During my first semester at university, I’ve had to read a lot of books. Unsurprising, really, since I’m doing a literature degree. However the amount of books has been a little overwhelming to manage. I wouldn’t say that I’m struggling, but the work load is definitely heavy. So to make things a little simpler for myself, I had the idea to list and review some of the books I’ve studied during semester 1 so that I have a place to put all my thoughts and ideas for future semesters. If you find when reading this post you might want to check out some of these books yourself (or, alternatively, avoid them), then that’s a positive bonus.
~WARNING… contains spoilers~
Reading Texts 1 Module
Behind the Scenes at the Museum- Kate Atkinson. (2.5/5)
This book mainly focuses on the themes of family, memory, and lost people. It is narrated by the omniscient narrator Ruby Lennox. On the whole, this novel is very insightful into the minds of previous generations, and how their own thoughts and actions reflect on generations to come. However, in order to get this effect, Atkinson had to switch between footnotes and chapters, the former containing passages of the older generations and the latter the narration of Ruby. This is effective, but personally I found it a little infuriating. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting more and more involved in an anecdote, and before it reaching the re equilibrium, it suddenly switches to another. Additionally, the theme of death started to become, in my opinion, very tedious and predictable. Most of the characters in this novel reach an unpleasant end. Some of these characters were more interesting to me than others. Therefore, while I felt some emotional attachment to some, I felt nothing resembling sadness for the others. Finally, the use of strong women characters was something I deeply enjoyed. Here I’m thinking particularly of Patricia. Despite her mood swings, typical volatile teenage attitude and fixation with not being associated with her family, I liked her headstrong and independent character.
Twelfth Night- Shakespeare. (2.5/5)
I have to admit, I’m not the biggest Shakespeare fan. I enjoy a lot of his sonnets, but most of his plays leave me in a state of extreme confusion. I find it very tedious and time consuming to grasp what someone is saying without looking at the translations, but unfortunately I’m afflicted with the stubborn need to understand things, particularly language, alone. So once I was assigned to read Twelfth Night, I cannot say I was looking forward to it. However, I was pleasantly surprised. This is one of the plays that I can follow without confusion. I was first introduced to the concept of Twelfth Night through the film ‘She’s the Man’, which incidentally is one of my all time favourite films. I found it a fascinating concept, and although all the details aren’t exactly accurate, the basics are. The idea of breaking free of norms, (i.e. gender, in this case) is one that I am massively in favour of, so I felt a connection with this play in terms of embracing the unconventional.
Regeneration- Pat Barker. (3.5/5)
Regeneration was by far one of my favourite novels to read on my Reading Texts 1 module. I find that the impact that war has on mental health is a subject not quite talked about enough. Certainly, I can say I have never read any books on it. The wonderful character of Rivers shows the men, and thus the reader, that it is certainly not something to be ashamed of or hidden away. He teaches the patients of Craiglockhart psychiatric hospital to embrace what they feel. I believe this empowers the men and makes them well rounded and sympathetic people. However Rivers is also a realist. He recognises that these feelings that he is trying to coax out must not deter the men from eventually returning to battle. This novel is also interesting in terms of sexuality. A good example of someone affected by the boundaries of sexuality is Sassoon. I find Sassoon to be a confident, likeable character who refuses to bow down to these boundaries. Additionally, the combination of real, historical people and fictional characters is very creative and clever of Barker. It reminds me that although this book is partly a piece of fiction, I am also reading accurate accounts of the consequences of war.
Forms of Narrative Module
101 Sonnets- Don Paterson. (2.5/5)
For my first Forms of Narrative assignment, I chose to write about one of the sonnets from this collection called ‘For My Daughter’. I chose it because I enjoyed the dark imagery and ambiguous language used. Halfway through this assignment, I realised it was a big mistake. I had exhausted every one of my ideas and had no other solid points to talk about. However, I felt it was too late to go back and choose another question. I didn’t receive a bad grade, but I vowed to never choose to write a 1000 word essay on a text that I wasn’t completely confident on again. That being said, I do enjoy reading poetry recreationally. His nature poems are particularly comforting. The calming sensation from just reading about the way nature is, the nature of nature, I find is a warm escapism. Something described as so gentle and fragile, yet so powerful, is an attractive concept. I enjoy poems of all variety, and 101 Sonnets delivers that.
Tenth of December- George Saunders. (4/5)
This novel was not what I was expecting. Each of the short stories has dark plots and questionable twists, and I love it. It is understandable how this wouldn’t be everyone’s favourite text (it does contain some horrifying imagery), but this kind of text interests me the most. I couldn’t take my eyes off the page throughout most of the stories, particularly ‘Escape from Spiderhead’. More than anything, I found the idea of it haunting. It is set in an experimental prison where the prisoners are testers for a man who develops pharmaceuticals. The concepts of power, love and terror work together to create a captivating read. The dystopian feel to it is something I thoroughly enjoy, but how close to reality it could be puts life into perspective. With technology advancing daily, the events of this book could be an, albeit unlikely, future possibility. This is a running theme throughout the short stories.
Never Let Me Go- Kazuo Ishiguro. (4/5)
This novel is what I wrote my second assignment piece on for this module. What I focused a fair part of my assignment on was the idea that this novel makes you rethink what it is to be human. Are clones not human? What makes you think this? In this novel, the characters walk like humans, talk like humans, process emotions and develop opinions like humans, so who is to say they are anything less than human? These are the questions that puzzled me throughout my reading of this novel, but I was intrigued to continue reading to find out more. Again, this is a dystopian text; however unlike the stories in Saunders’ novel, there is no horror or terror that defines this genre. The calm and accepting nature of the clones, while donating their limbs that will lead to their inevitable death, is quietly more petrifying than the stories of Saunders. My one problem with this novel is that, personally, there is a lack of likeable characters. I found Kathy to be too stiff and, dare I say it, boring. If she wasn’t narrating the story, I would have overlooked her character entirely. Ruth is far too transparent: she maximises her self obsession to hide her vulnerability. Tommy, for me, was the only character I found likeable. Despite this, the plot and concept of this novel is what really draws me in, and if those characters are the ones to accompany me on the journey of the novel, then so be it.
Fun Home –Alison Bechdel. (3/5)
The interesting thing about this module is that narrative is explored in many different forms. We studied novels, films and graphic novels. This particular graphic novel, my version at least, is extremely beautiful to look at. Once it’s opened, it’s clear the beauty doesn’t stop at the front cover. The illustrations are attractively drawn, and the story, which is autobiographical, is quite gripping. As it’s based on a real person’s life, the events that take place are relatable to all, and this coupled with the aesthetics of the book makes me quite pleased that this is the first graphic memoir that I have read on my degree. In a lecture I attended on this text, we watched an interview of the author herself talking about actually creating it. It’s clear that the mechanics of creating a work of art such as a graphic novel is often underappreciated, as the effort that goes into it is immense.
Writing for Academic Success
~This module did not contain a lot of novels, and the books it did contain are more for educational purposes to support me in my assignments, therefore I won’t be including them~
The Yellow Wallpaper- Charlotte Perkins Gilman. (3/5)
I found this short story to be interesting in the way it portrays mental illness and gender. These do not go hand in hand, however in this short story it almost conveys the idea that because men are stereotypically rational and in control of themselves, and women are traditionally the opposite, it supports and adheres to these stereotypes. The binary opposition of Jane and John is evident throughout the whole text. The fact that Gilman herself was a sufferer of mental illness gives Jane a very realistic persona, as Gilman’s own experiences is translated onto her characters. The journal entry format of the text makes me as the reader feel more in touch with Jane’s emotions and allows me to sympathise with her more, therefore makes it almost understandable that she becomes fixated and eventually consumed by this wallpaper.
THANK YOU FOR READING!
^ (A gif from the film version of Never Let Me Go