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[contains much squeeing and some Breaking Dawn theories]

Yesterday I commented to a friend that in a way, so little has changed since adolescence – swap school for work and you have the same hierarchies, the rules that occasionally seem arbitrary but you follow anyway, and how much have our friendships really changed? We’re all still trying to navigate the world, with only music and tv and literature to warn and advise us about what’s coming and how we’re supposed to feel about it, there’s still the same parental advice that we still don’t follow. Perhaps this explains my continued love of Y.A lit – my circumstances may have changed, but my way of relating to them hasn’t really. I still identify with Polly O’Keefe, with Nanda Grey and Alanna of Trebond, with countless other heroines who are ten years younger than me but still have my thoughts written in their pages.

All the same, I still feel slightly ashamed for being quite so excited about the release of Breaking Dawn, the fourth and apparently final installment in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I’ve blogged about my issues with Meyer’s writing in the past, but that doesn’t stop me concocting theories(see below) like the fifteen-year-old fangirl that I secretly still am. And of course, I have just discovered that it comes out two days earlier in the US than anywhere else. If I’d known, I’d have pre-ordered it, but it was probably too late. Thanks a lot, universe.

Twilight Ravings of a Madwoman (a.k.a ‘what Kaite thinks will happen in Breaking Dawn’)

Disclaimer: I’m a Bella/Jacob shipper rather than Bella/Edward, but I really think that girl needs to be single for a good long while.

  • To bloodsuck or not to bloodsuck? Bella will oh dear god please change her mind about getting vamped, realise Edward isn’t right for her, and hook up with Jacob only to have him decided that he needs to go and realise his werewolf destiny alone.
  • Mortal peril: Victoria will play a major role, hence the red queen on the cover, and Bella will realise that she could very well end up like that if she carries on with her REALLY REALLY stupid plan of becoming a vampire. I guess she might end up working with the Italian vampire posse in order to bring Bella down for not keeping her part of their arrangement. 
  • Body count: Edward MIGHT die, sacrificing himself for Bella, but if he does then I think Bella will have accepted it beforehand and hopefully not be as much of a mess as she was in <i>New Moon</i>.  Jasper and/or Rosalie will die, possibly Carlisle, as well as Seth Clearwater and one of Jacob’s closer friends.
  • Friends, enemies and others: Angela may play a bigger role – but if she does, I’m not sure I see her surviving – and I can see Mike and Jess stumbling around, getting in the middle of things without having any idea what’s going on. Lauren will possibly (inadvertantly?) lead Victoria to Bella and the Cullens. 
  • Family stuff: Bella’s mother will probably reappear in person instead of the odd email and phone call. I kind of really want her parents to get back together as well.
  • Heading off into the sunset: I’d put money on the novel ending with her going off to some Ivy League college, but I’m not sure she’d leave all the supernatural stuff behind her. Maybe she’ll end up sort of following her in father’s footsteps and becoming either a cop with the inside track on the supernatural, or joining some kind of Torchwood/Angel Investigations-type team, occasionally running into Jacob.
  • Please, Stephenie Meyer: I want an awesome ending for Alice, but who knows? She’s on my ‘might well die’ list as well.

The Sunday Salon.com

It seems to have taken me several days to finish this one – strange, given that it’s a fairly short novel and a re-read. I’d managed to forget the event that the whole novel leads up to and then reveals, but then discovered that…well, it was pretty forgettable. As well as out-of-character, gratuitous and rather anticlimactic. Had the scene been longer and more detailed, perhaps I’d have gotten more out of it than a faint sense of dissatisfaction.

WARNING: SPOILERS LURK BENEATH!

Polyhymnia O’Keefe, a brilliant seventeen year old staying alone in Athens and being romanced by a wealthy boy a few years her senior, reflects back on the previous year and her intense friendship with the enigmatic, intelligent Maximiliana, and Max’s lover Ursula. Something happened to shatter Polly’s trust in Max and, though L’Engle throws a few red herrings about, it’s not hard to guess what it was. In addition, I couldn’t help feeling that Polly overreacted hideously and that she needed to gain some perspective and stop being such a brat. Which doesn’t excuse Max’s actions, just that her motivations are glossed over so much that she seems like a caricature in that scene and it’s hard to identify the out-of-control creature who raves drunkenly and tries ineptly to make a pass at her friend and daughter-figure, with the wise, benevolent women carrying around more than her fair share of dark secrets but refusing to be weighed down by them.

END OF SPOILERS! HURRAH!

Apparently this is part of a series, and I’ve been told by friends that it’s the weakest book in the O’Keefe saga. I’d certainly like to read more – the family intrigues me and, despite the flaws she shows in this book, I like Polly as a central character. I’ve currently got a long list of books to get thorough, however, including Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant which is apparently so good that my girlfriend refused to part with it until she had bought another copy. Please bear in mind that we live in the same house. Then I want to finish Winifred Holtby’s The Crowded Streets, read Lessing’s The Golden Notebook and re-read Calvino’s On a Winter’s Night a Traveller, which I first read in Japan four years ago and has stayed with me ever since as a utterly brilliant novel.

But today it is a hot, sunny day, and I have gardening to do.

We’ve expanded to an online reading/discussion group-type thing. You should go and join, tell us about what you’re reading and we can all be one big happy family.

Or you could just join because you think I’m awesome. It works either way, really.

Danielle Steele is on her 75th novel, and she writes them all on a 1964 Olympia manual typewriter. Honestly, I don’t know what scares me more….(and to think that I was surprised to find people who still aren’t Mac users).

Radar lists the top ten superheroes who don’t have movies – but probably should.

Stuart Jeffries has reader’s block, and the Director of the National Literacy Trust has a solution.

The New York Times book blog  predicts that the song of the summer  will be ‘Librarian’ by My Morning Jacket.

Paul Gent reviews the Kindle and doesn’t like it.

Catherynne M Valente won the Rhysling Award for her poem The Seven Devils of Southern California. It appears in her newly-published poetry collection A Guide To Folktaleas in Fragile Dialects – a review of the collection and an interview with Valente are forthcoming and will be up once I’ve, y’know, read it.

A disillusioned blogger called Jessica Roy decries the New York literary scene and moves to Paris in protest. NY Mag readers go….’eh?’ in the comments until the unbearable pretension of the Gen Y literati is revealed.

Dustin ‘Screech’ Diamond, of Saved by the Bell fame gets a book deal. Thousands of Gen Y-ers prepare to be traumatised by his debauched showbiz lifestyle.

Galleycat want you to judge a book trailer.

J.K. Rowling tops the Forbes list of billionaires. Countless Y.A and fantasy authors cry themselves to sleep.

Lee Isreal forged letters from Noel Coward (and was mean about Julie Andrews!) but now has a memoir out that is totally the truth, honest.

Covent Garden’s Poetry Society Cafe  (one of my regular haunts) is hosting its monthly Fourth Friday event tonight. Be there, or be…like me, having a picnic in Green Park because the weather is far too nice to be indoors, bookworms.

When did book groups start having waiting lists?! I’m rather hoping the one I emailed has a space open, because they’re reading Patrick Gale’s Notes From an Exhibition and meeting in Alexandra Palace.

*crosses fingers*

Has anyone else had any experiences – good, bad or otherwise – of book groups? Other than the rather fabulous sitcom that I rather fancy re-watching now…

There’s a debate going on in the Guardian book blog at the moment that I’ve been weighing in on – the author of the post, Sam Jordison (who confusingly looks just like my friend Paul), references Nicholas Carr’s article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’, describing it’s premise as touching on “two perennial favourites for books bloggers: The Death Of The Novel and How The Internet Changes Everything.”

Although Jordison doesn’t define ‘deep reading’ in his article, we came to an agreement in the comments that “we’re talking about a reading that produces a detailed analysis of the language, themes, etc of the text” (my words). He concludes that his novel reading has yet to be affected by the way he reads online – I’d be interested in research about the way people read e-books, if anyone’s bored – and I’d agree. In fact, most book bloggers I read are still really invested in ‘deep reading’. I’ll maybe skim the odd paragraph if it’s a re-read or a bad book, but I don’t understand the concept of reading a novel and not taking it all in. I think the way we read articles can be different to the way we read literature, and that’s OK. They’re constructed differently, so why should we automatically read them in the same way? I don’t read Calvino’s On a Winter’s Night a Traveller in the same way I read Jane Eyre, after all.

Don’t forget, it’s perfectly possible to read ‘deeply’ using the definition we came up with, and still get distracted. Just because I made two cups of tea, ate some toast and fed my cat in between finishing The Lake of Dead Languages this morning doesn’t mean that my reading experience was adversely affected. Apart from the bit where the cat, in protest about not having had any breakfast, jumped on my lap and spilled my scalding hot cup of tea all over me. Then again, that wasn’t an adverse reading experience as much as it was third degree burns.

…You know, maybe it’s nice to have something to blame my total lack of attention span on, even though I’m pretty sure that the internet has merely encouraged rather than created it. And anyway, isn’t multitasking considered to be an advantage these days?

Jordison sums this up pretty accurately in his blog post:

Speaking personally, I can half take the author’s point. Indeed, I only initially skimmed his article (even though I thought it was quite smart). It was only when contemplating linking to the piece in this blog that I forced myself to read it in its entirety. Meanwhile, since I started writing this short article I’ve also checked my email, had a brief skim of facebook and navigated to the Guardian sport pages and my favourite time-wasting resource, the over-by-over cricket coverage.

Even so, I do wonder if Carr is slightly (and perhaps deliberately) blurring a few boundaries. My own approach to novels – I think – remains much as it ever has. I have few problems sustaining concentration on single works for long periods of time. Indeed, part of the pleasure of a paper book comes in the contrast engaging with them presents to the frenetic internet flitting that takes up so much of my working day. It’s a relief to come to something that (generally) must be absorbed in a linear, gradual and sustained fashion.

There’s an interesting parallel to this in an article by Michael Agger in last month’s Slate magazine – this time focusing on the way that we write differently now that we’re all inseparable from our wi-fi connections. Inevitably, the way I think – and therefore the way I read and write – is influenced by the media I consume. If someone takes a photograph, I know it’s going to end up on Facebook. I write blog posts and Twitter updates in my head whenever random thoughts occur to me. But I’ve always done that, turned my life into a narrative – the only difference is that now I type them onto a computer screen instead of in my notebook, and everyone gets to see them instead of just me. I don’t think the internet has changed my behaviour as much as it has enabled it.

After all, surely as writers the thing we aim for is for someone to read our text deeply – no matter where and in what medium we publish it.

(I’m blogging about a blog post that was partially about blogging. It’s so meta, it hurts.)

This, as I mentioned in my post the other day, was a re-read. The back cover describes it as “Miss Jean Brodie meets Donna Tartt”, which sums the plot up but doesn’t even come close to describing the delicious prose that Goodman uses to describe Heart Lake and its environs.

Following her divorce, Jane Hudson returns with her young daughter Olivia to the boarding school she attended as a child on scholarship, this time as a Latin teacher. She is following in the footsteps of Domina Helen Chambers, the charismatic Classicist who fascinated Jane and her friends Lucy and Deirdre, both of whom drowned in the lake during Jane’s final year there.

The Lake of Dead Languages is an eerie and accurate account of the hothousing that goes on in private girls’ schools, as well as a reminder that some things never change. Even the closest friendships have fissures that crack open when too much pressure is applied to them, and adolescent obsessions with sex and death are bewitching but ultimately dangerous. Recreational drug taking, witchcraft and Virgil proves to be a potent combination not only in Jane’s flashbacks to her own teenage years, but in the lives of Athena, Vesta and Aphrodite – three of Jane’s students who coincidentally share the same room that Jane, Lucy and Deirdre occupied.

As tragedy strikes Heart Lake and Jane is thrown back on painful memories of friendship, self-discovery and betrayal, it seems clear that the past is repeating itself – and that the story Jane told her teachers and loved ones all those years ago may not have been the whole truth. Pages from the journal she lost after Lucy’s death start reappearing, and it is clear that someone at Heart Lake knows more than she is letting on – but who?

Although Goodman’s plot twists are somewhat predictable (hint: if you have even a basic knowledge of Latin, the final revelation will come as less of a shock and more of a ‘you’re only just figuring that out?’), she manages to keep the tension spiralling until the final, climactic scene on the frozen lake.

Well worth a read.

Following the recent media furore over Gordon Brown’s identification with Heathcliff (the Wuthering Heights version, not the cartoon cat. I think. Did anyone double check?), I ask you:

Which fictional character would you vote for?

Answers, discussion and campaign slogans in the comments please.

(I would like Shirley Keldar as PM, I think. Or Marian Halcombe, but she’s my answer to everything).

I’m visiting my parents for the weekend, and I’ve finally – in between being informed I no longer have a bedroom, going off to the spa for pampering and figuring out a tricky plot point of the novel whilst swimming forty lengths – gotten round to going through the many boxes of books in the attic and deciding what I wanted to keep. I was going to photograph the entire process for posterity, but

a) the attic is very dusty

and

b) I couldn’t be bothered changing out of my pyjamas.

However, I have found:

Carol Goodman‘s first three novels (one of which is one of my favourite books of all time – although as in the post below, OMG mystery authors, stop making your plot twists so damned…untwisty).

Sara Ryan‘s Empress of the World, which my father swear blind he threw out years ago (out of a desire to tidy, not out of homophobia).

Madelaine L’Engle‘s A House Like a Lotus

Patrick Suskind – Perfume (which I first read when I was ten. I feel as though this explains a lot)

Michele RobertsImpossible Saints (I liked this a lot more until I realised she’d basically ripped the entire concept from her earlier book, The Wild Girl)

Peter Carey – Oscar & Lucinda

K.M Briggs – Kate Crackernuts, one of my all-time favourite fairy stories and one I’d quite like to re-write one day

Jean Racine – Phedre (tr. Ted Hughes)

One or two of these are coming back with me when I head down to London later today, but the rest will have to wait until we’ve bought more bookshelves….

I read Chelsea Cain’s Heartsick last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, even if I did figure out the murderer halfway through. *sigh* One of these days, crime novels will start surprising me again. The sequel, Sweetheart, focuses a lot more on the relationship between cop Archie Sheridan and prisoner Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer who infiltrated her own murder investigation (as in, the investigation into her murders, not…oh, you know what I mean).

I found Gretchen a lot less terrifying in this book, probably because the background we get on her and Archie humanises her a lot more – we see her more as a manipulative, messed-up woman than a serial killer, even though she still gets a decent body count. I wasn’t overly happy about the greater detail that Cain goes into about their shared past – it demystifies it for me, and there were certain aspects that I felt were a little cliched and I had been expecting her to avoid.

Susan, the plucky girl reporter and sometimes sidekick of Archie, is sidelined a lot more in this book – it’s his story, not hers (that was Heartsick), but we still get some fabulous scenes between her and her mother, Bliss Mountain, as well as an insight into the harsh realities of her journalism career.

Sweetheart is billed as being part of ‘The Gretchen Lowell Series’, which implies there are more books to come. Certainly Sweetheart gives the impression of paving the way for further adventures – it’s filling in the gaps, giving us a deeper impression of the characters – but at the end of the day, I want more from my crime novels than several hundred pages of exposition with a funky cover.