Liebster Award

Thank you to The Book and Movie Reviewa for nominating my page for the Liebster Award! I love that blog nominations on WordPress come from other users; it makes the site feel like an really welcoming and engaged community, and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

About the Liebster Award 

“It’s a blogger-to-blogger award that tells a fellow newbie blogger that they are making the world a more interesting /intellectual /funny /better place. For a lot of us, it comes just when we’re facing that first blogger’s block or wondering if it’s all worth it. For the rest, it’s a shower of accolades. Either way, it’s a great thing. There are no certificates or trophies, but hey, appreciation from a fellow blogger is always valued. It is given to upcoming bloggers who have less than 200 followers.”

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Award Rules
  1. List 11 random facts about myself
  2. Answer 11 questions set by The Book and Movie Reviewa
  3. Nominate 11 new bloggers for the award
  4. Go back to their pages and tell these bloggers about the award

So here goes!

11 Random Facts About Me

Thinking of facts about myself off the top of my head is surprisingly difficult, but I’ll do my best.

  1. Second-hand bookshopping is the only kind of shopping that I actually find enjoyable.
  2. London is my favourite city in the UK; I love the history and the atmosphere there.
  3. I was the tallest in my class when I was 12, but sadly I haven’t grown since.
  4. I love the smell of horses.
  5. For a while now I’ve wanted a tattoo but I have no idea what I want the tattoo to look like or where I’d want it to be (I’m incredibly indecisive).
  6. I love travelling but I always get homesick (and/or jetlagged).
  7. My most recent reads are The Orphan of Zhao (which I highly recommend) and the first three Harry Potter books.
  8. I think a sense of silliness is a highly underrated quality.
  9. My family are the most generous, kind and supportive people in the world.
  10. I’m hooked on Breaking Bad at the moment, but I’m only on season three, so I’m currently trying to race through the remaining episodes before I stumble across a spoiler.
  11. I think I prefer nights in, preferably with a book, to nights out.

Answers to The Book and Movie Reviewa’s Questions

  1. What 3 words would your friends use to describe you? Maybe shy, intelligent, and cheeky.
  2. Your favourite character from books and movies? Hmm, that’s a tough one! There are lots of characters I enjoying watching and reading about, like Steerpike from Gormenghast; I think Steerpike is probably my favourite villain, and Harry Potter is the fictional character I find most admirable.
  3. What would you do if no one’s watching? I listen to loud music and dance around like a lunatic (honestly; I really hope no one ever walks in me).
  4. What in your opinion, is the best subject to blog about? Books are my favourite subject to read blogs about, and I also enjoy discussions of movies and culture in general.
  5. Name a chocolate you would rather be and why. Does turkish delight count as a chocolate? Because it’s delicious. Either that, or white chocolate.
  6. What got you to blogging? I knew a few people who had blogs and their writing and site designs were so impressive that they both inspired and intimated me. Eventually, though, I worked up the courage to try blogging for myself.
  7. Who is favourite author and why? It has to be Mervyn Peake, because Gormenghast castle is a fantastically imaginative and macabre creation.
  8. What is your favourite guilty pleasure song? This is incredibly embarrassing…I was listening to Miley Cyrus’ new song and critiquing the video, and now the song’s stuck in my head and it turns out I actually really like it!
  9. What is your idea of a perfect blog? Oh, that’s a tough one! I think a perfect blog is one with original and creative content (much like the Book and Movie Reviewa and all the blogs I’ve nominated here!).
  10. What are your perfect conditions to blog in? I write by hand before I type up my blogs, so my perfect conditions to write in would be in a quiet room, with rain pattering against the windows, and a cat purring in my lap.
  11. If you had to choose one blog you love reading the most, which one would it be and why? That’s a difficult one, too! I’m genuinely not sure that I have a favourite blog. I’ve discovered so many amazing writers on this site, and I find new ones almost every day. Oh, I wanted to nominate Her Silent Musings for this award but wasn’t able to because the page has over 200 followers, so this seems like a good place to give a shout out to a brilliantly bookish page!

My nominations for the Liebster Award

I’d like to nominate all of the following pages for this award. I hope you’re all able to participate!

  1. Find a Girl Who Reads
  2. Manon Reads Books
  3. Refined Quotes
  4. Playing Booky
  5. Both Paper and Not
  6. In the Book Stacks
  7. Questing Through Books
  8. Red Panda Reads
  9. Tasseled Book Blog
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Book Monkey

And finally, my questions for the blogs I’ve nominated! 

  1.  How did you get into blogging?
  2. What do you hope to be doing ten years from now?
  3. Do you have a favourite animal?
  4. Are you superstitious at all?
  5. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  6. Do you have a Bucket List?
  7. Do you have a favourite author, or a favourite genre of fiction?
  8. What’s your favourite movie?
  9. How many languages do you speak? And if you could speak any other language, what would it be?
  10. Do you consider yourself artistic?
  11. What was your favourite book as a child?

So, just a quick summary for the blogs I’ve nominated:

  • On receiving the Liebster award, you need to post 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Choose 11 new bloggers with less than 200 followers to pass the award to and link them in your post.
  • Answer the questions that I have set for you. Then create 11 new questions for the bloggers you  pass the award to.
  • Go to their page and tell them about the award.

Thanks again for the nomination, and happy reading! 🙂

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Death, the gray mocker

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

Under the Harvest Moon, Carl Sandburg

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

This week I’ve been indulging in childhood nostalgia, by re-reading the Harry Potter series. I’ve only reached the second book so far, but I am already falling head over heels in love with the series all over again. I’d always assumed that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the most childish of the series (not that that’s an entirely bad thing: the way the narrator’s understanding advances with Harry’s is admirable), and certain moments, like the scene in which the Dursleys flee to a decrepit shack out at sea, upheld this prejudice. For the most part, though, I was thoroughly and surprisingly impressed by The Philosopher’s Stone.

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J.K. Rowling’s writing is unabashedly sophisticated. The plot is multi-layered, featuring several small but satisfying subplots. Considering the scope of the series as a whole, it’s amazing to appreciate how much is established from the outset; even the smallest, seemingly insignificant details allude to future events in the series. Rowling’s language itself emphasises this sense of intricacy, she inventively crafts terms, such as ‘unDursleyish’, which perfectly matches its meaning. Rowling makes great use of humour, too; several lines in The Philosopher’s Stone made me chuckle out loud. This comedy sets Rowling’s writing apart from other children’s authors:

Friday was an important day for Harry and Ron. They finally managed to find their way down to the Great Hall for breakfast without getting lost once.

Rowling’s characterisation is similarly adept. While the Dursleys appear almost irredeemable, they are not mere caricatures. There’s an underlying darkness, for example, to Petunia’s character, who is so intensely jealous of her sister that she attempts to crush the magic out of her son. This sense of depth is characteristic of Rowling’s writing; like George R.R. Martin, no character is entirely good or entirely evil (though I’d argue that Voldemort is a notable exception).

The popularity of the series has endured because of its underlying adult themes. Although the books are humorous and full of light-hearted moments, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is not merely the frivolous story of a boy wizard and a school for magical children, but is instead a series which poses deep and probing questions about friendship, love, bravery and death. This is evident even in the first book: Harry’s encounter with the Mirror of Erised is an astoundingly poignant moment in The Philosopher’s Stone. The fact that Harry is an orphan is not simply a convenient plot mechanism, as it allows for an exploration of Harry’s grief for his parents, which develops throughout the series as he comes to appreciate the magnitude of his loss.

When Dumbledore leaves one-year-old Harry on the Dursleys’ doorstep, McGonagall ponders the significance of the night’s events: ‘Every child in our world will know his name!’ J.K. Rowling can’t have fathomed, writing those lines, that one day McGonagall’s prophecy would come true. From this fantastic introduction to the series, however, it’s easy to appreciate the reasons behind Rowling’s phenomenal success.

The Namesake

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake the central character is named after his father’s favourite author, Nikolai Gogol. Gogol despises his unusual name and longs to change it legally. While he eventually succeeds in changing his given name, he fails, however, to cast off the meaning imbued within it. These questions about the importance of our names and the extent to which they shape our lives are thought-provoking, though for me this wasn’t the most interesting aspect of the novel.

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Gogol’s parents emigrated to the USA from India, and their struggle to acclimatise is depicted evocatively by Lahiri in her descriptions of the oddity of life as a foreigner. Ashima is particularly aware  of the contrasts between her new surroundings and the home she left behind, and reflects poignantly on the idiosyncrasies of  American life. She finds the idea of giving birth in a hospital unsettling, and is puzzled by the nuances of American social norms. Lahiri’s writing captures the sense of how disquieting it can feel to live in a foreign country:

For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts.

Lahiri is clearly a skilled writer, and it’s easy to appreciate why she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Interpreter of Maladies (as past winners include Cormac McCarthy, Junot Diaz and Michael Chabon, the list of winners is a fantastic way to find recommendations). By the end of the novel, however, I was thoroughly weary of The Namesake. This was the unfortunate result of one particular aspect of the novel: Lahiri’s writing aspires to be mimetic of the confusion and incoherence of life in a foreign country. The effect of this is to turn an engaging read into a tiresome, overlong novel; lacking a traditional plot structure, the story stretches on indefinitely. Gogol falls into a series of meaningless relationships, and appears to succumb to the influence of his displaced mother. This mimetic mirroring may be effective in evoking the sensation of alienation, but has the unfortunate side effect of alienating the reader from what is otherwise an adeptly-written novel.

Shine On Award

Many thanks to Jane’s Journal for nominating my blog for the Shine On Award! I love writing on WordPress and interacting with other bloggers here is my favourite aspect of blogging, so this award means a great deal to me.

Here are the award rules:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you
  3. State 7 things about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.

shine-on-awardI can’t guarantee how interesting these facts will be, but here are 7 things about me nevertheless:

  1. If I could travel anywhere, I’d love to visit Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and New York. And New Zealand. This is why I need to start playing the lottery…
  2. I spent two years learning Chinese, and hope to pick up my lessons again soon.
  3. I once confused ‘viscous tubing’ with ‘fallopian tubes’ in a biology exam, which was kind of embarrassing.
  4. My favourite films currently include Scott Pilgrim, Titus, Battle Royale, The Hobbit, and The Lion King.
  5. This is more of a non-fact, but I don’t have a favourite colour.
  6. I’ve officially been vegetarian since I was 16 (I was veggie on and off before then), and hope one day to cut down on dairy, too.
  7. I frequently get my lefts and rights mixed up, which makes for interesting moments while driving.

I’d like to nominate the following blogs for the Shine On Award. These are terrific pages and I would highly recommend that you check them out!

  1. Tranquil Pomelo
  2. Both Paper and Not
  3. Book Interrupted
  4. High Fantasy Addict
  5. This one just fell off my bookshelf
  6. The little bookworm
  7. Books, etc
  8. The Book and Movie Reviewa
  9. The Nerd Next Door
  10. Rose Read
  11. Confessions of a Fancy Nerd
  12. Books, Libs, Scripts
  13. The beginnings of a literary adventure!
  14. Bookaholic in Therapy
  15. For the love of bookshops

Not all those who wander are lost

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R.R. Tolkien

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The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first installment in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. The book has accrued rave reviews since its publication in 2008, and was awarded the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (though I’d say that, while most young adult fiction could be read and understood by children, this series definitely lies on the more ‘adult’ side of YA, and needs an older audience to be fully appreciated in all its gut-wrenching glory). Despite its critical acclaim, I knew very little about the series before reading The Knife of Never Letting Go; I picked it up solely because I was engrossed by the first line: ‘The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say’. If you ever need to convince me to read anything, just give a starring role to a talking animal.

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The world inhabited by the book’s protagonist, Todd Hewitt, is set up as distorted and alien from the outset: Todd roams around swamps once inhabited by strange beings known as Spackles, and quickly reveals that there are no living women left in his village. His world is alien in the true sense of the word: this is not earth, but rather a New World, visited and colonised by settlers from the overcrowded Old World. This setting has great implications, the most pervasive of which is the concept of Noise. This is the name given to the thoughts of the Prentisstown residents, which are broadcast out live from their heads, often as clearly as if they were spoken aloud. In this climate, it’s impossible to harbour secrets. Or so it would seem; except, however, that Todd soon discovers everything he has believed about Prentisstown is false and sets out to unravel the truth. Todd’s own Noise proves problematic, as he quickly learns that Prentisstown residents are not exactly well received elsewhere in the New World.

The concept of Noise is stunningly inventive and original, and was one of my favourite aspects of the novel. Todd meets a girl who projects no Noise, and while this seems initially like an advantage, it raises many questions about human relationships: how we can truly know someone if the entirety of their inner life is hidden from us? Noise also functions as a creative means of literalising the idea of thought-control: Prentisstown is a totalitarian society in which every private thought is made public. There are no schools in the settlement, and most books have been burned, so even the knowledge available to its inhabitants is limited. The Knife of Never Letting Go raises probing questions about the dangerous knowledge and difficult choices faced by Todd as he enters into manhood. Like most YA fiction, it’s in many regards the quintessential ‘coming of age’ story, but also presents an unflinchingly brutal and cleverly constructed re-visioning of this classic scenario.

The Knife of Never Letting Go ended on a humdinger of a cliffhanger, so I’m itching to pick up The Ask and The Answer tomorrow!