Thursday, September 30, 2010

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

Does anyone else gets pissy when they read lines like his one of Lady Chiltern's?

"A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. Our liives revolve around the curve of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life progresses."
Seriously, I realise that this was normal at the time An Ideal Husband was written, but I'm unable to rise above my modern views! I also realise that it might be Wilde making fun of society, which his comedies were for... But it still really pisses me off! Anyone with me?

Other than that, I really like Oscar Wilde's societal comedies. This is my second one, after The Importance of Being Earnest, and I enjoyed it just as much. I love the way he uses language to draw his characters. Which in a play is doubly important, but when someone does it this well I am still amazed.

Very enjoyable, quick read. And if you know anything about Victorian London and want to see someone make fun of it, this play will put a smile on your face!

By the way, did you know that Oscar Wilde was Irish? I always thought that he was English, that's what I remember from school, but I was corrected on this very, very quickly.

I read this on a free book application on my iPhone, to see if I mind reading electronically before I invest in a Kindle... I prefer regular books, but it's certainly nice to have access to all kinds of reading material wherever you go. I think the Kindle is a definite yes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Recipe: Quick Courgette Lasagne

That post title is going to look weird among all the book titles! But what the hell, I've been talking and thinking and talking some more about using this blog for more than just books for a while and it's time to do something about it. The main reason for my wanting to shift the focus a bit is that I'm not reading enough to post as regularly as I'd like. Since Shane was born I have other things that I'd like to share with you. Some even overlap with stuff I've read on other book blogs - watch out for my upcoming rant about gender-biased toys. ;-)

I've been feeding Shane ready-made food up until now, but he's ready to try some of the food we're eating. I've been leafing through Annabel Karmel recipes for weeks now and couldn't decide on how to start etc so I just went to the supermarket and bought a bunch of vegetables and small pasta shapes. I still didn't know how to start but now I had these giant courgettes in the fridge and they had to be saved. So I made Shane some sort of courgette pasta and found this recipe for Quick Courgette Lasagne for us.

It was easy to make and perfectly yummy, definitely to be made again. Let me know if you try it!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Room by Emma Donaghue

Room is one of those rare books that I went out and bought in hard copy. That's really rare, I normally don't see the point of spending that much money and I don't like hardbacks anyway. But the story of Jack and his Ma, living in Room for years and then trying to get used to the Outside was something I had to have right away. I'm sure that the many rave reviews around the blogosphere helped too.

I took Audrey Niffenegger's advice, printed on the front cover, and started reading Room when I had time enough to read it in one sitting. Thankfully, because it was impossible to put down. The story became so real to me that I couldn't leave it for any amount of time.

It's a brilliant premise. Jack was born in Room so he doesn't know that anything else exists. On his fifth birthday, his Ma decides to tell him that there is a whole Outside and that he's old enough to help them get there. The book isn't about the escape though, it's about how Jack views his world, both in Room and then after. It's understandable that when he's confronted with everything that our world contains all he wants is to go to sleep in the same bed he's slept in since he was born. Chilling.

People have said that reading Room changes the way you look at things around you and that it stays with you for days. That's exactly it. I didn't much care for Jack's comments about how we rush around in life and don't find time to appreciate the little things, they may have been slightly contirved, but it did strike me that there are thousands of little things around me that I don't notice anymore. I still don't have time to stop and appreciate them properly, but I think I'm more aware of the world around me. And I am grateful for all the things that make my life what it is.

I really hope that this book wins the Booker Prize. I haven't read the others shortlisted, but that's because none of them really grabbed me. Which one(s) did you like?

Challenges: 2010 Countdown, R.I.P. Challenge

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What's In a Name 3 Challenge completed!

Challenges are wonderful things. You read a list of usually unrelated books and at the end of it you feel SUCH a feeling of accomplishment. If I'd read these same books but not participated in this challenge, I would not feel anywhere near this proud. I guess it just means I should join as many challenges as possible right? :-)

Anyway - What's In a Name is one of my favorites because the categories are such random fun. Many thanks to Beth for running it!

Here's what I read:

A book with a food in the title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

A book with a body of water in the title: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

A book with a title (queen, president) in the title: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

A book with a plant in the title: The Ivy Chronicles by Karen Quinn

A book with a place name in the title: Gods in Alabama by Joshlyn Jackson

A book with a music term in the title: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

I loved most of them. I loved Flavia of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie most, I think, I can't think of more lovable 11-year-old protagonist. I loved Percy Jackson - how could I not, he's the son of a Greek god after all! I loved The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen's magical storytelling is right up my alley. I loved The Piano Teacher for showing me a different side of World War II, a side I never really thought about.

I didn't love The Ivy Chronicles or Gods in Alabama, but I sure liked them a whole lot. This must mean that the What's in a Name challenge was a huge success for me - yay!

The challenge officially runs until the end of the year - that's too bad, I would have liked to already start making lists to fit some new great categories! :-)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

It took me a while to finish Bad Science, because I got stuck on the homeopathy bit. I've always been into homeopathy and took some time to kind of shift my way of thinking about it. I was able to come to terms with the science of it without disregarding it completely and I'm happy with the compromise. I'm also happy that I was able to get past these chapters, because the rest of the book was simply mind-blowing.

In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre deals with the way that the media and other authority figures use scientific facts, research and statistics in incorrect ways. Sometimes on purpose. This includes loads of subjects, including one that hit close to home, nutrition. I was one of the people who bought into the whole nutritionist thing, hoping to find easy weight-loss solutions. I considered myself knowledgeable, but I hadn't actually looked into the science behind some of the claims. This is a good many years in my past and since then I have myself learned to apply a lot more common sense to my life, but the science part of it was still a real treat. If you've read the book, I particularly enjoyed the chapter on anti-oxidants - what a fascinating eye-opener!

There was a lot that was disturbing in Bad Science. It really is disturbing to see how people will lie to achieve their own ends, even if their lies hurt thousands of people. I was shocked by many of the examples given by Goldacre... it's sad that this is the world we live in. It's sad that these sources that we all depend on and believe are the ones that are multiplying the lies. Where can you get trustworthy information from then?

It amazed me to see that even the most obvious nut jobs have huge followings. What does that say about our society? Do we question nothing? Do we really believe so blindly? Is that how desperately we need to belong to a movement, a group, an ideology?

I love ben Goldacre for trusting me with the bare facts. I'm not too stupid to understand the science behind the stories. Why is the science dumbed down for us?

I am recommending this to everyone. It's a book that I hope everyone will read as it has information we should all have. They don't teach this stuff in school but it's crucial to our everyday choices. Plus Goldacre's style is great and you'll get a few laughs out of the experience too!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Historical novels - reading by age/century

A quick post to share an idea with you. I went to a charity booksale today and picked up a couple Georgette Heyer novels, my first ones. I got to thinking though that I know nothing about the time period she writes about and that I'd like to put everything together and in historical context. Then I thought that it would be fun to focus on a century and read about and from it for a while. And then I found this amazing site, which groups all kinds of books by century.

What do you think, fans of historical fiction? Would a project like this enhance my enjoyment and understanding of authors like Georgette Heyer?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I. Love. Flavia. Seriously - what a great character! So many of you have raved about her and I am so very happy that I took the time to meet her.

11-year-old Flavia de Leuce lives in a great big mansion with her father and two older sisters. She doesn't really have many friends her own age and she spends most of her time in her very own chemistry lab. Chemistry is her life's passion and she knows a lot (like A LOT) about poisons and other chemical stuff (I use the word 'stuff' here so you can see how much I know). Her life is pretty boring until she discovers a dead body in the garden - and finds out that her father is somehow involved too! So Flavia does what any kid would do - she uses her immense intelligence and her knowledge of chemistry to solve the mystery.

I think what I loved most about Flavia is the way she observed the world, the things she could deduce by sheer observation. I also enjoyed how she could always think of some way to get her answer. And of course I loved her love of chemistry - I wish Flavia was a real little girl in my life. Without the murder-in-the-garden bit. :-)

I loved the bits about stamp collecting too - I learned things that I wouldn't have known otherwise and I love it when that happens. Interesting stuff too, who knew I'd find stamps interesting at any point? ;-)

Has anyone read the next book in the series? Is it as good?

Challenges: 2010 Countdown, Orbis Terrarum, What's in a Name

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

For most of this book, I was completely creeped out. And disturbed. In a Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, why-can't-you-just-figure-out-what's-going-on kind of way. Then I remembered that I forgave first one, on the grounds that a little boy can't possibly guess the horrors that go on in the world around him. I suppose I need to apply the same logic to Niccolo Ammaniti's I'm Not Scared. Though for some reason I don't want to.

Childhood innocence is a strange thing. You explain everything you see in your world with familiar and comfortable arguments. Oh and your parents are infallible. You might not always think they're fair, but you don't even entertain the thought of them doing something truly horrible. This is what I'm Not Scared deals with and I admit that it does it well.

But it doesn't change the fact that I was creeped out. The book is worth reading, that's for sure, but be warned that it's not relaxing Sunday afternoon reading.

Challenges: Orbis Terrarum, 1% Well-Read Challenge, 2010 Countdown

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

It took me forever to finish this book, because I got stuck on the 'pray' part... I finished the 'eat' part before Shane was born, back in January and I read the 'love' part during our holiday in Wales, just a few weeks ago. The months in between were spent trying to get through the 'pray' bit, which I now obviously consider the weakest part of the book. I'm glad I didn't abandon Elizabeth and her journey though, because I absolutely loved the 'love' chapters.

This is a book about the author's journey from escaping from a life she thought she wanted and didn't - a house, husband and future children - and going on a journey, both physically to Italy, India and Indonesia and spiritually towards self-acceptance, self-knowledge and, ultimately, happiness.

The 'eat' part was of course spent in Italy and I loved the utter indulgence of it.

The 'pray' part was spent in India, meditating at an Ashram. I admit that meditation, yoga and ashrams are all things that by all logic I should be passionate about, what with a pagan belief system and my thoughts on spirituality and our connection to the universe. I've tried to get into the India craze sooo many times, to no avail; it all bores me to death. Someone once told me that it's because to do well in meditation etc you need to learn to exclude the world and look inwards, but I can't do that, I need a system where I work with all the noise. Who knows? Fact remains though, I almost didn't make it through this book at all and that would have been a real shame, because the 'love' chapter, the one about Indonesia turned out to be my favorite part of the book.

In Indonesia, Elizabeth works with a healer and completes her journey of acceptance. She finally learns to love and respect herself and everything else falls into place. (Obviously, this is oversimplified, but I hope it intrigues you enough to read the book yourself). This totally resonated with me - I went through a similar painful process and although I consider that I came out the other end a better person, I didn't go through it 100% consciously so some of my lessons learned disappear from my life (and consciousness) just when I'd need them the most. This part of the book reminded me that perhaps it's time to go over some things and put some extra effort into my own journey.

So many ideas in this book touched me. This post is already getting long though, so let me share just two quotes with you. The first comes, oddly enough, from my least favorite chapters, the Indian ones:
"Half the benefit of prayer is in the asking itself, in the offering of a clearly posed and well-considered intention. If you don't have this, all your pleas and desires are boneless, floppy, inert; they swirl at your feet in a cold fog and never lift."
It always strikes me that the main deep ideas of various belief systems are so similqr. This, the focus of energy on intention when praying, is exactly the same as in belief systems that use magic, in that if you're not clear on what you want from your spell, it won't work. This idea is also a reminder to live consciously - if you're aware of what you're doing and why, life will have much more sense.

As a quick digression, let me just point out that this is the same concept as what quantum physics demonstrates - watch What the Bleep Do We Know or read up on experiments on the memory of water, where particles behave differently depending on the positive/negative energy around them. Ah I love this stuff. :-)

The second idea I want to share with you comes from the Indonesia part and is actually said by Elizabeth's medicine man:
"You can do Yoga," he says, "but Yoga too hard. [...] Why they always look so serious in yoga?  You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will some to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver."
Is that wise or is that wise? :-)

And just a comment on the author's life choices - I love that she has shown that you can shy away from what society expects you to make of your life, take all sorts of risks on a new-agey journey to self-discovery and come out the other end, happier than you've ever been. I find it very empowering that this intelligent, talented woman realized that she doesn't want the house and husband and kids suburban life and acted on it. It takes courage and it's an inspiration.

Now, if you have any doubts about Elizabeth Gilbert, watch the video of her talking about genius, available on YouTube. Can you spot the genius?

Challenges: Women Unbound, 2010 Countdown, 4 month challenge

Monday, September 6, 2010

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris and R.I.P.

Living Dead in Dallas is the second book in Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series and is just as good as the first book. I'm really enjoying the world that Harris created, the believability of it all. My friend Larissa is currently watching the True Blood series based on these books and calls is 'Buffy for adults' - I guess largely due to this believability (is that a word?) factor. If you like vampire stories, these books are for you. I bought the first eight I think as a boxset from Amazon - it was on sale - so I have loads of Sookie left to savor. :-)

Challenges: 4 Month Challenge


Unfortunately, I read this in August and am just really late with the review, otherwise it would have qualified for Carl's famous R.I.P. Challenge. It's the challenge's fifth year and it looks like the list of fans is growing steadily. As is my list of potential books...

As always, Carl offers various levels of participation - I'm feeling ambitious so will try for Peril the First, which requires me to read 4 scary books. Can I do it?

Completed: 4/4 as of 6 October 2010 (wrap-up post)

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morion
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
The Likeness by Tana French
Room by Emma Donaghue