The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Thirty

“Oft evil will shall evil mar.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Day Thirty: Your Favourite Book Of All Time

The Lord of the Rings, of course. Could it be anything else?

I’m aware that I’ve written about The Lord of the Rings at length quite a lot recently, in my reviews of the books and in the course of the Thirty Day Book Challenge (Day One, Day Thirteen and Day Nineteen spring to mind), and anything I write here may feel like repetition.

So what I will say is that The Lord of the Rings is a terrific story, a message of hope and defiance, a hymn to the little people of this world, and a myth with a grain of truth.

And it seems fitting to end with Tolkien, since I began the Challenge with him. So, to the writer I never met: thank you.

(And, before you ask, yes it does count as one book.)

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-Nine

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

David Mitchell

Day Twenty-Nine: A Book Everyone Hated But You Liked

This is a hard one. Mainly because I don’t necessarily read what my friends read, and anyway consensus among them is extremely rare (on average, the University Gang take at least half an hour squabbling over What to Watch before we ever start watching it).

At a push, though, I’d probably go with Cloud Atlas: among the few people I know who’ve read it, or who have started reading it, the consensus seems to be that they couldn’t get past the first section, and I’m tired of telling people “it gets better”. Because I almost always finish books, I don’t think I really noticed the relative stodginess of Ewing’s tale, and anyway…

…it gets better. That’s all, really. Keep reading. There’s so much more to see. The whole world, if you look closely enough.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-Eight

“I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees.”

Alfred Tennyson

Day Twenty-Eight: Favourite Title Of A Book

Half-Sick of Shadows (David Logan) is a terrific title. In fact, I was thinking about how wonderful a title that would be just a few days before I found the book itself. Unfortunately, this only made the book more disappointing, as it could never live up to the fact that “I am half-sick of shadows” is one of my favourite lines of poetry ever.

Let this be a lesson to all budding authors. If you choose an awesome title, make sure the book lives up to it.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-Seven

“May the odds be ever in your favour.”

Suzanne Collins

Day Twenty-Seven: The Most Surprising Plot Twist Or Ending

That would be the end of Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire, otherwise known as The Second Book in the Hunger Games Trilogy. And, by the end, I mean that very last sentence, the one that makes you go, “WHAT? WHAT? DON’T STOP THERE! HOW CAN YOU STOP THERE?” and possibly run madly to the nearest bookshop just to find out what happens next.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-Six

“When you handle books all day long, every new one is a friend and a temptation.”

Elizabeth Kostova

Day Twenty-Six: A Book That Changed Your Opinion About Something

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which changed my opinion about university.

I am completely serious.

Before I read The Historian, the idea of university was literally the most terrifying thing. Going somewhere completely new? Having to talk to Other People? Learning on my own, without teachers making me do it?


Then I read The Historian, which completely changed my mind. I actively wanted to go to university. This is because The Historian is full of libraries, of people working to find the truth from old books, poor but happy university professors, researchers, seekers after knowledge…

Of course, it helped that the book has a definite tinge of the supernatural, because that made the idea of university all the more attractive. Going there will help you hunt down vampires! Who could resist?

And the fact that university is very different to what I imagined does not diminish my gratefulness to that book. The Historian is still one of my favourites, and it still makes me want to go to university.

Even though I’m already there.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-Five

“Ah, you are stubborn yet.”

Stephen Donaldson

Firstly, an L-space rant. Yesterday was, as well as the Doctor Who 50th anniversary (SQUEE!), also the day upon which the World Book Night book list was announced.

And…it’s a little disappointing.

This year, the books I have read on the list are Robert Muchamore’s The Recruit, which, while rather good, is a piece of YA and therefore not a work I would relish handing to actual adult strangers on the street, and Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, which is not really very good.

True, there’s also Agatha Christie and Roald Dahl’s short stories and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but I can’t help thinking: where are all the classics? All the books we know and love? The first WBN featured books by Margaret Atwood and Dickens and Cloud Atlas and POETRY. Not just good books, but great books.

All of 2014’s books, on the other hand, look decidedly average.

WBN says that these books are chosen because they are “easy to read and accessible”. And I’m sorry, but this feels a lot like condescension. I believe that reading a truly great book – a book like Cloud Atlas or Life of Pi, neither of which, I might point out, are exactly dense – is much more likely to encourage new readers than an averagely good crime novel like the ones on the new list.

Oh, and the most infuriating thing from WBN: “We constructed this year’s list to encourage more men – who we know are more likely to read books by men – to take part in WBN.”


Just put more books by men on the list, because that will make everything better? Because it’s somehow all right that men only read books by men? Just WHAT?


Day Twenty-Five: A Character Who You Can Relate To The Most

Urgh. The grammar of some of these questions is terrible.

As a matter of fact, I think Thomas Covenant, the titular character of Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, is remarkably relatable, because his responses to the world into which he is suddenly thrust are so believable, and because those responses are so often framed as psychological struggles. Certainly I think he is more relatable, because in many ways more human, in the Second Chronicles; I’ve found myself thinking of him a lot since I read that book. We may not be able to relate to his specific circumstances – his leprosy, or his Being a Writer – but in Thomas Covenant there is something that everyone can relate to: the fear of failure, of letting others down, of losing control. And who said fantasy wasn’t about real life?

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-Four

“Always live your life with your biography in mind.”

Marisha Pessl

Day Twenty-Four: A Book That You Wish More People Had Read

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.

At this point I usually have to point out to people that this is NOT A PHYSICS BOOK.

What it is, however, is quirky and sweet and bookish. I read it a while ago, so I don’t actually remember all the details, but the plot goes somewhat thusly: a girl’s father disappears mysteriously, her teacher commits suicide, and her quest to find out why leads through literature and beyond.

Look, I know that sounds like the most depressing thing in the world, but truly, it is rather lovely. It’s also the book I like to think I would be if I were a book. It’s adorably meta, oh-so-clever, and just generally awesome in so many ways. So…go read it, Constant Reader. Because that is the point of this post.

Hang on. Was there something else?

Oh, yeah…

GALLIFREY STANDS, my friends. Gallifrey stands!

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-Three

“Dare to be true.”

George Herbert

Day Twenty-Three: A Book You’ve Wanted To Read For A Long Time But Still Haven’t

How much time have you got?

I guess Malory’s Morte Darthur would be at the top of the list, because King Arthur. It’s the quintessential Arthur story (although there were many before it), and what’s best is that I actually have an excuse to read it this Christmas, because I’m going to write an essay on it.

And I am extremely excited about this.

For many, many more books that I have wanted to read for a LONG time, I direct you to my To Be Read page. It’s a long list.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-Two

“Stories are a different kind of true.”

Emma Donoghue

Day Twenty-Two: A Book That Makes You Cry

Room, by Emma Donoghue.

Room is an immensely powerful book. It’s told from the viewpoint of a five-year-old child, a five-year-old who has spent his whole life in one room, imprisoned with his mother; hence, of course, the title.

I swear, it’s better than it sounds.

It’s powerful because it’s childish. Jack – the aforesaid five-year-old – knows, or rather understands, nothing of what is going on, and yet, through his eyes, we know everything, the whole tragedy and novelty of the story. That’s an incredibly strange and wonderful thing, if you think about it. It’s very well-written, and yet it reads like a thriller. It’s clever and moving and thought-provoking, and you should definitely read it.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty-One

“It wasn’t a bit of good fighting grown-ups. They could do exactly as they liked.”

Enid Blyton

Day Twenty-One: The First Novel You Remember Reading

A memory test? That wasn’t part of the deal!

All the books that I read as a child tend to blur into one – that is, I don’t remember them on a timeline, or anything like that. I can name some early novels, but almost certainly not the first one…

…although if there ever was a first, it was probably in the region of Five on a Treasure Island, the first book in Enid Blyton’s seemingly interminable Famous Five series. For those of you who’ve never encountered this classic British institution, the Famous Five were a gang of four children and a dog who went round solving crimes and generally Having Adventures. Words like “plucky” and “jolly” (as in “jolly good” or “jolly lucky”) get tossed around a lot, often in conjunction with exclamation marks. The words “good clean fun” spring to mind.

They were actually given to me as presents by the Grandparents: every time I visited them I would be given a lovely centenary-edition, hardback copy of a new Famous Five book. I can’t remember what exactly I thought about them, but it must have been fairly good since I distinctly remember trying to buy one for myself and being told not to because of the Grandparents. (This conversation may have ended in a tantrum.)

Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge, tells me that there are 21 books in the Famous Five series, and I’m not sure I believe it. There always seemed to be about a million (all, incidentally, the same, because you don’t care that much about character development when you’re six). I know I read at least fifteen, and possibly eighteen, and still never got to the end. But I do still have those books. Every one. So someone, somewhere, must have done something right.