The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twenty

“Time is priceless, but it’s free. You can’t own it, you can use it. You can spend it. But you can’t keep it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”

Audrey Niffenegger

I came across this article by Neil Gaiman last night while procrastinating, and it is just awesome. It’s the kind of thing that elicits smiles of recognition because it’s so true and so right. Basically, EVERYONE READ IT.

Day Twenty: Favourite Romance Book

I don’t read romance. That is, I don’t tend to read books which market themselves as specifically and solely about romance, because it doesn’t really interest me.

That said, there are a couple of books which spring to mind as “favourite romances”. One of them is The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.

The thing about The Time Traveler’s Wife is that it’s not just a love story. Or, it is, but it’s also a science fiction story. It tells the tale of Henry and Clare, the time traveller and his wife. Henry has a genetic condition similar to epilepsy that pulls him out of normal time and into his past, or his future. Clare, stuck in normal time, gets to wait for him, knowing that he may well be visiting another, younger or older, version of herself.

I think what I really like about this book is the way it handles time. In Henry’s world, what happens stays happened. There’s none of this silly wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey paradox-y business. What happens always happens, whatever you do, wherever you go. There’s no escape from the terrifying future you might glimpse for a moment, and none from a guilt-ridden past, either. And, of course, this throws up all kinds of interesting questions about fate and destiny and free will. Did Clare really have any choice about falling in love with Henry? Did Henry have any choice about falling in love with Clare?

God knows. It’s the kind of book you can tie your brain in knots with: “So, if this happened, and then that happened – then who made those choices?”

It’s a sad book, in many ways, but it feels like it’s meant to be sad, if that makes any sense. And those are the best kind of stories.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Nineteen

“The hands of a king are the hands of a healer.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Well, I am back, Constant Reader, believe it or not (at least, I think I am…we’ll see how this post turns out).

Before I resume my severely delayed Thirty Day Book Challenge, some timey-wimey L-space news: it’s Doctor Who in just five days (SQUEEEEE!!!), and if you fancy watching some melodramatic, overwrought, badly acted hype then do check out the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor.

(I hope you enjoyed my mini-review right there.)

Day Nineteen: Favourite Book Turned Into A Movie

Do I really have to spell it out?

The Lord of the Rings, every time.

Peter Jackson – and I hate complimenting Peter Jackson since he did what he did to The Hobbit, but this time it’s true – did a fantastic job in translating all that The Lord of the Rings is into a film. True, we don’t get to meet Tom Bombadil (oh, Tom Bombadil), and the whole weird river subplot thing with Aragorn in the second film is…weird, and Frodo is kind of a jerk to Sam, but – and I think this is, wholly and completely, the most important consideration when you’re adapting a book into a film – the film feels the same as the book. The world! The music! (“Into the West” has long been my favourite song of all time.) The casting! And, yes, the CGI is twelve years old, but to a large extent it doesn’t look it, and when it does…you just have to put up with it. But no-one can tell me that Gollum isn’t the best thing to happen to motion-capture technology since ever.

I’m sorry to answer another question with “J.R.R. Tolkien”. But there really is no other possible candidate for Day Nineteen, in the absence of what would be a very appropriate answer: a film adaptation of The Dark Tower.

(Because of the number, you see. Nineteen? Geddit? Oh, forget it.)

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Eighteen

“The human world is made of stories, not people. The people the stories use to tell themselves are not to be blamed.”

David Mitchell

Before I resume normal service, I would just like to express my excitement over the latest Day of the Doctor trailer. Squee!

Day Eighteen: A Book That Disappointed You

Oh, there are many. But the one I shall talk about today is David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten. I absolutely adored Cloud Atlas, and from the blurb Ghostwritten looked like it could be similar (nine different, interlocking narratives, with some mystical mysticism thrown in to spice everything up).

I guess it was similar, superficially. But structurally it wasn’t as visionary or as impressive as Cloud Atlas; the Interlocking Narratives were not actually that interlocking at all; and at the end I was left with a vague impression of “so what?” which is never a good thing to find at the end of a story.

I know that Cloud Atlas would have been a hard act to follow. And I know that Ghostwritten was, after all, Mitchell’s first ever novel, and for him to get something like that completely right the very first time would have been very, very unlikely. But…but. It was disappointing. And that is the truth.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Sixteen

“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you.”

Terry Pratchett

Day Sixteen: Favourite Female Character

Granny Weatherwax, from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

Why? Precisely because she’s not a Female Character – that is, the kind of character who is notable only for being female.

Granny Weatherwax is a witch, which in Discworld-land means not chanting mystical runes at midnight but doing actual, practical stuff to help the needy: cutting old people’s toenails, giving practical healthcare advice, with an occasional sideline in Saving the Kingdom/City/World.

Of course, all of this is dressed up in Derren Brown-style psychological manipulation to make it look like magic, because otherwise people won’t listen. Occasionally there’s some actual magic, too, but not the showy fireworky stuff that the wizards at the university favour; the best witches’ spells never get noticed.

What’s so interesting about Granny Weatherwax is that we’re never actually sure if she’s really, at heart, a good person. Granny Weatherwax is controlling, deceitful, arrogant, jealous, hidebound, and angry…

…but she uses those traits, acknowledges them, even, always and only in the service of good. She is determined to be a Good Person in spite of herself. Like all of my favourite characters, Granny Weatherwax is charismatic and conflicted, and there is no other way to imagine her. Granny Weatherwax is not female just because the stories in which she features need extra female characters; she’s female because, well, she just is.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Fifteen

“Adrift upon a sea of time, the lonely god wanders from shore to distant shore, upholding the laws of the stars above.”

Christopher Paolini

…which makes us half-way through the Challenge. And still going strong.

Day Fifteen: Favourite Male Character

I’m assuming this has to be a character in a book. Otherwise I would totally say the Doctor.

Actually, he IS in a book…many books, in fact.

The Doctor is in my opinion one of the most inspired and inspiring characters ever. The man with a thousand faces – the one who loses everything, over and over again, and still gets up in the morning (although see his brief funk at the beginning of The Snowmen last year, why do I know these things again?) – the one who never, ever carries a weapon but who is guilty of a million deaths.

That guy.

Even when he has crap storylines – which has happened an awful lot lately – he is still the Doctor, still one of the most complex and interesting good guys on television and still a brilliant fairy-tale. I can’t describe him any better than Christopher Paolini did in the Quote for the Day, above, and in this one, also from Brisingr:

The trickster, the riddler, he of the many faces who finds life in death and who fears no evil; he who walks through doors.

See? He’s just awesome. He’s like a modern-day myth. And that, it seems to me, is the key to his popularity and his longevity. Behind all the stuff – the dodgy science, the wobbly sets, the internal inconsistencies – he is the Doctor, always and everywhere. There’s no-one like him in all of L-space.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Fourteen

“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Day Fourteen: Book Turned Movie And Completely Desecrated

Remaining with the Tolkien theme, I’d like to answer this question with just three words:

An Unexpected Journey.

I despised the first Hobbit film for a whole host of reasons, just a few of which are recorded (somewhat incoherently) here. But the thing that most annoys me about Peter Jackson’s travesty of a film is that The Hobbit, the original book (yes, such a thing does exist, Mr Jackson) is quite literally the perfect shape for a film. It’s an adventure with a beginning, a middle and an end, in which a group of friends go on a quest, meet strange folk, fight monsters and get the gold. It’s quintessential movie material: relatively short, slightly comical, a relatable protagonist. It didn’t need any changing to make a good film. What it needed was not to have Peter Jackson directing it. What it needed was to be made before The Lord of the Rings. What it needed, above all, was to stand on its own, as a single film, with little or no awareness (OK, I could deal with a bit of dramatic irony) of what was to follow in Middle-earth.

The Hobbit could have been a great film. But it isn’t. It’s a terrible one. And because the terrible one now exists, the great one will never get made. That’s the saddest thing. So I have decided upon a new piece of editorial policy: for the English Student, at least, there is no such thing as a Hobbit film.

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Thirteen

“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no good reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”

Happy Bonfire Night, everyone!

Day Thirteen: Your Favourite Writer

That would be, yes, you guessed it, good old Prof. Tolkien. He’s still the father of fantasy, still required reading for every SF or fantasy fan out there, still the guy to whom everything looks back. Arguably, without Tolkien we’d not have Harry Potter, or the Discworld series, The Dark Tower, Stephen Donaldson, His Dark Materials…you name it, Tolkien is there somewhere.

And he’s a really good writer. I don’t mean that his characters are particularly developed or that they face particularly complex moral dilemmas, but that like all writers of myth and legend he deals in abstractions. What you learn from the Fellowship’s journey is not that one does not simply walk into Mordor, or how to kill orcs, but that “in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing”. And even in Middle-earth, the land of high deeds and legend, the small can make the greatest difference there is. Tolkien isn’t really an author. He’s a story-teller. The distinction is subtle, but it makes all the difference. You can imagine people telling the tale of Frodo and the Ring of Doom around a fire thousands of years after all books have gone. And how many other stories can you say that for?

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Twelve

“Rule of life. If you bother to ask someone’s advice, then bother to listen to it.”

Sophie Kinsella

Day Twelve: A Book You Love But Hate At The Same Time

What? Is that a thing? Really? A book that I love and hate?



OK, I’m going to go with Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series.

(Don’t judge me.)

See, they’re utterly hilarious, even if they have the literary worth of a peanut, and they always make me laugh, often out loud, which is extremely awkward in a library because everyone turns round and looks at you as if you are mad. (Which, to be fair, is an easy mistake to make.)

But the more I read them the more I realise that their heroine, Becky Bloomwood, is actually rather odious: empty-headed, greedy, self-centred and, well, completely obsessed by shopping. She is not a relatable character, or even a character you would want to emulate. At all. Ever.

Can I just say that this was a patently stupid question. And that I didn’t make it up. (The full list is here, if you’re interested.)

The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day Eleven

“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.”

Terry Pratchett

All right, I missed a day. I’m sorry. So now it will be a Thirty-One Day Book Challenge.

Day Eleven: A Book You Hated

One of the very, very few books I’ve actively hated recently is in fact Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight, which was, in my opinion, the most complete and utter debacle ever to hit Discworld-land.

Please bear in mind that I am writing as a devoted fan of Sir Terry’s: I have a whole bookshelf at the Book Repository devoted to Discworld and Assorted Works, I own the films on DVD, I am ridiculously excited for the upcoming adaptation of Unseen Academicals and I always rush out and buy the latest Discworld novel literally as soon as I hear about it.

But, somehow, all that just makes the travesty that was I Shall Wear Midnight worse.

I Shall Wear Midnight is the last book in the Tiffany Aching YA mini-series, in which an ancient witch-hating spirit spreads ill-feeling among the towns of the Disc.

In Pratchett’s hands this could have been visionary. Instead, it was disjointed, oddly mispaced, with amazingly clunky dialogue and general unfunny-ness. I have literally never been so disappointed by a book before. Yes, we meet favourite characters from other novels – I’m mainly thinking of the awesome Captain Carrot here, oh, and Esk as well – but, and here’s the crucial point, they don’t sound like themselves. This is Carrot? Really? I don’t think I would have recognised him if it hadn’t been waved in my face.

But the Discworld juggernaut rolls on, so it really doesn’t matter what I think. With that kind of fanbase, people are still going to buy his books. I’m still going to buy his books, come to that. Who needs marketing when you’ve got fifty really good books at your back?