I have owned a copy of this book for a really long time but never got around to reading it. A few weeks ago, my friend convinced me to join her virtual book club. I had initially declined because I didn’t want to add anything else to my schedule. I already struggle to read and watch enough to write all of my posts, so adding the additional pressure of a book club to the mix seemed silly. But they pick a short read at the start of the month and discuss it at the end. I figured that even I could handle that. So a few weeks ago the choices for books came out. This one was on it and I selfishly picked. Well, it meant I wouldn’t have to buy a new book. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one. The fact that it was a short read meant that I put it off for ages but I still got it done in time. And it feels great to have finished a book I’ve had on my shelf for so many years. Has it inspired me to read the rest? Not quite. Maybe if all of them were that small I would.
In my bookish post last Wednesday, I had a bit of a rant about people judging books on their unsavoury topics over their literary merit. This is something that has always bothered me about Lolita and bothered me about My Dark Vanessa. Despite being one of the most hyped debuts this year, I have still seen plenty of readers respond negatively to the book. Even as they praise the writing, they just can’t believe anyone would dare to write about that topic. When did we, as a society, decide that we should sweep things like this under the rug? As if even saying the word paedophile was promoting it. It’s insane. Yet do they care about all of the psychological thrillers that play fast and loose with serial killers to titillate their audience. The kind of books that get off on terrorising broken woman because the men in their lives are fucked up for no real reason. No, everyone loves those fucking books. Girl on a Train and those like it are universally praised by readers despite the content and despite the fact they have less literary worth than Nabokov’s most famous novel. What the fuck is wrong with people?
As children we’re so often told that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a quaint little adage that I completely agree with when talking about people but not when talking about actual books. As any bookish person will tell you, you can very often tell whether or not you’ll like a book based on the cover art. I buy the majority of my books based on chance encounters in book shops. The typical romantic-comedy meet cute kind of thing. I walk into a bookshop, come face to face with something beautiful, everything gets a bit blurry, strings start playing in the background, I read the synopsis, we’re a perfect match, and we end up going home together. It’s a tale as old as time. And exactly what happened with the last book that I read. It was just your everyday lunchtime book shop browse and I fell in love. With a simple white cover with a black illustration. It was creepy. It was gorgeous. I had to pick it up. As soon as I read the word Frankenstein on the back I was doomed. I’d never read anything by Marcus Sedgwick but, if this cover told me anything, I knew this was going to be for me.
I often worry about books that everyone tries to force me to read. There have been so many occasions where I’ve read a super hyped book and been utterly disappointed. When my friend gave me a copy of Gone Girl it was accompanied by the fact that Molly Ringwald had loved it. You’ll probably remember from my ’30 Books for My 30th’ series that I never finished Gone Girl because it bored me to tears. Everyone I know raves about how good it is and how shocking the twist is. I feel like they must be reading a different book to me. I could see where it was going from the start. Then there was The Girl on the Train, which was celebrated as the new Gone Girl and named as a “must read”. Another super obvious and boring psychological thriller. I hated it but I did finish it. So, when I saw Eleanor Oliphant all over Instagram I became suspicious. It started to win awards and a friend of mine kept insisting that I read it. Still, I wouldn’t let myself believe. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a cheap copy in a charity shop that I decided it was time to read it. Would it be as good as everyone would have me believe?
Can you fucking believe it? I’m posting another book review only a week after my last one. It’s insane. I’m actually doing this reading thing properly. If you’re not careful I might actually become a proper book blogger. You know, the kind that posts book reviews more often than vague ramblings or book tags. Probably don’t hold your breath but who knows. Still, lets not dwell on it too much or my progress will be ruined. To the review! I started reading Less last week because I didn’t feel that I was really paying enough attention to LGBTQ+ reads during Pride. It was actually this irrational (but justified maybe?) fear that my reading wasn’t diverse enough that caused me to buy Less after I had bypassed it on so many occasions. I even bought it full price so determined was I to read something appropriate this month. I have to y, I was shocked by how easily I got into the story and always looked forward to my nightly visit to the world of Arthur Less. Maybe it helps that the character of Arthur kinda reminds me of someone I work with but, really, that’s probably only because he’s the only 50 year-old gay man who I know personally. But, hey, it got me reading so who cares…
Dear John Donne,
What happened to you, man? You used to be the man. I mean you once tried to convince a woman to sleep with you using a fucking flea. You were one of the original players, dude. Legendary. The fact that, whilst we studied you at the age of 16, my elderly English teacher had to explain the “sucking on country pleasures” pun to one of my clueless and naive classmates just makes me love you more. There’s nothing funnier than a woman nearing, if not having surpassed, retirement age trying so hard not to say the word “cunt” to her A Level class but being unable to explain it in any other way. It’s one of my favourite school memories. I kind of adored her anyway but that really settled it.
So, yeah. I had a lot of fun reading your poetry at 16. It was hilarious. Also, it’s not as if they’re bad poems. I actually really like them. I’d started to get more into poetry by that point anyway (it was after my first day with the Ancient Mariner) but you were accessible and different. Pretty clever stuff. But, it was your way with the ladies that really captivated my friends and I. We thought you were great. I mean talk about using your powers for evil, John. I know poetry has always been used in the pursuit of romance but you skipped the love hearts and got straight into the bedroom. You were the ultimate bro. You were a legend.
Well, until my further education introduced me to the yawn fest that is your later work. And I get it. You always struggled with your religion but don’t worry about it. Don’t turn your back on the man you once were. I’m sure God would have appreciated your resourcefulness. Using your talents. Your God-given talents. Of course, I have nothing against these poems from a literary point of view. They’re good. They’re just not fun. And I always associated you with fun. It’s like watching comic actors/comedians doing serious acting roles. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s always a little bit disappointing.
You’re like Eddie Izzard. I love Eddie Izzard and think he’s one of the funniest people ever. His comedy is bizarre but so hilarious. Nowadays, you only ever see Eddie popping up talking about politics. In theory I have no problem with this and think he talks a lot of sense. However, I still kind of wish he was still talking about cake or death. Or like Michael Sheen. I have huge love for Michael Sheen and think he’s one of the greatest actors ever. So, it’s always a bit of upsetting to see him on TV talking about how Port Talbot and not pretending to be Tony Blair. Not bad but upsetting.
You see what I’m saying? No? Here’s one more stupid, pop culture analogy for you. You’re like Kings of Leon. I think Youth and Young Manhood, they’re very first album, is one of the greatest all-round albums I’ve ever heard and I, personally, don’t think any of their subsequent stuff has ever lived up. I’ve enjoyed a few songs here and there but have never been able to listen to full albums in one sitting. So I, basically, just listen to their early stuff. Just as I, basically, just enjoy your early poems. You see? Simple.
I’m glad I’ve finally taken the time to explain it to you. I feel like this letter will only bring us closer together.
More than kisses, letters mingle souls,
I don’t even know if I really do love your poetry. I love you as a person and your reputation so much that I can no longer distinguish between the two. You’re like the Sean Bean of Romantic poetry. I have such a great love for Sean Bean that I have no judgement over his films anymore. I can’t separate the awesome Northern badass for the awful characters he’s playing these days. Similarly, whenever I read your poems I just think of the rock star you once were and can’t tell if I actually like them. Chances are your poems are much more impressive than Sean Bean’s recent filmography but, hopefully, you get my point.
You see, I’m already getting flustered talking to you. I’m like all of those women who believed you were writing love poetry to them. You were the first rock star poet, man. You were like Tom Jones. Did women throw their underwear at you too? Did you appear someone to read your poetry and loads of horny women would just throw their undergarments at you? They did faint in your presence after all. You turned all of your female fans into the heroine of a gothic novel. How could I not love you? I’d probably have been one of them.
But I do, also, appreciate your poetry. Although, you are responsible for one of the most embarrassing moments in my university career. During my third year I took a half-course on you and Shelley. I was excited. I already loved you and I took the chance to do anything linked to Romanticsm. In one of our seminars we were tasked to analyse small sections of the poem Don Juan. My friend and I were given Dudù’s dream sequence, which pre-seminar I had only skimmed over. It took us both a ridiculously long time to understand what was going on. Our tutor thought we were both idiots and I felt so naive. Still, we got there in the end.
I’m not stupid enough to believe that you are the best poet to come out of the Romantic period but I believe that you, more than the others, really sum up what it meant to be a poet of that era. You rejected so many social norms and did what you wanted. You embraced your celebrity, you wanted a fun and exciting life, and you were an artist in your own way. More than anything, you’re fun. I mean, what would vampire fiction have been without you? John Polidori based the first ever true fictional vampire on you. You’re the reason we have Dracula, dude. You’re quite a guy. I’ve never felt the same way reading the poets of Keats, Shelley or Wordsworth as I do reading yours. You may not be the greatest but you’re the most entertaining. And the one that caused the biggest stir. Nowadays, women may be more likely to swoon over pretty-boy Keats. If we’re talking about the real Romantic pinup then, in my heart I know, it’s you.
There is no instinct like that of the heart,
Dear Sherlock Holmes,
Back in 2012, you were awarded the Guinness World Record for the most portrayed literary human. According to the GWR people you have been depicted in film and television 254 times, What an achievement. Especially considering your own author was so sick of you that he killed you off in cold blood. But as we all know, you have always been a fan favourite and they campaigned to bring you back from the dead. And now, apparently, we still can’t get rid of you.
Now, I’m not trying to suggest this is a bad thing. I’m a big fan of your books and enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch’s face enough to watch the BBC adaptation. I get why the books have last as long as they have. Arthur Conan Doyle tackles each mystery with the same medical practicality that he would a patient’s ailment. He has written some clever, memorable, and exciting crime books. They aren’t exactly dark or, indeed, very taxing to read. They aren’t all that difficult to fathom in the end. But they are incredibly put together and you can all the pieces coming to place as you turn the page.
There is a great sense of nostalgia and British-ness within these stories too. It’s something that makes it so comforting to read. They totally encapsulate the period in which they were written. The stories set in London are such wonderful representations of society at the time. The characters all feeling real. You tell us so much more about the time in which you were written than you really do about your main characters. And that’s, really, how it should be. You represented the fear at the time for the growing population in London as it became the fastest growing city in the world (I think but don’t quote me on it). You’re well worth a read.
But, I don’t get what’s happening to you, Sherlock. You’ve always been a great detective who can pick up on subtle social cues to find out things about people. You’ve always seen things most people don’t. And you’ve always had amazing skills when it comes to disguise, weaponry, and self-defence. However, you’re an arsehole. A genuine, honest to goodness arse. But you’ve become a Hollywood hero. Women on Tumblr are obsessed with you. They want to try to change you. You’re up there with Mr Rochester and Heathcliff for most absurd literary crush. It’s all Steven fucking Moffat’s fault, of course. In updating you for modern-day you had to become someone capable of falling in love. Capable of feeling real feelings. It’s ruined you.
And, the worst part is, you’d mostly hate it. You did have feelings in the books but it happened so rarely. Rare glimpses of care and sympathy. The rest of the time you were just a brain. But not anymore. Now you’re a dynamic and sexy hero. A sexy hero that you either want to be or want to be with. The whole franchise has gone a bit insane and I can’t imagine what Arthur Conan Doyle would think. He hated you enough before so what the hell would he think about you now?
The problem with you being portrayed so many times is that each new time there has to be something unique. Something that makes you stand out from the rest. And with every subsequent adaptation we move a little further away from who you were. For proof, just look at this awful obsession people have about you and Irene Adler. Why is everyone so keen to make people fall in love? You met her once. She was in one short story. But suddenly, thanks to Steven fucking Moffat, she has become the love of your life. It’s so frustrating. I enjoy Sherlock as much as the next person but I don’t like it as a fan of the books. I like it in spite of being a fan of the books.
The distinction is clear,
Dear Fantastic Mr Fox,
I realise as a book lover that I should probably have been more drawn to Matilda when I was younger. I should probably have seen myself somewhere in the tale of a girl who loves books and teaching people a lesson. They’re kind of my favourite things to do. And I did love her. I mean she’s basically the poster child for the eternally bookish and the book is the same age as I am. Still, when I was younger, it was you, Fantastic Mr Fox, that captivated me so much as a child. And who wouldn’t love this epic story of good triumphing over evil… especially when that good is a really cunning fox?
As a child I was part of pretty tight-knit group of friends. It comprised of myself, my twin sister, and out best friend at the time. We spent nearly all of time together. We loved the same things. And one of those things was you. One of my most vivid memories from childhood is being driven somewhere by our friend’s mum and begging her to let us listen to the cassette tape of you audio book. We must have worn that tape out considering the amount we listened to it. I’m pretty sure we would speak along with it and everything. We must have driven her mother insane. But we loved it.
There is no writer who can quite match up to Roald Dahl for being able to give a child what they want from a book. He never crosses the line with his darkness but he isn’t afraid to scare kids a bit. Boggis and Bunce and Bean are grotesque characters. They are genuinely disgusting and vicious and that’s really refreshing for a child. As a young reader, you aren’t really used to characters who are so realistically evil. You are used to fairy tale villains who are obviously just fictional. You know, evil queens who kill people who are more beautiful than they are. Or evil stepmothers who hate their beautiful stepdaughters. Basically we’re used to villains who are obsessed with looks and nothing else.
But you were different. You presented us with an image that was understandable in the real world. A group of farmers that wanted to kill a wild animal. And, let’s be honest, they were justified. I love Mr Fox, don’t get me wrong, but he did keep eating their livestock. I always wanted him to succeed but I could totally get why they were a bit miffed. This isn’t normal for children’s literature. You don’t get evil people who it is, on some deep deep level, okay to sympathise with… just a little bit. I worry I’m coming across as the kind of person who wants to see people kill foxes. I’m not. I love them. Mostly because of you; partly because of The Animals of Farthing Wood. Love them. Still, I’d be annoyed if one kept eating my chickens just to piss me off.
You are as clever and well-written as any other Roald Dahl book but there was obviously something so wonderful about you that we all kept coming back to. The cynical and realistic part of me wants to say it was because we all just bloody loved animals. It’s true. Part of the reason I love Aladdin so much is because Jasmine has a fucking tiger. I’ve wanted to be her all my life. But, I also like to think, in my nostalgic and dreamy way, that we knew then that you were special. That we knew you were a simple story told in a truly Dahl-esque style. That you were funny and scary at the same time. That you were rich in detail despite being so short. That you showed us that it’s important to stick up for yourselves. That it’s so easy to be underestimated and you can use that to your advantage. That you were more than just the tale of a fox being able to outsmart a group of farmers.
But probably not. We probably just loved that you were about a fox and that you got your tail shot off. Oh, and that rhyme is bloody memorable.
To Mr Fox! Long may he live!
As a book lover your requirements for reading change every time you pick up a new book. Sometimes you want to be challenged. Sometimes you want to be lazy. Sometimes you just need to be taken away from the world around you and forget about life’s worries. It all depends on a whole bunch of factor’s that might be affecting you as you stand in a bookshop/ browse online. However, there are times in your life when you come face-to-face with a book that you can neither justify nor walk away from. For me, that time was a few weeks ago and that book was this one. I was first attracted by the holographic cover. Was further pulled in by the hilariously simplistic yet superbly effective title Wizards and Robots. Finally, I was inescapably hooked as soon as I read that Will.I.Am was a co-author. Reader, I married it… ahem, I mean bought it. I am unapologetic to have picked up this book instantly without knowing anything about it and, also, for doing so expecting (nay hoping) for it to be shit.