Friday, 30 August 2013

Just For Fun Friday

It will come as no surprise to you that I love words. Give me some fabulous wordplay and I will be entertained for hours. So when a trip to a brilliant secondhand bookshop in Hitchin had me fall upon Lost Words: A Feast of Forgotten Words, Their Origins and Their Meanings by Philip Howard, I knew I was onto a winner. For this Just For Fun Friday, I thought that I would share my favourites. Do let me know if you manage to work any of these into general conversation. You will deserve an award.

ACNESTIS - "That part of the back between the shoulder blade and the bum (loins) that an animal cannot reach in order to scratch. Adapted from the Greek for the spine or backbone."

ASPECTABUND - "Expressive in the face. Showing one's feelings as an extravert. Rhyme, approximately, with 'Your specs are found'. After the Latin lacrimabundus, weeping, osculabundus, kissing, moribundus, dying: -bundus creates a verb with active force. So aspectabund means exhibiting one's aspect or feelings."

BOUFFAGE - "An enjoyable or satisfying meal. Adoption of the Old French word. Rhyme, approximately, with 'You're large'."

DESIDERIUM - "An ardent desire or wish; longing or wish, properly for a thing you once possessed and now miss; a sense of loss. A material sister to the geographical nostalgia. The Latin word means longing, sense of want; from desiderare, which we have rendered into stiff-collared English as 'desiderate'. Rhyme, roughly, with 'Daisy, Mary, Tom'."

FUBSY - "Words die because nobody uses them. This does not always mean that they are useless. Fubsy means (of the figure, limbs etc.) fat and squat. As a noun, a fubsy is (was) a small, chubby persons. Perhaps it comes from a blending of 'fat' and 'chubby' (presumably from the rotundity of the chub fish)."

LETABUND - "Full of joy. Adaptation of the Latin laetabundus, from laetari, to give joy. Pronounce, pushing it a bit, to rhyme with 'Peter Hound'."

OBLOQUY - "Evil-speaking, directed against a person or thing; abuse, detraction, calumny, slander. Also, with 'an' or in the plural, an abusive speech or utterance. Thence, public condemnation, abuse or detraction, evil fame, bad repute; a reproach or disgrace. Adaptation of the late Latin obloquium, a contradiction; obloquy, to speak against, contradict, gainsay. Rhyme, with difficulty, with 'Bob, rock we?'

QUAKEBUTTOCK - "A humourously scathing word for a coward. Quake is derived from the Old English stem group, cwac- , implying instability. Buttock is a derivative of 'butt', meaning the thicker end of an instrument."

SKIRR - "A sound of a whirring, grating or rasping character. Onomatopoeic. Useful for twitchers and other birdwatchers. Possibly from the Latin excurrere, to run hastily (away), by way of the Old French escorre, but I shouldn't bet your Barbour on it."

UTINAM - "An earnest wish or fervent desire. Pronounce to rhyme (roughly) with 'Phew! This ham.' Adoption of the Latin for 'Oh that!', 'Would that!', 'I wish!'; the optative."

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Review: Summer Lightning by P.G. Wodehouse

Books can be the ultimate mood enhancer. When I find myself facing a tough or particularly stressful time, I tend to turn to light-hearted fiction as an appropriate means of escapism. None can provide this literary relief with quite the same efficacy as comic genius P.G. Wodehouse. I have been a big fan of Jeeves & Wooster for a long time, although purely through the medium of television. Nothing says guaranteed laughter quite like Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. But when I found myself faced with a recent bought of insomnia, I could think of nothing better to get me through the long nights than an exploration of Wodehouse's writings. Having thoroughly enjoyed the televisation of Wodehouse's Blandings series, it is to these works that I turned - specifically the third in the series of the Blandings novels, Summer Lightning.

"Blandings Castle slept in the sunshine. Dancing little ripples of heat-mist played across its smooth lawns and stone-flagged terraces. The air was full of the lulling drone of insects. It was that gracious hour of a summer afternoon, midway between luncheon and tea, when Nature seems to unbutton its waistcoat and put its feet up."

Summer Lightning follows the exploits of Clarence, the ninth Earl of Emsworth, and his eccentric family. Set at the illustrious Blandings castle, seat of the family, the novel presents a satirical and hilarious take on the life of the aristocracy. Dealing in the complex love affairs of the Earl's nephew, Ronnie Fish, and his niece, Millicent Threepwood, Summer Lightning is the ultimate farce. When Ronnie decides to steal his uncle's prize pig in an effort to secure the Earl's approval of his marriage to the dancer Sue Brown, events take an unexpected turn. The ensuing tale is one of confused identities, subterfuge, and consistent hilarity.

This book provides exactly what you would expect from a P.G. Wodehouse novel. It is removal from reality and immersion in a world of the ridiculous and fantastic. The characters are numerous, diverse, and crafted with a comic expertise. Lord Emsworth's relationship with his prize pig is particularly brilliant:

"Lord Emsworth's mild eyes beamed. They always did when that noble animal, Empress of Blandings, was mentioned. The ninth Earl was a man of few and simple ambitions. He had never desired to mould the destinies of the State, to frame its laws and make speeches in the House of Lords that would bring all the peers and bishops to their feet, whooping and waving their hats. All he yearned to do, by way of ensuring admittance to England's Hall of Fame, was to tend his prize sow, Empress of Blandings, so sedulously that for the second time in two consecutive years he would win the silver medal in the Fat Pigs class at the Shropshire Agricultural Show. And ever day, it seemed to him, the glittering prize was coming more and more within grasp."

Wodehouse's reputation as the ultimate comic writer is well-deserved and his skills are comprehensively demonstrated in Summer Lightning. His brilliance is a combination of caricatured characters and a willingness to indulge in stereotypes. Additionally, Wodehouse has an unmatched ability to write comic dialogue. The interchanges between the Earl, his sister, Lady Constance, and brother, Galahad, provide a consistent source of light relief and laughter. See, for example, this conversation regarding Galahad's memoirs:

" 'How's the book coming along?' 'Magnificently, my dear. Splendidly. I had no notion writing was so easy. The stuff just pours out. Clarence, I wanted to ask you about a date. What year was it there was that terrible row between young Gregory Parsloe and Lord Burper. When Parsloe stole the old chap's false teeth, and pawned them at a shop in the Edgware Road? '96?...' Lady Constance uttered a sharp cry. The sunlight had now gone quite definitely out of her life. She felt, as she so often felt in her brother Galahad's society, as if foxes were gnawing her vitals...'Galahad! You are not proposing to print libellous stories like that about our nearest neighbour?' 'Certainly I am'. The Hon. Galahad snorted militantly. 'And as for libel, let him bring an action if he wants to. I'll fight him in the House of Lords. It's the best documented story in my book.'"

In short, a search for fictional relief could find no better solution than with P.G. Wodehouse and the wonders of Blandings. It is comic literature at its very best. And the perfect antidote for those sleepless nights.


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Weekly Reader

I cannot believe that I am about to say this, but welcome to the final August edition of The Weekly Reader. Where has the month gone? Yet what a wonderful month it has been (particularly the post-dissertation part.) The British population has had enough barbecues and glasses of Pimms to ensure that summer memories survive through the impending winter months. I, for one, hope that August has provided you with ample reading opportunities and I am glad to hear that my reviews have provided some inspiration. With winter approaching, it is time to start collecting your stack of winter reads - for those evenings by the fire (or, in my case, storage heater) with a steaming cup of hot chocolate. But, before we get too ahead of ourselves, we must return to the order of the day...

TOP STORIES

'So You Hate Short Stories?' - Book Riot

"It's time to start punching people in the mouth, every week, with literature." Sentiments that I share wholeheartedly. This article is a fantastic reflection on the joys of short stories as told by Jacob Tomsky, founder of Short Story Thursdays (SST). He details the origins of SST as a product of his detested front desk job at a hotel. Looking to inspire and develop a love of short stories in his colleagues, Tomsky's SST became a way of allowing exploration of literature for those who believed themselves incapable of literary appreciation. Since leaving his job, Tomsky has turned SST into a virtual organisation, dispatching weekly short stories to those signed up. His passion for the project is astonishing and utterly worthy of celebration.

'Three Bookshops Had A Twitter Fight...And It Ruled' - Buzzfeed

Despite setting up my own Twitter account at the time that this blog was conceived, I still have little (or no) idea as to its precise purpose and appeal. That was, until I came across this article from Buzzfeed. Watch as Waterstones, Foyles, and Blackwells engage in a war of words. Or 'the reason why UK booksellers are fantastic'.

'From Austen To Zola: An Introduction' - The Riveter

I spent some time debating whether this could be included without looking like shameless self-promotion. Not possible. But I have included it anyway. For those of you following me on Facebook or Twitter, you will already know that I have had the extreme good fortune to land a job as the weekly literary columnist for The Riveter Magazine. If this blog isn't enough to make you truly sick of me, take a look at From Austen To Zola. The column will deal more in topical literary issues but you can expect to see some new reviews and interviews included along the way. Do spend some time browsing The Riveter's articles. The publication looks to centralise and celebrate female longform narratives - a worthy goal, as I am sure you will agree. And I am extremely privileged to be part of such an amazing team!


TOP IN BOOK FETISH

Having spent the bank holiday weekend exploring the wonders of Blenheim Palace, I am in a romantic mood. What better time to celebrate the love of my life? Yes, that's right. Welcome to Book Fetish: The Mr. Darcy Edition.

'Mr. Darcy Proposal Scoop Neck T-Shirt' - Brookish

"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." Sigh. 

'I Love Darcy Tote Bag' - The British Library

Because truer words have never been written.

'Mr Darcy Decoration' - The British Library

The Christmas displays are emerging even earlier this year. Why not go with it and be prepared for the best kind of Christmas? This Mr. Darcy Christmas Tree decoration will guarantee you the best of celebrations.

And our weird item of the week...

'Mr. Darcy Westie Breed' - Beaumont Studio

For those who would wish to combine a love of Mr. Darcy with a love of dogs.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Literary Excursion: London Part II

Well, it has certainly been some time since the last Literary Excursion post. Fortunately, my dissertation hand-in proved the perfect opportunity to indulge in a new literary-themed outing. Since starting my studies at the LSE, the Charles Dickens Museum has featured high-up on my list of 'Things To See'. As you may recall from my lecture on the merits of Charles Dickens (cunningly disguised as a review of Our Mutual Friend), I am something of a Dickens devotee. That it has taken me so long to pay a visit to his former home (particularly heinous given that it is just a ten minute walk from the LSE campus in Holborn) is a travesty. Yet what better celebration of dissertation survival?



The Charles Dickens Museum is located on Doughty Street, just ten minutes walk from Kings Cross station. It is Dickens's only remaining London home, replicated as it would have been at the time of his occupation. In addition to being a beautifully laid-out house and a great example of 19th century interiors, the Museum also contains a vast collection of Dickens artefacts and items of interest.

Dickens's Writing Desk - and some more fantastic photography courtesy of me.

One of Dickens's original manuscript and an example of his indecipherable writing

As someone who admires Dickens's works and has read a lot about his life, the Charles Dickens Museum proved an impressive and fascinating insight into the habits and occupations of the author. The extensive information provided also ensures that visitors less familiar with Dickens and his literary outputs would not be left lost. A warning, however. As a London house, the layout is one of narrow corridors and small rooms. If possible, I would recommend visits outside of school holidays - unless you particularly enjoy casting the narrow-eyed look at disruptive children.

After an exploration of all the Dickens Museum has to offer, it was on to the Tube for a trip to the amazing Daunt Books in Marylebone. Now fully underway with my Bookshop Bucketlist, Daunt is one that I have had recommended to me by several avid readers. It did not disappoint. Organised by country (in both subject and author), the layout of the shop is truly unique. While initially a little confusing, I found that this organisational system actually made for much easier browsing. When alphabetical by order, it is typically luck or an attractive cover that leads you to an unexpected book find. Daunt's layout allows you to develop a more targeted approach - for those among us who can spend hours searching the shelves, Daunt is perhaps a good option when short on time!



Monday, 26 August 2013

Review: Regeneration by Pat Barker

For diligent readers of The Book Habit (otherwise known as 'mother'), this review will be noted as out-of-sync with my recent reads. Pat Barker's Regeneration has succeeded in leap-frogging the backlog of books currently awaiting review. There are two reasons for this: (1) It is a truly fantastic work that has earned priority status; and (2) My mum cannot borrow it until my in-written notes have served their purpose. I am sure that, given the validity of these points, you will forgive the warped schedule. Regeneration is a book that I have been intending to read for a long time but was finally provoked into picking up following an expert recommendation (thank you, Maggie) and a trip to London's famous Daunt Books (Literary Excursion post to come). Having consumed the book in two sittings, Regeneration is unquestionably one of the most powerful and evocative novels I have read.

The book is the first in Pat Barker's Regeneration series, taking place during the First World War. Set in Scotland's Craiglockhart War Hospital, the novel follows the work of psychiatrist William Rivers as he attempts to treat shell-shocked and broken-down soldiers. Regeneration gives particular focus to the case of the poet Siegfried Sassoon, sent to Craiglockhart for treatment following a declaration of dissatisfaction with the war's objectives. As the relationship between Rivers and Sassoon develops, Rivers begins to question his role. Charged with returning debilitated soldiers to active duty, Rivers is forced to confront the conflict between the demands of war and the personal price paid by his patients. 

"I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest...I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party  to prolong these sufferings for which the fighting men are being sacrificed."

Regeneration is a work of truly remarkable insight. It is no secret that I enjoy fiction set during the First and Second World Wars, no doubt a product of family experiences during both crises. But to read a novel that delivers a truly unique consideration of these events is rare. More often than not, fictionalised accounts simply offer a rehashing of established facts. Yet Regeneration delivers a narrative steeped in a poignancy and power that separates it from its predecessors. This, I think, is largely a product of Barker's use of perspective. In choosing to set the novel away from the front lines and provide an account of the attempted rehabilitation of traumatised soldiers, the novel is able to fully capture the reader. Barker offers an expert reconstruction of the war experience through the voice of her characters. Descriptions of their experiences provide for some of the most intense and insightful passages in the novel:

" 'It's not just that, though is it? Sometimes when you're alone, in the trenches, I mean, at night you get the sense of something ancient. As if the trenches had always been there. You know one trench we held, it had skulls in the side. You looked back along and...Like mushrooms. And do you know, it was actually easier to believe they were men from Marlborough's army than to to to think they'd been alive two years ago. It's as if all other wars had somehow...distilled themselves into this war, and that makes it something you...almost can't challenge. It's like a very deep voice saying, Run along, little man. Be thankful if you survive.' "

Of particular power is the internal battle fought by Rivers in resolving the conflict between his duty as an army psychiatrist and his horror at the realities of the war. The novel's title, Regeneration, refers in part to Rivers's previous efforts at regenerating damaged nerves - employing a process described as delivering unimaginable pain, with a view to the cure. The methods employed in rehabilitating traumatised soldiers and preparing them for return to battle involve a similar compromise - a forced confrontation with the traumatic memories, allowing the trauma to be ultimately overcome. Yet as Rivers witnesses the consequences of his efforts, he is unable to escape the moral implications of his duty. It is the questions posed by Siegfried Sassoon's Declaration, and the subsequent friendship between the two men, that truly forces Rivers's hand.

Beyond the intensely evocative narrative, Regeneration also offers some stunning prose. Barker is a master of subtlety. Her descriptive style offers some of the starkest and most demanding imagery, while always retaining a sense of place.

"The sea was calm, almost inaudible, a toothless mouth mumbling pebbles in the darkness. Instead of walking along the path, Burns struck out across the shingle and Rivers followed, to where the tide had laid bare a thin strip of sand. The crunch and slither of shingle under their feet blotted out all other sounds. Rivers turned, and saw the bones of Burns's face gleaming in the moonlight."

Regeneration is a novel that should feature on all To Read lists. As we face the impending distanciation that accompanies all progress of time, it becomes even more vital that we make efforts to remember. I remain unconvinced that memory alone prevents repetition and generally believe (however depressing it may be) that history is doomed to repeat itself. Memory is, however, all we have to offer those who gave their lives fighting the wars that dominated the twentieth century. Regeneration, in its own way, gives a voice to the fallen and the increasingly forgotten. It reminds us that the travesty of the First World War cannot be captured in casualty statistics. Rather, the tragedy comes with the loss of lives - of men with very real loves, hopes, and fears. Perhaps if we make efforts to remember that, we may be better equipped to interrupt the cycle of violence and conflict that continues to plague our world.


Monday Musing

Hello all!

You may be in for a double round of posts today, as I attempt to make up for my lack of presence this weekend. I am currently in Oxford, catching time with my mum while she is here on a business trip from the US. I will be back this evening (hopefully) with a belated review but, in the meantime, here is a Monday Musing to get your week started.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Just For Fun Friday

My apologies for being a little slow with the posts this week. I have a backlog of books waiting for review and intend to get around to them as soon as possible! Currently, I am finding it difficult to drag myself away from Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy. Combined with a few epic day trips (lavender picking today - because why would I not be?), my time has been readily consumed. But I am back to it now and normal service can resume once more. For today's Just For Fun Friday, we return to an article that I mentioned in one of my editions of The Weekly Reader. For your reading pleasure, I present the ultimate literary musical accompaniment!

Library Girl - Squeeze





Everyday I Write The Book - Elvis Costello



Read It In Books - Echo And The Bunnymen


Library Books - David Arnold (Sherlock Soundtrack)

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Weekly Reader

Hello lovely readers!

I am finding it truly difficult to believe that August is almost over. The summer has whizzed by and I am already scheduling in September and October happenings. Lots to look forward to, including my quarter-of-a-century birthday and initiation into the world of the PhD. It all feels a little too grown-up to me. While enjoying the remains of summer, I am also keeping my fingers crossed for a glorious autumn. Staying true to the cliches by which I live, I am ready for the evening fires, toasted chestnuts, and blackberry picking. Because how fun would it be if I didn't conform to all kinds of stereotype?

TOP ARTICLES

'Guardian Edinburgh Books Podcast: Neil Gaiman, Peter James, Adam Thirwell' - Guardian Books

This is a brilliant discussion about the characteristics of good prose. It considers how the approach to literary style varies from genre to genre, whether as per Neil Gaiman's belief in "invisible prose"or the Orwellian prescription of good prose as "a windowpane." Stylistic preferences are undoubtedly subjective and dependent upon the demands of plot and character development. Yet the importance of clean and beautiful prose tends to stand as a basic demand of novels that take on the label of 'classic'. In the world of contemporary literature, where Fifty Shades of Grey has somehow achieved the level of bestseller, an emphasis on good prose is a necessity. This thoughtful podcast certainly addresses some of the key associated issues.

'What Would A World Without Libraries Look Like? Kids Have Their Say' - Book Riot

"The world without libraries is like a cone without ice cream." Trust an elementary school child to summarise perfectly my feelings on the subject. As libraries face greater threats, in the form of budget cuts and reduced operating hours, the issue of a world without libraries is one that I've given some thought to. What would it be to raise future generations without the benefit of glorious weekly trips to the library? Can we imagine a walk home from the town centre without 10 borrowed books in tow? This article draws on quotes from entries to a school writing contest on the subject of 'A World Without Libraries'. Funny, insightful, and heartening!

'16 Unique And Awesome Bookshelves For Every Budget' - BuzzFeed

It is an established fact that I love a good bookshelf. With so much choice, it is hardly a surprise that I am rendered unable to make a decision on new shelving to tackle the book stack epidemic. But I do enjoy gazing longingly at the most unique of book storage systems. This article brings together 16 of the most impractical (but amazing) bookshelves.


TOP IN BOOK FETISH

With the autumn on the way, we will soon be in the process of reshuffling our wardrobes in preparation for the colder weather. In that spirit, I felt it was time to indulge in an exploration of literary-themed clothing. Always best to be prepared!

Various T-Shirts - Out Of Print Clothing

I came across this site while constructing a birthday list (yes, I am that person). Just about every book you have loved features somewhere here. Amazing.

'I'd Get Sleazy For Ronald Weasley Ladies Underpants' - Danyella Michela

Not necessarily designed specifically for the colder seasons but applicable year round.

'Harry Potter Guinea Pig Costume' - I Heart Needlework

Yes, you read that correctly. Because you are not the only one who must be adequately prepared for the winter. Why would you NOT want to dress your guinea pig?

'Complete Mr. Darcy Outfit' - Sarai0989

Because The Book Habit is an inclusive blog, I would not want to exclude male readers. So here is something for you. And it will only set you back £413.27. A bargain, and sure hit with the ladies (or anyone with a particular fondness for the Colin Firth lake scene).

Monday, 19 August 2013

Monday Musing

Happy Monday! 

I am entering a week that promises many wonderful things - sunshine, the return of The British Bake-off, and a long weekend in Oxford with my fabulous mum. I hope that some similarly epic plans are on the calendar for each of you. If not, I have a couple of Literary Excursion posts coming your way - the ideal inspiration for scheduling in some literary-themed trips!

For now though, what would Monday be without a thought-provoking Monday Musing?


Friday, 16 August 2013

Just For Fun Friday

Well friends, here we are at another Just For Fun Friday, meaning that the weekend is upon us once more! I hope that you all have many wonderful activities planned. And to start you on your way, what better than a short-but-sweet visit from one of my favourite poets. Over to you, Spike...


A Silly Poem
By Spike Milligan

Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
I'll draw a sketch of thee,
What kind of pencil shall I use?
2B or not 2B?

And proving that we have a great sense of humour here in the UK...

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Review: 1Q84 - Books One and Two by Haruki Murakami

I am undoubtedly a Murakami convert. I finished Kafka on the Shore with a strange sense of uncertainty, ambiguous on my feelings about the novel. Rarely am I faced with this situation. But I was certain about one thing - that Kafka was fundamentally unlike any other novel that I had read. As I sat down to write the review, it became increasingly clear to me that, as the fog of uncertainty cleared, I was utterly enthralled by Murakami's style. Kafka is a book that has continued to haunt me since I closed its final pages and any remaining sense of ambiguity was erased when a bookshop trip left me with three new Murakami volumes. When looking for a little escapism from dissertation mania, I knew that it could come in no better form than Murakami's latest masterpiece, 1Q84.

The novel alternates between the story of two characters, completely different in personality and lifestyle but connected by forces unknown. 1Q84 follows Tengo, a maths teacher and budding author, as he agrees to ghostwrite a mysterious new novel, Air Chrysalis. Air Chrysalis is the product of a seventeen-year old girl who goes by the name Fuka-Eri and is a beguiling but poorly written work. In an effort to secure a literary prize for the novel, Tengo sets out to rewrite it in a more coherent form. But, as he does so, he finds himself drawn into a world where fiction and reality collide. This new world is named 1Q84 by 1Q84's other protagonist, Aomame, a gym instructor and assassin. 1Q84 is a world with two moons in the sky, where Air Chrysalis' seemingly fictional 'Little People' represent a very real threat. Aomame and Tengo both find themselves a part of this alternative but real world, unsure as to their purpose within it or an avenue out. What becomes clear, however, is that their fates are entwined and that they are embroiled in a conflict between realities that will result in fatal consequence.

True to form, Murakami has made an effective plot summary a near impossibility. There is undoubtedly a reason why the book's blurb consists of just five sentences. Do not, however, allow the above confusion impact your opinion, for this is a novel written with superficial simplicity. As with Kafka, there is a certain necessity of giving yourself over to Murakami's plot. Attempting to unravel or preempt developments is an impossibility and Murakami is a master at weaving the unexpected throughout his novels. If you are able to enjoy his subversion of expectations, as is necessary with any form of magical realism, you will read nothing quite so intriguing and beautiful. The levels to this novel are numerous, as with all of Murakami's works. As a homage to George Orwell, however, it is the allusions to 1984 that I found particularly interesting and well-placed:

"The Professor stared at his hands for a time, then looked up and said, 'George Orwell introduced the dictator Big Brother in his novel 1984, as I'm sure you know. The book was an allegorical treatment of Stalinism, of course. And ever since then, the term 'Big Brother' has functioned as a social icon. That was Orwell's great accomplishment. But now, in the real year 1984, Big Brother is all too famous, and all too obvious. If Big Brother were to appear before us now, we'd point to him and say, 'Watch out! He's Big Brother!' There's no longer any place for a Big Brother in this real world of ours. Instead, these so-called Little People have come on the scene. Interesting verbal contrast, don't you think?'"

This introduction of the Little People as a new and alternative manifestation of Orwell's Big Brother is just one way in which Murakami manipulates the reader's preconceptions and prejudgments. And he does so with an ease that stands as testament to his skill. In my view, the mark of a master magical realist (this label being the one that I think most applies to Murakami, although still lacking in precision) is the ability to seamlessly interweave meticulous description of reality with the bizarre. Murakami's attention to the habits of reality and the everyday is demonstrated most acutely through his intimate descriptions of meal time rituals:

"Tengo washed the rice, put it in the cooker, and turned on the switch. He used the time until the rice was ready to make miso soup with wakame seaweed and green onions, grill a sun-dried mackerel, take some tofu out of the refrigerator and flavor it with ginger, grate a chunk of daikon radish, and reheat some leftover boiled vegetables. To go with the rice, he set out some pickled turnip slices and a few pickled plums."

Seemingly unnecessary in detail, Murakami's purpose with these passages is to provide a consistent anchor to the real world. This not only makes his allusions to unreality more effective (as per 1Q84's two moons) but also provides a necessary balance between the two dimensions of the genre. Balance is a theme underwriting this novel and it comes up time and again. The Little People, as a sort of balancing consequence of Orwell's Big Brother, are connected with pursuit of a balance between good and evil - and it is this balance that should be read into 1Q84.

" 'In this world, there is no absolute good, no absolute evil', the man said. 'Good and evil are not fixed, stable entities but are continually trading places. A good may be transformed into an evil in the next second. And vice versa. Such was the way of the world that Dostoevsky depicted in The Brothers Karamazov. The most important thing is to maintain the balance between the constantly moving good and evil. If you lean too much in either direction, it becomes difficult to maintain actual morals. Indeed, balance itself is the good."

I have a feeling that this emphasis on balance is the central aspect of Orwell's 1984 invoked as an inspiration by Murakami. Rejection of the totalitarianism embodied by Big Brother is, after all, an attempt to redress that constantly moving balance between perceptions of good and evil. Yet Murakami's emphasis on balance permeates 1Q84 to a unique degree. Not only is it a concept emphasised throughout the plot, it is also reflected in the novel's structure, as chapters alternate between the narratives of Tengo and Aomame. The two central characters are, from the beginning, set up as presenting some kind of balance to one another, although the nature of their juxtaposition is unknown until the end.

Having read a couple of the reviews of 1Q84 on Goodreads, one central suggestion seemed to be that this is not a novel for those new to the work of Haruki Murakami. I fundamentally disagree. Unlike Kafka, this is a book about which I feel no ambiguity. It reads with superficial simplicity, deceptive when one considers the complex dynamics underlying the plot. The complexities and unrealities are, however, thrown in with such ease that their acceptance presents little challenge to the reader. Without preempting myself too much, given that I still have a pile of Murakami to work through, I would not be surprised if 1Q84 represents the highpoint of his literary turnout. It is magnificent.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Weekly Reader

Well, friends. I have had a truly brilliant midweek, with a celebratory dissertation hand-in literary excursion. The benefit of being at a university in central London is that these post-deadline celebrations can take many forms. And what better for a bibliophile than a trip to the Charles Dickens Museum and the magnificent Daunt Books in Marylebone? Obviously a full Literary Excursion post is coming your way! Today, however, we return to The Weekly Reader for the latest highlights of the literary world.

TOP ARTICLES

'Translation Of New Haruki Murakami Novel Set For 2014' - Guardian Books

For fellow Murakami fans, there can be no better news than the impending release of his newest novel. Already an enormous success in Japan following its April release, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is set to have its English language edition released next year. The book has been met with rave reviews in Japan and Murakami's cult following was clearly reflected in the Harry Potter-style midnight queues. I, for one, will be waiting in line for the next Murakami release. Having been converted by Kafka on the Shore, I have just wrapped up 1Q84 (a review coming your way tomorrow!)

'A Brief History Of (Novelists On The Cover Of) TIME' - Book Riot

This is a great piece in literary history, tracing back through some of the most prestigious authors represented on the cover of TIME magazine. Toni Morrison and George Orwell feature, among others. An interesting snapshot of the intersection between literature and the media.

'That'shhh Entertainment: Drawing Up A Library Playlist' - Guardian Books

London's Wellcome Library is embarking upon a £17.5 million refurbishment and has come up with a novel way of preventing the noise from disrupting its visitors - by creating a library playlist for readers to listen through on their headsets. The Guardian's article lays out the playlist for Adventures in the Library Volume 1. A bit of study inspiration for us all!

'28 Things That Happened After The Harry Potter Books Ended' - BuzzFeed

We all know that this edition of The Weekly Reader could not possibly pass without a reference to Harry Potter. Fortunately, BuzzFeed has given me the perfect reason to indulge in a little wizarding celebration. Since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007, we have been drip fed information by JK Rowling regarding the fates of her various characters. This article is brilliant as a concise summary of the most important developments to which we have been treated, including some truly atrocious names.


TOP IN BOOK FESTISH

Today we are going to focus on book items for around the home. Because we all know that book-theming your interior design is the only way to go.

'Vintage Hanging Book Lamp, Upcycled' - PaperDame

A hanging lamp constructed out of a vintage version of Grimm's Fairytales. How fantastic. Not only is this totally unique, but it is a guaranteed conversation piece!

'Book Chair' - Miniatura Brasileira

Granted, this appears to be a chair for small children. But, seriously, a chair with holes for your books. I am in desperate need of one of these. If not only to free up a little more floor space.

'Book Luminaries' - Oldendesigns

These would probably be pretty easy to make, for the crafty among you. For the creatively inept (among whom I wholeheartedly class myself), having someone else create such beautiful book lamps is a good idea! Get yourself some electric candles and you have an amazing book-themed decoration.




Tuesday, 13 August 2013

A Celebration of Literary Heritage

A few weeks ago, my wonderful aunt gave me some books belonging to my great grandmother. They were books won as prizes at school, for recognition of achievement - among them, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and Charlotte Bronte's Villette. Both brilliant books. More importantly, however, they got me thinking about my own literary heritage. While The Book Habit has changed very little in terms of my reading habits and opinions, it has definitely made me reflect a little more on the process of reading as a gift. Now that education is taken for granted in most societies, it is all too easy to forget that such access was not always a guarantee (and, in many places, still is not). I am fortunate in that generations of my family have worked hard to ensure that I could be the first with the opportunity to go to university and enjoy the benefits of education well into my twenties (a perpetual student, as my parents constantly remind me). Beyond this, I have had handed down to me a passion for reading. It is not a habit that has erupted spontaneously, but one that I have inherited from those who have always emphasised the importance of literature to living a full and connected life. So, if you will allow me this one post, I would like to pay homage to a part of my personal literary heritage and thank those who have knowingly and unknowingly indulged my bibliophilic ways. 

Today we credit my great grandmother, Olive, and great grandfather, Leslie. Both are notorious in my family for the extensive archive of letters and books that they have left behind. Never having met them, I have had the luck of getting to know them through the volumes of love letters written to one another during the Second World War. It may not surprise you to learn that I come from a long line of overly emphatic writers and readers. But, without my great grandparents, who broke from a trend of minimal education in pursuing high quality schooling (a trend passed down through the subsequent generations), there is absolutely no way that I would be where I am today.

A Literary Love Affair

During the Second World War, my great grandfather was sent to France as part of the Normandy Landings. The ensuing months that he spent fighting are well documented in the hundreds of letters that we have given to London's Imperial War Museum. Having read through the letters (and actually recorded them myself as part of an online project), they are important to me as a demonstration of how important literary talents and passions are in the day-to-day. Without an appreciation for the written word, these letters would not exist and my great grandparents would have been left with limited communication during one of the most turbulent periods in history. Instead, I am able (almost 65 years after the fact) to share this with you. Because, not only did they recognise the importance of the literary in their own lives, but they set out to pass their passion down through the ages. They educated their daughters (my grandma and great aunt) and subsequently set a course for the education of my mum and myself (and my brother, although the success of this is debatable - I joke of course).

A little wartime writing

Embedded in those letters, documenting the horrors of a Europe at war, is a message that I have taken to heart and try my best to communicate through this blog - that a passion for reading and an understanding of literature's tremendous power is by no means a guarantee. It is a product of those who have come before - who have fought for us to have access to schools and provided us with the tools to take advantage of literary education. At some point in our pasts (unless you are one of the lucky aristocratic few), this represented a break from convention and a conscious decision. While we should not necessarily become preoccupied with the past, I think we must try to recognise our personal literary heritages. For me, this is by far the best way to ensure that I do not take my ability to enjoy and indulge in literature for granted. Because, until every person has access to the necessary education, we must recognise just how lucky we are.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Monday Musing

Hi chaps!

I hope this week sees you all refreshed and ready for the days ahead. I've got a great diversity of posts lined up for you this week, from a celebration of personal literary heritage to reviews of my recent reads. Something for everyone! For today, enjoy this inspirational quote, courtesy of Virginia Woolf.


Friday, 9 August 2013

Just For Fun Friday: Happy Book Lover's Day!

Friends! Not only is it Friday, but it is also August 9th - officially Book Lover's Day. Since my life practically revolves around reading books and writing this blog, every day is Book Lover's Day in my world. But is wonderful to come together in a spirit of camaraderie with fellow bibliophiles and collectively acknowledge our affection for the written word. I hope that you all find some way of celebrating today - whether it be by grabbing an extra 10 minutes reading time before bed, sporting one of your numerous literary tote bags (I have many to lend out if necessary), or simply high-fiving someone in the library. For my part, I would like to say how amazing it is to be able to publicly share this day with you all. I am unbelievably grateful to everyone reading this for continuing to come back to The Book Habit and perusing my thoughts/streams of consciousness. It has been a fantastic few months of connecting with fellow bibliophiles. Here's hoping that you are still choosing to put up with me in a year's time so that we can celebrate another Book Lover's Day!


Celebrating the Book Lovers!


"You can never have a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." 
- C.S. Lewis

"After all, reading is arguably a far more creative and imaginative process than writing; when the reader creates emotion in their head, or the colours of the sky during the setting sun, or the smell of a warm summer's breeze on their face, they should reserve as much praise for themselves as they do for the writer - perhaps more."
 - Jasper Fforde

"When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, 'Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading'." 
- Dorothy Parker

"I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That's right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that's kind of perverted or maybe it's just romantic and highly intelligent."
- Sherman Alexie

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." 
- Groucho Marx

"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life." 
- W. Somerset Maugham

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

My recent review of Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi left me not only with a better understanding of the Iranian experience, but also with a fairly extensive reading list. After tackling Flaubert's controversial Madame Bovary, I felt that it was time to work through Nafisi's primary novel of focus - Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Undoubtedly one of the most controversial novels ever produced, Lolita has a history embroiled in censorship battles and impassioned arguments on both sides of the obscenity debate. Unlike the issues of adultery depicted in Madame Bovary, society has not (and, I hope, will not) evolved to moral acceptance of the actions and arguments posited by Lolita's central character - Humbert Humbert. Before introducing the novel and my opinion of it, this is a point that must be understood. That this novel is controversial remains undisputed. But, for the reasons that I will lay out, I believe this to be one of the most important and aesthetically beautiful books ever written. In my discussions about the novel, I have had people comment to me that this is a book written by a paedophile and/or that it presents a romanticised view of paedophilia. That is absolutely not the case and these perceptions only reinforce the degree to which Lolita, and Nabokov's intentions in writing the novel, are widely misunderstood. 

Lolita is narrated in first person by middle-aged, European Humbert Humbert. From the outset, it is made clear that the novel takes the form of a final confession - Humbert's relation of events to his readers, while he stands charged with murder. Humbert identifies himself as a "nympholet" - an individual with an all-encompassing desire for girl-children, who he designates "nymphets." These girls are, according to Humbert, typically between the ages of nine and fourteen and in possession of "certain mysterious characteristics, the fey grace, the elusive, shifty, soul-shattering, insidious charm that separates the nymphet from such coevals of hers..." Upon moving to America, Humbert takes up residence with Charlotte Haze and falls immediately in love with her twelve-year-old daughter, Dolores. After Charlotte's timely death (taking place shortly after her marriage to Humbert), Humbert takes off with Dolores (to whom he gives the name Lolita) on a road-trip without destination. Posing as her father, he forces the girl into a sexual relationship. Despite attempts to settle down with Lolita, Humbert's outrageous love and growing psychopathy force the pair into a dangerous spiral of confrontation. While the reader already knows the end result, it is the unforeseen consequences of destructive obsession that become the central question.

Nabokov asserted that the sole objective of literature should be to afford the reader "aesthetic bliss." With Lolita, he executes this goal in the context of the greatest possible challenge - a narrative told through the confession of a self-proclaimed paedophile. The great literary critic, Lionel Trilling, identified this novel as "the greatest love story of our time," and in many senses it is. But, in order to reach such an acknowledgement, the reader is required to relinquish control and acknowledge the mastery of Nabokov's prose. 

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns."

In this, the book's opening passage, you can begin to understand the sensuality in which Lolita is steeped. Words are used in a way that is as much about feeling, as reading. There is a central preoccupation with the fairy-tale nature of the narrative - that it is written, as Trilling posits, as a love story. For many readers (certainly most of those that I have spoken to), this is their central problem. They reject the manner in which Lolita superficially romanticises and trivialises Humbert's perversions. But, as I have said above, I think that this fundamentally misunderstands Nabokov's intentions. Nabokov once stated that he viewed the role of fiction as presenting a clash between the author and the world -  Lolita is presenting this clash by taking up the challenge of forcing the reader to identify with (and empathise with) a paedophile. Reading Lolita is, without a doubt, a self-consciously uncomfortable experience. But it is uncomfortable precisely because Nabokov achieves his aim, mobilising the romance of a love-story to present us with this clash between author and world.

"I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of the durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita."

I can recognise why this novel would be problematic for so many readers. The subject matter is undoubtedly troubling. But to forgo or dismiss Lolita on this basis is to miss out on a masterpiece. Reading demands of us empathy - it is about seeing the world through another's eyes. And great works of literature consistently invoke this as their central challenge, by forcing the reader to empathise with the unnatural or uncomfortable. To love Lolita is not to forgive paedophilia. Rather, it is to understand the role of literature in our lives and in the world at large. This is truly one of the greatest works ever written. It is a love story and a scandal, it paints a blurred picture of innocence and criminality, and it blends poetry with psychopathy. It is literature at its most effective and remarkable - to be read, reflected upon, and remembered.