Recent reads, Patrick Rothfuss and Ruth Ozeki

Perhaps I am suffering from a sort of literary fiction overload. I’ve read loads of it over the summer but for the past 4-6 weeks I’ve found it very hard to read anything other than science fiction/ fantasy/ dystopia/ YA books. I’ve let my ‘pile of shame’ of books (literary fiction for the most part) grow and grow while I’ve downloaded and devoured a whole load of books on kindle and these have been mostly pretty bad but also pretty addictive. So as Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for The Time Being arrived in the post from Daunt Books, I thought it was time to go cold turkey on dystopia and get on with a ‘proper’ book, a recent release (those tend to sit on my shelf and by the time I get to them are practically considered ‘classics’) with all these wonderful reviews and a Booker shortlist to its name. Yes, well, I thought wrong (it’ll probably win the Booker now).

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I liked the beginning and then shortly after, I found myself slowly but increasingly irritated by it. I stopped just over a hundred pages in because the book just didn’t grab me and it all began feeling a bit contrived. I don’t know whether I will finish it, the thought of picking it up again is almost as irritating but I have read books that have irritated me in the past that I persisted with and was rewarded by afterwards, glad to admit my mistakes. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is one example and Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec another. So while being in two minds about Ruth Ozeki’s book, I downloaded yet another fantasy series – The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss and read it with a patience I don’t usually have for fantasy. I totally loved this – there was something Dune-ish about it (age + arc of the main character), something Lord of the Rings-ish (the languages, the songs), also something romantic about all that music, the adventures, the mythology and finally something distinctly George R.R. Martin-ish in the fact that I’ve now read both of the published books and have a feeling the third and final book will take Rothfuss a while. I would like to read it now please.

And the reason for my patience with The Kingkiller Chronicle is very simple – after a whole summer off history and non-fiction (thought I needed a break), I’ve a new uni course and a load of books on 20th century history to occupy me on the daily bus journey to and from work so can only read fiction in spare time. This morning, as I dipped into The Age of Extremes for a bit of research I realised I’ve totally missed Eric Hobsbawm. Perhaps my current book ennui is totally down to going cold turkey on non-fiction? Must learn to balance better and in the little spare time that I’ll have over the next 8 months, try to stay off silly books and silly books that think they’re clever.

Just read, Darkmans by Nicola Barker

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Oh dear, I think this is one of the most irritating books I’ve read in a very long time. I don’t think myself lucky to be alive at the same time as her, sorry Ali Smith. It’s not a terrible book by any means, there are some great ideas, themes and characters  but the book lacked cohesion as if everything was just taken for a stroll in the park then left to fend for itself. Too many characters, no plot to speak of, no central idea other than characters being loosely linked by the ‘darkmans’ of the title but not really because the whole ‘darkmans’ idea didn’t feel properly developed either. Some other ideas, notably about the language, I liked but this became very repetitive and again, not taken anywhere. Repetition almost seemed to be a theme and it got a bit boring. Love, loss and grief feature but not to a degree that you could say this is what the book is about, there are some history bits that feel a bit far fetched (the life of John Scogin, the supposed court jester who may or may not have existed in real life and, according to the book, seems to have lived for well over a 100 years). I think the worst thing for me is that this book was over 800 pages long and relentless. I didn’t find it funny enough to sustain my interest, I found the repetition unnecessary, the structure too – as if someone was screaming on a loop inside my head and I wanted to tell them to just pause and take a breath. It’s as if Barker tried to cram everything she could think of then she went away, thought of a few more things and threw them in too. Then just left them all there and sort of attempted to tie it all up with one bit of a speech/ message at the end, this in itself was actually quite good but by then I just didn’t really care anymore and wanted the whole thing over and done with. So glad I only had this book on kindle and not in actual paperback. Carrying that about would have driven me mad. Well, at least it’s done now.

Just read, Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales

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This wonderful book has been by my bedside for several months. When I could manage (I fall asleep very quickly), I’d read a tale or two, taking it slowly and have now finished it. Have no idea how long ago I started it. Occasionally, I’d be a little perplexed, sometimes I’d think: served them right and often I’d fall asleep with a smile. Joy and laughs, Angela Carter’s anthology has been a very good book to have by the side of the bed and I’ll dip into it again, I’ve no doubt. Am keeping it close. The Observer jacket quote ‘Trumps Grimm’ is pretty apt too, I had Grimm’s fairy tales hardback collection by the bedside, read through about a half of it and was getting a little bored whereas Angela Carter’s anthology has been anything but boring. Tales from all over the world, folklore as much as fairy tales, some more ancient than others. I’ve several other books by the bedside, including Grimm brothers and also a Borges collection, Montaigne’s Essays, a book on science and Craig Brown’s One on One and I used to alternate between them (Craig Brown’s is a fairly recent addition). Regardless of how much I’ve been enjoying the others, Angela Carter’s anthology is the only one I’ve finished. I owe it to both Borges and Montaigne to read them properly (focus) and often I’m just too sleepy, perhaps I’ll start reading them in the mornings instead and the same goes for the science book (which may just be over my head anyway). Of course, having now read the anthology, I’d like to finally get the Marina Warner book on fairy tales and read more of Angela Carter – have only read Nights at the Circus but these will have to wait. I’m abstaining from purchases until my books’ ‘pile of shame’ is somewhat reduced. Have read quite a lot recently so thought I’d reward myself with Robert Macfarlane’s Old Ways and read it this weekend while walking in Yorkshire. Then promptly forgot I was planning on taking it with and downloaded Gone Girl for Kindle. Idiot.

Forget the sourdough

That’s exactly what I did last night, totally forgot that sourdough bread was in the oven… Think I overbaked by probably around half an hour, what an idiot! With making the sponge first and all the proving, this loaf took about 14-15 hours total so it really was very stupid of me to forget all about it. Anyway, the end result was a bit on the ‘dark side’ of brown:

20120929-102117.jpg Beloved said it would probably be fine to eat, just a bit crusty. He was right, we just had some for breakfast with butter and jam and it’s totally fine:

20120929-102302.jpg Lesson for future, not the end of the world if one’s sourdough is a bit overbaked… Doing a bit more baking this weekend, seeing family and can’t quite decide between a plum tart or toffee apple buns. Think I’ll see what plums are like at the green grocers then decide. Thinking it might be an overkill if I also do some savoury muffins…

Instant cheer-or-pick-me-up

Just came back from a mildly hellish trip to IKEA, badly timed on a busy Sunday afternoon. IKEA itself wasn’t too bad but journey there and back was just ridiculous. Purpose of going was to get a big picture frame as I really wanted to have some printed photographs framed, what with all the instant photo galleries on phones, macs and iPads and blogging, I miss seeing actual printed photos. And I obviously picked up one or two other things, including these cute glasses,

20120916-154919.jpg These hold just the perfect coffee to milk ratio for an afternoon pick me up and will be good for wine, manzanilla, port (although perhaps a bit girly for port?) and possibly even negronis. That reminds me to get some Campari…

Just read, Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

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Having taken ages to read The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders, I was really looking forward to reading some new fiction, Song of Achilles was recommended by several places and people and won Orange Prize. Could not wait to read it. So I read it in a couple of days. Thought it was underwhelming. Was frankly expecting more, perhaps something like Magaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, which I really enjoyed. There are so many amazing review extracts on the back and inside covers and elsewhere that it makes me think I am reading too much non fiction and perhaps expecting too much of a simple novel, it’s a passable summer read, I guess. Did not think Patroclus had a personality, which bugged me the most. As to ‘originality’, mentioned in some of the reviews, please see Margaret Atwood. I might go look up Homer.

Lemon butter cake

Today’s Lemon butter cake. Recipe from Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard, it’s delicious but SUNK a bit in the middle + my cardi has icing on the sleeve. Oh well, one must suffer for one’s art. Now what do I do with 250ml of condensed milk left after making this cake?

One more pic, just to show how my icing application is decidedly below average: