Review | Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Title: Hard Times (1854)
Author: Charles Dickens
Read: 29th March- 4th April
Genre: classic
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Published in 1854, Hard Times is one of Charles Dickens’ shortest novels and presents a pretty damning indictment of mid 19th-century industrial society, taking a swipe at the social and political philosophies of Bentham and Mill, but ultimately failing to deliver an engaging or cohesive plot that would match the opening chapter’s brilliance.

“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

Hard Times tells the story of Coketown, a fictional 19th-century Northern industrial town which plays home to a host of polluting factories and their downtrodden employees, all overseen by factory owner Josiah Bounderby and his friend and Utilitarian Thomas Gradgrind, the schoolmaster who seeks to stamp out any sense of imagination or Fancy from the town’s schoolchildren. On the outskirts of the town cavorts Mr Sleary’s circus, a troupe of performers whose antics could provide a nice sense of distraction for the downtrodden ranks of Coketown’s population.

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Friday Reads | 27th January 2017

Another Friday, another Friday Reads. Another week has gone by, folks, and the world keeps on turning on…

warandpeacecoverAs you may have seen in last week’s Friday Reads post, I foolishly decided to try reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peacebecause I’m a masochist, apparently. If I’m being honest, when I decided to set one of my 2017 Resolutions as ‘read 4 classics’, I wasn’t really intending to tackle long classics, as I know this tends to burn me out. However, I had an odd urge to just get over the intimidating nature of War and Peace and give it a try, so here I am, a week or two later, and only 200ish pages into it, but feeling rather good about myself despite that poor progress! So, needless to say, I’m still reading War and Peace this Friday and this upcoming weekend (and for many more weekends to come I should imagine!) and I’m actually really enjoying the story. Admittedly I am enjoying the “peace” bits more than the “war” bits but I expected that and I think that’s mainly down to my own horrendous lack of knowledge of Russian history, let alone military history, so I can’t really blame Tolstoy for my own failings!

sabrielAside from War and Peace, I’ve got into the habit of having my audiobook on-the-go be a re-read, mainly so that I don’t feel like I’m procrastinating reading new books in favour of re-reading old ones. I don’t know quite how that works considering I’m still devoting quite a bit of time to it, regardless of whether I am physically reading it or listening to it, but on a psychological level it seems to be working for me. (Shhh, don’t question the faulty logic!) So, my current audiobook is Sabriel by Garth Nix. I was delighted to find my library had this on Overdrive and borrowed it immediately. It’s read by Tim Curry who has a fantastic voice for audiobooks, and his voice is especially fitting for the character of Mogget the cat who is funny and condescending but also sneaky and maybe evil under the surface… Tim Curry’s voice just oozes that so the audiobook is proving to be great so far.

audacityofhopeAnd, because having two mediums of reading in-progress simply isn’t enough, I’ve also got an ebook on-the-go, as of lunchtime today. Unsurprisingly, politics is frustrating me lately (two words – Brexit… Trump), and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. I frequently shake my head in despair at the news headlines I’m hearing every single day; I just surreptitiously turned off the reception area’s TV in my workplace because I couldn’t stand listening to it any more. And because I am incapable of letting go, I decided to start reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope – one, because Obama; two, because that is an amazing title; three, because he’s a very eloquent writer; and, four because I don’t read nearly enough non-fiction. That seems like plenty of reason to give this a read, finally.

As far as this weekend in general goes, I cannot wait to be done with work for the week, it’s just been strangely busy with lots of little bitty things to get done, and that hasn’t left that much time for anything else. I am looking forward to closing the office door this afternoon and not thinking about it for a couple of days. Myself and Liz are gym-ing this afternoon after work so we’ll see if I can truly close that door and not think… hopefully being so knackered from the gym will aid that utter lack of thought!

My weekends are low-key as a rule but since Liz is off too (yay) we have a couple of outings planned – this weekend should include a Tavern breakfast and a trip to the cinema to finally see La La Land, both of which will be amazing. I’m hoping to get caught up on blog posts and reviews I need to upload too, so hopefully I can productively use my weekend and do those. We’ll see, though, I am notorious for doing next to nothing, if given the chance – watch this space…

So, those are my likely reading plans for today and heading into the weekend ahead. Do you have any Friday Reads posts? Or perhaps just some fun plans for the weekend? Let me know in the comments!


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Friday Reads | 20th January 2017

Yes, I’m doing 2 Friday Reads posts in a row. Why? Well, to be honest, this week has been a bit just bitty… low level stuff has happened that made me not get the opportunity, or desire, to post. Also, mostly, I’m lazy. But here we are, another Friday, another weekend looming so let’s try and get life and blogging back on track, shall we?

In fact, whilst I’m here I’d like to mention a few very good things I’m excited about that happened this week.

Firstly… and let me take a breath to try not to scream in your face in excitement…

WE GOT HAMILTON TICKETS FOR THIS YEAR!

87fa8c29-3a5b-4098-9255-b28008789785Yes, my friends, I get to see Hamilton when it comes to the West End and I’m super excited that I can say I am officially seeing Hamilton in 2017. 2017 is already so much better than the shit show that was 2016. Needless to say, myself and Liz are now diligently memorising every single damn line. We’re tackling CD 2 and, let me tell you, CD 2 really teaches you political history, like relentlessly hits you in the face with it. But it also contains the room where it happens (the room where it happens… the room where it happens…) so, you know, we’re good.

The second good thing – Wicked is going on a UK tour again, so there’s a chance for me to finally see it, and it to not be a big trek to see it because, handily, it’s coming to Liverpool. I’ve never managed to see Wicked (not even illicitly on YouTube) but it’s a musical that I really want to see done, and done properly. I’m not really in a position to go to London to see it so the touring production will definitely do rather nicely. I haven’t managed to nab tickets yet since it’s only just been announced but I’m crossing my fingers and I am quietly hopeful.

So, yes, two very nice musical-related things have happened, which brightens up 2017. And now onto the present, and the very near future…

As Friday dawns I am wilfully ignoring The Event which is happening today, which is quite the feat given that rolling BBC News is constantly playing, right in my eye-line, at work. But I simply refuse to acknowledge it and instead will move onto better things – namely books.

You might have seen in my last Friday Reads post that I was reading Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds and listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on audiobook as a way of re-reading the series. The latter is still ongoing because that book is bloody huge. The former… well… let us just say me and The Darkest Minds did not get along. In fact, it was a DNF for me, and I did a review of it for Cuckoo Review which explains why I was so disappointed in this book. If you have any interest in that, you can read it over here, but be pre-warned, it is a critical review since I didn’t like the book.

Moving on… this week I decided, for no apparent reason, that as part of my Read More Damn Classics mission, I would tackle perhaps the most intimidating of classics first. Because that obviously makes complete logical sense for a girl who used to read such books at university but hasn’t really since as some kind of weird form of rebellion and liberation after graduating.

warandpeaceSo, I am currently reading (and I anticipate I will be for a long time) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. No, I’m not sure what moment of madness lead to this. But it’s happening. And do you know what? It actually isn’t that difficult, so far. I mean, true, I’m only 160 pages in, and it has taken me a week to get to that point, but I’m quietly optimistic I will stick with this one. I’ve put together a character list and have given it a tracker page in my bullet journal and everything – I’m all prepared.

(PS- A post regarding bullet journalling is in the works, obviously, because a person can’t just bullet journal and not take photos of their page layouts. I’m fairly sure it’s the law so stay tuned for that.)

But that’s all folks, that behemoth of a book up there is all I plan to read. Undoubtedly, when I am hit with the enormity of how many words War and Peace actually consists of, I’ll seek immediate gratification and mix up my reading by also picking up something like the A Series of Unfortunate Events books (my review/discussion of the Netflix series is in the works too!). But, until that point, it’s me and Tolstoy, that is my Friday Reads.


So, those are my likely reading plans for today and heading into the weekend ahead. Do you have any Friday Reads posts?

Or perhaps just some fun plans for the weekend? Or a new film release? (I haven’t seen La La Land yet but it’s happening soon-ish hopefully!) Let me know in the comments!


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“Guilty Pleasures” & “The Canon”

This video comes off the back of me watching Lindsey Rey’s video on the topic of guilty pleasures, a category which she identifies as being frequently applied to a books series she enjoys – the Vampire Academy series. I would certainly recommend you go watch the video because she’s great!

“Guilty pleasure” is a phrase that I occasionally use and absolutely hate myself for using. I know I’m not the only one who feels like that – we wish to eradicate any sense of guilt from what we enjoy and just enjoy the thing for enjoyment’s sake but yet, time after time, this phrase accidentally slips out. It is, if nothing else, a useful marker. It lets other people know “I know what I’m reading isn’t a masterpiece, look, I feel guilt over enjoying it!!”. A classic example is Twilight, “bit of a guilty pleasure” is a phase I muttered at one point. Now, when I matured and took a step back and away from the hype surrounding the first book I realised there were a few things about Stephanie Meyer’s “love story” (and yes I use the quote marks intentionally) that was more than a little bit suspect and, I’m just going to say it, potentially harmful. But try telling that to 13 year old me and she would have shrugged and just looked faintly apologetic for enjoying Twilight. 

This brings me onto what underpins the term “guilty pleasure” and the key here is working out what precisely people mean by “guilt”. I don’t want to get all academic but I was recently reading Ewan Fernie’s Shame in Shakespeare in which he delves into the etymology and changing meaning behind the terms “shame” “embarrassment” “guilt” and so forth and tries to pinpoint the differences and distinctions to be made between these words. Because it turns out, there is a difference, it might be subtle but it’s there. And I think a lot of what underpins what we call “guilt” for reading or watching something and enjoying it even though we know we probably shouldn’t is actually focused on not just external reaction but external sources. These are then internalised into our own thought processes and we consequently feel guilt when we pick up a trashy read.

I’ll explain… guilt in this context is, essentially, shame at not having lived up to expectations. These might be external expectations – i.e. you shouldn’t enjoy that young adult book, you’re 35 years old, that book is not for you, you should be reading more mature and literary work. These (presumed) external expectations are then assimilated into your own mind and you judge yourself to these standards, feeling ashamed and shy about what you’re reading because you think that it will reflect, to outside observers,  a version of you that isn’t what you wanted to project. You fall short of expected standards. That is, I think, the driving force behind what causes the term “guilty pleasure” to slip out of my mouth more often that not. Because I want to let anyone who might be judging me based on what I enjoy reading or watching that I am all too aware that these particular examples are shameful and that I do know they’re not what I ought to be reading/watching/enjoying.

Away from the realm of books I consider Leap Year to be one of my favourite films. But I add a caveat to that by saying “it’s just a cutesy chick flick, a guilty pleasure of mine”. As if I need to justify my choice in viewing material with this phrase “guilty pleasure”. Now, I’m sure plenty of people who are fans of this film would agree – it’s not award-winning, it’s fluff, it’s incredibly stereotyping of Irish people, it’s ridiculous, it’s predictable. But it’s entertaining, it’s a pleasure to watch. So why would I ever feel ashamed or guilty of watching it? Precisely for all the reasons I just gave – it hasn’t won awards, it’s considered in the “chick flick” genre, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of realistic Irish accents for one, and so on and so forth. But I enjoy it, so perhaps the focus here should be the second part of the phrase “guilty pleasure”. Don’t spend the rest of your life feeling ashamed and embarrassed for getting pleasure out of something, just bloody well enjoy it without needing to qualify the enjoyment by indicating you know that it’s not exactly high brow.

And now we come to the crux of the matter… from the external environment which currently surrounds me, I should consider a large part of the books I own to be “guilty pleasures”. I’m in a top 10 university, studying English Literature, and specialising in Early modern literature. Therefore, a large portion of academia from this environment would turn its nose up at half of the books I own and enjoy. Just to use a recent example, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone would not be considered a literary masterpiece. And I’ve assimilated (accidentally) some of this pretension by thinking I’m just reading some fluff piece of young adult fantasy. Because it’s not literary fiction. Because it’s not critically acclaimed, Pulitzer-prize winning stuff. Which is ridiculous. Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes. Did I feel a tiny bit of guilt over the fact I was reading this and not, I don’t know, Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd? Yes, in all honesty. Because I felt that people would expect me to read the tip top of literature, you know, being a literature student. It’s no secret I’m spilling here – that is so not the case, so incredibly not the case that I feel a little sorry for you if you think it is.

And I’ll let you into another secret… not all literary fiction or classics are even the slightest bit enjoyable. You can see their merit, for the sake of the social context it discusses, or the way it foregrounds the realistic novel, or the way that the author has characterised a particular individual etc. etc. Case in point, George Eliot’s Adam Bede. I hated it, I had zero fun reading it, I would never recommend it to someone to read. And yet, I could see its literary merit in the interesting social issues it discussed. So, did I enjoy it? No. Could I discuss it? Yes. Was it a pleasure? No. And that’s not the only classic that I could include in that group.

I choose classics merely as a way to illustrate this point – we think we ought to read these. Because these books, for whatever reason, are the shining beacons of “good literature”, chosen by (it’s worth stressing this point) a largely white-middle class set of academics who thought that these authors were the pinnacle of merit. Now, thankfully, the canon has expanded in recent years, diversifying into more experimental novels and poetry and including writers of nationalities other than American or British. There have even been discussions about the idea of a canon itself, its merits and its many demerits. But, like it or not, these are the books that will be studied and recommended with a certain level of prestige attached to them. They are “worthwhile books”, the opposite of the “guilty pleasure” light, disposable read.

They are the standard bearers to which many of these “guilty pleasures” are tested. Because we feel like classics have been ordained with this status, this prestige, and therefore we would feel pretty damn well good about ourselves if we struggled through reading them, regardless of what pleasure we would (or would not) have in the reading experience. And when we’re not reading something ordained with this critical prestige, we feel embarrassed or guilty for the time we are spending on enjoying our reading but maybe not getting a lot of particularly educated or philosophical thinking out of it.

Banish this notion, please. Don’t just banish the phrase “guilty pleasure”, banish the idea that if you want to not feel guilty about reading you need to read a thing that you might not even get pleasure out of reading but, hey, at least it projects the well-informed, well-educated image we all hope to portray to the world at large.


 

But that’s just my (rather long) two cents, what do I know? What do you think about the term “guilty pleasure”? What would you consider guilty pleasures in your life?

Video: The Classics Book Tag

A day may come when I will learn where to look when I film – but it is not this day. In the meantime, have a Classics Book Tag video. I had fun with this tag, it’s right up my alley. If you’re interested in classics, you should definitely consider answering the questions too, whether that be in blog form or video form, and you can find the original here: http://itsabooksworld.booklikes.com/post/1104267/the-classics-booktag-original Also if you make a post or video you should definitely link me below because I love watching these.

That’s all I have for today!