Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Reading Nook: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Gossip From The Forest

So here is the first installment of The Reading Nook.  I mentioned that I was considering doing these once a month to ensure that I keep on track with my reading goals for the year and also to help to motivate me to broaden my genres and start to work my way through my back catalogue of 'I'll get around to that one eventually'.

October was a mixed bunch.  I did read two books (which for me is actually quite slow although on track with the one per month I promised myself) and they were two books I haven't read before (good) but they aren't exactly out of character for me (poor).  B for effort then.

The first was Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters and Jane Austen.  This was lent to my by a friend after I mentioned how much I had enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which is a perfect Halloween read.
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters wasn't quite as enjoyable for me, probably because while I enjoy the original Jane Austen novel, it's not got the same warm fuzziness in my heart that Pride and Prejudice evokes.  That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it (double negative, wonderful grasp of the rules of English there), I did, just not as much as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The premise of both books is the same and the story of Sense and Sensibility is just as seamlessly woven into an alternative world filled with flesh eating, tentacled and over sized sea monsters as its predecessor was filled with the brain eating undead. 
The story follows the Dashwood sisters as they try to negotiate the treacherous seas of eviction, high society, love, propriety, pirates and the martial arts all to the tune of a bawdy sea shanty bashed out on the harpsichord.

The book is littered with illustrations that help to bring this world to life in front of your eyes and the descriptions of people being mauled by various sea horrors are graphic and yet strangely genteel as the society folk desperately try to avoid eye contact with the man who is dripping blood in a most unseemly manner all over their drawing room floor.
If you are a fan of Austen but are looking for something a little more tongue-in-cheek then I highly recommend this book and its predecessor.  If you are not a fan of Austen, this could well act as gentle introduction.  It even has essay text questions at the back if you are feeling really adventurous! 
The second book was a gift from a friend who knows I love fairy tales and the origin, psychology and mythology behind fairy tales and am always looking out for something a little different in this area to add to my collection.
Gossip From the Forest by Sara Maitland is one of those rare books that can only be described as beautiful.  I must admit I did find it a little hard to read as it explores the connections between our relationships with our forests as humans and the roots of our fairy tales and delves into a lot of woodland detail but incredibly interesting at the same time.  She does make some sweeping generalisations regarding the links between landscape, religion, myth and fairy tale across the world which I find a little hard to accept but a lot of her observations are very astute.

The book is divided into twelve chapters to match the months of the year and each chapter examines in detail a particular forest or wood and a fairytale to match it.
This is a truly remarkable book, stunning to look at and extremely unusual in subject matter, filled with familiar tales and glorious pictures.  However, I did also require a dictionary next to me as I read it as it is filled with terminology that I am not familiar with.  Now, I like to think I have a pretty extensive vocabulary and I am not adverse to expanding it further but it did rather interrupt the flow of the book every time I had to stop, pick up the dictionary and look up what 'retrenchment' meant in the context of a tree.
However this is a wonderful book and one I would highly recommend.  As it is segmented into months as well it is also the type of book you don't need to read in one sitting but instead can come back to slowly to read the next section; a true coffee table book.
It also looks very pretty on the bookcase!

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