Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sunday Summary: My holiday - the places I went, the things I did, the books I bought

Yesterday I came home from a mini-holiday around the country on my own: first to London, to stay with my sister, then to Oxford, on to the Peak District, and back to my sister's before returning home. I was a little worried about holidaying alone, fearing that I might get lonely and depressed, and it did not get off to a promising start, as on my last day at work I had some bad news about my job that I was afraid would cast a gloom over my entire week off. (I still have a job, don't worry - but I am afraid I may wish otherwise before very long. Not looking forward to returning at all.) Although I had some melancholy moments, the worst being when I came back from a walk to find a message on my phone from my manager taking me right out of holiday-mode, for the most part I was able to get away from it all and forget about my life back on the Isle of Wight. I found it strangely liberating going where no one knew me, and I didn't have to carry the baggage of everyone else's expectations of me, but just be myself. It was very peaceful.


Last Sunday, my sister Jenny and I went to the British Library's exhibit on comic books. Despite having a limited number of tickets available for each time slot, it was quite busy, and I was a little frustrated a few times when people stopped in front of the displays I was trying to look at, and have a natter. But the museum was very interesting, providing a history of comic books as a medium, starting with the stories of Mr Punch, and exploring themes of diversity and representation, politics and sexuality as explored through the format of comic books and graphic novels. It certainly provided me with a long list of other books I'd like to read in the near future, as I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to the genre.

I headed off to the new Foyles store on Charing Cross Road (next door to the old shop, and even bigger and shinier than before.) Jenny, knowing what I am like in bookshops, left me at this point, and I spent a happy hour mooching around the fiction, fantasy and childrens' sections, among others. While browsing Fantasy, I overheard a customer asking the bookseller for Neverwhere, but there wasn't a copy on the shelves. But I had seen a nice yellow stack of the book on one of the tables and butted in, raving about the book and the radio adaptation. I felt a bit bad for doing the bookseller's job for him. I'm sure he'd have found it eventually but I did not want the customer to miss out on my favourite book. (Foyles ought to give me a job as I made some nice money for them that day.)

As for my own purchases, I finally bought Watchmen, which had only been for sale in hardback at the British Library, for £30. It's not that I don't think books are worth paying for, but £12.99 was much more of a Katie-friendly price. I also bought a science fiction novel called Terra, which I have had my eye on for a long time, and a new book called That's Not A Feeling about a teenager at a school/mental health facility, which could be either funny or depressing - probably both.

I did not buy any of the beautiful beautiful Anne Of Green Gables books in the children's section. I have three already: A massive hardback which I was given for my 8th birthday, the 100th Anniversary paperback, for reading when I'm out and about, and the standard Puffin edition, for when I don't want to damage either of my other editions, such as reading in the bath or camping or while having a barbecue. Any more, and I'll have to start actually collecting ALL OF THE ANNES, like a certain other blogger does with Pride and Prejudice. (I would like to replace my Windy Willows and Ingleside, as I've just got shabby TV-tie-in editions of those, but sadly Foyles did not have those in stock.)


I love Oxford. A city with centuries of academia, I feel as though my IQ goes up just from being there. The students have an air to them: the boys have a cockiness, a confidence in their own intelligence, but not in an arrogant sort of way - they were very polite, chivalrous. And the girls had an earnest, studious look, an old-fashioned, wholesome prettiness. When I passed Christ Church College, I saw two men (not sure whether they were students or staff) standing on the balcony of the old building, one in shirtsleeves and braces, propped up against the wall and looking exactly as if he belonged in Brideshead Revisited. But there was a marked contrast between "town and gown." There was a lot of poverty amidst the prosperity and ambition and the "dreaming spires."

At the Oxford University Press bookshop I found several volumes of the journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery - author of the aforementioned Anne of Green Gables. I had the option of buying the first two volumes of the "complete journals," at £25 per volume, but instead I went for the second volume of "selected journals," (the first was out of stock) which don't appear to have omitted much. It's a fascinating read for an Anne devotee, as interesting as some of her novels - and more so than others - and really helps to ground the beloved stories in place and time.

Peak District

I returned to the Peak District after Oxford, where I once more stayed at the Sheriff Lodge guesthouse in Matlock. I visited Bakewell, had a lovely morning browsing the shops, and came away from the Bakewell Bookshop with a collection of Haruki Murakami's short stories entitled The Elephant Vanishes. I thought that while I was in town I ought to visit Ellie's old shop, which has been sold to a charity, but I felt a certain reluctance to go in. It wouldn't be the same now. I dreaded going in to find what had been a wonderful sanctuary for book lovers, run by book lovers, might be no more than a charity bookshop, visibly the same but lacking its former heart. And of course Ellie wouldn't be there. (I had hoped to meet up with her while I was in the Peak District, but she happened to be on holiday abroad the same week I was in her part of the world.) As it so happened, that decision of whether or not to go into the shop was made for me, by the shop being closed that day.

One of the guesthouse owners had printed out directions for a walk along the river to Haddon Hall, and back, but somehow I managed to turn this into a walk through the woods and back along the road, occasionally crossing paths with the river before it wound away from the path again. I'm not quite sure how I got so hopelessly lost, but I ended up back where I started, which was the main thing.

I also visited Buxton, where I went "over hill and under hill," into Poole's Cavern and then wandering through Buxton Country Park. There were so many little hills (left over from limestone burning, I believe) which looked like they ought to have hobbit-holes carved out of them. I came to the conclusion that the Peak District is the real Middle-Earth, no matter what New Zealand might think.

Back in the town, I wandered through the arcade of little independent shops, where I found a vintagey, retroey shop with plenty of pretty polka-dot dresses. I have a gorgeous polka-dot dress which I am forced to conclude is too small for me to wear for any long stretch of time, and as there was a 10% off sale that day, I decided to try on some potential replacements. Of the three dresses I tried on - all size 12 from different brands - the first dress was too big, the second was too small, but, feeling like Goldilocks, I found that the third dress I tried on was just right. Naturally I bought it.

Travelling back through London on Friday was not a lot of fun. I was dragging a heavy suitcase on wheels, and carrying a bag of cakes, and trying very hard not to lose anything or run over anyone's toes. A bus journey I had expected to take ten or fifteen minutes took more like three quarters of an hour, and when we arrived at the station, we discovered that the trains were not running to my sister's little town on the outskirts of London, so we ended up taking the Underground to Wimbledon, and a taxi from there. All very fun, as you can imagine.

But all in all, it's been a good week, and I feel mostly rested and glad to be home, if not to be going back to work next week. It's weird having to remember how to interact with people, though. It's been really nice not having to wear the fake cheeriness. I would like to go away more often, maybe abroad. One of my colleagues thought that I was "really brave" for holidaying alone, but I found the only scary thing about it is the fear that people might think I have no friends. When I decided it doesn't matter what people think, and that they probably don't think that at all, I found it really peaceful and relaxing, a good chance to sort my head out away from the bustle of "real life."

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott Lynch

I fell in love with fantasy as a genre at sixteen, after watching the first film and then racing through the book of The Lord of the Rings. For several years after that, epic fantasy was pretty much all that I read -  David Eddings, Cecelia Dart-Thornton, Julia Gray and Robin Hobb standing out as my favourites (although I tried to reread my beloved Elenium a couple of years ago and had real difficulty with it. I fear I have become too critical a reader.) More recently, although the fantastical remains my literary comfort zone, I've preferred the skewed realities of Neil Gaiman and Erin Morgenstern, the magical realism of Cecelia Ahern, and just lately, hard science fiction. With the exception of George R. R. Martin, "Fantasyworld" has given way to our world viewed through a different lens. The Lies of Locke Lamora took me back to the Fantasyworld of my teenage days, and I read about Locke Lamora's city of Camorr with warm feelings of nostalgia.

If Locke Lamora takes place in the generic fantasyworld - which is not meant as a criticism - Camorr itself is a very specific country within that world. Camorr has a medieval Venetian feel to it, with its canals and gondolas, ruled by Dukes, but it is a city built upon the indestructible "Elderglass" remains of a pre-human civilisation. We don't spend that much time among the nobility, but among an underclass of thieves and cutthroats, characters who would not be out of place in a Dickensian novel. Locke Lamora and his band of reprobates use precious little magic, but they have talents of their own: they are masters of trickery and disguise, the most prosperous thieves in Camorr. The titular Locke Lamora was sold by one Fagin-esque criminal (for not knowing the limits of respectable thievery) to a confidence trickster who appears in the guise of a blind priest. And it suits him well. Locke and his cronies revel in disguises and seem to complicate their confidence tricks for themselves for the sheer fun of it, just to show off. Locke Lamora has used his wits to gain himself his position in Camorr's underworld, but the time comes when his wits are all he has left.

I found the pacing of Locke Lamora quite slow to begin with. The narrative alternates between past and present, and it feels like a large portion of the book is there to set the stage for the real story. It was enjoyable getting to know the characters and their histories, and I found that the chapters about Locke's childhood flew a lot quicker than the present scenes, which contained a lot of underworld politics. I'd watch Locke's exploits enjoying the gradual revelation of what his end game would turn out to be, but I found myself wondering when the real plot was going to get started.

But around halfway, the plot hooked me in, keeping me gripping the pages and shouting at the book as I wondered how is he going to get out of this one? What happens next? I came to enjoy spending time with the characters, and their light-hearted banter makes the sometimes heavy prose easier to read. But there are shocking twists, devastating revelations, and one particular betrayal was comparable to a certain wedding in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Top Ten Tuesdays (time warp edition): Books of 2014 so far

Tuesdays are funny things. By the time I notice a really good Top Ten Tuesday blog prompt, it's usually Wednesday, and by the time I get around to thinking of my own top ten lists, it's Thursday night, or Friday next week. Everyone else listed their top ten reads of 2014 so far two weeks ago, but better late than never, I suppose. (Plus, it is closer to the half-way point in the year now.)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies at The Broke and the Bookish.

1. The Martian - Andy Weir. The story of a man stranded on Mars, attempting to stay alive long enough to eventually make it back to Earth. This book is quite slow to start off with, but becomes an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride based in scientific plausibility, and the narrator has a goofy sense of humour that makes it impossible not to like him.

2. NOS4R2 - Joe Hill. The horror novel everyone was talking about around Christmas. The tale of a girl with a gift for finding lost things, and a villain whose lair is Christmasland. Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King, and has inherited his father's storytelling gene.

3. The Charioteer - Mary Renault. A gay soldier, wounded at Dunkirk, searches to find his place in the world and is caught between two friendships: one formed of romantic idealism, and the other of heroes and experience. Though painful at times, the book felt optimistic and ahead of its time (the 1950s).

4. Attachments - Rainbow Rowell. A love story with a difference - for the two people involved don't even interact with one another until late on in the book. It's a cosy, feel-good read.

5. Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore - Robin Sloane. A young man takes a job in a bookstore with a secret and finds himself embarking upon a quest that will unearth secret codes, medieval artefacts and the heart of Google. A bibliophile's dream.

6. The Explorer - James Smythe. My second choice involving an astronaut in isolation: a much darker, weirder story than The Martian, but every bit as gripping.

7. The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion. A university professor comes up with a project to find the perfect wife. Needless to say, not all goes to plan. A heartwarming and gently funny read.

8. The Shining - Stephen King. I don't usually include rereads on these lists, but it's been long enough since I read this for the first time, and this time around I think I appreciated it even more. This has been made into an iconic horror film, of course, but the novel is so much more than just another haunted house story. It's about family, and fate, isolation and inner demons: The Shining is a gothic masterpiece.

9. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield. The third book on this list about astronauts, this time a work of non-fiction from one of the heroes of 2013. Commander Hadfield reveals just what it takes to become an astronaut (and has made me far more critical of science fiction after reading this book.) An extraordinary man, whose experiences provide insight not just for wannabe astronauts but also for those of us whose feet will remain on the ground.

10. Pretty Girl Thirteen - Liz Coley. A girl returns home with no memories of what has happened over the past three years. A thoughtful, unsettling novel.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Mini-Review: Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloane

Clay Jannon takes a job as a night clerk at San Francisco's strangest bookshop. Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore sounds like a bibliophile's dream, quirky and tall, with shelves you need very tall ladders to reach. I imagined it rather like Belle's library in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and the descriptions of the store certainly come under the heading of bookshop porn! But there is another side to Mr Penumbra's: shelves of ancient, uncatalogued books written in code, borrowed but never bought by excitable patrons whose details must be logged for posterity in the bookstore's ledger. Clay's curiosity leads him on a quest of epic proportions and, together with his friends, employs a combination of lost medieval artefacts, Google's headquarters, and Clay's own favourite series of fantasy books to crack a centuries-old code. Mr Penumbra is a light-hearted but unusual page-turner, a celebration of ancient books and new media, friendship and curiosity.

Key Quotes:

The whole economy suddenly felt like a game of musical chairs, and I was convinced I needed to grab a seat, any seat, as fast as I could.
Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.
The books I love most are like open cities, with all sorts of ways to wander in. 
I'm really starting to think the whole world is just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.

Read it if you liked: The Night Circus by Erin Morgansten, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Shining - Stephen King

I first read Stephen King's The Shining at university, in my Gothic Fiction unit of my Literature degree. I came to the book with preconceptions, the famous bits of the Stanley Kubrick film. But although these scenes gave me a pretty good idea of where the story was going, none of the most memorable scenes of the film come from the book. I was familiar with Jack Nicholson's particular brand of crazy, and read the book just expecting it to build up to that moment. This time around, I took the book as it is, watching the struggle of Jack Torrance, who, if not exactly a good man, is a man trying to be good.

In case you're unfamiliar with the story, The Shining takes place at the Overlook Hotel, a popular Colorado tourist resort in the summer, but in the winter an undesirable place, cut off from the rest of the world. Jack Torrance takes a job as the winter caretaker, and moves in with his wife Wendy and five-year-old son, Danny, a bright young boy with a very unusual talent. Danny knows things that he shouldn't know, sees things that no one else can see, a gift that Mr Halloran, the Overlook's cook, refers to as "shining."

In a great gothic novel, the setting is a character in its own right, and the Overlook Hotel certainly is that, with its history of dark deeds and sinister deaths, and its isolation. It's one thing having characters separated from the outside world in centuries past, in ruined castles with dark, dank dungeons. But in America in the twentieth century, how isolated can the Torrance family really be? If you're the owner of a hotel in the Colorado mountains, and you're employing someone over the winter months, you'd make sure they can't get stranded there, right? The Torrances arrived at the Overlook by car, the hotel has a telephone, a radio and a snowmobile. But as the story goes on, Stephen King takes away these connections with the outside world, one by one, by a combination of natural and supernatural means.

The Overlook has a malevolent personality, and Danny's "shining" feeds it, make its powers stronger. The Shining contains several features of a conventional haunted-house story: the clanking elevator in the middle of the night, the topiary animals that move, the thing in room 217 - but its real terror is the way that it works with the Torrance family's own inner demons. And boy, does Jack Torrance have a lot of those! What marks Stephen King as a master storyteller rather than merely a horror writer, is the way that he makes us care for his characters before throwing terrible things at them to cope with. Jack Torrance is a troubled man: a recovering alcoholic with a deadly temper, clinging desperately to his pride. A former private school teacher, Jack lost his temper and his job, and what keeps him at the Overlook long after he and his family should have fled for their lives is his need to be provider and head of the family, his terror that this is his last chance and that if he messes this up he might never get another job. The Shining shows a family that has been under a lot of pressure, but is emerging from a dark period with a glimmer of hope - and then cruelly snatches that hope away in the story's terrifying finale. Jack's memories of his childhood and the darkness in his more recent past foreshadow the events in the book's finale, posing questions about addiction, inherited behaviour and fate. The real horror of The Shining is that it is unclear how much of what Jack becomes is natural, and how much is supernatural.

The Shining now has a sequel, Doctor Sleep, now available in paperback.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Fringe: Season One

Fringe was a TV programme that didn't appear on my radar until very recently. I completely missed it when it was first aired in 2008, and just recently on my voyages through the internet, many conversations with my fellow geeks seemed to end up referring back to this TV programme. I borrowed the first season from my sister's friend Bob, knowing only that Denethor and Pacey team up to investigate weird goings-on and do battle with J.J. Abrams' signature lens flare.

It took me a few episodes to decide whether I was going to enjoy Fringe or not. At first, it is very much a weird-phenomena-of-the-week show, sometimes gruesome, often intriguing, and usually involving very dubious science. I'm really not very scientifically-minded at all, and even I had issues with believing that one could actually discover the last thing a person saw before they died by, essentially, using their eye as a slide projector. I'm not sure one can really classify Fringe as science fiction, though it tries to at least imitate realism. Perhaps it tries too hard. I can accept Doctor Who with phrases such as "wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey," but in Fringe I caught myself saying "I don't think it works like that," several times. Once I'd got used to suspending my disbelief, I found it a "just one more episode" sort of show and blitzed through the entire season in about five days. Obviously it's doing something right.

The viewpoint character, is Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), an FBI agent assigned to the Fringe division, which investigates anything that can't easily be explained. I was surprised and pleased to find a female character in this role. She is the audience viewpoint character, and we see this weird underside to the world through her eyes. She is tough and efficient, with a death glare that could wither iron, holding her own among a male-dominated workplace, and when accused of getting too emotionally involved in her cases by a chauvinistic superior, she points out, yes she does care. That's what makes her so good.

Although Olivia is the protagonist, I think it is clear from early on that the central character is Walter Bishop a brilliant, if unorthodox, scientist who has spent the past seventeen years in a mental institution. Though not FBI, he and his estranged son Peter become the crucial members of Olivia's team, performing the experiments which provide the impossible answers to impossible mysteries. As the "mad scientist," bumbling about in his own world, Walter provides most of the show's humour, with his random fixations and outrageous ponderings, but also its heart. Every so often Walter snaps out of his befuddlement and acknowledge how broken he is, or how he has failed his son. I suspect that the next time I watch The Lord of the Rings, I will view Denethor a lot more sympathetically. John Noble plays both characters, who are mentally unstable and have fraught relationships with their sons.

Fringe Season 1 has two longer-term story arcs on top of the weirdness-of-the-week: one concerning the mystery surrounding Olivia's deceased partner (in both senses of the word) John - was he a traitor or not? - and one about a mysterious cult or possibly terrorist organisation called ZFT, who seem to be behind a lot of the paranormal phenomena. Collectively, all the events that can't be explained by conventional means are referred to as "The Pattern," which seems at first to be a misnomer as there doesn't appear to be much link between, say, someone turning into a kind of were-possum-porcupine on an aeroplane, and a wild boy who can predict when murders are going to be committed, or someone who dies of old age within half an hour of being born. But the investigations keep leading back to ZFT, and the pieces start coming together into the season's main plot, even if it takes a while to figure out what that plot is going to be. And it turns out that Walter's forgotten past lies at the heart of the mystery.

The same name keeps popping up throughout the series: Dr William Bell, Walter's old mad-science partner, who while Walter has been incarcerated, has lived a long and prosperous life,* at the head of a big corporation called Massive Dynamic, with whom Olivia comes into contact again and again. It is unclear whether Bell and Massive Dynamic are to be trusted; clearly they are up to something. And then it emerges that not only are Massive Dynamic and Walter Bishop deeply mixed up in "the Pattern," but so is Olivia - as just a small child, she was the subject of weird psychic experiments performed by Walter and Bell**, and now, 25-30 years later, she is affected by them, catching glimpses into alternative universes, and finally, in the last episode, being transported across the divide into one of these other worlds. Olivia finds herself in an office, and a figure appears, his face hidden in shadow in a slow reveal of who could only be the infamous Dr Bell - but the voice is distinctive, and then Leonard Nimoy steps into the light, and I actually fall off my chair in surprise. (Curiously, before deciding to watch Fringe, my other option of which boxset to watch next was Heroes, which I knew had a Spock actor playing the villain, in that case the pretender Quinto.*** Though I haven't yet figured out whether William Bell is actually the bad guy or a morally squiffy anti-hero type. Or another thing altogether) Olivia demands to know where she is, but Bell says that is a complicated question. The camera slowly pans out of the window, and I think it is impossible not to get the shivers as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are shown to be still standing tall in a time when Barack Obama is President of the United States. Thus ends season one, and I suspect that the weirdness has only just begun!

*sorry not sorry
** who I've only just realised share the same initials - symbolising two sides to the same character, perhaps?
*** I don't mean it, Zachary! You are largely to blame thank for me getting into this whole Star Trek malarky in the first place.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Sunday Summary: camping and catching up

What I've Been Up To:

It's been a quiet week or two on the blog again. I've started mentally writing several review posts, but they haven't made it out of note form or onto the computer yet. Look out for reviews of The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Shining and the first season of Fringe in the near future. (I still haven't written about Mr Penumbra or Star Trek: First Contact and those have been a long time coming!)

But this week has been less quiet than my internet activity. Last weekend I went camping with my best friend, still on the Isle of Wight, just to get into practice for our trip to the Lake District (recreating Swallows and Amazons, though without the boats, and without our own private island.) As it wasn't the height of the holiday seasons, we were allocated a pitch among the camper vans and family-sized tents. Our two-person tent looked pretty titchy by comparison!

The camping site was part of a bigger holiday resort, and the price included access to the two swimming pools, and also was very close to the beach, which makes a refreshing change from having to travel for an hour by bus to get anywhere. (I really need to learn to drive. The few miles to the beach do not have to be so time consuming.) I found that camping is a good way to get your body-clock sorted out. We'd be in bed not long after ten, as it's not much fun sitting in the dark or attempting to read by torchlight, and wake up to birdsong. Admittedly the birds were something of the crow family, and right by our tent, but still...

I also caught up with an old school friend this week, James, who now lives in Bath where he works as a chef. I haven't seen him for at least a year, but it was as if we hadn't been apart, and were very quickly geeking out about as many books and TV shows as we could manage to squeeze into the conversation. We went to see the new X-Men film, which I really enjoyed, and which had me at the very edge of my seat at some points. I did, however, have real trouble suspending disbelief in one matter: how are we expected to believe that Patrick Stewart ever looked any different from how he looks now? 

We also had a surprise visit from a long-lost cousin of my mum's. Cedric is the son of my Grandma's twin brother, and had come over from Canada to visit various relations, so we invited him over for Sunday lunch, before he went to visit his Aunt Grace, my Grandma. 

This coming Tuesday I'll be meeting one of my best friends from university in Southampton. No doubt we'll spend a good long time in at least one of the Waterstones branches there, and I also intend to pay a visit to Sprinkles, the amazing ice cream bar near the station. It has every flavour of gelato you can imagine, in enormous scoopfuls, as well as coffee, waffles and cakes. I can highly recommend the Nutella ice cream. Come to Southampton! Eat the ice cream! 

My books

After being distracted by a Moomins reread and Deborah Roderiguez's memoir The Kabul Beauty School, I decided to take Locke Lamora and only Locke Lamora with me to the campsite, determined to get stuck into it at last. Sure enough, it was around the halfway or two-thirds mark where I found myself drawn into the book, gasping and shouting aloud. I don't think Locke Lamora will ever make any of my favourites lists, but it was an enjoyable, twisty read, a good old-fashioned fantasy adventure set among the criminals and lowlifes of a grand culture with a curious resemblance to medieval Venice. 

Since then I've been re-reading The Shining. With the release of Doctor Sleep in paperback, I felt compelled to buy a replacement copy of the iconic original lost in the Great Post-Uni Purge of 2007. If possible, I'm enjoying it even more this time around, probably because I can take my time and don't have to read it by a certain deadline. I'd forgotten a lot of the details and am really growing to care for the characters and breaking my heart at the knowledge of what is to come. I'm still looking at it with my "Gothic Fiction" lenses on (it was one of my set texts for that course) mentally annotating how this fits into the Gothic canon, and what tools King uses to build up the suspense and horror. It feels like I'm reading it for the first time, and despite being a reread, it may well make my Top 10 books of 2014 list.

I paid a visit to the library this week, where I snatched up volume 7 of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Brief Lives. I've been gradually rereading this series, when I've been able to find the books in the library, because they seem to be very popular - if I see the next one, I have to take it, then and there. I also borrowed The Great Gatsby. I'll be honest, this is one of the Great American Classics that I have never particularly felt the need to read, but was persuaded because I didn't like not understanding a joke someone told at the Neil Gaiman signing last year. (What is Gatsby's favourite superhero?/The Green Lantern. And his least favourite?/Deadpool.) I read the joke again recently on the internet, and once more it bugged me. I don't like feeling ignorant when it comes to literature. I freely admit it's a silly reason to want to read a book, but never mind.

I also went back to the Ryde bookshop. This is an amazing shop: first there are two or three books of new books, then behind The Door are three floors of second-hand, rooms and rooms of books, shelves and stacks, nooks and crannies, boxes of old magazines - it is a book-lover's paradise. Last time I was there I found two of three Robin Hobb books that I had wanted for ages but with a particular cover. (The next day I found the other in a charity bookshop. All three books in two days, without looking, when I'd been searching since they changed the cover design years ago.) This week I decided to buy The Passage, by Justin Cronin. It's a bit of a brick, and I've been intrigued intimidated by that book since its first publication - my colleague Joan had recommended it - and this week I finally listened to its appeals to come home with me. 

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