Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Waiting on Wednesday - I'm soo excited

I haven't done this meme in aaageees but since I am now genuinely excited about a book coming my way I simply couldn't help myself! Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine.

I am not, as such, waiting for a new book to come out, but rather I'm waiting for an edition of an old book coming my way. Yesterday I finally managed to win a bidding on Ebay (first time in my life) and get myself a 1943 edition of 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte with Fritz Eichenberg illustrations. 
Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine's father. After Mr Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine's brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.
'Wuthering Heights' is always my answer when people ask me what my favourite book is because I just love it so much and there's always something I can talk about when people question me about why I would like this book.

The illustrations are amazing! I've always wanted a copy of this edition because they just fit perfectly with the story. They're so gothic and sharp and just really underline the different aspects and themes of the story.

So, what are you waiting for?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Lisa Fray: 'Authenticity and the Author's Intrusion into Fiction'

Some of you might remember the amazing guestpost that Lisa Fray did for Universe in Words a while back. Well, I have good news: she's back, this time with a piece about fiction and authenticity. 

Authenticity and the Author's Intrusion into FictionIt is difficult to forget what you know about an author when you are reading one of their books, but the sorts of authorial intrusions that can occur when you know all about an author's history or opinions can have a big impact on your experience of their work. Sometimes, it can enhance the experience, by giving us a sense that we are hearing from someone who really knows what they are talking about, but in other cases, it can prevent us from valuing the work for its own merits. It can also leave us searching for "authenticity" in fiction, rather than allowing authors to live separate lives from their creations. We can end up expecting authors to prove to us that they can give us better insight into that fictional world than anyone else. They are required to show their qualifications before we will suspend our disbelief.
Authenticity and VoiceMany authors tend to write about people and subjects that are close to their own background, but if we required authors to prove that they have real life experience matching the lives of their characters, we would limit creativity too much. Writers do often write about writers, but we shouldn't feel that this is the only subject they can cover, and we need to be wary about questioning how and why authors write across cultures, nationalities and sexes. There has been a nasty tendency in the past to believe that the Western middle class male norm is universal, while everyone outside it must be limited. Writers can then be attacked for writing outside their own experiences, but devalued for sticking to them because they aren't the traditional material of "great" literature.
Authenticity and the AutobiographicalReaders seeking authenticity don't just want authors to speak from their own real-life background, they also search for specific autobiographical elements in their works. We often believe that we see the author in their characters, particularly when books blur the lines between fiction and fact. When we read David Copperfield, we want to see it as a sort of autobiography of Dickens. It is a tendency that authors often play with, suggesting that they are recounting true histories, presenting real diaries or letters that they have only edited, or creating characters who are very similar to themselves. Many authors write about people who live in the same city, who are part of the same culture, or who resemble the public persona they cultivate. Some even indulge in metafictional games, introducing themselves as characters in their own books. A few authors have gone even further. They make their books explicitly autobiographical, or pretend that a fictional work is based on more truth that it actually contains. This is where the fun of playing with the line between the real and the imaginary can leave readers feeling cheated.
Cheating at Authenticity
The problem with the quest for authenticity in literature is that it makes us judge books by how much expertise and authority an author has over a particular topic, rather than by the quality, or even the actual accuracy, of the work. It doesn't matter how realistic a novel about drug addiction and poverty is, or how well it enables readers to empathize with its characters, it just matters whether the author has ever been a drug user. The classic example of a novel that was suddenly re-evaluated when its author's authenticity was challenged is A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, which was accepted by publishers only after the author stopped describing it as a novel and started suggesting it was his true-life story. When it was later revealed to be fiction, readers suddenly felt that their experiences with the book had been cheapened. If the author hadn't actually struggled with recovery in a rehabilitation centre, then his readers suddenly couldn't believe in his characters anymore. Frey is not alone in having lost his readers' confidence after his true relation to his narrator was unmasked, but when readers are begging for more authenticity, it is easy to see why authors would fall back on the time-honoured techniques that convinced readers that Robinson Crusoe was real, or that The War of the Worlds was coming true. Asserting that fiction is true is all part of the game between author and reader that makes fiction work, but it only works as long as we all know that we are playing.
When Authenticity Goes Too FarThe desire for authenticity in fiction can be linked to our need to feel that books can make us better people, by giving us insight into the lives of people who are completely different from ourselves, but in looking for this kind of "reality" in an author's relationship with their creations, we risk limiting both our own interpretations of literature, and the scope which we will allow our authors to cover. It can be interesting to learn that the author's childhood resembled that of the main character, or that their former career has been turned into fiction, but we should be wary of placing too much importance on this type of authenticity. Authors do write from their own experiences, but they don't have to write autobiographical fact. Imagination and empathy allow us to use our own experiences to understand the people we encounter in both real life and fiction, and this means that there are no boundaries we cannot cross when reading or writing literature.

So, what do you think? I think authenticity should only matter to a certain extent. Sure, I want my fiction to be realistic, but we read books because we want to escape and maybe enter a world we thought impossible.

Here are some links to other articles Lisa has written:

Friday, 25 October 2013

I can't believe I'm actually managing to post something...

Book Blogger HopI have been incredibly busy between doing reading for University (which has increased exponentially from last year and includes the much despised Wordsworth) and working, while freaking out about essays which are due in 3 weeks (who came up with a mid-November deadline?), but I really wanted to do a Friday meme post because, to be honest, I miss them and everyone's answers to the questions. Also, I am looking for book ideas as a gift for my sister, so who knows what I'll find today!

The Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer and this week is a Halloween special:
What is your favourite horror novel and why?

I don't actually think I've read that many horror novels. I think 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley counts, no? I really like that book, despite its occasional theatricality which usually turns me off other books. There is just something about Viktor Frankenstein that I dislike so much that it becomes fun to read him go paranoid. And it is an amazing text to know here at University because you can always compare it to other novels, somehow.

To my shame I have to admit I've never read any Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft, but I definitely want to get onto the latter because a friend of mine swears by his books. I am actually quite easily scared by things I read, I have had two nightmares related to Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novels (don't judge).

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 by Freda's Voice. This week I'm using 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' by Robert Louis Stevenson. I'm using it for one of my essays and discovered that I actually quite liked it while rereading it.

'MR. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.'
How a man like that could be lovable I'm not quite sure, unless it's in that surely, grumpy kind of way where you can't help but enjoy how much he hates everything and stumbles over his words in social situations.

'Small indeed was my appetite.'
That has never really happened to me so this might be the true point in the book where I found it hard to relate to Dr. Jekyll. We've all felt a little bit evil in our own time, but I've always been hungry afterwards.

So, what did you pick? And what is your favourite horror novel? Has it terrified you to tears?

Friday, 18 October 2013

Blood Series: Character Interview - Meet Dominic

Blood Yellow (Blood Series)I am very glad to present to you, an interview with Dominic Khaled from Ashley Nemer's 'Blood Series'.

Hello there – I’m Nadia Maverick, of the Cedar Rapids Mavericks and I’m here today to sit down with Dominic Khaled, son of the infamous Haydar. Hopefully this interview goes better than the one I had with Haydar … but given they are family, I’ll just be glad I’m not eaten alive. Nadia: Good Morning Dominic. Thank you for taking the time to sit with me today, I really appreciate it.Dominic: Not like I had much of a choice – I was told if I wanted to be mentioned in any more books by our Author that I had to attend. And apparently be nice. Nadia: Well I’ll try not to make this too painful for you, how about that?Dominic: Nah, I like pain. Nadia: Well, okay then. How about we just get down to the nitty gritty. Ashley created this exciting world of vicious and different vampires. How do you think it compares to the others that are already out there? For instance, Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse.
Dominic: First Nadia, we are Algula. Please get our race right. And the main difference with us, just because we are “vampires” that doesn’t make us what we are. It’s as simple as, you’re a human with brown hair. That doesn’t define you. You cannot put Algula into a cookie cutter vampire outline and expect it to be accurate. We are anything but normal. Nadia: How are you not normal? Please elaborate.Dominic: For instance, Algula can die. We are not immortal. If we are lucky we will live 4,500-5,000 years. While to you humans that is practically immortal, reality, it’s not. Nadia: Is that the only thing that doesn’t make you normal? That hardly seems like a label killer.Dominic: You didn’t let me finish, impatient woman. Our Algula also control the elements. We gain this ability through our blood line. Not any two Algula will be identical because our blood lines aren’t. Even brother and sisters, or twins won’t have the same chemical make-up. Nadia: What do you control?Dominic: I control the element of fire. Nadia: And who else controlled that in your family?Dominic: My father passed it onto me, and he received that from his mother, my grandmother Afaf. I never met her but I have heard stories of her ability. Nadia: Do you need human blood to live?Dominic: Isn’t that a definition of, “vampire”? Nadia: Well you said you weren’t normal, so I thought I would ask.Dominic: We need blood to live. Human blood is the strongest for us. Let me put it this way; you humans need meat to survive. It gives you iron and all that crap you need to be strong and healthy, so I can eat you. But you survive without meat; you find other things to nourish you. It’s the same for us. Nadia: Why human blood, why not cow or chicken or dog?Dominic: You want me to go eat a dog? Nadia: No, I’m just asking, why us humans.Dominic: Because you were our creation. Nadia: I do believe science would debate you on that Dominic. We have never been known to come from vampires.Dominic: You know what we allowed you to know and the rest we willed in with what we wanted you to know. My ancestors were the children of the Gods. They needed nourishment and so, created humans. You’re like cattle to us. We made you in our image so you would be the perfect source of nutrition to our system. We allowed you to breed and populate so we wouldn’t have to continue creating more of you. All of those stories in your bible that you know, we are the creators.
 Nadia: My, that’s … quite a … I don’t know what to call that, tale?Dominic: It’s not a tale Nadia. It’s the truth. Look, I’m doing my job, I’m not eating you, I came here to be nice, like I was told to do by everyone. But if you’re not going to believe me I can just leave. Nadia: Sorry, no, don’t leave. I do have another question.Dominic: Proceed… Nadia: How do you feel about Blood Yellow, and the way the stories are unfolding?Dominic: I hope my sister rips my father apart and makes him pay for all the bull-shit he’s put us through my entire life. Nadia: After reading these two books I can see why you would say that.Dominic: Yeah – are we done here? Nadia: Yes I suppose. I think I have enough for a good story.Dominic: Alright – make sure you tell everyone I’m the most vicious and sadistic of the Khaled’s. That my pain will have vengeance and when it does, Haydar won’t know what’s coming. Nadia: I will note that but Dominic, how are you going to do that – your character…Dominic: Silence! I will have my way, even in death I will haunt him and destroy what he claims. After that I watched Dominic flash away – I have to say, that was one of the oddest interviews I’ve had. ** Dominic and Nadia can be found on the Art of Safkhet’s website. Both are characters created by Ashley Nemer for two different series. To check out more please visit **

I love character interviews, they're just so much fun to read!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

How History and Politics create Literature

Olivertwist front.jpgI have been terribly absent from the blogosphere, but life does that to you sometimes. Now that I'm actually managing to settle into a routine at University, I am once again filled with knowledge at lectures that I now feel the need to spread. Today I caught up with an introductory lecture for a module about Victorian and Fin de Siecle module. It doesn't get much more introductory than being rushed through an entire century worth of historical context in one and a half hours. But then the realisation suddenly struck me how much history and politics influence literature and I decided to try and formulate my thoughts.

Everyone knows that literature is influenced by, even originates in, the everyday life of the author and his/her direct surroundings. It seems logical when you think about it, but I had never thought about it. Currently we are studying 'Great Expetations' by Charles Dickens, which I'm having a horrible time with, and we made a quick detour to the ever-so-famous 'Oliver Twist'. Dickens is one of the defining authors of the Victorian age and has, for many, defined how London looks: misty, industrial and dark. This perception wouldn't be too far from the truth. Living in the mid-1800s, Dickens experiences England in one of its most revolutionary and busy times. Industrialisation had hit Europe full force, the working class was expanding and literacy was booming. In his writing, Dickens reflected, or at least tried to reflect, the time he found himself in while it was changing around him.

'Oliver Twist' is the tale of a naive orphan who finds himself in a miserable workhouse before he flees to London where he gets involved with Artful Dodger and Fagin, who introduce him to a life of crime. One of the book's major themes is poverty and how it leads to criminal behaviour, especially among younger children and presents it as a constant threat in society, when many of the, now iconic, images were actually only very recent changes. Where would we have met Oliver, if the Poor Law Amendment Act  of 1834 had not been passed four years before the book was published in 1838? Without this act, workhouses would never have existed since they were only opened to reduce amount of money the government spent on relief for the poor. A Factory Act passed in 1833 reduced the amount of hours children were allowed to work while still maintaining the legality of child labour as a whole, which offers an explanation for the normality with which the adults in 'Oliver Twist' treat their minor employees. Had the circumstances during the creation process of 'Oliver Twist' had been only slightly different, the novel would have taken a completely different spin and perhaps never achieved the iconic position it now holds in the English Canon. Had Dickens written it ten years later, Oliver would have possibly been a migrant boy from Ireland, suffering from the European Potato Failure in the 1840s, which led to an incredibly rise in mortality in Europe.

Charles Dickens
Had the time been different, perhaps all the characters would have had a different fate and I think this is something fascinating to realise every once in a while. Books are not only a reflection of their time, but also of the human spirit. In Oliver's struggle to a better life, Dickens manages to show Britain's, and especially the lower class', struggle towards a better existence in which there is more equality and less exploitation. And simultaneously, the novel shaped history in its own way. By writing about the vile, lower class villains, Dickens kept crime a decidedly classed problem. It is not just what they do that makes Fagin and Sikes despicable characters, it is what they are. Criminality is innate to their being but not to Oliver, whose origins lie securely in the middle class. As publishing took a huge boost due to mechanised printing and cheaper paper in the 1830s, literacy and literature spread through the middle class and upper class who now demanded entertainment. Next to a tale, Dickens gave them firm reassurance of the security of their morals and values against the dangerous outside world. Oliver's entrance into prosperity is granted to him due to his family origins, whereas there is no hope of class transgression for the other characters. In this way, literature shaped society, maintaining prejudices and beliefs while time was doing its best to change.

I hope this post has somehow been informative and interesting. If not, I sincerely apologize, but it has been a great way to get my own thoughts straight. Now if only I could actually read a Dickens book, in this case 'Great Expectations' without despairing of all my life choices that led me to that book, I could be happy.