Three Recommended Reads

Across the past month I've read some wonderful books that completely ensnared me. So, naturally, I thought I'd share some of the absolute best out of these books. Ranging from the labyrinthine streets of Victorian London to a great Gothic novel about a wholly unusual family to the mysteries of Tokyo at night – here are three books I highly recommend.

| PAGES: 835 | Publisher: Canongate | FIRST PUBLISHED: 2002 | Historical Fiction | *FOR MATURE READERS* | 
When I think of The Crimson Petal and the White, I'm still unable to fathom how the lives of Sugar and those around her are fictitious. Both Michel Faber's characters and his Victorian London are so vivid, intricate, colourful and alive that, even in retrospect, it seems utterly incomprehensible for such pulsing life to be born from something as monochromatic as black ink on a page. If such an impressive feat is not the mark of a fantastic book, I honestly cannot tell you what is. The Crimson Petal and the White, flawed only slightly by its occasional tendency to meander off course, is a wonder. Faber's compulsively readable Dickensian epic offers the reader a tour through the Victorian London the real Victorian writers shied away from showing. So, to Michel Faber, I say thank youThank you for taking me to the real Victorian London. Thank you for introducing me to Sugar and the cast of indelibly wonderful characters her life entails. And, most of all, thank you for writing what one can fondly describe as a really, really good book.

| PAGES: 146 | PUBLISHER: Penguin | FIRST PUBLISHED: 1962 | Classics | Gothic |
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is quietly unsettling, bleakly written, brimming with pervasive unease, suffocatingly tense – and oh how I loved it! Shirley Jackson is a masterful storyteller, simple as. From the characters to the chilling climax, every aspect of this novel is decidedly creepy. It doesn't involve monsters or anything of the sort, but something far more disturbing. In fact, Jackson explores themes of insanity and the unhinged human mind. I won't say anything else (because this isn't a book you want to know too much about before beginning), but I'll share the opening – and what an opening it is!“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

After Dark by Haruki Murakami
| PAGES: 201 | PUBLISHER: Vintage | FIRST PUBLISHED: 2004 | Magical Realism | Contemporary | 
“It’s true, though: time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night.” When the reader begins this book they unknowingly enter a different realm; they cross the subtle line between reality and fantasy, and enter a surreal, dreamlike version of Tokyo – a Tokyo that's draped in darkness. After Dark, unlike many of Murakami's other books, does not have intricate and frustratingly complex characters. After Dark, unlike many of Murakami's other books, is not openly strange or fantastical. The strength of After Dark lies in its subtlety; its subtle character development, shown through the touching relationship between two siblings, and its subtle atmosphere, experienced through the haunting and bewitching narrative. In short, this book is exquisite in its execution. I have little else to say other than this: After Dark is best read at midnight, when your mind is most vulnerable to the allure of nighttime Tokyo and the wonders that lie within.

Have you read any of these? Have you read anything recently you recommend?
I'm still considering setting up a second blog, so more on that soon!

Books to Be Read and Loved

“A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door into another place and another heart and another world.” – Catherynne M. Valente. Sometimes I think that, perhaps, there is no greater feeling than that which comes with several good books and the knowledge of many long, empty days stretching ahead. For what is better than the promise of several worlds, and time to savour and enjoy each one of them? Here are a few books I hope to read soon:

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
My love for The Catcher in the Rye is extensive, and I'm also a huge fan of Franny and Zooey (though it's definitely due a reread, given I read it such a long time ago). So, naturally, I've been eyeing J.D. Salinger's short stories for a while. There's something about his relaxed, often colloquial, style that makes his work so readable – oh, and there's always the benefit of fantastically alive characters. Needless to see, I'm intrigued to see how his style translates to short story form.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Sometimes certain books just seem to follow you around. They'll catch your eye when you're in a bookshop (and maybe you'll pick it up to buy, and then suddenly decide against it), or it'll be recommended to you by several friends within the same week. Whatever the case, there are some books that always seem to be there, begging you to read them. At long last, I'll be reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and I honestly can't wait.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Stories and Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Like many, the only F. Scott Fitzgerald book I've read is The Great Gatsby. And, like many, I'm not sure why exactly this is. I love the style of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work, and his prose is superb – so I'm at loss for an explanation of why I haven't read more of his work.

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
I've mentioned my love for Murakami's work too often on this blog, so, for fear of becoming monotonous, I'll keep this short. Murakami's work is eccentric and bizarre, though always maintains an odd sense of realism and believability; Dance Dance Dance, in particular, sounds like a Murakami novel that embraces everything I love about his work in the first place.

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin
Described as "one of the undiscovered treasures of British crime fiction", the synopsis of this book was enough to win me over: Richard Cadogan, poet and would-be bon vivant, arrives for what he thinks will be a relaxing holiday in the city of dreaming spires. Late one night, however, he discovers the dead body of an elderly woman lying in a toyshop and is coshed on the head. When he comes to, he finds that the toyshop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store. 

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
The size of this novel, though daunting, is greatly intriguing; at 800+ pages, and with the promise of empty summer days ahead, I can't wait for my mind to be enveloped by Michel Faber's world. The first few lines are simply captivating: "Watch your step, Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before."

Have you read any of these? What books do you plan to read soon?

A Love For Epigraphs

An epigraph is 'a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme'. Epigraphs are fleeting and flowery things, though draped – nevertheless – with heavy meaning.  After all, they immerse the reader in the author's world before the author's words have even begun. And I'll admit that I'm susceptible to the allure of a good epigraph, for anything that encapsulates hundreds of pages (in only the inked strokes and absences of a few words) is enticing indeed. So, here are a few of my favourite epigraphs I've picked out:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
"What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more'… Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine." – Nietzche

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
"And you may ask yourself, 
Well, how did I get here? 
And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful house.
And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful wife." – Talking Heads

"I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn't let adults know I knew. It would scare them." – Maurice Sendak

How to be Both by Ali Smith
"Although the living is subject to the ruin of time, the process of decay is at the same time a process of crystallisation, that in the depth of the sea, into which sinks and is dissolved what once was alive, some things 'suffer a sea-change' and survive in new crystallised forms and shapes that remain immune to the elements, as though they waited only for the pearl diver who one day will come down to them and bring them up in the world of the living." – Hannah Arendt

"Just like a character in a novel, he disappeared suddenly, without leaving the slightest trace behind." – Giorgio Bassani / Jamie McKendrick

"If they give you ruled paper, write the other way." – Juan Ramón Jiménez

This quotation for Life After Life is so lyrically and thematically apt in unlocking the very heart of Atkinson's tale – it brings forwards innumerable ideas about loneliness and rebirth. And I've always loved this epigraph from The Marriage Plot due to its delicate uncertainty. It just seems so fitting for the novel and, in particular, the mindset of its characters. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a tale of naivety, fragility and the terrors of childhood – so, needless to say, this epigraph is wonderful in expressing the genuine and haunting side of being a child. In terms of How to Be Both, this novel has several epigraphs, though these two are my favourites. They're fantastically ambiguous and pave the way for what will be an incredibly thoughtful novel.

Though, in terms of the epigraph for Fahrenheit 451, I don't know what to say about it, other than it just feels right. For me, it's the perfect epigraph.

Have you ever paid particular attention to epigraphs?
I said this last post, but I'll reiterate; I'm pretty confident i'll be setting up a second blog sometime in the near future. This won't affect this blog, but I thought it was worth noting. :)

On Words, Japan & Book Inspired Wanderlust

Whilst it's easy to romanticise the power of words, it's equally as easy to underestimate the effect the printed word can have on a person's mind. Across the past few months, I've experienced an intense desire to travel – more specifically, to visit to Japan. And why? Due to words.

I guess this begins with Murakami; it's his Japan I initially fell in love with. In After Dark, I found myself bewitched by the hypnotic energy of Tokyo at night ("Midnight is approaching, and while the peak activity has passed, the basal metabolism that maintains life continues undiminished, producing the basso continuo of the city's moan, a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding.") Whilst Norwegian Wood and Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage introduced me to a different side of Japan; a Japan of many shades, full of so many feelings, thoughts and interests. And then 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore intrigued me to no end; they brought about this alluring idea of two separate versions of Japan – the everyday, albeit beautified, Japan and a surrealist, somewhat different Japan – that coexist alongside one another.

Perhaps Murakami has given me an idealistic vision of Japan; though I can't deny his words have also shown me the darker side of Japan: a confused Japan, a realistic Japan, a Japan that evokes such curiosity within me.

Needless to say, it wasn't long before I found myself wanting to read more about the country; I reached for A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (highly, highly recommended) and Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (currently reading). Kawakami depicts Japan tenderly, and, with every turn of the page, I can't help but feel a strange sense of nostalgia for her Japan – despite the fact I've never been to the country.

Last week I picked up Granta 127: Japan, which consists of writers, artists, residents and visitors offering readers their Japans. Their short stories, articles and artwork have shown this country in so many different lights that my curiosity has only heightened; I can't help but wonder what, if I visit, the Japan I see will be like.

On the back of the Granta issue it says: "Everyone knows this country and no one knows it." Despite my recent obsession with reading about Japan, I'm aware that I know very little about the country. Though I've fallen in love with the inked Japan – author by author, book by book, page by page – I've yet to experience Japan for myself. So, for a now, I can only hope that one day I'll be able to fall in love with the country through my own thoughts and feelings.

Is there a particular country you love to read about?
Just as a general update, I'm pretty confident i'll be setting up a second blog sometime in the near future. This won't affect this blog, but I thought it was worth noting. :)