Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Currently Pinning | Paris is Always a Good Idea

All images via Pinterest
I know it's cliche, but ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted to go to Paris. I have no idea where this desire even stemmed from initially, but as I grew older and my interest in European art, architecture and sweets became more refined, my desire to go grew stronger and more insistent.

As a result, I have always found myself planning and saving for the day I will go to Paris despite not knowing when this day would be. But now, I can plan for real! Over the past year at University, the idea of studying abroad became really appealing and something that I definitely wanted to do. However, I was hesitant to spend six months away from home in another country, namely because I have a medical condition which requires numerous medications and doctor's appointments, so I didn't feel confident enough to commit myself to so long a time overseas. I haven't given up on this dream of mine completely though, but for now, I have compromised with a one month trip to Paris and Vichy as a part of an intensive learning program aimed at Australian students who study French. I will be leaving for Paris on Boxing day and will spend eight days in the capital city before heading off to Vichy for three weeks, where I will stay with a family and complete my studies. I will then return back to Paris with my tour group for a couple of days at the end of January.

Seeing as I don't travel often though, I didn't want my trip to end there. I want to share the experience with someone I know and love as well...so mum will be coming over to spend an additional three weeks in Paris with me! Mum hasn't gone travelling in more than thirty years, and she and I share very common interests, so I really hope this trip will be enjoyable not only for me but for her as well as she deserves a nice holiday.

So, rambling and plans aside, I have therefore found myself pinning a lot of images of Paris on Pinterest these past few months, and I'm sure that my board will continue to grow. There are so many places I want to visit, it's almost impossible to wrap my head around it all! There are things I know for certain though; I will be going to Laduree and Angelina, I must go to the Musee D'orsay and I am adamant on visiting Shakespeare and Co. along with other charming bookshops, antique stores and flea markets.

For now I just have to survive the last few weeks of university, then my planning will go full speed ahead! To anyone reading, are you planning a holiday? I would love to know where you are going and what you plan to do!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Books I Read in August and Sepember

I've been a bit MIA over the last couple of months, and as a result, completely forgot to write up my August book reviews. As I am still keen to reflect upon the books I read and hopefully inspire a few people to read them, I thought I would compile my August and September reads into one big post.

While I could write and talk for days on end about my favourite books, I generally like to keep each individual review short and concise. I really hope it doesn't come off as too superficial though! Hopefully my short descriptions and reactions don't give too much away, but at the same time, spark a little bit of interest.

I have read so many incredible books over the past few months and I am keen to read even more this month. A lot of what I have been reading consists of my English course list, and I have to say, this semester has been one of the most enjoyable English units I have taken thus far! We've been looking at such diverse texts and I have really, more than anything, learn't to branch out and try reading different genres that I would otherwise not pick up.

Books marked with * are my English course texts.

August

Catch-22 Joseph Heller This had been on my to read list for quite some time and after a friend of mine lent it to me, I was eager to dive right into it. Described as one of the best war novels ever written, Catch-22 tells the story of bombardier Yossarian, who essentially tries time and time again to save himself from the war. Standing in his way is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the bombardiers must do in order to complete their service. Yossarian's hope of escaping the horrors of war are further dashed by the bureaucratic rule of the novel's name sake Catch-22, essentially meaning Yossarian is damned if he does continue the missions and damned if he refuses to, as he will face severe punishment as a result.

Catch-22 is a lengthy read but a very worthwhile one nonetheless. I admit, at various moments I lost interest and would find myself skim reading, but for the most part, the novel is very thought provoking, engaging and to my surprise, quite hilarious! I was definitely not expecting that! For this reason, Catch-22 reminded me an awful lot of Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut, another acclaimed war classic and one that deals with the horrors of war through humor. That being said, you definitely have to be in a certain mood to be able to appreciate this book. Sometimes I crave easy reads, but when I was in the mood for a more serious read, this definitely did the trick!
3.5/5 stars

*Persepolis 1 Marjane Satrapi There's no denying that I absolutely adore this novel. Persepolis is an autobiography that details the childhood experiences of author Satrapi during the Islamic Revolution in the late 70s and early 80s. It is a coming of age novel that seems worlds away from my own as it takes place in a warn torn country, and as a result, it can be incredibly sad and frustrating to read that Satrapi had to live through and witness such terrible conditions. And yet, her story is so familiar as well. It reminds the reader that, in some respects, the experience of childhood and maturation is universal. This just makes the subject of social upheaval seem so much more barbaric when it is seen through the eyes of a child.


What I loved about Marjane's characterization of her younger self is that she is so headstrong, determined, brave and selfless (which sometimes threatens to put her into trouble). She is inquisitive, precocious and hilarious. She's so likable and so hilarious and generally just a kick-ass girl who doesn't seem to be afraid of anything, despite what goes on around her.

I should also mention that this autobiography is a graphic novel. Could you believe that naive 'ol me never used to give a second thought to the idea of reading graphic novels? They really are such an incredible medium and rightly deserve to be called works of literature, especially in the case of Persepolis.
4.5/5

*The Waves Virginia Woolf Here is where my review will be a bit lacking. I read this novel in the worst possible way, trying to get it finished a day before class. Honestly, I wish I started it months in advance; this isn't an easy read. It is incredibly complex, and every sentence can be meticulously analysed. I read Mrs Dalloway earlier in the year, so I was anticipating Woolf's style, but I found The Waves to be even harder. The language is so poetic, and the narrative construction is like none other I have ever read before. For example, Woolf never indicates when a person is talking, and the narrative just continues on and on and on, rendering you into a dream state. I admit, I found it frustrating because this was not what I am used to at all, but that of course is no excuse for disregarding it entirely. I intend to tackle this again, one day. It is definitely one of those books that should be read and re-read countless times in order to really comprehend Woolf's genius.

3/5 stars

September

The Goldfinch Donna Tartt Another novel that I had been dying to read. Having not read any of Tartt's works, but constantly hearing about how marvelous they are, I was so excited to get my clutches on a copy of The Goldfinch. Now this novel is massive and I am admittedly not a huge fan of 'big' novels. But it proved to be engaging from start to finish. You know those novels where the words come alive on the page, and it's as if you're not reading it at all but rather totally immersed in the story? This novel did that to me. The Goldfinch is a about a thirteen year old boy named Theo Decker who survives a bomb explosion in a New York art gallery but loses his mother to the disaster. At the site, Theo steals one of the gallery's prized paintings at the insistence of a dying man, and from there, the painting eventually leads him into the underworld of art.

The Goldfinch moves through various stages in Theo's life up until his adulthood. For the most part, nothing too extraordinary happens and it's only until the very end that it all gets pretty 'action packed'. But Tartt's language is so memorizing that I wanted to stay up all night reading it anyway. I was both in awe and incredibly envious of her talent for words! Really, this novel will take you to another place entirely. I do a lot of my reading on bus rides to and from uni, and on multiple occasions I almost missed my stop as I was so immersed in Tartt's story.
4/5 stars

Animal Farm George Orwell This novel needs no introduction, obviously. And yet, this year was the first time I ever read Animal Farm (I know, shock horror!). What can I say? It is absolute perfection. Having never read any of George Orwell's novels, I didn't know what to expect in terms of language. So I was happily surprised to learn that this novel is a very easy read but an equally very thought provoking and important one.

4.5/5 stars

*The Lover Marguerite Duras Much like The Waves, this novel posed as quite a challenge to me. The Lover tells the story of an affair between an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover during France's colonial empire. What I found difficult about this book specifically is that Duras writes in fragments akin to flashes of memory. While I like this idea, on paper it just came across as confusing. I found it hard to pay attention and maintain interest throughout as a result. Nevertheless, this novel poses many interesting issues such as power relations. My lecturer gave a presentation debating who really held the most power in the affair, based upon class, age and race. This sparked a lot of debate and essentially, I think this is what the author was aiming to achieve. I only wish it had of come across a bit clearer to me; maybe I should just put this on my to be re-read pile

3/5 stars

The Complete Maus Art Spiegelman Following my new found appreciation for graphic novels after reading Persepolis, I pursued this Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel in which cartoonist Spiegelman narrates his father's experiences surviving in Europe under Hitler's reign and in Auschwitz. First of all, the sketches are amazing in this novel and you can tell how much painstaking work Spiegelman would have put into each panel. Secondly, this has to be one of the most touching and horrifying retelling of the Holocaust that I have come across. As a part of my English Unit I studied the movie Life is Beautiful, and a lot of the discussion revolved around the question of how we approach representations of the Holocaust. There are a lot of critics who believe that presenting a completely reliable representation is impossible, as the horrific things that happened are so incomprehensible. However, I think Spiegelman was successful in telling his father's story in a way that it really hits home and in a way that's not insensitive. It really just stands to show why we need to have access to these kinds of novels and materials so that we never forget nor simply move past such a dark moment in human history. In such a way, Maus achieves what all great works of literature set out to achieve; to affect the reader and provoke them to really think. 

5/5 stars

*Nervous Conditions Tsitsi Dangarembga I really thoroughly enjoyed this novel and also gained a bit of insight into an otherwise unfamiliar culture. Nervous Condtions is written by a female author from Zimbabwe and at the heart of her novel lies a girl named Tambudzai who strives for an education. At eight years old, she is forced to leave school as her family can only affor to send her brother. Not one to give up easily, she grows her own grains so she can fund her schooling, much to the disapproval of her mother and her father, who remarks "Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables". Tambudzai's hope of receiving a higher education is later able to come to fruition, but only after her brother's death. She establishes a new family in her uncle's home and attends his mission school where her critical thinking develops.

I found myself egging Tambudzai on the entire way. Much like Marjane, she is headstrong and determined to fulfill her goals no matter what, despite living in a very patriarchal society that scorned educated women during the 1960s. Nervous Conditions is devastating but truly uplifting all the same, and I highly, highly recommend it.
4.5/5 stars

So there we have it, another two months worth of book reviews done and dusted. If you would like to keep up with what I am reading in the meantime, feel free to have a look on my Goodreads profile. I would love to know what you're reading too!