One girl's journey to read the top 100 literature classics of all time in the space of 365 days, a quest for only the most foolhardy and brave

Archive for the tag “controversial”

catch the drift

It’s been a few days since I put down Catcher In the Rye and I’m still thinking about it.

It’s an addictive read told in the voice of a sometimes angry and nearly always  lost and lazy teenager Holden Caulfield. He is full of purpose yet hopeless at the same time. At every sentence you feel you are on the edge of finding out what he has been driven to do and then it evades you once again.

The every day hum drum detail is told differently through his judgemental and critical eyes. After reading clockwork orange it feels as though I am almost regressing back to what it felt like to be teenager, dying for freedom but having no idea what to do with it.

 I finished it hoping there would be some kind of a sequel, books that end without a conclusion drive me crazy. I always wonder about what happens after and which path the character heads down next.

I’d literally just finished the last page and was looking for some space when I went and got out a film from the DVD store. A movie version of a book I had read a while ago by Lionel Shriver. The film, We Need To Talk About Kevin, featured Tilda Swinton and was about a mother and her paranoid fear that her son was capable of something terrible. And he does. He goes on to commit an inconceivable atrocity.  The film weaves chaotically between past and present, delving into the pain and suffering the mother goes through as before and after,  making it a gripping and heart breaking movie.

I had just put down The Catcher in the Rye only to once again be thrown back in the sea of teen angst and to see just what some teenagers who are lost and destructive are capable of. No wonder Clockwork Orange and Catcher in the Rye are on the top 100 list. They deal with themes that even as adults we still struggle with.

How to find your niche in the world and the cost which comes at losing and gaining parts of yourself along the way. Sometimes it leads to madness, sometimes to success, but all of it can be dictated by one turn or fork in the road.




Orange is the new black…

Every book is relevant. Say what you will about the author, the character or even the topic but you can’t deny it has its place. But every now and again you pick up one which is like reading a diary. Either your own or someone you know’s, their words, thoughts and expressions in print for everyone to read.

Something so relevant you would swear it had been written for your time, right then and there. Most people feel this way about 1983 or Animal Farm. I discovered I felt this way when I first picked up A Clockwork Orange late last week.

I read it in three days. I felt I was there walking with Alex most of the way. That was my friend who was on the train that he and his gang messed with and took her money, my flatmate was the guy who had his face and library book ruined and destroyed by their gang on the way home. I was the girl who was so terrified of them robbing the house that she didn’t even open her door to them when they asked for help.

For anyone who hasn’t read it, all I can say is read it. Once read, it stays with you for days. Perhaps because I lived in London for three years and saw and heard these gangs every day on the tube and in the street, perhaps because I saw and experienced gang violence once or twice in that time or perhaps because I knew some of these kids in school, or for whatever reason I became hooked on this book.

Written in a hybrid of english teen/Russian slang it’s almost impossible to decipher when you read the first few lines. But before long you’re swimming in their gutter language and relishing this unforgiving, brutal glimpse into their lives.

It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion and there is nothing you can do to stop it. I couldn’t tear myself away from reading when Alex and his droogs ruled the streets with their brutality, or when Alex was being transformed and shaped into a model citizen by the government and or even when the final result caused more chaos then good. I. just. could. not. put. it. down.

It’s a read which is heartbreakingly real, almost tender in some parts and in others, downright stomach turning. It is about lives on the precipice and the big question is if they’ll jump or if someone else will be the ones to push them over. How the author came up with the title is a bit of a mystery to me but what is clear to me is, firstly, orange is the new black and secondly its a book for every generation.


Castaway for kids…

Think of the film Castaway only instead of Tom hanks, it’s the group of bullies out of Stephen King’s Carrie novel who are stuck on an island, they are pint sized, meaner and crazier.

That basically sums up Golding’s ‘Lord of the flies’. Of course not all of the boys are bullies but it’s what happens while watching them try to govern themselves that is what is most intriguing.

They become afraid and when fear strikes they start to become primal and more prone to manipulation by the powerful members of the group.

Golding has a flawless childlike imagination which makes you feel he is one of them and you can feel the suffocating paranoia as all semblance of civility breaks down.

The use of fear and violence in the fight for control is something that is echoed over and over again in the world today. It’s sobering to see young boys tragically play this out, acting the way adults have done for years in international and domestic conflict.

It’s a challenging read but a rewarding one. It takes a talented writer to not only tell a story but have the reader live the story at the same time. I would normally never pick up a book like this but found myself loving it and finishing it in two sittings.

This book was written more than 58 years ago and it is still relevant and long may to continue to be. It’s kind of success every author dreams of.

I can’t imagine anything more satisfying or fulfilling than having your writing be relevant and meaningful to others..

Wishful thinking…

I wish I was reading the new Jane Green book…

I wish I was reading the Hunger Games series…

Instead I’m reading…

Recipe for a classic with a twist…

Take one mixing bowl and add:

– A scrawny, guileless and gutless American soldier/optometrist, an alien abduction and World War II

– Add a sprinkle of time travel and stir until well combined

– Fold in a loveless marriage, a fatalistic attitude and a life-long nemesis and knead until a soft consistency

– Cook in an oven on medium heat for 2 hours and then leave to cool

– Season to taste and sample the final result in one sitting – Kurt Vonnegut’s, Slaughterhouse Five

I suppose I should have known when I first bought it that it was going to be an unusual read. I only had to mention the title before the shop assistant became incredibly animated. He literally jumped on the spot and rattled off a raft of sci-fi authors and other works by Vonnegut. In between his breathless enthusiasm he got out that Slaughterhouse was one of his favourites and what did I think of it? Was I re-reading it?

When I told him that I’d never read any of his work before and that I was just re-educating myself on the classics he dropped me like a hot plate. I read his face instantly. ‘She’s not one of my people.’

I practically had to force him to take my money for the book. I knew then, that this book wasn’t going to be any old classic book to tick off the list.

It was better.

Think The Time Traveller’s Wife set in WW2 with an alien abduction thrown in along the way. It’s beyond strange but completely enjoyable. The Time Traveller’s Wife simply pales in comparison.

Told from the view of a timid, often gutless and cowardly man, the book keeps coming back to the idea that life does not end with death, instead its about the living of moments. So as the plot develops it jumps back and forth, as Billy, the main character keeps reliving his time and time again.

It’s a fascinating read and I have deliberately not picked up another book since I finished it last Friday. I just wanted to savour the taste it left in my mouth. The thoughts and questions it probed at the reader really made me think about the past, present and future and all that intertwines.

How Vonnegut came up with the idea and flow of the book baffles me entirely. I’m struggling just with one linear story and plot. A jumble of experiences which flit back and forth in time would be overwhelming to try to capture and put into words.

It was one of the few books I’ve read that is written and told exactly the way life actually is. A jumble of experiences, moments and thoughts. All happening at once, with memories of the past interfering with the present and future.

It makes you think about everything that has led to the makings of who you are, small as well as dramatic moments and experiences. It made me think about what has turned me into the aspiring writer I am today and that the only thing stopping me from becoming not only an author but a successful one, is me.


what I meant to say was…

So it seems to me that when it comes to insulting people and describing people unfavourably, no one does it better than a classic lit book.

Cleverly veiled barbs and hooks are weaved in the prose, designed to sting and take the wind out of any character’s sails.

So I thought it might be interesting to translate these insults into modern language just for the fun of it… after all it an insult in any era is enjoyable :p

She was a woman of high fashion –
What they meant to say : she’s a vain, materialistic cow

She had a great deal of manners which classed her as the most affected of women-
What they meant to say: She’s a boring snob

He was what she would describe as provincial
What they meant to say: He isn’t worth a second glance and is beneath me

She was a woman with a high, free spirit and was very engaging. She was often indelicate in her behaviour with men-
What they meant to say: She’s a dirty tramp/slut/whore

He had a pleasant countenance and unaffected manner-
What they meant to say: He’s alright

She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me-
What they meant to say: She’s a feral and no one in their right mind would be interested

She had very cordial feelings toward him-
What they meant to say: She was fantasizing about marriage and the names of their babies

His sisters had the air of decided fashion –
What they meant to say: They were snobs who thought they looked better than they actually did

She was a woman of mean understanding, little information and an uncertain temper-
What they meant to say: She was not the sharpest tool in the shed

She had charming, happy manners –
What they meant to say: She didn’t throw herself at men like the rest of her trampy friends

She was headstrong and spirited –
What they meant to say: She never did what she was told and enjoyed a good roll in the hay

He had a most ungentlemanly disposition –
What they meant to say: He was a chauvinist pig

She boasted neither cleverness nor beauty –
What they meant to say: She is a butt ugly idiot

She was fond of society –
What they meant to say: She liked to hob nob and lived to kiss ass

He was fond of his own society –
What they meant to say: He was a loner and  was most likely into midget porn with the potential to be a serial killer

She had a wilful nature –
What they meant to say: She never did what daddy told her to do

and the best til last…

He was too proud for even his own company –
What they meant to say: He had his head up his ass so far he couldn’t see straight


Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins…

As the title and opening line suggests, this is an uncomfortable book  to read. In fact Lolita is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read.
The haunting yearnings of a middle aged man for his pre-pubescent 12 year old step daughter.

Scandalous even now, I can’t imagine the furore it would have caused when it first came out.

I felt I was peering into the very mind of a paedophile. It provides intimate descriptions of the accidental touches, sniffing and caressing of his ‘nymphet’ before he manages to consumate his fantasy into reality.

I’m no book review critic but upon finally finishing it ( 7 tortuous days) I was left wondering why it was on the top 100 literature list.

I suspect the infamy of it’s content has raised it’s high above the parapet it really deserves.

I found it so hard to read a book full of French colloquialisms and random waffling. Constant drifting from thought to thought. Referring directly to the reader throughout it doesn’t really achieve the connection it seeks to make.

I know this isn’t an autobiographical book but such is the skill of Vladimir Nabokov that you really are left feeling this is an intimate depiction of his own thoughts and experiences.

How a book can have such a reprehensible character yet retain an audience is puzzling to me. It seems to draw you in with morbid curiosity as to how a young girl could fall into the clutches of a moral-less and despicable man so easily. He proclaims suffocating despair,  regrets and sorrow while at the same time licks his lips with glee at the activities he’s shared with his precious Lolita, his nymphet. It is in a word, unsettling. Lolita is not loved for who she is but what she appears in his fantasies.

The conclusion leaves nothing but a bitter taste in your mouth and it took gumption to finish it. I struggled to understand the importance or relevance of such a book.

If anything at all Lolita provides insight to the the psychiatric make up of a diabolically lecherous man and a young girl on the verge of understanding her own sensuality, using sex to explore and express herself.

I can understand why many tried to ban it when it first came out but it is important that works such as this exist and continue to be read. Even if it is only to better understand the illness that continues to plague many nromal appearing men today. What’s most disturbing about the book, is that it’s so realistic. It could happen. It has happened and will continue to happen.

If you think you are unshockable I challenge you to read it. I couldnt help but flinch at some of the prose but I feel all the more stronger for it.

Challenging yourself by reading a emotionally testing book can be even more gratifying then reading for sheer pleasure.

At the end of day, when the book is finished, the last page is closed and its back on the shelf the words last far longer in the mind. It’s what you do with them that counts. As for me, I’ll never look at young girl and a grown man together the same way again.


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