Monday, November 29, 2010

Snail Speed Reading

Lately, I have become very slow at reading; it drags and drags before I finish a book. So, I started thinking about how my reading habits have changed.

In my school days, not so long ago, and well trough university I used to read really fast. I usually read a book in one sitting. But, then I used to have three or four hours time a day I could afford to do nothing else but read.

At present, however, due to a lot of commitments and other interests besides reading, I am not able to read for hours. Naturally, I could read just a couple of pages a day for a quarter or half an hour, but I hate to start and stop reading somewhere in the middle. I like to “fall” into the book. I dislike reading little by little. One or two sittings are what I prefer or three or four if a book is very thick, and on consecutive days. I am really bothered if I cannot read a meaningful unit of a book, which means at least a chapter. Therefore, if I do not have enough time to read 50 or 60 pages, or to finish a chapter, I feel reluctant to even start. So, sometimes I do not read a page for days and my reading is progressing very slowly these days.

What about you? Do you like to read all at once and as fast as you can, or just little bits day by day?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How Well Read Are You?

I saw this at This Miss Loves to Read and considered it very interesting.

"The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here."

Instructions:

•Copy this list.
•Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.
•Italicise the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.
•Tag other book nerds.
•Highlight the ones that you have but haven't read.

So, here is my list:

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The King James Bible
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) – George Orwell
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
Emma -Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Dune – Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (own, haven't read)
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Inferno – Dante
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Germinal – Emile Zola
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession – AS Byatt
Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Watership Down – Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

That’s 19 books read from the list, well enough, I think. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Extra Virgin by Annie Hawes

Extra VirginSUMMARY (by the publisher): A small stone house deep among the olive groves of Liguria, going for the price of a dodgy second-hand car. Annie Hawes and her sister, on the spot by chance, have no plans whatsoever to move to the Italian Riviera but find naturally that it's an offer they can't refuse. The laugh is on the Foreign Females who discover that here amongst the hardcore olive farming folk their incompetence is positively alarming. Not to worry: the thrifty villagers of Diano San Pietro are on the case, and soon plying the Pallid Sisters with advice, ridicule, tall tales and copious hillside refreshments...

MY OPINION:

What I liked about this book the most was that, even though Annie Hawes writes about her own experience, her writing is very objective. She does not give in to the temptation of many memoirs’ or travelogues’ writers to only describe themselves and their own culture as the norm and everything else as strange or ridiculous. In her writing about Ligurian life and customs, Hawes includes just the right amount of self-criticism, often accompanied by sarcasm, altogether functioning funny and refreshing.

Thus, Extra Virgin is not just an entertaining book about Hawes’s experience, but also a documentary about a clash of two very different cultures and a proof that differences can complement and enrich people. At first, Hawes and her sister find Ligurians strange and visa versa, and both sides have difficulties understanding one another. Yet, through many funny social mistakes and misunderstandings they get to know each other, and each new resolved mystery about the others’ crazy behaviour brings them closer. 

Generally, Hawes’s writing is a testimony about coexistence of two cultures, both benefitting from it. Two modern English girls learn a lot about farming and get plentiful skills in self-sufficiency and survival, meanwhile they are the first signs of modernization which improves the farmers’ lives, but does not enslave them. 

Overall, Hawes joins modern and traditional, urban and rural, fast and slow rhythm of life into a living the readers can grow fond of and maybe even wish to experience by themselves. I know I do.

RECOMMENDATION: Would you like a short recess in the warm Italian sun? Reading Extra Virgin is the closest thing to it. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

SuitefrançaiseIrèneNémirovsky2004.jpgSUMMARY: Suite Française actually consists of two novels. The first novel, Storm in June, describes the intertwined lives of a diverse group of Parisians, from a snobbish author, a banker and a priest to orphans, an aesthete and a loving lower-class couple, in a chaotic exodus from the comfort of the city to the safety of the countryside, only hours ahead of the advancing Germans. The second novel, Dolce, focuses on the life in a farming village under German occupation in 1941, describing peasant farmers, their pretty daughters and small town collaborationists and their coexistence with the Nazis.

A NOTE: Before my review of Suite Française I must make a note on its background and its author. After all, I mostly read this book because of this. Irène Némirovsky was a French writer of Ukrainian Jewish origin who converted to Catholicism. She planned Suite Française as a series of five novels, which she began writing in 1940. She was arrested by the Nazis in the summer of 1942 and transported to Auschwitz, where she was killed in a gas chamber. Five decades later, her daughter discovered the manuscript which she had up to then been mistaking for her mother’s diary too painful too read, and published it titled Suite Française together with Némirovsky’s outline for the series and the correspondence between Némirovsky, her husband, her publisher and other people immediately before and after her arrest. 

MY OPINION:

Suite Française took me a lot of time to read, mostly because of the great number of characters Némirovsky tackles. Rather than focusing on military or political aspects of war, Némirovsky focuses on social matters, most of all on personal experience of the war. She describes in detail the turmoil of fleeing from the Nazis, from logistic confusion on the roads to emotional chaos within people. The fear and haste are presented as well as hesitation and indifference, different people react differently: some are very organised and rational, others irrationally cling to objects which are precious to them or mourn the homes they left behind. Some people are constantly accompanied by worries for their absent beloved or are helping their companions in need, others are selfishly looking only after themselves and complaining over the circumstances.

On top of everything Némirovsky adds precise portrayals of the setting in French landscape outside Paris. The descriptions of the countryside are noticeable in the second part, Dolce, where the chaos recedes under the orderly occupation. Again, Némirovsky concentrates on relationships between people, their living conditions, their work, food, their personal predicaments, losses and victories. These presentations are completed by careful depictions of the surrounding environment: a village, fields and forests.

The novels are loosely connected at first, but later in Dolce the continuation becomes evident by the re-introduction of some of the characters from the Storm in June. However, at the end the feeling of incompletion returns, naturally, since it was supposed to be continued by another three novels. Instead, the publisher included Némirovsky’s outline for the rest of the series, which partially satisfies the thirst for the information about what happens next, but also leaves the reader feeling sorry that Némirovsky was unable to finish what she had planned. I think it would make all together a great work if I judge by the opening masterpiece.

Finally, the reader can witness the uncertainty and growing sadness reading the included correspondence. At first, the letters are hopeful; their writers believing in justice and that everything will work out. Then, we see the slowly growing fear and desperation and, eventually, the heartbreaking acceptance of an inevitable tragic end for Némirovsky.

Therefore, Suite Française can be divided in two parts: the fictional first part with Némirovsky’s novels and the non-fictional second part with all the documentary material. Both together make a great book testifying about one of the darkest eras in history. The value of the book is great also because it was started simultaneously with the unravelling of the Second World War without the possibility of its author knowing its outcome. Yet, I think Némirovsky was prophetic with the outlined titles for the rest of the series: Captivity, Battle, Peace.

RECOMMENDATION: Suite Française is an invaluable book both for the complex and well developed Némirovsky’s novels and its historic documentation. It is not an easy reading but I would recommend it to anyone who would like to read about a personal experience of the Second World War. 

Book Blogger Hop, November 12 – 15, 2010 and Challenge Results

Book Blogger Hop
Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books. It is a great way of discovering new blogs and meeting fellow book bloggers, talking about books and authors and sharing our love for literature.

Last week Jennifer proposed a challenge for the hoppers. We had to find one new blog we really wanted to follow, try to get to know the blog and its writer and contribute five comments to five different posts.

I failed at the challenge completely, shame on me. I have very little time to spend blogging and reading other blogs (far less time I would like to have) and, in addition I had such a bad cold last weekend I hardly managed to turn on my computer. Still, it sounds like a bad excuse. So, I only visited a few blogs by the hop, but I did not find anything that would hook me to “actually” follow, which was the real purpose of the challenge, anyway. I posted 3 comments to two of the blogs I already follow, but that’s all. However, even if the challenge was a disaster for me, I stuck to the principle to follow a blog for real or not at all.

This week’s question is “If you find a book that looks interesting but is part of a series, do you always start with the first title?”

MY ANSWER:

Sometimes I just miss the fact that the book is a part of a series and I start with the book I came across even if it is not the first in the series. I did that this September, when I was hooked on a book, having no idea that it is a part of a series. I was well into the book before I find out it is a sequel, but I read it through. Now, I am waiting to get the first book from the library and then I will review both. 

Monday, November 08, 2010

Dark Angel by Mary Balogh

Dark Angel by Mary BaloghSUMMARY (by the publisher): Jennifer Winwood arrives in London with her cousin, Samantha Newman, for their come-out Season. Jennifer is particularly excited because finally the marriage that has been arranged between her and Lionel, Viscount Kersey, will become a reality. It seems to her that she has loved him forever, and she assumes that he loves her. Gabriel, Earl of Thornhill, has just returned to England after a long stay in Europe, where he fled after a scandalous elopement with his father's pregnant wife. He is not in high favour with the ton, but when he sees that Lionel is also back in town, he is willing to risk further trouble for himself by causing harm to his old enemy in any way that presents itself...and Lionel has a new fiancée.

MY OPINION:

Dark Angel is a fairly short typical chick lit book. It is a light reading, but well written for this genre. Of course, a reader gets exactly what one should get from such a book: a predictable plot and, with one exception, plain characters.

The title of the book cleverly refers to both of the main male protagonists. We have the angelic, handsome, blonde, blue-eyed Viscount Kersey, who is a paragon of gentlemanly decency. On the opposite side there is the notorious, devilish enfant terrible of the ton, dark and badly behaved Earl of Thornhill. The good guy and the villain, but which is which? SPOILER: Naturally, the angel turns out to be the villain and the villain proves to be the good guy, which the reader learns right at the beginning. END OF SPOILER.

The main female protagonist is, logically, unaware of the fact that the things are not what they seem to be. She is a typical naïve, innocent, young countryside girl. She is also beautiful and smart, but her innocence and naivety prevent her to see the truth before it is almost too late. Due to her being inexperienced she, does not recognise love when she feels it. On the contrary, she forces herself to stay faithful to her immature girlish admiration of Kersey, the feeling she mistakenly confuses with love.

I really liked the portrayal of Earl of Thornhill, because his character is actually a complex one. He has a bad reputation, which is at first completely undeserved, but he almost earns it by his later actions, although unintentionally. Moreover, he is a vindictive personage, who intends to exploit Jennifer in order to carry out his vengeful agenda. Yet, in the course of putting his plan into action, he changes from a man who does not believe in love into someone who would do everything to protect the woman he loves. His character is typical of the genre, yet surprisingly well developed.

Another good side of Dark Angel is the portrayal of the ton. The author realistically describes the social norms and standards of acceptable behaviour of the time, as well as she manages to express a distinctive criticism of its hypocrisy, gloating joy, and double standards of morality between the lines.

RECOMMENDATION: This is a book for taking a recess and is the right one for someone who does not want to read something too corny. 

Friday, November 05, 2010

Book Blogger Hop, November 5 – 8, 2010

Book Blogger Hop
Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books. It is a great way of discovering new blogs and meeting fellow book bloggers, talking about books and authors and sharing our love for literature.

This week’s question is “What are your feelings on losing followers? Have you ever stopped following a blog?”

MY ANSWER:

I started book blogging in August and just began getting followers when I had major problems with the Internet connection and my computer, so I was forced to stop blogging for a couple of months. I resumed blogging last week and discovered I had lost a follower and I was a little sad. I have also just started discovering new book blogs, so I do not follow that many blogs to stop following any of them.

Otherwise, I agree with Jennifer, I also believe it is important to follow you actually want ot follow in-dept, not just for the sake of a number, and the same goes for the followers of my blog. Even if I felt sad about losing a follower I cannot and do not expect people to follow me if they do not like my blog. I do not want follower just to make the number. Neither do I try hard to please the followers. I just write what I think, especially since I started blogging to practice writing in English. This way at lest I will know who likes my writing because of my way of thinking not some pretence.


I also have very little time for blogging, so I will try to participate in the challenge, but probably with one of the blogs I already follow. 

Thursday, November 04, 2010

La Cucina by Lily Prior

book cover of 

La Cucina 

A Novel of Rapture 

by

Lily PriorSUMMARY (by Fantastic fiction): La Cucina combines the sensuous pleasures of love and food, simmering in the heat of a Sicilian kitchen. Rosa Fiore is a solitary woman who has resigned herself to a loveless life, and expresses her passionate nature through her delicious cooking. Then, one day, she meets an enigmatic chef, known only as l'Inglese, whose research on the heritage of Sicilian cuisine leads him into Rosa's library and into her heart. They share one sublime summer of discovery, during which l'Inglese awakens the power of Rosa's sexuality, and together they reach new heights of culinary passion. When he vanishes unexpectedly, Rosa returns to her family's estate to grieve for her lost love only to find a new fulfilment, as well as many surprises, in the magic of her beloved cucina.

MY OPINION:

I rushed through this book as if I was running through the hail storm looking for safety. What a relief when it was over! This is one book I really did not like.

The promising title and summary are, as far as I am concerned, not justified by this book. I was bored reading it from the beginning to the end. The writer wants to tell a simple woman’s life and love story, but fails to create suspense. In an attempt to make the story more interesting, Prior introduces some elements of grotesque which eventually turn out just disgusting. I usually do not mind grotesque or disgusting, but in La Cucina it just comes out inappropriate and (still!) boring.

La cucina (the kitchen) is hardly worth mentioning. Prior does not succeed to present the Sicilian cuisine in an appealing way. In addition, in Prior’s book the kitchen as a place represents an unhealthy substitute for love. When Rosa is sad, lonely or scared, she finds escape in her kitchen, cooking and eating. It reminded me of modern anorexic and bulimic girls all the time.

Yet, there is one good thing about this book:  the style. Prior writes in a way a middle-aged, simple, rural, Italian woman would be telling the story by herself. Through the language I could imagine Rosa, her thinking and her feelings. That was the only reason I kept reading the book through the end.

RECOMMENDATION: Maybe it is just me who does not like this book, so if you generally are an easy cuisine-and-romance type of a reader, you might give it a try.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Books in Numbers

It is time for me to start paying up my debts. A while before my moving and my total blackout from blogging I promised in I Can't Believe How Many Books I Have to count my books and calculate an approximate number of books I read so far. Here it is. I counted only fiction books.

Today I owe exactly: 101 books counting only fiction.
Books given away during moving (because of lack of space for them: one third, so approximately 33
Books I used to own but gave them away in the past: also approximately 30

That makes 164 books I used to own or still own. If that is about five per cent of all the books I read then I read somewhere about 3,000 books. Ok, I will be modest and say 2,500. Not bad for two decades of reading. I believe it is an honest number since I used to devour books in large quantities when I was younger. What about you? Can you say how many books you have read?

Monday, November 01, 2010

I'm Back!

Finally. And of course I owe a huge apology to my followers for not posting anything for such a long time. I am very grateful you have not stopped following my blog. I am really sorry for not being able to keep up with posting, but I have good reasons.

Namely, I moved from one place to another and had to re-establish my ISP service, and it took more than a month. When I finally got access to the Internet again, my computer chrashed down and I lost all the data including some pre-prepared posts. Just my bad luck. It took ages to get a working computer again.

But the worse thing was that I had so much work to do with the formalities that I had time to neither read nor write. I really hated it all. Nevertheless, things are starting to return back to normal, so I hope I will be able to keep my blog up to date from now on.

Again, sorry for the blackout and thanks for remaining my loyal followers.
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