Nothing of Me

I have a quote tattooed on my ribs, by Chuck Palahniuk, back when his writing was cutting and edgy, and full of vitriol, and good. His more recent novels have been amongst the worst books I’ve ever read, but there was a time when he was at the peak of nihilism and barely contained rage. Those books are amongst the best books I’ve ever read, so I guess it balances out in the end. Regardless of his waning talent, there was a quote I read in one of his earlier novels, titled Invisible Monsters. The quote reads “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.” I liked it so much that I went out and got it inked into my skin forever.

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Like much of Palahniuk’s earlier works, Invisible Monsters brought forth questions that teenage Amy was determined to seek answers for. Certainly, I wondered how I would have been different if it were not for the people around me, and their ultimate influence. I still think about it today, which I suppose is why I got tattooed in the first place. I often wonder how my life would have been altered had I never met my best friends. Or if my bookshop had never closed down. Or if I had have moved away and not ever come back. I think about the bands I like, the movies I’ve seen, the books I’ve read. And I wonder whether I would have had those same interest if I had have been born in another time, in another country, or even to different parents.

It’s easy to ignore the influence of other people, or pretend that it doesn’t exist when you’re determined to come across as independent. But even the most self certain people in the world have taken some measure of influence from the people around them. It’s impossible not to. Every discussion you ever have with another person is an opportunity for them to introduce you to a new way of thinking, or a new interest that you may not have previously had. And you hold that same power when you talk to other people. Maybe you make a statement and the person you’re talking to suddenly had their eyes opened to a new idea that they had never considered before.

I grew up listening to music from when my parents were teenagers, the music that they brought with them into adulthood, and parenthood. Would I have loved music from the 70’s and 80’s if I had not had that particular influence from the very moment I was born? Would I have come to find a liking for it entirely on my own, if it was not something I had developed an interest in as a direct result of my parents? These are the questions I find myself thinking at least semi regularly, when I wonder if my life would be better if. Admittedly that whole grass being greener thing is just a matter of perception, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering how I got to this point as the person I am. Who influenced me, who made me? The answer is probably everyone, myself included. I am not a person made of nothing, I am a person made from every experience, every interaction, every thing.

Top 8 Books I Read in 2014

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For the last few years, I have been in the habit of writing down every book that I read for the year. The first year I read something like 70 odd books, and about 25 graphic novels. Last year, I read barely any, and my pathetic total was a mere 26. This year I fared a bit better, and my total at this point, and likely by the time the clock turns over to the New Year in just a couple of days, is 39. I am currently reading a 40th but I’m not sure I’ll finish it, so here are the top eight books I have actually read in 2014. In no particular order, they are as follows.

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn (2012)
I had intended to read this book long before this year but never got the chance. Upon reading it however, it became not only one of my favourite books for the year, but one of my top books of all time. Written both from the perspective of Nick, and diary entries from his missing wife, Amy, Gone Girl tells the story of a love turned sour, and yet does so in a way that makes you believe these broken, messed up people are actually perfect for each other. Gillian Flynn writes from a male perspective so well that if you didn’t know better, you’d swear she was a man herself. And Amy, whoa. As terrifying as she is, you can’t help but respect a woman who would go to such lengths to get revenge. With such exceptionally well written characters, and a superb plot, I unabashedly give this book a 10/10.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2005)
The Book Thief was another one of those books I had always seen, but never gotten around to buying. Set in Nazi Germany, it tells the story of Liesel, a young girl taken in by foster parents after the death of her brother. The novel is narrated not by the protagonist, but by an omniscient Death. The plot follows Liesel as she grows up and develops a love for books, and goes to great lengths to obtain more. Throughout the novel we meet an interesting array of characters, including her foster parents Hans and Rosa, her best friend Rudy and Jewish fist fighter, Max, and I found myself falling in love with all of them. The plot has a lot of interesting twists and turns, and I could really relate to a feisty young girl who loved books and learning, and still wasn’t afraid to get muddy with the boys. A great read.

Haunted – Chuck Palahniuk (2005)
Haunted is one of those books that I bought without knowing anything about it, simply because I have read everything else Chuck has written and loved (most of) it. The plot is actually a series of 23 short stories, all preceded by short poems and all linking in to a main narrative. In typical Chuck fashion, it is largely depraved and awesomely entertaining. Haunted follows a group of 17 writers who go away on a ‘writers retreat’ that turns out to be nothing more than an old theatre, which they are locked in for three months until they write a best-selling novel. The events that follow are in the same vein as Chuck’s other novels; increasingly dark and morbid as the writers decide to sabotage themselves in order to make their stories more tragic, and thus make them infinitely more famous when they’re released. While not my favourite Chuck novel, it was still an entertaining read.

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green (2012)
Now, before you go rolling your eyes, hear me out. I didn’t read this just because everyone else was, and it’s not on my list because I’m a girly girl who loves love. It’s on my list because I really liked the way John Green writes teenagers. This books follows Hazel, a cancer patient who knows the reality of her inevitable death and doesn’t try to glorify it or make excuses for it. I felt like the characters were real and totally down to earth. Even Hazel’s romance with Augustus Waters (because you need to say his full name), despite being really intense, is still believable. I guess what I liked most about this book was the fact that it wasn’t just another teenage love story. It tackled real issues, while still being a compelling and entertaining read. It didn’t make me cry like everyone else did, but that’s more a reflection on me than it is on the book, and it was nevertheless worth reading.

Skulduggery Pleasant; The Dying of the Light – Derek Landy (2014)
The seventh and final book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, this book was a bittersweet read for me. I have been a Landy fangirl ever since reading the first Skulduggery novel in high school, and despite waiting for this book for months prior to its release, I was sad to see it end. In The Dying of the Light, we once more join our favourite skeleton detective and his partner, Valkyrie Cain as they fight to save the world yet again in the biggest and baddest battle they’ve ever fought, against the delightfully evil Darquesse. Written with all of Derek Landy’s clever wit and snappy one liners, and bringing back most of our beloved characters (Oh, Ghastly *wipes tear*) this book was a perfect ending to the series I love so much I’m getting a Skulduggery tattoo. Hey, I told you I was a fangirl.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (2013)
This list wouldn’t be complete without another of my favourite authors, and with a title like that, there was no way I couldn’t read it. The Ocean at the End of the Lane centres around an unnamed protagonist, who returns to his home town for a funeral and ends up remembering events from his childhood that he had forgotten. There are very strong themes in this book, covering everything from magic and the battle between good and evil, to friendship and the love of family. Though not especially long, it was a captivating plot and seemed to fit a lot more into the pages than you would expect from a book of that length, Once again, Neil Gaiman proves himself a sensational writer and I finished this book in one sitting, a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn (2006)
There is a reason Gillian Flynn gets two mentions on this list. Her debut novel follows journalist Camille Preaker, as she returns unwillingly to her hometown to report on vicious murders. Flynn has a knack for writing severely messed up female characters, and Sharp Objects is no exception. Everyone from Camille herself, to her half-sister Amma, and their quietly vicious mother Adora, has something to hide in this stunning debut, and this book strongly echoes the old adage ‘you never know what goes on behind closed doors’. Spectacularly written, Sharp Objects encompasses the realities of small towns, and teenage girls trying to break free from childhood and assert themselves as adults. Admittedly these characters take that to a whole new level, but it was nevertheless a wonderful book and well worth reading, if you haven’t already.

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell (2012)
Written from the perspectives of both Park; a quiet Asian kid hovering somewhere between popular and not, and Eleanor, the new girl at school who is unashamedly herself, there was something about this book that I just found really sweet. The two central characters, while initially disliking each other, soon bond over a mutual love of comic books and music, and as their friendship develops into something more, we learn a bit more about what makes each of them so unique. In parts, a teenage love story and in parts a reflection on how different family dynamics can shape a person, this book really struck a chord with me. The plot didn’t go the way I thought it would, but the open ending left me with a grin and I would happily recommend this book to anyone.

So there you go. If you haven’t read some, or any of the books on my list, I recommend you go and read them. Each of them awesome books in their own right, they, along with the rest of the books I finished in 2014, made for a great year in reading. I can only say that I look forward to reading more in 2015, so that this time next year I have a whole new list of recommendations for you. Go forth and read, my word loving brethren!

Books vs Film

Last night I attended a debate with my friend, during which the three women on the panel discussed at length whether books and films can be compared, and if one is better than the other. Now, seeing as I suffer from a debilitating inability to participate in group discussions without getting shaky hands and clammy palms, I figured I would voice my opinion, as I am wont to do, in writing.

The ‘book vs film’ topic is hardly anything new. People have been arguing for years which is the better storytelling medium and as yet I don’t believe anyone has been able to reach a satisfactory conclusion. That’s because, on the whole, you cannot compare the two; they’re simply too different. When it comes to specific examples however, there will always be two sides to the argument.

I love books. I was that nerdy kid who got put up three reading levels in primary school because I devoured every book I could get my hands on. I was reading at high school levels by the time I was eight. My love of literature has been a part of me since I was a wee little’un but it was only later that I developed a real interest in film. Reading has always been a passion of mine and my love of the written word was one of the reasons I got a job working at a bookstore. Though to tell you the truth, my ex-boss and good friend informed me that she hired me first and foremost because I talked so much.

Loving film and loving books aren’t mutually exclusive. I know many people, myself included, who love both. Of course, then there is my brother, who thinks reading is for losers and frequently tells me that my beloved books are only good for kindling, but he is an uncultured swine and so his opinion doesn’t count. (For the record, that was a joke. Regardless of his disdain for books, my brother is one of my favourite people in the world.) I think film and literature can help each other in a lot of ways. When I worked at Collins, I had a customer who had just seen the film Stardust, and upon learning it was a book, came in to buy it. That struck a chord with me both because I was glad a girl so young was reading and because I have a particular fondness for Neil Gaiman. Similarly, I had a customer asking about Chuck Palahniuk (incidentally another of my favourite authors) and I was able to recommend that she watch Fight Club, as I felt the film adaptation of the book was excellent.

Being a self-confessed book geek in no way inhibits my ability to appreciate a good film. And while I often believe specific books are better than their silver screen counterparts – for a varied number of reasons – there are definite exceptions to that rule. Bridget Jones’ Diary is one of the few chick flicks that I really enjoy and yet I found the book to be tedious and dull and once I had read it, I went entirely against my nature and gave it away.

Though I do actually enjoy both versions, the Harry Potter series is one example where I believe the books to be better than the films. The reason I prefer the books is largely due to the fact that Peeves was omitted from the films entirely and I felt ever so slightly cheated by this. Another main reason for me was the portrayal of Sirius Black’s death in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I know it’s a cliche but when I watched it, I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed and notice that it had occurred in a completely different way inside my head. When I read the book, I’m not ashamed to admit that I bawled my eyes out at the loss of one of my favourite characters but I was completely unmoved by the same scene in the film. There are other reasons I prefer the books too; small things, perhaps, yet they make all the difference.

I don’t hold with the notion that films have no merit, in the same way I get offended when someone says books are pointless. It has been my experience that some book lovers can be rather judgemental about those who prefer film and take the stance that they they themselves are more intelligent because they read. I find this to be a pretentious and rather a rude point of view. Both books and movies can be useful, entertaining and even educational. My youngest brother has no interest in traditional learning but sometimes he comes out with facts that surprise and impress me. When I ask how he knows any one piece of information, often his answer will be that he learnt it from a film. I’m talking about real factual information too, not something dragon related that he picked up from Game of Thrones and assumed was real history.

There are always going to be people who prefer movies and those who prefer books. Even down to individual adaptations there will be two sides to every argument. I personally believe polite debate on the matter is healthy,and the more perspectives you can get about either side of the argument, the better. For me, I cannot say whether books in general are better than films or vice versa. I know there are certain books that I prefer compared to their film equivalent and other films that I prefer over the books. So after all this, which is better; books or films? The answer is, paradoxically, neither and both. It all depends entirely on your preference. Regardless of what that may be, enjoy them both freely and happily. I know I do.