November Wrap-Up!

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This month I tried to explore some different avenues with my reading habits, after overdosing on my favourite authors whilst on holiday I found myself in a bit of a slump and craving something different. All of the books I read this month were by authors I had not picked up before ( with the exception of Emma Donoghue). Here how this month went…

The Wonder- Emma Donoghue.

This was a spontaneous buy whilst visiting my local bookshop, I read Room when it first came out and really enjoyed it so I had high hopes for The Wonder. Unfortunately, it was a total disappointment. It was the historical theme which pulled me to this book, the opportunity to get a peek into a phenomenon I was unaware of previously was just too strong. I did write a review for this book so I’m not going to regurgitate all the reasons why I disliked it. What I will say is I feel Jodi Picoult’s novel Keeping Faith has similar themes to The Wonder but executes the story 10000 times better.

https://foxandbearbooks.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/emma-donoghue-the-wonder-review/

Girlfriend in a coma – Douglas Coupland

After what feels like years of nagging from my other half,I finally read this book and I am currently kicking myself for being such a dumbass for not reading the book sooner. I absolutely adored it. It was so fast paced and the narrative grabs you in such a truly engaging way its like you are being pulled through the characters chaotic and dazed lives. It’s full of drug abuse, mystery, friendship, bad life choices, and a diverse bag of bat-shit crazy but brilliantly intense characters. Of course, it wasn’t perfect and the ending wasn’t what I wanted but it was in no way a bad ending.I was left wondering about this ending for a long time after. I will definitely be picking up more Douglas Coupland as well as telling everyone to read this book for years to come.

The Vegetarian – Han Kang

I chose The Vegetarian as I have never read a novel that has been translated from Korean before and the vegetarian was highly spoken of by many booktuber’s. I’m still a bit conflicted about The Vegetarian. The writing was beautifully poetic and it was full of brutality and cruelty but there was just something about it that made me feel it was a little over-hyped. It is a harsh tale of a girl who seeks to rebel against the animalistic behaviour of the men around her. The main focus of the novel herself is never given a voice which to be honest was a major source of my frustration. Again I did a review for this read so I won’t go into too much detail. There was just something about The Vegetarian which left me feeling a bit ‘Meh’.

https://foxandbearbooks.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/the-vegeterian-han-kang-review/

Autumn – Ali Smith

After a hit and miss month of reading, I was so glad to start reading Autumn, It was mesmerizing and brilliant and I can not wait for the next three seasonally themed novels to be released. Normally I like a story with a clear plot, but Smith characters are crafted with such artistic mastery that I almost forgot that it is not excessively plot driven. It’s full of art, thoughtful themes and will give you a good chuckle along the way. What more could you want?

Here is our review for autumn below.

https://foxandbearbooks.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/ali-smith-autumn-review/

The Caucasian Chalk Circle – Bertolt Brecht

Finally this month I read The Caucasian Chalk Circle which is a play by Bertolt Brecht. I decided I needed to read a play as it has been over 10 years since I read An inspector calls by JB. Priestly for my GCSE’S and I thought reading a play might make for a refreshing change.
I did consider the cursed child by J.K Rowling but as I would rather eat my own liver than digest any part of the Harry Potter Franchise I decided the Caucasian Chalk Circle would be a much more palatable read. Written by German playwright Bertolt Brecht in 1944, it centers on Grusha a servant girl who rescues a noble child during a palace attack and becomes a better parent to him than his natural parents. It’s a familiar story, that has been retold many times but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s short and fast and in the end, I felt that everyone got what they deserved. It was a satisfying one-hour read.

So this month has been a bit hit and miss, luckily I have a stash of firm favourites to read next month! what have you been reading this month? let us know in the comments below…

#NECESSARY READS: Dante’s Inferno

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If we were to use modern colloquialisms and slang to describe Dante, then ‘baller’ and ‘straight up G’ would be awfully appropriate. Dante was born in 1265 and died in 1321 (we think), he studied theology and philosophy and was part of the lower-nobility class. He married a woman called Gemma but his muse was a woman called Bice Portinari, whom he called Beatrice. She was the catalyst that drove Dante to write the Divine Comedy, a rollicking ride that takes Dante through Hell, Purgatory and finally Paradise. Effectively, a man travels through the ethereal afterlife to join his one true love. Twilight eat your heart out.

Even if you’re not a fan of poetry, or people being endlessly tormented, or Christianity, The Inferno will have you engrossed from Dante being spooked off a hill by a she-wolf right up to meeting the Devil. The three-headed, multi-coloured, encased up to his waist in ice, whilst chewing on the three great betrayers Devil. Red face and a fiery fork? Pah! Dante’s Devil is pure nightmare fuel. Imagine some Lovecraftian creature or a Clive Barker demon with a heavy injection of Christian fear of the afterlife.

Every ring of Hell is as horrendous as the last. You can feel the pain of each damned soul. The Gluttonous condemned to lay in a mire whilst Cerberus, The Great Worm, rips at their flesh at regular intervals. The Lustful in a ceaseless tornado of flesh. The Violent being cut with a sword “see how I rend me” and of the course, the Flatterers wallowing in human excrement. I am not a religious man, but the imagery, the way Dante condemns these people, some of whom he knew, makes my brain do that, ‘you sure you don’t want to start going to Church?’ thing. It made me paranoid. It still does. Very few books have stayed with me in the way The Inferno has. Yes of course, the ending to Bank’s The Wasp Factory stills plays on the brain. As does Huxley’s Brave New World and that poor, poor savage. None, have however, made me reconsider my beliefs or lack thereof.

It’s not just the imagery, the narrative or the sheer enormity of The Divine Comedy that makes me love it. It’s the deliberateness of the words. Every syllable has purpose; every line and canto adds meaning and depth. No breath is wasted. The rhythm stays in pace of Dante and his companion and fluctuates or calms when they are witnessing some otherworldly horror defile a soul. The Inferno is damn near flawless, everyone needs to read it. Why? Because it has everything and more that any book should have. I simply cannot write or say or do enough to substantially convey how wonderful The Inferno and The Divine Comedy is. Just pick up a copy, finish it, go stare at some ducks on a pond, then go contemplate your own fragile mortality and eventual (but potential) eternal and everlasting afterlife.

Ali Smith – Autumn – Review

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Ali Smith Autumn – a review.

I have a confession to make. Prior to purchasing Autumn I had never read any of Ali smith work, I had, however, read wonderful things about her online, seen many a book tuber joyously delight in her writing, and been drawn gawpingly at the twitter buzz which surrounded this books release. When this happens it can be extremely difficult for the author to live up to the swirling hype that surrounds them and often you are left crestfallen or betrayed when the author does not live up to the baseless expectations you have developed via gathering molecules of information on social media.

This is not one of those books. Ali Smith is not one of those Authors.

Autumn focuses on two main characters Elisabeth and Daniel. two friends who in some many ways shouldn’t be friends. Daniel is a century old and Elizabeth was born in 1984, This is one of my favourite aspects of the book. Smith manages to make their friendship seem genuine and most importantly it makes sense. The interactions between the two are brilliant and do nothing more than lift your soul.

Elisabeth herself is subtly hilarious and her numerous interactions with clerical staff at the post office and a doctor’s surgery had me genuinely chuckling, Elisabeth’s conversations are conversations I would love to have but perhaps I am never quite brave enough to say the ballsy things she does.

I also enjoyed how relevant and present this book is. Set in the oncoming tide of Brexit, it’s refreshing to be able to call upon those feelings that are so still so stingingly raw. Smith Writes ““All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won. All across the country, people felt they’d done the right thing and other people had done the wrong thing.” . Smith does not take sides in the debate instead illustrates the effect it has had on Elisabeth’s world. As she strolls through her mother’s hometown she see’s “Go Home” scrawled on a neighbours wall and a group of Spanish tourist being harassed. It’s a striking familiar world, in which the pool of emotion to draw from is still full.

Finally, I was fascinated by how much of the story is left to the imagination of the reader, there is no physical description of any of the characters, meaning we are left to our own devices when deciphering their identities, this paired with Elisabeth’s constant hindrance of having to provide evidence of her being, shows us that identity is an important theme within this novel.

I cannot recommend Autumn highly enough, I often struggle with novels which are not very plot driven, however, the poetic writing burst’s with beautiful imagery and characters which provide ample amount of intrigue on their own, mean there is little need for them to be doing back- flips and breaking into banks.

Read Autumn, you won’t regret it.

 

#Necessary reads: Lunar Park

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If I was to describe the work of Brett Easton Ellis is one word it would be Marmite. Now, I love his work, I think that he is not only a phenomenal writer but an important one as well. His writing and his persona have been criticised for decades and he remains and probably will remain a controversial figure for many years to come.

Ellis was considered a literary prodigy after his first book, Less Than Zero, was published in the 80’s. Since then he has maintained a Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle, drugs, drinking and sex become part of his public Id. For me, Lunar Park broke the mould and formula of Ellis’ distinct style. In a good way, I hasten to add.

Lunar Park tells the story of Brett Easton Ellis who lives with his wife, Jayne Dennis and their two children, in affluent suburbs of L.A. Told as a fictional memoir, Ellis parodies his lifestyle i.e. his drug taking and alcoholism, with a plot that transcends from the borderline believable to the supernatural and downright haunting. The novel was marketed in a unique, guerrilla-esque way, with a fake tabloid website being made, advertising and documenting Ellis’ and Dennis’ relationship. Jayne Dennis being another creation. Ellis, in a later interview, stated that Lunar Park was also a love letter to Stephen King. In case it wasn’t apparent already, I also love the work of Stephen King. Surely then Lunar Park should be one of my favourite books? Well, it is.

Lunar Park is so much more than a twisting, confusing, minimalist novel of Brett Easton Ellis. Have you ever read a book wherein you feel as if the author is bearing their soul to you? I realise that is incredibly corny, but that is the only true and substantial way I can describe Lunar Park. We gain an insight into the true nature of Ellis. His take on his substance abuse, failed love and relationships with family. The theme of fatherhood and being a patriarch of a family is an overriding presence that is eventually the driving force behind the main plot.

Now I recommend Lunar Park for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it quashes any preconceived negative feelings virgin Brett Easton Ellis readers could have. You would’ve heard of American Psycho, even if you’ve never read it. You will be aware that Ellis has been likened to the protagonist, Patrick Bateman, and heard him called every name under the sun. “Misogynist” is a common favourite. Lunar Park shows a sensitive side to the man, a human side and is moving and heart-felt with an ending that will tug on all your emotional strings. That, and it is also the most accessible from a literary perspective. Anyone could pick up, read and enjoy Lunar Park. Ellis’ writing style can be complex and, at times, confusing. After Lunar Park, I can almost guarantee you will want to read the rest of his work. I hope you do. Brett Easton Ellis is a fantastic writer and I believe that Lunar Park is a gateway into a whole new world of literary enjoyment.

The Vegeterian – Han Kang – Review

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I can’t remember exactly who recommended The Vegetarian but they praised it no end. They said it was a weird and powerful book that truly spoke to them. I read it and was just a bit ‘meh’ about it all. The blurb sets up a book that I believed I would be able to sink my teeth into: “A beautiful, unsettling novel in three acts, about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul.” Now that sounds like something I would thoroughly enjoy reading. Beautiful imagery, a rebellion against the norm and a taboo. I was thoroughly excited to read it. Like I said though, I was just a bit ‘meh’ about The Vegetarian.

The main issue, for me, liesof in the narrative. Three separate acts told from the perspective of three different people who all have some connection to the titular vegetarian. Even though the events of the novel are told chronologically, it still feels disjointed as if Kang doesn’t want to make the reader aware of everything that is occurring. One of the most powerful literary tools Kang implements is that of Yeong-hye’s dreams. The only time the most protagonist gets a voice. However, the inclusion of these segments is short lived and fail to make an appearance from Act 2 onward. Now, I can understand not giving the Yeong-hye a voice. It should evoke the feeling in the stomach, that ache wherein you want to desperately know what they are thinking. This works, as each dislikeable character inflicts their own needs onto the books subject we become frustrated and aggrieved that Yeonge-hye seems to give no shits about what is happening to her. If she does, we don’t know about it.

Despite a few hang-ups, the narrative is beautifully written, and Kang’s poetic background shines through consistently in the story, which is both uncomfortable and brutal. The translation from Korean to English by Deborah Smith was immaculate with none of the imagery becoming lost or confused.

To conclude the vegetarian left me with mixed feelings. It wasn’t a bad book but I didn’t love it, after finishing there was no desperation to know more and no sadness that it was over. We know this review is short but so is The Vegetarian. It’s hard to write a passionate review about a book that didn’t make you feel any passion.

#nonfictionnovember

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Hey Guy! we have put together a small collection of some of our favourite non-fiction titles that we’ve read recently and some absolute classics. if you have any opinions on the books listed let us know.

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I Can Make You Hate – Charlie Brooker

An hilarious assemblement of articles written by Brooker. Funny and scathing as ever a must read for anyone with a bit of bile in them. Love this then give Screenburn and Dawn of the Dumb a go.

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The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell – Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley got stoned on mescaline and then wrote down his experience. Enough said. The band the Doors named themselves after this book so it’s evidently quite influential.

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Girl, Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen

Memoirs of an 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen. Set in 1967 and chronicles her time spent in a psychiatric ward. Funny and self-aware writing of a very difficult time in a young woman’s life.

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The Kitchen Readings – Michael Cleverly & Bob Braudis

Stories about Hunter S Thompsons shenanigans told by two of his closest friends. What isn’t to love? Don’t know about Hunter? Shame! Check out Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diary.

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Innocent When you Dream, edited by Mac Montandon

A collection of interviews with Tom Waits, one of my idols and favourite humans on the planet. A must have for any Waits fans out there.

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Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell’s analysis of what makes successful people successful. Motivating and accessible to all. Useful to boost your drive to exceed in life. Also, the anecdotes in Outliers you’ll find yourself dropping them in everyday conversation.

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Hemingway’s Boat – Paul Hendrickson

A semi-biographic book about Hemingway and his boat. A simple enough concept but Hendrickson’s research and love for his subject matter is evident. Deeply involved and thought provoking book about one of the greatest American writers of all time.

Thanks for reading! F&B.

Necessary Reads No.1: Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr.

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“Yes my love, I hear him. Yes. He is blowing love. Love Vinnie… blowing love… no NO! O God no!!! Vinnie loves me. He loves me. It.

                           Wasn’t.

Shit”

What can be said of a book that has been examined, cross-examined, analysed to the point of nauseam and picked apart by crows, that hasn’t said before? Hubert Selby Jr’s novel shows, in stark and bleak scenes, the underbelly of New York society. Giving the reader insight into characters that are at the bottom of the barrel of the Big Apple. You have the naïve and troubled transvestite, Georgette, the thieving, devious and troubled prostitute, Tralala and the raging, drinking and troubled union man, Harry. As you can tell, Selby Jr’s characters are all doomed from the get go. He writes a tragedy and at the end of the tunnel isn’t sunshine but merely another halogen bulb, illuminating the sign pointing towards another den of cheap beer and cheaper hand-jobs. This is by no means, a bad thing. Last Exit to Brooklyn is harrowing, and in parts, incredibly difficult to stomach. Selby Jr remains true to, for the most part, to the vernacular and slang that would have been used by the people who walked the streets. He was part of it. He roamed the streets and was part of the dregs. A drug addict for a substantial period, Selby Jr was all too acquainted with the likes of Georgette and Tralala. This is perhaps Last Exit to Brooklyn’s greatest strength, the sense and air of authenticity. No conversation seems forced or fabricated. It’s written in such a way that it seems that Selby Jr was hiding behind a grimy menu in a diner, or lingering at the edge of a bar, transcribing down the words. Mimicking the speak. Jotting down actions, not graphically, but like he was spying on them out the corner of his eye. Not wanting to draw unnecessary attention towards himself.

Last Exit to Brooklyn is not flawless. It’s a rough gem of a modern classic. The speech, however authentic, can be difficult to understand and take your eyes off the page for too long and you must re-adjust your vision. Adapt your brain back to these unknown and predominately outdated colloquialisms. Juxtaposed to the rather matter-of-factly way the way Harry grabs another beer or Georgette gets changed. The transition can necessitate a need to step back and process the previous couple of pages. Certain Jury members in the 60’s felt the same way.

British courts banned Last Exit to Brooklyn in 1967 but thankfully the decision was reversed the following year. Jury members were asked to read it and several gave up as they did not have a clue what was happening and what was being said. It caused upset and uproar and embarrassed and infuriated. It confused and bewildered. It remains an incredibly poignant, unforgettable and important read. Every generation has an author that encapsulates the period, for example, Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises and Brett Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. Selby Jr does the same, not so much for a specific period, but for a specific culture. He presents us with the still beating and bloodied heart of the dark side of the American Dream. Read it, take your time, leave it on your shelf, and see if you can return to it in the future without a sense of sweaty palmed apprehension.