Book blogger hop: re-reading reads

book-blogger-hop-finalThis week, I’m once again joining in with Billy at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer‘s book blogger hop, where they post a question which you and other bloggers answer, hopping from blog to blog to see people’s answers. This week, the question is…

 

How many books have you re-read? If you have re-read books, please tell us the book’s title and why you re-read it.

Because I am not the best at tracking books I read (my Goodreads is soooo far behind I don’t know why I bother sometimes), I couldn’t honestly answer this question.  I have no idea how many books I’ve re-read over the years.  However, I would say that – once I was into the realm of “grown-up” books – very few.

As a child I re-read books a lot (the Famous Five I knew by heart – all 21 of them).  As an adult, I think my thought process has been so many books, so little time – time better spent reading something new rather than reading something I already know the ending of.

Saying that, I do occasionally revisit a book, maybe because it’s an old favourite or because an anniversary has left me wondering if it has stood the test of time.  Other reasons might be someone mentioning it and me realising I don’t remember a thing about it or that I’m reading a prequel, sequel, or another book in the series and need to remember what else has happened.

Since starting my blog (almost three years ago I realise), I have re-read six books, all of which I’ve reviewed here and all of which, I am pleased to say have stood the test of time and were just as enjoyable the second time around.  If you are interested in what they were and what they thought you can read more here:

A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover

What about you? Do you re-read books – a lot, a little, or not at all?

Emma

(Revisiting) The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

imageProud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the house’s sole inhabitant, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. It is not until he glimpses a pale young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black – and her terrible purpose.

I first read The Woman in Black over twenty years ago, right before going to see the stage play, and loved it. I loved the stage play too and have seen it several times since, always amazed by how much it still spooks me out. I know that the play isn’t exactly the same as the book but it is really well done and the changes are more about how it is presented (with only two actors it’s very clever and if you haven’t seen it and get the chance you should). The story itself isn’t really changed.  I think that’s what I expected when I watched the movie. It’s not what I got. Though it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen I spent most of it distracted thinking “I don’t remember this”…which is why I decided to re-read the book.

The Woman In Black is a fairly short story, which I think a lot of the best ghost stories are. To me, they need to be read in one sitting, at night with the curtains drawn and – ideally – with the rain lashing against the windows. It’s also a simple story – a young man travelling to a remote part of England to deal with the estate of a recently decayed spinster. Once he arrives he finds the locals skittish and unwilling to help him in his mission or talk to him about the mysterious woman in black he keeps seeing. As he begins to realise she isn’t what she seems and things start to go bump in the night, the tension builds and his mind starts to crack. It’s cleverly done and well written and, even though I had read it before and knew the ending, I still found it enjoyable to read and scary and spooky.

I like Susan Hill’s way of writing and how she had reflected the style of the time in which it is set (the late 1800s) in that it is written as a memoir in the first person and quite formal. It fitted the story well and drew me in. It also makes the story feel quite timeless, which I guess it is given it has remained as popular as it has on page and stage (it is apparently the second longest running in the West End after The Mousetrap). After twenty years I still liked this one a lot and am glad I found an excuse to re-read it. A recommended read.

Emma

(Revisiting) The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

921359

Many, many – possibly showing my age hear but – many moons ago, whilst doing an A level in government and politics, my teacher recommended I read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Despite leaning to left so far at the time I am amazed I didn’t fall over, I had never heard of the book – which promotes socialism over capitalism as the only real option if the working classes are to ever have a decent standard of living and reap the rewards of their labours.

I immediately went out and read it, though it wasn’t the easiest book to get through, and it has stuck with me ever since. I remember it made me angry at times, sad at others, and utterly depressed for most of it. Life for the characters in this book was harsh, bleak, and – often – short. They worked hard (or rather were worked hard) for little pay and, when they didn’t work, there was no safety net to catch them.

Recently, it came up in conversation and I decided maybe the time was right to read it again. I couldn’t remember the plot, I realised, but still had images of the painters and decorators the story centres around in my head and also one scene in particular where someone dies hadn’t ever left me.

As soon as I started reading, the story came back to me pretty much straight away, as did the indignation I felt for and the frustration I felt with the characters. They are treated so badly – yet they don’t stand up and say no. Of course, with no welfare state to protect you and plenty of other men willing to take your job, it’s probably no surprise.

This isn’t a subtle book. It’s one that beats you over the head with it’s message, which it repeats pretty consistently throughout the book to make sure you get it. It paints a picture of a world I wouldn’t want to live in – one that in the grand scheme of things isn’t that long ago. Reading it, part of me thinks how far we’ve come – with employee rights and state benefits – whilst part of me wonders if we’ve come very far at all and if we are maybe just more comfortable in our chains thanks to satellite TV and smart phones.

Reading back over what I’ve written I realise I’ve gotten quite feisty, which is what the book was no doubt written to do – to light a fire and wind me up (in a political way). It is how I felt back as a teenager and how I hope other people will feel reading it.

Despite being over a 100 years old a lot of the messages in it are relevant and just need looking at with a modern eye.  I’m not saying we should all storm the barricades but I am saying, after reading it, in this capitalist world maybe we should think about how we treat each other and those that work for us / wish us.  This one is worth a read if the news of more cuts to welfare make you feel uncomfortable or you are a political bent – though appreciate it’s not for everyone.

Emma

April Round-Up

Another month gone – hard to believe we are a quarter of the way through the year.  I know I said it last month (and the month before) but 2015 is flying by.  I am hoping that it starts to slow down so I can enjoy the glorious spring we are having.  Some days, I feel like I don’t even notice how nice it’s been until the sun goes down.  To make sure I get outside more during the week, I have made myself a May resolution to get my garden sorted – worse case, I’ll at least end up sitting out with a book and glass of wine.

Book wise, I managed to find quite a bit of time to read in April and not as much as I’d like to review them (again!).  For the most part, I really liked the majority of books I read and I don’t know if I could chose a favourite because they are all so different.  It’s probably a toss us between Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro.  A close third was Dead Wake by Erik Larson.

Picture1

Not so successful for me were Frog Music by Emma Donoghue and Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, neither of which I really got away with.  Sometimes, I find I like a book more after the fact and a week or so later, want to go back and redo my review to make it more positive.  I haven’t felt like that about either of these yet unfortunately and I couldn’t really recommend them.

Picture2

A book that has stood the test of time for me was The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, which I first read almost 30 years ago (showing my age!).  I remember it as a powerful, more than a bit disturbing book, and it was just that when I re-read it.  Definitely worth checking out.

image

All in all, then, a very good month for me reading wise – especially when you add in the final book in my Play On! challenge, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, which I really enjoyed too.

If you follow any of the links above, you’ll get to the reviews themselves and hopefully find something that you fancy reading.  You might also notice that, halfway through the month, I decided to stop giving books ratings out of five.  You can read why here but in a nutshell it was because it didn’t feel right for me.  Saying if I liked, loved or really didn’t care for a book felt much better and it’s what I’ve decided to go with.  So far, so good – though I’m still agonising over Goodreads reviews but you can’t have everything right?

And that’s it for April.  Let’s see what May holds. How was your month?

Emma

(Revisiting) The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

image

I first read The Wasp Factory back in 1984/5, not long after it was released. I was 15 at the time and this wasn’t my usual reading fare so I’m not sure what made me choose it but choose it I did, starting a life long liking of Iain Banks as an author. Over the years, I have read most of his books but never re-read any, including The Wasp Factory. This, despite the fact that some parts of the book (I now know for certain) have stayed with me a long time.

“Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That’s my score to date. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.”

It is possibly because I have such clear memories of it that I have never revisited it.  Picking it up at the library recently, I did wonder if it was a good idea. What if I didn’t like it? What if it was horribly dated? What if it was mediocre at best? As it was, none of these were the case and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief at the end. An end which, no matter how hard I tried I could not bring to mind. I was glad I couldn’t because it is a great twist at the end of a rather dark story and means there is a little, just a little, potential light at the end of the tunnel for the main character Frank.

Frank is the narrator of The Wasp Factory, which is told in the first person. He lives on a semi-island somewhere off the Scottish coast near Inverness. His life is anything but ordinary. His dad decided not to register him when he was born (he was, Frank tells us, a hippy) and so he has never been to school, has no real friends. and spends his days patrolling his island, building and blowing up dams and killing animals for what are best described as totems. The rituals by which he lives his life really drew me in.

“All our lives are symbols. Everything we do is part of a pattern we have at least some say in. The strong make their own patterns and influence other people’s, the weak have their courses mapped out for them. The weak and the unlucky, and the stupid.”

He seems to have no understanding of people or the real world and no empathy for anyone other than his brother, Eric. Eric’s escape from a mental hospital opens The Wasp Factory and is the catalyst for Frank and his father’s lives unravelling as he slowly makes his way across Scotland to the island. To me, though, this was secondary to what was going on inside Frank’s mind, all of which I was privy to. And what was going on wasn’t pretty. Or normal. This really is the mind of what I guess could be described as a potential psychopath, a serial killer in the making (he’s already killed three children if he’s to be believed).

“I killed little Esmerelda because I felt I owed it to myself and to the world in general. I had, after all, accounted for two male children and thus done womankind something of a statistical favour. If I really had the courage of my convictions, I reasoned, I ought to redress the balance at least slightly. My cousin was simply the easiest and most obvious target.”

I remember how violent this book had seemed when I first read it but, a sign of the times maybe, it now seems quite tame on the murder front. Though, if anything the deaths are cleverer than a lot I now find in crime books. Frank may be a killer, but he’s smart. He’s also dark and unsettling, as is the book. There is a calmness and clarity to the way Frank describes his actions that make this story feel real.

This wasn’t a comfortable read then and it isn’t now. The fact that it still had the power to make me feel uncomfortable is a testament I think to the way Iain Banks writes and just how good the book is. So glad I revisited it. Well worth picking up if you haven’t already.

Emma

(Revisiting) The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Published in 2005, The Penelopiad is Margaret Atwood’s re-telling of the Odyssey from the viewpoint of Penelope and her 12 maids. Or at least their version of the what happened whilst Odysseus is off fighting in Troy, leaving Penelope to fight off suitors convinced she is a widow and eager to lay claim to her and her wealth. I haven’t read The Odyssey but can say I really wouldn’t want to be Penelope – or any other woman for that matter – in Ancient Greece, especially a low-born maid.

image

The story is told in the first person by Penelope from beyond the grave as she wanders through her afterlife, occasionally bumping into other players in the story like the infamous Helen of Troy. She comes across as sympathetic and intelligent if a little bit too naive. Her maids meanwhile sing their tale as a chorus line. They are mad. Rightly so. And also funny and witty. This book part of the Canongate Myth series which asks well- respected authors to re-tell myths in their own voices and you definitely hear Atwood’s voice in all the characters. This is a feminist tale of how women are treated and how hard it can be to be female in a man’s world.

I’m not sure when I first read this book, not when it came out but at least five years ago, and it has always stayed with me. I remember finishing it and thinking I probably should read The Odyssey (I didn’t) and how clever Margaret Atwood is. I’ve mentioned before that I am a big fan but the way each book is different and her subject matter so broad means I never get bored with her books. At the same time, I did struggle with the flow of this a little as the maids singing was hard to read – I felt I was missing something – and most chapters were very short. I felt like I stumbled at times.

When I revisited it, it was an audiobook and that really helped. I felt I heard the maids as they were meant to be read, in a singsong way and with more bitterness than I had ascribed to them. Penelope too came across as more forceful, more quick witted than I’d given her credit for – and more than a bit bitter too. The tragedy of the whole thing struck me more. In this, the narration definitely deserves credit. It was spot on, for me at least, and I’m really glad I went back to this book as a result. A recommended read (or listen).

Emma

(Revisiting) The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover

Over the last few months, ever since I started my blog, I’ve been thinking about all the books I’ve read in the past and loved.  Some of these were big hits at the time and have been forgotten, some have become classics since, some – I’m discovering – aren’t anywhere near as good as I remember them.   Without meaning to, I realised I’ve been picking these books up as I wander round the library and, although I wasn’t planning on reviewing them, I thought I might start sharing them as I revisited them….at least the ones I’d still recommend!

First up is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which I first read about 10 years ago.

5220

In 1959, Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist Minister from Georgia, takes his wife and four daughters to Kilanga, a small village in the Belgian Congo to carry out missionary work. A religious zealot, he sets about trying to convert the local population but, having made no effort to understand the them, ends up alienating the villagers instead. At the same time, his wife and daughters struggle to come to terms with their new lives and how they fit into the world in which they find themselves. It is through their eyes – primarily those of the four girls – that the story of what happens next is told. Not surprisingly, each has a very different reaction to the village, the people and the Congo. As their father becomes more fanatical, two events change their lives forever. We follow each woman from these events and through their lives (up until the 1990s).