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25 of 52 – The Bell Jar

Bell Jar

Bell Jar (Photo credit: Stephen Cummings)

I’ve just finished a book today that I’ve been meaning to read for a number of years: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things – grades, boyfriend, looks, career – and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Highly readable, witty and disturbing, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel and was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. What it has to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women, is as sharply relevant today as it has always been.

I’m glad the book club I’ve just joined has chosen to read this book, since, like I said, I’ve been wanting to read it. I enjoyed the book, though I’m unsure whether it lives up to the hype that I held it to. There’s some good passages and it does explore societal expectations of women and Esther’s reaction to them, which of course is traumatic. I probably would have found this more poignant if I read this in my teens but now that I’m just (barely) out of them I didn’t always quite relate to the character.

I’m glad I read it though. I’m going to have to refer to some study questions to really have a think about it, but it was decent, easy to read, sometimes funny, oftentimes sad. I’d recommend it to those who are interested in depression.

24 of 52 – *shudder* Fifty Shades of Grey

I gave in after weeks of seeing this around, hearing both good and bad, and after reading the first couple chapters for free and thinking unequivocally that it’s literary trash. I read Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James.

When literature student Anastasia Steele interviews successful entrepreneur Christian Grey, she finds him very attractive and deeply intimidating. Convinced that their meeting went badly, she tries to put him out of her mind – until he turns up at the store where she works part-time, and invites her out.

Unworldly and innocent, Ana is shocked to find she wants this man. And, when he warns her to keep her distance, it only makes her want him more.

But Grey is tormented by inner demons, and consumed by the need to control. As they embark on a passionate love affair, Ana discovers more about her own desires, as well as the dark secrets Grey keeps hidden away from public view .

Yeah.. this is one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Possibly THE worst. I expected it too, after reading that first excerpt. And it’s apparently now being made into a movie.

I did want to be wrong about this book because despite how terrible it is, I absolutely LOVE that women are able to read erotic fiction, especially ‘taboo’ erotic fiction, in public! I can’t think of any other erotic book that has been so popular. There are few times that I go onto public transport that I don’t see at least one woman openly reading the book. Because it IS widely known to be erotica, and because I hate the sterilisation of sex within society, this really excites me.

Throughout the beginning I was constantly thinking, ‘This book is like Twilight, but with BDSM instead of vampires’. After doing light research on the book, I found that it is, in fact, a fan fiction of Twilight. It has the same weak characters and characterisation, same horrible inner dialogue, same general themes, and the stories both unfold in the same way. James uses many themes and phrases to the point of cliche and banality (e.g. ‘Oh my…’, ‘Holy __!’, ‘My inner goddess’, lip biting, obscure opera and classical music, etc).

I don’t mind erotica when it’s done correctly, and the sex depicted in this was just horrendous. Although the clitoris is sometimes mentioned, it isn’t the main part of Anastasia’s sexual pleasure. This is so ridiculous and unrealistic, as very few women ever orgasm just from PiV. And then I just find it strange that every single time Anastasia orgasms, Christian orgasms straight afterward. It’s just portraying really unrealistic sex, even it being a work of fiction. The great majority of the sex scenes aren’t even that arousing, and I have read my fair share of X-rated (fan) fiction to know. And I personally wonder how realistic the BDSM aspect of the relationship is, though because I have little working knowledge of the BDSM community, I can’t comment on that.

Despite all of this I did actually want to know what happened. I’m horrible, I know. But it just turned out to be hilarious and horrible and horrendous. Essentially, it’s the Troll 2 of erotica.

22 of 52 – The Sociopath Next Door

Cover of "The Sociopath Next Door"

Cover of The Sociopath Next Door

I’ve just finished The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout.

We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door, Harvard psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking 4 percent of ordinary people—one in twenty-five—has an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that that person possesses no conscience. He or she has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse. One in twenty-five everyday Americans, therefore, is secretly a sociopath. They could be your colleague, your neighbor, even family. And they can do literally anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt.

The fact is, we all almost certainly know at least one or more sociopaths already. Part of the urgency in reading The Sociopath Next Door is the moment when we suddenly recognize that someone we know—someone we worked for, or were involved with, or voted for—is a sociopath. But what do we do with that knowledge? To arm us against the sociopath, Dr. Stout teaches us to question authority, suspect flattery, and beware the pity play. Above all, she writes, when a sociopath is beckoning, do not join the game.

It wasn’t unlike The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, which was another very good book about a similar personality disorder. I may have actually enjoyed this one more. Martha Stout isn’t as funny as Jon Ronson, but she’s incredibly informative and pulls her explanations from a long history of counseling the victims of sociopaths. She profiles many sociopathic archetypes, from the business tycoon who’s pushed many people down to get where he is to the lay-about moocher. She tells stories of how it’s really hard to know someone really. She also goes into the research around what makes a sociopath, to what extent is it genetic, and also where we as humans obtain conscience.

In all I really enjoyed the book. It is full of information you probably didn’t know, and is easily understandable. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in personality disorders or conscience/morality.

21 of 52 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read a lot yesterday and finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

I read this book when I was about 15, so I wasn’t sure whether I should count it, but I figured if I took the time out to re-read it, especially since its been 6 years, I might as well. Maybe that’s cheating, but I wanted to see if it would stand up to when I read it when my taste in books was a bit less mature. Also, the film based on the book is coming out sometime this or next year, which stars Emma Watson as Sam, so I wanted to remember what exactly the book was like since I’ll definitely be going to the film at least on opening night, if not a midnight showing.

As much as I could see it a bit silly, I still really like the book. I don’t know if Charlie is a very believable character, but you start to understand his overwhelming sweetness and naivete at the end of the book: he has a secret he’s even hiding from himself. Beyond the sweetness of the book it’s a really interesting story of a boy trying to make it in high school and somehow being pulled into a group of people much older than he is.

It is formatted as a series of letters written to a ‘friend’, someone who he actually doesn’t know but who he heard of that supposedly was a very good person and would listen. It can get quite rambly and out of place, but that’s the nature of letters I guess. Because of this nature also, it can be quite introspective which might not translate well to film. You might not be able to quite understand how Charlie is thinking. It’ll be interesting to see whether they can get the sort of inner dialogue to show on camera to portray Charlie the correct way (though maybe hopefully they’ll portray him slightly less sickeningly sweet).

I was pleased to see there were a lot of feminist undertones to the book that I didn’t quite catch when I read it the first time. Many of the characters are quite feminist and aren’t portrayed that way to demonise them. Though very few feminist issues came up, feminism was an interest to many of the female characters and Charlie reacted in certain ways because of the feminist feelings being bestowed onto him. It’s not an incredibly important part to the book, but I enjoyed seeing that.

Overall I can see why I liked the book when I first read it. It’s a bit too young for me, but like I still appreciate Harry Potter, I still appreciate Perks.

20 of 52 – The Reader

Trying my best to read more, I’ve finished The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. I’ve never seen the movie so I can’t compare it, but I’d definitely like to see the film after reading it!

For 15-year-old Michael Berg, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. The woman in question is Hanna, and before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems. Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved is a criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. But then suddenly, and terribly, it does – Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret.

The book is a bit slow in parts, but I really liked it a lot. Michael is the first German generation after the Holocaust, and it’s a story based on the difficulty in generations afterward to both fully understand and fully demonise what happened in their country, what their own parents and grandparents did or let happen. It’s based all on this relationship, but the theme of guilt and shame is overwhelming within the book.

It’s a very accessible book, and there are many passages which have some really profound ideas within them.

I’m currently in the middle of a book I read when I was 15 and I’m not sure if I should count it. Because it’s been 6 years, I probably will be cheeky and count it :)


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