Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Moby Dick Read-along: Week Two - Chapters 22 to 41


Wow.  This week was not easy.  I know that I wasn't alone in breathing my sigh of relief when this week was over, thankfully.  Ah, the beauty of a read-along.  

1) We've met Captain Ahab now. What do you think of him? Did he meet your expectations? Who would you cast to play him in a movie?

Captain Ahab has exceeded my expectations!  I wanted him to be grisly and wild.  Conflicted and genuinely intriguing was more than I'd dared hope for.  I think this is one of my favourite quotes from him:
"They think me mad - Starbuck does; but I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened!  That wild madness that's only calm to comprehend itself!  The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and - Aye!  I lost this leg.  I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer" [Page 119, Kindle edition]

I've been disappointed that we haven't seen more of him, really.  Fewer rantings about the apparently misunderstood cleanliness of whaling and more Captain Ahab would be just great. 

In my head, Captain Ahab looks like...wait, like Geoffrey Rush.  I have a memory that Hanna and me have done this before but I was fumbling around the internet trying to work out who played "the guy from Pirates of the Caribbean who goes on about eating a lot of apples in the first film".  The answer is Geoffrey Rush and Hanna beat me to it.

2) Some chapters seem to focus on action and attempt to move the story along, whilst others seem to ponder the concept of a whaling and life. Do you find one type easier to follow than the other?

I'm pretty sure that I nearly died during the chapter describing the different species of whale.  Or at least, my brain nearly did.  I read all of the words but I'm pretty sure I took about 7 of them in.  And those 7 weren't in order.

Every time Melville starts lecturing, I stop absorbing.  

3) Keeping in mind everything we've learned about whaling this week, has it changed your views on it at all?

Not at all.  I think it's appalling.  One man's rambly discourse about how it's really a lot cleaner than I was thinking (because my real problem with it is of course how mucky the whole practice might be) is not going to change that.

I understand that perhaps in the 1850s maybe people's concerns were a little less animal welfare/extinction prevention focussed and that Melville's attempt at very dull propaganda might have worked but now?  Not so much.

4) Why do you think Herman Melville suddenly branches off into lectures about how acceptable/difficult/clean whaling is? 

Because he hates his readers and wants them to die?  Ok, fine.  I'm being melodramatic.  

My real answer:  I know very little (nothing) about whaling in the 19th century but these chapters read to me like the tide was turning against whaling generally or as though whalers were seen as second-class citizens and he was trying to do some good for people who apparently he believed were worth more than that.  

5) Do the scientific misconceptions bother you at all? i.e. that whales are fishes etc. 

Although it's the kind of thing that might usually bother me, it actually doesn't very much.  I find it interesting, in a way.  It's one thing knowing that people once thought that whales were fish but it's another reading a whole series of misconceptions branded as fact.  Which I suppose they were at the time.

Onward, read-alongers!  I'm actually most of the way through Week Three's chapters and they're not bad!  Sure, it's not all been plain sailing (sorry - someone had to say it!) but it's better.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Ode to the Midori Traveller's Notebook

I've now had a pretty well stocked Midori Traveller's Notebook since about June and it's about time I shared the love.

I've never really found a planner/notebook "system" that has worked for me. I've diligently bought a diary every year, I have about 5 part-filled review notebooks and a couple of journals that I've started whenever I've been feeling particularly introspective. My problem with all of those is that it's tricky to carry around a diary, a review notebook and a journal in your handbag when you also have to carry around a book to read (you know, just in case) in a handbag already pretty well stuffed with crap. All of that meant that I kept typing stuff in my phone to note down later, most of which then got forgotten about. 

The Midori Traveller's Notebook is my perfect solution. I've been getting into the habit of carrying it everywhere and I LOVE it. 


For the first few weeks, I carried it around in the little cotton sleeve that it was delivered in because I wanted it to stay neat and tidy.  Character schmaracter, was my thinking.  And then *dun dun duuuuuun* the sleeve got lost.  So I had to start carrying it around all by itself.  And it's starting to look so lovely!  I was wrong to imprison it.  All of the reviews are right - the leather ages perfectly.  It's got tiny little grooves all over it and it's got some fine creases down the spine and for some reason, it just doesn't bother me as it would normally.  It's just so pretty!

So far, I have it filled with four notebooks:

1.  Planner:  I have an "official" Midori planner with the days of the week on the left hand side and grid paper on the right hand side.  I've been a page-a-day girl myself before but then I end up missing things because I forget to flip forward far enough.  This is the perfect combination because the grid page is perfect for list-making, which I love.  Plus, everything I have from Midori has been such great quality.

2.  Journal:  This has been the real surprise success.  Having somewhere to jot down idle thoughts and stick in cards from restaurants I've visited and tickets to films and plays I've seen is so relaxing.  I find it easier to let things go once I've written them down, which is liberating.  Plus, I feel like I'm making something lovely that I can keep and look back over when I'm older *enter Washi tape obsession*  I'm using the plain paper Midori insert that came with my Midori.

3.  Books and Blogging:  Another love.  I adore having a review notebook with me again.  I can jot down quotes before I forget about them.  I can scribble down my gut reactions to the books I'm reading so that when I eventually get round to writing a review months later, I can remember exactly why I was disgruntled with the characters or in love with the plot or whatever.  Seeing as I'm a lot less whimsical when it comes to my blogging notebook, I'm using a lined Midori insert and, as ever, it's superb.  I write in biro (because my handwriting is tiny and ball pens and fountain pens either make it smaller or just make it into one big smudge) so I'm not really testing it out for bleeding or whatnot but the paper really is excellent.

4.  Notes and Miscellany:  I'm not sure about this one.  While we were away recently, my fourth was a gorgeous 100gsm cream insert that I got from CraftyAliCat on Etsy that I used as a travel journal.  Normally, I use a green 45gsm insert as somewhere to write down random things that I want to remember, like lists of albums that I want to buy and ideas for trips away and restaurants I want to go to.  It's handy but I feel as though I could be doing something better with the space.  We'll see.

I also have a kraft folder insert that means I have a pocket in the front and in the back that I keep bits and pieces I want to stick in later.  I also have things like stamps and passport photos and my double-sided sticky pads for when I do get chance to journal while I'm out and about.

In the end, what has really made me a complete Midori fangirl is the quality.  It feels like I've bought something that I can use and adapt for years.  I like that I can use actual notebooks that I'll be able to pull out and keep when they're full.  I find it easier to write in than a Filofax, say, because there isn't anything in the middle but a few bands of elastic.

Want one of your own?  You can buy them on Amazon for about £30 but I'd really recommend a bit of patience with international shipping and using Pencils.jp.  Even with paying shipping costs from Japan, the prices are excellent and they stock an amazing range of Midori stuff.  Using the current exchange rate, you can get a Midori with a plain notebook insert for about £20.  A six month undated planner will set you back about £8-9 on Amazon; you'll pay half that from Pencils.jp.  You can also get some gorgeous washi tapes for less than £1.  There's a minimum spend if you want shipping to the UK (which I think is about 2,000 YEN/£10 but I can't quite remember) but you'll get a lot more for your money if you can spend that.  The service is great - you'll get an accurate shipping quote  based on the weight of your chosen items before you commit to the order, update emails and a tracking number.  I'm in no way affiliated with the site; I just think it's brilliant.

So to sum up:  I'm kind of addicted to the whole Midori Traveller's Notebook set up.  Let's talk planners, paper and washi!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Moby Dick Read-along: Week 1 - Chapters 1 to 21


21 chapters down already! Thank goodness Melville decided to mix in some short, snappy chapters among some of the epic ones to keep things moving.

Thanks go to Hanna as always for her handy prompts! Let's talk Moby Dick.

1) So, first impressions. What do we think of the novel?

I don't want to speak too soon but it's not torturous! I genuinely wasn't excited about getting started and it's a testament to how much I love Hanna that I did just that. Honestly, though, I'm actually quite enjoying it! Melville's writing is actually quite witty and the tone is warm and chatty. Not anywhere near as dry and stuffy as I'd been expecting!

I wouldn't say I love it all (the chapter-long sermon about Jonah made me want to cry) but on the whole, I'm feeling quite relieved and as though I'll make it through the next few weeks. 

2) What about Ishamel's attitude to Queequeg? Is his tolerance ahead of its time or just a form of casual racism?

You know, I've gone backwards and forwards over this while I've been reading this week. Before the chapter where Queequeg is observing Ramadan, I was quite impressed by how Ishmael and Queequeg's friendship was portrayed. Sure, Queequeg is referred to as a "savage" or a "cannibal" almost exclusively so it's hardly the most enlightened but the fact that it's a relationship of equals did strike me as being quite forward-thinking.

I'm not so sure now. The chapter where Ishmael displays such an unwillingness to engage with Queequeg about his beliefs and talks about quite belittlingly about how religions can have whatever silly traditions they like as long as they don't harm anyone (believer included). The language during that chapter felt patronising and ignorant. 

But then Ishmael defended Queequeg when he took him to sign up to go a-whaling so I just don't know. That's my conclusion: I don't know, although I'm sort of leaning towards it being ahead of its time. 

3) Do you think Ishmael should have heeded Elijah's spooky warning?

How creepy is that guy?! Putting aside the fact that if he had heeded the warning. there'd be no story, I think yes. That said, is it a good policy to take life advice from crazy-seeming strangers in the street? Probably not. Still, there's be alarm bells and if you're heading off to sea with someone that you're warned off, I'd maybe say think twice.

4) Captain Ahab! He's almost with us. What do you expect from him?

Finally! This is going to be hard to explain but I'm expecting Ahab to meet the expectations I had for Ishmael.  Sort of a stereotypical wisened, foul-tempered seaman with one leg and a grudge. Maybe a bit eccentric, too. He's had quite the build-up so I'm looking forward to meeting him.

I've said it before and I hope I'll say it again but I'm pleasantly surprised so far. Long may this continue, read-alongers!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Audiobooks Mini Reviews: Classics

It's been quiet on the review front around here this year.  I've been meaning to catch up with the books that I've listened to and read but obviously that isn't quite going to happen.  Enter, spate of reviewlettes.  There are some books that I've read and listened to that will get the luxury of their own posts but where my feelings aren't as deep and meaningful, mini reviews will do.  Starting with some classics...

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

Edward Prendick is rescued from a shipwreck by a passing boat and eventually travels with his rescuers to disgraced biologist Dr Moreau's island.  As Prendick starts to investigate the animalistic screams that torment him in the night, he learns more than he wants to know about the grotesque experiments that Dr Moreau is carrying out.

As with so many classics, this book is most fascinating when you look at the context.  It was published in 1896, around the time when English scientists were pioneering work in animal vivisection.  The experiments that Dr Moreau was performing on his island were probably beyond anything that the activists at the time would have imagined but now?  If anything, the book is more scary because now we actually know just what might be possible.  The products of Dr Moreau's experiments and their struggle to balance their animal and human aspects and adhere to The Law are disturbing but do pose some interesting, lofty questions about what it is that makes us human and what it means to be 'civilised'.  It's a good story and it's not-so-subtly political/philosophical and it's pretty great.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars for being tremendously creepy and for still being worryingly relevant over 100 years after it was originally published.  If you haven't read it, it would be a great Hallowe'en read.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I've always remembered this book as one of my favourites from primary school.  I had what I thought were clear memories of the dreaded Black Spot and of Long John Silver and his parrot.  When I came across the audiobook, I was excited about the prospect of getting to relive a childhood favourite.  Oh, how disappointed I was after the initial flurry of fondly remembered activity in the early chapters gave way to a faintly dull story of battle tactics.

The story is probably familiar to most.  After inheriting the possessions of a former pirate,  Jim Hawkins and his guardians hire a boat and a crew and set sail to an island told to be the location of Captain Flint's buried treasure.  Unbeknown to Hawkins, he's sailing around with a band of swashbuckling pirates and about to find himself embroiled in mutinous plotting and double-crossing.  The first half was the good old-fashioned adventure that I'd been hoping for.  What I'd forgotten about (or had never been made aware of when I was a child) was the later section where two warring factions sat around on the island considering the best spot to inhabit and how best to battle their opponents and sort of occasionally fighting or engaging in a bit of trickery.  It was...not so great.  Clearly those supervising my childhood literary exploits knew what they were doing when they glossed over it.  It's a fun read, just not quite as fun as I'd remembered.

I will definitely still read this with any children that I might one day have (hopefully one like the pictured Barnes and Noble edition, which is frankly gorgeous) because I think it has some fabulous elements that really captured my young imagination.  Maybe there'll be some glossing over, though...

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars for dampening my childhood memories of rum-swigging pirate fun with tactics and island warfare.

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

I accidentally downloaded a BBC dramatisation of this one when I had half my brain on the decorating that the book was to entertain me through (glossing skirting boards needs livening up - shocking, I know). I wasn't sure whether that "counted" as a book but then I figured that I listened to the story and given that I wouldn't go on to read the book, it made the cut.

This was my first encounter with Miss Marple. I've been dubious before because I've always imagined the old dear to just be a meddler that somehow happens to be find herself near a lot of crime scenes and pokes her nose into an investigation before sitting back and watching everything unravel. I'm not sure that I'm entirely dissuaded that my rude assumptions were completely incorrect but I didn't seem to mind her manipulating ways by audio so maybe I could get into the Marple stories in my more patient hours.

In this outing, Elspeth McGillicuddy is minding her own business on a train when she glances out the window and witnesses a murder on a passing train. Reporting it to the police proves tricky when she can't identify the murderer or the victim and there's no body or physical evidence. Enter her friend, Miss Marple. The first few chapters annoyed me as Miss Marple manipulated Lucy Eyelesbarrow into posing as a housekeeper to infiltrate the Crackenthorpe household so that she could supervise and glory-steal from afar. Later, though, the story is a classic family murder mystery with a whole host of grossly unpleasant wealthy people infighting and plotting. What's not to like?

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars for not being as annoying as I'd expected and for saving me from the tedium of decorating.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Moby Dick Read-along: Week Zero - Introductions


And so it begins! 

As per the War and Peace read-along, Hanna has posted some prompts to help us all muddle our way through the whaling extravaganza. This week is introductions and expectations! 

If you haven't signed up yet and want to, you can find the sign up post HERE and the schedule HERE. (OK, so it turns out that the Blogger app doesn't let you insert links...pretend they're there and I'll add them in later!)

1) What are you expecting from the novel? Do you have any preconceptions?

I didn't have chance to get hold of the laptop last night and get this posted so I'm actually writing this having read the first three chapters and a little bit of the fourth. Not enough to give me any great insight or revelations into what's coming but enough for my initial fear to be assuaged a little bit!

I'm expecting it to be a bit of a long haul, if I'm honest. There's a reason why none of us have eagerly started reading this of our own volition. I'm still a bit fearful of the time that will be dedicated to describing the sea and worried that I'll find myself unspeakably bored when we're on the ship and hunting down the White Whale. 

2) What do you already know about the plot or character?

Next to nothing. I know that there's a whale and I know that Ishmael (thank you, Matilda) is probably going to be involved in hunting it. That's all I've got!

3) This book, unlike War & Peace, isn't a translation? Do you think that will make a difference?

I totally agree with both Hanna and Bex in that the language will probably feel a little more dated than the language in a translation because there's nobody refreshing it. I also think that it will make a difference to the read-along aspect specifically because this time we know that we're all reading the same words and (blessedly) the same character names!

4) Have you read Moby Dick before? What prompted you to read it now?

Good heavens, no! I very much doubt that a book telling the tale of some whaling is going to be something that I'm going to be re-reading. 

I think that the question for me is WHO prompted me to read it now. Because Hanna did. If she hadn't organised a read-along, I would not be reading it. Call it residual guilt from the time that I *may* have been involved in her reading a book that included exploding animals, if you like...

5) Show us a photo of your book! 

I'm reading on my Kindle again. Kindles were made for fat classics! I'm going to acquire the Penguin English Library edition too so that I can display it proudly on my shelves. If I'm reading the bloody book, I'm getting the kudos!


Good luck, everybody!!

Friday, 9 October 2015

Moby Dick Read-along: WHAT AM I DOING?


Back in Spring, a troop of readers fought our way through War and Peace, valiantly led by Hanna at Booking in Heels.  It actually turned out to be not quite as much of an ordeal as I think we'd all feared and I will admit that knowing that I've read such an unwieldy classic is kind of cool.  So when Hanna posted about another read-along last month (ish - I lose track...), I was keen to face down another classic.

But Moby Dick, Hanna and Hanna's Voters?  Really?!  You people are cruel.  To be fair, I actually know next to nothing about Moby Dick.  I know that it features a white whale that is being...hunted?   And that it's long but not as long as War and Peace.  And that Matilda is reading it to Miss Honey at the end of the film version of Matilda.  I know.  I'm practically an expert.

SO, although I reserve my right to grumble, I'm in.  It would seem there are very few limits on what I'll read just because Hanna says so!

Let the whaling commence!
  
Want to sign up for a couple of months of whale hunting (possibly...I haven't a clue, really)?  You know you do and you can do it HERE.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Homecoming!

Wow.  What a trip.  Even after a good few days back in chilly Yorkshire, I still don't really know how to articulate just how wonderful it all was.  It's Boyfriend's 30th this year and we wanted to do something different and something really memorable to celebrate.  After much (oh so much) deliberation, he settled on the Singapore Grand Prix.

Singapore Grand Prix circuit
(image credit)
The experience was unbelievable.  Singapore is a beautiful, beautiful place full of kind and welcoming people that take such pride in their country.  I know that everybody says it but it really is so clean and we felt completely safe everywhere.  The race itself was spectacular.  It's a city-based night race so we were able to walk to the track and amble to our seats past iconic buildings and incredible monuments.  We saw Maroon 5 after qualifying and Bon Jovi after the race (I preferred Maroon 5 but both were such good fun).  We went to the National Museum of Singapore, a sculpture garden, a WWII fort/PoW camp (Fort Siloso), ambled around Chinatown exploring stunning temples and ate our way around Little India.  It was an incredible few days and I didn't stop feeling super lucky that we were able to do it.  
Kek Lok Si (image credit)

Since we'd flown all that way, we tacked on a week in Penang, Malaysia before coming back.  And the FOOD!  Oh, the food.  I've eaten such gorgeous, local food and it was heavenly.  Malaysia felt a little rough and ready after Singapore but we had a wonderful time exploring the island and eating basically everything and having a few days to just unwind.  Kek Lok Si Temple was the real stand out for me.  It's apparently (according to our guide) the largest Buddhist temple in South East Asia and it was like nothing I've ever seen before.  Something I'll remember for years!

And the books lived up to the trip!  

I finished Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas on our first flight, a fact that may have caused Boyfriend to moan about lugging it around with us for the rest of trip a few times.  It was outstanding, obviously.  The series is one of my favourites and if you haven't started it yet, you're missing out.

After Queen of Shadows came A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  I should not have finished reading it in public.  I know that now.  I should have known it the moment that I read the introduction and learned that Ness wrote the book based on an idea conceived by Siobhan Dowd while she was herself terminally ill.  There were tears.  Many of them.  The book is beautiful and sensitive and haunting and you should absolutely read it.

When we made it to Malaysia, we had more time on our hands and I fancied some fantasy.  I've been seeing Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series everywhere recently so I decided to go with The Final Empire.  It was...perfection.  I adored the world and the magic system was sophisticated and layered without being completely confusing.  It's based on metals and the powers that can be drawn from them.  The characters were charming and I loved spending time reading about them.  And while the world is being built and the characters developed, Sanderson manages to tell an action-packed story.  I'm really looking forward to carrying on with the series.

Next up was Let's Pretend This Never Happened:  A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson.  It was as funny as I'd been led to expect and I guffawed and spluttered my way through the pages.  I made a fool of myself and it was totally worth it.  The last full book I read was Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten.  It was...ok.  It was readable and I definitely wanted to keep reading to find out what the heck was going on but there was something a bit off about it.  It's a YA 'girl's former best friend apparently kills herself but former best friend is convinced that it's murder and starts up her own investigation' story.  I was disgruntled about the absent parents.  It just seems lazy now to have teenagers running around town investigating murders unchecked because their parents are alcoholics or workaholics and not around to look after their children.  It's a page-turner but nothing particularly memorable.  Not counting the WTF ending.  That bad boy will annoy me for a while.

I finally got round to starting The Passage by Justin Cronin on the plane on the way home and it is brilliant so far.  I haven't really got a clue what's going on but it's dark and ominous and perfect for autumn.

Tell me what I've missed.  Tell me everything!!  Hope you've had a wonderful few weeks, friends :)