High-brow or downright pretentious, good PNR or sparkly vampires, I don't care about the premise so long as it entertains me.
So, you might remember me posting a couple of months back that I'm doing my postgrad research on online communities. I have a big project coming up, and I'm looking for participants.
I'm studying how trust is built and lost in online communities. I'm looking for people who used to be involved in the Goodreads blogging community and have either left the website completely or partially. It's a small project, I need 10-15 participants, and you'd need to fill out a survey about your perceptions and feelings about the community.
If you're interested, or know someone who is interested, can you send me a DM, and I can give you the deets. I'm just waiting for my ethics form to clear for this.
You know, I really wish publishers would stop using Angela Carter in blurbs. It's not that they're always wrong, but for devoted Carterites like myself, it builds up expectation to a ridiculous degree. (I'm still holding off reading some of her early works and journalism because then I would be unbearably sad.) The woman had a vast and complex body of work, and all reviewers seem to remember is that she had a revisionist collection of fairy tales, ergo, any revisionist collection of fairy tales is like it.
I find it especially ironic when the comparison is made for a debut work. Carter's early novels were nothing like the later ones - the fairy tales and magical realism and Shakespeare came much later - but they were the ones that were critically acclaimed. "The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman" was the work that killed the critical love, but made her into the writer most people know and love. Now, we use novels from that latter, unglorious period to sing the praises for new, up-and-coming novelists.
How fickle we all are! (And I say it in the most affectionate way possible.)
Anyway, this Long Intro (TM) was my way of saying: I love Angela Carter and I did not think it was a good comparison to make between her style and that of Lucy Wood.
"Diving Belles" drew me in with the promise of magical tales and the Cornish coast. It's arguably one of the most beautiful places in all of England, and any book that has mermaids on the cover has me sold, hook, line and sinker. (Although, because I'm moving constantly, I managed to hold my enthusiasm in check until I got to my local library.) According to the acknowledgements, the short stories in this collection grew from the ones she created for her writing class at university.
If I had to describe the stories in a word, I'd say they are "experimental." Other words: playful, exploratory, whimsical, creative... and unfinished. The latter was more true for the first half than the second - the stories there have a fuller arc, a more distinct finish. On the other hand "Diving Belles," which is the opening story, seems to cut off mid-scene. It was very strange - I definitely felt like there was more to the story, so why couldn't we have the resolution?
Keep on reading, and the stories get better, more fleshed out. I'm not getting a very concrete sense of Wood's style as of yet, but it is promising. I'll be looking out for her next book. For this one, though, I recommend checking it out of the library first.
Don your togas, it's philosophy time!
I wonder, in my more pessimistic moments, if we've completely lost track of what it means to be friends. (If I feel particularly cynical, I'd say that in 10 years' time, children would ask us if that word means anything other than a social network connection.) We've been using the term until it's threadbare - to describe teammates, classmates, casual acquaintances, those people we call on Saturday night after way too many glasses of Bailey's to scratch that ever-annoying itch, our professors, our lovers, our dog's vet, and our friend's friend's primary school teacher who added us on Facebook. We say: "I'd just like to be friends" to spare the feelings of the mouth-breather who finally worked up the guts to ask us out, and "I'd like us to stay friends," when a relationship goes sour. (And yes, I've been both the mouth-breather and the person doing the rejecting at some point in my life.)
And is it really so surprising? I mean, if someone you know online posts details of everything for you to see - from their struggles with depression to the contents of their lunch - wouldn't you say you have the correct degree of intimacy to claim friendship, even if you never actually met? Wouldn't you eventually start to feel invested? (And yes, I have shared my lunch and my struggles on social media at some point. What can I say, I get wrapped up in the hype.)
I don't want this review to turn into a meditation about the glory of Ye Goode Olde Days, because there was plenty of false connection, hypocrisy, evasiveness and back-stabbing even before the days of the Internet (and I'm old enough to remember them.) But I wanted to set some context, because this collection of tributes... it really hit me.
Because friendship is a pretty complex thing. As complex, if not more so, as romantic love. It takes a lot of time and work, to build a trust and a rapport, to make yourself vulnerable to another person, and trust them to help you out when you need it. Friendship can nurture, and it can hurt. It can exist for decades, and it can be snuffed out by a petty argument. You may know someone casually for years before you share any sort of intimacy. Or, a handful of meaningful meetings can mark you forever.
The collection is not exhaustive of all the aspects of friendship, or even of many time periods and cultures, but it's pretty impressive for what it is. Not all the stories here are happy ones, and not all the people mentioned were the bestest of chums since kindergarten, but that's not it. To assemble tributes under the banner of friendship and only focus on the happy couples would be, after all, a bit dishonest.
I'm not quite sure which is my favourite - perhaps Prudence Crowther's introduction to the letters of S.J. Perelman, since it's the one that got me to buy the book it was from - but if there is something all of these have in common, it's the clear evidence that the writers had extremely high regard for the friends that had left them. And Tatyana Tolstaya's tribute to Joseph Brodsky shook me pretty hard - both because her reflection on how a country starts loving its exiled poet once he becomes famous was spot on, and because of how she captured the exiled's longing to be back home. The idea of Brodsky, homesick but fame-weary, wanting to see the familiar sites and disgusted at the idea of being treated like some sort of hero... well, it resonated.
You may not recognize half these names. You may recognize all of them. I was the former, and boy, am I glad to discover many of these people.
You may be, too.
Hot damn do I love Val McDermid's books.
If "The Skeleton Road" gave me a donkey kick in the feels, then this one makes me wanna binge-read all the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan books I can get my grubby little hands on. (Though I'd like to back-track and read the books preceding "The Skeleton Road." Not to mention McDermid's retelling of "Northanger Abbey," which is, no shit, my favourite Austen book.)
I don't know how to tell you why I loved "The Mermaids Singing" so much without spoiling the plot, but I'll try to sum it up as follows: Carol was right.
My deadlines are approaching, so of course, I'm binge-watching Holmes-themed shows like a mofo. Think "House MD" (he lives at 221, FFS!) "Person of Interest" (though one episode in, and I needed a shower to wash the ick off) and, of course, that piece of gloriousness which is "Elementary". And I've realized there is truth in Ana Mardoll's criticism of many of these shows (and her praise of "Elementary") in that the "special white man" trope highlights social inequality, in that the special white man is always the one with the answer. His specialness justifies the sort of behaviour nobody else would get away with, and because he has all the answers, he always gets away with it.
It's problematic, to say the least.
I liked "The Mermaids Singing" for the same reason I like "Elementary" - everyone has a contribution in the ongoing investigation, and there is cause and effect that is proportionate. More to the point - profiler extraordinaire Tony Hill is not really the one who cracks the case. Sure, he's the one who writes the profile and puts the information together, but in the end of the day, it's Carol's ideas that really crack the case. And a lot of the detectives working on it contribute as well. Yay for collaboration!
I'm pleased, not just because this is an excellent book, but it was also realeased in 1993/4, when I was still a kid. Little things like that make me happy - the world has a place for awesome crime fiction after all!
...who has a hard time reviewing memoirs?
I mean, yeah, there are ways of reviewing non-fiction (essays, for example, are fairly straightforward as far as I'm concerned) but as far as memoirs go, I'm stumped. And yes, there is the bit where I'm trying to decide if the author is being self-aggrandizing and elevating their experiences above and beyond anything else, but what does it boil down to? Do I think a person's life experience is worth five stars or four? Or is it the way that it's been written?
Personally, I don't think I can write anything that Ceilidh's review on Bibliodaze hasn't said. It's a very powerful, very visceral work, linguistically dense and emotionally evocative. Strayed's journey, the lessons she learns retrospectively from it, are as relevant today as they were in 1995 - hanging your self-worth and identity on a single fixed thing is counter-productive, you need to trust yourself and adapt, you need to get on with things and stop thinking about them, etc, etc, etc. If anything else, it's comforting to see that the quarter-life crisis, as some news outlets contemptuously call it, isn't a new thing at all, and that self-doubt and insecurity are something that accompanies every young person's life.
In fact, if I may be allowed to digress: my generation (the Y's - Y Bother, Y Not, to quote from "Adorkable") is getting a lot of flak these days for being all lost and directionless and spoilt. We don't know how good we have it, apparently, that we don't live under the threat of a nuclear war or that we grew up in a stable economy that only now started to plummet (conveniently, when we're supposed to go out there and get jobs.) Recent graduates who haven't nailed a job at a big company's graduate scheme are regarded as lazy, and those looking for an alternative career are met with incredulousness and ridicule. UK politicians are happy to saddle university students with huge fees, getting us into even more debt, and not make enough jobs to meet the influx of highly qualified unemployed.
Basically... we ask why the Y's aren't more grateful, and yet the Y's are not the ones with the power to change things. They need help.
When Strayed set off to walk the Pacific West Trail, she was undergoing a lot more personal crisis - the death of her mother and the dissolution of her family - and yet her journey has a little something that everyone in my generation can relate to: the feeling of being uprooted, directionless, confused, and all too proud to seek help. In the wilderness, hiking in solitude for long stretches of time, she has no choice but to trust - trust herself that she would survive, trust others to help her, trust the universe, and almost always her trust is justified. While she encounters some dangers along the way, she finds that the world is more caring than she thought, and she is able, in turn, to make herself vulnerable and make real connections with others.
And that, really, is what it's all about.
I must admit, prior to a few months ago, I would not have appreciated this book like I did. Call it chance (or maybe I pick up books that appeal to whatever I'm studying at the moment) I had a few lectures on geo-politics, and economics of conflict and war, and so I was able to understand exactly what this book was about.
On the other hand, I was too young to remember the conflict in the former Yugoslavia - the only thing I can say for certain is that one day the map we had in my primary school was different and the teachers constantly corrected our usage of terms. The war never reached Bulgaria, not in a way I can remember, (and, as a tyke, my priorities were obviously skewed.)
What I can say is that Val McDermid writes one helluva compelling story, weaving history, geopolitics, and a decades-long vendetta in such a way, I plowed through this book in no time. (And considering it takes me weeks to finish reading anything these days, it's an improvement.) The characters are all interesting, their motivation as personal as it is political. For a politics student (or a history buff, or both) this is an absolute treat.
It's a third book of a series, but it can be read on its own (case in point: it's my first book by Val McDermid.) Be warned though - that ending! That ending!
It's like being donkey-kicked in the feels.
Remember, I was recovering from a stomach bug, too, so I was pretty much wiped out before I even crossed the start line. (Carb load? What carb load?)
There is one thing about me that everyone needs to understand - when I make a promise (or a commitment,) I take it seriously. As in, unless I am physically incapacitated, I will do my best to make it happen. In this case, I made a commitment to Off the Record, which is a local charity helping young people with mental health issues, and I wanted to keep that commitment. (Link to their introduction video, trigger warning for abuse and depression.)
So this is my plea to you: if you can, please donate. Even if it's a dollar, or a pound, every little bit helps. https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/katyabozukova1
Guys, I'm recovering from a stomach bug and I have a half marathon to run tomorrow. Pray for my soul.
New Lantern review, and because this is mental health awareness week, it's on a book that touches on mental health issues.
Also, it contains a link to my donations page. I'm running 13 miles next week for charity, guys, and it would be amazing if you can help me meet my goal.
And I reviewed it on Bibliodaze.