Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Devouring Books: If This Is A Woman by Sarah Helm

When I think about things I've read about the Holocaust, I come up with Maus, The Diary of Anne Frank, and that's kind of it. I honestly couldn't tell you if I've been intentionally trying to shield myself from reading about horrible things, or if I've just been a lazy scholar in this area. I learnt about the Holocaust at Secondary School (but that's it) and I've also been to a Concentration Camp and even the place where the final solution (uck) was decided upon*, but I've still remained pretty ignorant about most of the horrifying things that happened in the camps during the war.

Fittingly, If This Is A Woman is a really comprehensive book about the activities of the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, a camp that nobody ever really knows or talks about. I can't tell if this is because 1) it wasn't a death camp (as in it didn't have gas chambers until right at the end of the war, not that many many didn't die there because of the awful conditions) 2) it wasn't strictly a Jewish camp because the agenda for Jews was obviously death and so they didn't tend to stay at Ravensbruck long, or 3) because it was a camp, in fact the only camp, that was exclusively for women. I don't want to be cynical and say that because women are the only ones that suffered and died there it has been viewed as less important and not as worthy to discuss, but I guess I am saying that so please have some of my cynicism, it's free!

Ok, so. As I've already said, I have nothing really to compare this book to, but in my opinion, it was a really really good chronicles of the experiences of women in the camp. I can't say that I exactly enjoyed reading it because, come on, but there were times when I couldn't quite put it down just because I was filled with horror, and, quite frankly, I wanted to get to the end where, at least, some of the women would survive.** This book, however, is packed with information and research, and although there were points where I just wanted to not know anymore, I also felt like reading it was an important thing to do- not even for me, really, but for everyone to know how horrifying things were so that we don't let this shit happen again.

I think for me, the best thing about this book is that it's all about the women's stories. I think Helm interjects as the narrator only in the introduction and epilogue, and only to describe her feelings upon visiting the camp and also explaining how she tracked down some of the survivors. Other than that, it is only the women's voices we hear, describing the things they lived through and also describing the women they loved who didn't live through them. I still don't know if I've remained ignorant through choice or because, y'know, I've been reading other things, but I know for a fact that I've always tried to not hear about the medical experiments Nazis carried out on prisoners (if I go through my whole life not knowing what they were doing with twins, for example, I think I'll be good). This book, however, did not allow me to look away, and now I know about some horrifying experiments that I suspect don't even scratch the surface of the evil shit the Nazis were doing to people. It's not like I didn't know they were bad, but shit, dude. They were doubleplus bad, you know?

I think this review has mostly revealed my ignorance of the Holocaust before reading this book, but i guess that's ok. I read to entertain myself, mostly, but this was absolutely an instance of reading to educate myself. I feel as though it has opened a door to probably more Holocaust reading, but in a little while so that I have a chance to recover somewhat (I realise this makes me a total pansy compared to people who fought, hard, for their lives every single day, but hey, I gotta do self care). In my completely uninformed opinion, this is a really good example of a Holocaust chronicle, and if you want to look specifically at the women who suffered, then this is, I think, a really good place to start.




*It's this gorgeous house in the Berlin suburbs and it just does not deserve to be that beautiful. But it is. Sorry.
**Alas, the end is pretty grim- many women were killed in air raids just outside Ravensbruck after they'd been freed, and many many more were raped by soviet soldiers who were there to liberate them. Yay, men!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Doctor Sleep

Of all the King books that have been released after starting my long voyage, Doctor Sleep is the one I was most apprehensive about. The Shining is a pretty iconic book (don't talk to me about the movie, but the book, yes) and if there was something I didn't think I needed, it was a sequel to it. I'm not sure that this book exactly convinced me that I needed a sequel, but I still really enjoyed it all the same.

Let's see. This book starts by taking us to Danny about 3 years after the events in The Overlook, where he is being haunted again by some of the gross things he saw there. Dick Halloran tells him how to get rid of them, and we are then transported through time (that happens a lot in this book which is one of its strengths- we'll get onto that later) to see Danny- now Dan- as an adult alcoholic, drinking almost all the time to try and dull the memories and the shining- less intense as an adult than as a child, but still irreducibly there. We actually get to see him hit rock bottom, stealing from a woman who quite clearly has nothing, and leaving a child in a dangerous situation.

It was at this point that I was worried about this book. I didn't want to see the destruction of Danny from The Shining, and I didn't know enough about the book to be sure that he wasn't going to go down a Jack Torrence path of destruction rather than going to AA. Spoiler, but reassurance- he goes to AA rather than on a killing spree so you are totally going to be able to read this book, don't panic.

Danny (Dan) is not even really the main point of this book, however. This is his story, but it's also the story of a long-living group of almost vampires, who live not off blood but off of whatever is produced by children who shine. It's also also the story of Abra, a little girl who does shine, and who shines extremely bright. These three elements combine together over time gaps and physical distances to make a story that's really intriguing and exciting and oddly road trip-ish, but you know. In a bad way.

In a lot of ways, I think the best thing about this book is the time gaps. What it allows is for us to see large cross sections of Danny's life, from rock bottom, to finally finding help, to then being able to help others. As much as The Shining was incredibly insular and takes place over a few weeks/months, Doctor Sleep takes place over decades, making it much more roaming and a whole overview of a person's life, rather than giving us a small snapshot of what Dan's life is like afterwards. King pretty much says that he wrote this book cause people always asked him what happened to the kid from The Shining, and so he got to wondering that himself. Here he answers the question not with a single event but with many, and you know what? It ain't such a bad life at all.

And so. The completely unnecessary sequel turned out to be pretty great, and definitely worth your time and attention. I like and root for Dan as much as I liked and rooted for him as a child, and I'm really glad that this book didn't do anything bad to the legacy of The Shining, even though I feared it would. It's good book, people. Good book indeed.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Devouring Stephen King: Joyland

Joyland was, quite genuinely, a joy to read (groaaaaaan). It's another one of King's Hard Case Crime books (the last being The Colorado Kid) and it's just so great. Although, because it's King, there are a couple of supernatural elements to proceedings (a fortune teller! A psychic child! A ghost!) at it's core this is really just a good old fashioned whodunnit and, well, I can hardly resist one of those.

I'm finding it hard to think coherently about Joyland, because my brain just keeps going 'God, that book was GREAT!' and that's about all I can handle. So let's try and do some plot. Devin is a college student who has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has found a summer job at a carnival. Firstly, the carnival seems like an awesome place to work, and don't think for one second that I didn't want to run off and be a carny for most of this book because shit, those parts seemed like so much fun. This particular theme park, however, has a grisly past as a woman was murdered in (of course) the haunted house a number of years before, and it is solving this crime that is the basis of the book.

Except that, it also kind of isn't. I know I said this is a good old fashioned whodunnit, and certainly I got that rush of satisfaction when I found out who the killer was because, you know, it's very pleasing to have solved the mystery.* In many ways though, the mystery, just like the supernatural elements, are secondary to the main story, which is basically just the story of Devin himself. That's right, King has done it again, and made you believe you're reading a scary book, when actually you're really just reading a character piece. This book is all about getting over heartbreak, making grown up choices, and finding out who you are and who you want to be in life. All of these things are things I can get behind, and shit, I really loved this book.

Don't get me wrong though, it is still pretty scary. There were definite moments of peril where I couldn't quite breathe right, and I was also so engrossed by it that I made my boyfriend and I miss a train because shit, I just wanted to finish it, ok?! I gulped this book down in a couple of days, not only because it's short and I had some travelling time to read (both true) but also because, fuck, I really did  not want to put it down (see above re: missing train).

So to conclude. This book was aces and frankly I could read it again right now without any complaints. I don't even just recommend this book to you, I URGE you to read it, especially if you like crime fiction in any sense. I don't know what it is about these later King books, but to me it seems like he's gotten really really good over the last few I've read. All killer, no filler, all that kind of stuff. This makes me really excited for whatever comes next, and also slightly mournful that in just a few books, I'll have to wait for the next King book to be published like a total sucker. Alas, alas, woe is me etc. But also, not really cause I get to read more Stephen King!

*For the record, I did not solve the mystery, and definitely allowed myself to be led down the wrong path just as King intended. I like detective/crime stories, I would just be really bad if I lived in one.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Things I Read In May

May was a preeeetty good reading month, mainly because I had so many sick days off work for various reasons (5 in total, which feels so naughty to write down, but... sick is sick!) I finished 6 books, which actually I don't think is a giant amount, BUT a couple of them were giant and so, you know, I read a lot of book last month.

JUST LOOK!

Amazingly, I have reviewed most of these books already (coming soon!) so this monthly wrap up will be mercifully short for once, don't say I never do anything for you.

Joyland by Stephen King
I had so much pure, unadulterated fun reading this one. It's a crime King, which is always excellent, mainly because there's not just a crime to solve but also some supernatural elements thrown in and just a lot of good, clean fun. You'll like it, I swear.

If This Is A Woman by Sarah Helm
This book looks at Ravensbruck, the only Nazi Concentration Camp that was exclusively for women, and it was hard to read. Not hard because the writing was bad (it wasn't) but because the subject matter is especially difficult and it's hard to reconcile humans treating other humans in such a way. I have already written a review for this, but rest assured it is worth your time and (I think) a good place to start if you want to learn more about the Holocaust.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
It's the sequel I didn't think I needed, but it turned out that I liked it quite a lot. Doctor Sleep follows Danny from The Shining (premise of the book: whatever happened to the kid from The Shining?) through alcoholism but then glory and even though I was worried about the legacy of The Shining I really shouldn't have been cause this was great.

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
I think what I'm about to say might shock you, but I wasn't over enamoured with this book. It's an early Murakami, so it seems to me that, although it still contains many of his usual hallmarks (ears, foods, REALLY WEIRD SHIT) he hadn't quite worked out how to fit them all together yet to make a cohesive story. If his stories can ever be cohesive, I suppose... Anyway, it wasn't terrible because Murakami, but still was not at all my favourite.

A Feast For Crows by George R R Martin 
It's Game of Thrones. You know what you're getting. For me the real excitement with this book came from trying to work out where things came in the tv show, and also trying to work out what had been substituted for what because there are some real differences that are starting to emerge (although many of the essential plot points remain the same). I did enjoy this book a lot and it helped me while I was recovering from a medical thing, but I STILL LIKE THE TV SHOW BETTER I AM SORRY.

 Dietland by Sarai Walker
I finished this book in basically a day, which should tell you both that it was super easy to read and also excellent. I have written a full review of this one too (I KNOW) so I shan't say too much, but let's just say that the fact that it is easy to read is deceptive because it is feeding you so many important things you need to know about the diet industry and accepting oneself and ugh it's just so great. I can't recommend it enough, really.

And that was May! It's only the second of June and I've already finished one book, so I'm super optimistic about this next month already, I have to say. How is your reading going for the year?

Monday, 29 May 2017

Not-Quite-Sunday Sundries: Here Is A Pile Of Books

Bank Holiday greetings, friends and (hopefully not) foes! I'm definitely trying to cover for my lack of a Sunday post right now, but since today is a Bank Holiday it's basically still Sunday, amiright? I probably am not.

My bank holiday weekend weirdly kind of started on Thursday, but only because I had to go to the hospital and have a... thing done*, Friday I was all sore still so gave myself the day off and I've just spent a lovely weekend with my gentleman caller. So Monday it is!

Back to Thursday though: I woke up early because I always wake up early now (case in point: it's a bank holiday and I woke up at 6:45am! Woo! Not) and to prevent myself from stressing too intensely, I decided to tidy my room and watch Gilmore Girls because I find both of these things curiously relaxing. When I was tidying, I decided to put away the new books I have bought/received this year (aka the pile of shame) for the sake of having more floor space, and as I did so I kept seeing books I really wanted to read, and so a new pile was formed.

Behold!
Since I am me, this pile isn't really definitive and I will probably hate the idea of all of these books in a few weeks, but for now, these are the books I intend to read soonly. They are:

  • The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro- cause I have somehow accrued quite a lot of Munro books and managed to read exactly zero of them. This is the first one  bought, so seems like a good starting point.
  • Postcards by Annie Proulx- cause it's one of the only Proulx books I haven't read, and I find that she goes so well with summer.
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson- cause I remembered that I had this the other day, and I really liked the preceding book to it. This one's time has come.
  • Torch by Cheryl Strayed- cause I love Cheryl Strayed and it seems ridiculous that I haven't read this yet.
  • Dietland by Sarai Walker- cause I really really wanted to read it (note: I have done now and it exceeded all my expectations)
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith- cause like with Munro, I have many of her books and have not yet read any. Must do better!
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart- cause I read a part of this in The New Yorker a long long time ago and I really want to get on it.
  • It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis- cause the world is a scary place right now and I need to read the worst case scenario to... I don't know, make myself feel better? Or something.
  • Mr Mercedes by Stephen King- cause the long journey continues, and also draws to a close. I'm also planning to read all his other books soon, but omitted them from the pile cause, you know, I know where they are if I need them.
  • Miss Buncle's Book by De Stevenson- cause it's my earliest Persephone buy and I still haven't read it. I'm getting on it.
  • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson- cause it's the bloggess and her other book made me lol the most. Loling is super important.
And that is the pile of books! There are so many women on it, mostly because these are genuinely the books I saw that I wanted to read imminently, but also because I have been reading so much Stephen King this year that I don't want my reading stats to completely go to shit. At this moment, I'm pretty excited to read all the things, so we'll see how long that lasts.


Have an excellent second Sunday, if you get a second Sunday! Otherwise, just try to not hate your Monday, I guess.

*It's not a serious thing so don't worry, I just have to be kept an eye on because of reasons so I had to have a series of uncomfortable and slightly painful things done to me

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Devouring Stephen King: The Wind Through The Keyhole

I don't think it's any secret that I'm a big fan of Stephen King's Dark Tower Series. I can't get enough of his ka-tet's noble journey throughout different landscapes and worlds to try and save the very fabric of reality itself, and I'm also super excited for the upcoming movie (mainly cause, have you SEEN Idris Elba?!) However. I also don't think it's any secret that the parts of these novels that are pure fantasy, sans savvy New Yorkers and trips to somewhere resembling our own world, are not exactly my favourite parts. Wizard and Glass is my least favourite of the series, for example, purely because it's a story about Roland's past, set entirely in Roland's world and ugh please just no.

It's really unsurprising to me, though, that The Wind Through The Keyhole, King's addendum to his Dark Tower series (published last, but set between books 4 and 5), delves deeper into the mythology of Roland's world. It's clearly a place that King loves exploring and creating in, even if I find it kind of tiresome, so let us all praise him for doing a thing that he loves. For my part, I'm still a little sore at the events of the 7th book, so the way this book teases us with a glimpse of the main characters at the beginning on the end, but otherwise focuses on two other stories felt like a little bit of an insult, at least to my Eddie, Susannah and Jake loving heart.

To it's credit, this book is structured really interestingly. Roland begins by telling one story, and then tells a story from his childhood within that story. I actually found the folk tale the more interesting one, because it felt to me like a pure fairy tale- a genre that King doesn't tackle very often (if ever...) but here is very good at. I know what you're thinking though (or actually, what I'm thinking)- if I don't like fantasy (mostly), then why do I like the tale that is fictional, even within the fiction?

I don't really have an answer, except to say that I guess I kind of like fairy tales, but also this one was REALLY COOL. There's a tiger and some murder and a quest, and yeah, I just really liked it. Roland's additional backstory in this book really didn't measure up to this secondary tale, and even felt like a plot device in order to just get to this piece of folklore. I didn't like the Roland stuff so much, but it was at least shorter, and who am I to chastise King for wanting to return to his happy place in such a way?

Besides, at least it wasn't as long as Wizard and Glass.

As always, you should probably take everything negative I've said about this book with a pinch of salt, since I finished it in a giant gulp and wasn't even mad about it. Because, you know, it's Stephen King. Even when he's not at his best, he's still kind of the best.

ONWARDS to the next one.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Films I Watched In April

Greetings, and welcome to a brand new blog part of my blog and whatnot. The function of this monthly post is threefold: firstly, to talk about films in general because I haven't done that for so long and I really like to do it, secondly, I have a limitless movie pass now which means I'm seeing more films than ever before (in theory) and thirdly, my friend who I basically just see movies with does a thing where she records all the films she's seen in a year, and you know, I wanna too.

Thus here beginnith all the films watched in my 29th year.

Raw
I feel like I must have known once upon a time that Raw was a french (actually belgian, but french language) film, but I managed to forget that before I saw it and so was faced with subtitles after a 9 hour day at work. No matter, because Raw was excellent- I was concerned before I saw it because I had heard horror stories of people throwing up in cinemas because of it, and because I'm really not good with scary movies, but this was not exactly what I would describe as a horror movie. The story follows Justine, a young girl who is a vegetarian and is just starting at vet school. Both of these things are relevant as the culture of hazing at the school leads to Justine's consumption of a raw rabbit kidney (a vegetarian! Eating a raw rabbit kidney!) after which point, things get WEIRD. Rather than a horror movie though, this is really just a coming of age drama with just the tiniest bit of cannibalism thrown in for funsies and also for some kind of symbolism that I'm sure I'd be able to decipher if I was a smarter person. Regardless, this film was excellent, and well worth the subtitle reading that it entailed. The general thing I learnt from the movie: Give a vegetarian meat, and it's just a matter of time until she's chowing down on some tasty tasty human flesh.

Monty Python and the Life of Brian
I shouldn't really count this cause I fell asleep abouuuut half an hour into this and only woke up for 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' (for similar reasons, I'm not counting Boys Don't Cry) BUT it's my Good Friday film, I'm trying to start a tradition where I watch it every year, and it is great.

Get Out

Get Out, however, I saw twice last month (and once the month before that, YES IT IS THAT GOOD and yes I really do have that cinema pass thing). You really need to see it to understand how good it is, but as well as exploring race relations and other big important issues, it's just genuinely an excellent story, thrilling and disturbing and omg how evil are white people? Sooooo evil, you guys. You really really have to see it thought because honestly, I just can't do it justice.

The Theory of Everything

Ah, The Theory of Everything is a sad one. Basically Stephen Hawking's life story, from his time at Cambridge/diagnosis of MND, it comes as no surprise to me that Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for this role, even if I didn't think the film itself was perfect. It's a little oddly paced, and some of the events are not really fully explored, but this makes sense when one considers that the source material is from Hawking's ex-wife's memoir rather than his own words. Stunning performances, and well worth a watch, just not a perfect film (like, you know, Get Out is, for instance).

Bowling for Columbine

I have seen this film many many times, but I needed my boyfriend to see it and Netflix has it and everything. I haven't seen it for a while, so I was expecting it to be dated, but if anything its ideas about gun control and why Americans are so damn trigger happy are more relevant now than when it was first released. Always worth a watch, if only for the cartoon history of America (WHITE PEOPLE ARE TERRIBLE).

Beauty and the Beast

I mean. We all know the deal with Beauty and the Beast right? It's beautiful and magical and yes I am of course talking about the cartoon and not the live action version that I can't quite bring myself to go and see. White men are particularly terrible in this, but I sure had a fine time watching it and I'm still singing all the songs from it, tbh.

So. There we have April.
Films for the year so far: 6
Onwards we shall march!