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32. How to Be Both by Ali Smith

"Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith's novels are like nothing else.
How to be both is a novel all about art's versatility. Borrowing from painting's fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it's a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There's a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There's the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real - and all life's givens get given a second chance.”

We got this year’s book festival programme in the post, and, as I did last year, I spent a week poring over it and compiling a vast reading list for myself from all of the awesome-sounding events that I can’t afford to go to - this is the first book that I’ve read from it thus far. The book is written in two halves, both called ‘Part 1', randomly bound so that different copies have the two halves in different orders, which intrigued me. I thought it might just be an amusing gimmick, but it’s been so cleverly executed! The two parts are connected in various ways, and, as I read the second half, I could see the ways in which my assumptions about the plot, characters, and themes would have been completely different if I’d chanced upon a reversed-order copy, which was a mind-bender. I found the treatment of time really interesting - relived memories becoming, briefly, your present, before the return to ‘present-present’, as well as more fantastical elements. These were helped by the unusual punctuation, which blurred the boundaries and let events run into one another, like stream-of-consciousness in the way that it brought you close to the characters’ headspaces. I found her handling of the theme of grief quiet and thoughtful. And I loved the way she wrote about sexuality and gender - lesbianism and bisexuality just there, normal, delicate, sensual, romantic, exciting, or with the common problems of any relationship.

33. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones

"This authoritative A-Z constitutes an essential source of information for all who dare to venture into the imaginative hinterlands. It provides acute insights into such mysteries as how HORSES reproduce, the varying types of VIRGIN and the importance of CLOAKS to those wondering about going on a quest with a fellowship (of the Ring or otherwise).
Features include:
* A map.
* Lively background on those you will meet, including:
BARBARIAN HORDES, lots and lots of wild-seeming people advancing under a cloud of dust in order to devastate more civilised parts and ELVES, who claim they did not evolve like humans . . . Certainly there seems to be no such thing as the Elvish ancestral ape.
* Full details on the catering arrangements:
BEER always foams and is invariably delivered in tankards. What do you mean, 'it tastes awful'? The Management is not concerned with the taste of it. That is your funeral.
* Useful hints on coping in Fantasyland:
ARMOUR is generally regarded as cheating. TORTURE is obligatory at some stage.”

Ahahahaha, this is hilarious. I laughed out loud so many times, at her phrasing, and at how spot on she is: where do all the beggars disappear to when a city is over-run by the enemy? Why do women never have their periods in the middle of a quest? Why don’t people get colds or chilblains after riding through rain-swept mountains for days?! The Official Management Terms made me cackle frequently - these are the familiar clichés used to describe particular places, people, objects, etc. that can be expected to be encountered in Fantasyland, such as caves carved out of the living rock, High Priestesses’ cloaks which fall in severe folds (as opposed to those of Enchantresses, which are always instead diaphanous), or orbs glowing with a preternatural light XD I loved matching (mostly affectionately) pieces of the parody to A Song of Ice and Fire and the Mistborn trilogy >xD

34. Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible by Jia Jiang

"Rejection? It's nothing to be afraid of …
Maybe you avoid situations where you might be rejected. You don't apply for that dream job. You don't ask for that pay rise. You don’t ask that person on a date. But it doesn't have to be that way – the only thing standing between you and your goals … is you.
Jia Jiang had allowed his fear of rejection to rule his life. But he decided to take radical action: he quit his job and spent 100 days deliberately seeking out scenarios where he would likely be rejected, from ordering donuts interlinked and iced like the Olympic rings to asking to pilot a light aircraft. And something remarkable happened; Jia not only learned how to cope with rejection but also discovered that even the most outrageous request may be granted – if you ask in the right way.
In this infectiously positive book Jia shares what he learned in his 100 Days of Rejection, explaining how to turn a 'no' into a 'yes', and revealing how you too can become Rejection Proof and achieve your dreams.”

I’m really glad that I picked this up at random from a display in the library, as it turned out to be thought-provoking and relevant to the things I’m trying to change about my interactions with the world. Although his slant is on how to avoid your fear of rejection holding you back in entrepreneurship, he does talk about applying the things which he learned to all areas of life. It made me realise just how much this fear prevents me from doing, and the things which it forces me to do - there are many times when I make myself smaller (personality-wise) in order not to draw too much attention to myself in case that attention leads to rejection, and I’ve tailored myself to the people I’m with or the situation I’m in (in order to get approval/please people/avoid rejection...) so many times that I wonder who I really am. These are issues that I was already working on, but this book has given me some good ways to think about things, pointed out other habits of rejection avoidance that I hadn’t noticed, and suggested methods of countering them.

35. The Secret Service - Kingsman by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, and Matthew Vaughn
Gary's life is going nowhere. He lives in public housing with his mother and spends his nights carousing with his friends. But Gary's Uncle Jack has taken a different path of glamour, danger and mystery. When Jack has to get his nephew out of trouble, their lives are going to intersect in a way neither of them could have foreseen. This book comes from Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen).

Another random library find, which was both fun and irritating. The storyline was funny and inventive, except for the times when they were downplaying the threat of climate change and making jokes about budget cuts... I dunno, it just seems that when people are literally dying due to cuts to public services, some rich arse complaining about not being able to eat as fancily as he used to is just privileged condescension rather than humour. I liked that you saw the main character’s background, and saw that he wasn’t doomed to follow in the footsteps of his step-father just because that’s what he’d known, but I didn’t like that he had to be gentrified in order to get out of that life... as though that’s the only working class life?

36. L’Odyssée DaleMark, Tome 4 : La couronne du Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones, translated by Laurence Kiefé
«Vous ressemblez trait pour trait à une jeune femme qui vivait il y a deux cents ans, une jeune femme née pour gouverner le Danemark entier. J'avais pour mission de la protéger, mais, quelque part en chemin, le mage Kankredin s'est emparé d'elle et elle a purement et simplement disparu».
C'est à la jeune Maewen, propulsée deux siècles en arrière, que reviendra la lourde tâche de remplacer la princesse Noreth, en quête des présents de l'Adon qui légitimeront son droit à la couronne du Danemark. Dans cette époque qui n'est pas la sienne, elle mènera sa quête en compagnie de Moril, Mitt, Ynen ou Hern, autant de personnages déjà croisés dans les livres précédents.
Une fin en fanfare pour une épopée qui ne laissera personne indifférent.

While that gap between me and the text that I felt in Les sortilèges de la guiterne is already disappearing (woooohoooo!!), I did notice that, even if I am entering deeply into the part of the book that I’m reading at a given moment, the previous parts don’t stay in my mind for as long or as clearly, ready to be re-accessed in order to piece together clues or make comparisons. It’s really hard to tell whether the revelations that surprised me in this book would have been more noticeably foreshadowed if I’d been reading in English, because for one thing DWJ can be pretty devious, and for another, a factor which might have confused me in either language is that I really, really wanted something that didn’t happen to happen... So I was just hopefully interpreting everything as proof that my preferred outcome was going to transpire :/ (I have come round to really like what did happen by now.) This makes the second DWJ book to have made me cry, twice out of that same strange nostalgic happy sadness as Les houppelandes magiques, and once just pure heart-broken sobbing, ahhh. The Dalemark Quartet is absolutely up there in the highest level of her works, along with Fire and Hemlock and Hexwood (though in a quite different way), just a complete masterpiece with that same current of life that makes all of these books very real and vivid and complicated, as well as just sheer inventiveness and cleverness. She shows you the characters’ personalities, feelings, thoughts, and motivations in such a realistic way - you’re not deluged by inner monologues, you get to know these characters almost like people, through their ways of talking, their body language, their choices. This book showed some characters in quite new lights, which was sometimes a bit painful, but always interesting - people changed and grew organically, which meant that it wasn’t always positively. I really liked how she played with the quest format, with a disparate band of people all questing for something somewhat different, with added misunderstandings and secrets to puzzle one another and the reader. The threads of different eras and landscapes coming together was beautifully done.

37. A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones
When Vivian is evacuated from London in 1939, she expects to be staying in the countryside. Instead, she is whisked away to Time City – a place that exists outside time and space.
It is a strange and remarkable place, where technology rules – yet important events of both past and future are marked by the appearance of mysterious Time Ghosts.
Here, a Time Patrol works to preserve historical events – but unknown rogue time-travellers are plotting to take control and are stealing the wards that protect the city. If they succeed, Time City and History as we know it will both be destroyed.
Jonathan and Sam are convinced that Vivian can help to save their home – for, astonishingly, she appears as a Time Ghost herself in a forgotten part of the city. But how can she possibly know what to do, when the important event hasn’t even happened yet?!

The DWJ craze continues!! I hadn’t read this one since I was 12, so had completely forgotten the plot, which is always awesome. After the Dalemark Quartet, this seemed a refreshingly light read, in spite of the fact that is was all mistaken identities, kidnapping, betrayal, and the destruction of the world XD It was classic DWJ in terms of the plot’s mysteries which you gradually piece together, always with a few bits which I don’t see until they’re a sentence away, and some that come completely out of left field. I really liked Sam’s character - he was a believable eight-year-old, obsessed with food and full of energy until he’s suddenly exhausted, but also talented, clever, and brave. She really respected children and young adults: they’re never patronisingly portrayed as helpless idiots, nor are they just mini adults. Another sign of good characterisation is that Jonathan helped me to better understand someone I know, who I think has the same thing of never wanting to seem foolish.

38. Comic Tales of Edgar Allan Poe
o_o Stacia bought me this collection because I’m too easily scared to read his usual works, but these were still pretty damn creepy. I’d start out laughing and then get gradually more and more uncomfortable as I realised the tragic or dangerous or unpleasant implications, which, while not what I was expecting (even though it should have been), was well done. His humour was always tinged with an edge of bitterness or derision - I have the impression that he despised everyone, including himself.

39. The Game by Diana Wynne Jones

A dark castle in Ireland, a mysterious, secret game, and a host of magnificent characters – Diana Wynne Jones’ latest magical offering is a splendid blend of the familiar and the unusual.
Hayley's parents disappeared when she was a baby, so she has been brought up by her grandparents. Then one day she is packed off to Ireland to live with her aunts – and a whole host of cousins she never new about! Here she is introduced to "the game" which involves adventures in the forbidden "mythosphere". And here also is where Hayley discovers the truth about her family.

This was a very fun, couple-of-hours read! A quite straightforward mystery interwoven with powerful mythology and trademark DWJ human and family dynamics - attention-seeking rivals, strict grannies, children’s desire to bust out of the confines of rules, adult children still kowtowing to their parents.

40. It’s a Magical World by Bill Watterson
When cartoonist Bill Watterson announced that his phenomenally popular cartoon strip would be discontinued, Calvin and Hobbes fans throughout the world went into mourning. Fans have learned to survive -- despite the absence of the boy and his tiger in the daily newspaper. It's a Magical World delivers all the satisfaction of visiting its characters once more. Calvin fans will be able to see their favorite mischief maker stir it up with his furry friend, long-suffering parents, classmate Susie Derkins, school teacher Miss Wormwood, and Rosalyn the baby-sitter. It's a Magical World includes full-color Sundays and has it all: Calvin-turned-firefly waking Hobbes with his flashlight glow; courageous Spaceman Spiff rocketing through alien galaxies as he battles Dad-turned-Bug-Being; and Calvin's always inspired snowman art. There's no better way for Watterson fans to savor again the special qualities of their favorite strip.

Reading this with a cup of hot chocolate while it was raining outside was the best. Hilarious, comforting, and spot-on about humanity.
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