In December I promised a literary advent calendar of 3o books. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, I wasn't able to send out my final two blogs.
However, this has now proved to be fortunate as I have saved the Difficult Reads until last and it makes for a great New Year Challenge.
So let's get straight in with:
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Voung
A prime example of how a good title and cover can make you read a book. I couldn’t resist something that told me I would be briefly gorgeous! I have to admit, despite the incredibly well-crafted prose, this book was a struggle. Written as a letter from a young Vietnamese man to his illiterate mother, the book covers a variety of difficult topics including gender, race and class. An angry young man he is too, even with a name like Ocean! I’m glad I read it, because it was thought-provoking, but it’s a bit depressing. Not as depressing as the next book in this category though!
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
How can anyone’s mind even think like this? Margaret Atwood is a brilliant author. She puts together a compelling, shocking, thought-provoking and intriguing tale, but there are definitely parts when you want to look away. It’s a distortion of the worst of human nature, and yet all of it could happen. I’m very glad to have read such a clever novel, but it was the writing rather than the story itself that I appreciated, and I didn’t have any desire to watch the TV series. The true brilliance for me lies in the ending. I won’t say any more than that, in case you haven’t read it, but if you have, I’d be interested to hear whether you agree.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
Have I read the complete works?
I wish I could say yes, but no.
I do love Shakespeare, but I prefer to watch the plays being performed rather than read the scripts. After all, that’s why they were written. I studied King Lear at length – ‘Blow win and crack thy cheeks’, and I appreciate the ‘Is that a dagger’ and ‘To be or not to be’ speeches. I saw Felicity Kendall play Desdemona (remember The Good Life?) – she was brilliant, but my very favourite production was at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and it wasn’t the play which made it so memorable…
We took our three young daughters aged eight, six and two on a rather risky theatrical adventure to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The youngest was beautifully behaved until one of the characters arrived on the scene, and I bet you can guess who. The first time the word ‘Bottom’ was said, there was a little giggle. The second and third times, the people in front turned round to see who was chuckling. By the time Quince said the immortal lines ‘Bless thee, Bottom! Bless thee!’ pretty much the whole theatre could hear the peals of laughter. The same daughter went on to get an MA in English.
Nineteen Eighty-Four– George Orwell
I’m very glad to have got to the end of this rather traumatic book. George Orwell brilliantly describes the future and, scarily, gets much of it right. Room 101 will stay with me forever. ‘You once asked me, Winston, what was in room 101. I think you know. Everyone does. The thing that is in room 101... is the worst thing in the world.’
I have started writing my own dystopian series and I’ve started a new paragraph here to show I am not, in any way, comparing myself to the great writer, but he certainly inspired me. My series is set in 2124 and it’s much more fun than I anticipated. You can put in pretty much anything you like and nobody can say you’re wrong!
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Another difficult read, A Thousand Splendid Suns is set in Afghanistan, where Mariam, an illegitimate teenager, is forced to marry a shoemaker from Kabul after a family tragedy. All sorts of horrible things happen to Mariam and now, looking back, I wonder if the book played a part in shaping my own Mariam in The Runaway Children of Chennai. Having recently completed writing the second book, illustrating the difficult lives of Indian street children, I need to move to something a bit more light-hearted. I wonder if Khaled Hosseini felt the same after completing his book.
Thanks so much for reading my blogs. If you clicked on any of the books above you will have been taken to my book - that wasn't a mistake, it's just that I would prefer you to read mine!
I have some exciting news to tell you later this week, so stay tuned...
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Happy New Year!