Blog: Life, University + Everything

So, this is pretty much a ramble – and an excuse – as to my lack of presence on here for the last couple of weeks. I’ve not picked up a book for nearly 2 weeks. Not properly at least, I’ve read a few pages here and there but I’ve not been able to completely lose myself in a book. I just have no time to read right now, not for pleasure, and it’s really getting me down because I don’t feel like I’m getting that escape I so desperately crave.

I started my third, and final, year of my undergraduate degree on the 21st of this month and I’m really loving it so far but I’m already stupidly stressed. Primarily because I’m president of the Chemistry Society and the stress of organising freshers events is insane – freshers was so much more fun when I was taking part rather than organising it! But also, research projects are intense. I’ve been working on my project for a few weeks now but suddenly it’s become a lot more scary with all these meetings about it and actually organising getting in to labs to complete it.

I study Natural Sciences – it’s a multidisciplinary degree and I’m majoring in biochemistry/biophysics. My research project has me reengineering enzymes to make them more effective for use in animal feeds and it’s really, really interesting. I love what I’m doing. The research has me stupidly busy, reading for pleasure has gone on the back burner but I really feel that this is what I’m meant to do. I’m enjoying it to the point that I’m looking at doing a PhD after I graduate next Summer which is insane but, oddly, feels right. The thought of doing a 100000 word thesis and four more years at university don’t phase me whatsoever, in fact the thought of it has me giddy with excitement! I just have to get through the 10000 word dissertation this year and actually get a PhD programme. My current project supervisor actually has a fully PhD opening up and I am determined to get it – I just have to beat other people, who are probably more qualified than me, off with sticks.

But, while I love science, I just have no time – or energy – to read which is bringing me down. I need to work out a routine in which I squeeze reading in and make time for it. I think when I’m in the habit of getting up early again and reading on the bus, I will feel much better!

Anyway, I hope I’ll be picking up books again soon, rather than research papers and that I can post on here a bit more. I have a few books I want to read in October and I also want to read the Man Booker shortlist in it’s entirety so I’m hoping that’s motivation enough. In the meantime, I’m sorry for lack of updates but I think I have a reasonable excuse.

Review: Middlemarch – George Eliot

middlemarchI have wanted to read this book for a long time now and I decided that it was high time to get around to it before I went back to uni at the end of the month. The most off-putting factor about this book is the sheer enormity (the edition I was reading was 924 pages).

Middlemarch is a wonderful novel that has left me feeling somewhat bereft at ending it. It is a novel that spans such a wide frame that you as a reader are taken on a journey. My biggest issue with it is that there is quite a large level of predictability, which is annoying when it is a very slow paced book anyway – plodding away through several pages when you know how it’s going to resolve is frustrating.

The characters are well fleshed out, as you would expect over a 900 page novel. The initial difficulty I had with the novel is that there are so many introduced within the first 100 pages that it’s just dull. Over the course of the novel it becomes clear who are the key characters and then those others that were introduced we see develop through the eyes of the focal character. Even though she was naive, I really liked Dorothea in some ways – she was deeply flawed, idealistic and rather cold in her demeanour but I liked her. All the characters have flaws, none of them are perfect so that was a definite brownie point for Eliot.

I went in to this book with expectation. Virginia Woolf has cited this novel as one of the best ever written, so many people love it, I really though I would love it, and I just didn’t. It wasn’t hideous, it is a beautiful book but it just didn’t hit me in the gut the same with Silas Marner did and when I put it down, I really had to force myself to pick it up again. In reading it I didn’t get that profundity that so many people go on about after reading this book. It does pick up around the 50-75% point but… still I feel that I could have spent two weeks reading something better. I’m not giving up on Eliot, I think her writing is beautiful, I just didn’t have much patience for this novel once it actually got going. For that reason, I give it a 3/5 but with a promise to read it again in the future to see if it changes me opinion.

Review: The Dumb House – John Burnside

thedumbhouseThe Dumb House has made quite an impact on the bookish community in the last month or so and having heard nothing but good things I had to join on the bandwagon. This is a new edition of John Burnside’s first novel, published in a beautiful Vintage redspine edition in a collection of Scottish Modern Classics. After reading this I will be getting my hands on more of both John Burnside and the series of Scottish Classics because this book is just incredible.

The novel follows the story of Luke, possibly the most unreliable narrator I’ve ever encountered, as he lives through a fairy tale his mother told him as a child. The in fairy tale his mother told him, Akbar the Great filled a palace with newborn children, who were cared for only by mutes; done order to to learn whether language was innate or learned. Of course the children never learned to speak, but Luke’s obsession with this idea leads him to carry out his own experiment, creating his own dumb house.

The only way to describe this is Criminal Minds, in literary form. It is both wonderful and disturbing in equal amounts. It is disjointed but makes perfect sense. It is by no means an easy read, this should have trigger warnings on it for everything (rape, child cruelty, animal cruelty, violence, murder etc.) and is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. It is however absolutely fascinating and I think it is a book I will continually think about. It is all shades of disturbing but damn, it just had this quality that numbed it somewhat – as a reader I felt distanced and very much like a fly on the wall; unable to do anything but not taking my eyes off what is unfolding in front of me.

Overall, I had to think for the best part of a day on what to give this book in terms of rating. Some of it is just so wrong and made my skin crawl but, on the other hand it was a book I could scarcely put down, it was a book that held my attention and will have me thinking for a long time. It was beautifully written and that can’t be ignored. I eventually settled on a 5/5 because the content, while difficult to read, is honestly no worse than what I would watch on something like Criminal Minds. It just feels a lot more personal and difficult to accept when written down. This is honestly one of the best books I’ve read this year, not sure I can say it is the best but definitely up there, it is one that will keep me thinking and stay with me so that itself is something. I wouldn’t say this is a book for everyone, it’s really not, but if you like slightly twisted things or maybe can stomach something like Criminal Minds, I think this book is worth a shot.

Review: The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M Harris

gospeloflokiI have very little knowledge of Norse mythology but this book has me wanting to read more. The Gospel of Loki is a modern twist on the Elder Edda told, as implied by the title, from our very unreliable narrator, Loki. Having read this book I want to one, read more Norse mythology and two, read more books by Joanne Harris.

Mythology has been given a bit of a facelift in this book in that Loki is very modern. Loki is just awesome in this book, as could be expected as it’s the story through his eyes. He is sarcastic, witty, funny, sassy and very unreliable and I really loved the picture painted from that point of  view. Loki makes an entertaining unreliable narrator. In a running theme throughout the book, he warns us of various people we should never trust – a wise man, a relative, a friend – and it is inevitable that we as readers discover that no one whomsoever can be trusted, including Loki himself.

For me, this was more of a short story collection than a novel. Chapter to chapter this felt disjointed to me. There was no cohesion between chapters and I really wasn’t prepared for that, though I really ought to have expected it. That’s okay, I love short story collections but it did mean that losing myself in this for more than a chapter at a time was quite a challenge. I had to read it in chapter long instalments more often than not, breaking up each one with a chore or a cup of tea!

Of course, as I mentioned, I am not familiar whatsoever with Norse mythology so I really cannot account for how accurate a retelling/adaptation that this is to the original stories however I think it’s an interesting take. Any myth told through the eyes of someone who is often a background character is interesting. From what I understand this is a very twisted version of the original poetry from which it is based but, actually, it is probably a far more accessible way for people to read about the mythology. Of course Norse myth has become popular as of late thanks to Marvel films etc. (something I myself haven’t actually watched an entire one of) – Loki in particular has a cultish following and I think this would definitely be a hit with those fans who maybe want a different perspective on him. I think there is quite a deviation from what is told through Marvel and what is told in these pages but I think it is probably a more approachable way to look at Norse myth than some epic poetry. For that reason I’m going to pass this on to my sister who is likely to love it.

The main issues with this, for me, was that there was no real character development. Loki and Odin are the only two characters with any meat on their bones, everyone else is woefully underdeveloped and flat. Also, while this was a modern twist on mythology, I sometimes found the mix of old and new jarring; for the most part it worked but at other times I was very much “eh?”.

Overall this is a 3* read. It was good, I really enjoyed it, I loved the narration. Just some of it felt flat, and in parts it was disjointed. I think maybe had I had more background knowledge of Loki I would have enjoyed this more so it is likely to be one I revisit as I definitely want to read more Norse mythology! Also, I have to just say that bought this book on recommendation from my favourite former bookseller (who has gone on to be a librarian, those kids are lucky!) and I am very glad he put this on the pile of books that I ended up buying! He has assured me that she intends to write more in the series so I await those eagerly!

August Wrap-Up & September TBR (or not, as it happens)

I love doing wrap-ups, while it is the end of yet another month I do love seeing my month wrapped up in reading. I’m in denial that it’s already September and that I start my final year of my degree this month, albeit at the end of the month but I do have 3 full weeks of reading to enjoy before I have to get back to that!

August has been an interesting month, and a momentous one, I successfully read no book from the TBR I created at the start of the month! I was looking forward to all of the books I picked and then I just got sidetracked with other books, I don’t regret it whatsoever and by the last week or two of the month I decided that a fully unread TBR is better than a half read one so ignored it.

August Stats

I read 10 books in August totalling 3568 pages and an average of 357. 9 out of 10 of the books were written by women, the only one that wasn’t was All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman. There has been a real range in ratings too, from 1* to 5* with an average of 3.4*.

Oddly this month has had few stand out books for me, the one I think I can talk most fondly of is probably Flush by Virginia Woolf which is the only book I gave 5* this month. Honourable mentions to both Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Skin both of which I enjoyed every minute I was reading, but just lacked a little something for me to give 5*

September TBR

As August was an epic fail on the sticking to a TBR account this month I’m going to read whatever tickles my pickle. As it stands I’ve picked up Middlemarch already from last months TBR. Instead I’m going to give myself some “goals” because that still allows me some flexibility. I want to read one Persephone book. I also want to read more fantasy – I’ve been on a bit of a binge in August and can’t seem to get enough of it! I have several audiobooks to listen to so I want to break up staring at a book with listening to an audiobook and playing copious amounts of solitaire!

I think they’re doable goals. If anyone has any bookish recommendations on the fantasy front I’d love to hear them!

Until next time.