Category Archives: books

52 Book Challenge. Week 4-7

It’s been an incredibly hectic few weeks for me. But no, I haven’t been neglecting my reading. I’ve just neglected to write about the books I’ve read, so here’s a quick overview of what I’ve read during my absent weeks:

Week Four: StarDust by Neil Gaiman

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I absolutely love Stardust. I watched the movie years ago and totally fell in love with the way it represents fantasy. The book is essentially the same story, but it can get a little long winded at times. But its a book so it can afford to be. However, the whole story can pretty much be summed up by two chapter titles:

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Week Five: Aristotle And Dante Discover the Secrets Of The Universe

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I was so excited to read this one. Mainly because of the tumblr hype. Unfortunately I found the reality to be rather… disappointing. This may be because I expected the main character to be boyfriends rather early on. But instead they don’t get together until last few pages of the book and instead both experiment with heterosexual relationships for the majority of the story.

I probably would have enjoyed this one a lot more if it wasn’t for tumblr building up my expectations of it. I’ll probably give it another read in the future, just to get a more unbiased opinion on the story.

 

Week Six: The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus) by Rick Riordan

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I love this series. It really appeals to the Greek Mythology nerd in me. Riordan retells the myths with a remarkable accuracy. I’m used to representations in popular culture taking a lot of liberties with the myths. The main example being Disney’s Hercules. But Riordan is obviously working incredibly hard to make his facts as accurate as possible.

I love the characters in Heroes of Olympus. Even with the ones I’m not too fond of (aka Frank) I’m emotionally invested in what happens to them. This is especially true of Nico Di Angelo. And if good things don’t start happening to this poor boy in the next book I’m going to be furious.
Week Seven: ???

So I kind of cheated with Week Seven. I started with The Bane Chronicles by only got part way through it.

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But during this week I also read:

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So I’m not quite sure where I stand on the 52 Book thing.

And that’s you all caught up! I’m going to aim to finish Magnus Chronicles this week so hopefully I wont get distracted by any more comics.

If you want to be kept up to date with what I’m reading, check out my instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kellisinaj/

Have you guys read any of the books I’ve read so far? What books would you suggest I take a look at for the rest of the challenge? Let me know in the comments.

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52 Book Challenge (Week 3) The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Week Three: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury [145 Pages]

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So this weeks book isn’t exactly seasonally appropriate but I’ve been excited to read this book since I bought it purely because I loved the movie so much as a child and haven’t been able to watch it since. Ever since the collapse of Cartoon Network, I’ve missed out on a lot of the shows and films I loved growing up. Even those which came out on DVD very rarely come out for the British region. Which is kind of heart-breaking.

I recently watched the Nostalgia Critic’s review of The Halloween Tree animated film and was hit by the nostalgia of it and had a quick search to see if I could get the DVD and instead ended up with the book.

Unfortunately, I think that because I loved the film so much, the book was never going to live up to my expectations. It has a very similar tone to the film, but a lot of things were better represented visually. This is one of the very rare instances where I like the film more than I like the book.

For those of you who don’t know, the story revolves around a group of boys learning the different traditions behind their costumes. It’s by no means an accurate depiction of the whole history behind the modern day Halloween but for a story aimed at kids it does a good job.

The biggest downside for me is that it’s impossible to connect with any of the characters. You don’t learn most of the boys names until half way through the book and there’s a great deal of emphasis on how fantastic one boy Pipkin is. But we don’t learn how great he is through his actions, it’s just a chapter describing how absolutely amazing this one boy is.

What really saves this book for me is the artwork. Joseph Mugnaini has done a fantastic job sticking to the tone of the story with his illustrations and the book looks absolutely beautiful.

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All in all, I would only reccomend this book as a way to teach kids a simplified version of the Halloween traditions.

52 Book Challenge (Week Two): Sports Chanbara- Samurai Sports by Tetsundo Tanabe

Week Two: Sports Chanbara- Samurai Sports  by Tetsundo Tanabe [236  Pages]

So I may be cheating a little bit with this one. It’s not a fiction book like the rest of the books I intend to use for the 52 Book Challenge, but it is a really interesting book that I want to show to people.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a black belt/instructor in Freestyle Karate. My Uncle (who runs my class) was just promoted to head of chanbara by the Chief Instructor and given this book as a guide:

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My uncles not a big reader, whereas I was fascinated by the book. So I volunteered to read it for him and give him the abridged version.

The first thing I noticed is the signature at the front:

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But not only is it signed by the author, but the author may be visiting at some point. So we’re suddenly under a lot of pressure to get his techniques right, which is hard to do when the only visual representations you have are small black and white photos.

The books itself is beautifully laid out, I love books that have the original text on one side and the translation on the other for comparison purposes.

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For those of you who don’t know chabara is kind of like fighting with swords. Except without the swords, what we use are more akin to pool-noodles on sticks. But the general principle remains the same. The book is focused on making the sport more accessible to people of all ages, genders and abilities which I really like. It also has a really iteresting history of the development of different swords for different functions.

If you can get your hands on a copy, I would definetly reccomend it.

52 Book Challenge (Week 1) ‘Too Much Information’ Dave Gorman

Week One: “Too Much Information. …Or Can Everyone Just Shut Up For A Moment Some Of Us Are Trying To Think” by Dave Gorman [332 Pages]

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Dave Gorman’s is surprisingly similar to what I expected from him. I’ve read a couple of books by comedians and it’s always interesting to see how the tone of the books matched up with their personalities.  For example, Miranda Hart’s book “Is it Just me?” is exactly how you would expect her to write. But Jo Brands novels could be written by an entirely different person and I never would have guessed.

I haven’t seen much of Dave Gorman’s work, but I have watched quite a bit of his TV show “Modern Life is Good(ish)” and the book has a very similar tone to the show. Unfortunately it can be too similar at times.

Like the show, Gorman makes use of pictorial representation. In the show this is displayed on a PowerPoint. The book similarly makes use of pictures in what is sometimes a very witty way. I particularly like:

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A lot of the material in the book is similar to what he has used in his shows. Which is forgivable, if it works in one format it will most likely work in another. However a few jokes fall flat in the book format. I pretty much skipped over the chapter where he discusses when newspapers use the word “matching” to discuss celebrities wearing outfits that don’t match at all. In the PowerPoints, he shows the photographs that the newspapers are using to show just how ridiculous the claims are. Whereas in the book, he just has to use words to describe them. Which doesn’t have nearly the same comedic effect.

It was still a good read nonetheless and definitely worth reading if you enjoy Dave Gormans comedic tone.

Harry Potter: House Symbolism and Rivalry

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when I went to Durham University I took a class about Harry Potter. In this class, the students are sorted into one of the four houses and earn house points based on how well they do in essays. I unfortunately missed the sorting ceremony but I was sorted later in class. And naturally, I was sorted into… Hufflepuf :I

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t see anything wrong with being a Hufflepuff. But I’ve always identified as more of a Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw. I’m a Gryffindor on pottermore though, so at least that’s some kind of consolation. Besides, Hufflepuff have won the Durham house cup since the class started. So there are some perks to being a Hufflepuff.

The four houses are incredibly important to the world created by JK Rowling and in the class, we talked extensively on the prejudice and discrimination that comes from having a house system. And I do find this to be a pretty interesting area of the Harry Potter world, so I figured why not write about it.

Most people are aware about the different colours and the animals which represent the houses. So I’m not going to go into that. I will say that the films change a lot about Ravenclaws symbolism, their house colours change from blue and bronze to blue and silver and their eagle was changed to a raven, possibly because it makes more sense to have their mascot be the same as their namesake. It seems to be that this choice to change the colours and symbol was mainly aesthetic on the part of the film crew.

The four houses each correspond to one of the four elements. Gryffindor’s colour is red and its students have a fiery nature, so naturally they represent fire. Hufflepuff’s mascot is a badger and the students tend to succeed in Herbology, so they represent earth. Ravenclaws emblem is a bird, which related to the element of air, and Slytherins dorms are situated underneath the black lake, meaning that they represent water.

The regalia for each house are significant, particularly in terms of Voldemorts horcuxes, but they’re also symbolic of the traits of each house. For example, Godric Gryffindors sword represents bravery and the ability to fight for what you believe in. Helga Hufflepuffs cup may be symbolic of her houses hospitable nature. Rowena Ravenclaws diadem places emphasis on the head and therefore knowledge. And Salazar Slytherins locket could be indicative of the houses vanity and obsession with wealth and status.

As a boarding school, Hogwarts removes you from your real family and replaces it with another. And there’s no guarantee that you’ll be in the same house as your relatives. For example, Sirius Black was unusual in his family for being sorted into Gryffindor and the Patil twins were separate (another fact which the movies conveniently ignored).

This house system creates a sense of unity and comradery but it also insights discrimination. In the epilogue, Ron threatens to disinherit his children if they’re not in Gryffindor. And in the beginning, when Harry is just learning about the house system, Hagrid regards to Hufflepuff as a “lot o’ duffers” but makes a point of saying that that’s not the worst you could be and that Slytherin is the house were all evil wizards come from. Interestingly at this point, Hagrid would be aware that Sirius has been blamed for betraying Lily and James, which would therefore make him a bad wizard from Gryffindor, but it’s likely that Hagrid remained loyal to his friends, and didn’t believe that Sirius was capable of betraying James.

Anyway, Harry had gone his whole life without hearing about the houses. But he’s suddenly been told by both Hagrid, and Ron, that Slytherin are the bad guys. This leads to him begging the hat to sort him anywhere else. It would be interesting to see where Harry would have ended up if it hadn’t had these preconceptions, particularly since he has a part of Voldemorts soul is attached to him, so he would have had a greater chance of being in Slytherin instead, which may have entirely changed the perceptions of the novel.

There are also a number of issues with the process of sorting. Dumbledore himself says “sometimes I think we sort too soon.” At the age of eleven, the kids haven’t fully developed their personalities and it may be that the house that they’re in develops them instead. So instead of being born brave, you have the capability of bravery, which is fostered by the Gryffindor environment. And the same goes for the other houses.

This leads to the phenomenon where not all Gryffindors are good, not all Slytherins are sneaky, not all Ravenclaws are intellectual and not all Hufflepuffs should just be seen as ‘and the rest’. For example, Dumbledore and Pettigrew are two Gryffindors with very questionable morals. But everyone seems willing to just brush over the fact that Dumbledore once planned to rule all muggles, because deep down, we will always see him as the good guy. Likewise, it’s very easy to argue that Draco isn’t all bad as well as Snape who at the end he (kinda) earns his redemption. There’s also Slughorn, who just appears to be a genuinely nice guy despite his fondness for the Slytherin house. Luna is an example of unconventional wisdom and she doesn’t exactly fit into the Ravenclaw stereotype. Similarly, the ditzy, superficial Lockheart was also a Ravenclaw at his time in Hogwarts. Hufflepuffs have a reputation for not really doing a lot but Cedric was incredibly brave up till his death and Tonks is the biggest bamf I have ever seen. (Upon reflection, I do feel a little better about being sorted into Hufflepuff.)

The ultimate point is that their houses do not define these characters. They may be influenced by peer pressure to conform to house standards and develop the house traits, but these are only external influences which don’t fully create an individual’s personality.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you agree that the house traits are nurture over nature? What house do you most identify with? I’d love to hear from you guys.

A Comparison of American Gods and Percy Jackson: Western Adaptions of Ancient Gods

Neil Gaiman and Rick Riordan have distinctly different audiences but they do have one area where they create similar worlds: their Americanisation of ancient gods. So when I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for the first time, I found it hard not to compare it to Rick Riordans work.

(As a quick disclaimer, I’ll be referring only to Riordans Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus series. I’m aware that Riordan has written about the Egyptian Mythology, but I haven’t read them yet so I can’t include them in this blog post. I’m also using Gaimans ‘preferred text’ so if anything seems unfamiliar, that may be why.)

Rick Riordans ‘Percy Jackson’ series is a young adult book which focuses on adventure whereas Neil Gaimans ‘American Gods’ is more of an adult novel which reads like a road trip. Since Gaiman targets an older audience, it means that he can incorporate some of the more adult myths (such as the Queen of Sheba who becomes a prostitute). The Percy Jackson series does discuss the gods infidelity (we wouldn’t have our demi-gods without it), however it’s not described in any explicit detail.

In Percy Jackson, the children of the gods live in the human world, as they did in the classical myths. The gods still hold their divinity, just translated into modern aspects. So they still live on Olympus and visit the mortal world at will. Whereas in American Gods, the gods live in the human world and have human occupations relevant to their mythology (for example Thoth and Anubis run a funeral parlour). They still have their powers but they’re very weak as the gods have no followers and their powers are largely dependent on faith. Interestingly, in both fictional universes, the underworld still exists as it does in the myths; Hades in Percy Jackson and the Egyptian mythology in American Gods.

In both adaptations, the gods travel to America because of their followings. In American Gods, the gods follow their followers. Once rituals started occurring in America, the gods would move over. Similarly, in Percy Jackson, the gods moved as the West developed. In American Gods, the premise is that gods exist because people believe in them. Immigrants to the United States brought their gods with them. The power of these gods diminish as peoples belief in them weakens. This allows new gods to appear, reflecting America’s obsessions with concepts such as media, technology and drugs, which become gods in their own right. This is similar to Riordans dichotomy of the Greek and Roman gods, but with a more modern slant.

Arguably, Riordans dichotomy can be pretty confusing at times. The Greek and Roman gods are intrinsically linked and it’s hard to tell if the aspects are supposed to be the same or different people. In American Gods, the depictions are a much clearer. The gods have different names but are still pretty recognisable (especially when their pseudonyms are Low Key. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.)

American Gods features a large range of different religions such as: Egyptian, Norse, Slavic and Germanic. Whereas Percy Jackson is solely devoted to Greek and Roman gods (I will reiterate that Riordan has written a separate series about the Egyptian Gods, I just haven’t read it yet.) The Greek and Roman gods didn’t feature in American Gods, possibly because their followers were a lot less likely to have gone to America. As I mentioned before, Riordan creates new gods based on what people in modern times worship. These include: the Technical Boy (god of computers and the Internet), Media (goddess of television), The Black Hats (Mister World, Mister Town, Mister Wood and Mister Stone) who supposedly exist out of America’s obsession with Black helicopters and the Men in Black and The Intangibles (gods of the modern stock market). The story revolves around the war between the new and old gods, similar to how the Heroes of Olympus series introduces the war between the Greek and Roman gods. The only difference being that Gaimans war is much more contemporary and makes a lot more sense in the modern context.

Both stories construct a brilliant world in which the ancient gods are translated into an American form. Which one you prefer is largely dependent of which style of narration you prefer. Rick Riordan is largely a young adult writer, and his work is targeted at younger audiences. It’s fun to read and focuses on the friendship and the adventure. Gaimans American Gods is a lot darker and focuses more on the underhanded side of the gods and the politics which work between them. Despite their differences, I would recommend both texts if you’re interested in reading about mythology.

The Power of Fanfiction

In the class ‘Harry Potter: The Age of Illusion’ at Durham University, I learnt a lot about the ‘potter-verse’ and all of the different aspects which go into creating the fictional universe, for example; the books, the films, interviews with JK Rowling etc. And the main thing that I took away from the class with this; fanction isn’t all that bad. In fact, our first piece of homework was to read one of our lecturers favourite fanfictions (which can be found here if anyone is interested: Hogwarts Houses Divided). We also looked at ‘drapple’ in class, but that’s another story…

There are a lot of arguments against fanfiction which largely really on the legal standpoint of copyright infringement. But on the whole fanfiction is a pretty great phenomenon because it expands the fictional universe. Let’s face it, we don’t really know a lot about the marauders school days because Rowling didn’t write a great deal about then. But through fanfictions, headcanons, fanart etc we all have a shared idea of what the era was like. (The only large disputes over the era which I’ve seen are about the characterisations of teenage Peter and Snape which, given their actions later in life, is understandable).

Fans are able to pick up a universe and expand it as a community, which is something that even Rowling advocates. And this is why I think that it’s a shame when authors expressly ban fanfiction of their work. Fanfiction.net gives a list of all of the authors who have banned fanfiction which includes;
• Anne Rice
• P. N. Elrod
• Archie Comics
• Dennis L. McKiernan
• Irene Radford
• J.R. Ward
• Laurell K. Hamilton
• Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb
• Raymond Feist
• Robin Hobb
• Robin McKinley
• Terry Goodkind

This is always disappointing because fictional worlds such as that created by Anne Rice through the Vampire Chronicles are perfect for fan expansion. I want to see more interview with the vampire head canons. I want more fan castings (we need them after the terrible castings of the movies of both Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned). I want as many au’s as humanely possible. But alas, the restrictions mean that it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

Let me know what you think about fanfiction in the comments. Like me, do you get a bit disheartened when the author limits the potential for fan expansion of their universes or do you think that it’s their choice?