Top Ten Tuesday | Most Intimidating Books


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This meme is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is the top ten most intimidating books that we all dread to read for one reason or another. Here is my list of titles:

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce – I will feel like a complete failure/idiot if I cannot get through this book in one sitting. Especially since it is THE most important book in modern literature. EVER. *shudders*
  2. The Waves by Virginia Woolf – Sometimes Woolf can be completely incomprehensible to me. Her writing is like a strange melody with a hidden beat. I have to hunt for the damn thing in all the dense foliage of her prose. ‘The Waves’ completely baffled me and I wound up running to the nearest exit to this weird labyrinth of fiction.
  3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – The sheer size of it puts me off. It lives on the shelf next to Milton’s Paradise Lost.
  4. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I really don’t know why people call this a great novel. Never really saw it myself. Intimidating when you can’t see what millions of others can.
  5.  Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon – He is so awesome. ‘The Crying of Lot 49‘ changed my taste in books drastically. It was also one of the hardest damn books I’d ever read. What if I don’t get this one?
  6. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – The books scares me (sheer size), Ayn Rand scares me (have you seen her?) OMIGOD.
  7. 2666 by Roberto Bolano – I have a love/hate relationship with Bolano. I keep expecting the same kind of pleasure I get when I read Borges but get confused when I don’t. Confused and angry. Not quite the same as intimidated, but…
  8. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie – So much controversy around this novel. What if I end up hating it? Will it cost me a well-respected author?
  9. House of Leaves by M.Z. Danielewski – I read this once before. I don’t think I’ll read it again anytime soon. I have never been so scared of words and the things they can unravel both within and without. Danielewski is king. I grovel at his feet.
  10. The Dark Tower series by Stephen King – A mammoth seven book series that I have only briefly dipped into. I don’t know if I can last the distance…

That’s my list of intimidating books guys. How about yours? Are there any above that scare the bejesus out of you? Would you add to the list?

Would You Like to Smell Like Your Favourite Author?


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What were the signature scents of famous authors?

Thanks to a post made at Book Riot, I got to thinking about my two favourite things in life: perfumes and books. I have a prodigiously large collection of both; yet it never occurred to me to find out what type of scents my favourite authors actually wore during their lifetime. Amanda Nelson of the irreverent book blog Dead White Guys came up with some cool concoctions of her own; and it inspired me to have a synesthete moment.

This is a bit of a tough mission, but one that yielded surprising results! Here’s what I have come up with so far…


Some authors like Anais Nin have already inspired a perfume, so admired were they in their lifetime. Anais Anais was the first perfume produced by Cacharel in 1978. To me, it evokes the scent-memory of France, my mother and the sweet yet deceptive innocence at the heart of all women. I also adore the fresh green smell and the O’Keefe-inspired artwork that has been used for many decades.

Top: Bergamot, galbanum, hyacinth, honeysuckle, orange blossom
Middle: Lily, lily of the valley, rose, ylang-ylang, tuberose, carnation
Base: Cedarwood, sandalwood, amber, oakmoss, incense, vetiver


What would a notorious super-dandy and aesthete like Oscar Wilde possibly wear as a perfume? Apparently the now discontinued (yet aptly named) Malmaison of Floris of London. It is described by experts as having a linear smell – that of almost purely red carnations. At first I couldn’t imagine a carnation as being Wilde’s smell, yet there is a certain exotic woodsy, clove-like aroma to carnations that does fit in with Wilde’s character. Red is certainly his colour too! The reintroduction of Malmaison Encore by Floris means people can relive the original fragrance in a more modern version.


Top notes: bergamot, black pepper, cardamom
Heart notes: clove, nutmeg, rose, ylang ylang
Base notes : amber, cedarwood, frankincense, heliotrope, tonka bean, vanilla


Many famous people including F. Scott Fitzgerald and later Marlene Dietrich wore Lieber Gustav #14. The perfume was created by celebrated nose Albert Kriegler and he states that ‘Perfume #14 was chosen by Fitzgerald because of its depth, and the connection between Berlin and Provence.’ I also find that scents hold geographical memories for me, yet even more interesting is that Lieber Gustav #14 was inspired by a love letter between a young girl and her fiancee… Reminds me of The Great Gatsby!


Leather, Black tea, Lavender, Musk and Woody notes.


Colette is another author who is epitomises sensuality and whose work’s forever obsess with the gratification of the flesh and of the soul. She owned her own beauty salon and being something of a perfumer herself used only the petals of white flowers. However, it has been recorded that she had a particular penchant for Coty’s Jasmin de Corse, which is again very hard to find. A 1925 ad described it as, ‘For the Woman of the Dreamy Elusive Type: Jasmine de Corse, La Jacinthe & Lilas Blanc.’ I can only imagine the closest we can ever get to this perfume with it’s heavy, smoky Jasmine undertones would be Lanvin’s Arpege which was created 20 years after.

So, that’s all I could find on authors and their favourite fragrance’s. Is there any I’ve missed out that should be in the list? Let me know.

Book Review | ‘The Running Man’ by Stephen King


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The Running ManThe Running Man by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“He understood well enough how a man with a choice between pride and responsibility will almost always choose pride–if responsibility robs him of his manhood.”

I was only looking for an entertaining read, something I would’t have to take too seriously and one that I knew would take me away from the copious amounts of marking and grading I had to do at the time.

Let’s put it this way; I got more than I bargained for! This book is all the above and then some. I first met with ‘The Running Man’ in the 1980’s film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger  At the time it felt very much like an ultra-futuristic, distant, dystopian nightmare that thrilled a lot of people with its American take on Orwellian themes.

I am not a big Stephen King fan; at the best of times I have lukewarm respect for his innovative imagery and ability to keep his audience entertained and slightly crapping themselves in certain creepy scenarios. However, I think I have become something of a convert with ‘The Running Man’. Nowadays I feel like I’m a more mature reader, and I can definitely appreciate his scary powers of second-guessing what the near future holds for mankind; which this piece of work definitely showcases.

For anyone who like me, was sitting on a fence in regards to King’s quality as a novelist is at an advantage. If you have never watched the film, or heard about the book then you are in luck, reading ‘The Running Man’ will give you a very clear answer.

Personally, I read this from a post 9/11 perspective. The novel depicts a corrupted America, whose political and social infrastructure rests on rotten foundations. More sinister tones of ‘The Hunger Games‘ prevail across the continent, where the poor are nothing but forgettable pawns that can be used to entertain the rich.

“In the year 2025, the best men don’t run for president, they run for their
lives. . .”

As I said before, the novel contains many parallels to that dark period in American history. It reflects the current culture of the corrupted ‘American Dream’, which Chuck Palahnuik very aptly describes as being able to “make your life into something you can sell.” And what is ‘The Running Man’ if not the reality show turned nightmare? King takes the capitalist, materialistic, consumerist attitude of America and shows us what it can turn into.

The writing is addictive and the pace is wonderfully set. King shows off all his skills as the reader is roped into following Ben Richards; who reads like a ‘last of his kind’ type of Clint Eastwood character fighting to save his baby girl who is slowly wasting away in front of his eyes. As a last resort, he enters the ‘Games’; as this is the only way he will ever find the money to save his family from poverty. What ensues is a true roller-coaster account of his fight to survive the ‘Games’ and save his family.

Even though this sounds like a plot that has been done to death; I recommend everybody give it a try. You will be surprised how fresh and original King’s version of events will be.

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My Easter reads…

One of the perks to being a teacher is the nice holidays you get between terms. As we enter a two week Easter break, I’m planning to get some much needed reading done, and this is what my mini-list looks like:

Vanity Fair

A very big novel that I have been avoiding for a long time, but last night I took the plunge and I have to say, I am absolutely adoring it! Miss Rebecca Sharp is by far THE most interesting heroine I have ever come across. Unashamed, fearless and she knows her own mind.

The Stand

Another very big novel, yet vastly different from Vanity Fair! This was recommended to me when I first joined Goodreads. Ironically, I began reading it last month when I was in bed with a terrible cold – not good when the book is about a killer ‘flu epidemic that wipes out the world’s population!

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Started reading this a couple of months ago and had to stop because of work. Hopefully I’ll get round to finishing off this lovely story of a delightful boy who is extremely kind of heart. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get a feel for reading something with innocence in it. It brings me back to myself again.

That’s what my Easter break is looking like. Quite unusual where I’ve got two massive tomes and one little kiddies novel, but I’ve always done things in strange ways! In fact, I rather prefer a nice selection of different things, just in case I get bored and need a change.

What are you reading this Easter?

The Book That Cannot Be Read – The Mysterious Voynich Manuscript


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National Geographic explores the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript – an ancient tome discovered by chance in 1912 by the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich. This documentary explores the great lengths that have gone into trying to decipher the manuscript, which was written in cipher during the 17th century.

The book itself has many illustrations of plants and seems to be a scientific study into herbology. However, further research has shown that certain illustrations can be made to ‘move’ by spinning the book around, thus giving researchers the impression that it could have been an attempt to record alchemical knowledge. This, along with the astronomical, cosmological and pharmaceutical images has led many to associate the text with many ancient European doctors who were famed throughout history to have worked ‘miracles’ with their potions.

Many codebreakers and cryptographers have tried to crack the ciphers used in the book, including those from WWI and WWII; however the Voynich manuscript still remains one of the most mysterious books of all time.

Is the Voynich manuscript real, or a hoax? I guess we won’t know for a long time yet!

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 79,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Best Books of 2012 Round-Up


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It’s that time of year again when I do a little retrospective of best books. I’m quite surprised that I’ve been a little frugal with my 5/5 stars, but 2012 has certainly put me in touch with some awesome authors I have never heard of or read before. So, without further ado, here’s a taste of the best bits of how my reading year went.

Flowers for Algernon

By far the most heartbreaking and astonishing book I have come across during the year. It’s one hell of a story that really examines the fleeting nature of our lives, our achievements and our losses. Nothing prepares you for the amazement and devastation you will feel when Charlie Gordon, a simpleton with an IQ of 18 undergoes breakthrough brain surgery to increase his intelligence levels. His one goal in life is to be intelligent, yet when this wish is granted, he is unaware of the horrible revelations it brings with it. As the veil of dumb ignorance is slowly lifted, his perception of friends and family also change. On his journey of discovery he gets a taste of emotions and thoughts he never knew existed. ‘Flowers for Algernon‘ is a beautiful illustration of how bitter the fruit of knowledge really can be.


My first attempt at Eugenides was absolute bliss. ‘Middlesex’ explores themes of incest and family history through the eyes of Cal, a hermaphrodite. “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver-s license…records my first name simply as Cal.” The opening paragraph on it’s own is electrifying enough. I couldn’t put it down and if you choose to read this, neither will you. Hilarious and tragic in equal amounts with just the right dose of literary intelligence to keep the literary critic in you smiling too.


My first attempt at Banana Yoshimoto also left me with warm, fuzzy feelings. Japanese fiction is so beautiful, and ‘Kitchen’ embodies faithful representations of human emotions with that trademark simplicity that Japanese writers seem to have a knack for. This book is like a celebration of death and life, and reminds us that we must cherish the people around us when we still have them. This book reads like a series of short stories. Here’s my review of it.

Hell Screen

Akutagawa, the father of modern Japanese literature, translated by Jay Rubin. What more could you want? This is a short, short read that packs one hell of a punch. Akutagawa brings out the delicious lacquerwork and intricate embellishment of Japanese folklore in this collection of sharp, disturbing tales about art and sacrifice. Read my review here.

A Room with a View

Romance novels, I do not like. However, I am willing to change that with a book like ‘A Room With A View’. Forster’s perspective of love is what really endeared this novel to me. It’s not lovey-dovey, wishy-wishy. Real love is messy, it’s more to do with gut feelings than rationality. It’s a tricky path to negotiate and our two lovers here certainly fall from grace more than once trying to find their way to one another. Read my review here.

That’s it folks! Those are my best pickings of 2012. What are yours?

Memorable Quote | ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury


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Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.

I love finding quotes like this. Bradbury has summed up beautifully that evasive smell of books that we all love so much. Anyone know of any parfumier’s who have succeeded in bottling it?

Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

Book Review | ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill


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The Woman in BlackThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

“I have sat here at my desk, day after day, night after night, a blank sheet of paper before me, unable to lift my pen, trembling and weeping too.”

This was one of those books that had come to my attention thanks to the Hollywood remake. The visuals in the trailer were fabulously dark and grotesque and held a sort of promise of the type of Gothic we just don’t get to see nowadays. But that was the movie, and I so desperately wanted to see it that I had to first hunt down the book. Which, as you know, is just the weird order in which I do things.

I finally managed to get a copy and settled down to be scared out of my wits by this ‘Jane Austen-esque ghost story‘, but to my disappointment found it very dry in description and wanting in the scare department. Maybe I had far too high an expectation of what is in reality, just a mediocre chilling tale about a vengeful spirit who haunts a remote backwater village.

The basic outline of the story goes like this: The story begins with Arthur Kipps, who begins to write about his terrible, real-life encounter with a ghost during his early days as an up and coming solicitor. He recounts how a business trip sent him to the remote  and forbidden Eel Marsh House to attend the funeral of the late Alice Drablow and complete the menial task of putting her legal papers in order. However, when Kipps asks about the Drablow estate, no one wants to speak about it. A mysterious woman dressed in black with a decaying countenance also seems to haunt him wherever he goes.

When he asks to be taken across the Nine Lives Causeway to the estate, no one is willing to take him, except one man. There in all its wild beauty and agonising splendor he encounters Eel Marsh House, a solitary Gothic mansion, standing alone, proud and teeming with terrible secrets. As he spends his days and nights there, hears the awful bumping sounds from the locked nursery room and witnesses the ghostly screams of a drowned child on the gurgling causeway, he realises he must leave quickly, or risk going mad.

“Whatever was about, whoever I had seen, and heard rocking, and who had passed me by just now, whoever had opened the locked door was not ‘real’. No. But what was ‘real’? At that moment I began to doubt my own reality.”

This had the opportunity to become a great ghost story. It’s just I’m really upset that Susan Hill sinks into the comfort of Victorian descriptions which make it too stuffy and constricting. Language-wise some areas are far too overly done while other parts could have benefited from more visual description.

I loved the idea of an isolated house that stood almost like a lighthouse in the middle of the deadly causeway. The house itself is very scary and the descriptions of it will stay with me for a long time. I almost half wish it existed, like Manderley in ‘Rebecca’ or the mansion in Shirley Jackson‘s ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘. The sounds across the causeway, and the idea that the death of a child is resurrected and replayed there every night in the swirling mists is also very disconcerting.

What I really wanted was a spotlight on the woman in black herself. She takes a back seat when she really shouldn’t. Even the house eclipses her.

I had some discussions with other people and their experience of the book compared to the movie and theatre versions and all have said the same thing: the original story is quite bland. I am hoping to see the stage version of this with a class of mine and hope it’s as good as they say it is! But one thing is for sure, it will be vastly different from the book, because every stage and film production that has been made in the past has taken liberties with the story and changed it dramatically to make it better. More proof that Hill was being a bit economical with her story?

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