily. Because in reality, how can you process a war such as Vietnam healthily?

Dispatches is not written from memories of a soldier’s time, Herr was a war correspondent who was sent to Vietnam for Esquire magazine. The soldiers don’t understand why he is there (he chose to be there, they were ordered), and it seems that the other correspondents working for the larger papers look down at him for writing for a ‘lesser’ publication. I just think that there is such an element of irony to Dispatches that most people won’t ever read those news reports sent back to the states (unless one is a historian, really) but Michael Herr’s novel is rightfully considered a classic and will be read by many generations in the future.

The introduction to this book, which I read after reading the book itself, is enlightening. Kevin Powers was a serving soldier in the U.S. Army when he read Dispatches in Iraq and while reading his very harrowing introduction, one his passages made clear to me why Dispatches is such a hard hitting book:

“What readers of Dispatches have is meaningful reportage about death. It is in my estimation the most lucid, resolute, and compassionate writing to have ever been done on the subject. It sets aside every manner of illusory thinking that would distract us as readers from the fact that war is in the simplest terms an industry of which death is the sole product.” p. ix

Dispatches is one of the best books about war I have ever read. (And I’ve read dozens, maybe even hundreds) It’s a firm favourite for me, and I will certainly be revisiting it in the future.

Ranty Roundup – February

Well February seemed to fly by.  I had a really good reading month, but a not so good blogging month – but I’ll just smile and be happy that the reading slump is not only over, it has been decimated! I read 11 books in Feb, which is probably a record for me, especially considering I didn’t read for a whole week while I was away. My favourite book was certainly The Call of the Wild by Jack London – I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. An honourable mention must go to Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae series – I’ve read six of his novels over the past two months, and they are some of the longest mysteries I’ve encountered, but I’m in love – with Roberta Steel.

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Onto personal matters, I’ve been having issues with my right eye (I’ve been unable to watch TV or be on the computer for more than an hour at a time) and the many doctors I’ve been seeing have no idea what is wrong. They have just said I have to deal with the discomfort and pain and hope that my vision doesn’t get any worse – I’m already at the point that the right eye is useless, the left eye does all the work. That has put a dampener on my life, but certainly meant I got lots of reading done!

Uni goes back during March, and I’m finally getting to see the light – one more year of study and then I can look forward to full time teaching. However, it also means that I am going to have less time to read this month – I’ve got a good buffer on my Goodreads goal of 52 books in 2015, so I’m not going to pressure myself to read too much. However, as I can’t watch TV, most of my spare time will be spent with a book. I’ve also gone back to working nights, which gives me about two hours of reading time each night, so I’m hoping to read 6 books during March.

 

Total Books Read in February – 11 books

The Forsaken – Ace Atkins – 4 stars

Flesh House – Stuart MacBride – 3 stars

Blackwattle Creek – Geoffrey McGeachin – 3 stars

The Call of the Wild – Jack London – 5 stars

San Francisco Night – Stephen Leather – 3 stars

Rules of Honour – Matt Hilton – 4 stars

Blind Eye – Stuart MacBride – 3 stars

The Lawless Kind – Matt Hilton – 3 stars

Dark Blood – Stuart MacBride – 3 stars

Shatter The Bones – Stuart MacBride – 4 stars

Death Force – Matt Lynn – 4 stars

 

Continuing Reads

Sandakan – Paul Ham – 250p in

 

March TBR (more a suggestions list besides the top three)

Finish Sandakan – Paul Ham

Fire Force – Matt Lynn

Shadow Force – Matt Lynn

Start Vampire Academy series

Start Sniper Elite series

 

Bloggy Stuff

Well, I’ve decided to set myself a couple of goals to do with the blog and share them. I’ve got some excellent opportunities this month, for starters I am going to go see Geoffrey McGeachin’s talk on Thursday at Adelaide Writer’s Week, so I will hopefully give a recap of what that experience is like – I’ve reviewed all of his Charlie Berlin series on this blog and they have certainly become a favourite of mine.

I am also going to make it a habit to do mini reviews – I’ve been thinking that I need to write massive reviews of every book I read, and then scaring myself from actually doing the review (do I actually have enough to say about this?) so instead I’m going to aim at once a week having a feature where I review the book(s) I’ve read – in 100 words. If I find I have more than 100 words, I can publish it as a standalone, otherwise, it will go in my weekly wrap up.

Finally, I am thinking of tackling Ulysses during the next Bout of Books – would anyone out there be interested in doing this with me? (please!?) Or even just offer advice (besides the advice my sister gave me: Run away! Run, run FAR AWAY!) of the best way to tackle this?

So hopefully there is more happening on this blog this month, and hopefully I don’t break down and cry when all my uni work starts rolling in! For all those who stuck it out to this conclusion – you deserve cookies (but I can’t bake, so what you deserve and what you get are two different things).

 

Waiting for the next book in a series – the worst time to love a reader

Ranty Runt's Rants

 

 

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I am sure some of you may have realised I am a fangirl. I try not to be, I try to hold back, but for a couple of days before the new Spider Shepherd book comes out (or the next book in a series I love), I just can’t help myself. I’m full of discussing Spider, I keep telling my boyfriend that it will be delivered to my kindle before the week is out (THE 14TH, just in case you were wondering), and I even let a spider live yesterday – just because I couldn’t kill anything called Spider (I think I am becoming superstitious, but I thought if I killed that huntsman spider, maybe White Lies would feature a chapter with the death of my hero, and I couldn’t have that).

I’ve also formed a ritual around the release of the latest instalment – and it is a little bit embarrassing. The day before the book is released I ensure my kindle is fully charged and I start checking it (who knows, maybe they will release it early? By accident? Because I LOVE SPIDER SHEPHERD?) every couple of hours.

On the day the book is released the obsessive checking becomes hourly, or even bihourly. When I have work, I take my Wi-Fi device with me so I can sync my kindle at work. A couple of hours into the release day, I start wondering that maybe my device is broken (OR MAYBE THEY FORGOT TO RELEASE IT! MAYBE AMAZON HAS GONE OUT OF BUISNESS! MAYBE THE REST OF THE WORLD IS DEAD AND ONLY AUSTRALIA IS LEFT, SO WHY DO I CARE ABOUT A BOOK?). Obviously at this stage I have gone insane, and having a conversation with me would be painful.

Once I see the new book is being downloaded, I notify my friends and family that I have a terrible sore throat and therefore they should not call me, visit me or expect anything from me. I also inform them that I expect to feel better in a day or two. My boyfriend who shares space with me is informed that if he ever wants to touch me again, he needs to give me some peace, and no I will not watch (insert awesome TV show here) with him. SPIDER SHEPHERD IS IN MY KINDLE! PRIORITIES!

I then sit on the couch (or maybe don’t bother getting out of bed) and read. I do nothing else. No housework, no uni work, no cooking. I eat whatever is in the cupboard. As soon as the TV is turned on, I go to another room. I also start to check to see if other people have goodreads rated it, and what their ratings are. I am still obsessed, but I can start to see that this isn’t going to last forever (only 100 pages left! OMG, what will I do when it is over?)

When I finish it, I have a short depressed period of a couple of minutes, thinking about the wait for the next in the series. I also tend to read lots of other books straight afterwards, as if reading my favourite series excites the reader in me – I’ll knock over five or six books in a week. And I then call my dad and sister and fake a sore throat, but say I am feeling much better.

The problem is, this year, I am on holidays and am not going to be able to have an internet connection while I am gone. I have to wait until the 18th to read White Lies, so I can’t participate in the above crazy ritual.

I was wondering, does anyone else have crazy rituals or superstitions like mine around books? How do you deal with the release of a favourite author’s novel? Do you get over excited? Will you share with me? Or am I just batshit insane?

Other installments in Ranty Runt’s Rants:

The worst time to love a reader
My personal war on romance
Breaking a blogging slump

10 favourite books

The problem with picking a list of 10 favourite books is that you have to exclude so many books that you love!

I deliberated over this a bit – and checked that all the books in my Goodread’s favourites shelf were here (and I’ve left some of them off this list anyway). It is quite diverse, with non-fiction, pulpy action and a sprinkling of classics. Image1. Perfume by Patrick Suskind.

My introduction to Perfume occurred on a 6 hour bus journey that began at midnight. I was supposed to sleep on the bus, instead I enhaled Suskind’s words. It was my first exposure to a penguin classic – and I kept buying little orange books afterwards, trying to recreate the romance I had with Perfume, but it never compared. The middle of this book, when the main character hibernates gave me terrible shivers, and is possibly one of the only characters I have read that has ever actually scared me.

2. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

This book should be treated like All Quiet on the Western Front is treated by scholars, as literature first and war commentary second. However, it seems to be only read by those who are already well versed in war literature. Matterhorn is a fictional account of the Vietnam War, written by a vet. Marlantes’ prose jumps from the pages, and I recommend this book to ANYONE who will listen.

3. Hard Landing by Stephen Leather

This book standing alone may not make my top 10, however, it needed to be included because I am obsessed with the main character, Spider Shepherd who stars in this series. Spider Shepherd has eaten up so much of my time, and I’ve re-read so many of the books that I can quote lines and randomly spurt facts from the novels. My boyfriend knows all about Shepherd, and can discuss many of his dangerous missions, and he hasn’t read a single book! It isn’t highbrow and at times I am ashamed of my love, but damn it, I love a man in camo.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The book that introduced me to ‘the Classics’. Assigned in Year 9, I skim read it and thought it was boring, but was so engaged by the discussions in class I read it again, this time enjoying it. I haven’t read it as an adult, but just the memory of reading this book and being interested in what happened makes me smile. It was that moment when reading older books was no longer that scary, and I acknowledged that I do like reading. I plan on re-reading it soon.

5. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

Another book from school – however this is one I chose to study. I will always remember the look on my teacher’s face when I asked to write about war fiction. She was an older woman, and was trying to convince the four students in her class that the Bronte sisters, or Jane Austen were appropriate choices. I chose Remarque and Wilfred Owen. I haven’t looked back since, I study military history at university and my I’ll happily read any book that takes place during a war of some kind.

6. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

A suprise like for me – I knew it was set in WWII so I expected I would like it, but I loved it. I read the whole book in a day, sitting at university. I turned up to a tutorial that day without doing any prep because I only wanted to read The Book Thief. I haven’t watched the film, and I have been told I should stick with the version in my head.

7. Open Season – C.J. Box

The other series I binge on, besides Spider Shepherd, is Joe Pickett. Boy, do I love me some Joe Pickett. I measure future husbands against Joe, and they all come short. Also, his escapades, life and friends are the stuff of the best action/crime thriller. There isn’t a single instalment of this series I haven’t given a 5 or 4 star rating on goodreads for. The setting is truly beautiful, and has made me want to read other literature from the area.

8. Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand

LOUIE! I fell hard for Louie. I cried my heart out while reading this book, and at the same time appreciated the historical accuracy that was included. I rarely think historically through my tears, so that was a new experience for me. I tried reading Seabiscuit, and made it about twelve pages in before I decided Hillenbrand was a one horse wonder for me.

9. Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab & The One That Got Away by Chris Ryan

Both SAS soldiers on the same mission, and both have very different accounts of what happened (and whose fault the failure of the mission was!) I read these two books back to back, and found them both interesting. McNab is probably the more prolific writer, but I like Chris Ryan’s style more. I also think that McNab is a stuck up asshole, but I enjoy reading his work anyway. I have read a lot of the fiction from both of these authors.

10. Resurrection Day – Glenn Meade

This book was a present from some friends, and the reason they picked it was because the back talked about terrorists, which I was obsessed with (it was the year of 9/11, alright?!). I read it, loved it, and then proceeded to read so many pulpy action novels my eyes started to bleed. I still like reading them today, and it is all down to Resurrection Day!

Phew! That was a lot longer than I was expecting, and I’m pretty sure I’ve left something off!