21. Middlemarch - George Eliot, 1874 (first-time reading)
This took me a while to read, but it was by virtue of its length rather than any lack of enthusiasm. I really liked it - it was easy to get into and the characters were easy to engage with. I read it because it was on our recommended list for English but I hadn't realised that it would talk so much about the Great Reform Bill, which was a cool coincidence because we were just studying it literally a few weeks ago in History. So it turned out to be both academically relevant and enjoyable.
20. The Rule of Law - Tom Bingham, 2010 (first-time reading)
I really enjoyed this. It's less overtly political and more general than Just Law, but it's such a great book and I can understand why it's, like, required reading for aspiring law students. Reading it, every page and every chapter about what the law does and why the law has to do that and why it's so absolutely crucial that it's there to do it, made me think: this is why. This is why I want to be a lawyer. It was all articulated right there for me.
I also really enjoyed the historical section, about the development of the rule of law in Britain. Really fascinating and I think it gave me a really good incredibly-basic basis to work on when I'm reading up a bit more about history of law and so on.
I decided to do the Couch to 5K this summer, starting on Week 3 because I'm not so totally unfit that I'm at couch level, and Week 4 is going great. Yesterday I finished the last five-minute stretch with the definite sense that I could have carried on without too much trouble, which bodes well for next week. I'm actually really enjoying it.
19. The Coming of the Third Reich - Richard J. Evans, 2005 (first-time reading)
This wasn't exactly recreational reading. I got it out of the Cardiff library to prepare for our history course next year. That didn't stop me from enjoying it, though; this is an excellent history book, clear and accessible to non-historians and yet thorough and detailed. We studied the rise of the Nazis in less detail in GCSE History so I already knew the basic 'storyline', so to speak, and the important people who were turning up, but there were lots of things I learned from this that were surprising to me, such as the extent of antisemitism in Germany long before the Nazis. I'm really glad I read it; it's going to stand me in good stead for when we start doing it in school and it was an enjoyable read, but it's also something I think it's deeply important to know about in as much detail as possible. What happened, why, and how we can ensure it doesn't again are things that everyone should be aware of.
20. The Lady of the Rivers - Philippa Gregory, 2011 (first-time reading)
I really like Philippa Gregory. I know her books are fiction, and they're not exactly bastions of historical accuracy, but for someone who knows as little about the Plantagenets as I do they're still pretty educational, even just by informing me who was king, when, and what happened to them. A lot of the other stuff I'm reading at the moment is pretty heavy, so it's lovely to relax into a nice light modern novel without feeling that I'm just wasting time that I could be spent learning something. I like Gregory's style, even if it does at times become repetitive, and her creation of character through the narrative voice, and having liked and been fascinated by The White Queen this book ticked all the boxes for me. Recommended.
18. Winter in Madrid - C. J. Sansom, 2006 (first-time reading)
This is not a good book. It has an interesting setting, which Sansom does a good job of depicting with breadth and detail, but that's pretty much its sole redeeming feature. The characters are boring and there's a terrible lack of subtlety to all of Sansom's characterisation: you can tell Barbara is deep and interesting because she has striking green eyes! You can tell Sandy is villainous because he uses the word 'nigger'! You can tell General Franco is a soulless evil dictator because he doesn't like music! The writing style is even worse; sentences are clumsily constructed, without any flow, and sound stilted and unnatural (for example, 'Two more huts, one large, stood at a little distance and there was a large stone blockhouse too.') I read Dissolution a while ago, didn't love Sansom's writing style and thought the book was okay but not great, but Winter in Madrid doesn't even merit that description.
16. Just Law - Helena Kennedy, 2005 (first-time reading)
Interesting and compelling reading. It's very political and that was a slight drawback for me on a purely personal level, because it's mainly about Blair and New Labour, and while I was obviously around at that time I was hardly at an age of political awareness. The real issues, though, are just as much manifest in our current political system and in most if not all others. I have fairly strong views on many of them already - such as the rights of those accused of crimes, or the justification of almost any inroads into civil rights and basic legal principles on the basis that 'we'll use it to catch paedophiles and terrorists' - which by and large accord with those Kennedy expresses here. There were some points where I had to stop nodding in self-satisfied agreement every few paragraphs (in my head): for example, bizarrely, after spending a chapter explaining why it is so important to avoid losing sight of the 'innocent until proven guilty' principle and lowering the standards of proof or evidence, she later says that maybe it's worth doing so in cases of alleged rape or paedophilia, which is not only inconsistent but actually quite shocking. For the most part, however, this book makes a lot of convincing argument in favour of beliefs I already hold. There are few things more pleasurable to read than that.
17. The Rivals - Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1775 (first-time reading)
I wasn't sure if I should include this, since it's a play, but I did read it in book form (iBook form, actually; copyright having expired, it was free). It was one of the duller-looking older titles on my A-level reading list, but because I had actually heard of Sheridan (and because it was free) I figured it would be a good one to try. And I'm really glad that I did, because it was actually hilarious. Not in a laugh-out-loud way - at least, not when just reading it, though I'm sure it would be much funnier when actually acted - but in a way that every time there was another ludicrous plot twist, it compounded this sense of...satisfaction. If that makes sense. And each time, I was waiting for the next one, and it delivered. It was like the comedy version of watching a drama series where every episode ends with a cliffhanger. But less irritating.
15. Anna Karenin - Leo Tolstoy (trans. Rosemary Edmonds), 1877 (first-time reading)
I really loved this. I expected it to be quite heavy and intellectual, but it was actually comparatively quick and easy to read - I think Edmonds' translation must be excellent. I just loved the amazing scope of it - so panoramic, but at the same time so intimate. Edmonds says something in her preface about Tolstoy not judging the characters but simply giving a very accurate and detailed portrayal of them so that the reader can understand and, if they want, judge for themselves, and I did get a real sense of this. I didn't really feel any need to judge them; I just wanted to know them, which I really felt that I did. The sections of characters' inner thoughts, particularly Anna's in Part Seven, are incredibly powerful. According to Wikipedia, Tolstoy's technique here prefigures twentieth-century stream-of-consciousness narration, which is interesting. Also, I'm totally going to go see the film when it comes out.
I don't think there's been a single point in the last month where it hasn't been at least two of the above. I'm not sure I can take much more of this. All of the clothes I would normally be wearing in July are either hanging limply in my wardrobe or being creatively turned into December clothes with cardigans and black opaque tights. I have pinned all my hopes on our holiday in a month's time; we're staying with my cousins in the South of France and it had better be sunny.
14. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates, 1962 (first-time reading)
Ohhhh my God. This book is amazing. I can't even write about it properly without going into either an essay or a lot of pictures of people crying with happiness, it's that good. I've spent the last week pleading with all of my friends to read it, with some success as regards my English class. It's amazing. It reminds me of a younger, cooler The Great Gatsby; it has that same sense of everything being completely and meticulously planned and then constructed, of everything down to the slightest detail having been thought out and selected and written perfectly. It is actually perfect. I just want everyone in the world to read it. Please.
13. A Place of Greater Safety - Hilary Mantel, 1992 (first-time reading)
This book is absolutely stunning. Mantel is an incredible writer; her prose is lovely, as is her dialogue (this is a very dialogue-heavy novel, because that's the only way to really communicate the politics of it), but I think my favourite part, what really draws me to read an 876-page novel about the French Revolution when I should be reading any number of other things for my English A-level, is her characterisation. I've read Wolf Hall twice and both times I was captivated by her Thomas Cromwell, but the three lead characters of A Place of Greater Safety are perhaps even richer. The depth and complexity of the characters is very impressive, but they're also realised with such immediacy and given so much of what for want of Mantel's ability to choose words perfectly I will call charm that for days after finishing the book I felt as though they were standing beside me, and I could talk to them, reach out and touch them. I think I was particularly drawn to Robespierre, maybe because the trajectory of his character was so different to those of the others. I knew nothing about the French Revolution before reading A Place of Greater Safety (although, having loved the book so much, I would like to know more), and I hadn't so much as heard of Danton or Desmoulins, but even I knew what happened to Robespierre. I thought it was especially interesting that Mantel chose to leave that trajectory incomplete, though with the reader almost certainly aware of where it's going: 'the sinister geometry of the knife's edge'. She leaves him at the height of his hubris and power-corruption, with his fate inevitable but unspoken. That feeling of quiet dread is what pervades the novel in large part, as perhaps it does any work of historical fiction where the reader knows how many people are going to die, that just about anyone's fall can, always, and will, inevitably, come; it could be summed up in the fact that the title of the novel is revealed near the end to refer to the grave.
12. Lyrics Alley - Leila Aboulela, 2010 (first-time reading)
This is a nice, reasonably entertaining book with a cast of reasonably appealing characters, but there's just nothing special about it. I was interested enough in the tribulations of the Abuzeids, but in a dispassionate and rather apathetic way - I wanted to see what happened, but I didn't really care about it. The setting is created in quite an evocative and interesting way, but the social and political conflicts of Sudan and Egypt in the 1950s are all but ignored. The writing is quite good but never strikingly so, and sometimes sounds quite stilted and awkward in a way that a good edit could have fixed, but clearly didn't. All in all it's a perfectly decent book, but it's not a great one.