Books

13 Reasons to Read A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket

Since today is Friday the 13th, I’d thought I would interrupt our usual Feminist Fridays feature to talk about something a little more…. unlucky. Over the past few months I’ve been reading (via audio book) the entirety of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket for the very first time. When a friend learned that for some reason I never read this series when I was a kid, she immediately told me that I must read it ASAP. Fortunately, there’s nothing unfortunate about this series! In case you’re turned off by the rather strange title, here are 13 reasons why you should read A Series of Unfortunate Events: 

1. The writing is witty, clever, and funny. I’m a sucker for puns and cleverness in general, so Lemony Snicket’s hilarious yet smart writing style immediately made me adore this series.

2. There are SO MANY BOOKS. There’s nothing better than being captivated by a series that seems to go on forever. With thirteen books, it’s easy to feel as though this series will never end, yet it’s so fast-paced that it never felt like the plot was dragging or carrying on too long.

3. Each book is pretty short. I think the fact that each book is fairly short (usually between four to six hours of audio book, or 200-300 pages) helps keep the series from feeling slow, allowing it to be so long overall. You always feel like you’re making fast progress as you read, which is always a good feeling.

4. You never know what will happen next. The plots of these books are wild. Even when you think you’ve figured out how each book will end, Lemony Snicket throws a wrench in all of your carefully crafted predictions.

5. The audio books are fantastic. I’ve listened to every single one of these books on audio book and I loved every single second of it. Not only is the narrator (Tim Curry) incredible, but the extra sounds and music also make it feel as though you are right there alongside the Baudelaire children, desperately trying to outrun Count Olaf. This was the perfect way for me to read this series while abroad because I could listen while walking around Oxford to college and lecture, cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, etc. I would highly, highly recommend the audio books if you’re looking to read (or reread) this series!

6. It’s as entertaining for adults as for children. Lemony Snicket has managed to write a series that is aptly suited for both kids and adults without it feeling too simple or too mature for any age. While he does clearly state “messages” or “lessons” that he wishes children to take away, he does so in a way that is clever and also a great reminder for adults (sometimes adults need the reminder more than kids!).

7. So many funny repeated phrases. Quite a few phrases and ideas are repeated time and time again throughout this series, simultaneously forming a common thread between the books and creating what feel like little inside jokes between the reader and writer. I couldn’t help but smile to myself when any of these phrases reappeared.

8. Very, very bookish. Lemony Snicket clearly knows his intended audience (bookworms) well because there are so many aspects of this series that appeal to bibliophiles: Klaus’ love of reading, constant references to literature like T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” countless trips to libraries… the list goes on and on!

9. Each book is unique. Sometimes books in series tend to blur together because they seem so similar. Luckily, that’s not the case here! Each book is very distinct from the others thanks to creative plots, unusual settings, and a constant flood of new characters.

10. Character development. As engrossing as the plot of this series is, I think the star of the show is really the remarkable character development that occurs as the Violet, Klaus, and Sunny make their way through obstacle after obstacle.

11. Count Olaf. That’s right: I’m actually listing a villain here. I think Count Olaf is one of the most hilarious, creative, clever, sinister villains I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. He’s definitely a bad guy that you can’t help but love to hate!

12. Nostalgia. If you read this series as a kid, then you get the added benefit of lovely nostalgia. Nevertheless, I still loved the way this series reminded me of how I used to get lost in endless series of books as a kid, wandering the aisles of spacious libraries just like Violent, Klaus, and Sunny. Get ready for a (rather odd) trip down memory lane!

13. It gives you an binge-watch the fantastic Netflix series. I can’t recommend this Netflix series enough! The acting is incredible, the music is excellent, and the dreary world of the Baudelaire children is captured perfectly. Definitely check it out!

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to read this series if you haven’t already! Happy Friday the 13th!

What are your thoughts on A Series of Unfortunate Events? Do you have a specific favorite book out of the entire series? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Discussion

Does Format Impact Interpretation? | Discussion

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While reading a of James Gleick’s The Information last semester for a course, one part struck me particularly hard. In discussing the transition from mailing letters and utilizing various messengers to the rise of the telegraph, Gleick points out that “a message had seemed to be a physical object. That was always an illusion; now people needed consciously to divorce their conception of the message from the paper on which it was written.” This reconceptualization of what constitutes a “message” has made me think about what we consider such communication to be today.

10728649In our modern society, the most popular and common form of communication is text messaging via cell phones, especially among the younger generations. However, there is an argument often voiced by the older generation that a text message cannot replace face-to-face communication or handwritten letters. Evidence frequently cited to bolster this argument includes the brevity, increased frequency, lack of proper grammar, and the more casual writing style used when texting. Yet I would counter this argument by emphasizing that change does not necessarily equate to degradation, though the rise of texting certainly comes with its own set of issues. Of course, face-to-face communication is an incredibly valuable aspect of a relationship, but that is not to say that it is the only way people should stay in touch with one another. For instance, without the help of the advanced communication technology we have today, people would not be able to maintain such close relationships with family members and friends who live far away. Moreover, news of current events would no longer be “current,” for it would take much longer to alert nations overseas of what was going on in another country. No matter one’s opinion on the subject, it’s clear that our fast-paced culture rooted in instant gratification could not adequately function at this point without the existence of immediate communication with anyone, at any time, and in almost any place.

Moreover, I think the core of this argument reveals even more interesting and thought-provoking questions: How much of an impact does the medium of communication have on what we are actually trying to communicate? Does it impact the sender, the receiver, or both parties? The materiality and physicality of language is something that we often forget about in our digital culture, but it is actually all around us. Perhaps it would be beneficial to reevaluate Gleick’s remark about the tangibility of messages: though we cannot physically hold language in our hands, this does not mean that it lacks all forms of materiality.

In terms of the bookish community, I think it’s particularly interesting to think about how materiality affects our interpretation and perception of what we read. Most contentiously: Does the format through which we consume a story impact our thoughts about it? Will my opinion of a book change if I listen to the audio book version instead of reading a paper copy or even in ebook form? 

What do you think? How important is materiality or format when it comes to reading or even communicating in general? Do you feel as though you perceive books differently depending on the format in which you consume them? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Audio Books I’ve Listened To

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Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme highlights a form of reading that is often unappreciated and under-utilized: audio books. While the majority of my reading is done using physical copies of books, recently I’ve been listening to more and more audio books. They’re a great way to get some extra reading done if you have a really busy schedule because they make multitasking so easy. I love listening to audio books while working out, doing dishes, folding laundry, etc. Not only does it make me feel super productive, but it also allows me to read so much more than I otherwise would have.

To celebrate this ingenious way of reading, here are ten of the Best Audio Books I’ve Listened To, in no particular order.STILETTO-11STILETTO-12

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By far my favorite audio books are those narrated by Neil Gaiman. I love his voice so much!

What are some of your favorite audio books? What do you think of the ones on my list? Do you prefer to listen to books or physically read them? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

WILD by Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl Strayed cover“How wild it was, to let it be.”

I’ve had my eye on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild for years now. I love hiking- as explained here– so when I heard of this book I knew it would be something I would find interesting, at the very least. I’m familiar with the Appalachian Trail, but before reading this memoir I knew next to nothing about the Pacific Crest Trail. While I learned an immense amount about the PCT, I was also happy to discover that Wild addresses so much more than a long, long hike. Strayed takes the reader along on her personal journey through grief, heartache, and a quest to find herself again.

Strayed’s personality simply shines through her writing, resulting in a memoir that is honest, genuine, and raw. It feels as though she holds nothing back, like she is confiding in the reader as if they were an old friend rather than a complete stranger. It takes courage to blatantly lay out the details of such an emotional time in your life in this way, and I applaud Strayed for choosing to do so. She admits her ignorance, foolishness, and mistakes while at the same time emphasizing her ability to learn from them. Her personality is accentuated by the engaging narration of the audio book that I listened to. Bernadette Dunne, the narrator, had different voices for all of the characters that really brought the story to life. She performed with just the right amount of emotion, and at times it almost felt as though Cheryl herself was talking to me on the phone, telling me her story.

Moreover, the structured of this memoir is really well-organized and executed. She tells the story of her hike on the PCT in mostly chronological order, all the while interjecting with bits and pieces about her life prior to embarking on this journey. As a result, the reader gains a clear understanding of Cheryl both on and off the trail without having to endure massive “info-dumps.”  Strayed gradually provides us with information when relevant rather than overwhelming us with it all at once. There is a careful balance between her past and present, and she has managed to find an incredibly effective way of seamlessly weaving them together.

Similarly, the conclusion of Wild was refreshingly satisfying and expertly written as well. I don’t know if this would be considered a spoiler since Wild is a memoir and not a fictional story, but at the end Strayed wraps everything up by flashing forward into her future, between when she finished the PCT and when she writes this book. She discusses how she moves on, gets married, starts a family, and eventually brings them all to the exact location where she finished her journey. Her moment of reflection was the perfect way to conclude this memoir because it really drives home how the overall experience has impacted here life. Glimpsing her future helped tie together the jumble of seemingly random experiences she had while hiking and made sense of them in a way the reader could better understand. When I finally listened to the last line of the audio book I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. If only every book ending could be so rewarding!

I know this is a true story and therefore I can’t really complain about unchangeable events (this is her actual life, after all); however, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated with Cheryl at times. Why did she have to break things off with her husband? Why did she start and continue doing heroin, even though so many people offered to help her stop? It seems like Cheryl made so many poor decisions that could have been avoided with some self-control and common sense. Perhaps this is overly critical of me to say– she was dealing the crushing loss of her mother, after all, and things always appear clearer in hindsight– but I wanted to mention it as it is something that really bothered me throughout this memoir.

Overall, I was captivated and fascinated by Cheryl Strayed’s inspiring story. Not only is Wild an entertaining, thought-provoking memoir, but it is also an engrossing tale of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Whether you’re an avid hiker or not, this memoir is sure to be a valuable and enjoyable read!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Definitely! You don’t have to enjoy hiking to like this book, but it’s a bonus if you do!

What are your thoughts on this memoir? Would you recommend the movie adaptation? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

Book Review: NEVERWHERE

Neverwhere by Neil GaimanAuthor: Neil Gaiman

Number of Pages: 370

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Release Date: September 2, 2003

“Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.”

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There’s something so special about authors narrating their own books. They’ve created these characters and worlds out of their own imaginations, weaved together these words to make the phrases and passages that we relish and read over and over again. Not all authors possess the vocal performance skills that professionals do, but that’s beside the point. Authors know their stories better than anyone else; they know the core of it, what it looked and sounded like in its fledgling stage before it left the editing nest. They’re familiar with the nuances of each character’s personality, with the tone in which they would say each piece of dialogue.

My appreciation for authors who narrate their own audio books has soared since listening to Neil Gaiman read his stories, and his novel Neverwhere has certainly contributed to this adoration of mine. I listened to the audio book version of Neverwhere and Gaiman’s narration is flawless. He has such a great reading voice (the accent surely helps!) and he does very different voices for all of the characters. His enthusiasm for and connection with the story as its writer is apparent in his performance, convincing me that more authors should try narrating their own books.

Although quite dark and twisted, Neverwhere nevertheless has Gaiman’s signature charm. Richard Mayhew is a main character who is easy to relate to and difficult not to support. He’s an average, practical man simply trying to live a normal life, yet Gaiman manages to transform his world into something beyond his wildest imagination. London Below is such a terrifyingly mysteriously, savage place and is brilliantly reflected in the characters found there. Croup and Vandemar are ridiculous and creepy at the same time, providing as much fright as genuine entertainment. I absolutely loved the voices that Gaiman uses for the two of them, and consequently they are on probably my favorite characters. Are they horrible people? Definitely! But they are so outrageous that you can’t help but look forward to their next scene. However, these two madmen are not outliers- each character is well worth meeting and spending time with, because you never know what they’ll say or do next.

In addition to the delightful characters, the setting of this story is also quite remarkable. London Below is a bizarre place filled with unexpected creatures, sights, and sounds. It sent a shiver down my spine on a number of occasions, and caused me to wonder how on Earth Gaiman creates such an odd world! The plot also reflects the rather random, haphazard design of London Below. Throughout this story I earnestly tried to predict the ending, but my efforts were proven futile. The actual conclusion surprised me in the best way, as did many of the plot twists earlier on.

Overall, Neverwhere is a twisted yet strangely charming story oozing with British quirkiness, cleverness, and wit. While I do feel as though I enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane more, this novel is still an excellent example of Gaiman’s talent for storytelling. It’ll make you laugh, voraciously flip the pages, and check under your bed twice before turning off the lights at night. What more could you want?

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend? Yes! Especially if they are a fan of the fantasy genre, British humor, or stories set in London, England.

Have you read this book before? What did you think of it? What other books by Neil Gaiman would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY