Top 10 Books Read in 2014

Since I currently have two big essays to do for school over this holiday, I’ve decided to be lazy and follow *side gaze* ~the crowd~ by doing a Top 10 list of the books I have read (note: NOT books that are published) in 2014. Enjoy.

10. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury

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This book, about a dystopian future in which reading books/essentially thinking for yourself, is banned, and if you are caught with a book then firemen will proceed to come and burn it, was weird. Everything lost control so quickly and before you knew it the protagonist (if there even really is one) is (spoiler) living on the outskirts of a society he once worked for. I really enjoyed it — it’s a quick read and, ironically, it makes you think.

9. ‘Everyday Sexism’ by Laura Bates

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Filled with informative statistics and facts about the state of our society re: sexism, ‘Everyday Sexism’ will leave you sad, scared, angry, infuriated, and hopeful. It is a must read for everyone, especially people who say “But feminism isn’t needed today!!” or people who still start sentences with “I’m not being sexist, but…”

8. ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman

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The perfect mix of reality and fantasy. Neil <3.

7. ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahniuk

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I am one of the uncultured few who has not seen the film of the same name by David Fincher, so when I began reading this book I did not know what to expect. Basically, it’s weird, minimalist in style, and awesome. I didn’t see the twist at the end, and Tyler Durden’s speech made me question what I was doing with my life (eating Jaffa Cakes, watching re-runs of Keeping Up with the Kardashians).

6. ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ by Kurt Vonnegut

so-it-goes-1920x1200Jesus, how many Middle-Aged White Men did I read this year? Slaughterhouse Five was hard for me to read at first — I didn’t really enjoy the first couple of pages, but once I’d gone through them and really got into the story, I fell in love. More or less.

5. ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

o-GREAT-GATSBY-facebookAnother white guy for the list. When I finished ‘The Great Gatsby’ for the first time, I hated it. All I could think was ‘what was the point of all that? How am I supposed to care about these characters and feel empathy for them when they were rich, white and in the heart of the place to make money in a time when The Great Depression was still looming and had its negative effects on millions?’ But, this was probably because I am a Moody Teen who had to read this in the summer for school, and after analysing it with my wonderful teacher, I realised the ~depth~ and ~emotional artistry~ behind it. You’re an okay guy, Fitzgerald.

4. ‘No Matter the Wreckage’ by Sarah Kay

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This collection of probably my favourite poet’s poems is beautiful and heart warming and everything you need when you are happy, sad, melancholic, angry, confused, or alone. You can watch loads of her readings of some of the poems in the book on YouTube, but having the actual physical copy makes the experience so much better because you feel like the poems are written for you and are 100% completely huggable.

3. ‘The Complete Maus’ by Art Spiegelman

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This graphic novel manages to talk about the war and the varying facets of people who were in the war, the camps and the people at home to great degree. Instead of being another sentimental capitalisation of one of history’s brutal times, Spiegelman deals with his story that he is telling with grace and mastery, showing us his doubts at publishing it himself. Thank goodness he did.

2. ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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If it wasn’t for the epilogue, particularly the last page, this would have been number 1 on all of my lists. I need to read more Dostoevsky.

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I read this book about three months ago now, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. There’s so much to say about it, and I’d need to re-read the book to understand be able to form a coherent and critical/intelligent response, but this is one of those books that I think will stay with me for life.

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Some ramblings on King Lear (Shakespeare) and Oedipus (Sophocles)

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For school it is a part of the almighty God-ruling, grade-deciciding AO scheme to compare Oedipus and King Lear — both as two separate, complex characters in their own right, and as two different plays from very different times.

It is often the latter that provides more marks (mainly due to the fact it allows for more hits into the AOs), so for the sake of my sanity (and revision for my exam on Tuesday) I’m going to go with the former for this comparison.

Since I’m better at analysing images than I am at the Shakespearean language, let’s start with the cover. My cover of King Lear (the Heinemann Advanced edition) sort of shows the three main prevailing themes of the play through three simple pictures.

Said edition.
Said edition.

The main image that catches your (or at least my) eye is the lightning bolt going through Lear’s crown. If you’ve read the play, then you’ll of course see the significance of this (and if you haven’t, go and fucking read it because it is such a wonderful play, but having to read it and analyse it to death for school sucks the life out of the enjoyment so read. it. before. it’s. too. late), the significance being the fact that it represents Lear’s sanity and mind, like the weather, is often unpredictable and uncontrollable, like a force of nature, and also foreshadows the onslaught of pathetic fallacy from Shakespeare. This insanity therefore leads to his inevitable downfall as king, but re-birth as a human being. Next is the image of the hanging man. What struck me about this image was that you do not know if this person has been hanged as a punishment, or if he has decided to hang himself. This can be interpreted in many ways, but for me, in the context of the play, it emphasises the theme of justice vs. injustice Shakespeare presents, as well as the idea that audiences need to be constantly questioning these characters and their motives: is it really Goneril and Regan who bring Lear to his downfall, or is it his own mind? Yes, Cordelia was murdered, but she very well knew the risk she was taking to come back to Lear – so really she went on a journey to inevitable death to help her father. These are characters who have a death wish, wether they are aware of it or not.

Similarly, these themes and ideologies follow through into Oedipus: Oedipus’ lack of desire to listen to anyone else but his own mind suggests his ignorance, stagnant mind-set, and arrogance; his hubris is his, to quote Aristotle, hamartia.

And, yes, while Oedipus is probably more mentally stable than Lear (this isn’t a competition guys!!), they are both just as bad at being a king as the other — Lear’s too unsure, whilst Oedipus is too sure. It seems tragedies are used to explore the idea of what would happen if a character/human being only had one facet, which is interesting as Kings and Queens are definitely seen as figures that almost always have one character-defining trait: resistance.

Kind Lear’s first words are not from Lear himself, but the trustworthy (completely love-able) Kent: ‘I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall’ – this opening line immediately shows the internal conflict in the family, Lear’s mind and the matters of inheritance and property law, whilst Oedipus’ ‘My children, fruit of Cadmus’ ancient tree’ connotes his role as a father figure to his kingdom, along with his confidence and authority. Yet, these characters end up going on a similar journey, resulting in the same ending.

Both of their last lines summarise the journey they have been on: Oedipus cries ‘Ah no! Take not away my daughters!’ and Lear asks ‘Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all?’ Life cannot be lived without death.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Oh boy. Where to start?

It’s fitting I’m writing this review on Halloween as the true horror of today is just the amount of people that seem to be obsessed with this novel and it’s film (although I get it slightly with the film as it’s by David Fincher).

The problem with this book, for me, wasn’t the plot or the narrative — I actually found them quite enjoyable, albeit somewhat predictable (c’mon, it wasn’t THAT hard to figure out at least half of what would happen by, like, the first couple of chapters/diary entries/whatever they should be referred to). The problem I have with ‘Gone Girl’ is the writing and the characters.

Personally, I couldn’t distinguish much difference between the prose used for Nick’s narration and the prose used in Amy’s diary entries and the real-life Amy; both just felt kind of sloppy and overly cynical. For the first part of the novel I just wanted to shake Nick and tell him to stop sulking around, get over himself and actually try writing online. Like, it’s not that bad, is it? (IS IT?). I never found Amy likeable; I rather favoured with that girl’s opinion in the weird cabin thing when she basically said Amy seemed like a “spoilt,” rich and privileged girl — which she is. She and Nick are completely unreliable and un-likeable narrators, and I get that this is Flynn’s intention, but it didn’t work for me. Rather than feeling pure hatred and detest towards Amy for what she did to Nick and Desi, or to Nick for FUCKING STAYING WITH HER(?!), I just felt a spark of annoyance, and then awareness at the manipulation the author was doing, and once I felt this feeling it stayed with me for the rest of the novel. Instead of focusing on the narrative, which – don’t get me wrong – is intriguing and original, I was focused on the fact the author was manipulating me. I couldn’t get drawn in because my brain was too busy analysing what and who the author wanted me to hate.

The biggest disappointment for me, though, were the characters, particularly the women in the novel. First of all, I felt as if none of the characters could stand on their own; they all seemed like cardboard cutouts. If Amy were to have died, what would Nick do? What would he have left? His whole world revolves around Amy, and the same with her. Of course the only way for the plot to progress was for Amy to run to a man, of course Amy couldn’t actually function or think properly without a man, specifically Nick, with her. I’ll practise the same test on Amy: if Nick had died, what would Amy have left? What would her world be? It just doesn’t work.

The other female characters in the novel weren’t represented well either. Perhaps this is due to the lens we’re forced to view them through, but once again, this didn’t work for me. The police woman, and almost all side characters, didn’t have a life outside of their role to play to the plot (this also goes for Andie and the TV hosts etc. etc.). Nick’s sister, Margot, is the closest representation to a good female representation I can think of in the novel, yet this representation is still flawed – she is often referred to in a way that suggests she’s like ‘one of the guys,’ as if masculinity = likeableness.

I’ve read a lot of reviews criticising Flynn for writing a dislikable female character, but this is where I disagree. I commend Flynn on writing a dislikable lead female, because if women are ever going to be represented as good as men in mainstream media, then we can’t just have likeable characters, we need the whole spectrum – just like men have.

I wish I could have liked this novel, because everyone who does is very passionate and protective of it, but it just didn’t work for me. The characters were too one dimensional, the writing didn’t engage me, and, while the narrative is good, it just didn’t cut it.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Picture of Donna Tartt via Huffington Post.
Picture of Donna Tartt via Huffington Post.

Most of the people who I know (from goodreads, of course) who have read this novel and have been disappointed with it say it’s because it was a mystery, and they didn’t like the way the author wrote about mystery, or they were expecting something else since it’s been held in the ~modern classic~ light.

I would like to address this by saying:
1) Mystery novels are just as worthy as the modern classic title as any other genre/non-genred novel. The genre/demographic of the book does not actually matter, what matters is the writing, how people connect and the story that is being told.
2) Donna Tartt’s writing style is one of the best I have ever read (I know this may not seem like a high accolade considering the amount of books I’ve read in comparison to someone who works at The NewYorker, but whatever).
3) Technically, this book *isn’t* a mystery.

The author gives away what a typical mystery novel would hold onto for the whole novel, at the beginning of the novel — before we even get to know any of the characters.

The very fact she keeps you engaged for the first 300-400 pages of this book shows what a skilful writer she is, as most writers would not be able to keep an audience engaged waiting for a murder to happen while knowing who it’s going to be, along with the aftermath of finding out who did it.

The book is set in three parts: ‘Book One,’ ‘Book Two,’ and ‘Epilogue.’ I found ‘Book One’ to be the most enjoyable out of all of them, as I really loved being introduced to this new, weird world of College, being in the mind of Richard Papen, and watching his mental state (kind of?) decline as the novel progresses. It was also really interesting to experience both sides of being outside of the Greek/Classic/Literary snob group and being inside at the same time, as it suggests perspectives and the role this plays in relationships, something which continued throughout the novel with Richard going back to that Californian girl (forgot her name) and her friends, getting some more realistic opinions and reminding readers that these characters are really weird and odd and unordinary and it just makes it more wonderful.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to know someone like Henry and Bunny, but, c’mon these characters are so rich and multi-faceted and holding so much depth it’s ridiculous to deny you don’t love them sheerly for this fact. This also reminds me that loads of people are calling these characters ‘pretentious,’ but I personally don’t think they are.

I’ve been stalking Matt Zoller Seitz’s Twitter recently, and he’s been having discussions about filmmakers constantly being called pretentious purely for the fact they care about their work. He also talked about how the person saying this stems from the fact they don’t understand and can’t grasp the concept of what the director is doing. I think the same thing can be applied to the characters in this novel, as they are hard characters to understand and their motives are quite ambiguous, but it’s so obvious Donna Tartt is doing this all on purpose because she is working her readers to understand the novel. This isn’t a book that’s just meant to be ‘read.’ It’s supposed to be thought about and discussed and re-read.

The only criticism I have of this novel is that I found chapters 7 and the beginning of 8 a bit boring, but in the grand scheme of things they were necessary for the novel and added to the characters’ richness.

There a million other things I could say about this novel, but I would just go on and on and on and on, so I’ll leave you with two things:

1) Thank you, Donna Tartt, for writing this book.
2) Read. This. Book.