Book Review: Hard Times

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Facts. Is there anything more important or solid in life than facts? Well, yes. And unfortunately, when one only considers facts, rather than emotions, beliefs and personalities, than one ends up in a pickle. And by pickle I mean a daughter married to a foul older man, and a son who doesn’t give a damn about the law.

Which is practically what Charles Dickens is trying to teach us in his novel, Hard Times. Or something like that *cough cough*.

Set at the beginning of the 19th century, Hard Times follows the life of Thomas Gradgrind, a man consumed with facts and little else. He does not have time for imagination, wonderment or emotions. And thus, that is the way his children are raised. Unfortunately, his two oldest children, Tom and Louisa, both feel repressed by their father’s strictness, and each take dramatically different paths through their lives. Dutiful Louisa marries Mr Bounderby, a boastful and apparently ‘self-made’ man – yet she later pays the consequences of her marriage when she falls in love with another man; while Tom breaks the law in order to sustain a terrible habit.

Known for his commentary on social injustices of the 19th century, Charles Dickens stays true to form in Hard Times. Though there is a strong plot throughout Hard Times, alas there are multiple, and while the main focus of the novel has more to do with emotions than inequalities, his moral lessons are still weaved throughout. While some are more obvious than others – particularly poor Stephen Blackwell (a man of such a low caste that even his dialogue is rendered practically unreadable), who is stitched up as a robber simply because of his class – there are other, more subtle lessons throughout.

While at times Hard Times was a bit burdensome to read, overall, for a novel that’s 200 years old, in many ways it hasn’t dated. For example Coketown, a fictitious mining town set in England, may be pre-Industrial revolution, the inequality and stigma attached to it is scarily similar to that endured by mining towns in England during Margaret Thatcher’s reign. And though (most) women can now choose whom they want to marry, Louisa’s dutifulness to the men in her life – essentially, her true way of showing affection – is something that many women still fall back on today. And, as usual with Dicken’s characters, there is always at least one person who reminds you of an ignorant fool you know in the 21st century. Because, let’s be honest here, doesn’t everyone have a Bounderby (a blustering liar who looks down on others) in their lives?

Dickens is the epitome of English literature and is well known for his subtle wit and musings on society and culture. Hard Times is no exception to his reputation. Though at times it can be slightly hard to read, as far as classics go, Hard Times has not so much as aged as proved a point. For anyone who is a fan of literature, I would recommend this book.

Have you read Hard Times or anything by Charles Dickens? What did you think of it? Let me know!

hard times by charles dickens

Hard Times – (image taken from http://www.tower.com)

Film Review: Fury

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Paul and I just recently went overseas to Indonesia, and we had a stop over in Adelaide (capital city of the state next to where we live) for the day. The theory was that A) Flights were a lot cheaper and B) Stop-overs are a nice way to break up the flight.

Wrong. Unfortunately, we forgot to factor in that we would be arriving at 6am in the morning, that our (cheap) airline would delay our flight and that it would be a 38 degree (C) day. As a result, we took refuge in a cinema. And tried to find the most violent film that was showing that could keep us awake.

Fury won. Starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman, Fury is set towards the end of World War 2, when the Americans are making their final push into Nazi Germany, and essentially destroying everything in their path. Brad Pitt plays ‘Wardaddy’ the leader of his tank and the men who control it. After fighting in numerous countries together, they promise to stick together until the very end. Only problem is, when a member of their crew dies, he is replaced by Norman (Lerman), a teenage boy who has no experience with war, tanks or death.

Like so many Nazi Germany films before it, Fury often comes across simply as a vehicle for America’s patriotism. America won, Germany were evil, we get it. And while there are numerous films based around the Nazis, some which are done superbly, unfortunately Fury wasn’t one of them. While the acting was adequate, it was nowhere near Pitt’s best (who, despite his ‘hunk’ sort of reputation, I think is actually a pretty great, multidimensional actor), and the writing frequently let the whole film down. Lines like ‘Die you fucking Nazis!’ is neither original nor particularly entertaining. Plus, I do have to wonder what Germans today would think about films like this – particularly since Germany was recently crowned ‘best country in the world‘ (obviously, they’re trying to make up for the past).

Furthermore, while the plot line does get ironed out, it takes about half of the film to determine what exactly the storyline is meant to be. And even when it is finally revealed, it is scanty at best. Essentially, for a film that is meant to depict the horrors of war, it seems to sugarcoat the atrocities of certain aspects (like the countless amount of women who were raped by soldiers), so it can get back to the main focus – killing people, shooting tanks and guns, and proving that Americans are greater than the Nazis.

However – I should point out that going into this film I didn’t have high expectations, and overall it was entertaining enough. At times it did have promise, particularly with Norman, however these glimpses of something a bit more thought-provoking was quickly dispelled for more action and violence. It did manage to keep me awake which is saying something, but for a film that could have been a lot more, it was overall somewhat disappointing.

Unless you are a big fan of ‘bang bang shoot them dead’ war films, than I wouldn’t recommend Fury. Mostly, I expected more from Brad Pitt, and I think this film is inferior to what he is capable of. However, if you want a mindless two hours of entertaining, without thinking too much, then by all means give it a shot.

Have you seen Fury? What did you think? Are you a fan of Brad Pitt? Let me know!

Book Review: I Heart New York

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I first heard about I Heart New York, by Lindsey Kelk, from Becky’s review on her blog, which stated it as chick-lit fluff and fun. Was I up for fluff and fun? Was I ever. This is the final week of semester people.

Despite being with her fiancee for basically forever, Angela still finds him cheating on her with another woman…and at her best friend’s wedding. Even worse, apparently everyone (including said best friend) but Angela knew he’d been having an affair. Cue tantrum, a hastily packed suitcase and a one-way ticket to New York…Angela’s starting afresh.

Luckily for Angela, as soon as she lands in New York she makes friends with the receptionist at the hotel she’s staying at…a receptionist that, upon hearing about the break up, decides that the best thing for Angela to do is have a make-up and spend quite literally months of mortgage on clothes and makeup. Even luckier for Angela, through her connections she gets a job writing a column for an online magazine, which is just SUPER handy considering she’s not dating one, but TWO hot men and thus has to discuss with her fans who to choose.

Of course, things aren’t perfect for Angela in New York. I mean, first she has to decide: will she pick the famous musician to be her boyfriend, or the Black Amex-carrying banker who thinks a trip to Tiffany’s on the second date is perfectly normal (and not at all capitalistic, might I add). Second, she has to make the heart-breaking decision of choosing to stay in New York, where she gets paid to write about fuck all (Carrie style), or go back to London, where she’s just been offered a job on a magazine to write about fuck all. LIFE’S HARD GUYS.

I Heart New York went against basically every principle that I have, particularly in regards to feminism. First off, Kelk has written a novel about a woman who apparently spends all her time buying clothes and make up and trying to decide which man to date. Fine, whatever, it’s a chick lit. But the thing that irked me most of all was that it felt like a bit of a slap across the face to anyone who has moved overseas, tried to get a job or, I dunno, worked and studied for the better part of their life to get a job as an editor. Yet, Angela somehow swans in and becomes an online celebrity in, would you believe, the space of a week. And then she’s offered the job of a senior editor for a major magazine….because of the fact that she’s spent quite literally, one week, writing about her love life.

Then there’s the issue about where all her money is coming from. Is she a secret millionaire? How can she afford a hotel in Manhattan, then rent an apartment in Manhattan, all while buying the better part of Barney’s? Even if I suspend belief (which I can usually do in regards to chick lit), it still sounds scarily familiar to the plot of Sex and the City. Which boyfriend do I choose? Oh, I dunno, how about I deliberate it while writing my column about sex and going shoe shopping? Only thing is, Sex and the City manages to portray this storyline in a way that is far wittier, iconic and ground-breaking.

The writing isn’t particularly great in I Heart New York, and the editing is particularly woeful. Aside from the serious typos and grammatically errors throughout the novel, somehow phrases like ‘the unnecessarily fat man’ got through the editing stage. Unnecessarily fat? Does that mean there is a fat that is necessary? And throughout are plot developments conceived by Kelk to get the story moving, but they read as though a 15 year old, coming up with a daydream about her crush, would envision. Though I like la-la land, it seemed a tad too ridiculous that within 15 minutes of arriving in New York, Angela had a best friend, a make-over and a whole slew of girls who were keen to hang out with her and alas, move in with her after a week! Sorry, but people generally are not that nice.

However, despite the horrendous writing, terrible story telling and absolute shit on feminism, this book was quite fun to read. It took me two days and approximately six brain cells, and with deadlines looming, that is exactly what I was after. Will I go on to read the sequels? Hell no. Would I like Kelk to come up with a storyline that actually involves SOME sort of problem? Ideally, yes. But at the same time, it was light, it was fluffy, and at no stage did it pretend to be anything else. In saying that, if you can’t stand chick lit, poorly written work, a shaky storyline or excessive amounts of pink, then please, don’t pick up I Heart New York.

 

Have you read I Heart New York or anything by Lindsey Kelk? What did you think?

i heart new york by lindsey kelk

I Heart New York – (image taken from http://www.gr-assets.com)

Book Review: Summer Crossing

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Summer Crossing, also known as Truman Capote’s first novel, was lost for almost half a decade after Capote cast it aside to work on other things. Though it may have been his first work, the themes that he explores in later novels (notably Breakfast at Tiffany’s) are still present: those of longing, forbidden love and the classes.

Grady McNeil is a beautiful 17 year old living in New York City during the 1940s. In the summer of 1945, with money, opportunities and the highest social standing behind her, Grady is left to her own devices while her parents sail across to Europe. Although she has the affections of Peter Bell, who has both money and the same high social stature as herself, she clings onto Clyde, a Jewish parking lot attendant. Despite the differences in goals, money and social ranking, Grady falls deeply in love with Clyde. However, her rash decisions end up having huge consequences, and suddenly first love looks like it won’t conquer all.

From what I’ve read of Truman Capote, I actually have to say that I prefer his fiction over his non-fiction. Though he revolutionised storytelling with his ‘non-fiction fiction’ with In Cold Blood (an impressive feat of investigative journalism and storytelling), I find his oddly sweet, simple fiction far more compelling.

Summer Crossings, in its essence, is a very simple novel: it’s about first love, and how it can blind us from everything that is rational. Though this is a story that has been told time and again by authors, Capote turns it slightly on its head – although Grady has everything going for her, looks, money and class, she is oddly a rather unsavoury protagonist. Rather than align us with her thoughts and feelings, as a reader I felt strangely distanced by her, largely due to a combination of her elitist ways and, strangely enough, her gullibility. Despite, or perhaps because of, her ‘perfect’ life, Grady assumes that she will get her way with Clyde…although she quickly realises (although far too late), that money and class cannot solve everything.

Capote also has a brilliant skill of setting a scene with the (apparent) greatest of ease: although he doesn’t use particularly descriptive writing, big words or flowery, long-winded descriptions, he somehow conveys the mood and feelings of a time and place. Even though it was written over half a decade a go, I still felt as though I was besides Grady in the summer of 1945, watching with horror as she starts to slide down the slippery slope of circumstance.

Perfect as a summer read or a book to while away time in the park, Summer Crossing is an example of simple, clean writing at its finest. Whether you’re in New York at the ‘scene of the crime’ so to speak, or on the other side of the world (like me!), you will get a sense of joy and completeness from this short novel by Truman Capote.

 

Are you a fan of Summer Crossing? Have you read anything by Truman Capote, fiction or non-fiction? Let me know!

summer crossing by truman capote

Summer Crossing – (image taken from http://www.upload.wikimedia.org)

Book Review: Not That Kind of Girl

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Lena Dunham’s autobiography, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”, is what some would call ‘highly anticipated’. The writer, director and star of the phenomenally successful TV show, Girls, Dunham was paid a whooping $3.5 million advance for her book on essays about herself. Now, if only I can find a way to get someone to pay me $3.5 million to write a book about myself…

Not That Kind of Girl is the autobiography of Lena, but mostly it deals with issues that a lot of women face, regardless of where they live. Lena discusses her OCD, urge to lose her virginity, fear of not fitting in and problems with trying to be someone that she isn’t – both in looks and personality. While her writing is funny yet honest, the best bit about Not That Kind of Girl is that it wraps the reader in and makes them go ‘Oh! I know what that feels like! I’ve been there!’. And while there are some truly harrowing moments that Lena recounts (such as the time she was raped), she recounts them in a way that is neither shocking nor attention seeking: rather, she tells it in a way that says ‘if you’ve been in this situation too, that’s OK. You’re not a bad person and you’re definitely not a weirdo’.

If I’m completely honest with you, about 50% of me bought this book because it was cheap for a hardback and I really liked the look of it. While I’ve seen episodes of Girls and I like how Lena Dunham is an ‘out and proud’ feminist, I also haven’t paid a great deal of attention to her. As a result, I was happily surprised not only by the stories that she had to told, but the open and witty way that she went about telling them. Even though Not That Kind of Girl is essentially a group of essays, they didn’t read like one. Instead, throughout the book I kept thinking ‘that’s me! I’ve been there!’ and I was left with the feeling that perhaps I wasn’t as odd as everyone keeps telling me I am. (Seriously guys, I swear I’m not that weird.)

One issue that really shouldn’t be an issue about Dunham though was that I was kinda disappointed by Dunham’s background. For someone who titles her autobiography ‘Not That Kind of Girl’, in a lot of ways, she really is. While I think she’s great, there was a part of me that was kinda frustrated by the absolute cliche of her life – grew up in New York to successful arty parents, used her connections, spent most of her time bludging at uni and them BAM! released a successful television series about a girl and her friends living in New York. I mean, really? While none of this is of course Lena’s FAULT, for someone who grew up in a country town, population 6000, and who would love to be a writer who lived in New York City, it did cut a little deep. Despite how phenomenally successful and talented Lena may be, she still probably got there because of who she knows. So, damnit.

Aside from that, admittedly selfish, rant, overall Not That Kind of Girl is a highly enjoyable read. Lena Dunham’s writing is self-deprecating (so unusual for an American), witty, insightful and inclusive. While she is discussing issues about her life (obviously, it’s an autobiography), at no stage does she come across as self-absorbed, but rather it’s as though she is presenting her life events in a way that says ‘take one. I know you’ve been in my position too, so let’s just hang together’. And while it is targeted for a young female audience because out of everyone we’re the ones who will resonate with it most, I still think it would be valid for a lot of other people.

Have you read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl? Are you a fan of Girls? Do you know anyone who would be willing to give me a $3.5 million book advance? To all of the above, please let me know!

not that kind of girl by lena dunham

Book Review: Junky

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The Beat Generation in the US generally brings to mind three iconic authors: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, each famous for their revealing insights and thought-provoking texts into what it meant to be a ‘beatnik’ in the 1950s.

Without a doubt, of these three, Jack Kerouac (he of On The Road fame) is by far the most well-known. Then there is Allen Ginsberg, who is lauded as the writer of Howl, a bizarre poem that I haven’t read. (Although, during a James Franco-obsessed stage in my life, I did watch the film, which recounts the poem entirely. Does that count?)

Then there’s William S. Burroughs who, despite writing Naked Lunch, is the least famous of the three. Which to me, particularly after reading Junky, seems kinda outrageous. Not only is Junky far less self-absorbed than On The Road, but Burroughs led a pretty incredible life. He was addicted to heroin, arrested multiple times, fled to Mexico and killed his wife during a game of William Tell (the ol’ ‘shoot the apple off the top of someone’s head’ game. Yes, apparently that does go wrong sometimes). Seriously, why isn’t this guy more well-known??

Junky is a semi-autobiographical novel that follows Burroughs and his addiction to heroin in the 1950s. While it starts off as the typical ‘experimentation’ stage of drugs that so many people go through, quickly Burroughs goes from shooting up morphine to becoming a full-blown addict to heroin. While he does take himself off heroin multiple times, Burroughs always ends up going back for more, for that last hit – leading him to getting arrested, prison and eventually, Mexico.

Believe it or not, I’m not a heroin addict, so reading Junky was insightful yet also appalling. Told in first person perspective it provided me with an outlook that I would never have considered, particularly since the most addictive substance I’ve tried is chocolate. And while Junky was once considered ‘unpublishable’ because of its content, I found it incredibly gripping to be in the mind of a drug addict and honestly couldn’t get enough of it (how ironic, considering the subject matter).

What amazed me about Junky and Burrough’s writing  though was that it wasn’t self-absorbed, whiny or even superior – Burrough’s just delivered the hard facts of an addiction, both good and bad. And while Kerouac’s On The Road frustrated me because it glamourised a selfish, seedy lifestyle, Burrough’s does anything but – he emphasises that while getting high is great in the moment, it’s not what anyone aspires for.

Overall, Junky was a surprisingly enjoyable, thought-provoking read that gave an insight into the Beat Generation and a drug addiction in the 1950s. Though I can see why it was so controversial when it was first released, I would still recommend Junky for anyone who wants to view things from an entirely different perspective. Which is kinda the point of books, right?

 

Have you read Junky or anything by William S. Burroughs? Are you a fan of the Beat Generation? Let me know!

junky by william s. burroughs

Junky – (image taken from http://www.penguin.com.au)

 

Book Review: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace, king of the hipsters and literary fans the world over. Bearing that in mind, from now on he shall be known as DFW, partially because that’s what all the ‘cool kids’ do in their blogs, but mostly because I can’t be bothered writing his name multiple times.

Brief Interviews is a collection of stories, often titled Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, about people who are essentially…well, not great. Sometimes they are in first person perspective, occasionally they are third, and with the Brief Interviews themselves, they are a series of interviews where the question has been reduced to a simple Q, and the reader has to determine what they asked based off of the interviewee’s answers.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men wasn’t a particularly easy read, but I can understand why people are in love with DFW’s writing. If the name David Foster Wallace sounds familiar to you, it’s because he is the author who wrote Infinite Jest – the holy grail of books if you are either an intellectual or a hipster. (Side note: Are hipsters a thing overseas? They’re huge in Melbourne and every second man in the inner suburbs has either a sleeve of tattoos or a bushy beard. Is that common overseas too, or am I just banging on about hipsters and you guys have no idea what I’m on about? Best to let me know.) And while I would love to tick off Infinite Jest on my ‘to read’ list, it’s about 1000 pages long…and DFW isn’t a big fan of page breaks.

I decided to read Brief Interviews for two reasons: the first is that a friend lent it to me and well, free book, and secondly, because I wanted to taste DFW’s writing before I attempted the beast that is Infinite Jest. The conclusion? While I enjoyed his writing, I don’t think I could read a 1000 pages of DWF all at once.

DWF’s writing seems particularly tricky because he does away with the conventional norms that most of us associate with fiction. Frequently, his short stories don’t have a particularly strong narrative, so it’s easy to get lost in the ‘point’ of the story. His characters, at least in these short stories, were mostly abhorrent and when I spent too much time ‘in their head’ so to speak, I felt distinctly icky. He frequently has incredibly long sentences that are grammatically correct, and surprisingly not too hard to read, but it does mean that entire pages go by before a new paragraph or a chance to have a break from the words. Lastly, he is a fan of footnotes, which is usually fine, but at times the footnotes were longer than the actual story. Eek!

However, for anyone who is a fan of literature that breaks the norms of what is expected, and tests the English language in different ways (that still makes sense), then I would recommend Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. In a way, DFW reminds me of a harder version of Dave Eggers – same style of ‘doing something different’, but slightly less reward at the end of it.

 

Have you read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men? Have you read Infinite Jest or heard of David Foster Wallace? What do you think of his books and his reputation? Let me know!

brief interviews with hideous men by david foster wallace

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men – (image taken from http://www.wikimedia.org)

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