Book Meme

Monday, 5 May 2008

From semioticghosts at Livejournal
The top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users, allegedly sitting the shelf to make the owner look smart or well-rounded (but this is populist bollocks.)

Bold the ones you’ve read, underline the ones you read for school/university, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish, strike through what you couldn’t stand.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Started to read in Spanish)
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel (On Mt Toobie as I write)
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies (never even heard of it)
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (never heard of it)
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Canterbury Tales (from choice, never studied any part of it)
The Historian (never heard of it)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World (Many times)
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange (seen the film though)
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
Nineteen Eighty-Four (I want to scream whenever anbody calles it “1984”
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections (never heard of it)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (never heard of it)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince (I assume this is Macchiavelli)
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present (Why would I? Americans – there is a world outside your borders you know, and we aren’t all quaint, primitive savages!)
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas (on Mt Toobie)
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid (One book, in Latin for O-Level)
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers


Vera Drake

I have a funny feeling I’ve already done this one, but never mind because it’s a film that can bear it.

The Drakes are a salt-of-the-earth working-class London family, making the best of post-war austerity and playing the system when they can to keep afloat. At their centre, binding them all together, is Vera the matriarch. Vera isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but her heart is huge. Vera has time for everybody; as well as cleaning for the middle-classes she looks after her elderly mother and the disabled man across the landing, invites a gawky young neighbour for his meals, and through all this maintains the kind of sunny disposition that holds everything together. She’s so trusting that she can’t see the sinister side of her blackmarketing friend Lily, for whom she runs a sideline: she helps out young girls who’ve got themselves into trouble, and doesn’t think of asking for a penny for her services. (Lily, meanwhile, is fleecing the clients and keeping the proceeds for herself.) Abortion is illegal of course, but for those like the daughter of one of Vera’s cleaning clients with the odd hundred guineas to spare – a huge sum in 1959 – something can be arranged through the respectable medical establishment and nobody will ask too many questions. But when something goes wrong in Vera’s world, the roof falls in. What’s really heartrending is that the roof falls just at the moment when the Drakes are at their most together, celebrating the engagement of daughter Ethel to gawky neighbour Reg. From there, as the awfulness of Vera’s secret sinks in, the family disintegrates.

Years ago, the BBC excelled at showing this kind of thing on prime-time television. Drama that challenges, makes you feel uncomfortable; raises questions, changes the world. Mike Leigh cut his teeth on Play For Today – it’s where Abigail’s Party first appeared. We’ve almost lost that strand of drama now, except that we have films like this to keep it alive. It’s not a comfortable, feel-good film. It’s certainly not, as some pundits have suggested, pro-abortion propaganda because there’s nothing glamorous about Vera’s operation, beyond her sunny disposition making it just about bearable for the desperate. It is a drama of desperation though, and as such it’s agonising to watch. Imelda Staunton puts in what has to be one of the great performances ever (and how did she fail to get the Oscar that year? Well, that says more about the Oscars than about Imelda) – her fall expressed brilliantly in almost wordless facial contortions. And Mike Leigh is a genius who ought to be appreciated far more than he is. There’s not a shot wasted here. Though there is a score it’s used sparingly and appropriately, and Leigh as much as anybody knows how to use silence to stretch the nerves to screaming point.

This is certainly amongst the great films of the twenty-first century so far.