Paper Views: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I know that my blog has kind of been all over the place this summer thanks to a dangerous combination of my various trips and general laziness, but hopefully now that I’m back at sixth form for my last year of school (eek) I can get back in the swing of things, and the holiday has meant that I’ve plenty of books of which to impart my professional opinion on for you. The first of these, and one that I wasn’t exactly eagerly anticipating reading, was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, one of the classics that was suggested reading for my A2 Literature course. Now, I don’t know if I’m the only one that had these preconceptions, but I was expecting this to be one of those novels full of wishy-washy lovey-dovey characters without any real plot line that anyone of our time can relate to (yes, this is exactly what I thought about Pride and Prejudice). I have to say, a few pages in and I was pleasantly surprised- the protagonist and the book’s namesake is a women who is independent-minded right from childhood and finds her way in the world without the help of any man- something that is refreshing to see in a book of that era.

It’s not until at least halfway through the story that you start to see a romance forming, and it is certainly not one of nature typical of romance novels; Rochester is moody and brooding and actually kind of ugly- something which only serves to make the characters more humbling and relatable. Described as something of a gothic novel, Jane Eyre definitely has more depth to it than the perhaps more commonly read Pride and Prejudice, and if you were going to read one of the two I would certainly recommend the former. Whilst I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite book that I’ve ever read, it completely surpassed my expectations and managed to be funny, gripping and profound in ways that I never expected. Definitely one to add to the bookshelf.

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Paper Views: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Finally it’s this time again, school is out of the way and I can finally get round to making my way through the towering pile of books on my windowsill that I’ve been staring at longingly for months. Top of my list, and the book I instantly grabbed when we left for 12 days in sunny southern France the week before last, was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. This was recommended to me by my English Lit teacher as one of her favourite books, which is pretty high praise so I was unsurprisingly very excited to start it.

To give a quick overview of the plot, it is set in Macondo, Colombia, and follows the lives of seven generations of the Buendía family (who have an extremely confusing liking for using the same four names in many similar variations). The book was written in 1967 and was a big part of the Latin American literary “boom” of the time, which makes in utterly unlike anything I’ve ever read which I guess was part of the reason I was so intrigued to read it. Without giving too much of the story away, it cleverly uses references to real events at the time, such as the political atmosphere, but goes further to really understand the depths of the microcosm that is Macondo and all its inhabitants in a style that can be best defined as magic realism. 

If I’m going to be honest, by the time I was a good two hundred pages in (the whole novel weighs in at a hefty four hundred and twenty-two in total), I was getting a bit.. bored isn’t the right word, but I was starting to feel like the book could have ended right there and I wouldn’t have minded- I guess I just felt like the story was being dragged out longer than necessary. However, being the kind of person that can NEVER leave a book half read, I lay back on my towel, put back on my shades and powered on through til the end- and oh boy am I glad I did. You know when you reach the end of a book and you just kind of sit there for a minute and smile to yourself that it’s a good ‘un… so to all the times I grumbled about how I just wanted to finish it already I’m sorry Márquez, I take it back!

It’s part of the Penguin Modern Classics range, and I can’t think of a book more worthy- it’s different to everything I’ve ever read and I would definitely recommend it. Although not your typical read- with more than a fair share of death, incest and prostitution- it’s a novel that I have no doubts will stand the test of time and is certainly worth adding to your book list.

Book Launch: Popular by Maya Van Wagenen

On Wednesday night, I was lucky enough to go to the launch for the book that’s causing a storm both in the US and here in England. Written by 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is an eighth-grader’s memoir about her extraordinary journey from social outcast to daring 1950’s lookalike in pearls- something that was simply not done in her small middle school on the Mexican border.

IMG_1995The story is basically about her discovery of a book written by Betty Cornell in the 50’s all about teenage popularity. Maya decided it would be interesting to follow the advice given in the book to the letter as a sort of social experiment, and see if it could translate into the modern day- as, in her own words, she had “nothing to lose”. From girdles to gloves and hats, the next year of her life was an interesting one to say the least, from materialistic things, to mannerisms and confidence tests.

IMG_2107The book launch was held on the tenth floor of the Penguin offices on the strand, with a breath-taking view over London, especially late at night. The reason I was lucky enough to go was because my parents run a vintage clothing and homewares business and were invited to come along with some of their stock, so I joined them to help out. After getting dolled up by the 50’s hair and makeup pop-up salon that came along, we spent the evening chatting to various bloggers and people from Penguin, before going to hear Maya herself speak.

IMG_2006The evening was hosted by the editor of Glamour magazine, Jo Elvin, who interviewed Maya and then opened it up to us to ask questions. I can honestly say I was blown away by how eloquent and insightful she was for a girl of fifteen, there were definitely strong feelings of inadequacy within me  when hearing her speak! She talked about the project, which she described as her hunt for the true meaning of popularity. When asked if she had managed to find the answer, she smiled and said simply that there was no true definition. She knew only what it wasn’t; it wasn’t the clothes you wore or the way you walked, or having everyone know your name. It’s about realising that there is no difference between those at the top and the bottom; they both have the same worries, the same fears, and the same hopes. It’s about being able to put that to one side, put yourself out there and treat people as your equal, and they will reciprocate.

IMG_1957Maya is by no means your average high school ‘popular’ girl, but she’s happy. Whilst the book puts across this message skilfully, and if definitely a must-read- especially for pre-teens- it’s not until you meet her in person that you realise what an inspirational person she is and how much we could truly learn from her. At fifteen, with a movie already in the works and a best-selling book, I feel this is nowhere near the last we are going to see of Maya Van Wagenen.

Paper Views: Animal Farm

I know that I did a book post recently and I promised to mix it up a bit, but I just finished reading Animal Farm the other day and I can’t help but write about it. It’s one of those books that everyone should read as a teenager yet for some unknown reason I’ve only just gotten round to reading it- at only 102 pages I really have no excuse.

I won’t go into too much detail about the plot as I’m sure most of you already know it, but for those who are unaware (have you been living under a rock?) it follows the story of a farm on which the animals overthrow their master and proceed to run the farm themselves, renaming it Animal Farm. It’s written to mirror the 1917 Russian Revolution and subsequent Stalinist rule, with characters representing all manner of political figures, from Napoleon who represents Stalin himself to Mr Jones (Tsar Nicholas II) and Mr Frederick (Hitler). As geeky as it sounds, as someone who took GCSE History I love reading it and recognising characters or events that I learnt about- it’s one of the many reasons I love this book.

As satirical novels go, it’s clever. Really clever. Orwell has this amazing ability to convey the characters and story completely through characters of farm animals in a way which makes this book a great read for those of any age, even though it is often marketed as a kids novel.  It also helps you really understand how deceptively the USSR became a dictatorship by telling the story from the point of view of those who are actively being deceived by those in charge, which somehow manages to be much more relatable than a textbook (I empathise more with a horse than a Russian citizen.. go figure).

I just think that this is a classic that everyone should read, no matter how old you are. Simply but beautifully written in only 102 pages, there’s no excuse not to.

Paper Views: Perfume by Patrick Süskind

I’ve been writing these reviews for a few weeks now, so I thought it was about time to tell you about probably my favourite book of all time- Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskindy. This was a book that was recommended by my English teacher who raved about it so much that I just had to go out and read it for myself… and let’s just say I was blown away.

Without going into the plot in too much detail, the novel is set in eighteenth century France and centres around the unusual (to put it mildly) character of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is born and promptly abandoned, left as a newborn on the streets of Paris. The book takes no time at all with introducing the abnormal atmosphere around which this odd tale is constructed, with the introduction of the key theme: smell. Jean-Baptiste, known better as Grenouille, is a child born without a scent, yet with the keenest nose in existence nonetheless- something that is the cause of great unease from everyone he meets, meaning that his childhood was spent being passed around between carers. That is, however, until he finds himself working as an apprentice for Baldini, a master perfumer in Paris. By this point it is apparent that Grenouille has an unusually twisted relationship with scents, which proves to be almost perverse when he hunts down a particularly beautiful scent of a young girl, who later ends up as his first of many murders.

I feel like I’ve already given a lot of the plot away, but that’s only the first part of the book so definitely go read it to find out the ending, especially because I feel like I’ve severely depreciated the genius of this intricate plot! Seriously though, I think it’s an injustice that not everyone has heard of this novel; creating something this unique and thought provoking is pretty unusual in this day and age (this was actually written in the 80s) so  I personally believe we should grab every opportunity we find. So although it may not be the happiest story line and “not my kind of thing”, in the words of Rainbow Rowell, “art isn’t supposed to look nice, it’s supposed to make you feel something”. Which is exactly what this book does.

Paper Views: The John Green Hype

As a teenage girl who frequents Tumblr and YouTube like I am paid to do so, it’s inevitable that I would be swamped with hazy nature photos overlayed with supposedly deep and meaningful quotes. Prominently among these are the one and only John Green; the king of the coming-of-age novels of our generation. Whilst this title is all good and well, do they really live up to the hype?

 

TFIOSThe Fault In Our Stars
This was the first book I read by John Green, soon after it was published in 2012, and before it was turned into a quote dictionary for pale indie bloggers. Telling the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, TFIOS manages to capture the thought process of teens and makes a pretty hard to imagine situation actually quite relevant to the reader. Which is pretty impressive, especially having been written by a thirty-something-year-old father of two. It has the incredible ability to wrap its audience around its little finger and take them on an emotional rollercoaster, before dumping them back down into reality with little ability to recover. I’ll admit it- I cried.

 

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Looking For Alaska

The second book by John Green that I read was Looking for Alaska, which I immediately fell in love with. He has this incredible ability to make the reader find a piece of themselves inside every character; whether it be weedy, biography-obsessed Miles Halter, or crazy, unpredictable, beautiful Alaska Young. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it, but it’s one of those conclusions that leaves you screaming inside with the injustice of it. Moreover, I can’t help but see a modernised likeness to Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye) in Miles that emphasises the idea that John Green has done for our generation what Salinger became an icon for. Is it up to the same standard? That’s up to you to decide for yourself.

 

DSC_0302An Abundance of Katherines

As a self-confessed math geek, I’ll admit that this book, and the incredibly poignantly presented character of Colin, intrigued me on an intellectual level. However, I must say that I  found it hard at times to move past the completely unrealistic and almost pre-teen story line; including a quest for more Katherines for Colin to date and a chart which claims to predict the future of any relationship based on  several factors of the personalities of the two people. Although probably my least favourite of his novels, it is an entertaining read and once again, John displays his ability to create characters to whom everyone can relate. I mean, aren’t we all just searching for our own “Eureka moment”?

 

Paper TownsDSC_0308

Ever wished that one night you’ll hear the patter of pebbles on your bedroom window and look out to see a silhouette in the night, a voice promising excitement and adventure? Well I know I certainly have, and so did Quentin Jacobsen- although, fortunately, in his case he gets his wish in the form of thrill-seeking yet beautifully damaged Margo Roth Spiegelman. Their relationship has many similar features of that of Alaska and Miles, with the ending being ultimately less upsetting, but in other ways a whole lot more tragic. There are many beautiful moments in this book that caught my breath and John once again displays his ability to play on the reader’s heartstrings.

 

DSC_0310Will Grayson, Will Grayson

This is an unlikely story of two boys- very different yet oddly similar in ways which go further than just their names. I’m still completely on the fence about whether I liked this book; in some ways I thought it was brilliantly written and I loved the idea that the dual-author aspect made each chapter like a reaction to the previous one. I also liked some of the characters, in particular the Will Grayson who likes to only write in non capitals, which I think was actually David Leuithan’s part. I wouldn’t count is as one of my favourites, but as a Christmas present it was definitely an enjoyable read.

 

So are they worth the hype? It’s hard to say really; whilst people can criticise them all they like and say that the writing itself isn’t the best quality, no one can say that they don’t have a place in the literary world. The numerous awards his books have won are testament to the huge audience which they captivate and the fact that TFIOS is being made into a movie is proof that these kind of books sell. As long as you don’t try and compare John to the likes of Salinger and Fitzgerald, and just accept that he is at the forefront of a new wave of teen writers, then he fares pretty well. Plus, he doesn’t half know how to turn people of all ages into blubbering idiots.