Quote for Thought: Reality and Insanity in The Book Collector by Alice Thompson

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“Many years later, looking back, she was amazed at the capacity we have for not wanting to confront the truth. How the humdrum of our own lives, the security of habit and comfort, prevent us from questioning the clues that the truth gives us. We can ignore them, make excuses and forget whatever we want.”

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson is part The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, part Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, part fairy tale retelling. It’s eerie and disturbing, and I just couldn’t put it down. I kept reading, like mesmerised. To be honest, the prose felt odd at times, almost like it was trying too hard. Some sentences were weirdly structured. And, yet, I highlighted quite a lot of lovely quotes.

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The novella deals with many issues, and one of them is the unwillingness to accept the truth if it means getting out of our comfort zone. This maybe spoke to me because I am mortally afraid of change, but I think everyone can relate to not wanting certain things in their life disturbed.

Violet, the main character of the novel, had this idea of a perfect marriage and a fairy tale love story. But fairy tales are often dark and scary. The novella plays with this idea, the way we perceive fairy tales as something ideal versus the violence that can actually be found in those stories. Violet knows something is wrong. She feels it, but at first tries to ignore it. Her fears come alive in dreamlike visions, and in her semi-conscious state she is able to piece together the truth.

“She had married to avoid pain. She had lost herself in the arcadian countryside to avoid pain. Her whole married life had been a carefully constructed edifice to avoid pain. And it had worked well. Until she fell ill.”

This leads to her being sent to an asylum, where she once again tries to get “normality” back. But at the same time, she meets women whose sad lives seem more real than anything in her life ever did. It’s also a commentary on how women were, and sadly sometimes still are, treated in society, how their stories are regarded as imagination or, in todays terms, “hormones”.

“And for an insane moment she thought, this is no different from normality, just women existing and surviving, this is what happens to women who don’t fit into a world created by men.”

The mental institution serves as an example of what happens to those who don’t want to accept the lies they live in, people who dare speak up. It’s an inherent fear in all people – belonging nowhere, having no one to love you, which might happen if you don’t adapt, or even change some parts of who you are. And I think this is what makes The Book Collector so disturbing and claustrophobic.

Have any of you read this novella? Do you have a different interpretation? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂


Currently Reading: The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir

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Everyone’s heard of Simone de Beauvoir (or at least everyone should have). She’s mosty known as a feminist, social theorist, and political activist. She’s the author of The Second Sex, a book on women’s opression which became one of the most important feminist works.

Simone de Beauvoir was also a fiction writer, though her works read almost like memoirs. The Woman Destroyed is a collection of three long stories, and so far I’ve finished the first one, “The Age of Discretion”, and since the description says all of the stories deal with similar themes, I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts of this story, before reading the others, as an introduction to de Beauvoir’s fiction.

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“The Age of Discretion” is written in first person, and it follows the intimate thoughts of the unnamed main character. Both the main character and her husband are intellectuals, she’s a writer and he a scientist. Their conversations are interesting and at times philosophical, as is the entire story. “The Age of Discretion” is, therefore, a quite erudite read, but at the same time it’s very sincere and human. It deals with everyday thoughts, insecurities, selfishness, and vanity. It’s about those little thoughts we have, but never dare express. Thoughts that belong to us, even though we don’t want to admit it.

Maybe it was during those moments, as I watch him disappear, that he exists to me with the most overwhelming clarity: his tall shape grows smaller, each pace marking out the path of his return; it vanishes and the street seems to be empty; but in fact it is a field of energy that will lead him back to me as his natural habitat: I find this certainty even more moving than his presence.

The story deals with the main character’s relationship with her husband, her son, and her own self – the past and the present, the constant change and passing of life. When it comes to her husband, she ponders on many questions. Does he still love her? Is he tired of her? Would another woman have made him happier? She cannot answer those questions, and sometimes her insecurities create more problems. She thinks too much which leads to misunderstandings.

The relationship with her son is even more complex, since he decided to take a past she did not intend for him. She feels he had made a mistakke, and cannot accept his decisions. She wants him to be a different man than he is now, and it’s hard for her to accept that. He decides not to be a professor, not to become an intellectual, and she acuses him of being greedy and only thinking about earning more money. Was that the real reason? It’s hard to tell, but for the main character it’s a great disappointment. She is watching her son become the kind of person she despises. He is not the person she tried to shape. He is his own person now, not a reflection of her ideals, and she feels that she’s losing him.

He will turn into a stranger.

The main character also struggles with her work, as her new book gets bad reviews. She sees that she’s getting old and fears she can no longer produce anything fresh and important. The world around her is changing. She is changing.

The sight of the changing world is miraculous and heart-breaking, both at the same time.

The “discretion” from the title really captures the tone of the story well. This story is mostly about things left unsaid, things we presume, though sometimes falsely, and things we are afraid to admit to ourselves. Expectations versus reality. It’s a wonderfully written story of human nature, without sugar-coating, but, in the end, still somewhat hopeful. It also shows how fragile we all are, how full of doubts.

What is an adult? A child puffed with age.

I feel like I don’t have to emphasize that I really liked the story, but, yes, I did, and I’m looking forward to reading the other two in the collection. What do you think? Have you read The Woman Destroyed? Are you interested in reading it?


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Classic Spotlight: Preface to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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Hello, bloggers and other visitors! I recently noticed a hashtag on Instagram called Classics Thursday, and it gave me the idea to start a similar “meme” here on the blog. I’ve seen it on @katha_logisch and I’m not sure who the actual creator is, but I hope they don’t mind my idea of writing posts to accompany the Instagram photo. I’ve actually been thinking about making my blog and my Instagram more connected, so this is one way to do that, too. Anyway, the plan is to write a post about a classic on Thursdays (probably not every Thursday, but as often as I can manage).

My first Classic Spotlight post will be about one of my favourite classics, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. Well, actually, it won’t be about the book, but the author’s Preface, which is a very important piece of feminist writing. In the preface, Anne Brontë responds to those who found her book too scandalous (and, sadly, her sister Charlotte was one of them). Some found it especially concerning that the author of such a book is female.

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In the novel, Brontë writes about alcoholism, and the suffering of a woman whose husband is an alcoholic. The  main character, Helen Huntington, leaves her husband to protect her son from his father’s influence, aware of the gossip and scandal her decision might cause.

What’s interesting to me is that Helen never actually divorces her husband – she even comes back to take care of him as he is dying. She is also extremely pious. Nothing Helen does is truly scandalous. Today, no one would find the novel too graphic either. And yet, that was how it was perceived. This opens some questions about censorhip and the many books that get banned even today for similar reasons.

This is what Anne Brontë writes in defence of her novel:

“…when we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light is, doubtless, the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? Oh, reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts – this whispering, ‘Peace, peace,’ when their is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience.”

I have to agree with Anne Brontë completely. Life can be gruesome and horrible, and literature should be allowed to present it as it is. I know some people are sensitive to graphic imagery, and that is fine, they should be warned about it so that they can avoid the books which disturb them. However, this doesn’t mean that such books should be banned. Literature, and art in general, has the right to question and to provoke. Anne Brontë’s words are a voice against censorship. She also writes about equility, and says:

All novels are, or should be, written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.

Quite opiniated and maybe not as meek as she was usually protrayed to be, eh? You can read the entire preface by Anne Brontë HERE, it is great, and short.


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Currently Reading: The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

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“Life—the way it really is—is a battle not between good and bad, but between bad and worse”
― Joseph Brodsky

I’ve just reached the end of Before They Are Hanged, the second book in this trilogy. Overall, I really like this series, and I can’t wait to see what the finale brings!

There’s a lot to like about this series. The writing is slow-paced, which I think is a good thing. Instead of writing many fight scenes, the author really focuses on the characters – and they are all amazing and interesting. The narration is third person subjective, and we are given the story through the perspective of several characters, all of them unique. This doesn’t mean the plot is boring, not at all. There is figthing. And spirits, magic, strange creatures, torture. There’s mystery and problems to solve.

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The characters are, in my opinion, the greatest asset of this book. They are unpredictable, flawed, and very real. All of them have their own story, their own personality, and very different motivations. Neither of them is perfect, but they aren’t evil either.

Logen Ninefingers is a notorious man, perceived by many as a savage – and with a good reason. And yet, there is certain kindness and innocence about him. Sometimes, he gives very good advice, which proves he’s actually quite clever.

“Doing better next time. That’s what life is.”

– Logen in Before They Are Hanged

Jezal Luthar seems like a perfect knight. But he is vain, sometimes almost stupid. And yet, strangely likeable.

Bayaz is a wizard. The most famous one. Wise, yes, and powerful, but there’s also something dark about him.

Glokta in an Inquisitor. A torturer. He grew cruel and bitter after the painful events that had made him a cripple. But he is also smart and his snarky comments are, in my opinion, the best part of the book.

“Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?”

– Glokta in The Blade Itself

Ferro is a wild woman whose only purpose in life is revenge. She trusts no one. She shows kindness to no one. But there’s much more to her than what meets the eye.

There are many more interesting characters in this book, all of them layered and well-developed. All with a story to tell. What more to say? This is an amazing fantasy series, and though I’m not finished reading it yet, I think I can recommend it to all fantasy lovers.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?


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Quote(s) for Thought: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

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As told by Kafka’s close friend Max Brod:

“Suddenly he began to speak to the fish in their illuminated tanks. ‘Now at least I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.’ It was the time he turned strictly vegetarian.”

To be honest, I’m writing this post for myself. Because I want to put some of Foer’s thoughts on paper. Because I don’t want to forget.

I’m in a similar position as Jonathan Safran Foer was before he completely gave up meat. I wanted to become a vagaterian, and I did, several times, and then always somehow stopped. Now, I don’t want to promote anything here. And I don’t think that is the intention of the book, either. I just gives you facts, facts I think everyone should be aware of. Even if you eat meat, don’t you deserve to know where it comes from?

Let me just start by saying that I think Jonathan Safran Foer is an amazing author. I’ve read Eveything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and loved both of them. I love his writing style and I think it also shows in this non-fiction book. It is well-researched and it gives a great amount of information, but it is also very interesting. The author talks about himself, his family, his experiiences, as well as about his research. And research he did! He even spent time with both farmers and activists.

Some of these facts have become more videly known – for example the fact that the meat industry is responsible for about 40 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships in the world combined. We are aware of the dangers of factory farming, I thin, but no just how deep these problems go. And then, some things most people are not aware at all.

Foer deconstructs some ideas people use to ease their shame. One of the notions he deconstructs is that vegetarianism is a form of sentimentality – which would basically mean valuing emotions over reality.

Two friends are ordering lunch. One says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” and orders it. The other says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” but remembers that there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment, and orders something else. Who is the sentimentalist?

And, yet, he asks himself if vegetarians actually are sentimentalists (idealists) if they believe everyone would follow their path. People are obviously not willing to do that. Yet, we know that eating is a group activity. We mostly eat with someone. We can influence some people, or at least contribute to the small progress that is being made. Big changes often come from small actions.

Another thing Foer touches on is the fact that most people don’t care for birds as much as they do for mammals. And even if we do, most of us don’t really care for fish. We tell ourselves that those animals are not as intelligent, which has lately proven to be false. And fishing is basically destroying fish:

For every ten tuna, shars, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans fifty to a hundred years ago, only one is left. Many scientist predict the total collapse of all fished species in less than fiftly years – and intense efforts are under way to catch, kill, and eat even more sea animals.

The average trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures as bycatch overboard.

…sea horses are one of more than one hundred sea animal species killed as ‘bycatch’ in the modern tuna industry.

Even if some animals do get a “clean” death, fish never do. All fish suffer since there are no regulations as to how they should die. However, slughterhouses often neglect all the regulations, or the regulations just get changed. I won’t go into detail about what happens at slaughterhauses. I guess most of people are aware of that, and if you’re not, then let me just say it’s much worse than you think it is. I really don’t want to talk about it, because it makes me sick, so I’ll move on to farming. This is, actually, one of the most important issues this book speaks about.

Jonathan Safran Foer really looks at farming from different perspectives and leaves it to the readers to come to their own conclusions. He gives his own opinion, talks about his lifestyle and the reasons behind his decision to give up meat completely, but he lets other people speak, too, and share their worldviews. He also gives an example of a man who is a vegan but constructs slaughterhouses. How is that possible? Because there seem to be no more slaughterhouses that provide a “clean” death. The farmers that take care of their animals cannot find a slughterhouse that would’t make their animals die a horrible death. And that’s why good slaughterhouses seemed important even to someone who refuses to eat animals.

This book doesn’t really speak against eating animals as much as it speaks against factory farming, overfishing, hormone and antibiotics fed, mutated and deformed animals. Many animals are left to suffer and die, because it would cost more to heal than to lose some of them (and there are much more animals that die before it’s the time for them to be illed than you could imagine). Many are born deformed.

In the world of factory farming, expectations are turned upside down. Veterinarians don’t work toward optimal health, but optimal profitability. Drugs are not for curing diseases but substitutes for destroyed immune systems. Farmers do not aim to produce healthy animals.

Modern factory farming is destroying our environment in more way than you think. Fighting this kind of farms is crucial for the environmental sustainability. Crucial for our planet. Factory farms are nothing more than the product of human insatiable greed – it’s exclusively about money, not about feeding people. And family farms cannot fight them. Bill Niman, the owner of a family farm who cares about the treatment of his animals, was driven out of his company because the board wanted to do things more profitably and less ethically. Though his ranch is an example of good (or at least much better) treatment of animals, he said that he would no longer eat Niman Ranch beef. Not under the new conditions.

Factory farming hurts humas as well:

People who live near factory farms are rarely wealthy and are treated by the industry as dispensable. The fecal mists they are forced to breathe usually don’t kill humans, but sore throats, headaches, coughing, runny noses, diarrhea, and even psychological illness including abnormally high levels of tension, depression, anger, and fatigue, are common. According to a report by the California state senat, “Studies have shown that {animal waste} lagoons emit toxic airbornee chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune, irritation and neurochemical problems in humans.”

The meat from factory farms hurts us and is responsible for many disesases from more people suffering from asthma and allergies, to flu. Factory farms are also known for horrible working conditions of their employees.

And factory farms hurts other animals besides those confined inside of them and unable to move of their entire lives (again, I don’t want to go too much into the cruelty that happens there) :

In only three years, two hundred fish kills – incidents where the entire fish population in a given area is killed at once – have resulted from factory famrs’ failures to kkeep their shit out of the waterways.

All of this also deconstructs the idea that animals have better lives on farms than they would have in the wild, where many would be killed anyway. These animals do not live happy lives before their slaughter.

This is becoming a more and more talked-about topic, which is definitely a good start. Some laws are being changed, though not as much as they should. Newspapers are writing about it (The New York Times was the first to do so), and Whole Foods was the first supermarket chain that committed to a systematic program of animal welfare labeling. There’s hope (dare I say it…) and everyone should contribute.

Yes, this is a long post and I don’t now if anyone’s going to read it, but it is very important to me, and I think it should be important to everyone. Eating Animals is a must-read. We must act – for animals, for our planet, and for ourselves.

If we are at all serious about ending factory farming, then the absolute least we can do is stop sending checkks to the absolute worst abusers. (…) We know, at least, that this decision will help prevent deforestation, curb global warming, reduce pollution, save oil reserves, lessen the burden on rural America, decrease human rights abuses, improve public health, and helo eliminate the most systematic animal abuse in world history.

 

 

Top 5 Wednesday: Favourite Underrated Books

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Another Wednesday, another Top 5! 🙂 I found out about Top 5 Wednesday on Goodreads, so click HERE if you want to join the fun!

This time, we were supposed to pick some underrated books –  books that aren’t as widely talked about. Now, I’m not sure if the books I picked fall into that category, but I think they do. Also, I think there are some underrated books mentioned in My Top 10 Books of 2016 post, for example Alice, but I decided not to mention it again.

Let’s begin!

1. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

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A Victorian drama meets dragons. And not in a way you’d expect. All the characters are dragons! But they act like people, they have the aristocrats and the poor, they ride in carriages but sleep on their pile of treasure. XD This book is so fun, and I recommend it to everyone who can look past a little bit of silliness.

2. The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb

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This book is crazy, but in a good way. I loved the strange atmosphere, dark family secrets, and deranged characters. It’s creepy, but not too much. And it’s very, very fun.

3. The Last Man by Mary Shelley

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People know Mary Shelley as the writer of Frankenstein, and forget that she wrote some other books, too. Though I liked Frankenstein more, The Last Man is also very interesting, mostly because Shelley used the people she knew (Pery Shelley and Lord Byron) to create her characters. She took some of their ideas and put them in a pre-apocalyptic world. As everything falls apart in the novel, we can also perceive some of Mary Shelley’s feelings once she was left alone, the last of the Romantics. I wrote a post about this book quite some time ago, so CLICK HERE if you’re interested.

4. Evelina by Frances (Fanny) Bourney

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This epistolary novel from the 18th century has a lot in common with the works of Jane Austen, but since it was written before it deals with a different society with different manners. Now, I’m not a big fan of Austen (sorry!) but I really did enjoy this novel.

5. The druid books by Ellen Evert Hopman

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I don’t think this trilogy has a name, probably because each book has its own story (the third one could almost be read on its own but it would be better to start from the beginning). If you’re interested in the life of the Celts, you just have to read these! Besides enjoying the stories, I also learned a lot.

Aaaand, an honourable mention: The Vampyre by John William Polidori. The first aristocratic vampire tale, before Dracula and even before Carmilla. If you are a vampire afficionado (as I am) this is a must-read. This is where it all started! Not the best book ever, but still. 😉

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Learning and Thinking with the Help of Fiction

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I’ve recently read two really great books and I wanted to mention them on my blog, so, in the end, I decided the best thing to do was to talk about them together. After all, they have something in common.

The first book is Honour by Elif Shafak, which I already mentioned in an award post. The book actually deals with quite a lot of topics, but the central theme is an honour murder about which the reader learnes in the first chapter and is held in the grip of its imminence. The novel depicts everything that lead to the murder, for the most part the way of life in Kurdish villlages in Turkey, and all that followed. Since certain characters leave Turkey for London, it also explores the issues of living in a culture different than your own and the danger of being influenced by extremists. This is presented in a way which doesn’t propagate anything, but only opens the door of understanding and gives the reader something to think about. The story is spread through three generations, and it follows multiple points of view, but it never gets confusing. The characters seem very real, and the language is gorgeous. Even though the main event of the novel is an honour murder, and at points it gets very sad, the reader cannot help but notice just how beautifully Elif Shafak writes. And even though the novel is sad, I didn’t find it depressing – in the end, it’s even hopeful. After reading it, I immediately decided that I would read more of Shafak’s novels in the future.

The other book I want to talk about is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This one is, I think, quite well-known. The novel follows two Nigerian characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, and is at first sight a love story. Except that it is not really a love story. The book deals with immigration, culture, social classes, and most of all with the issue of race. In comparison to Honour, which touches on similar topics, Americanah is much more factual, especially the parts presented through Ifemelu’s point of view since, after moving to USA, she starts a blog about her experiences as a “Non-American Black”, as she puts it.  A lot can be learned about Nigeria from this book, just like Honour gives an insight of rural Turkey. And just as in Honour, the characters in Americanah are very real and believable. Even though both books were a pleasure to read, they also made me think and taught me a lot. And isn’t that the best combination one could wish for?

Even though I liked Honour a little bit more, I’m aware that’s just a case of personal preference, and I would recommend both books with equal vigour. But most of all, I would recommend reading books about the issues or cultures you may not be as familiar with. There are so many books like that out there. I can add another example – The Golem and the Djinni, a book about which I wrote before. (see the post HERE)

Learn about the world you live in as much as you can! Happy reading! 🙂