Tag Archives: literature

Eyres and Graces: A Clash with Classics Part 1

In light of my recent ponderings about the great hubbub that is “classic literature”, I’ve decided to breathe life back into my withering reading tag and review some classic novels—what makes them “classics”? What made them stand the test of time and garner such acclaim? Are they deserving of it? What can they teach us about the past era they were written in? Can they be enjoyed as books or do they have to be academically dissected for all their merits to come to the surface? Will I ever truly get over my desire to punch their romantic heroes in the face?

Jane Eyre 2011

Jane Eyre the person is, like Jane Eyre the book, wonderful, powerful and miserable. She begins as a bullied, neglected orphan in the care—to use the word loosely—of her relatives, Wicked Stepmother archetype and all. Her aunt would have turned baby Jane out on the doorstep, but her husband, damn him, used his dying breath to make her promise she’d take care of his niece.

Jane knows, with a ten-year-old’s wisdom and an impeccably strong sense of self-awareness that continues through the whole book, that she’s better than these people, who torment her and unfairly punish her. So, first chance she gets, she suggests going away to school. Her aunt, keen to be shot of her, thinks it’s a great idea, and so our little heroine goes off into the world. To deal with frostbite, famine, typhus and educational brutality.

Having fun yet? Continue reading


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The Pride and Prejudice Around Classics

Pride and Prejudice miniseries BBC

Before recently, I had never read any Jane Austen—you could even say, and be totally truthful about the business, that I had been deliberately avoiding her work. And it occurred to me that the reason I had been doing this was out of, ironically enough, pride (to think I should be seen with such a book in my hands! Oh, the potential embarrassment!) and prejudice (Austen’s books are all just florid frilly stories about snobs in crinolines and cravats dancing around each other trying to get married, right?). To my enormous surprise, I finished Pride and Prejudice and bloody loved it. Why didn’t anyone tell me it was this good? Well, the short answer is they did, but the culture surrounding classic literature—on both sides—is such that I wanted to avoid the conversation altogether.

Austen and her ilk (romances and heroine-driven novels from the 19th century, let’s say) are often a love-or-hate-it affair. People are reluctant to pick up classics, perhaps because they’re considered passé or dull compared to modern fiction, perhaps because the language is different and difficult to get your head around sometimes and the writing style and story structure is no longer in vogue or what our 21st century brains and hearts are used to processing. This is fair enough. It is not, however, a worthy reason for classic literature being snubbed entirely because it’s classic. Old things can be good things, and our 21st century brains and hearts should get a taste of the words of the past now and then to broaden our horizons.

That being said, classics should also not be put upon pedestals just because they’re classics. Yes, we know that they are considered ‘classic’ because they shine with a certain light and did something revolutionary or important in their day that contributed to the way literature has evolved. However, to continue to evolve we also need to embrace new writing and not cling to things written 200 years ago as a model of perfection that no heathen work of modern fiction can possibly live up to. It’s this attitude that makes so many people have the opinion in the previous paragraph, mostly, unfortunately, bred by the books being shoved at them in high school with demand for appreciation. The only thing that kills the love of a book faster than analysing it to death is being expected, by some bizarre pretence that someone else decided, to enjoy it, simply because it is old. Half the time, I’d be tempted to go out of my way to not enjoy it, simply out of spite. Continue reading


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The Great Carraway: Marvels of the ‘Pants’ Character

Story worlds are cool. Writers all over the world and throughout history have created an endless parade of fascinating and wondrous fictional realms that we as an audience adore to visit, and characters we love and love to hate. Wouldn’t it be the greatest epitome of awesome if we could really get into these places and meet them?

Well luckily, with a certain character type at the wheel, you can! Slip into their shell and walk around the story land as you please. It’s as easy as pulling on a pair of pants.

I’m trying something new these days: I’ve started playing Fate/Stay Night, delving into an adventure of magic, mythology and mayhem, and touching down into the visual novel medium for the first time. A visual novel is, in plainest terms, a complex Choose Your Own Adventure story, with graphics, voiceovers, and a lot of pages—basically you click through the story and are occasionally presented with different options that transform you from reader into player. What will you do in this situation? Every decision could affect the overall outcome of the story. There are different routes you can venture down, making the medium very interesting in terms of its virtually unlimited storytelling capacities.

But before we digress into that territory, let me tell you something I discovered while playing. I’m not very far in since the game is enormous, and that’s not even counting the alternate routes and storylines, so I haven’t been faced with many options yet. If they have come up, they’ve been menial things that aren’t directly involved with the big magical war going on in the shadows the protagonist has not yet stumbled into. For example, the first one you get is in the morning when Our Hero, Shirou, wakes up: does he go and do his normal morning routine, or go and help his friend make breakfast?

Super simple stuff, and I picked the breakfast one (because I harbour a sneaking suspicion that the character involved was placed to fulfil some sort of adorable docile housewife fantasy and it makes me itch. Go and assist your lady friend, Shirou. Look after your ladies. No ladies no life). My reasoning was that I’d hate to be the lazy-ass in that scenario, and you ought to help your friends out, especially if they’re being lovely enough to cook your meals. But then I backtracked and went “Hang on. Was I making that decision as me, or was I making it as Shirou?” Continue reading


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Second Book Syndrome

A strange epidemic that rages through the world of media and fiction alongside sequelitis, Second Book Syndrome is a bizarre phenomenon the plagues many a series. Have you ever read a series or trilogy and found that, despite the greatness of the first book and perhaps the third and onwards, the second one was really not that sharp?

The Harry Potter books, for example, are sort of universally agreed to have taken a bit of a dip in The Chamber of Secrets (not that it deterred any fans as the other five books kept coming out and selling like, well, fun fantasy adventures about teenage wizards), discussions with peers and the analytical sharp tongue of Mark have revealed that Catching Fire was a bit of a disappointment after the pull of The Hunger Games, I completely lost the energy to read The Ask and the Answer despite how incredible and gripping its predecessor The Knife of Never Letting Go had been, A Clash of Kings seemed harder to chew through than the radiance of A Game of Thrones and A Storm of Swords

What is going on here?

I’ve been racking my brain for reasons behind this outbreak (which is by no means a new phenomenon, of course, but it is the age wherein it can be pondered on the Intertubes by writers who have little better to do with their spare time than come up with witticisms and shout at fictional characters), and I have thought of some potential causes: Continue reading


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Flappers and Philosophy: Alex Reads F. Scott Fitzgerald

F Scott Fitzgerald himselfThe 1920s have always held a glittery fascination to me, an era of great social change in the wake of the society-shattering events of the First World War and an almost literal tossing out the window of the values of the previous century. It was a turning point era when people started to think differently, almost the Twentieth Century’s rebellious teen phase if you will—women cut their hair and refused to look upon corsets again, the classes began to merge and mingle, jazz music caused a sensation, and of course the backdrop to all this was the Prohibition, America’s bright idea to rid themselves of the corruptive devil’s blood that was alcohol by banning it.

It was a time of shifting morals and changing attitudes, iconic for much of the western world, and thus it needed a writer to document and decode it.

And here enters F. Scott Fitzgerald, a typewriter before him, dry wit social commentary in one hand and rolling prose in the other, ready to fuse them together and create an elegant electrical storm that would be immortalised as the voice of the era. Continue reading


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I’m Just a Teenage Hero, Baby

Sometimes books are a niche interest, but there are some that everyone has heard of: and at the moment those that have achieved this success of world-renown-ment are Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight… which funnily enough are all series aimed at the young adult market.

Some may ponder this most academically: why have these teen books become so hugely successful? Some others may fling the obvious answer back at them: they are engrossing stories that have captured the attention and imagination of an audience, an audience that extends well beyond the interest in struggles of teenagers stuck in fantasy or sci-fi settings.

There is in fact a large market for adolescent literature because, contrary to some belief, teenagers aren’t all spending their time popping shots and getting freaky and doing totally radical ollies in the skate park and they do read. And when they do read, they seek out stories that they can see themselves reflected in and relate to.

Teenaged girls with cucumber slices on their eyes, laughing their heads off

Those crazed youth. Just look at them!

Continue reading


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New Year’s Nerdiness: A Celebration of Books 2012

On the off chance that anyone is interested, I hereby throw my accomplished reading list to the internet for little purpose other than to demonstrate my own widespread bibliophilism. Here’s to another year of devouring fiction in all its forms!

This list, of course, only includes books I finished, and left off are those who tragically never saw me reach the back page in 2012 (unless it was to skip there… come on, I know you all do that too)

*= Re-read

The Night Circus UK cover

1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

Many characters, magical realism, a fictional place I long to visit and explore and descriptive prose that makes me cry cupcakes.

2. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman (1999)

A collection of short stories ranging from hilarious to horrifying, all with Neil Gaiman’s unique twist of concepts fantastical and real. And a small seaside town full of worshippers of the Lovecraftian gods.

3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan (2010)

I have seldom laughed out loud while reading, but this book did it. Shared between two authors and two narrators, the insightful little novel rolls along without wanting to be put down.

4. Paper Towns by John Green (2008)

Ah yes, my John Green era. Due for a re-read by this late stage in the year, methinks—the story of a boy and the girl he loves and idolises but doesn’t understand, and the world and its façades.

5. Looking For Alaska by John Green (2005)

Manic Pixie Dream Girls who are fawned over, taken to pieces and then killed symbolically. I didn’t enjoy it that much, but if that isn’t a recipe for awards tell me what is.

The Fault in Our Stars

6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

If you want to smile and weep and hug a book to your chest then pick up this one. Like, actually: in the hubbub of your YA shelf this one should magnetise everyone who walks past and wants to think about life, love and death, ponderings delivered to them in John Green’s beautiful introspective prose from shockingly real and lovable characters.

7. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (2006)

And then there’s this asshole. Bit of a shock after the above mentioned in terms of it being a wacky comedy after a story starring cancer patients, but what have you.

8. How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan (2008)

Not a book of love stories, necessarily, but a book of stories about love, in all its shapes and forms. Singular stories stood out and others were shrugged at or forgotten, as oft happens with anthologies. Contains some real gems, especially Skipping Prom, Princes, and A Romantic Inclination.

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray  by Oscar Wilde (1891)

The home of one of my favourite fictional douchebags (which, funnily enough, is where you will find the only douchebags I tolerate and enjoy), fallen from his grace in a story of pride and corruption. Also, is it possible to be attracted to a writer’s prose? Because I will passionately wed Oscar Wilde’s. And bear its beautiful children.

10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

I was picking through classics at this point, it seems—lucky for me, as I discovered one of my favourite books. The Beautiful and Damned, however, is still sitting on my shelf, waiting to be waded through and returned to the friend I borrowed it from a year ago. Oops.

11. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

A sparkling little fairy tale, much more fondly believed to be satirical than written by a man who was high, though the latter inclination does rear its head at some points… still, no weirder than anything else that’s ever been written as fantasy for children.

The Phantom of the Opera Vintage cover

12. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1910)

Explored to contrast, of course, the musical, and an interesting thing to delve into. The language was stuffy and the storytelling style sometimes jarring, but reveals a fascinating anti-hero at the centre of it all.

13. Lysistrata by Aristophanes (411 BC…?)

I took a class on satire, and one of the first things they handed me was an ancient Greek playscript full of dick jokes. I knew I was in for a good semester.

14. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh (1948)

Also satirical, set in the Hollywood of the 1940s and narrated by a snarky Englishman who may or may not be the author hiding behind his typewriter and shouting insults (albeit wittily) through his characters. Quite funny, in a macabre, toffy kind of way.

15. The Broken Shore by Peter Temple (2005)

Read for a course on crime fiction as one of the modern greats, though I could barely stomach it. But! I chewed through the wad of a book and had to compliment its ability to create the unpleasant, bleak and harsh atmosphere of the southern coast of Australia.

16. The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson* (1999)

Ah, Jacqueline Wilson my old friend. One of her more heart-rending and thought-provoking novels, about what happens when children have to look after their deeply flawed parents.

17. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare (1623…?)

Misogynistic humour or sassy feminism? We shall never truly know.

Planet Janet cover

18. Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon* (2004)

Deep and meaningful diary of a London teenager who decides to try a “Dark Phase”, wherein she listens to jazz, does yoga, dresses in black and purple and is highly sophisticated. Eye-rolling humour, but riotous nonetheless.

19. Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson (2003)

Similar to The Illustrated Mum in many respects, deals with the fears we face as children forced to grow up far too quickly. Relatable and melancholy, but quality. Most likely won awards. You can tell, because the characters suffered.

20. Planet Janet in Orbit by Dyan Sheldon* (2005)

The diaries of the world’s most hilariously irritating seventeen-year-old sophisticate continue!

21. On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (2006)

This book was confusing as hell when I first started it, and I found myself unsympathetic for the surly protagonist, but as time passed I was hooked into the bizarre and compelling mystery within.

22. Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (1999)

How many adolescent issues can we fit into one book, narrated by a weirdly unsympathetic and unsolid teenage hero? Ms Marchetta has come a long way since the story of Josie Alibrandi.

23. It’s Not All About YOU, Calma! by Barry Jonsberg (2004)

Sequel to The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull and just as funny and heartbreaking. Perhaps I prefer my YA with sassy assholes for protagonists?

The Handmaid's Tale cover

24. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

A fascinating and frightening science fiction world, engrossing at every turn and occasionally just leaving the reader reeling and going “WOW, OKAY THEN”.

25. Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (2007)

A vulgar and spitefully tongue-in-cheek tale of the perils of commercialist, religious, contradictory small-town Texas. God Bless America.

26. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (2003)

The story was a bit odd and weak, but that isn’t what you read this book for. You read it to see, meticulously and believably crafted, the inner thoughts of a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome unfurl across the pages, and you come to understand him as a human being, as he completely deserves.

27. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (2003)

Sassy bitches in the fashionable and decadent world of High Society New York. My favourite.

28. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953)

I spent half this book laughing at James Bond and his gleeful and strong-jawed sexism. I’m not even kidding. I am not compelled to become a fan since I can’t take the damn thing seriously. Well enjoyed as escapism in the ‘50s and ‘60s I’m sure, but not entirely my cup of tea.

29. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (1996)

The first in a series of character-driven political dramas set in a wondrously crafted fantasy world. See last week’s post for full spill of heart and soul on the matter.

Struck By Lightning cover

30. Struck By Lightning by Chris Colfer (2012)

Refer to above statement about adoring sassy assholes as YA narrators. Turns out the adorable dude can write, not only screenplays but novels; carried along the coming of age story of a deliciously snarky, fierce and apathetic hero who blackmails half his high school into writing submissions for a literary magazine he’s going to send to Northwestern University for a better chance at acceptance and his dream. Laugh out loud along the lines of Will Grayson, except for the ending, which is like a punch in the chest. Thanks, Chris!!


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A Song of Feels and Intrigue

I haven’t delved into fantasy reading since my youthful days enjoying Deltora Quest and The Hobbit, but recently one series has eaten my brain. Notably more adult than the aforementioned titles, George R. R. Martin’s phenomenally successful A Song of Ice and Fire has completely hooked me, an intoxication shared with my father and the topic of much conversation. I think the rest of the family is growing a bit tired of it, to be honest, but there is no rest for the readers.

A Dance With Dragons cover

Or the viewers, as anyone who has watched the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones will know. May I take the chance to say that I adore what that studio does, taking the budget and detail of a film and dedicating it to a long-running series, acknowledging that some stories are better told in television format and not crushed into movies (even if they do get three billion sequels) and that the television format can in fact support such a level of grandeur. They do, of course, make sure that their shows have as wide an audience as possible to pay for all this by filling them with fan service (read: a good dose of boobs every episode), but that is part of the package.

In any case, it is interesting to note that a fantasy series has become so wildly popular in this era of hard-bitten realists. But then again, fantasy can never go out of style, being the utmost form of escapism: we’ve had a fine example of this recently in the form of the hugely successful Skyrim, latest in the Elder Scrolls games which let the audience literally escape into the fictional world. There’s also The Hobbit, making its way around the world and drawing massive audiences (and not just to look at Aidan Turner’s pretty face, though that helps too), and its predecessors The Lord of the Rings trilogy which raked in academy awards and love.

So fantasy is still popular, if a little nerdy (and what’s wrong with that? Pah), which then reshapes the question to what makes ASOIAF stand out and attract its own overflowing and enthusiastic fanbase? Continue reading


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Rollercoaster That Only Goes Up: Alex Reads John Green

John GreenThe tempest may have passed now, but a few months ago you couldn’t move very far on the intertubes without catching some whiff of John Green. Aside from the YouTube show he shares with his brother, his name was very present about the place mostly due to the fact that he’d recently torn the hearts out of over 150 000 young people.

His most recent, most ambitious and in my opinion best novel is The Fault in Our Stars, and it’s responsible for the aforementioned 150 000 tear-stained faces. Now that may be enough to put you off — generally speaking, people don’t like to be sad. I was reluctant to open the book for this reason but I’m glad I did, and that’s lucky, because from the first page I was whisked into the little world he’s created with no escape in sight. Continue reading


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Genre Snobbery is Like Racism to Books

"You're all just jealous of my jet pack"

Credit to Tom Gauld

Snobbery irks me in its own right, but if there’s one thing I really can’t stand it’s snobbery of interests.

That thing you like is the wrong thing to like! Really, it’s just silly. Especially when it’s within fandoms, for crying out loud. You all watch/read and enjoy the same series. Why can’t you just soak that up instead of finding things to disagree on and excuses to bicker?!

That is not what this post is about. This post is about  genre snobbery, which is a hell unto itself. Basically, books are books, and the notion that the grouping they come from changes their quality somehow is a troublesome one. If you think about it in a roundabout enough way, it’s kind of racism to inanimate objects. Continue reading


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