Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

“She did not stand alone, but what stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life, was the love of her father. She never questioned it, never thought about it, never even realized that before she made any decision of importance the reflext, ‘What would Atticus do?’ passed through her unconscious; she never realized what made her dig in her feet and stand firm whenever she did was her father; that whatever decent and of good report in her character was put there by her father; she did not know that she worshiped him.”

Kicking off the year with the sequel to a book close to my heart. To Kill A Mockingbird, written in 1960, was handed to me by my uncle when I was 14. At this stage of my reading life, Young Adult was EVERYTHING and classics were BORING and for OLD PEOPLE. I dunno, at that age, whenever anyone asked me whether I would ever read classics, I quite honestly admitted I didn’t think I was there. “I’m not ready yet”, was my very juvenile response. In my head I was saying “leave me be with my YA fantasy series’, why should I read anything else?” So anyway, To Kill A Mockingbird was stuffed into my hands and it ended up coming to Egypt with me.

I’m unsure of what possessed me to pick it up months later amongst my angsty vampire novels, but I did, granted with a little anticipation of boredom. I made sure I would be patient with this novel and give it an honest go. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. To Kill A Mockingbird blew me away. I was astounded that a book could be written which made me think so much, rather than fall in love with teenage werewolves. I was astounded that characters in books became so much more than characters in books and became people, REAL PEOPLE. It was the first time a book had left me walking around aimlessly dreaming about all the repercussions and aspects of life once I had finished it.

I wanted more! I didn’t know where to look! What to begin with, where to start, on what seemed like a completely new world. After English classes I asked for recommendations and my English teacher at the time (a legend of a woman), with a huge smile I couldn’t understand sent me off to the bookstore with a list consisting of Steinbeck’s The Pearl, Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm. I remember this one instance, where in the middle of class, she slyly walked up to my desk and dropped Animal Farm on it with a wink without anyone noticing. At the end of class I thanked her and said I’d bring it back once I finished. She told me not to: keep it. I owe a lot to that lady. Also, she may have stolen the book from the school’s stock.

So, To Kill A Mockingbird is a monumental milestone for me as a reader, and you can imagine my excitement when To Set A Watchman was released. A Level’s have kind of got in the way of reading the book for the past 3 years (I’m a terrible person), and I’ve just finished it. Whenever this book has popped up on my feed, or I’ve read reviews and stuff, it’s been mostly negative. Hearing this, honestly made me kind of apprehensive to read it, I didn’t want to ruin it.

*sighs very heavily*

Honestly, I understood what people meant. It wasn’t To Kill A Mockingbird, it wasn’t the classic so many love and adore. There were moments when I was reading it and looking at how many pages were left and thinking “okay something’s got to happen”. I felt like there was so much of this book still to be written, so much more story to be told. We’re left on a cliffhanger and you’re hit with a sense of sadness because this is it. This is as far as we’ll know for sure.

There were aspects of To Set A Watchman which left me bewildered if I’m being honest. The whole “now you’re your own person” thing just didn’t seem to fit with what so many people associate To Kill A Mockingbird with, although it is a nice sentiment, I feel like it’s a half formed idea. It lacked the depth of story and Scout’s sense of voice which was loved in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Plus! The all of a sudden “I’ve got to accept one of my favorite characters is dead” within the first 20 pages just was too much.

However, I’m not hating on this book whatsoever. I gave it a solid 4 stars on Goodreads. It was very good and funny and had the touch of a coming of age story, an aspect of To Kill A Mockingbird I always wondered. “Well, what happened to Scout? And Atticus? And Jem?” This book is a lovely continuation, if not bittersweet. I honestly don’t understand why people have been so disappointed. Okay, it wasn’t To Kill A Mockingbird, but it was never going to be.

I could never hate To Kill A Mockingbird, and this book hasn’t lessened my opinion of it, if anything, it’s made me love it more. It adds context to the story of a changing world, of growing up and learning to see your parents as human and flawed. It makes it easier to stand on your own two feet.

So, I’d recommend reading this with an open mind, and if it’s been a while since you read the prequel, and expect some nostalgia. Atticus Finch remains one of my favorite characters ever written.

Just read it, don’t listen to the critics.

The time your friends need you is when they’re wrong.

“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”

“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”

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War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

So, I did it.

I read War & Peace.

My copy is as battered as my soul after this marathon of names I didn’t even try pronouncing out loud and war strategies which I’m still a little befuddled over.

Apart from that, and I never thought I’d be saying this about a 1253 page book, I would read it all over again. This is the book I take on a desert island. Long enough that you’d only have read it three times over before you’re rescued. If anyone wanted to read a big book ever in their life, this is the one. War & Peace is by far one of my favourite ( if not the best ever) books I’ve read this year. There’s just so much I want to talk about!

Let’s start with Tolstoy.

I went into W&P with a sense that Tolstoy was the Russian equivalent of Dickens and so, as you can imagine, I had a sense of weariness about me before I even began. But I was pleasantly surprised as I got about 50 pages in and his style was fluent and easy to follow (something I can’t say about Dickens-sorry Charlie!). I’m not sure whether this was down to my copy’s translation or Tolstoy himself, either way, kudos to them. I was just completely absorbed the entire book! I couldn’t have read it fast enough! It took me a good 25 days to push through and I don’t think I’ll ever regret my decision to start reading it.

Having never read any Russian literature and as someone who knows practically nothing about Russia nor its population apart from their preference for vodka and short sentences, its safe to say this book was an enlightening experience. It seems with W&P there is a before and an after. Before I was very acceptant of the stereotype we give Russia especially in the age of Putin. After, I’m open to ideas. I can’t get over the atmosphere this novel created of Russia and its vastness and how different everything is. I think with stereotypes we dehumanize people so that we can have a better idea of their identity. In reality, I’ve come to realize stereotypes are more damaging than helpful.

Russia has been transformed for me. I have this interest to just know more about this country and read books cataloguing its history and I want to visit St Petersburg in winter and immerse myself in a place so vast. I’ve got a crush on Russia and it’s all Tolstoy’s fault.

War & Peace is full of such poignant characters. In all the books I’ve read I’ve never come across a more human author and characters to fill his books. This book isn’t just a work of fiction, it’s a guidebook to morality and finding your identity and accepting your faults and weaknesses and being human. Pierre has become my favorite character for character development. That’s the beauty of all these characters, they develop as humans would and its beautiful to witness.

I loved, hated, forgave, cried, wished, dreamt and laughed with, over and for Natasha Rostov. Tolstoy never labelled his characters, he merely stated their feelings and their own analysis and left the rest to the reader who in turn looked at themselves. There is just so much you can learn from War & Peace and so much from it to live by.

I want to talk about the tragedy of Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. Damn. I really connected with this man. I just wanted to hug him and bring him back from his own thoughts into happiness. There’s a part in the book which I don’t think I’ll ever forget and its remained on the surface of my mind since I read it.

And a tormenting fear seizes him. And this fear is the fear of death: it is standing behind the door. But as he is crawling strengthlessly and awkwardly towards the door, this terrible something is already pushing against it from the other side, forcing it. Something inhuman- death- is forcing the door, and he has to hold it shut. He lays hold of the door, strains in a last effort- to lock it is already impossible- just to hold it shut; but his attempts are weak, clumsy, and, pushed by the terrible thing, the door keeps opening and shutting again.

Once more it pushes from the other side. His last supernatural efforts are in vain, and the two halves open noiselessly. It comes in, and it is death. And Prince Andrei died.

But in the same instant that he died, Prince Andrei remembered that he was asleep, and in the same instant that he died, he made an effort with himself and woke up.

“Yes, that was death. I died- I woke up. Yes, death is an awakening.” Clarity suddenly came to his soul, and the curtain that until then had concealed the unknown was raised before his inner gaze. He felt the release of a force that perviously had been as if bound in him and that strange lightness which from then on did not leave him.

Maybe its just me and my morbid soul but this, this gives me a sense of peace. Because don’t we all wonder whats on the other side of that door and isn’t it just a terrible fear of the unknown. Reading this, truly eased my heart and I know its “fiction” but just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean its not real. At the end of the day we’re all going to be stood against that door on our last days waiting for it to open and just the notion of possible peace on the other side, well, it makes life easier to live rather than circling yourself with ideas of purgatory and hell and nothingness. Death is an awakening.

EN EE WAY.

I just loved War & Peace and there’s so much to talk about and I don’t think I’ll ever have enough time to pick apart every single part I loved, hated and adored. But I cried at least 3 times throughout this one. And laughed even more.

As I make my way through the classics, I do want to share my favourites and this is definitely one of them.

Just going to leave some of my favorite quotes and passages from this book down here to entice any of you who haven’t read it. Really read it. Clear your calendars and wrap yourself in a duvet and maybe get a pillow for your arm when you’re holding the book.

It’s so worth it.

“Love? What is love?” he thought. “Love hinders death. Love is life. Everything, everything I understand, I understand only because I love.”

“You see, friend,” he said “we’re asleep until we love. We’re children of dust… but fall in love- and you’re God, you’re pure as on the first day of creation…”

Science, that is, an imaginary knowledge of the perfect truth.

An Englishman is self-assured on the grounds that he is a citizen of the best organized state in the world, and therefore, as an Englishman, he always knows what he must do, and knows that everything he does as an Englishman is unquestionably good.

“If I were not I, but the handsomest, brightest, and best man in the world, and I was free, I would go on my hands and knees this minute and ask for your hand and for your love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

 

I have a few confessions to make.

Confession #1: This was my first historical fiction read.

Confession #2: I kind of loved it.

Wow! As a teen, saying the words “historical fiction”simply sounds like social suicide, but I really wanted to give the book a chance. It just sounded so intriguing.

I was intrigued.

Throughout this one, there is just so much feeling between unspoken words and wordless looks; its truly magical how Chevalier was able to capture complex characters and their quirks and unique traits without wasting words.

Chevalier doesn’t waste her words; she is precise and well thought through and precise.

I’ll definitely be reading more of Chevalier.

 

Confession #3: Chevalier is kind of my grandmother’s neighbour in London…

 

Hello signed copy.

🙂