Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rainy Day Reading

Vampires, werewolves, and... Edinburgh dinner parties? Yes, since the mid-semester break offered me the opportunity to dig deep into the local library shelves, I've been such a frequent visitor during the rainy months that I'm pretty sure the librarians will start inviting me round for tea at their houses pretty soon.

No, it's not beyond the point of exaggeration; I'm reading a bizarre assortment of titles. For one, I've re-established my love for Alexander McCall Smith, finally finding time to catch up with the Isabel Dalhousie series (there's nothing like McCall Smith's Edinburgh stories to dispel the gloom of the winter months) and the 44 Scotland Street stories. It's funny how some books can be seasonal; more enjoyable to read in winter than in summer. Perhaps it's because I can sit down and enjoy a cup of tea while reading the Isabel Dalhousie novels (the story of a forty-something Edinburgh philosopher who uncannily seems to find herself drawn to mysteries in the city and the past) but I couldn't really imagine reading McCall Smith's most famous series, The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, in any other setting other than beside the pool or on the beach at the close of a scorching hot day.

Perhaps it's something to do with visualisation; it's much easier to picture the rain-lashed Scotland (where, apparently, it's too cold even in summer - except for a few weeks - to drink your coffee in an outdoor cafe) than in the 40 degrees Celsius heat of the Australian summer. And it's hard to really feel the heat of an African summer with a miniature cyclone starting up just outside your house. Not that that generally happens in Australia. At least, not where I live.

Then, of course, there are the paranormal romance novels which are my guilty indulgence. Of course, not all of them are as enjoyable; I've just finished, for example, the first in L.J. Smith's well-known Vampire Diaries series. Now, usually the rule follows that movie and television adaptations will never quite live up to the book. But I think I can safely say, in the case of The Vampire Diaries, that this is a lie.

Take, for example, the main character, Elena. Clearly intended to be a strong and 'inspiring' female lead - and at least you have to give Smith credit for trying, which is more than can be said for many people - but in reality Elena is a selfish, irrational, and downright boring character. In fact, from start to finish, there is almost no character I feel disposed to like in the entire book. The only exception would be Matt, Elena's ex-boyfriend, who I was very fond of in his TV incarnation; so perhaps I'm biased. But Elena is boring, boring, boring - wanting Stefan Salvatore simply because he doesn't seem interested (which I understand) and relentlessly and one-mindedly pursuing him (which I don't). Perhaps it's nice to see the woman as the pursuer, and I would be more sympathetic to that, if it weren't for the fact that she finds his creepy retention of her 'apricot ribbon' ridiculously romantic and, furthermore, that the minute she 'has' Stefan she immediately and in a very out-of-character way falls in love with him.

This was the part that bothered me the most; Elena simply seems to fall in love with Stefan for no good reason. Sure, he's saved her life, but she doesn't seem to feel the gratitude naturally; she knows nothing about his tastes, or his personality, and yet she still 'falls in love' - the whole cliche, perhaps minus the tweeting birds - with him. Even for a teenager this is irrational. I just had a feeling it was too much too soon.

The book itself had a very '90s feel about it, at least for me; perhaps that was the effect of the old cover which my book had. I found the scenery very mixed. Smith can describe things very well, and the first chapter of the book is quite good in terms of establishing mood and tone, but she continues this in the book and at times the description seems a little repetitive and forced.

Of course, I realise this is just the first book, written almost twenty years ago, and I may have exaggerated many things in my mind because I expected the book to be 'trashy'. In some ways it lived up to my expectations, but I've decided to read the next book. I'm partly interested to note the deviations from the television series (Catherine, the main antagonist in the series, is in the books a very meek, perfect little woman who eventually kills herself because she can't decide between the Salvatore brothers, Stefan and Damon.) Very little of the books actually remains in the show; characters' names, mostly. Obviously the television series taps into the sorts of things that a new generation of teenagers would be interested in; the whole idea of a school Halloween party setup is a little bit elaborate compared to the basic 'come-drink-dance-go home' style parties we're used to nowadays, both at school and outside of it. Or perhaps it's more of an American thing. Certainly our school dances and formals were rare and fairly unexciting, with early hours and fairly unimpressive efforts at themed decor.

And now, of course, I've borrowed Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, which my friend has been nagging me to read for months - mainly because we both loved Twilight's Jacob and can barely imagine a book without werewolves in it. I've already heard a lot about the Bella Swan-like attributes of the heroine, namely a complete learned helplessness which is ridiculously irritating - but I'm still hopeful about the whole werewolf story.

And, of course, there's Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel coming out very soon, which I'm so excited for. It looks to be very good.

Of course, while reading is for enjoyment it's for educational purposes as well. I'd be a liar and a fool if I claimed that I couldn't learn anything, writing-wise, from published authors. So while I love curling up with a good book there's also no denying that every new book read is a broadening of the mind and way of looking at the world. No wonder people love reading so much.

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