DAY 25. – The most surprising plot twist or ending.

My first choice here is The Life of Pi. It should be obvious that the story of Pi and Richard Parker cannot possibly be true. A boy in a boat with a Bengal tiger, obviously it could not happen. But the skill of Martel’s writing means that you are completely drawn into the situation. You never doubt it for a moment and in fact, if you are like me, you want to believe in the story that Pi spins even when you know the truth.

As this is a story about faith and belief, it is fitting that belief wins over the rational, logical version of events. For me, before this book, I never really understood the impulse towards religion but this book suggested how it was a solace in difficult times and how it helped people cope with terrible events. I wouldn’t say that I am now religious but I at least understand why you might be.

My second choice is The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. This is a disturbing book with one of the most unsympathetic narrators I think I have ever come across. This is a bildungsroman like no other, although you could say it follows in the tradition of books such as The Catcher in the Rye and A Clockwork Orange. The violence is gruesomely inventive and unlike anything else I have ever read. Even the horrors of the book could not prepare me for the ending. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it but it is cruel, humurous and wonderfully inventive. It puts the rest of the story in another light.

Day 24. – Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like/liked.

I don’t really get embarrassed about what i read. As I mentioned when it was a book that is a guilty pleasure, I like what I like. I think there is very little point to being embarrassed about liking something. Why bow down to what other people think you should or shouldn’t like? It all seems a bit pointless.

I was embarrassed to read 50 shades of Grey. Not because I liked it. I think I’ve made my feelings about it clear. And not because of the sex either which is neither original or all that exciting. Embarrassed because I knew the judgements I’d be making if I saw myself reading it on the train. I did not want people to make those sort of inferences about me. So I actually hid the front of it. It is not easy to read with a book flat on your lap but this is what I did so that no one would know what I was reading. I probably looked a little weird. I wouldn’t pick up the Twilight series for much the same reason. So maybe I am being a little disingenuous when I say you shouldn’t be embarrassed by what you read when I am pre-selecting what I would be embarrassed to say I liked in advance.

DAY 23. – Best book you’ve read in the last 12 months – The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex

It wasn’t an easy decision. Last year, I read the Song of Fire and Ice series and loved each of the books and it was tempting to pick the entire series as my favourite reads. I also had a bit of a Pratchett re-read in October when I wasn’t very well but picking a re-read felt like a bit of a cheat. After all, I already knew what I was going to get.

In the end, I picked The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex by Mark Kermode because it is not often that I feel somebody has read my mind quite so clearly or quite so often as when I was reading this book.

I was already a big fan of Kermode and he is one of the few film critics that I would take any notice of. Compared to Claudia Winkleman and her ilk, Kermode is a serious reviewer, giving film as a medium, the consideration it deserves. His knowledge of film history is second to none. In short, he knows his stuff.

It isn’t just knowledge that comes across in The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex although there is certainly plenty of it. There is also a clear love of the movies and also a disappointment with the whole modern movie-going experience. This is where the mind reading feeling came in. My husband and I stopped going to multiplexes years ago, preferring the intimate surroundings of the Showroom in Sheffield to the huge and unfriendly Odeon. I don’t know if it is to do with being of a certain generation when going to the cinema meant going to a two screen (or if you were really lucky four screen) building that had probably once been a theatre.

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The Odeon in Newcastle had this amazing sweeping staircase that gave you a real sense of occasion when you visited. That is all gone now. There is a similar nostalgia to some of the writing here.

Kermode is at his best when he gets irate  And luckily for the reader (although not for what it suggests about the state of the film industry today) that is quite often. Near the beginning of the book, he recounts a visit to the local mulitplex where every step of his journey from trying to book tickets online to seeing the movie shown in the wrong ratio, is a complete nightmare. It is both hilarious and depressing in just about equal measure.

This is an intelligent book about the decline of certain aspects of the film industry. He is not trying to suggest that there are no good modern films. That would be stupid. It is more that this book mourns the passing of certain elements of the film industry and the viewing experience that we are undoubtedly worse off without.

Day 22 – A plot device that annoyed you – Atonement and The Time Traveller’s Wife

I’ve changed the title of today’s blog a little as I couldn’t think of any plot devices that had annoyed me over and over. I don’t read many series or books that are really similar to each other so instead I have chosen to look at two plot devices that I found so annoying they really spoiled my enjoyment of the books.

I really did enjoy reading Atonement by Ian McEwan. From the opening of the novel in Cambridgeshire, to the scenes of fighting and the horrors of working as a nurse in the second world war, I was convinced by the characters and the way their lives interwove. I think it is the fact that I had been so taken with the novel and its supposed resolution that annoyed me so much when I finally got to the end.

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In the final section, it is revealed that the previous chapters were a novel written by Briony and in fact tragic lovers Robbie and Cecilia were not reunited in ‘real life’ but in a fiction within a fiction. Writing the novel was Briony’s atonement for the fact that she accused Robbie of rape and ruined any chances the pair might have had of actual romance. I admit that I felt a little cheated by this and I still feel it is akin to the sort of ending children write all the time, a more sophisticated version of ‘and then I woke up.’ The story is not the story you thought it was. Briony claimed that she did not want to give readers a hopeless ending but in actual fact the ending was much worse for giving hope and then saying that they could only have it within a fiction. Very disappointing.

My second choice is The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I found this book interesting and annoying in just about equal measure.

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The concept was exciting and Henry was a good romantic lead. The idea of the time travel wasn’t that hard to swallow once the story got going and I liked the muddled chronology of their romance.

However, what did annoy me was the way that despite the fact that Henry supposedly has no control over when he will travel and where to, he manages to get winning lottery numbers so that Clare will be able to carry on with her art without having to worry. I felt that this was a narrative cheat. Either Henry could control his travel or he couldn’t, but not control when it suited him and Niffenegger.

Incidentally, as this doesn’t directly fit with the title of today’s blog, it goes without saying that I found the end of this novel really irritating. The idea of a women waiting all those years because she knows she will have one more glimpse of the man she loved seems a little too like a fairy tale for my taste. It did not seem romantic, just out-moded and a little depressing. Most of the women I worked with at the time loved it so, hey, what do I know.

DAY 21. – Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished).

There are a few of candidates here. Books that I have made it known that I don’t like despite not having finished them. It doesn’t happen often because I am quite careful to choose things I am fairly sure I will like.

The first is On The Road by Jack Kerouac which I would probably never have picked of my own accord but it was for a class on my MA. Obviously for the purpose of the course I claimed to have finished it and I started to believe myself. It was only recently I remembered that I hadn’t actually finished it.

What was it about this book that meant I didn’t finish it? I found the tone irritating and the style worse. It gained the rare honour of having been thrown across my living room the most times due to the dubious attitude towards women shown. Ultimately I didn’t feel compelled to find out what happened. I just didn’t care.

Similarly, I read (or started to read) Hemmingway’s The Old Man and The Sea when it was on the GCSE syllabus as I realised that I might have to teach it. (How to put teenagers off reading in one easy lesson.) Part of the problem was I already knew how it ended and when I got bogged down in the narrative, it just didn’t seem worth it. I quickly realised there was no way I could possibly teach this book as I could barely summon up the enthusiasm to pick it up, never mind try to get the point across to others. Thankfully, I have never worked in a school where they have taught it. Maybe it’s not just me!

Finally, in a doomed attempt at reading more classics (something I keep trying despite the evidence that I will probably never enjoy them), I decided to try The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I picked it because the subject matter sounded interesting. However, I soon found myself ignoring the book in favour of something with less dense prose and it was abandoned on my bedside table for a while before eventually winging its way back onto the downstairs bookshelves. Probably I should give it to charity as I will never pick it up again.

DAY 20. – Favourite childhood book.

This is a little difficult as it seems a long time since I was a child. And also I wasn’t sure whether to try and think of one book to cover the whole of my childhood or to think of different ones to cover different parts of childhood. In the end, I have chosen three different books, simply because if I had to, I’d be happy to read them now.

The first is Charlie and the Chocolate factory by Roald Dahl. Neither of the film adaptations for me really live up to the sheer inventiveness of this book. The ridiculousness of some of Wonka’s inventions is just amazing.

At the start of the book, you have the tension of whether Charlie will actually manage to get a ticket and the reader routes for him from the start. He has to rely on luck and kindness to get his ticket while the other winners can employ more underhand methods.

For me though, the best thing about this book is the sly morality that dispatches each of the other kids. Everyone can appreciate that they got what they deserved until only the deserving Charlie was left. Having since taught this book to pupils of different ages, it is good to know that it is still appreciated.

My second choice is Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. Anne was another of those boisterous tomboyish girls who just wouldn’t fit in. She was determined and independent and always in trouble in one way or another. I thought she was fantastic. Not only that but she was intelligent and ambitious.

Of course, it was obvious that eventually she would forgive Gilbert for pulling her pigtails but the ups and downs of their relationship are well told and never predictable. I went on to read the whole series of books.

Finally, and in a similar vein, is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I loved Jo for similar reasons to Anne (see a theme developing here, by any chance. I was a tomboy and I would rather climb trees than play with dolls.) She was independent and easily my favourite of the four girls.

The story of Beth’s illness is incredibly touching and was probably the first time that a book made me cry. I felt bereft, as if she really was my friend. I read this book over and over as a child and I never got bored of it. Again, I read all the books in the series but Little Women was undoubtedly my favourite.

DAY 19. – A favourite author – Margaret Atwood

I did not have to ponder very long to decide who to write this post about. There were some other candidates (Terry Pratchett, Ian Rankin, Angela Carter.) but the reason that Atwood remains my favourite author is that I cannot think of a novel of hers that I did not like and I also feel that her novels have been there as I was growing up and have helped me become the person I am today.

The first Atwood novel that I met was Surfacing, over 20 years ago now, It was for my BA and it really opened my eyes. (Interestingly a lot of my favourite novels stem from this time: Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall, The Master and Margarita, The Magic Toyshop. Maybe because I had no idea that such books existed.) What I liked about it are the same things I like about all of Atwood’s novels. Her narrators / characters find life difficult in ways that make sense to me. Their relationships are difficult. And they are not always likeable or straightforward or even easy to understand. But they are always interesting, always compelling and always convincing.

It’s hard to say which of Atwood’s novels is my favourite. How could you possibly pick? I do have a soft spot for Surfacing because it was the first but then what about Life Before Man or The Blind Assassin. And what about the wonderful dystopian vision of The Handmaid’s Tale or Oryx and Crake. Impossible. I love them all. And if I could only read her books for the rest of my life, I know I would never be disappointed.