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Book Shortage

Chronicling my 2015 reads on this swanky new website.

My rant on the film adaptation of Michel Faber's Under The Skin

Under the Skin - Michel Faber

"In the end, though, vodsels couldn't do any of the things that really defined a human being. They couldn't siuwil, the couldn't mesnishtil, they had no concept of slan."

 

I am one of those people who loves to watch the film adaptations of books, even for books I don't like BUT I have a real bone to pick with this one.

 

First off, this is one of the best books in my collection. I bought it second hand I think, so it's an older edition and the cover features a long winding road in the black of night. The cover alone prepares you for a strange, unsettling journey you will likely never recover from.

 

It tells the story of Isserley, an alien from another world who is surgically enhanced to look like a human being. She is tasked with the job of luring unsuspecting hitchhikers (called vodsels in her native tongue) into her car and taking them into a factory where they are mutilated, their meat transported back to her planet as a delicacy. Isserley is a complex character with a past and internal conflicts which are slowly revealed as the novel progresses - she's the type of heroine you can fall in love with.

 

In the film, she is condensed into this sexy alien babe with no feelings, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator.

 

I am so so so friggen angry about the film, it's quite honestly the worst film adaptation I've ever seen in my life. Upsettingly though unsurprisingly it got great reviews. That's because as a stand alone film, and from an artistic point of view (I'm guessing this film was made for artistic reasons and not entertainment reasons) it looks like it's meant to be good. It subtly conveys its message through shapes, very little dialogue and painfully long scenes that make you wonder whether you accidentally hit the pause button. Reviewers pride themselves over the fact that they had the patience to sit through it, eyes bulging with astute observance because they knew what was going on the whole time (I didn't by the way, the movie confused the hell out of me) and pat themselves on the back for putting the pieces together instead of having the story told to them through a character voice over, as is the case with many Hollywood films.

 

The problem with this film is that it had so much to work with, with the story being loosely based on the novel. Instead, the filmmakers chose to focus on a theme which has been done so many times before. Alien is sent on earth to kill. Experiences human emotion. Develops compassion. I won't say more because I don't want to ruin the film for you (even though the film ruins itself). But trust me, if you've seen any Sci Fi at all I can guarantee that the Under the Skin movie will feel like deja vu.

 

The book on the other hand explores a range of themes, including sexuality, humanity, compassion, exploitation and nature. Faber artfully weaves these themes through Isserley's interaction with the vodsels. There is no question that Isserley is human, but her lack of compassion towards vodsels is the real lesson for her. She takes pride in her work, she understands her limitations. She spends a lot of time withdrawing and living within herself, considering the past and what brought her here. She is so taken by the beauty and ease of life on earth, but she doesn't see herself as part of it.

 

It is confronting to read something which forces you to question what humanity really means, when humans can be so cruel towards other creatures. The book is not about how "emotions are so human and cool!", it's about how arbitrary the label of humanity can be. It doesn't say, hey don't eat meat, it's wrong, it's making you question certain things we take for granted on earth. And I am a big believer in reading for enjoyment, so just because a book carries heavy themes, it doesn't mean it has to weigh heavy on the eyelids. This book captivated me from start to finish, it was beautifully written and I loved the story.

 

Maybe I'm being unfair, maybe it was a tough book to adapt into film, but to be honest even as a stand alone piece of work it just wasn't good enough. It didn't do any of what it was supposed to do, it wasn't thought-provoking or entertaining. It grated on my patience, it was very self-congratulatory and ... disappointing to say the least. Another empty load of tripe that had the potential to be so much better and didn't do justice to the amazing book it was based on.

What Alice Forgot and what I learned

What Alice Forgot - Liane Moriarty

"She was busy thinking about the concept of forgiveness. It was such a lovely, generous idea when it wasn't linked to something awful that needed forgiving."

 

I must only ever write about Liane Moriarty! I hope she sees this and personally invites me to her house to say thank you.

 

I just finished What Alice Forgot (five years too late ha) I lost sleep over it, I really wasn't able to function for a few days until I reached the end. Overall, I can rely on Moriarty to craft a satisfying ending, I was very satisfied.

 

I feel like such a fangirl writing this, because, well, I loved it a lot! And it actually physically hurts me when I read a bad review of it on Goodreads.

 

 

This book makes me feel hopeful for the future, it makes me believe I'll have life figured out at 39 just like Alice does. It also makes me think maybe having kids is a life sentence and quite possibly a bad idea. But maybe not! Love is a great thing... this book makes me think about love.

 

I definitely reckon it's worth reading, especially since her latest books have blown up all around the world not just here in the land of Oz. I am really looking forward to seeing what comes next!

The best quotes from Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty

I'm so glad one of my favourite Aussie authors has made it in America!

 

I'm a big little fan (oh, hello) of Liane Moriarty after The Husband's Secret, and now she has come out with this brilliant piece of work. Big Little Lies was published last year, but it's already garnered enough interest to be turned into a television series starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Though I'm silently raging that Wikipedia is calling it an "American television comedy" when Liane Moriarty is an Australian writer and the story is set in Sydney Australia, in an Australian school with all the Australian schoolyard politics that make the book so funny. Anyway, since I'm not original enough to write up an actual review/blog post I thought I'd share my favourite quotes from the book.

 

***

 

"Stick with the nice boys Chloe!" said Madeline after a moment. "Like Daddy. Bad boys don't bring you coffee in bed, I'll tell you that for free."

 

***

 

Mind your own beeswax was such a profoundly geeky thing to say.

 

***

 

"We're not really beach people, and obviously no one wants to see this in a bikini!" She made a face of pure loathing and gestured at her perfectly ordinary body, which Madeline judged to be about the same size as her own. "I don't see why not" said Madeline. She had no patience for this sort of talk. It drove her to distraction the way women wanted to bond over self-hatred.

 

***

 

Harry the Hippo had been with the school for over ten years. That cheap synthetic toy she replaced it with smelled just terrible. Made in China. The hippo's face wasn't even friendly.

 

***

 

It was there in the slight turn of the head, the smiles that didn't reach eyes, the gentle waft of judgment.

 

***

 

"You're beautiful" she began. "No!" said Jane angrily. "I'm not! And it's OK that I'm not. We're not all beautiful, just like we're not all musical and that's fine. And don't give me that inner beauty shining through crap either." Madeline, who had been about to give her that inner beauty shining through crap, closed her mouth.

 

***

 

Parents take far too much notice of their children these days. Bring back the good old days of benign indifference, I reckon.

When poverty makes headlines

The Poverty Wars: Reconnecting Research with Reality - Peter Saunders

"It is difficult to imagine a bright future for a country that has closed its mind to the existence of poverty."

 

The Poverty Wars was published a decade ago and yet much of it still applies today. Many Australians prefer to turn a blind eye at the idea of poverty in this country, but since the airing of SBS documentary Struggle Street it's again being brought into the forefront of our attention.

 

However headlines like "sympathy quickly turns to revulsion... heavily-pregnant woman filmed puffing on a bong during the Struggle Street finale" (news.com.au) do little to encourage a fair debate, they really only serve as a platform for disgruntled readers to rage about where their tax money is being spent. And for those who didn't even watch the program to make assumptions based on lazy, sensationalist reporting. The real damage is being done not by SBS but by these superficial reports that take unfortunate instances out of context and completely leave out any meaningful social commentary, for the sake of eyeballs on their website. As Saunders explains in Poverty Wars;

 

"Unfortunately, the media rarely focuses on the realities of poverty or how best to give a voice to those in poverty. All too often, journalists prefer to highlight individual pathologies or aberrations in the name of a 'good story', reinforcing stereotypes and reaffirming prejudice and ignorance instead of raising legitimate issues about the measurement of poverty and questioning the validity of current measures."

 

I think the documentary was effective in exposing the problems faced by a particular cross-section of Australians that most of us prefer to ignore. At the very least it got us talking about those on the fringe of society; the people that shows like Today Tonight and A Current Affair have continually exploited over the years. Looking beyond the stereotypes, Struggle Street ignites debate about class divide and the need to address the problems disadvantaged Australians face; namely drug addiction, alcohol abuse and mental illness.

 

As much as we like to think that true poverty doesn't exist in Australia, a report by ACOSS last year claimed that there were 2.5 million Australians living below the poverty line. The documentary does not only shed light on the lives of poor Australians, it exposes the core problem - that disadvantage is inheritable.

 

"There's an underlying belief that (and this was supported by the Howard Government) the poor choose their own poverty. [But] there is a large body of evidence showing that the poor are not only financially worse off than others but also more likely to suffer greater levels of stress, are more prone to ill-health, more likely to be a victim of criminal activity and are generally less happy than the rest of the population." - Saunders

 

The series is unapologetically confronting at times, showing young pregnant woman Billie-Jo inhaling a makeshift bong - an image that sparked disgust and outrage on social media. Viewers were quick to judge and condemn her, but it was also mentioned in the documentary that Billie-Jo was a methadone baby, she was literally born an addict. This should be a wake up call, because this is happening, and not just in Mt Druitt but all around Australia where entrenched disadvantage exists. According to the report by the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA), "children who grow up in a home with entrenched disadvantage are more likely to graduate to a lifetime of disadvantage." This research draws attention to a cycle that is very difficult to break. Education gaps, drug abuse and mental health are risk factors of chronic poverty and they're responsible for the social exclusion these people have faced for the majority of their lives. They face the most disadvantage and barriers to fully participating in society.

 

One thing is true; the program doesn't paint a flattering portrait of the lives of these people. But generational poverty and the social problems associated with it aren't flattering. There is a difference between being exploitative for the purposes of entertainment and exposing the truth that many of us don't want to hear. I did not feel that the people of Mt Druitt were demonised, they were just regular Aussies with the kind of struggles most of us don't have to deal with. Struggles that didn't even begin with them.

 

You can read the full report here.

SPOILER ALERT!

The One & Only

The One & Only: A Novel - Emily Giffin

"My life was a regular cakewalk, and although I had doubts lately about the direction it was going in, I didn't understand why so many people seemed to have the philosophy that easy was inversely proportionate to worthwhile."

 

This post is my unedited opinion, not a review and may contain spoilers.

 

I didn't realise that Something Borrowed was written by the same author who wrote this. If I knew I would never have given it a chance, because the movie version was AWFUL. Though I can't decide whether that's because I condemn the characters' actions against my own moral judgement or because it is truly a bad film.

 

It seems that Emily Giffin enjoys writing about love at the expense of everything. The kind of love that destroys friendships, tears families apart and ruins everyone's lives for the sake of the two selfish people at the centre of it.

 

The One and Only was similar in that it also contained characters with ambiguous morals and no regard for the loved ones whose lives they would destroy. In many ways, I found this story to be more disturbing than Something Borrowed, because of the nature of the couples' relationship before it became romantic.

 

I identified with Shea's character at the start, despite her not being that interesting. Her main source of enthusiasm is Texas football which somehow garners the interest of handsome quarterback Ryan, whom she begins a relationship with. The only love scenes in the book are with Ryan, which seems to imply that Shea and Coach's love for each other transcended the physical chemistry she had with Ryan. But I can't imagine why anyone would support Shea and the Coach ending up together. How could it possibly be okay to date a) your best friend's father and b) so soon after his wife passed away? There's "forbidden love" and then there's "don't even go there" and this story is inching on the latter. Their relationship started with the father-daughter dynamic, thus romantic feelings shared by both parties is troubling, (it also doesn't help that Shea had a tumultuous relationship with her own father).

 

Just no.

 

As a credit to the author, the writing is very engaging. Despite the fact that it was littered with American football references, I was glued to the story and I felt the character build up and subsequent tension was stronger than many other novels in this genre. The only real fault of the book in my opinion (besides the ghastly characters) is that there were storylines that didn't go anywhere (the NCAA and Shea losing her job for example), I didn't understand how they fit into the story.

 

I also found it quite sly that Lucy started off as a likeable character, but further into the book she was portrayed as a tad neurotic, (how dare she be mad that her best friend and father are in love!) I'd say most women would have behaved exactly like Lucy did if they were in her situation.

 

While I never wanted to throw it against the wall, it wasn't the most memorable book for me. I read it after The Silent Wife and I wasn't able to form a strong enough opinion on that book to write a post about it.

The Taking - Kimberly Derting

"Love was a force of nature"

 

The Taking is about a girl who vanishes mysteriously one night and returns five years later as though nothing happened. For her it's just like yesterday, but her family and her boyfriend have all moved on.

 

***

 

And then she falls in love with her ex's younger brother and that's what the story is actually about.

 

 

For a concept with so much potential, this story fell flat on its pancakey face because of that ridiculous love story. It started off interesting and morphed into this sappy teen romance, and how about that ending! (what ending?) this book is a trick to get you to read the series, the ending is not satisfying, it concludes at a cliffhanger.

 

It was also extremely unrealistic, I mean, why was the media not talking to her? What about the cops? She was missing for five years and all she gets is a quick trip to the hospital and then sent on her way? Sci Fi - more like won't fly. Logically speaking that is. Anyway, I can see this becoming a TV series on Nickelodeon or something.

Also I spent an embarrassing amount of time getting through this book. Maybe it gets better as the series progresses, I guess I'll have to read the rest in order to really get a better grasp of the story.

 

Messages in The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Elaine Hedges

"There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day"

 

The Yellow Wallpaper tells the story of a woman driven mad by enforced confinement after the birth of her child. Isolated in a colonial mansion in the middle of nowhere, forced to sleep in an attic nursery with barred windows and sickly yellow wallpaper, she writes. She craves intellectual stimulation, activity and understanding but instead she is ordered to her bedroom to rest and "pull herself together." Here, slowly but surely, the tortuous pattern of the wallpaper winds its way into the recesses of her mind. The reader witnesses the character gradually lose her mind.

 

1. Preserving creativity and self-expression - I felt that the unnamed woman in the story was driven insane partly by her inability to express herself, she is forced to pretend she is happy in her marriage. When her writing is ultimately taken away from her, this is her imagination being repressed. But for someone in her state, being able to express herself would have done more to help her than repressing her thoughts and her imagination. The author is attempting to address the issue of repressing creativity, and how it may harm someone suffering post partum depression.

 

2. The wallpaper represents the structure of a happy, traditional family, a symbol of the domestic life that women are forced to live. She is driven mad by this too, she finds it tedius and confining, maybe even unfashionable/outdated. Through these thoughts there's a sense of clarity that she is being trapped by the expectations society has placed upon her.

 

3. Authority - there is no doubt that the authoritative voices in the story are that of her husband and the medical professionals. She is nothing more than a patient who needs to "sit still and be quiet". She has no power to change her situation and her opinions carry very little weight.

 

Overall I found this story unsettling and creepy in a sense that, you can never escape the place your mind takes you. The added factor that no one is on her side further demonstrates this. A really well-crafted piece of writing and perfect character build up for such a short story.

Books that freaked me out in 2013

Weird, or just downright disturbing.
 
Still Missing
 
I went through a phase of reading about kidnappings after finishing Jaycee Lee Duggard's memoir. Her story was so chilling because it actually happened. Still Missing is a page-turning read about a real estate agent who is abducted by a man during an open house. She is held captive in a cabin up in the mountains, savagely beaten and raped, all of which is described in unnecessarily graphic detail. There are some real tragic points in the book that I did not see coming, and this made for a very grueling read. I finished it knowing I'd never pick up a book about kidnapping again.
 
Geek Love
 
A married couple down on their luck after their circus hits a slump decide to breed their own freakshow by taking radioisotopes and drugs. The result is Arturo the Aqua Boy who has webbed hands and feet, Oly an albino dwarf with no marketable qualities, Iphy & Elly the Siamese twins and the outwardly normal Chick, who possesses telekinetic powers. At some point in this plot-less book, the twins auction off their virginity to a man whose face had been horrifically disfigured in a shooting accident. Katherine Dunn's writing is amazing, but I never managed to finish this book, because I was unable to identify with any of the characters. Beyond the creep factor there was not much I liked about it. If I find the time, I'll give it another go at some point, maybe.
 
Warm Bodies
 
I can't understand why everyone likes this book and how it managed to get a film adaptation. It's zombie genre meets Romeo & Juliet. It might be the Twilight-esque style of writing modern love stories, an unlikely love that is doomed to fail from the start. There were moments in the book that genuinely amused me but ultimately it was about a corpse having the feelings and thoughts of a human, and falling in love. No thanks.
 
Identical
 
I already wrote about this book on here, doh.
 
Identical is about two twin girls Kaeleigh and Raeanne who are struggling to come to terms with a family tragedy. The book switches from one girl to the other, and from one personality extreme to the other. It covers a slew of controversial issues like rape, pedophilia and eating disorders - just to name a few. I never really got a feel for it, I guess that's what YA is these days but I know looking back I wouldn't have read this kind of thing as a teenager. The novel is written entirely in verse which is somewhat unusual but also not great if you're used to reading narrative style. Depending on what type of reader you are will dictate how you feel about the writing and the contents of this book.

The hundred and ninety-nine steps

The Hundred And Ninety Nine Steps - Michel Faber

Sian is troubled by violent dreams and seeking distraction, joins an archaeological dig at Whitby Abbey. The abbey's one hundred and ninety-nine steps link the twenty-first century with the ruins of the past. More of a novella than a novel, it begins with Sian's horrific nightmares and progresses to the discovery of an 18th century scroll.

 

Sian slowly uncovers the contents of the scroll and finds what appears to be a murder confession, meanwhile she's struggling with her attraction to Mack and wary of her deteriorating health. There are a few clever reveals in this story and some background to the character which makes for interesting reading. The most intriguing aspect for me was the murder confession, which was what really kept me reading.

 

It is exceptionally well-written in Faber's distinct style, but like most short stories it ends too abruptly.

Messages in the Hunger Games (potential spoilers)

The Hunger Games  - Suzanne  Collins

1. Power and its tools of oppression
When District 13′s revolt ended in defeat, the Capitol forced the remaining districts to compete against one another to the death, in what is known as The Hunger Games. The Games are both a brutal reminder of the districts’ powerlessness against the Capitol and a form of entertainment for the ruling elite.

 

The Hunger Games are similar to the gladiatorial games in Ancient Rome, where two people are placed in an arena and forced to battle until one of them is killed. These events were enjoyed by thousands of spectators, the Caesar’s strategy involved providing people with plenty of food and entertainment to quell public discontent.

 

2. “Hope. It is the only thing that is stronger than fear” – President Snow
Hope keeps people working harder than fear does and the idea of winning keeps the tributes fighting to the end.

 

3. Inequality
Food, resources and shelter are seldom available in the poorer districts and additionally, families do not reap the benefits of their hard work. Although Peeta’s family owns a bakery, they cannot afford the bread they bake themselves and must eat the stale left overs that nobody wanted. By comparison, food in the Capitol is abundant and even excessive. Inequality is best exemplified in the “reaping” or lottery by which the tributes are selected. In exchange for more rations, the poor enter their names additional times and are thus more likely to be chosen.

 

4. Exploitation & suffering
Suffering as entertainment is another major theme explored in the book. Suffering is not only physical, but also psychological, there is a parallel to reality TV and its effects on our culture. People’s lives are televised for the world to see, displaying real life as entertainment and turning people into commodities. A person’s value is determined by the level of entertainment we can get from them.

 

The Hunger Games as a whole is a metaphor for injustice and corruption. To end the injustice and corruption a revolution must take place and be performed collectively by all the districts, at the same time.

The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking

The Universe in a Nutshell - Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is an intellectual icon and one of the most influential thinkers of our time. In his sequel The Universe in a Nutshell, he explores the cutting edge of theoretical physics and the principles that control our universe. Hawking is known not only for the intrepidity of his ideas but for the clarity and wit he uses to express them. He guides us on a search to uncover the secrets of the universe from quantum theory, to black holes and supergravity.

 

The Universe in a Nutshell

• Quantum mechanics
• M-theory
• General relativity
• 11-dimensional supergravity
• 10-dimensional membranes
• Superstrings
• P-branes
• Black holes

 

In the opening chapter, Hawking describes the history of physics and our conception of the universe citing Einstein's work as fundamental to our modern understanding. It is, to an extent simplified for the new reader, but not a dumbing-down of high-end theoretical physics, most of it is covered at a level that makes it difficult to comprehend in the first reading. Although you'd be hard-pressed finding a book that deals with these topics any clearer than this one. If you, like me have little to no background knowledge of the theories he discusses you might struggle through some of the more complex ones (like quantum theory) but if you're interested in the creation of the universe as a subject there are definitely parts of the book that you will enjoy.

 

The Universe in a Nutshell is the sequel to A Brief History of Time in which Hawking explores the history of cosmology and the advances in technology that have enabled us to understand micro and macrocosmic worlds.

Identical review

Identical - Ellen Hopkins
Warning: The content in this book may act as a trigger for sexual abuse victims.
 
Identical twins Kaeleigh and Raeanne once shared an idyllic life in sunny California, but tragedy strikes in the form of a horrific car accident and the sisters are now fighting to keep their family's secrets from being exposed. Their mother is a politician running for Congress and their father is a district court judge, an abusive alcoholic with an OxyContin addiction and a perversion of the highest order. The story switches between quiet Kaeleigh who is afflicted with trauma of her fathers' abuse, and the rebellious Raeanne who experiments with drugs and sadomasochism all the while resenting the fact that her father did not pick her to enact on his sick desires. The method of handling sexual abuse is both intimate and extremely graphic.
 
This book is appealing for readers of disturbing fiction for many reasons. It covers a whole slew of controversial issues, like child rape, pedophilia, incest, eating disorders, domestic abuse with a bit of alohol/drug addiction thrown into the mix.
 
The horrors that pervade human existence are repeated in fiction time and time again and it is becoming increasingly difficult to shock people. This book did shock me, but not in a good way. Shock can be a tool to bring controversial issues to the public eye but to me the novel was (slightly) exploitative of these issues. I put things together early on in the book so the ending did not surprise me, which is unusual as I am generally really bad at guessing plot twists. There are actually hints of the "twist" in the synopsis which is probably not good. As a forewarning to readers, this novel is written in verse, but even if you're not quite used to this distracting way of reading, the language is simple and you will quickly get used to it. Overall I am not really a fan of Hopkins' writing style, it's probably more suited to younger readers.
 
I think it was intended to be a fast-paced psychological thriller but I found it to be more of a sluggish teen drama.

How to Read

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading - Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Van Doren

'How to Read a Book' by Mortimer J. Adler is claimed to be the most successful guide to reading comprehension. The majority of readers (myself included probably) exercise elementary reading. The book discusses higher forms of reading; inspectional, analytical and syntopic. It aims to teach readers different techniques for reading practical books, imaginative literature, plays, poetry, history, science, philosophy and mathematics.

 

True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline; to read is a skill, therefore it is never passive. It requires certain mental effort. Reading skillfully means reading not just for amusement, but to get a meaningful understanding of something.

 

Extracting all you can from a book is invaluable advice for the dedicated reader. This quote sums it up perfectly:

 

"Good books are over your head; they would not be good for you if they were not. And books that are over your head weary you unless you can reach up to them and pull yourself up to their level. It is not the stretching that tires you, but the frustration of stretching unsuccessfully because you lack the skill to stretch effectively."