3. The Vinland Sagas, the Norse Discovery of America

Ahoy! Yes, I’m back again and I’m starting to fly through this reading challenge. Book number 3 is done and on the read pile. I’m feeling quite impressed with myself, although I have bought four books this month so the to-read pile isn’t exactly shrinking.

But when you find these in charity shops, how can you resist?

 

Also I’m having a very good week, I had some very good results back from uni and I’m feeling rather pleased with myself which led to stuffing chocolate into my face and Star Wars: a New Hope.

So! The Vinland Sagas, the Norse Discovery of America:

The Vinland Sagas, the Norse Discovery of America


This is my copy of the book, as you can see it is another old book, its one of my many charity shop finds, the pages are mostly brown with age. Why this book? Out of all of the books in the world why this one? My best mate is Norwegian, through him I’ve discovered a love for Scandinavia, I like Vikings, and I was a little curious from the title I guess. This was a wildcard choice in my reading challenge, its quite a short book, and its a translation. The introduction tells much of suspect history, the Saga’s themselves, (there are two of them) belong to a history of saga writing and a lot of theory on the reality of the history behind the Sagas. Supposedly Sagas were written and delved out to the people to help stave off ignorance.

It’s kind of interesting, they aren’t written particularly prettily or elaborately. They’re a little more like a historical record, or a matter of fact telling with very little excitement or suspense (particularly the first). But enjoyable none the less as it is a record of journey and the lives of several Vikings (male and female). The second Saga is a little more elaborately written as if story telling had began to adopt embellishment if my assumption is correct and the second Saga came later. The second Saga is also a little less violent, as in the first one of the women kills a host of men and women with her bare hands.

Generally I feel as if there’s not much I can say about this, perhaps if my history was better or if I had a greater interest in Viking activities I may have gotten a little more from it. My history is a little clearer now when it comes to the affairs of Scandinavia, I have a patchy knowledge of somethings that I’ve been told. But more than anything I quite like being able to land these Sagas in with somewhere I’ve visited. Borgund Stave Church, was built around 1180 which is a similar era to when these Sagas were set.

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[Link to Image Source]

I also have a rudimentary knowledge of the differences between New Norse and Old Norse, linguistically there is a struggle in Norway between dialects and a struggle to preserve dialect. Old Norse is closer to Icelandic and an older dialect, closer perhaps to what the Vikings would have spoken. Adding to this, if I remember correctly, Iceland is the reason Sagas like these were written and told, as Iceland became a cultural hub providing story telling to the masses. It’s a lovely connection to be able to make. Certainly it creates romantic images of a wintery Tower of Babel in my mind surrounded by a hard and fierce people.

Certainly, all Sagas are embroidered and to what extent is really up to historians to debate. But I enjoyed this book, even if the introduction just furthered my limited knowledge of Viking affairs. It may have been my wildcard pick and already in my collection, but ordinarily this is certainly not something I would have read without a little challenge and encouragement.

2. A Wizard of Earthsea

Weeheey! The second book on my reading challenge is done! This is something I wouldn’t have usually read. I literally have no idea where this book has come from, I’m pretty sure my book collection has gotten up to some hanky panky and this is the result. So here we are Ursula Le Guin’s, A Wizard of Earthsea. But before we go any further, I’ve never read any Le Guin before and had no idea who she was beyond a name that I’ve heard of. So I did a little reading:

Le Guin exploits the creative flexibility of the science fiction and fantasy genres to undertake thorough explorations both of dimensions of social and psychological identity and of broader cultural and social structures. In doing so, she draws on sociology, anthropology, and psychology, leading some critics to categorize her work as soft science fiction. She has objected to this classification of her writing, arguing the term is divisive and implies a narrow view of what constitutes valid science fiction. There are also the underlying ideas of anarchism and environmentalism that make repeated appearances throughout Le Guin’s work. – Wikipedia

She was influenced by Tolkien and allegedly was in the same high school class as Philip K Dick but they did not know each other. My reliable source, Wikipedia, has told me this. This is the point now where I realise that its notable gap that Le Guin hasn’t appeared on my reading list before. Particularly as the themes she handles listed above are things I’m really interested in. Damn.

 

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Yes, this is an old copy, I’m not sure if its ever been read before, the pages are tea-stained and its got a distinct old charity bookshop smell. As I was reading it, I broke the spine and some of the pages foxed and are now threatening to fall out. Yes I am a monster. I love breaking the spines of my books.

I’ve been having a good couple of weeks, I’ve been generally a little productive (yes I am still procrastinating from that writing challenge that I still have not sorted) and I’ve had adventures even if they’ve been small. I’ve been walking and looking after myself better than I maybe have done for a while and this is literally the best moment to rediscover just how much I adore pure fantasy. I read a lot of fantasy when I was growing up, I have a soft spot for dragons and this novel was a little nostalgic ride. I’d have loved this book at fourteen. There’s magic and dragons and travelling, it’s a coming of age story that’s easily read and is fast paced. But it’s not without its twists and turns and conflicts.

The novel follows the young mage Ged through his life, his learning and then his struggle with a Shadow. The Shadow pursues him across the entire of Earthsea threatening to swallow his power and himself. The Shadow acts as the mirror of Ged himself, at first he fears it and runs from it. Ultimately running from the nameless Shadow fails he is led into traps or tricked into exhaustion. This mirror of himself, or I suppose part of himself, runs from him as Ged begins to chase it across Earthsea flipping the tables. This Shadow remains nameless and uncertain through the majority of the novel. How to defeat it is never clear until the ending.

However, this is the main line of the narrative Ged encounters a variety of people – not all of them wishing him well. As storytelling goes, Le Guin crafts a story very well and this would read very well verbally. Magic is a rich part of the narrative, many have access to it and slightly different belief systems exist depending on region. Magic that relies on a particular equilibrium prevails through the novel, a give and take, very much echoing the alchemy in the anime/manga Full Metal Alchemist.

In fact, the central theme of this novel seems to be finding an equilibrium in life and the tasks that you encounter, that there cannot be an action without a reaction. Which is rather moralistic wouldn’t you say?

Overall, I enjoyed this novel, however I’m not sure if I would read it again. I dare say I would revisit Ursula Le Guin’s writing. I’ve had a quick look, A Wizard of Earthsea was named for the Lewis Caroll Shelf Award list in 1979 and its not the only of her works that have been recognised. There are a few National Book awards, Nebula Awards, Hugo Awards, Locus Fantasy Awards all attributed to her work.

I would certainly read another of Le Guin’s works and I enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea even if it was partly because of a nostalgic love of fantasy and dragons.

1. Sexing the Cherry 

Here it is bring out the trumpets, fanfare galore I’ve read the first one on my list!!

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

 

This is not my first Winterson Novel, I am slightly in love with the variety of work she produces. I adore the touches of queer romance that appears over and over again. I also find myself excited and brought something new with every novel I read. In short, I am a big fan of this woman. Though it may have something to do with the first novel I read, the Stone Gods which has lesbian robots in it. But that’s a story for another day.

Right so where do we begin really, this novel follows the story of a young man in the search of a dancer because he believes he is in love with her. It is also the story of his mother who is a giantess who honestly is one of the most entertaining characters I’ve read for a longtime. This is also a novel which does its best to rewrite fairytales, greek myth, and flit through time. Honestly, I’d say its done rather enjoyably, although alas, my attention did start to drift by the end of the novel.

However my favourite part of the novel is the rewriting of the Twelve Princesses. I’m referring to the Twelve Princesses whom escape every night to dance holes into their slippers and appear exhausted the next morning. Ultimately a Prince does not drink their sleeping draught and he catches them in the act and gets to marry any of his choosing. All in all Winterson’s re-imagination of the traditional story had me enthralled.

Winterson has the Princesses find each other after they have been married off to the Prince’s brothers. Eleven of them tell their tale, the twelfth of course being the woman, Jordan, the young man, is searching for is absent. There is betrayal, loss, longing, escape, there’s even love denied. Honestly the romantic in me just completely fell in love with some of the lines in his novel. So I’ve quoted them for you, so you can see the magic of Winterson’s writing.

“Why could he not turn his life towards me, as trees though troubled by the wind yet continue in the path of the sun?” p51

The above quote is from one of the sisters who’s lover marries her only so his liaisons with other women are more exciting. This ruins her expectations of marriage, although she attempts the happiness she so wishes.

“He looked surprised, I don’t know why. As your lover describes you, so you are.” p56

The above quote is from one of the sisters who’s lover convinces her she is a fierce wild animal, chaining her up etc. and is then surprised as she kills him.

“I loved him and I was in love with him. I didn’t use language to make a war-zone of my heart.” p57

And this quotation is from one of the sisters who’s lover is having an affair and tells her about it and expects more of a reaction than the one he receives.

Winterson really niggles down at the kinds of love people have for one another and the reactions that they might face in circumstance. For example, Jordan’s Mother see’s that he is desperate to travel:

“I saw the look on Jordan’s face and my heart became a captive in a locked room. I couldn’t reach him now. I knew he would go.” p71

There is something effortless in the way Winterson wordsmiths and something incredibly human. Its almost poetic but done so effortlessly it reminds me very much of another of her novels Written on the Body.

“My own heart, like this wild place, has never been visited, and I do not know whether it could sustain life.” p80

And honestly that is the last one. If you want anymore you are going to have to read the novel and find your own lines that tug at your heart strings. There’s not much else I can say about this novel, I really enjoyed it, I found the writing left me salivating for more. The characterisation was unbelievably clear and crisp to the point that I believe I will be carrying Jordan’s Mother around in my head for years to come. It wasn’t a labour to read, although of course its taken me longer than it should have as I’ve been distracted.

This is a novel that tries to do a lot, of course, as you’d expect from Winterson. It’s trying to defy liner time and be an unsettling paradox. Its a very similar idea that she revisits in the Stone Gods. Which I believe is also executed better in the Stone Gods. As for story telling, Winterson excels. This novel is made up of lots of chunks of other stories, in that respect it is very much like her other novels Lighthouse Keeping and the Passion and to some degree Oranges are not the only Fruit. 

However this novel stands well alone. Its enjoyable, its beautiful and surprising at times and I highly recommend it. This novel is without a doubt on my re-read list.

Other Winterson novels I have read: The Stone Gods, the Passion, Lighthouse Keeping, Oranges are not the only Fruit, Written on the Body.

0. Something Wicked this Way Comes

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[To image and amazon]

It’s taken me long enough to read, its been forcing me to put off my 24 books in a year challenge, so I thought why not post a little about the final book I picked up in 2015.

The final book I picked up in 2015 was intended on being my halloween novel, of course it didn’t quite end up that way as I spent a lot of Sept, Oct, and Nov a little distracted from reading. I’ve previously read a lot of Ray Bradbury’s work, or at least what feels like a lot as I’ve read two novels and two novelettes and two collections of short stories. Those short stories definitely mount up, it feels a lot like I know his writing, I know his style so as well as being familiar its beginning to loose its charm a little now.

Bradbury’s writing isn’t becoming boring to me by any means just almost, I find myself saying “that’s so, Ray Bradbury” when reading him, almost as if he’s becoming a cliche unto himself. He is one of the biggest influences I have for fiction because I feel as a poet, that I find fiction quite difficult. Bradbury was a writer who struck me with poetic prose and actually brought a little faith back to me as a poet when it comes to writing prose.

Something Wicked this Way Comes is a lighter Bradbury novel, it is set in a childlike world in which a sinister carnival visits and strange things begin to happen to the two boy protagonists. However if you’ve read the Illustrated Man as I have, you’ll be surprised when he turns up as the main antagonist. You’ll be surprised to learn much about the Illustrated Man that is completely absent from the novel with his namesake, and Something Wicked this Way Comes will act a little like a counter weight. I found on reading the Illustrated Man the words of warning spoken about this character had little gravity as I had nothing to validate these warnings. Presumably if the characters are the same, Something Wicked this Way Comes does the job a little better if the novels are seen in relation to one another.

But, as the majority of Bradbury’s writing, the novel can be understood in isolation, so don’t feel like you have to pick up the Illustrated Man as well if you don’t want to. Something Wicked this way Comes reads a little like a fairytale, but is dark and has a gothic feel which I haven’t come across in any other of Bradbury’s writing really. Or if I have they haven’t stuck with me.

My only criticism of the novel is the middle section of the book really seemed to drag for me, hence why it has dragged into 2016. Whether it was simply my concentration, that I’ve read a lot of Bradbury’s work and am very familiar with his style and narrative structure, I really couldn’t say. But that middle section just really did not cling to me, I put it down, I picked it up, I started reading it because I have a compulsion to finish books rather than wanting to finish it. It was a little bit of a labour. 

Perhaps even, the novel felt a little functional, as if there was perhaps a functional list behind events, or an grand design to the novel itself. I read in the Author’s afterword that it was always intended to be a film:

“Part of me is still in that hideous carousel when I was four. I seem never to have found a way to get off.” – Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked this way Comes, afterword, p.263

So perhaps, it was both my concentration and the design of the novel, though when and if I return to it my opinion may change. However, don’t let this put you off. If Bradbury is an author you’ve never delved into I suggest you give him a go. His childlike imagination romps wild across genre. The natural play of words and metaphors that arrive on the page are surprising, and poetic.

Something Wicked this Way Comes, is certainly not my favourite Bradbury nor my favourite book however I am glad that I read it. Because although the middle 70/90 pages took a while for me to get through, the last third is wonderful. It had me in its vice grip and wouldn’t let go so much so that the last 60 pages I flew through. The last third, the boys are joined by the librarian father of one of them, who is a wonderful depiction of parental heroism. He doesn’t swing swords or shoot arrows or have any of the makings of a viking. He is a well-read, boring, middle aged man, who after lecturing the boys on life and love and everything is the perpetrator for the happy ending. As a most unlikely hero, he is wonderful.

This character also says possibly one of my favourite lines of dialogue that I think I have ever come across which I’ve quoted for you below:

“I’ll be dammed if death wears my sadness for glad rags!” p.254 Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked this Way Comes 

If your wondering, the novel was indeed made into a film by Disney 1983, which I have not watched so cannot comment. This novel is a good one for halloween and would be a good one to start if you’re interested in Ray Bradbury’s work. Its imaginative and unpredictable and definitely worth it, the carnival freaks are one of my favourite things about this novel that and the carnival itself which seems to have a character of its own. As ever Bradbury’s writing is vivid, its sharp, and clearly imagined, its thrilling. As storytelling goes, this novel is on par with everything else by Bradbury I have read, bar Fahrenheit 451 which for me will always be exceptional.

Other novels by Bradbury that I have read: Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Now and Forever, the Illustrated Man, We’ll Always have Paris.

2016 Reading Challenge

Happy New Year!

Now faced with a pile of 24 novels to read in 12 months I’m a little intimidated by some of my choices. I’ve found it difficult to find 24 novels in my collection that I have fancy to read, some of them are wild cards because I’ve owned them for a while. Some of them I have no idea where they came from but they are now in my possession. Some of them are novels I should’ve read for university but never quite managed it.

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  1. The Hogfather – Pratchett
  2. Christmas Books– Dickens
  3. Sexing the Cherry – Winterson
  4. Farewell to Summer – Bradbury
  5. The Wasp Factory – Banks
  6. Pollen – Noon
  7. The Thousand Splendid Suns – Hosseini
  8. A Wizard of Earth Sea – Le Guin
  9. Far From the Madding Crowd – Hardy
  10. Mrs Dalloway – Woolf
  11. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Joyce
  12. She Came to Stay – Beauvior
  13. The Vinland Sagas – The Norse Discovery of America
  14. The Silence of the Lambs – Harris
  15. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – Carrol
  16. The Sleeper Awakes – Wells
  17. Jane Eyre – Bronte
  18. Wide Sargasso Sea – Rhys
  19. The Lonely Londoners – Selvon
  20. Walking On Glass – Banks
  21. Around the World in Eighty Days – Verne
  22. Guilliver’s Travels – Swift
  23. Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Verne
  24. Coming up for Air – Orwell

There are some stories behind these novels, but we’ll get to those as I get through them, or we may not depending on how this blog evolves. I’m expecting it to change and grow as I get used to blogging. So bare with, some of this road will be uncertain to start with.

I am going to add this list of novels to a page on this blog which you will find on the navigation bar somewhere. I’ll also include links and strikeouts when they’re read so you can follow my progress. I’m sure at some point I will also reorder this as I read more and more off this list.

I’m not sure how exactly I’m going to go through this pile, I was going to do it some sort of order, but honestly I have a feeling I wouldn’t stick to that very well anyhow. I have a novel to finish from last year actually before I get started on this list, ‘Something Wicked this Way Comes’ by Ray Bradbury and I’m sad to say that its taking me a while to read as I’ve been rather distracted lately.

But given as I’ve been working rather hard this afternoon I think its only fitting I get to sit and read all evening and try to crack on.